Didier Deschamps

Pape Diouf

Ex-Marseille president first coronavirus-related death in Senegal

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DAKAR, Senegal (AP) Pape Diouf, a former president of French soccer club Marseille, died Tuesday in Senegal after contracting the coronavirus. It was the West African country’s first COVID-19-related death, according to the health ministry. He was 68.

Diouf, who was president of Marseille from 2005-09, had been treated since Saturday in intensive care in Dakar, health minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr said.

Senegal President Macky Sall wrote on his official Twitter account that he had followed Diouf’s health closely after he was admitted for treatment.

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“I pay tribute to this great figure in sport,” Sall wrote. “I pay tribute to the medical staff at Fann Hospital who spared no effort to save him.”

Relatives said Diouf was meant to be moved to France. He had recently traveled to several countries in the West Africa region.

In its most recent count, Senegal has reported 190 cases of the coronavirus, with 45 of those having recovered.

Diouf was a charismatic and popular leader who was close to the fans and players at Marseille, the only French team to win the European club title.

“Pape will forever remain in the hearts of Marseille people and (is) one of the great architects of the club,” Marseille wrote under a photo of Diouf.

Shortly before his time at the club ended, Diouf signed Didier Deschamps as the new coach and Deschamps won the French league title and League Cup in his first season in charge. It was Marseille’s first league title in 18 years.

Deschamps, who coached France to World Cup success two years ago, described Diouf as “a man of convictions, a spirited man, passionate about football” adding that his “sudden and brutal death deeply saddens me.”

“I could measure his popularity, which was immense with the Marseille people whose hearts he had won,” Deschamps said on L’Equipe’s website.

The French soccer league called Diouf’s death “a moment of immense sadness for French soccer.”

Diouf was born in Chad to Senegalese parents. After arriving in Marseille at the age of 18, he became a sports journalist and then a players’ agent.

Diouf was not afraid to take risks in signing unheralded players, such as the diminutive Mathieu Valbuena from third-tier side Libourne in 2006 when he was 21.

The 1.67-meter (5 feet, 5 inches) Valbuena went on to prove Diouf right, and all the doubters wrong, playing 52 times for France.

“A great man with a great heart,” Valbuena said. “We were hypnotized by his speeches, he had a lot of charisma.”

Diouf was awarded the French Legion of Honor medal in 2012, one of the country’s highest honors.

Pugmire reported from Paris. AP reporter Babacar Dione in Dakar, Senegal contributed.

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

France coach Deschamps signs new contract

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PARIS — France coach Didier Deschamps has extended his contract until 2022, giving him a chance to defend the World Cup title.

Since taking charge after the 2012 European Championship the former France captain has guided Les Bleus to the Euro 2016 final on home soil before winning the World Cup in Russia last year.

That made him one of only three coaches in soccer history to have won the World Cup as both a player and a coach, along with Mario Zagallo (Brazil) and Franz Beckenbauer (West Germany).

“I’m proud and honored to be the France coach. You know the attachment I still have for what this jersey represents,” Deschamps said Tuesday. “We are world champions (and) you are judged on your results. If France has not had good since results since 2012, I wouldn’t be sitting here now.”

Deschamps has formed a close relationship with French Football Federation president Noël Le Gräet, and they recently celebrated his national record-extending 100th game in charge. He has the highest number of wins (65) of any France coach, ahead of Michel Hidalgo and Raymond Domenech (tied on 41).

“It seems important for French football that Didier Deschamps stays in charge of the national team until December 31, 2022, in other words until the end of the World Cup in Qatar,” Le Gräet said Tuesday. “Furthermore, there is no arguing with his results (so) it’s a very logical decision.”

France will again be among the favorites at Euro 2020, with Le Gräet setting Deschamps the usual target of reaching at least the semifinals.

“Our team is among the best in the world today, second in the FIFA rankings,” Le Gräet said. “It wouldn’t be very serious not to have high expectations.”

Deschamps is also unique in having both played for and coached France at least 100 times, making 103 international appearances as a gritty but technically assured central midfielder with outstanding leadership and organizational skills. Since replacing former France teammate Laurent Blanc after Euro 2012, he has taken those same qualities into his coaching.

But his new contract is unlikely to be good news for Karim Benzema, the Real Madrid striker who remains sidelined since falling out of favor with Deschamps four years ago in a bitter fallout following Benzema’s alleged involvement in a sex-tape scandal.

Deschamps has shown both great loyalty and a ruthless streak, in keeping his faith in striker Olivier Giroud – despite Giroud being left out of the Chelsea side this season – and maintaining his hardliner position in overlooking Benzema despite his outstanding performances for Madrid.

“I’m happy in my job,” Deschamps said. “I have the best French players with a remarkable team spirit. There are many great things still to be done.”

Early news positive on fresh N’Golo Kante injury

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N’Golo Kante has struggled mightily for playing time under new Chelsea manager Frank Lampard. Not because of any aversion to his services by the new boss, but instead due to a lack of fitness this season as nagging injuries continue to pile up for the French midfielder.

After Kante was a late scratch ahead of France’s eventual 1-0 win over Iceland in Euro 2020 qualification, there were yet more concerns that the 28-year-old would again be forced to the sidelines for an undetermined stretch of time.

“He felt a pain in the adductor muscle,” said France head coach Didier Deschamps after the match. “He had a feeling where he did not feel comfortable to play. ‘I made the decision [to pull him from the squad], because maybe it could get even worse.”

Thankfully for Kante, Chelsea fans, and neutrals hoping to see one of the best midfielders in the game settle in to a consistent role at Stamford Bridge, Deschamps gave some good news on his immediate future in the aftermath of the win.

“I do not think it’s too serious for NG, but I do not have an answer tonight,” Deschamps predicted.

In fact, Deschamps didn’t rule Kante out for contention in France’s big game against Turkey on Monday in Saint-Denis. The head man was even in a jovial mood after the victory, taking a harmless shot at Lampard and joking that he could parlay with the Chelsea boss. “Lampard asked me not to pick Kante at the last rally. If it’s still that way, maybe I’ll call him later to tell him it would be nice if you play Olivier Giroud a little bit.”

For Kante, hearing his injury could be shaken off is a massive positive. The midfielder has appeared in just four Premier League games this season with three starts. He missed three games with an ankle problem and also sitting out a game with a hamstring issue suffered in training. He has yet to appear in an international match since March, and missed out on summer action thanks to knee injury, including a disappointing 2-0 loss to Turkey in Antalya.

French men’s national team boots women from Clairfontaine training facilities

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The French men’s national team has temporarily displaced the women’s squad from the national team training facilities just days before the country hosts the 2019 Women’s World Cup, continuing to shed light on the battle for gender equality in the sport.

With the men’s side gearing up for Euro 2020 qualifiers against Turkey and Andorra, they have taken over the main national team facilities at Clairefontaine, with the women temporarily relocated to a training facility at Domaine de la Voisine on the outskirts of Paris.

The women are set to begin Women’s World Cup play on June 7 with the opening game of the tournament against South Korea. The men, meanwhile, have a home friendly against Bolivia on June 2, followed by the away Euro qualifiers at Turkey on June 6 and against Andorra on June 11. The men’s friendly against Bolivia is on the complete opposite end of the country from Clairfontaine, taking place in Nantes at Stade de la Beaujoire.

Men’s team manager Didier Deschamps looked to downplay the situation, saying, “They will have Clairefontaine at their disposal for the whole duration of the World Cup so there is no debate. It’s temporary, until we leave for Turkey on June 6.”

Gender inequality has been a hot-button topic in the sport over the last few years, with many top stars in the women’s game speaking out to various lengths. The United States women’s national team is embroiled in a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination, while Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg – fresh off her third straight Champions League victory with Lyon – will not play in the World Cup as she continues to boycott the Norwegian national team amidst a pay dispute.

PSG’s Neymar, Mbappe injured on international duty

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Not a banner day for Paris Saint-Germain.

Both Kylian Mbappe and Neymar were injured on international duty Tuesday, the effects of which remain to be seen for the Ligue 1 club (Perhaps it could be an opening for American attacker Tim Weah, or a huge opening for Liverpool as the Reds prepare to face PSG in the Champions League).

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A 1v1 challenge with Uruguay goalkeeper Martin Campana felled the 19-year-old Mbappe, and France coach Didier Deschamps did not have a decent prognosis.

From the BBC:

“He has a sore shoulder, he’s fallen badly. He will have to see with the medical staff. I hope it’s not bad.”

As for Neymar, he suffered “an adductor injury while taking a shot in the sixth minute, and left Brazil’s friendly against Cameroon in England.

Let’s throw it to the most quoted national team doctor in ProSoccerTalk history, Dr. Rodrigo Lasmar:

“He felt discomfort. He will need a bit more time to evaluate it and take a scan, but in principle it is not a serious injury.”