Sao Paulo, Sept 15 (AP/UNB) — Often reticent to become embroiled in Brazilian politics, soccer players are making rare interventions as a far-right candidate's presidential campaign polarizes the country.
Felipe Melo, a fiery former Juventus midfielder who is back in Sao Paulo playing for Palmeiras, has been openly campaigning for Jair Bolsonaro ahead of the October election.
A former army captain, Bolsonaro has taken the lead in the polls after appealing to concerns about public security, religious conservativism, homophobia and anti-left politics. Just a month before the elections, Bolsonaro was stabbed while campaigning on Sept. 6. His attacker claimed to be upset about racial slurs made by the candidate and was "sent by God" to attack Bolsonaro.
After undergoing two surgeries, Bolsonaro is recovering at a hospital in Sao Paulo, but he can rely on soccer players to promote his platform.
Melo, who played at the 2010 World Cup for Brazil, posted a video online this week wishing Bolsonaro a speedy recovery. Another message was sent on social media to Lucas Moura after the winger, who plays in the English Premier League for Tottenham, was met with praise — and criticism — for endorsing Bolsonaro.
"Good one, Lucas," Melo wrote. "Let's go Bolsonaro, it doesn't matter what they say."
The backlash is not deterring other stars of the national sport from voicing support. Bolsonaro's list of backers also features 2002 World Cup winner Cafu and Corinthians midfielder Jadson.
But they are facing resistance from players they have previously shared a field with.
Elias, a midfielder at Belo Horizonte club Atletico Mineiro, said he would never vote for the far-right candidate, but argued footballers have to be more tolerant with those who will.
"I don't vote for Bolsonaro, but we have to tolerate who do," Elias said. "That tolerance is also in a low in soccer."
Brazil and Lyon midfielder Juninho has entered into several spats with Bolsonaro's supporters on Twitter.
"I didn't know Bolsonaro voters followed me," Juninho said. "Please, don't. I don't want a high number of followers, I want those that are human beings of character."
One month before the vote, it is still unclear whether footballers that dislike Bolsonaro are convincing their teammates the candidate is not a good option.
Walter Casagrande, a European Cup winner with Porto in 1987 who is now a pundit on Brazilian TV, had to change his phone number after criticizing players who would not explain in detail why they endorsed Bolsonaro.
"We live in a democracy and everyone has the right to their opinions. But they have to know what they are talking about," Casagrande said. "They can endorse any candidate, but once they go public they have to tell why. It is not enough to say 'I endorse this guy.' As soccer heroes they influence a lot of people."
The national team's biggest star, Neymar, has steered clear of making any public statements about the election. Four years ago he endorsed right-leaning Aecio Neves, who narrowly lost to the re-elected president, Dilma Rousseff.
The world's most expensive footballer was busy playing for Brazil for the first time since the World Cup.
Here is a look at some talking points from the international fixtures over the last week:
Neymar was handed the captaincy by Brazil coach Tite for matches against the United States and El Salvador, but his conduct on the field remains divisive.
Just like at the World Cup, where Brazil was eliminated in the quarterfinals, a dive by Neymar has prompted criticism. The booking in the 2-0 win against the U.S. could be a wake-up call for Neymar to cut out the theatrics.
Brazil had a scoring rival during the international break. Richarlison of English side Everton also scored twice wearing the No. 9 jersey. Barcelona's Arthur impressed as a playmaker and Eder Militao was robust in central defense as Brazil scored six and conceded no goals in the two friendlies.
"One of the best things I saw is the return of a team that plays with joy," Tite said after the 4-0 win against El Salvador in Washington D.C. "We were aggressive and created opportunities, regardless of the opponent's form. This team has a goal-scoring DNA."
ARGENTINA'S MESSI WAIT
Argentina played without a No. 10 in a 3-0 victory over Guatemala and a 0-0 draw with Colombia because Lionel Messi opted against linking up with the squad. It's unclear if the 31-year-old, five-time world player of the year will retire from international duty. Argentina's next game is in October against Brazil in Saudi Arabia.
Paris, Sept 15 (AP/UNB) — Paris Saint-Germain's margin is so big that the reigning champions don't even need Kylian Mbappe and Neymar to thrash rival French teams.
PSG got ready for next week's Champions League opener at Liverpool with a 4-0 win over Saint-Etienne at the Parc des Princes on Friday, extending its perfect record to five league games.
Mbappe served the first of his three-match ban while Neymar was rested by coach Thomas Tuchel after playing with Brazil in a friendly game against El Salvador midweek in the United States.
Without his two star players, Tuchel gave Julian Draxler a start, a move that paid off as the German international put the hosts in front with a header in the 22nd minute after a long pass by Marco Verrati.
Edinson Cavani made it 2-0 in the 51st after being fouled in the area for his third goal this season, and Angel Di Maria added the third near the end with a powerful left-footed shot from a tight angle. Substitute forward Moussa Diaby completed the win with his first goal in the top tier in the 84th.
PSG handed 10-time champion Saint-Etienne its first loss this season and extended its lead over second-placed Dijon to six points. Dijon hosts Angers on Saturday.
Tuchel, who was appointed this summer as a replacement for Unai Emery, set a new club record by becoming the first coach to win his five opening league matches in his first season.
Earlier, Nice defeated Rennes 2-1 with goals by Allan Saint-Maximin and Pierre Lees-Melou.
Dhaka, Sept 14 (UNB) – Vietnam will play the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the opening Group F match of the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship at the Bir Shreshta Shaheed Sepoy Mohammad Mostafa Kamal Stadium in Kamalapur on Saturday.
The match will kicks-off at 11:30 am.
The two Middle-East nations Lebanon and Bahrain will lock horn with each other in the other opening day’s fixture 3:30 pm at the same venue
Hosts Bangladesh, which were placed in Group F of the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship along with the UAE, Vietnam, Bahrain and Lebanon, will play their first match against Bahrain on September 17 at 3:30 pm
The will meet Lebanon on September 19 at 11:30 am, the UAE on September 21 at 3:30 pm and face Vietnam in the last group match on September 23 at 3:30 pm.
In a pre-tournament press conference at BFF office on Friday, head coach and captains of all five participating teams promised to play a good football, terming Vietnam and hosts Bangladesh as favorites.
Head Coach of Vietnam Nguiyen Thi Mai Lan, Captain Thi Hoa, Head Coach UAE Houriya Al Taheri, Head Coach of Lebanon Hagop Demirdjias, Captain Rida Wahhab, Head Coach of Bahrain Khaled Hasan, Head Coach of Bangladesh Golam Rabbani Chotan and Captain Maria Manda spoke on the occasion.
Meanwhile, the AFC made some changes this time in their previous format. Six group champion teams along with two best group runners-up will play in the eight-team 2nd round in two groups.
Dhaka, Sept 14 (UNB) – The 7th times champions, India, will play former champions the Maldives in the much-awaited prestigious final of the seven-nation SAFF Suzuki Cup 2018 at country’s premier sports venue Bangabandhu National Stadium under floodlight on Saturday.
The match will kick off at 7 pm Bangladesh time.
Holders India are the only unbeaten team in the ongoing SAFF meet to make their 11th final berths in 12th version, except in 2003, with an inspiring 3-1 victory over arch-rivals Pakistan in the 2nd semifinal to play the final with 2008 edition champions the Maldives, who made the final berth shocking Nepal 3-0 in first semifinal on Wednesday.
In a pre-match press conference at the BFF House on Friday, coaches and captains of both the teams expressed their determination to play their best to win the match.
India coach Stefen Constantine and Captain Subashish Bose said their team are studded with youth players and will play for win.
Maldives coach Peter Segert and Captain Akram Abdul Ghanee said they will try their best to play an entertaining match, saying the need support from local fans.
In the previous four finals in the South Asian Football, the Maldives clinched the crown once in 2008 beating India 1-0 in the final as co-host with Sri Lanka.
The Maldives lost two finals against India in 1997 and 2009 and lost final to hosts Bangladesh in 2003.
India enjoyed upper hand in the both the South Asian and International Football against the Maldives.
In the 11 South Asian Football encounters, India won eight, lost two and one match ended in draw against the Maldives.
In total 18 international encounters, India won 13, lost three and the rest two matches ended in draw.
After a barren first half in the 2nd semifinal on Wednesday, Manvir Singh struck twice and Sumeet Passi netted one for the India while Hassan Bashir netted the lone goal for Pakistan.
Stephen Constantine's India smartly won both of their group matches by 2-0 goals each, first against Sri Lanka and the 2nd against the Maldives.
However, there was a little concern shown by Constantine as the Indian team were not convincing in their wins and should have easily managed to score a lot more goals in these two matches.
Maldives, on the other hand, also had an eventful semifinal as they defeated Nepal 3-0. The Maldivian players looked in great knick as Nepal is no easy team to defeat and to do it with such a margin is commendable. The upcoming final of the SAFF Championship promises to be a nail-biter. The Maldivian side played with tremendous grit and determination to reach the final.
Ibrahim Waheed Hassan scored a brace for the Maldives in the semifinal and he is one player Indian defenders will need to mark closely as he is lethal when given space.
India defeated the Maldives 2-0 in the group stage game but playing in the final is a different ball game all together so it will be interesting to see if the young Indian players -- being led by Subhashish Bose -- can handle the pressure to clinch the trophy.
Barcelona, Sep 14 (AP/UNB) — After patiently waiting his turn, Saul Niguez is doing more than just making the most of it. The 23-year-old Atletico Madrid player is revolutionizing what it means to be a Spanish midfielder.
Saul didn't play a single minute for Spain at the World Cup. Instead, he watched his country manage only one win in three group matches before losing to host Russia in the round of 16.
But the arrival of Luis Enrique as Spain coach, combined with the retirement from international soccer by Andres Iniesta and David Silva, has given Saul his chance.
Saul started and scored goals in both of Spain's UEFA Nations League matches. He netted the equalizer in the 2-1 win over England at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, and three days later he scored the opening goal in a 6-0 rout of World Cup runner-up Croatia.
"I have been working very hard on my team to have this chance, and for two years on the national team," Saul said after the win in London.
After the victory over Croatia in Saul's hometown of Elche in southern Spain, the midfielder admitted it had been frustrating not getting off the bench at the World Cup.
"I spent a lot of time thinking during the summer, but now is not the time to talk about the past because it doesn't matter," Saul said. "Even though I didn't play, I had an unforgettable experience at my first World Cup."
Saul made his international debut under coach Julen Lopetegui in September 2016 after he had not been called up Vicente del Bosque for that year's European Championship. He has made 12 national appearances in total.
Before his strong performances over the past week, Saul started his season in August by scoring a spectacular volley in extra time for Atletico's third goal in a 4-2 win over Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup.
Saul will now hope his scoring run with Spain will carry back over to Atletico when it hosts Eibar on Saturday. Atletico, which finished second in the league behind Barcelona last year, has only one win in three matches and is already five points adrift the defending champions and Real Madrid.
Spain won the 2010 World Cup in between European titles in 2008 and 2012 by deploying its unique "tiki-taka" style, which prioritized keeping possession and picking teams apart with precise passers like Iniesta, Silva and former Spain players Xavi Hernandez and Cesc Fabregas.
But that once-successful formula had lost its unbeatable status before proving completely outdated at the World Cup in Russia. The nadir came when the team, coached by Fernando Hierro at the time, completed more than 1,000 passes — a large portion of them completely harmless — before succumbing to a far-less talented Russia in a penalty shootout.
Luis Enrique has shaken up the team since, putting a new focus on speed, youth and fitness — all qualities embodied in Saul.
All three of Saul's goals this season were first touches from crosses and culminated quick attacks. He used his left foot to score Atletico's winner in the Super Cup, his right foot against England, and a powerful header against Croatia.
As Saul defined himself, he is a "player that works hard for the team, and above all a player who arrives to the area looking to score."
That type of muscular midfielder charging into the box in a second wave behind the forwards is the opposite of the compact, lightweight playmakers that defined Spanish soccer for more than a decade.
While acknowledging that Spain is changing, Saul said the foundations of a team built around a strong midfield — regardless of its strengths — still remains.
"I don't know what will happen in the future, but Xavi and Iniesta made history with our national team and made us the best team in the world," Saul said. "What we have coming up now is another type of player, but our playing philosophy is what they and (coach) Luis Aragones established at the start of this run.
"It will be difficult to repeat what they did, but we will try to win a title."