CHICAGO (AP) — Former Iceland international Aron Johannsson is among 23 players called up for the U.S. soccer team’s training camp in Sarajevo ahead of its exhibition against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Johannsson is awaiting completion of paperwork that would make him eligible to play for the U.S. The forward, who plays for AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands, needs approval from FIFA to make the switch because he played for Iceland in eight qualifiers for the 2012 UEFA Under-21 Championship.
The 22-year-old was born in Mobile, Ala., but moved back to his parents’ native Iceland when he was 3.
Most of the players called up for the three-day camp are based in Europe, though coach Jurgen Klinsmann did bring in Seattle’s Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson. Mexico-based Edgar Castillo, Joe Corona and Michael Orozco Fiscal also were included on the roster. U.S. captain Clint Dempsey, who just completed a move from England’s Tottenham Hotspur to Seattle, was not brought in.
The Americans, who have a record 11-game winning streak, play Bosnia-Herzegovina on Wednesday in Sarajevo. It is their only game before World Cup qualifying resumes Sept. 6 in Costa Rica.
“Our European-based players are just getting started with their seasons and this gives them a chance to get going a couple weeks before our big World Cup qualifiers,” Klinsmann said. “We’re also excited to bring some new faces into the senior team and have them start to become part of the group.”
The roster: Goalkeepers: Cody Cropper (Southampton, England), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, England), Tim Howard (Everton, England); Defenders: John Anthony Brooks (Hertha Berlin, Germany), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City, England), Edgar Castillo (Tijuana, Mexico), Brad Evans (Seattle), Michael Orozco Fiscal (Puebla, Mexico), Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg, Germany), Tim Ream (Bolton, England); Midfielders: Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes, France), Michael Bradley (Roma, Italy), Joe Corona (Tijuana, Mexico), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg, Norway), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim, Germany), Jermaine Jones (Schalke, Germany), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht, Belgium), Danny Williams (Reading, England); Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland, England), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna, Austria), Eddie Johnson (Seattle), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands), Bobby Wood (1860 Munich, Germany).
Italy and Argentina ready to renew rivalry
LONDON (AP) — Twelve years after Italy’s last match against Argentina, the two predominantly Roman Catholic and football-crazy nations are renewing their storied rivalry in a friendly game that will be played under the auspices of Pope Francis.
After months of talks, the Italian and Argentinian federations managed to set up Wednesday’s encounter in Rome that will be dedicated to the pope — a football fan who comes from Argentina and is the son of Italian immigrants.
Italy’s last match with Argentina was also a friendly in Rome, in 2001, which Argentina won 2-1. Before that, Diego Maradona’s Argentina knocked host Italy out of the 1990 World Cup on penalties in a memorable semifinal in Naples.
Among other high-profile matches to be played on Wednesday, England faces Scotland, world and European champion Spain travels to Ecuador, Belgium hosts France, Switzerland hosts Brazil and Luis Suarez’s Uruguay travels to Japan without the injured Edinson Cavani.
Italy and Argentina players are set to meet the pope in an audience at the Vatican ahead of the match, but he is not expected to be in the stands at Stadio Olimpico. Italian coach Cesare Prandelli first came up with the idea of organizing the match.
“It was just a sudden flash, after watching Pope Francis and his first appearances in public,” he recently told sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport. “He generated a tremendous sense of fondness and approval. The thought of ‘his countries’, Italy and Argentina, immediately entered my head. Two squads leaving together, from the same hotel, to have an audience full of joy and happiness with the pope.”
It will be Italy’s first match since the Azzurri finished third at the Confederations Cup. AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli has been included in the squad despite a slight calf injury, as well as fellow striker Pablo Osvaldo, who has been recalled after falling out with coach Prandelli.
The Roma striker, who was born in Buenos Aires and will likely get a chance to face his native country, was kicked out of the Confederations Cup squad for insulting his club coach at Roma — a breach of Prandelli’s strict code of ethics.
Argentina and Barcelona star Lionel Messi could miss the match after sitting out his club’s final preseason friendly in Malaysia with a muscle strain in his left leg.
Messi’s new Barcelona teammate, Brazilian striker Neymar, is expected to play a part against Switzerland after his inclusion in the squad by coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.
The Brazilian coach is relying on many the same players he used at the Confederations Cup, with 19 of the 20 in the squad for the team’s friendly in Basel drawn from the group in Brazil.
England and Scotland are meeting for the first time in nearly 14 years when they play at Wembley amid speculation over Wayne Rooney’s future. The Manchester United striker, who reportedly wants to leave the Red Devils for Chelsea, missed United’s Community Shield win over Wigan with a shoulder injury but took part in training with England on Monday.
“There was no doubt in my mind in the session that he was not suffering from a physical injury,” England manager Roy Hodgson said. “Myself, my coaches and our fitness people will analyse everything and — in tandem with Wayne — will give him the right amount of minutes.”
Seeking a move away from Liverpool, Suarez will find some comfort with the Uruguay team after facing harsh criticism on Merseyside for publicly voicing his desire to leave Anfield.
Another player with his future reportedly hanging in the balance, Tottenham winger Gareth Bale, won’t play for Wales against Ireland in Cardiff because of a foot injury. The 24-year-old Bale has been selected for the friendly match but trained on his own Monday as the Welsh federation said it would not take any risk with his injury.
Bale is coveted by Real Madrid and has not played for nearly a month with his north London club.
– Samuel Petrequin
Extra Time: Braunschweig: The Bundesliga’s most romantic club
BERLIN (AP) — Romance often ends in heartbreak in football, but Eintracht Braunschweig isn’t letting one defeat spoil the joy of returning to the Bundesliga after 28 years in the wilderness.
A third-division side up to four seasons ago, Braunschweig dominated the second half against Werder Bremen on Saturday, but a moment of inexperience allowed the visitors to steal in for the winning goal with less than 10 minutes remaining.
Yet the fans stayed long after the final whistle, singing, chanting, jumping up and down in appreciation of the effort made by their side, buoyed with the joy of being back in Germany’s top-flight.
Also known as Brunswick, the small northern city east of Hannover has a population of around a quarter of a million people.
Saturday’s loss was a bittersweet moment for supporters at the sold-out 23,000-capacity Eintracht Stadium, where a large banner proclaimed “Something was missing for 28 years” before kickoff.
“For many players and for me it was the first game in the Bundesliga,” said Braunschweig coach Torsten Lieberknecht. “The loss hurts, but this day has shown that we want to meet this incredible challenge, and that we can meet it, too.”
Braunschweig, promoted as runner-up in the second-division last season, hadn’t played in the Bundesliga since June 8, 1985, losing then — like Saturday — 1-0 at home, albeit to champion Bayern Munich at the time.
Braunschweig has made several important contributions to German football since it was founded as Football and Cricket-Club Eintracht Braunschweig on December 15, 1895.
It was one of the founding members of the German Football Federation in 1900, went on to win the North German Football Championship twice (1908 and 1913), and the succeeding championships on several occasions, culminating with the club being asked to take part in the newly-formed Bundesliga in 1963.
Braunschweig won the Bundesliga in 1967, its only national title to date, but became caught up in a game manipulation scandal of 1971, when several players accepted third-party payments to improve their performances — prohibited under league rules. Playmaker and West Germany international Lothar Ulsass was among those suspended.
The club is best known, however, as the first to introduce jersey sponsorship to the league in 1973, when Braunschweig sported the Jaegermeister logo. The shirts became iconic in Germany.
Based in the nearby city of Wolfenbuettel, the company behind the alcoholic drink paid Braunschweig 100,000 German marks to carry the deer’s-head logo that year, though it didn’t prevent relegation on the last day of the season — its first from the Bundesliga.
Braunschweig bounced back the following season and the sponsorship continued until 1987. Today, because it has an alcohol content of over 15 percent, such sponsorship would not be allowed.
Guenter Mast, chief executive of his family-run Jaegermeister company, was clearly a Braunschweig fan. He made possible the club-record 1.6 million German mark deal to buy West German international Paul Breitner from Real Madrid in 1977. Breitner did not settle in the team, however, and returned to Bayern Munich the following season.
Braunschweig was relegated again in 1980, re-promoted again the following season, but arguably its darkest period came after the third relegation in 1985, when the years were spent between second-division and third-tier football.
Braunschweig was facing the prospect of fourth-tier football in 2008, but Lieberknecht was appointed with three games remaining and he helped the side clinch 10th-place with the last game, enough for a place in the newly formed nationwide third-division the following season.
The affable coach is widely credited with Braunschweig’s resurgence in the years since, winning the third-division to gain second-division promotion in 2011 and then securing Bundesliga promotion last season.
“After 28 years back in the Bundesliga every game is a highlight. Every opponent is a challenge,” the 40-year-old Lieberknecht told Kicker magazine earlier this month.
According to the Braunschweiger Zeitung newspaper, Braunschweig’s overall budget is just 37 million euros ($49 million) — the same amount Bayern Munich paid Borussia Dortmund for Mario Goetze in the offseason.
The club’s budget for player wages is 15 million euros ($20 million), the lowest in the German top-division. Bayern’s players reportedly earn 140 million euros ($186 million).
“We were still in the third-division four years ago. Now I’m talking about clubs that are in a whole other world for years,” Lieberknecht said.
Some 36 years later, Breitner’s transfer in 1977 remains the club record for the equivalent of around 800,000 euros ($1.1 million).
German-born defender Lars Christopher Vilsvik was expected to become Braunschweig’s new record signing for around 1 million euros ($1.3 million) from Norwegian side Stromsgodset, but the player was reportedly unable to agree personal terms with the club.
Lieberknecht knows his side is the firm favorite to be relegated at the end of the season.
“We in Braunschweig try to contribute more to the romantic part. But we have something in our chests and we want to surprise,” he said.
Ciaran Fahey covers soccer for The Associated Press.
J-League looks to extend influence in Southeast Asia
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The English Premier League has long dominated the popularity of international football in Southeast Asia. It’s newest rival for regional audiences comes not from the major leagues of Spain or Italy, but from Japan.
The J-League, established in 1993 and generally regarded as Asia’s best domestic competition, does not have the history or the prestige of the big European leagues. But while English clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool often play a friendly in Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur every couple of years, the J-League insists it is committed to developing football in Southeast Asia for the long-term and at a number of levels.
Over the past two years, the J-League has signed separate partnership agreements with leagues in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore and Myanmar, which involve the exchange of expertise on and off the field.
Japanese clubs have established relationships with teams in the region, and from 2012 Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar started broadcasting J-League games with more countries expected to follow suit.
“We fully understand how popular the English Premier League is in southeast Asia,” Daisuke Nakanishi, J-League director of competitions and sales management told The Associated Press. “That’s why we think that there is no way of winning if we apply the same approach in the market, and we believe that we should do something different.”
Nakanishi says Japan’s league has two advantages over the European leagues.
“We are in Asia, so we are close to the region geographically and mentally, and Japan is the only country which used to be very weak but has grown rapidly in very short period,” he said. “So we can be a role model. We are more than happy to share our know how with Southeast Asia in order to develop together.”
The size and global reach of the top English clubs mean that any partnerships they form in Southeast Asia are unequal. In the past, local clubs have sometimes been reduced to becoming little more than merchandise sellers for the big teams.
On the pitch it can be a similar story. In 2007, three of Thailand’s top players famously joined Manchester City, then owned by the country’s former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, yet none made it close to a Premier League appearance and soon departed. The J-League is good but not to the extent that it is a closed door for Southeast Asian talent.
“In the near future, we hope that there will be many star Southeast Asian players playing in the J-League, which makes the J-League more visible and popular in the region,” Nakanishi said. “This is a unique approach which the English Premier League does not have.”
Worawi Makudi, president of the Thailand Football Association, agrees that Japan has much to offer as a role model to follow for developing nations in Asia as it has come a long way in a short time.
“At the moment in the (Southeast Asian) region the English Premier League is popular and is tough to beat, but maybe the Japanese league in terms of broadcasting rights can grow,” Worawi said. “If Japanese clubs have Thai players then people in Thailand would like to watch them.”
There are plans to make it easier for the best Thai stars to head east. Much could depend on the success of Le Cong Vinh who has been one of the biggest stars in Vietnam and the region for a number of years.
The striker had a short but unsuccessful spell with Portuguese club Leixoes in 2009 and last month joined Consadole Sapporo, which was last season relegated to Japan’s second tier. Ngo Le Bang, general secretary of the Vietnamese Football Federation has high hopes for the player.
“Le Cong Vinh is one of our best players,” Bang said. “Firstly his appearance in Japan, even in the second division, could promote the image of Vietnamese football, and then after him there could be other opportunities.”
Bang says the experience the country’s players could receive in Japan will benefit the Vietnamese national team and professional league.
“The reputation of the J-League is improving partly due to the increasing number of players from Japan heading to the top leagues of Europe. Their football players have made huge progress in domestic and international competitions. … Japan shows how a team can compete equally against physically stronger teams.”
The Vietnamese striker does not see himself as a figurehead for the new relationship between Southeast Asia and Japan. He just wants to play.
“I think the J-League is the best league in Asia and I believe that I can learn a lot of things here,” Le said said. “That’s why I decided to come here. … I am ready to show my strengths to the fans.”
It won’t be just fans in Vietnam who will be watching with interest to see if Le is able to do so.
– John Duerden
Germany in no hurry to introduce goal-line tech
BERLIN (AP) — Germany will wait before introducing goal-line technology despite a wrong call in the Bundesliga on Saturday, when a goal wasn’t given despite the ball crossing the line.
Hoffenheim forward Kevin Volland’s goal was not awarded after the ball spun back out over the line during his side’s 2-2 draw with Nuremberg. Referee Thorsten Kinhoefer acknowledged the mistake after consulting TV replays at halftime, but the German Football League (DFL) will stick with its decision to wait for further testing of new technology until at least July 2015.
DFL managing director Andreas Rettig told Kicker magazine on Monday that FIFA’s accepted margin of error of three centimeters “is simply too big for us.”
A decision will only be made on the issue once millimeters and not centimeters are at stake. The DFL examined 1,224 professional games from the previous two seasons, with the result that only two decisions from 25 contested were found to be conclusively incorrect. In an editorial, Kicker editor Rainer Franze warned against introducing new technology where there is still a risk of getting it wrong.
“The league is well advised to only decide on it when the technology is so advanced that it means with guarantees, rather than without guarantees,” Franze wrote.
But Hoffenheim coach Markus Gisdol has called for new technology to be introduced as soon as possible.
“We don’t need to talk any more about whether there’s a chip in the ball. It would only be fair if it happened. Nobody wants that a regular goal doesn’t count or that a goal is given which wasn’t one,” Gisdol said.
The Hoffenheim coach has support from Kinhoefer.
“Where people judge, mistakes happen. It’s very annoying that we made this mistake today,” Kinhoefer said on Saturday. “We as referees would welcome it if this story was taken from us.”
Goal-line technology was deployed at the Community Shield in London on Sunday, though there was no need to call Hawk-Eye’s 14 cameras into action because there were no disputed goals in the game.
Crystal Palace signs Chamakh from Arsenal
LONDON (AP) — Crystal Palace has signed Morocco striker Marouane Chamakh from Arsenal on a one-year deal.
The Premier League newcomer announced the arrival of the 29-year-old Chamakh on Monday. He’s the third striker to join Ian Holloway’s side this summer, following Kevin Phillips and Dwight Gayle. The French-born Chamakh joined Arsenal from Bordeaux in 2010. He spent the second half of last season on loan at West Ham.