Mathieu Valbuena

Pape Diouf
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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

Spurs blow 2-goal lead in draw at Olympiacos

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Tottenham Hotspur wasted a 2-0 lead on the road in Athens as another Premier League club came up short in its Champions League opener, drawing 2-2 with Olympiacos.

Harry Kane bagged a 26th minute penalty and Lucas Moura doubled the lead on the half-hour mark, but Daniel Podence and Mathieu Valbuena – by far the Greeks’ two most incisive players throughout the match – were on hand to erase the lead and rescue a point for the hosts.

Kane’s opening goal made him the third-fastest player to reach 15 Champions League goals, needing just 20 matches to reach the mark. He profited with a penalty blasted straight down the middle, sending a helpless Jose Sa the wrong way. Moura, last season’s Champions League hero, again came up big in European play with a right-footed rocket from just outside the top of the penalty area.

Unfortunately, it all broke down from there. Podence, who was an absolute menace down the right for Olympiacos, clawed one back just before halftime on a brilliant counter. Valbuena delivered a wonderful through-ball for a full-speed Podence and Portuguese winger’s exceptional first touch got him away from chasing defenders for a far-post finish.

Valbuena was also excellent on the ball, overloading the right flank often. He was on hand to deliver an equalizing penalty in the 54th minute after a foul by Jan Vertonghen. It is Valbuena’s first goal in Champions League play since he stunned Borussia Dortmund with an 87th minute winner that sent Lyon through to the knockout round. Questions will be asked of Olympiacos manager Pedro Martins who withdrew Valbuena with 20 minutes to go, which baffled many and left the hosts with little attacking mentality down the stretch.

Dele Alli had a chance to give Spurs the lead again past the hour mark, but his low shot from distance was fabulously saved by Sa who got big and stuck out his right boot to clip the effort wide. As Spurs poured on the pressure late, Erik Lamela forced another save by Sa with a tight-angled shot to the near post. After Chelsea and Liverpool both fell on the road in Champions League play on Tuesday, the draw felt like a defeat for the Londoners.

French court says investigation of Benzema was unfair

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PARIS (AP) France’s highest court has ruled that an investigation of Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema in a blackmail case, linked to a sex tape involving his France teammate Mathieu Valbuena, was carried out unfairly by prosecutors.

Benzema is facing preliminary charges of conspiracy and complicity in an attempted blackmail scheme intended to extort money from Valbuena in exchange for the sex tape. Benzema denies any wrongdoing.

The Cour de Cassation didn’t clear Benzema, but it ruled that investigators had broken rules and used unfair methods to try and prove the existence of a blackmail scam.

It noted that, acting on the instructions of the prosecutor, an investigator had posed as a representative of Valbuena and that, using a pseudonym, he had prompted the holders of the sex tape to try and claim money from the player.

As a result of the ruling, the whole investigation against Benzema could be annulled. The court ordered that the case be referred to a different, lower court which will now have to rule on the case, in accordance with its decision.

Benzema’s lawyer, Patrice Spinosi, welcomed the ruling.

“The case is not over, but the new appeals court should logically rule that the whole proceedings were unfair and bring down almost all the case, at least certainly for Karim Benzema,” Spinosi told FranceInfo web channel.

The investigators who charged Benzema believe he was approached by a childhood friend in 2015 to act as an intermediary and convince Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers. Instead, Valbuena informed the police. After he refused to conduct the negotiations himself, investigators had the idea of setting a trap for the sex tape holders.

The filing of preliminary charges against Benzema led French soccer officials to leave him out of their squad for last year’s European Championship – which was staged in France – in the interests of team harmony and avoiding media intrusion.

Chelsea loanee Traore leads Ajax to 4-1 UEL semi lead vs. Lyon

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Bertrand Traore struck twice to send Ajax to a 4-1 home win in the first leg of Ajax’s UEFA Europa League semifinal tie with Lyon at Amsterdam Arena on Wednesday.

Ajax led 3-0 on goals by Traore, Kasper Dolberg, and Amin Younes. Mathieu Valbuena did secure an away goal for Lyon, but Traore completed his brace in the 71st minute to provide the final score line.

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The winner gets the victor of the other semifinal between Celta Vigo and Manchester United. The UEL Final will be held May 24 in Solna, Sweden.

Ajax is four points back of Feyenoord in the Eredivisie table, while Lyon is fourth in Ligue 1.

Traore is on his second Dutch loan from Chelsea, spending two loan seasons at Vitesse before scoring four times for the Blues last season (two of those goals coming in the Premier League).

Mathieu Valbuena injures shoulder but won’t need surgery

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French midfielder Mathieu Valbuena will miss a month with a dislocated shoulder, but while initially it was feared he would need surgery, that is no longer an option, and four weeks should be an adequate recovery time according to reports in France.

The 32-year-old has struggled with injuries this year, missing a pair of matches with a hip problem, and now will be sidelined much longer after a hard landing in the 75th minute on Saturday in a loss to Guingamp.

After the match, president Jean-Michel Aulas told TV channel Canal+ that Valbuena would likely need surgery, but after further testing they will look to get him back by the start of December.

Lyon is struggling mightily, having lost three of four in Ligue 1 play and falling to 10th in the table.

Valbuena has been a regular for the French national team, missing just two matches since late 2012. With this injury, he will most certainly miss France’s World Cup qualifier against Sweden in early November, plus the following friendly against the Ivory Coast.