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Zimbabwe players threatening to boycott African Cup opener

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Zimbabwe players are threatening to boycott Friday’s opening game of the African Cup of Nations against host Egypt because they haven’t been paid, raising the prospect of another major embarrassment for African soccer at the end of one of its worst weeks.

Players and a team official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation said a meeting with federation officials at the team hotel on Thursday failed to resolve the standoff.

Zimbabwe is due to open Africa’s top tournament against Mohamed Salah and Egypt in Cairo.

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The players refused to train on the eve of the game and spent most of the day in their hotel rooms before emerging to meet with officials. They are demanding to be paid their allowances for the African Cup, along with allowances and match fees still owed to them from a regional tournament last month.

One of the people with knowledge of the situation said some players had asked to be released from the squad so they could return home.

The Zimbabwe Football Association said in a statement that the game against Egypt would go ahead and there was no strike threat, but that was countered by the five players and the team official who spoke to the AP. They said there was still a deadlock in the negotiations.

A player strike to start its top tournament would leave African soccer in a mess.

World body FIFA announced Thursday it was taking steps to clean up the continent’s governing body, the Confederation of African Football, which is plagued by allegations of corruption and financial misconduct against its president and is an organizational shambles.

FIFA is sending its secretary general Fatma Samoura to lead the African confederation for an initial six-month term starting in August, when she will oversee a complete forensic audit of the organization that runs soccer’s largest continental confederation.

CAF president Ahmad, who goes by one name, was detained by French authorities while attending a FIFA meeting in Paris this month and questioned. He was released but is the subject of that criminal investigation and an ethics committee investigation by FIFA, where he is a vice president.

The Madagascan is accused of negotiating improper business deals as head of CAF and of bribing African soccer presidents. He’s also accused of misusing official money to buy himself luxury cars and sexual harassment of staff at CAF.

He has denied the allegations but it’s unclear if he’ll play a leading role at the African Cup, which runs until July 19.

Player strikes have become common among African teams at major tournaments. A number had strikes, or threatened strikes, at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and 2017 African Cup in Gabon.

In one case, Ghana’s government hurriedly sent a chartered plane full of bundles of cash to Brazil to hand out to its players to ensure they played.

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Madrid signs Japanese teen Takefusa Kubo for reserve team

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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid has signed promising Japanese teenager Takefusa Kubo, who will join its reserve team.

Madrid described the 18-year-old attacking midfielder “one of the most promising youngsters in world football,” adding that “he possess wonderful vision, quick feet and has an eye for goal.”

Kubo joins the from FC Tokyo, with Spanish media saying he has agreed to a six-year contract.

Madrid says Kubo will initially play for its reserve team, which will be coached by former great Raul Gonzalez next season in Spain’s third division.

Kubo is playing for Japan at the Copa America, having made his international debut on Sunday in a match against El Salvador.

Kubo spent time at Barcelona’s youth training academy but was forced to leave at the age of 13 when the Catalan club was found guilty of violating youth transfer rules. Barcelona was reportedly interested in bringing him back as well.

He is the latest acquisition in a busy summer for Madrid, following the signings of Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic and Ferland Mendy for its first team.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Germany coach Loew told to rest after sporting accident

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BERLIN (AP) Germany coach Joachim Loew will miss the side’s upcoming European Championship qualifiers against Belarus and Estonia to recover from a sporting accident.

The German soccer federation says “an artery was squeezed and it is necessary that he remains stationary. The treatment is going well, but the doctor advised the national coach to rest in the coming weeks.”

[ MORE: 3 key battles in UCL Final ]

The DFB does not give details of the accident. German daily BILD reports Loew dropped a dumbbell on his chest while training some weeks ago.

Assistant coach Marcus Sorg is to take charge of the team for the games in Borisov, Belarus on June 8 and against Estonia in Mainz three days later.

Loew says, “I am in constant contact with my coaching staff and we will also be in close contact with each other around the two international matches. Marcus Sorg, (goalkeeping coach) Andy Kopke and (team manager) Oliver Bierhoff have a lot of experience together and together we will bridge this short break well.”

More AP German soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/Bundesliga and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Borussia Dortmund signs Nico Schulz from Hoffenheim

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DORTMUND, Germany (AP) Borussia Dortmund signed Germany defender Nico Schulz from Bundesliga rival Hoffenheim on Tuesday.

Dortmund, which finished runner-up in the league, said the 26-year-old Schulz signed a deal through June 2024.

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“We will benefit greatly from his physicality, his tempo and his extreme dynamism,” Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc said. “A player like him with his fighting spirit and his desire to be successful would help any team.”

Schulz, who will be familiar to Dortmund coach Lucien Favre from their time together at Borussia Moenchengladbach, scored one goal and set up six more for Hoffenheim last season.

Kicker magazine reported that Dortmund was paying 27 million euros ($30 million) for the player, making Schulz Dortmund’s second most expensive signing after Andre Schuerrle.

Schulz has scored two goals in six appearances for Germany.

Dortmund was also reportedly on the verge of signing 19-year-old Spanish right back Mateu Morey on a free transfer from Barcelona, while Belgium international Thorgan Hazard was expected to join from Gladbach and Germany midfielder Julian Brandt of Bayer Leverkusen remained a target.

More AP German soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/Bundesliga and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Borussia Dortmund left to rue missed chance in Bundesliga

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BERLIN (AP) After watching Bayern Munich win the Bundesliga title for the seventh straight year, Borussia Dortmund was left to rue its missed chance.

Dortmund held a nine-point lead over Bayern at one stage of the season and was league leader for 21 of the 34 rounds. After an outstanding opening half of the season when Dortmund played fast-paced, free-flowing attacking soccer, the young team threw its lead away in the second half.

“I know the chance was huge this season,” Dortmund captain Marco Reus said.

Bayern should have claimed its record-extending 29th German championship the weekend before but was held scoreless in Leipzig. Dortmund knew that victory at Borussia Moenchengladbach, where it won 2-0, coupled with a Bayern loss on the last weekend would give it its first title since 2012. It was a slim hope. Bayern routed Eintracht Frankfurt 5-1 in Munich.

But Dortmund’s title challenge was derailed much earlier, not least in a 5-0 loss in Munich, where Bayern delivered a statement to the rest of the league.

Dortmund conceded three late goals to let Hoffenheim grab a 3-3 draw in February, when the team went through its first poor spell under coach Lucien Favre. A scoreless draw at Nuremberg followed, and then a 2-1 loss at relegation-threatened Augsburg.

Despite the setbacks, Dortmund remained in the title race even after the rout in Munich on April 4, but a subsequent 4-2 loss at home to a poor Schalke side and a 2-2 draw at Werder Bremen – where the team again conceded late – ended any realistic hopes.

“They were decisive, because otherwise we would have had another points-cushion coming to Moenchengladbach,” Reus said.

After the near miss, thoughts are already turning to next season.

“I’m a positive person. Next season, it starts all over again,” Reus said. “Then we’ll do everything we can to get back to the top again in the next years and win the title once again.”

Another offseason of changes awaits. United States midfielder Christian Pulisic is leaving for Chelsea after five years in Dortmund, while the futures of midfielders Julian Weigl and Mahmoud Dahoud are uncertain, and Portugal international Raphael Guerreiro is expected to leave.

Belgium international Thorgan Hazard and Germany midfielder Nico Schulz are expected to join from Gladbach and Hoffenheim, respectively, while speculation linking Bayer Leverkusen forward Julian Brandt with the club continues.

Brandt is an option thanks to a release clause in his contract, though the 23-year-old German has little reason to leave after Leverkusen clinched Champions League qualification after claiming 16 from a possible 18 points in the last six games under former Dortmund coach Peter Bosz.

“He knows what he has with us,” Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Voeller said of Brandt.

Even if Brandt arrives, Dortmund probably won’t have a better chance to capitalize on what was a difficult season for Bayern Munich, which now has the chance to claim a domestic double against Leipzig in the German Cup final on Saturday.

“The disappointment is still there because we had the chance to be German champions this season,” said Sebastian Kehl, a former Dortmund captain who now works for the club. “On the other hand, you also have to see that we delivered fantastic games in a season that finished with 76 points, especially in the opening half. We achieved much more in this year than we dreamed of at the start of the season.”

More AP German soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/Bundesliga and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP