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Catalonia beats Venezuela 2-1 in friendly in Spain

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GIRONA, Spain (AP) Venezuela followed its win over Lionel Messi’s Argentina by losing to Catalonia 2-1 in a friendly on Monday.

Javi Puado scored in the 88th minute to give the hosts the win at Girona’s Montilivi Stadium. Bojan Krkic opened the scoring in the 53rd and Venezuela equalized through Roberto Rosales in the 59th.

Catalonia was led by Barcelona defender Gerard Pique, who retired from Spain’s national team after the World Cup last year. He nearly scored with a curling free kick that struck the crossbar in the first half.

Venezuela earned a convincing 3-1 win over Argentina in Madrid on Friday, but after the game Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel offered his resignation because he was not happy with the politicization of a pre-game visit to the squad.

Dudamel, who was on the bench on Monday, said his future would depend on talks with Venezuelan soccer federation officials.

Catalonia, the region which recently was in the middle of a heated independence dispute with Spain, was missing players because some non-Catalan teams didn’t release them to avoid the risk of injures ahead of the final period of the Spanish league.

Catalonia has often put together squads to play in friendly matches against other nations, but clubs are not obligated to release players to the region.

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The world’s most political game? Venezuela v. Catalonia

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MADRID (AP) There will be lots of politics to talk about when Venezuela takes on a Catalonia squad in a friendly soccer game in Spain on Monday.

Venezuela has a coach who offered his resignation over the alleged political use of his national team, while Catalonia — the region in the middle of an independence dispute with — will be missing players because some non-Catalan teams didn’t release them.

Venezuela is coming off a convincing 3-1 win over Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Friday, but what attracted most of the attention after the friendly was an announcement by Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel. He offered his resignation because he was not happy with the politicization of a pre-game visit by a representative of Juan Guaido, the man challenging Nicolas Maduro’s claim to the presidency in Venezuela.

Dudamel and the rest of the squad had welcomed the visit but the coach apparently did not like that images were later released to the public.

“Regrettably, they politicized the visit,” Dudamel said. “The agreement was that if there was any image or video, it would have been used internally only. But they politicized the visit, and we can’t allow that to happen. It was regrettable how they used it.”

Venezuela is in the middle of a power struggle since Maduro’s re-election last year was deemed illegitimate by several governments.

Dudamel said he will remain in charge of the squad on Monday, but his future will depend on talks with Venezuelan soccer federation officials in the coming days.

Catalonia has also undergone political turmoil, peaking recently in 2017 with an independence referendum not recognized by Madrid. The issue divided Spain at the time and remains a hot topic politically.

Although the region is not independent, Catalonia has often put together squads to play in friendly matches against other nations.

Among the Catalan players expected to play on Monday are veterans Gerard Pique and Xavi Hernandez. Both have retired from the Spanish national team and are off-duty with their clubs because of the international break.

Hernandez, a 39-year-old midfielder, currently plays in Qatar. The 32-year-old Pique, still a starter with Barcelona, decided to stop playing with Spain’s national team after the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

But other players initially selected for the squad were not released by their clubs, who said their decisions were not related to politics.

Valladolid, which is fighting relegation from the top tier of the Spanish league, was the first team to keep its players from taking part in Monday’s match, and Rayo Vallecano and Huesca — also threatened by relegation — later followed suit.

“We understand the reasons why these clubs are not going to let their players play,” Catalonia coach Gerard Lopez said.

The match will be played in Girona, a Catalan city about 60 miles from Barcelona.

Atlanta’s Martinez scores as Venezuela shocks Argentina

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It was supposed to be Lionel Messi’s big night in his return to the Argentine National Team after a nine month break. Instead, it may have reminded him why he left in the first place.

Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez scored a second-half penalty, Newcastle United’s Salomon Robson opened the scoring and the Vinotino of Venezuela shocked Argentina, 3-1 in a friendly match played at the Wanda Metropolitana in Madrid. For all the starpower of both sides, MLS was represented, as Martinez’s club teammate Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez started for Argentina alongside Messi.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The result was another blow to coach Lionel Scaloni as he tries to rebuild an aging Albiceleste side with a frail defense. Meanwhile it is a huge boost for Venezuela ahead of this summer’s Copa America in Brazil.

It only took six minutes for Rondon to put Venezuela on the board. Tottenham’s Juan Foyth was unable to deal with the Newcastle striker as a terrific direct pass from leftback Roberto Rosales found its way to Rondon, who provided a calm finish.

Just before halftime, Jhon Murillo curled home a delightful strike to put Venezuela up 2-0. Pity Martínez was substituted at halftime and while Lautaro Martinez pulled a goal back for Argentina, it was not to be Argentina’s night. Foyth again was to blame as he took down Darwin Machis in the box, setting up Josef Martinez to put the final nail in the coffin.

Galaxy acquire defender Rolf Feltscher

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Defender Rolf Feltscher, who has played professionally in England, Germany, Italy and Spain, is joining the LA Galaxy.

The Galaxy said Tuesday that it had acquired the 27-year-old Venezuelan on a free transfer.

[ MORE: Arsenal eliminates West Ham ]

Feltscher has made nearly 200 professional appearances for clubs throughout Europe, including competition in La Liga, Serie A and the Championship. He has 19 caps with the Venezuelan national team.

He will be added to the roster once the Galaxy receives his visa and international transfer certificate. Feltscher will occupy an international roster spot.

“We think highly of his soccer pedigree, his versatility and the skills he brings to our team,” said head coach Sigi Schmid. “He will be another piece in building our backline.”

CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying preview

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Have to hand it to CONMEBOL, which makes sure their World Cup qualifying day always has a match moving for seven and a half hours.

It’s Matchday 15 for South America, the first of four days left for five perennial World Cup qualifiers to find their way to one of three automatic spots on the table. Outside of Colombia, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador, this week marks the last chances for Peru and Paraguay to edge their way into the conversation.

Let’s take a look at the table before we go any further.

[ MORE: Four keys for the USMNT ]

Brazil — 33 pts (qualified)
Colombia — 24 pts
Uruguay — 23 pts
Chile — 23 pts
Argentina — 22 pts
Ecuador — 20 pts
Peru — 18 pts
Paraguay — 18 pts
Bolivia — 10 pts (eliminated)
Venezuela — 6 pts (eliminated)

The Top Four teams go to Russia automatically, with the fifth place team facing either the Solomon Islands or, more likely, New Zealand for a place in the World Cup.

Brazil is already in, but won’t be resting on its laurels given the competition for places in the roster. Players like David Luiz, Alex Sandro, and Douglas Costa aren’t even in the squad for Thursday’s match with sixth-place Ecuador in Porto Alegre.

Ecuador could find itself as low as eight with a loss to Brazil, should Peru beat already-eliminated Bolivia in Lima (likely) and Paraguay snare three points in Chile (far from it).

The Chileans will be feeling the heat should they not get a win over Paraguay. A trip to Bolivia is next, but home to Ecuador and away to Brazil is a tough way to finish qualifying.

Uruguay is the only team to face both Bolivia and Venezuela, which gives it a distinct advantage. If it can manage a win over Argentina on Thursday, it would but them on a clean path to Russia.

The Argentine side would avoid a brutal final day in Ecuador if it could pick up a win in Montevideo. With Venezuela and Peru coming to Argentina next, La Albiceleste would have a solid chance to clinch a spot in Russia before Matchday 18.

CONMEBOL qualifying Thursday schedule
Venezuela vs. Colombia, 5 p.m. ET
Chile vs. Paraguay, 6:30 p.m. ET
Uruguay vs. Argentina, 7 p.m. ET
Brazil vs. Ecuador, 8:45 p.m. ET
Peru vs. Bolivia, 10:15 p.m. ET

Remaining opponents
Brazil – Ecuador (H), Colombia (A), Bolivia (A), Chile (H)
Colombia – Venezuela (A), Brazil (H), Paraguay (H), Peru (A)
Uruguay – Argentina (H), Paraguay (A), Venezuela (A), Bolivia (H)
Chile – Paraguay (H), Bolivia (A), Ecuador (H), Brazil (A)
Argentina – Uruguay (A), Venezuela (H), Peru (H), Ecuador (A)
Ecuador – Brazil (A), Peru (H), Chile (A), Argentina (H)
Peru – Bolivia (H), Ecuador (A), Argentina (A), Colombia (H)
Paraguay – Chile (A), Uruguay (H), Colombia (A), Venezuela (H)
Bolivia – Peru (A), Chile (H), Brazil (H), Uruguay (A)
Venezuela – Colombia (H), Argentina (A), Uruguay (H), Paraguay (A)