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World Cup Viewer’s Guide: Messi seeks history with Argentina

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/world-cup-sports-soccer-saudi-arabia-middle-east-c344aa5a522fe9831caabc3b8b35006d

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Lionel Messi returns to the World Cup for a fifth attempt at finally winning soccer’s biggest prize.

He’ll also be hoping to make history with Argentina.

The Argentines are among the favorites to win in Qatar and victory would fill the one gaping hole in his resume. But a win or a draw Tuesday against Saudi Arabia, one of the weakest teams in the tournament, would give Argentina a record-tying result.

Argentina arrived in Qatar on a 36-match unbeaten streak, one shy of tying Italy’s record in international men’s soccer, set from 2018-21.

Argentina has not lost since falling to Brazil 2-0 in the 2019 Copa América. Argentina first won the World Cup in 1978, and then again in 1986 — one year before Messi was born. The team reached the final in 2014 and lost to Germany, and in a bitter follow-up four years later was eliminated in the round of 16 in Russia.

Messi, meanwhile, is one of four players making their fifth World Cup appearance. He joins Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo, and Mexico teammates Guillermo Ochoa and Andrés Guardado.

Saudi Arabia was eliminated in the first round in 2018, opening with a 5-0 loss to host Russia. In a tough Group C that includes Mexico and Poland, the Saudis will be trying to advance out of the group stage for only the second time, after 1994. The team has won two of its last 10 matches.

DEFENDING CHAMPS

Defending champion France opens play Tuesday against Australia in a rematch from four years ago.

France won 2-1 in Russia when Paul Pogba’s shot in the 81st minute deflected in off a defender for an own-goal. Pogba is not in the squad following knee surgery, and France is also down another two stars with N’Golo Kante and Karim Benzema sidelined.

France does expect defender Raphael Varane to play following a hamstring injury he picked up in October.

Kylian Mbappé is ready to lead France to back-to-back titles. He was only 19 when he scored in the final and helped France win the World Cup four years ago. With 28 international goals, Mbappé wants to add to his count in the Group D opener.

However, France arrived in Qatar with only one win in its last six games.

Australia barely made the World Cup field and needed a dramatic penalty shootout win over Peru in the playoffs. The Socceroos have been eliminated from the group stage in four of five previous appearances.

OTHER GAMES

Mexico faces Poland, while Denmark plays Tunisia on the first of 11 consecutive days in which four games are played each day.

Poland advanced to the World Cup behind striker Robert Lewandowski, who scored nine goals with four assists in qualifying. His 13 direct-goal involvements were twice as many as any teammate.

He’s never scored in the World Cup, though, as Poland finished last in its group in 2018. The Barcelona striker is eager to find the net in Qatar.

“I think about the last World Cup for sure,” Lewandowski said. “To score at a World Cup would be a huge dream and I’m going to do everything for this dream. I hope in this World Cup it will happen. I am glad for everything I have achieved and these memories for the World Cup, so now is the time to enjoy.”

Poland last advanced out of group stage in 1986.

Mexico, meanwhile, has advanced out of group play in each of its past eight appearances, last failing to move on in 1978. The national team has also won its opening match in five of its past six World Cups.

Christian Eriksen figures to play for Denmark against Tunisia, 17 months after he was revived on the field during the European Championship.

The Manchester United midfielder’s presence will be inspirational for Denmark, which sailed through its World Cup qualifying group by winning its first nine games — with clean sheets through the first eight.

Tunisia has been strong at keeping games tight but its World Cup record isn’t great: Tunisia has lost 60% of its World Cup games (nine out of 15), trailing only Saudi Arabia and Australia.

OUTSIDE CHAOS

The first few days of the World Cup have been been marred by logistical snags, the latest on Monday when fans complained their tickets to the England-Iran match had vanished from their mobile FIFA application.

Long lines grew outside the Khalifa International Stadium about an hour before kickoff with fans furious they might not get inside.

The night before, the official fan zone quickly became overcrowded during the opening match between host nation Qatar and Ecuador. Tens of thousands of fans pushed and shoved against police lines to enter the venue, one of the few places where fans could purchase beer and watch the game.

DAVIES UPDATE

Canada coach John Herdman is expected to give a medical update on Tuesday regarding Alphonso Davies, who arrived in Qatar last week after receiving treatment on a hamstring strain he picked up this month while playing for Bayern Munich.

Bayern has said Davies’ participation in Qatar was “not at risk,” but he has not played since the Nov. 5 injury.

“My mission is to make sure he plays at this World Cup, it’s a childhood dream for him,” Herdman said. “And not to put him in a position where he’s unsafe.”

Read up on all 32 teams playing at the World Cup.

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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-saudi-arabia-middle-east-c344aa5a522fe9831caabc3b8b35006d

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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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