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Soccer  

Messi has doubts about playing 2026 World Cup at age 39

BUENOS AIRES (AP) — Lionel Messi may be in doubt as to whether he’ll be still playing for Argentina at the 2026 World Cup but he’s sure about one thing: he wants Lionel Scaloni to stay on as head coach until then, regardless.

The 35-year-old Messi led Argentina to the title in Qatar last December and wasn’t entirely sure if his fifth trip to the World Cup would be his last. The next edition will take place in Mexico, Canada and the United States when Messi is 39.

Messi told newspaper Olé in an interview published Thursday that he'd regularly said his age would make it difficult to play another World Cup..

“I love playing soccer, I love what I do and while I am feeling well and feel I am fit and continue to enjoy it, I will do it. But it seems to be too much until the next World Cup," he told the newspaper. “I have to see where my career goes, what I will do. It depends on many things.”

In the near future, he suggested he wants to play in next year's Copa America in the U.S. to help Argentina defend its title.

“I will stay a little longer, I have to enjoy this," he said.

Scaloni is negotiating an extension of his contract with the Argentinian soccer federation and Messi thinks the coach should remain on the job.

“He is very important for the national team," Messi said. “To continue with this process would be spectacular.”

Asked what it was like returning to his club París Saint Germain after Argentina beat France on penalties to win the World Cup, Messi said he didn't have deep discussions about it with his teammate Kylian Mbappé, the French striker.

“One doesn't want to speak and bring the topic of the final," Messi said, recalling his own experience after losing the 2014 World Cup final to Germany in Brazil. "I was also on the other side, I lost a World Cup final and I didn't want to talk about it."

“Truth is there is no problem with Kylian, quite on the contrary," Messi said.

Messi is set to play for Argentina in friendlies to be scheduled in Buenos Aires in March to celebrate the team's third World Cup title with their fans.

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Canada Soccer parts ways with chief marketing officer Sandra Gage

Sandra Gage, who was front and centre with the Canadian team at the recent World Cup in Qatar, has been let go as chief marketing officer of Canada Soccer.

Gage had been with the governing body since 2009, 

"We can confirm that Sandra Gage is no longer with Canada Soccer, and a search for a chief commercial officer will commence immediately," Canada Soccer said in a statement given to The Canadian Press.

"Because this is a personnel matter, we won’t be discussing details publicly. We thank Sandra for her tremendous contributions and wish her all the best."

While Gage preferred to work behind the scenes, she sat alongside Canadian players on the podium in running daily media availabilities at the World Cup. Prior to the tournament, she was instrumental in helping create the so-called "friends and family" travel package that drew praise from players and their loved ones.

Gage was also a member of the 2026 United Bid Committee that secured the rights to host the 2026 men's World Cup for Canada, Mexico and the U.S., criss-crossing the globe to make Canada's case. She also served as chaperone for a 17-year-old Alphonso Davies when he addressed the FIFA Congress in Moscow in June 2018 in support of the United Bid.

In 2018, she was part of the first UEFA-FIFA Women in Football Leadership Program.

During her time with Canada Soccer, Gage spent three years as the chief marketing and communications officer for the 2015 Women's World Cup and FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup, both in Canada.

Prior to joining Canada Soccer as director of business development, Gage was director of marketing and communication for the Coaching Association of Canada and director of partnerships for Skate Canada.

In 2017, Gage was honoured by her hometown when she was added to the Welland Sports Wall of Fame as a builder.

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Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023



Vinícius scores, escapes injury after hard hit in Madrid win

Vinícius Júnior had more than his goal to celebrate in Real Madrid’s 2-0 win over Valencia in the Spanish league on Thursday.

Vinícius also was glad to escape serious injury after a vicious foul by Gabriel Paulista in the second half, which ignited a brawl and earned the Valencia defender a straight red card.

Paulista struck a hard kick at Vinícius’ legs after the Brazil forward got past him with the ball in the 72nd minute, sending the Brazil forward hard to the ground. Vinícius quickly got up and went to confront Paulista, shoving him from behind as other players arrived to join the scuffle.

“It was a hit without the ball, for no reason,” Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said.

Madrid defender Éder Militão, who had been taken off earlier in the match, confronted Paulista as he made his way to the tunnel after being sent off.

“What Paulista did wasn’t correct, it was a clear red card,” Valencia coach Voro González said. “The match was already tough, and it became impossible with a player down.”

Vinícius scored his goal after a long run on a breakaway in the 54th, two minutes after Marco Asensio had given the hosts the lead with a shot from outside the area.

Vinícius endured a tumultuous period last week after his effigy was hanged off a bridge in a hate attack before Madrid’s game against city rival Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey.

“We have to protect Vinícius a bit," Courtois said. "He is always dribbling and the defenders don’t like that. He is always getting hit. They think he is provoking them, but it’s his way of playing. We need this Vini to destabilize the opposing defense.”

Thursday’s win put Madrid back within five points of league leader Barcelona at the halfway point of the season. The Catalan club won 2-1 at Real Betis on Wednesday.

Both games were postponed from January because of the teams’ participation in the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia, where Madrid beat Valencia in the semifinals after a penalty shootout before losing to Barcelona in the final.

Madrid, which hadn’t won in two matches in all competitions, lost two of its key players because of injuries -- Militão had to be replaced in the first half and Karim Benzema early in the second.

Madrid has one last league game — at Mallorca on Sunday — before traveling to Morocco to play in FIFA's Club World Cup next week, when it will seek a record-extending eight title.

It was Valencia’s first game without coach Gennaro Gattuso, whose contract was terminated by mutual agreement amid the team’s poor run. González, a club director who often acts as an interim manager, is expected to stay in charge until the end of the season.

Valencia has won only one of its last 11 league games and is one point from the relegation zone. Its only two wins this year came in the Copa del Rey, though it failed to get past the quarterfinals.

Defender Antonio Rüdiger thought he had put Madrid ahead with a header off a corner kick three minutes into first-half stoppage time, but the goal was disallowed after video review saw a foul by Benzema away from the ball.

Madrid, the defending league champion, is six points in front of third-place Real Sociedad.

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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Soccer star Andrea Neil calls for judicial inquiry into sports abuse in Canada

A former captain of Canada's women's soccer team is calling for the federal government to launch a full judicial inquiry into abuse in sports across the country. 

"Nothing can change until we turn the lights on and reckon with where we are," Andrea Neil told members of Parliament on Thursday. 

Her testimony came at the Standing Committee on the Status of Women's latest meeting on the safety of women and girls in sport. 

Athletes from more than a half dozen sports have called for change in recent months following widespread allegations of harassment, abuse and bullying. Late last month, more than 90 Canadian and global sports scholars joined the call for an independent inquiry in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Neil told the committee she's heard stories about mistreatment, abuse and corruption within Canadian soccer for years, including as recently as last week. 

The celebrated midfielder made 132 appearances for the national team between 1991 and 2007, and was inducted into the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame in 2012. 

In 2019, she made headlines yet again when she spoke out in support of a group of players who alleged they'd been bullied, abused and harassed by Bob Birarda, a former coach of Canada's U-20 women's team and the Vancouver Whitecaps women's team. 

Birarda pleaded guilty last February to three counts of sexual assault and one count of sexual touching involving four players, and was handed a sentence of two years less a day in November, including nearly 16 months in jail.

Canada Soccer did not properly handle the players' allegations and enabled him to continue coaching girls after he was dismissed by both the national sports organization and the Whitecaps in 2008, Neil said.

"Our national federation had completely failed at safeguarding, irresponsibly shifting his predatory behaviour on," she said.

"These women have been dismissed, diminished and devalued as human beings by those who were responsible for keeping them safe."

In addition to a judicial inquiry, Neil wants the government to commit to a comprehensive forensic audit of Canada Soccer's finances and publicly disclose how funding is being used and why. 

“Those brave enough to call on (Canada Soccer) to do better have not been protected," she said. "Some have suffered retributions, others silenced and smothered by non-disclosure agreements and clauses in employment contracts.”

Olympian Lanni Marchant also spoke before the committee on Thursday, detailing the harassment and abuse she experienced first as a young figure skater, then as a long-distance runner who competed at the 2016 Rio Games. 

Asked what the system for reporting abuse should look like, Marchant, who's now a lawyer, said it needs to be simple because athletes are so focused on competing, and so used to trusting their coaches and those in power. 

"We need a program, because when you're under that stress and being abused, it literally needs to be paint by numbers," she said. "We need something we can just follow through with our very dumb athlete brains." 

What athletes need, Marchant added, is to feel that their allegations have been heard and are being taken seriously.

“To pursue sport and represent Canada should not mean a decision between risking our physical, mental and emotional health to achieve our goals or walking away completely because the system is broken," she said.

"Athletes are screaming for a sporting system to provide a safe and protected space for us to speak up. We’ve been asking and now are demanding one.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023. 



Forward Jared Ulloa returns to Valour FC after spending last season in Peru

Forward Jared Ulloa is back with Valour FC after spending last season with Cusco FC in his native Peru.

The 20-year-old Ulloa, who was born in Peru but holds a Canadian passport, helped Cusco earn promotion to the Peruvian top tier, logging 808 minutes with one goal in 16 appearances.

Ulloa started his career with Peru's Club Sporting Cristal.

In 2021, he was loaned to Valour where he appeared in 23 games in all competitions with one assist in 852 minutes played for the Winnipeg team

In other Canadian Premier League moves, expansion Vancouver FC's roster grew to 10 with the signing of teenage fullback Tyler Crawford.

The 19-year-old played collegiate soccer for Michigan State University last season, leading all freshmen on the team by logging 1,152 minutes. He started 12 matches with one assist.

Crawford was with the Columbus Crew academy prior to Michigan State and was named academy player of the year in 2021.

Born in Burlington, Ont., Crawford grew up in Lutz, Fla. He played for the Canadian under-20 team in two games against Costa Rica in April 2022.

Vancouver coach Afshin Ghotbi called Crawford "one of the most exciting young left backs in North America."

“Tyler has all the qualities, ambition, and potential to reach the highest level of football. We look forward to helping him reach his football dreams,” he added in a statement.

Crawford joins strikers Mamadou Kane, Nathanial St. Louis and Shaan Hundal, midfielders Elliot Simmons and Gabriel Bitar, defenders Rocco Romeo, Marcus Simmons and Kahlil John-Wentworth, and goalkeeper Callum Irving on Vancouver’s roster.

York United FC signed Liberian international defender Brem Soumaoro to a one-year deal plus club options.

The 26-year-old has spent the majority of his career in the Netherlands, having moved there when he was eight. Most recently he was with PAEEK in the Cypriot top flight, making 26 appearances in all competitions.

Before the move to Nicosia, Soumaoro was with MVV Maastricht in the Dutch second tier. He also spent a season with FC Den Bosch, making 14 appearances overall.

He has also played for FC Twente and Go Ahead Eagles in the Netherlands and in Italy for US Livorno in Serie B.

Though born in the Guinean city of Nzerekore and having spent a large chunk of his life in the Netherlands, Soumaoro qualified to play for Liberia through his parents and has won 10 caps.

“There’s a wealth of experience across some very competitive environments in Europe and he’s inching closer towards a decade of pro playing time overall," York coach Martin Nash said in a statement. "For a player in his mid-20s, that’s impressive pedigree. He’s already captained his country and led them into some huge games, which says a lot about his qualities on and off the field.

"As well as being a very strong and capable centre-back, he boasts experience playing slightly higher too. And having some cover in different positions is never a bad thing, especially in our league.”

HFX Wanderers FC have signed Canadian defender Cale Loughrey to a one-year contract with club options for 2024 and 2025.

Loughrey, 21, spent last season with FC Edmonton on loan from Forge FC.

“Cale is a strong, somewhat old-school type of defender with incredible grit and desire that he has displayed in his journey to get here,” Wanderers head coach Patrice Gheisar said in a statement. “He’s also left-footed, and I expect him to be our best aerial defender, which compliments our current group on the backline.”

The six-foot-three defender from Ajax, Ont., appeared in 25 matches for Edmonton between league play and the Canadian Championship. He also played for Forge in a February CONCACAF Champions League match against Cruz Azul. 

A former Ontario provincial team player, Loughrey started in League1 Ontario with Darby FC and Unionville SC. He was eventually recruited by Gheisar to Seneca College, where he captained the team. That led to a move to the University of Alabama at Birmingham where he made 25 appearances over two seasons.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023.



Charges against Man United player Greenwood dropped

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Manchester United forward Mason Greenwood will no longer face charges of attempted rape and assault, the Crown Prosecution Service said on Thursday.

In a statement, the CPS said charges which also included controlling and coercive behaviour were discontinued.

Greenwood was formally charged in October following an investigation that began in January 2022.

“In this case, a combination of the withdrawal of key witnesses and new material that came to light meant there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction. In these circumstances, we are under a duty to stop the case," the CPS said on Thursday, adding it has a “duty to keep cases under continuous review.”

The 21-year-old Greenwood was arrested in January 2022 after images and videos were shared on social media.

He was suspended by United and not permitted to train with the team.

United said Thursday after the court decision that it "will now conduct its own process before determining next steps.” Greenwood is not expected to return to training until that process is concluded.

Greater Manchester Police said it understood the reasoning for discontinuing proceedings but confirmed its “commitment to investigating allegations of violence against women and girls."

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James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

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Injured Mbappé out for 3 weeks, will miss Bayern 1st leg

PARIS (AP) — Kylian Mbappé has been ruled out for three weeks with a left-thigh tear and will miss the first leg of Paris Saint-Germain's round-of-16 game against Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

Mbappé sustained the injury in the first half of PSG's game at Montpellier on Wednesday and limped off the field. TV cameras also showed him rubbing the back of his left thigh as he walked to the dressing room.

PSG said in a statement Thursday that tests revealed a tear in his left thigh.

The injury comes at a bad time for PSG as it enters a hectic period this month. PSG plays away at bitter rival Marseille in the French Cup and in the league, either side of the home game against Bayern on Feb. 14. It also has a league game at fourth-place Monaco.

Mbappé faces a race to be fit in time for the league game at second-place Marseille on Feb. 26. The return leg against Bayern is on March 8.

His injury also raises questions about his recent workload. Mbappé played and scored for PSG just 10 days after playing in the World Cup final for France on Dec. 18 — where he became only the second player to score a hat trick in the final.

PSG coach Christophe Galtier selected him to face Strasbourg on Dec. 28 and away to Lens on Jan. 1. The decision was taken in full agreement with Mbappé, who wanted to play in both games.

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Sharp-shooter Balogun catching the eye at Reims this season

PARIS (AP) — Kylian Mbappé's twice-missed penalty for Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday night didn't change the result of that game, but it did allow Folarin Balogun to move past him in the league's scoring charts.

While Mbappé is a renowned name in soccer circles and well beyond, the 21-year-old Balogun is just starting to make a name for himself in France through his performances with modest Reims.

His hat trick in a 4-2 win against Lorient on Wednesday took him to 14 league goals this season, one more than Mbappé.

Last weekend, Balogun impressed throughout a 1-1 draw at PSG, netting the equalizer deep into stoppage time after an expertly-timed run and ruthless finish.

Before that game, Balogun was given a pep talk by France great Thierry Henry, who was at Parc des Princes in his role as a commentator for the match broadcaster.

So after his 96th-minute equalizer, Balogun stood with one hand on his hip and one arm on the corner flag, to imitate one of Henry's famed scoring celebrations.

“Spoke to Titi (Thierry) before the game! Only right I show my respect," Balogun posted on Twitter, along with a photo of Henry's goal celebration.

There's something else linking them: Arsenal.

Balogun is on loan from the London-based team where Henry earned his reputation as one of the Premier League's greatest players. Henry was the Premier League's top scorer four times and is Arsenal's all-time leading marksman with 228 goals in all competitions.

Henry had left by the time Balogun joined Arsenal's academy at the age of 8. Balogun signed as a professional in 2019. But despite signing a new contract in 2021, opportunities were limited and he played only 10 games overall, scoring twice in the Europa League, before joining Reims on loan last August.

It has taken the New-York born Englishman just a few months to become the key player at Reims and the team's unbeaten 13-game run is in large part thanks to him.

After rescuing a point against PSG, he hauled his team back from 2-0 down at home to Lorient. His first goal was a crisply-struck penalty down the middle, the second a neat right-foot volley from close range and the third a goal that Henry would have been proud of.

As the ball drifted over the defense, Balogun timed his run perfectly to meet it on the left of the penalty area before hitting a first-time, left-foot volley into the right corner without breaking stride.

“It's magnificent, he surprises me every day. The pass was perfect but he was able to meet it with the inside of his foot and find the opposite corner," Reims coach Will Still said. “Hats off to him, for that was his first hat trick. It shows the striker he is, but also shows the personality he has.”

Balogun has a long way to go before getting close to the level of Henry or Mbappé — who in December became only the second player to score a hat trick in a World Cup final.

Mbappé's 196 goals for PSG include nine hat tricks and one quadruple for PSG. Last month he became the first PSG player to score five in one game. He needs only five more to break Edinson Cavani's PSG record of 200 goals.

But Mbappé will not add to his tally this weekend against Toulouse, after picking up a left-thigh injury on Wednesday against Montpellier. He is expected to be sidelined for three weeks.

Balogun, meanwhile, will have his sights on more goals when Reims travels to play 19th-place Auxerre on Sunday.

Auxerre has conceded 46 goals in 21 matches for the second-highest tally in the league and the Burgundy-based side has lost its past seven games.

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John Heitinga confirmed as Ajax coach until season's end

AMSTERDAM (AP) — Ajax confirmed former Netherlands international John Heitinga as the coach on Thursday after Alfred Schreuder was fired last week.

Heitinga, 39, is a product of the storied Ajax youth academy who went on to play for the Amsterdam club as a defender before moving on to Atletico Madrid, Everton, Fulham and Hertha Berlin. He has been coach of Young Ajax, the club's second team, since the start of this season.

Heitinga will be the coach “at least" for the rest of the season, Ajax said. Financial terms were not disclosed.

He was the interim coach last weekend when Ajax ended its seven-game winless streak by beating Excelsior Rotterdam 4-1 to move to fourth in the Eredivisie, five points behind leader Feyenoord.

“We have a lot of confidence in John's qualities and the vision he expressed” in talks with club leaders, Ajax director Edwin van der Sar said.

Heitinga played 87 internationals for the Netherlands, including the 2010 World Cup final in Johannesburg, where he was sent off in extra time. The Dutch lost to Spain 1-0.

Schreuder was fired just half a season after taking over the reins when Erik ten Hag left to join Manchester United.

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Harry Kane has records in sight, but trophies elude him

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Harry Kane will become Tottenham’s all-time leading scorer with a goal against Manchester City on Sunday.

The striker’s wait for a major trophy, however, will go on.

Kane is set to surpass the late Jimmy Greaves’ club record of 266 goals, which has stood for 53 years. He is also tied with Wayne Rooney with 53 goals for England's national team and has a chance to eclipse that record total before the season ends.

Alan Shearer’s benchmark of 260 Premier League goals remains the long-term target, with Kane currently at 199.

While those statistics confirm Kane's status as one of the finest forwards in soccer history, at 29 years old his career is in danger of being left unfulfilled in terms of trophies.

It could have all been so different if Pep Guardiola got his way in 2021 when Kane was the City manager’s leading transfer target. Had that move gone through, Kane might already have ended his wait for silverware — and be much closer to Shearer’s record.

Instead, it is Erling Haaland now knocking in the goals for City and on course to break Premier League scoring records this season.

The Norway international has thrived from the service of Kevin De Bruyne, scoring 25 league goals already — two more than last season’s co-Golden Boot winners, Mo Salah and Son Heung-Min, managed in the entire campaign. In total, Haaland has 31 goals in only 26 appearances for City.

While Kane cannot match that daunting strike rate, he has been as consistent as ever, with 16 goals in the league and 18 overall in a Tottenham team that is nine points below City and uncertain of qualifying for the Champions League next season.

Some believe that Kane would have been more suited to Guardiola’s tactics than Haaland because of his ability to drop deep and link the midfield with the attack.

City’s system has become more direct with Haaland up front and, at times, more predictable as a result.

Even with the numbers being produced by the 22-year-old Haaland, the reigning champions trail Arsenal by five points at the top of the standings, having played a game more. It could be eight points by time City kicks off at Tottenham, with Arsenal playing Everton on Saturday.

Kane is focused on putting himself in a position to win the biggest team prizes, rather than just individual honors. And that may well have to be at a club other than Tottenham.

His name did not feature highly during the January transfer window, but it could be a different story at the end of the season when he will have one year left on his contract. Manchester United is looking for a replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo and has long-been linked with Kane.

That move is one of the few realistic options if Kane does leave Tottenham, given the Premier League’s greater spending power in comparison to Europe’s other big leagues.

Tottenham’s reported price of about $123 million for Kane would also be an obstacle to all but the richest clubs.

Kane’s age is another factor. He will be 30 by the start of next season.

And while recent years have proved there is a market for forwards in their 30s, Kane’s price tag could be prohibitive. At the same age, Sadio Mane joined Bayern Munich from Liverpool for $43 million last year. And Barcelona signed Robert Lewandowski from Bayern for $52 million when he was about to turn 34.

Kane has suggested in the past that he would rather stay in England and the Premier League might be the best chance of Tottenham demanding maximum money, even if it means selling to a direct rival.

Chelsea and Newcastle are the other teams likely to try to strengthen their attack at the end of the season.

If he did go overseas, Paris Saint-Germain may need to replace Kylian Mbappe if Real Madrid renews its interest in the France striker. Alternatively, Madrid might see Kane as competition for Karim Benzema, who is 35.

As one of the few players capable of enhancing just about any team in the world, a case could be made for Kane at the majority of Europe’s leading clubs. For now, Tottenham still has the benefit of his rare goal-scoring talents and is hoping he can lead the team to a top-four finish.

Guardiola, meanwhile, will hope Kane doesn’t inflict another blow to City’s title ambitions on Sunday.

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James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

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AC Milan looks to stem terrible run in derby against Inter

MILAN (AP) — The dispiriting jeers turned to encouraging cheers, even though the result was still bad for AC Milan.

The fans' quick change in attitude wasn't exactly a surprise, however, with a derby against Inter Milan next on the Serie A schedule.

Milan has had a terrible start to the year, dropping from second-place and five points behind leader Napoli to fifth place and 15 behind. Inter, conversely, has risen to second place — albeit 13 points behind Napoli.

Milan's last match ended up being a disastrous 5-2 loss to 16th-place Sassuolo, sparking the boos from the crowd. The defending champions have now conceded 12 goals in their past three matches, and they were also eliminated from the Italian Cup and lost to Inter in the Italian Super Cup.

The heartening display from the fans at the end of the match on Sunday was followed by a supportive visit from the team's executives on Wednesday. Milan president Paolo Scaroni and director Paolo Maldini — a former Milan great — went to the training ground with other club directors.

They watched a practice session and then had lunch with the players.

“We have great confidence in you,” Scaroni reportedly told the players. “We feel such a strong bond with you that we want to be on the field with you.”

The Sassuolo match was Milan’s worst home result since a 6-1 loss to Juventus in 1997. It was also the first time Milan has conceded four goals in back-to-back Serie A matches.

“We’ve hit a rough patch both mentally and tactically so I’ll have to work even more on the mindset of my players to understand what they need to get over this difficult period and also try to understand the tactical issues in order to find the right remedy,” Milan coach Stefano Pioli said.

The same Milan players who were drawing compliments from around Europe for their style of play and spirit last season now look lost and simply without answers.

“We have to make the most of the fact we have a big game coming up, because big games are certainly very hard but the higher the mountain to climb, the higher the reward,” Pioli said. “We need this sort of mindset."

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World Cup winner Raphael Varane retires from France team

PARIS (AP) — France defender Raphaël Varane announced his retirement from the national team on Thursday, the second major player to leave Les Bleus following the World Cup final defeat to Argentina.

The 29-year-old Varane made his debut 10 years ago and played 93 times. He was arguably the tournament's standout defender when France won the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

But he fell to the ground exhausted deep into extra time against Argentina in Qatar last December. France lost the final on penalty kicks after a 3-3 draw.

“Representing our magnificent country for a decade has been one of the greatest honors in my life. Every time I wore the blue jersey I felt an immense pride," Varane wrote on his Instagram page. "The duty of giving everything, of playing with my heart and of winning every time I stepped onto the field. I've been thinking about this for a few months and I've decided it's the right time for me to take my international retirement.”

Varane, who plays in the English Premier League for Manchester United, was five years old when France won its first World Cup in 1998.

The sight of Zinedine Zidane scoring twice against Brazil, and France celebrating a 3-0 win, sparked his desire for the game.

“As a child I remember watching France ’98, this team, these players who filled me with indescribable emotions. It was a dream to emulate our heroes and, 20 years later, I experienced one of the greatest moments of my life,” Varane added. “I will never forget this.”

Last month, goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris quit the national team after a record 145 appearances.

France coach Didier Deschamps must rebuild the team without two of his most consistent players heading toward next year's European Championship.

Deschamps said Varane warned him this week.

"He's an intelligent lad, who knows how to take the time to think, to weigh up the pros and cons before making a decision,” Deschamps said. "Now that our paths are going separate ways, I would like to pay tribute to his honesty and his unrelenting commitment to the blue jersey. Raphaël played a central part on and off the field in the past decade.”

Along with Lloris and forward Antoine Griezmann, he was the player the coach always relied on.

Deschamps, a former midfielder who captained France when it won the 1998 World Cup, said he reluctantly accepted Varane's decision.

“I experienced a little bit of a similar situation to his,” Deschamps said. “I understand his point of view and respect his decision, even though it might seem a bit of a pity given all that he's achieved with the national team.”

An elegant ball-playing defender, Varane stood out with his slick passing and his excellent positional play. His great anticipation and turn of speed allowed him to make crucial interceptions look easy.

A strong man-marker despite his slight build, Varane was also good in the air. One of his five goals for Les Bleus was a firm header in the quarterfinal win against Uruguay at the 2018 World Cup.

Deschamps praised Varane as one of the finest players he's coached.

“Obviously, I can't turn this page without feeling a certain emotion, given the connection we've built since 2012. Along with Lloris, he was in every single one of my (squad) lists, barring injury,” Deschamps said. “I remember how authoritative he was during our World Cup playoff against Ukraine in 2013. His performance was of the highest standard. One of many.”

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