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South America aims to break Europe’s World Cup grip

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/world-cup-sports-soccer-europe-france-227455e2c6712696db2d2a286186b31b

Kylian Mbappé riled up South Americans back in May when he said both Argentina and Brazil don’t play matches “at a high level” in qualifying to reach the World Cup.

Interviewed by Brazilian television, the France striker said South America lags behind Europe in terms of the strength of competition. He noted that the most recent World Cup champions — including his own country in 2018 — have been teams from Europe.

The responses ranged from aggravation to bemusement.

Lionel Messi, Mbappé’s teammate at Paris Saint-Germain, said Europeans have no clue about the challenges of playing World Cups qualifiers at high altitude in Bolivia or the heat and humidity of the Caribbean coast of Colombia.

Brazil coach Tite said the qualifiers in South America have a higher degree of difficulty than the European competition.

“With all due respect, we don’t have Azerbaijan to play,” Tite said. “No ones gives you a break.”

Sebastián Abreu, the retired striker whose “Panenka” penalty in 2010 sealed the shootout victory that put Uruguay into the semifinals of the World Cup for the first time in four decades, advised Mbappé “to try and read more in Wikipedia.”

There is a lot of swagger in South America these days, particularly in Brazil, with Neymar and a plethora of young wingers, and in Argentina, which has gone 35 games without a loss and has Messi playing better than ever with his national team.

Uruguay believes it can go far with Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani in their fourth and likely last World Cup, alongside youngsters such as Federico Valverde and Darwin Núñez. Ecuador is back and at least wants to advance from a group in which they are playing the Netherlands, Senegal and host Qatar.

They all want to break Europe’s grip on the trophy. But they also are aware of an ominous trend: It has been 20 years since a team from South American won the World Cup.

Since Brazil won its fifth title in Japan and South Korea in 2002, the Selacao has been eliminated as soon they faced a European team in the knockout round, including a humiliating 7-1 loss at home to eventual champion Germany in 2014.

Argentina has managed to beat a European team in those stages, but still eventually fell short, including to France in the round of 16 in Russia four years ago.

One factor they point to for their long World Cup drought is that Europe has lots of money to invest in the development of their young players. And lately, the pandemic and the new Nations League conceived by UEFA has reduced significantly the number of matches between the top teams from Europe and South America.

“The Europeans are clearly playing at a different speed than us. They are at dimension that is far ahead of the South American player,” said Iván Zamorano, a former Chile striker who played for Real Madrid and Inter Milan.

Zamorano envies the capacity that European soccer has to find talented players who can “leave a mark for the future.”

“There’s still that individual skill, the street quality, that makes the South American player unique,” Zamorano told The Associated Press. “But we are lacking the resources, the infrastructure, their work methods. So the chances of discovering and developing that kid with unique skills is tougher. That’s expensive and so many times in South America gets lost in the way.”

But Zamorano also says that this is the first time in at least three World Cups that he has seen Argentina and Brazil in such good shape right before the tournament.

Luiz Felipe Scolari, the coach of the Brazil team that won in 2002 with its “Three ’R’s” attack combination of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, believes the current European domination is a just phase.

He said Brazil could win it in Qatar, though he thinks the country is more likely to challenge for the title in 2026, pointing at the potential of a new crop of players. That includes Endrick, a 16-year-old striker that last month became the youngest scorer for Palmeiras in the Brazilian league.

“These kids playing now might give the result we expect,” Scolari said. “But you can’t pressure them to give everything. Maybe in four years we can pressure them to give everything, because then they will hit the pinnacle at age 26, 27.”

South American soccer leaders are seeking to keep their teams competitive. Alejandro Domínguez, the president of continental soccer body CONMEBOL, is hoping to reach an agreement with UEFA that will allow teams from South America to compete in the Nations League.

“It’s not easy to cut a 30-year-old gap. It’s just not titles but the expertise that has strengthened in Europe and what we’re trying to establish in South America,” Domínguez told a small group reporters in Buenos Aires. “Sadly our young players depart way too early. … We’re trying to generate more revenues so the clubs are not desperate to sell them.”

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Associated Press writers Mauricio Savarese in Rio de Janeiro and Débora Rey in Buenos Aires contributed to this report.

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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-europe-france-227455e2c6712696db2d2a286186b31b

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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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