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Liverpool duo, Aubameyang are CAF Player of the Year finalists

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Mohamed Salah‘s bid to become the third player to win consecutive African Player of the Year awards faces some stiff competition.

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Salah (Egypt) is joined by Liverpool teammate Sadio Mane (Senegal) and Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon) as finalists for the confederation’s award, set to be handed out Jan. 8 in Senegal.

The Egyptian won in 2018 — his first year as a finalist — edging second place Mane and third place Aubameyang last year. Aubameyang won the award in 2015, and Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez claimed the honors in 2016.

Salah will be the heavy favorite despite Aubameyang’s outstanding year, if only because he was the lone member of the three to appear in the 2018 World Cup.

Still injured from a Sergio Ramos challenge in the UEFA Champions League Final, Salah scored both of the Pharoahs goals as Egypt failed to claim a point in a group with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Uruguay.

Salah already won the BBC’s award. Surprisingly, Aubameyang was left off the BBC’s five-man shortlist, which instead chose Kalidou Koulibaly, Mehdi Benatia, and Thomas Partey. That’s trying a bit too hard, in this man’s view. Alex Iwobi and Wilfred Ndidi were also denied by the CAF.

El Hadji Diouf, Samuel Eto'o, and Yaya Toure were the others to win back-to-back African POTY honors.

FIFA won’t be bound by politics over sharing Qatar World Cup

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Political tensions won’t prevent FIFA from deciding whether to place some World Cup games outside Qatar, the head of world soccer’s governing body said Thursday.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino used a summit of soccer nations in Qatar to gather support for his mission to add 16 teams to the 2022 tournament – a move that would require the tiny, energy-rich nation sharing games in the region.

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That would be complicated by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cutting ties with Qatar in 2017 in an ongoing political dispute that prevents flights between Doha and the boycotting countries.

Qatar won a vote in 2010 to host the World Cup with 32 teams and is only building eight stadiums. A 48-team tournament is already planned for 2026 in the United States, Canada and Mexico, but Infantino wants to fast-track that expansion and add 16 more games for the first World Cup in the Middle East.

“Is it feasible to do it only in Qatar? Difficult probably,” Infantino said. “Is it feasible to have a few games being played in neighboring countries? Well, maybe this is an option, of course.

“I’m not that naive not to know not to read the news and not to know what is going on. But now we are in football, we are not in politics, and in football, sometimes the dreams come true.”

Given 32 teams compete for the World Cup and there are 211 nations in FIFA, adding more slots in 2022 is likely to be embraced by the members given they have already approved expansion of the event beginning in 2026.

Infantino used a trip to Doha in October to ask the emir of Qatar if he would consider allowing matches to be shared with nations that are part of an economic and travel boycott against his country.

“If there is something that I could do which is good for football worldwide, then we should look at it,” Infantino said at a news conference in Doha before heading to Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup. “I have the chance and I’m lucky enough to be able to look into that without having to be bound by any political considerations, but looking at it from a purely sporting perspective.”

Infantino did use a speech to politicians at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina last month to discuss using the World Cup in 2022 to bring countries together by spreading games beyond Qatar.

The 2022 tournament is already being cramped into a 28-day window to minimize the disruption to top European leagues because it was moved from June and July to November and December due to the extreme heat.

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Salah scores last-minute winner against Tunisia (video)

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Egypt needs Mohamed Salah, and the Liverpool forward reinforced that fact on Friday in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier versus Tunisia.

Deadlocked at two, Salah burst into the box on the right wing via a 1-2 with Salah Mohsen and used deft move to make enough space to blast a shot home.

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It was vintage Salah, right down to the red shirt.

Egypt has qualified for this summer’s tournament in Cameroon and is tied for the top of the group with one match to go. Egypt travels to Niger in March while Tunisia hosts Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland).

Here’s the goal, his 39th in 62 caps for the Pharoahs.

Egypt’s retired star Aboutrika sentenced to prison

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CAIRO (AP) An Egyptian court sentenced Mohamed Aboutrika, one of the country’s greatest all-time soccer players, to a year in prison for tax evasion while also giving him the option to pay a fine of 20,000 Egyptian pounds, or $1,115, to have the sentence suspended.

The verdict, handed down on Monday by the Cairo misdemeanor court, was delivered in absentia.

Aboutrika, who has lived since his 2013 soccer retirement in exile in Qatar, where he works as a sports analyst for the beIN sports network, could not be reached for comment.

Under the law, the verdict can be appealed and if Aboutrika returns to Egypt, he would have to stand a new trial.

The court said Aboutrika failed to pay 710,000 Egyptian pounds – about $39,500 – in taxes on income from advertising deals with carbonated drink and telecommunications companies in 2008 and 2009.

Egypt froze Aboutrika’s assets in 2015 and placed him on a no-fly list in 2017 over allegations of links to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which authorities have labelled a terrorist organization.

The Brotherhood emerged as the country’s dominant political force after Egypt’s 2011 Arab Spring uprising but was later purged in 2013, when the army, led by general-turned-president Abdel Fattah el-Sissi overthrew Mohammed Morsi, the country’s first freely elected but divisive president.

Aboutrika played for Cairo’s Al-Ahly club and was central to two of Egypt’s three straight African Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Those triumphs made Egypt Africa’s most successful team with a record seven titles.

Aboutrika was dubbed “Prince of Hearts” and “The Magician” by his soccer fans.

But he also openly sympathized with the Brotherhood and publicly endorsed Morsi in his successful presidential run in 2012, a year after the overthrow of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Egyptian pro-government media now refer to Aboutrika as a traitor but he still enjoys huge support from his soccer fans in the country.

Aboutrika has repeatedly denied ever funding the Islamists, who have been the main target of a fierce government crackdown on dissent led by current President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

Salah update as Egyptian heads back to Liverpool

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Will Liverpool have Mohamed Salah available for matches against Huddersfield Town and Red Star Belgrade?

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The Egyptian star, 26, was injured in a 4-1 win over Swaziland in Africa Cup of Nations qualifying, and the hamstring ailment is not considered long-term but enough to stop him from participating in the return leg.

Salah has three goals and two assists in 11 matches for Liverpool this season, but those numbers are a reflection of his out-of-form finishing not chance creation. The Egyptian remains as active and dangerous as he was in his unreal 2017-18 season.

From Sky Sports, translated from the Egypt FA:

“During the previous match against Swaziland, Salah complained of stress in the musculoskeletal muscle. He was examined medically and radiation was performed on the area of complaint after the game.”

Xherdan Shaqiri is the favorite to start for Liverpool should Salah be unable to play Saturday. As with Kevin De Bruyne‘s injury for Man City, albeit a long-term one, the Reds’ next few games are fortunately forgiving. With apologies to Red Star, Arsenal is the only big name in Liverpool’s next seven matches.

As for those thinking this is a mixed blessing as Egypt could be hurt in AFCON qualifying? The Pharoahs are well-positioned to qualify for AFCON 2019, behind Tunisia in its group but five points clear of Swaziland and Niger at the midpoint of Group J play. Now whether the Egypt FA will be in Salah’s good graces come January is another story.