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Barcelona jets in for a day to beat South African champs

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) Ousmane Dembele, Luis Suarez and Andre Gomes scored as Barcelona beat South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns 3-1 on Wednesday in a friendly marking 100 years since the birth of Nelson Mandela.

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Lionel Messi didn’t start the game at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg but drew a roar from the crowd as big as any other on the night when he got up off the bench and started to warm up 20 minutes into the second half. He came on for the last 15 minutes. Andres Iniesta did start in his return to the stadium where he won the World Cup for Spain in 2010.

Dembele, Suarez and Gomes all took advantage of defensive errors, with Dembele curling a left-foot shot into net in the third minute and Suarez doubling the lead in the 18th minute. Gomes added the third in the 66th.

Sibusiso Vilakazi scored Sundowns’ goal late on but the Spanish champions were in cruise control against the South African league winner. Barcelona returns home to play its last game of the Spanish season on Sunday against Real Sociedad, Iniesta’s farewell match after 22 years at Barcelona.

Arrests made after violent soccer riot in South Africa

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DURBAN, South Africa (AP) Police say two people have been arrested and more arrests are imminent after a violent riot at a South African soccer game on Saturday night, when hundreds of fans ripped up parts of the stadium, invaded the field, and seriously assaulted at least one security guard.

Players had to run for the safety of the dressing rooms as the fans swept onto the field soon after the final whistle.

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Police responded with stun grenades to disperse the rioters, and television pictures showed riot police storming the field and a white armored police vehicle racing across the edge of the pitch.

South African Police Services spokeswoman Nqobile Gwala on Sunday confirmed the arrests and said the two people were facing charges of public violence and malicious damage to property.

The violence mainly by Kaizer Chiefs fans followed their team’s 2-0 loss to Free State Stars in the semifinals of the Nedbank Cup competition at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in the east coast city of Durban, one of the stadiums built for the 2010 World Cup.

In the most disturbing scenes, a female security guard was set upon by a group of supporters on the field. She lay on the ground as they hit her with plastic chairs. A man then kicked her twice in the head. After the second kick she lay motionless and face down on the grass.

Police spokeswoman Gwala did not say if anyone had died in the violence, saying police had no information yet from stadium or medical authorities on any deaths.

Kaizer Chiefs coach Steve Komphela resigned after the game.

South Africa backs Morocco for 2026 World Cup

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) South African soccer leader Danny Jordaan has promised Morocco “unqualified support” to host the 2026 World Cup in a contest against a combined North American bid.

The South African federation said Monday that Jordaan assured a visiting Morocco bid delegation “he will personally lobby” African officials ahead of the scheduled vote in Moscow on June 13.

Morocco is up against a United States-Canada-Mexico bid to stage the continent’s second World Cup. South Africa hosted in 2010, after beating Morocco and Egypt in a vote.

That South African bid is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice for a suspicious $10 million payment to FIFA voters in the North American region. In indictments published by the justice department in 2015, two of the listed “co-conspirators” are South African soccer officials who are not identified.

Now, Morocco is competing against the Americans to co-host the 48-team tournament. Up to 207 FIFA member federations will vote at their congress on the eve of the World Cup in Russia.

North American bid leaders targeted the 14-member southern African soccer body COSAFA at a February meeting in Johannesburg.

Longtime Everton midfielder Pienaar retires

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After a nearly 20-year professional career, Stevan Pienaar has decided to hang up the boots.

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“Today I am announcing my retirement from football,” Pienaar said. “I just want to say thanks to my mom and my family and all the clubs that I have played for and the supporters off course, how can I forget you”, he said. “Thanks for the love throughout my career. Follow my social media, there’s an announcement coming up soon and you guys will be the first to know.”

After beginning his career with Ajax Cape Town and making the move to the original Ajax in Amsterdam, Pienaar began a nine-year stay at Everton after a year at Borussia Dortmund and sandwiched with a move to Tottenham. The 35-year-old made 210 appearances for the club and also made more than 60 appearances for the Bafana Bafana, South Africa’s National Team, including representing them at the 2002 World Cup and on home soil at the 2010 World Cup.

Pienaar also played last season for Sunderland, though he was unable to keep them from avoiding relegation.

Former clubs of Pienaar reached out with warm wishes on social media on his retirement from playing.

‘Unfair’ for FIFA to annul World Cup qualifier over crooked ref

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SOMERSET WEST, South Africa (AP) The South African Football Association says FIFA’s decision to order a World Cup qualifier against Senegal to be replayed because of match-fixing by a crooked referee is unprecedented and unfair.

SAFA is considering appealing FIFA’s order that the 2-1 win over Senegal in November last year is annulled and the game is replayed because Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey was found guilty of manipulating the match.

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Lamptey was banned for life. Although there are no complaints over his punishment, FIFA has effectively also penalized South Africa – and it could end its hopes of making it to the World Cup next year – despite confirming that neither team had any role in or knowledge of the fixing.

The case, not seen before in top-level soccer, centers on Lamptey’s decision to give South Africa a penalty for a non-existent handball against Senegal defender Kalidou Koulibaly. The ball clearly struck Koulibaly on the knee and dropped to the ground. South Africa, which didn’t even appeal for a penalty, scored from the spot kick and went on to win.

It’s thought that Lamptey was acting on the orders of match-fixers organizing illegal betting scams. FIFA has not provided full details of the case against the referee but says that its findings against Lamptey took into account “reports of irregular betting activities from various international betting monitoring companies.”

The upshot is South Africa has been stripped of its only win so far in the final round of qualifying in Africa.

SAFA senior legal counsel Norman Arendse says FIFA’s move is unfair for a number of reasons and constitutes a “miscarriage of justice.”