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Mali Training Suspended Before AFCON Game After Gun Battle Breaks Out

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MALI

Mali had to suspend their training session ahead of their opening game of the Africa Cup of Nations on Wednesday, after gun fighting broke out between government forces and rebels.

Forces are said to have stormed into a town in west Cameroon, near the Limbe training base being used by both Mali and Gambia for the tournament.

According to the Cameroon News Agency, via the Daily Mail, the Mali team had to suspend a training session, just hours before they were due to face Tunisia.

Premier League stars Yves Bissouma and Moussa Djenepo are amongst those who are in Cameroon with the Mali team.

Two people died during the gunfire government forces and separatists, with five more injured, according to local reports, in an area that has been heavily manned with army checkpoints on the way linto Limbe.

“The Malian team has suspended training and left the Molyko stadium,” the Cameroon news agency reported, “Two civilians (men) have been found dead at the Buea Central market following exchanges of gunshots between Ambazonia and government forces.”

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Rebels had objected to the hosting of games in the western part of the country and they have already claimed responsibility for the attacks, having previously threatened violence.

Speaking to the Mail, Blaise Chamango, a human rights worker in the area, said, “There were gun shots this morning around the town. We also got information there was an improvised explosive device at the market.

“The [separatist] groups and security forces were fighting in the area.

“The non state groups want to create the impression that nothing should take place in the south west region [of Cameroon during the Afcon].”

The tournament, which was originally supposed to take place last January but was delayed due to Covid, kicked off on Sunday.

The hosts beat Burkina Faso 2-1, with the game starting with an incredibly bad challenge after just 25 seconds, but it’s yet to be lit up since.

In nine games, from Sunday to the end of Tuesday, there were just nine goals scored in total, with two 0-0 draws and plenty of 1-0s too.

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Versatile Dane Wass joins Atletico from Valencia

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WASS

Denmark’s Daniel Wass has signed for Atletico Madrid from LaLiga rivals Valencia, the capital city side announced on Thursday.

The 32-year-old utility player, who can play in midfield or defence, “signs for the remainder of the campaign and another season,” Atletico said without giving details on the transfer.

“He is a very versatile player who can play in several areas of the field,” the club continued.

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Read Also: Mane and Salah on track for AFCON final showdown

“In his early days, he started playing as a full-back and a defender, but then moved to midfield, where he played both in the centre and on the sides”, before returning “to the back to play as a right-back again,” said Atletico.

During his three and a half seasons at Valencia, Wass scored 15 goals and provided 20 assists.

Capped 41 times for Denmark, Wass’s career has included stints with Danish club Brondby, French side Evian, Benfica in Portugal and Spanish outfit Celta Vigo.

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Bundesliga: Ambitious underdogs Freiburg eye UCL debut

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SC Freiburg are punching above their weight in the Bundesliga this season, with Christian Streich’s ambitious underdogs from the heart of the picturesque Black Forest eyeing a first appearance in the Champions League.

Freiburg have been perennial mid-table finishers in recent Bundesliga seasons, aside from their relegation in 2014-15 before coming straight back up.

Streich is the Bundesliga’s longest-serving current coach after more than a decade in the job.

Under his stewardship, Freiburg’s performances have fuelled dreams of a top-four finish and qualification for the Champions League for the first time.

“If that should happen, I think the party would really kick off in the city,” club captain Christian Guenter told AFP.

“It’s never happened before in the club’s history, but there is still a really long way to go.”

It’s 08:45am local time on a bleak morning, yet Guenter, 28, is fresh-faced and ready for training, clearly enjoying his football.

His performances at left-back earned him a Germany recall last November, seven years after his international debut.

RETAINING TALENT

Freiburg usually struggle to keep their best players, most recently when Germany defender Robin Koch left in 2020 to join Leeds United.

“Almost 10 years ago, we qualified for the Europa League and five important players left that summer,” sporting director Klemens Hartenbach told AFP.

“It’s always a bit related to sporting success — the exodus after the good work.”

However, Freiburg managed to keep their squad intact going into this season and have racked up league points.

“We simply know that we have great potential in the team,” added Guenter.

“There is always a lot of energy in training, everyone is very ambitious and wants to win.

“That’s what really distinguishes us this season: we never give up, no matter what the score is.”

Freiburg have no big-name stars, yet shocked Borussia Dortmund in their first home match on the way to remaining unbeaten in their opening 10 league games to set a club record.

Freiburg became the last Bundesliga side to lose their unbeaten status only after a narrow defeat at mighty Bayern Munich in November.

A win over Bayer Leverkusen before Christmas meant Freiburg finished the first half of the season third in the table — another club best.

Despite a 5-1 thumping a fortnight ago at Dortmund, when Erling Haaland ran riot, Freiburg bounced back with a win over Stuttgart to currently sit fifth, just a point outside the Champions League places.

Striker Nils Petersen, who spent two seasons at Bayern until 2013, loves the atmosphere in the Freiburg dressing room.

EVERY WIN IS SPECIAL

“Every win is something special for us, where as at Bayern you are expected to win,” Petersen told AFP.

“We’re enjoying it right now, we like to ride the wave of success, but the fear is always that it can go in the other direction again.”

At 33, Petersen is in the twilight of his career and out of contract in June, but hopes to be offered an extension.

“The club has already said they can imagine extending with me,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to watch the team be successful next season at home on the television.”

He has strengthened his case by proving his value as a substitute.

He holds the record for the most Bundesliga goals as a sub and his late winner at Hertha Berlin last October was his 30th after coming off the bench.

Read Also: Mane and Salah on track for AFCON final showdown

“If it gets you in the history books at some point, I’m not going to say no and I quite enjoy making an impact,” he added.

The club is also branching out off the pitch, moving from their iconic Schwarzwald Stadion to the state-of-the-art Europa Park Stadium, which holds around 35 000 people.

February’s fixtures against Cologne, Mainz, Augsburg and Hertha Berlin offer chances to again climb the table and boost their Champions League ambitions.

“Maybe we are a very small dot on Europe’s football map now,” added Hartenbach. “And that could lead to us maybe becoming something bigger.”

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US, Canada win to lead CONCACAF World Cup race

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Canada and the United States stayed on course for World Cup qualification with crucial wins on Thursday as Mexico reignited their campaign with victory over Jamaica.

Canada, looking to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986, scored a disciplined 2-0 away victory over Honduras in San Pedro Sula to stay on top of the Concacaf standings with 19 points from nine games.

A Denil Maldonado own goal after 10 minutes followed by a sublime lobbed finish by Jonathan David in the 73rd minute secured all three points for Canada, who host the USA in Hamilton, Ontario on Sunday.

The USA — desperate to qualify for this year’s finals in Qatar after their shock failure to reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia — boosted their chances of qualification with a 1-0 win over El Salvador in Columbus, Ohio.

England-born defender Antonee Robinson scored the game’s only goal to leave the USA one point behind Canada in the eight-team final round of qualifiers for Central America, North America and the Caribbean

Fulham fullback Robinson rifled home a low finish on 52 minutes at a frigid Lower Field in Columbus, Ohio to secure the three points.

But it was a largely unconvincing victory for US coach Gregg Berhalter’s side, who laboured to break down a dogged El Salvador team who remain near the foot of the eight-team qualification table.

MEXICO BOUNCE BACK

In other games on Thursday, Mexico snapped their two-game losing streak with a battling 2-1 win over Jamaica in Kingston.

Mexico are one point behind the US with 17 points from nine games.

Costa Rica edged Panama 1-0 on a goal from Bryan Ruiz, the defeat leaving Panama three points behind Mexico in the standings and Costa Rica a further two points back.

The top three teams qualify automatically for the finals in Qatar, with the fourth-place team advancing to a playoff.

The US-El Salvador game in Columbus had kicked off in freezing temperatures of around -1 degrees Celsius but the hosts failed to make the most of the advantage from the cold conditions.

The US controlled possession in the first half but failed to make their dominance of possession and territory count.

FC Dallas striker Jesus Ferreira squandered the best two chances that fell to the home side, who failed to get a shot on target in the opening 45 minutes.

Ferreira missed a promising early opportunity after 16 minutes when he blazed a shot over the bar from eight yards out after being worked into space.

The 21-year-old should have fired the US ahead three minutes later. Barcelona’s Sergino Dest surged down the right flank and whipped in a cross which was flicked on by Timothy Weah.

The ball fell invitingly to Ferreira on the edge of the six-yard area, but instead of tucking it away with his left foot, the youngster attempted to finish awkwardly with the outside of his right boot and his effort flew over.

Read Also: Mane and Salah on track for AFCON final showdown

The US upped the tempo at the start of the second half and the El Salvador resistance finally cracked.

Weah’s shot was blocked and Ferreira headed across goal to Robinson, who drilled in the rebound for 1-0.

In Kingston, meanwhile, Mexico avoided a third straight defeat with their win over the Reggae Boyz.

Jamaica were rocked by a red card for Damion Lowe but took a shock lead through Daniel Johnson in the 50th minute.

But just when it looked as if Mexico were sliding to a third straight loss, Henry Martin’s header made it 1-1 on 82 minutes, and then moments later Alexis Vega swept in the winner after punishing slack marking at the back post.

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