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Croatia going deep again at World Cup after shootout win

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/world-cup-sports-soccer-middle-east-international-5d712e23dc6f1b2db0e306d28ac182b0

AL WAKRAH, Qatar (AP) — Croatia is going deep at another World Cup, and the team is taking the long route once again.

Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic saved three penalty kicks in Croatia’s 3-1 win over Japan in a shootout on Monday, securing a return to the quarterfinals for the runner-up in the 2018 tournament. The match was tied at 1-1 after extra time.

On its surprising run to the final in Russia four years ago, Croatia needed extra time in each round in the knockout stage — and twice came through a penalty shootout.

“History keeps repeating itself,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said with a smile.

Livakovic was the backup goalkeeper to Danijel Subasic in 2018 but took center stage this time, diving to his left to keep out Japan’s first penalty by Takumi Minamino, to his right to block Kaoru Mitoma’s effort from the second penalty, and then again to his right to deny Maya Yoshida off the fourth.

That gave Mario Pasalic the chance to put away the clinching penalty. The substitute joined the rest of Croatia’s jubilant players in heading right for Livakovic after hitting the back of the net.

“In Croatia, we do things this way,” Livakovic said. “I continued the tradition.”

The similarities with 2018 do not stop there. Just like in every game in the knockout stage that year, Croatia fell behind to Japan when Daizen Maeda swept in a close-range finish in the 43rd.

Ivan Perisic equalized by meeting Dejan Lovren’s cross from the right with a header into the bottom corner from near the penalty spot in the 57th.

Dalic said his team’s ability to recover from losing positions “reflects the Croatian people,” with a nod to a psyche the players forged growing up in a country ravaged by war as the former Yugoslavia broke up in the 1990s.

“We never give up … We have been through so much pain and the players have great pride,” Dalic said. “The whole of Croatia is supporting us and this is a way of giving them faith for a better tomorrow.”

While Croatia — also a semifinalist in 1998 — prepares to take on Brazil in the quarterfinals, Japan exits a World Cup in the round of 16 for the fourth time, just like in 2002, 2010 and 2018. The Asian team also lost in a penalty shootout to Paraguay at that stage in 2010.

Asia is still waiting for a second team to advance beyond the last 16, after South Korea on home soil in 2002.

Japan made its mark in Qatar, though, beating Germany and Spain — two of the last three World Cup champions — in huge upsets in the group stage.

“The players showed a new era of Japanese football, I think,” Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said. “They should use this feeling of being upset and try to go further next time.

“We cannot be superheroes in one go. We have to improve step by step. But Japan is reaching a level where we can play on the world stage.”

The result guarantees at least one more World Cup game for 37-year-old Croatia captain Luka Modric, one of the best midfielders of his generation. The 2018 world player of the year had a quiet game, save for one pass with the outside of his right foot that sent Perisic away for a shot on goal in the first half.

Modric was substituted in the first half of extra time and wasn’t part of the shootout.

COACH’S CONFIDENCE

Dalic never doubted Livakovic in the shootout. “Yesterday during training, we practiced penalty kicks and he really saved many shots,” Dalic said. “So when we started the shootout, I was very confident. He proved to be like Subasic in Russia.” Three of Croatia’s four penalty-takers were substitutes.

CROATIA’S ENDURANCE

Since 1998, all of Croatia’s knockout matches at a World Cup or European Championship have gone to extra time except for the 2018 World Cup final loss to France.

RECORD SCORER

With his goal, Perišić became the first Croatia player to score 10 goals at major tournaments.

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Source: https://apnews.com/article/world-cup-sports-soccer-middle-east-international-5d712e23dc6f1b2db0e306d28ac182b0

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Report: NWSL to expand in Boston, Utah and California

The National Women’s Soccer League is close to expanding by three teams, which will be in Boston, Utah and the San Francisco area, according to a Friday report in the Wall Street Journal.

The women’s pro league previously indicated it would add at least two teams by 2024. The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported that the franchises in northern California and Utah are set to start play next year, with Boston to join at a later date.

The NWSL did not confirm the report in a statement Saturday to The Associated Press, saying: “We remain engaged in our expansion process and are excited about our prospects. When we have news to share, we will do so.”

The NWSL has 12 teams, after Angel City in Los Angeles and the San Diego Wave joined the league last year.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the Boston and Bay Area groups will pay about $50 million in franchise fees. The Utah team will pay a reduced fee because of a previous agreement struck when the Utah Royals folded in the 2020 season.

Before the NWSL draft earlier this month, league commissioner Jessica Berman said it would be “somewhere between days and months, more like weeks, when we’ll be in a position to share information” about an expansion.

“What I can say is that I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities we have in front of us,” she added.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Former MVP Candace Parker to sign with champion Aces

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former two-time MVP Candace Parker announced on social media Saturday that she would sign with the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

Parker spent the past two seasons playing for her hometown Sky, leading Chicago to the WNBA championship in 2021. She also won the 2016 title playing for the Los Angeles Sparks.

She posted on Instagram that Chicago would always be her home, but “my family’s home is on the west coast.

“To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

The free-agent signing period begins Wednesday, and the Aces can’t comment until then.

Parker, a 6-foot-4 forward/center, adds to an already loaded lineup that includes reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, who also won the league’s top award in 2020. Wilson also was last season’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Chelsea Gray was MVP of the WNBA Finals and Kelsey Plum MVP of the All-Star Game. Wilson, Plum and Jackie Young were All-Star starters.

Parker and Gray were teammates on Los Angeles’ 2016 title team.

The Aces traded one of their key pieces, two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, to the Sparks on Jan. 21, creating speculation Las Vegas was creating salary cap room to sign a big-name player.

Parker, the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year and the 2016 Finals MVP, certainly fits that bill. Even at 36 last season, she averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists for the Sky.

“Candace has done so much for our franchise in her time here,” Chicago coach and general manager James Wade said in a statement. “I understand her reasons for wanting to be closer with her immediate family. We wish her nothing but the best. She will always be a part of the Sky family. We will celebrate her time here as she deserves.”

Losing her is a big blow to the Sky, who made the semifinals in last season’s playoffs before losing in five games to the Connecticut Sun. Kahleah Copper is the only starter under contract for next season, so the Sky could head into a rebuild.

“I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to win a championship in my hometown and parade down the same streets I watched the Bulls parade down as a young girl first falling in love with the game of basketball,” Parker posted.

Parker joins the Aces at a time the Women’s National Basketball Players Association said it wanted that organization investigated regarding allegations that Hamby made after being traded. She posted on Instagram she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” because she is pregnant with her second child.

The Aces still have not commented on Hamby’s allegations.

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Estrada, Hofstra end No. 18 Charleston’s 20-game win streak

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — This season, Hofstra has been a one-man show. This time, Aaron Estrada had some help as the Pride ended the nation’s longest winning streak.

Estrada scored 25 points, but just two in the second half, while Darlinestone Dubar added 18 as Hofstra had four players in double figures to knock off No. 18 College of Charleston 85-81 on Saturday — ending the Cougars’ 20-game win streak.

“That’s a really big for our program,” Hofstra coach Speedy Claxton said. “To beat a nationally ranked team on their home court when they’ve got it rolling like they do speaks volumes about our kids.”

Claxton saw a team effort to take down the hottest team in the country.

“It wasn’t just Aaron,” Claxton said. “He had a great first half, but we had other guys step up and make baskets or get rebounds when we really needed them.”

The loss ended Charleston’s spotless run that began after losing to then-top-ranked North Carolina on Nov. 11.

Hofstra, the CAA’s leader in field-goal shooting, used that to move past Charleston in the second half as it made 18 of 32 attempts. The Pride led 76-69 with 6:10 to play before the Cougars cut it to two points on Ryan Larson’s foul shots with 2:02 to play.

But Charleston managed just two free throws after that and missed all four 3-pointers they tried.

This is the second straight season the Pride have beaten a Top 25 team. A year ago, Hofstra defeated then No. 24 Arkansas 89-81. The Pride’s only other victory against a Top 25 team came against Southern Illinois in 1976.

Hofstra (15-8, 8-2 Colonial Athletic Association) beat the Cougars (21-2, 9-1) at their own game — 3-point shooting. The Pride were 11 of 22 from 3-point range and overall shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half.

Estrada, who had 23 points in the opening half, shredded the Cougars defense at will. Estrada was 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

“Estrada is a great player, hit a bunch of tough shots, especially in the first half,” Charleston coach Pat Kelsey said. “Hofstra is a very, very talented team. It’s not just Estrada. They were better than us tonight.”

Then Estrada took over. The CAA’s leading scorer at 21.1 points a game scored 16 of the next 24 points for the Pride, including four 3-pointers.

Ante Brzovic’s dunk at the buzzer gave the Cougars a 46-44 advantage at halftime.

Tyler Thomas had 17 points and eight rebounds for Hofstra.

Brzovic finished with 18 points to lead the Cougars.

BIG PICTURE

Hofstra: The Pride are on a roll in 2023. winning seven of their past eight games, including three in a row.

College of Charleston: The Cougars chances of receiving an NCAA Tournament at-large bid took a major blow with the loss to the Pride. Despite having the nation’s longest win streak for three months, Charleston will most likely have to win the CAA Tournament in March to advance to the NCAAs.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

The Cougars’ 20-game win streak wasn’t the only streak to end on Saturday. College of Charleston played 14 of its first 23 games at TD Arena to start the season and were a perfect 13-0 at home before facing the Pride. Charleston’s 13-game home win streak included three wins in the Charleston Classic. The Cougars became the first mid-major program to win the ESPN event, beating Virginia Tech 77-75 in the championship game. Charleston will finish the season playing four of their final eight games on the road.

POLL POSITION

Charleston’s first loss in nearly three months might drop the Cougars from the national rankings. They have been part of the last four rankings, entering at No. 23 before reaching No. 18 this past week.

UP NEXT

Hofstra returns home to play Towson on Thursday night.

College of Charleston starts a two-game road trip at Drexel on Thursday night.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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