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Women’s World Cup: Australia’s comeback, China back on track

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A roundup of Thursday’s action at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France…

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Australia 3-2 BrazilFULL RECAP

Australia’s 3-2 comeback victory over Brazil is an early contender for game of the tournament — for some very good reasons, as well others not so great.

First, the good:

  • By scoring the game’s opening goal — a penalty kick in the 27th minute (WATCH HERE) — Marta made history by becoming the first player (man or woman) to score a goal at five different World Cups, beginning all the way back in 2003. It was the 111th goal of her international career.
  • Cristiane made it 2-0 by scoring her fourth goal of the tournament just 11 minutes later (WATCH HERE). Brazil looked to have turned the clock back, while Australia were yet to even show up.
  • The Matildas sprang to life just before halftime, when Caitlin Foord pulled a goal back to make it 2-1.

  • Chloe Logarzo made it 2-2 by applying the deftest of finishes from the tightest of angles in the 58th minute.

Then, it all went a bit haywire. The Laws of the Game surrounding active and passive players in offside positions are horrifically murky and left up to the interpretation of the referee, which means the video-review decision made on Australia’s 58th-minute winner (WATCH HERE) was correct, by the book, but so horribly wrong in the spirit of the game.

After two games played, Brazil and Australia sit first and third, respectively, in Group C with three points each. To the surprise of many, it’s Italy who could go top of the group and secure at least a third-place spot in the knockout rounds with a victory over Jamaica on Friday (12 p.m. ET).


South Africa 0-1 China

China picked up its first points of the tournament, following an opening defeat to Germany, to move level with Spain in the race for second place in Group B.

Li Ying scored the game’s only goal in the 40th minute, a superb sliding finish to redirect Zhang Rui’s curling diagonal ball into the box.

China and Spain will meet in the final game of group play on Monday (12 p.m. ET), with a (likely) guaranteed place in the knockout rounds on the line.


Friday’s Women’s World Cup schedule

Japan v. Scotland — 9 a.m. ET
Jamaica v. Italy — 12 p.m. ET
England v. Argentina — 3 p.m. ET

Who are this year’s World Cup dark horses?

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There’s no doubt that there are three legitimate favorites to win the 2019 Women’s World Cup; Host France, Germany, and of course, the U.S. Women’s National Team.

Behind them are a second tier of teams who could push those three for the title, including England, Japan and even Brazil if they put everything together.

[MORE: Full 2019 World Cup schedule, live streams]

But who are the dark horses, teams that could really surprise a few and make a deep run in the tournament? Let’s take a closer look, below.


Netherlands

Winners of the 2017 European Championships, the Netherlands are looking to make a splash at this year’s World Cup. It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that the Netherlands really started to invest in their women’s team (with the creation of the professional women’s Eredivisie in 2007), and it’s starting to pay dividends.

The Netherlands qualified for its first World Cup in 2015 and fell in the knockout round to eventual finalists Japan, but the team features some of the most talented players in the world. They’re led by former World Player of the Year and Barcelona midfielder Lieke Martens, while 22-year-old Vivianne Miedema has scored 45 international goals. Miedema, one of four Arsenal players in this Netherlands squad, scored 22 goals for the Gunners this past season in just 20 Women’s Super League games. Another former club teammate, Dominique Bloodworth, just signed with Wolfsburg after appearing more than 100 times for Arsenal.

Captain and goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal, also at Arsenal, has taken the position from veteran Loes Geurts and it will be interesting to see how van Veenendaal does as the new No. 1.

The Netherlands combines a strong and young squad, but a they’ll have to wait until the final group stage match to know what their road to the final will look like. Should they beat Canada and win the group, they’ll likely face either England or Japan in the Round of 16. If they finish as runners-up, the Netherlands could face the U.S. Women’s National Team or Sweden. Either way, it’s likely a tough start to the knockout round. However, this Netherlands team looks up to the challenge.

Canada

The other favorites to get out of Group E, Canada is one of the most experienced squads at this World Cup and it’s likely the last World Cup for legendary striker and national team captain, Christine Sinclair. The 35-year-old has scored more than 180 international goals and could look to break Abby Wambach’s international record of 184 international goals at this World Cup, especially if Canada makes a deep run.

Along with Sinclair, the team features veterans Sophie Schmitt and Desiree Scott, but there’s also a youth movement in the squad. Rising star, forward Jordyn Huitema, already has more than 20 caps and is still only 18 years old, while fellow teenagers Jayde Riviere and Julia Grosso also made the team.

It’s a squad that’s going to rely heavily on defending with Lyon’s Kadeisha Buchanan and Orlando Pride’s Shelina Zadorsky taking big roles at centerback. But with Huitema available off the bench for some pace up top, and Sinclair’s goalscoring ability, this team could surprise a few and make another deep run, just like at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.


Australia

Another team with one of the world’s best strikers, captain Sam Kerr may be the best in the world at her position. The 25-year-old split time between the Chicago Red Stars – scoring six goals in six games – as well as Perth Glory, with 17 goals in 13 games, so she’s clearly one of the most in-form strikers on the globe.

Lisa de Vanna could start or come off the bench in her fourth World Cup, while a mostly young backline will look to keep opponents off the board, including right back Ellie Carpenter of the Portland Thorns.

The team also interestingly features 16-year-old forward Mary Fowler, who has already made four appearances off the bench.

Australia will have a tough road into the knockout round, with Italy, Brazil and Jamaica in Group C, but if the Matildas can make it out of there, they’ll be in good shape moving forward and battle tested. The Matildas can go as far as Sam Kerr can take them, and if she keeps scoring, they can certainly go far.

Australian A-League expansion club to be called MacArthur FC

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SYDNEY (AP) The third Sydney-based club in Australia’s A-League will be known as MacArthur FC.

The club’s logo, featuring a bull, the back, white and ochre colors and name were unveiled in a ceremony at Campbelltown in Sydney’s southwest on Wednesday.

MacArthur will be the 12th team in an expanded top-flight competition from the 2020-21 season after A-League organizers decided last December to add two clubs.

Sydney FC was a foundation club in the relaunched A-League and won the first premiership title in 2006. Western Sydney Wanderers joined the competition in 2012.

A third club from Melbourne, Western United, is set to join the competition next season, joining four-time champion Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City in the national top flight.

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

Thailand frees refugee Hakeem al-Araibi

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Hakeem Al-Araibi has been freed by Thailand, as Bahrain dropped its extradition request for the refugee soccer player.

Al-Araibi, 25, is a refugee in Australia after fleeing his homeland of Bahrain in 2014.

He was held in Bangkok in November after traveling to Thailand on his honeymoon, as Bahrain had sent out an Interpol notice to detain Al-Araibi.

The former player for the Bahrain national team was granted political asylum in Australia and if he was extradited to Bahrain many feared he would be subjected to torture due to his criticism of the government.

Bahrain want him to serve a 10-year prison sentence for his alleged involvement in vandalism of a police station.

Al-Araibi denies the charge and says that he was previously blindfolded and beaten when held in Bahrain and believes he has been targeted due to his Shiite faith and because his brother is involved in politics in the Middle East country.

Craig Foster, a former Australian national team player and current broadcaster, has led the protests for Al-Araibi to be freed as the likes of Didier Drogba and Jamie Vardy have also supported the cause.

Australian rallies call for Thais to free Bahraini refugee

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SYDNEY (AP) Scores of demonstrators rallied in Australia’s two largest cities on Friday to demand that Thailand release a detained Bahraini soccer player who has refugee status in Australia.

The demonstrations outside the Sydney Opera House and in Melbourne’s Federation Square opposed Hakeem al-Araibi’s potential extradition to Bahrain.

“This is a young man who has been tortured by a country you are working with and are contemplating sending him back to,” former Australian soccer team leader Craig Foster told the Sydney crowd in comments directed at Thailand.

The rallies focused on Thailand and Indonesia’s proposed joint bid for Association of Southeast Asian Nations to host the World Cup in 2034.

“If you want to host the World Cup, you must allow the free transit of players and officials through your country,” Foster said.

The Melbourne crowd chanted “save Hakeem” while Professional Footballers Australia chief executive John Didulica implored Thailand to remember Australia’s help in rescuing 12 boys and their soccer coach from a flooded Thai cave in July.

The rallies also called for FIFA, soccer’s governing body, to consider suspending Bahrain from future competitions.

“You cannot have the privileges of the international community if you are not prepared to live by its rules or behave by its standards,” Didulica said.

The former Bahraini team player says he fled political repression in Bahrain. He had been sentenced there in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison for vandalizing a police station, which he denies.

Al-Araibi had been living in Melbourne and played for a semi-professional soccer team. The 25-year-old was detained upon his arrival in Bangkok in November and a court ruled in December he could be held for 60 days.

Thailand expects to decide within days whether to proceed with extradition to Bahrain.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews wrote a letter to the footballer to say “stay strong, mate. We will get you home.”