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Former MLS player helping Spain in fight against coronavirus

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MADRID — Toni Dovale has a different routine than most Spanish soccer players during the coronavirus pandemic.

While some have been spending their time trying to stay fit or negotiating salary reductions with their clubs, Dovale is working to guarantee there are enough protective masks, gloves and medicine to help in the fight against the virus in hard-hit Spain.

The former Sporting Kansas City and Celta Vigo player who came through Barcelona’s famed youth academy has put on a white coat and is working in his family’s small pharmacy in the northwestern city of A Coruna while soccer remains on hold because of the virus.

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He had been playing in Thailand before coming to Spain for the holidays and got stuck when the outbreak started.

“I was packing my bags to go back to Asia for the new season, but the situation with the virus started to become tough,” the 30-year-old Dovale said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press this week. “I was not expecting to work now, but the only thing I could do was help. It was the right moment to come into the pharmacy and help my people.”

Spain has struggled with the coronavirus, registering more than 140,000 confirmed cases and nearly 14,000 deaths. The country has been in a tight lockdown since mid-March and the restrictions are expected to remain in place at least until the end of April. The nation’s health system has been overwhelmed and the government has been seeking any help it can get.

“I decided that the best thing I could do was to help my community, to come to the pharmacy and try to help people, to do my best so we can get back to our normal lives as soon as possible and hopefully I can go back to playing soon,” said Dovale, who has a pharmacy degree.

“With everything that is going on in our society, it was the moment for me to take a step forward,” he said. “I know there is a risk, because I’m exposed to the virus, it’s an uncomfortable situation, but I think that in the tough times it’s always the time to take a step forward and show your character.”

Dovale is one of four workers at his family’s pharmacy, and that’s including his mother, who is among the high-risk group for infection because of her age. They have been keeping social distancing among themselves and only three customers can enter the pharmacy at a time.

Dovale is a do-it-all employee, but one of his main responsibilities is to negotiate the purchase of medicine and supplies with laboratories and other providers.

“There is a shortage of many medicines. We don’t have masks, we don’t have alcohol. Gloves are not easy to find,” he said. “I try to call labs and everybody who can provide me material to help these people. It’s really painful when people come to the pharmacy asking for a mask and you cannot get this kind of stuff for them.”

Dovale said pharmacies have been crucial for people with non-coronavirus illnesses.

“We cannot forget that people can still become sick,” he said. “People still have diabetes, still have hypertension and many other problems. It’s very important that we take care of them, because the hospitals are collapsed and crowded.”

Dovale, an offensive midfielder with good playmaking and passing skills, scored four goals and had four assists in his 25 matches with Sporting Kansas City in Major League Soccer in 2014.

He started at Barcelona’s youth academy before joining Celta Vigo, where he played under current Spain coach Luis Enrique. He later also played for Spanish clubs Leganes, Rayo Vallecano and Lugo, where he played under current Barcelona coach Quique Setien.

“Great experiences,” said Dovale, who also had a stint with Bengaluru FC in India and was playing with Thai club Navy FC before the coronavirus pandemic left him stuck in Spain and led to the end of his contract.

Dovale said he feels he has four or five years of good soccer ahead of him, and he wouldn’t mind going back to Asia or the United States.

“The challenge of playing for titles and playing in international competitions is what makes me keep going forward,” he said. “In Spain, it is really difficult because only two teams can fight for titles.”

Dovale is trying to stay fit as well as he can, training in the morning at home and in a parking lot before going to the pharmacy.

He said he hoped the United States would be spared the things he has witnessed in Spain.

“My only advice is that they should take it seriously, because I never imagined that in Spain we would see that much pain. I never imagined that many people would be dying. I never imagined that so many hospitals would be absolutely collapsed. I never expected that we would be missing things like alcohol, masks and gloves,” he said.

“This situation just hit us from the back,” Dovale said. “My people, my community, are going through a lot of pain. I just pray for the people in the U.S. to stay safe. Hopefully they can stop it a little earlier than us, because for our country, for our community, it’s really painful and we will not forget about this situation, for sure.”

More Bundesliga protests: Fans slam German soccer federation

Bundesliga protests
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BERLIN — There were more widespread protests at Bundesliga games over the weekend as fans vented their anger with the German soccer federation.

Bayern Munich ultras also took aim at their own team’s management on Sunday as they criticized chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge for his strong reaction to protests the weekend before and questioned their club’s ongoing sponsorship links to Qatar.

Supporters around the country showed their inventive side as they displayed witty banners addressing a host of issues without resorting to the personal insults against Hoffenheim billionaire backer Dietmar Hopp that led to games being stopped the previous weekend.

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The federation had warned that a repeat of the insults or banners with cross hairs would lead to games being suspended and potentially called off.

There was chaos in the league last week when fans targeted Hopp and the federation, which had instructed referees to use FIFA’s three-step procedure for dealing with the abuse – a measure originally developed for combating racism. It almost led to the abandonment of two games after referees went to Step 2.

Union Berlin president Dirk Zingler criticized the federation in an interview with Die Welt newspaper on Friday, saying it had lost touch with the majority of supporters in Germany and that its authority was damaged after years of scandals.

Federation presidents Theo Zwanziger, Wolfgang Niersbach and Reinhard Grindel were all forced to step down amid corruption allegations before former Freiburg president Fritz Keller took over last year.

“If (the federation) believes that it can treat people and organizations like it has for the last 10 or 20 years, then it doesn’t work,” Zingler said.

The federation said Friday that it had gone too far in implementing the three-step procedure and that criticism from fans should be permitted as long as it wasn’t hateful or defamatory.

The supporters needed no second invitation.

Mainz fans said the federation’s priorities were skewed.

“World Cup arranged through bribery, presented as a fairy tale, slavery ignored, racism talked away, and now unashamedly courting an insulted billionaire,” read a banner during Mainz’s game with Fortuna Dusseldorf on Sunday. “Every value is all the same. Whoever has money has the morals!”

Rummenigge was a target for describing the previous weekend’s protests as the “grotesque face of soccer.”

In Dortmund, fans held pictures of Rummenigge, Hopp, federation president Fritz Keller and others with red clown noses behind a banner saying “The grotesque faces of soccer.”

Hertha Berlin fans held banners saying “Bribes, collective punishments, deaths in Qatar. It’s clear who the grotesque face of football is.”

Freiburg fans criticized Keller, who was president of their club before he took over at the federation: “Back to collective punishments. Racism relativized. Deliberately escalated. Fritz Keller – nothing understood.”

They also said the federation was Hopp’s soccer federation.

Schalke fans apologized to prostitutes for linking them to Hopp, and they criticized their own club’s stated stance on discrimination while failing to properly address racist comments made by Schalke chairman Clemens Tonnies at the beginning of the season.

Bayern supporters showed a banner with the federation’s logo crossed out and a list of complaints against it: Collective punishment, unfair ticket prices, video assistance in games, the loosening of the 50-plus-1 rule to protect clubs from investor takeovers, the banning of pyrotechnics at games and more.

The Bayern fans also criticized Rummenigge.

“The very grotesque face of Bayern is shown by those who take blood money from Qatar and Co.,” a banner read.

They could be the last protests for some time. Fears over the spread of the coronavirus are likely to see the next set of games go ahead without spectators.

Red-hot Rebić scores again as AC Milan tops Torino

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MILAN — Ante Rebić kept up his scoring form to lead AC Milan to a 1-0 win over struggling Torino in Serie A on Monday.

The Croatia international beat his marker to redirect a cross from the center of the area midway through the first half at the San Siro.

The score raised Rebić’s tally to six goals and an assist in eight matches since he earned his starting spot – a move that coincided with Zlatan Ibrahimović’s return to the Rossoneri.

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Bouncing back from a derby loss, Milan moved up to eighth and just beyond the Europa League places. The seven-time European champion is hoping to return to continental competition after voluntary withdrawing from this season’s Europa League to pay for UEFA financial fair play breaches.

Torino, meanwhile, lost its fifth straight, with new coach Moreno Longo still unable to turn things around in his second match in charge.

Ibrahimović narrowly missed a curling shot shortly after the break.

With Messi’s set pieces, Barcelona finds a way to get back on track

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MADRID — Under pressure and needing a victory, Barcelona didn’t mind leaving aside its ball-possession game for a while.

It was with set pieces that the team salvaged a crucial win this weekend to get back on track after a turbulent start to the year under coach Quique Setién.

Lionel Messi had three assists – two from free kicks – as Barcelona twice came from behind to defeat Real Betis 3-2 in Seville on Sunday. The victory kept the Catalan club three points behind Spanish league leader Real Madrid, which earlier had won 4-1 at Osasuna.

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Barcelona didn’t fully abandon its traditional passing game, but it only got the goals it needed at Benito Villamarín Stadium thanks to the set pieces. The team was losing 2-1 when Messi found Sergio Busquets inside the area for the equalizer just before halftime, and after the break it was a header from Clement Lenglet off another cross from Messi that gave Barcelona the win.

“What hurts the most is that their team can score a thousand different ways but we conceded two goals from free kicks far from the area,” Real Betis coach Rubi said.

Barcelona continued to improve despite the narrow victory, relieving some of the pressure over Setién since he replaced Ernesto Valverde at the beginning of the year.

“We’ve played more games and had more time to practice under him,” Barcelona midfielder Sergi Roberto said. “After a change, you always need some time to adapt, but it’s a lot easier to work after victories.”

Next for Barcelona will be a league game at home against third-place Getafe, which has been playing some of the best soccer in Spain recently.

GETAFE’S RUN

Getafe again has become the sensation of the Spanish league.

For the second straight season, the modest club from southern Madrid is hanging around near the top of the standings, contending for a Champions League spot and outplaying some more traditional Spanish teams.

Getafe is in third place after 23 matches, ahead of Atlético Madrid, Sevilla and Valencia. It trails second-place Barcelona by seven points and Real Madrid by 10.

“It’s a tough team to beat,” Valencia coach Albert Celades said. “It plays very solidly on defense and it doesn’t concede many goals. When a team is in third place like that, it’s because it does a lot of things well, there is no doubt about that.”

Valencia was Getafe’s latest victim on Saturday, routed 3-0. In the previous round, Getafe had won 2-0 at Athletic Bilbao.

Getafe was in contention for a Champions League spot until the end of last season, holding on to fourth place until being overcome by Valencia with two rounds to go. It will face Ajax in the round of 32 of this season’s Europa League.

EFFECTIVE STRIKERS

Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak and Espanyol’s Raúl de Tomás have been among the hottest strikers in Europe.

Isak has scored eight goals in his last six games, including one in Sociedad’s 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao in the Basque Country derby in the Spanish league on Sunday. A few days earlier he had scored twice in the team’s stunning 4-3 win at Real Madrid in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

The 20-year-old Isak, who already plays for Sweden’s national team, joined Sociedad from Borussia Dortmund last year.

De Tomás, Espanyol’s most expensive transfer after joining from Benfica in January, has scored in each of his first five matches with the Barcelona club. His latest goal was a 58th-minute winner against Granada on Sunday, giving his team its first home victory in the Spanish league this season.

He was signed for a reported 20 million euros ($21.9 million) plus add-ons, surpassing the nearly 10 million euros ($10.9 million) the Spanish club had paid for Matías Vargas last year.

The 25-year-old de Tomás has a contract with Espanyol until 2026. He used to play in the youth squads of Real Madrid before joining second-division club Rayo Vallecano on a loan. He was eventually sold to Benfica for 20 million euros ($21.9 million).

Premier League tells referees to view replays for red cards

Premier League tells referees to view replays for red cards
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LONDON — The Premier League has advised its referees to use sideline monitors to make a final ruling on red card decisions.

Through 22 rounds of the first Premier League season with video review, referees have not gone over to the screens at any point to watch replays after being told to use them sparingly. Instead, referees have been relying on feedback from the video assistant referee in a London control room.

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But officials were reminded at a meeting of Premier League referees this week that they should go over to what is known as the “referee review area” when VAR suggests upgrading a yellow card to a red or downgrading a red to a yellow.

It has been a more familiar sight at games in other European competitions, like the Champions League, to see referees watching replays in the stadium.