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USMNT’s Sargent makes 1st Bundesliga start in Bremen’s 1-1 draw

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BREMEN, Germany (AP) Werder Bremen’s European hopes were damaged by a 1-1 home draw with Stuttgart in the Bundesliga Friday.

Bremen had been hoping to get closer to Wolfsburg, which occupies the last Europa League qualifying position in sixth spot, but had to be content with a move up to ninth.

Steven Zuber fired Stuttgart ahead after 61 seconds. The former Hoffenheim striker stayed cool after he was sent through by Mario Gomez to shoot beyond Bremen keeper Jiri Pavlenka and inside the far post.

Despite more possession for the hosts, it was Stuttgart which had the better chances – Gomez spurning two good opportunities – and the visitors were left to rue the misses when Max Kruse set up Dutch midfielder Davy Klaassen to equalize with a powerful strike before the break.

“I’m sorry for the team,” Gomez said.

Bremen brought on Claudio Pizarro, who became the oldest ever goalscorer when he grabbed a late equalizer against Hertha Berlin last weekend, for the last half-hour but the 40-year-old Peruvian could not find the winner.

American forward Josh Sargent made his first league start for Bremen.

Stuttgart remained in the relegation zone with 16 points from 23 games.

On Saturday, second-place Bayern Munich hosts Hertha. Leader Borussia Dortmund takes on Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday.

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

IOC backs FIFA’s calls for Bahraini player to be released

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The International Olympic Committee has backed FIFA’s calls for a Bahraini soccer player to be allowed to return to Australia from Thailand where he is detention while being pursued for extradition by Bahrain.

But Asian soccer’s leadership is declining to publicly back the campaign to secure the release of Hakeem al-Araibi, who has refugee status in Australia.

The IOC said its president, Thomas Bach, “has personally discussed this worrying situation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.”

FIFA asked the Thai government earlier this week to ensure al-Araibi was released at the “earliest possible moment.”

The IOC said its “full support for the FIFA actions in order to find a solution based on `basic human and humanitarian values”‘ has been conveyed to the Thai government by IOC member Khunying Patama Leeswadtraku.

By contrast, the Asian Football Confederation only says it “continues to work with FIFA … to find a solution.” In emails, AFC spokesman Colin Gibson would not say what the governing body believes the solution should be, specifically declining to back calls for al-Araibi’s return to Australia.

An AFC statement said Senior Vice President Praful Patel is handling the matter and not President Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, a member of Bahrain’s royal family, to prevent any “conflict of interest.”

Al-Araibi has said he was tortured in Bahrain after his 2012 arrest and fled in 2014 to Australia, which granted him political asylum in 2017 and where he now plays for Melbourne’s Pascoe Vale Football Club.

Bahrain wants its former national team player returned to serve a 10-year prison sentence that was handed down in absentia after he was accused of vandalizing a police station – a charge he denies.

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

Soccer great Hagi’s club fires player for gambling issues

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CONSTANTA, Romania (AP) Gheorghe Hagi’s soccer club in Romania says it has terminated a player’s contract for gambling on games.

Viitorul Constanta, which is owned and coached by the former Romania great, had previously said it suspended Mihai Vodut while verifying media reports of his betting.

[ MORE: Latest on Emiliano Sala ]

A Romanian news website published claims by a former girlfriend of the 24-year-old forward that she placed bets on his team’s games at his request.

Viitorul says the player’s contract specified that betting was forbidden.

The club, which is fifth in the 14-team top division, was created by Hagi 10 years ago after a storied playing career that included being signed by Real Madrid and Barcelona.

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

Ronaldo pleads guilty to tax fraud at Madrid court

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MADRID (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo has pleaded guilty to tax fraud and received a two-year suspended sentence.

The Juventus forward, who was facing charges stemming from his days at Real Madrid, was in court for about 45 minutes and signed an agreement which will cost him nearly 19 million euros ($21.6 million) in fines.

[ MORE: Latest on Emiliano Sala ]

Ronaldo arrived at court in a black van and was wearing a black sports coat and black pants. He walked up some stairs leading to the court house and even stopped to sign an autograph.

Ronaldo made the deal to plead guilty with Spain’s state prosecutor and tax authorities last year.

In Spain, a judge can suspend sentences for two years or less for first-time offenders.

In 2017, a state prosecutor accused Ronaldo of four counts of tax fraud from 2011-14 worth 14.7 million euros ($16.7 million). Ronaldo was accused of having used shell companies outside Spain to hide income made from image rights.

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

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Eibar defeats Espanyol 3-0 to end winless streak in La Liga

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MADRID (AP) Eibar routed Espanyol 3-0 to end a seven-match winless streak and move further away from the relegation zone in the Spanish league on Monday.

Sergi Enrich scored in the first half, and Pablo De Blasis and Charles added a goal each in the second to give the hosts their first win since November when they defeated Real Madrid 3-0 at home.

The victory moved Eibar from 16th to 11th in the league, five points clear from the relegation zone after 20 matches.

Espanyol, which has won only one of its last nine league matches, dropped to 13th ahead of its home game against third-place Real Madrid on Sunday.

Eibar visits Leganes on Saturday.

Barcelona has a five-point lead over second-placed Atletico Madrid.

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