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Italy fails to qualify for 2018 World Cup after drawing with Sweden

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ITALY has missed out on qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1958 after being held to a 0-0 draw by Sweden at the San Siro in Milan.

After suffering a shock 1-0 loss in the first leg in Sweden, the men in blue couldn’t find the back of the net on Tuesday no matter how hard they tried. The scoreless draw meant Sweden won 1-0 on aggregate and the Azzurri will now be watching the 2018 World Cup from afar.

Before the match the prospect of Italy missing out on football’s showpiece event was described as the “apocalypse”, and that apocalypse has now arrived.

Italian ‘apocalypse’ is real

Italy will be watching the 2018 World Cup from home after it drew 0-0 with Sweden in their do-or-die World Cup qualifier on Tuesday morning.

Heading into the clash with a 1-0 deficit after suffering a shock loss to the Swedes in the first leg of the two-match tie, the Azzurri were unable to find a breakthrough at the San Siro in Milan and will now miss their first World Cup since 1958.

“I’m not sorry for myself but all of Italian football. We failed at something which also means something on a social level. There’s regret at finishing like that, not because time passes,” Italian goalkeeper and captain Ginaluigi Buffon said.

“There is certainly a future for Italian football, as we have pride, ability, determination and after bad tumbles, we always find a way to get back on our feet.

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“I leave a squad of talent that will have their say, including Gigio Donnarumma and Mattia Perin. I want to give a hug to Chiello, Barza, Leo and Lele, who I had almost 10 years alongside. I thank the lads who were with us and, although it wasn’t enough, I hope that we gave them something.
“In football you win as a group, you lose as a group, you divide the credit and the blame. The coach is part of this entire group.”

It’s a crushing blow for a country that has won football’s most prestigious tournament four times. Despite finishing with 75 per cent of the possession after 90 minutes and taking 23 shots to Sweden’s four, luck deserted the home side and the scoreless draw crushed Italian hearts.

Italy enjoyed its fair share of luck as Sweden was denied what looked like two clear-cut penalties for handballs, first by Matteo Darmian and then Andrea Barzagli. Italy had a penalty appeal of its own waved off by referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz when Marco Parolo was tripped from behind by Ludwig
The Azzurri struggled to carve out clear chances against a solid Sweden side, and tested goalkeeper Robin Olsen only once. Of its 23 shots, only six were on target. El Shaarawy’s powerful shot at the death was the best of the opportunities but Olsen was up to the task and parried it away.

The Brazilian-born Jorginho was handed his competitive debut by Italian coach Gian Piero Ventura, and the midfielder impressed with some deft passing. He created Italy’s best chances with two throughballs for Ciro Immobile, who hit the netting from a tight angle from one. Immbobile beat Olsen with another but Andreas Granqvist got back for a decisive goal-line clearance.

Alessandro Florenzi was also back following a year out after twice tearing a knee ligament, and the midfielder forced Olsen into a neat save, while a cross of his was also deflected onto the crossbar in the second half. Meanwhile, the highly rated Lorenzo Insigne surprisingly didn’t get onto the pitch at all.

Sweden has been a giant killer in qualifying as it surged towards a World Cup berth. It had already knocked out 2010 finalist The Netherlands before taking care of Italy on Tuesday.

The last major competitions Italy missed were the 1984 and 1992 European Championships.

It would be easy to lay the blame squarely on Gian Piero Ventura. The Italy coach will naturally take the lion’s share of the responsibility but his side’s problems run much deeper, the rot starting long before he took charge.

After winning the World Cup in 2006 for a fourth time, Italy went out at the group stage of the next two editions. It has fared somewhat better at the European Championships, reaching the final in 2012 and going out in the quarterfinals in 2008 and 2016.

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For the love of the game: The girls who are defying Al-Shabab to play basketball

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In the U.S., “March Madness” basketball season is approaching. But in Sharjah, Somali women basketball players are making our own basketball history by competing in the 4th Arab Women Sports Tournament in Dubai.

I am a Somali-American born in Sool and raised in Mogadishu. I began playing basketball at the age of 7 when my older sister Safia was playing and I tagged along and started drilling with the ball. I fell in love with the sport, and as I grew older, it helped me learn teamwork, get an education, earn respect, and become a leader.

In the 1980s, I was a player and captain on the Somali Women’s National Basketball Team. At that time, our government supported us with the freedom to play across Africa and the Middle East. I was also able to earn a scholarship at the University of the District of Columbia in the United States.

But in 1991, soon after I arrived in America, civil war broke out, shattered my country, and prevented me from returning to Somalia until almost two decades later. My goal now is to empower Somali women and girls through sport so that they may share the joy and benefits from basketball that I had.

When I returned to my country in 2009, I was shocked and saddened to find that extremist groups like Al-Shabab banned women and girls from playing sports and regularly send death threats to those who dare to play.

The collapse of the central government of Somalia in 1991 shuttered all sports infrastructure and caused many athletes to flee the country. Men and boys continued to play sports even after the collapse of the government — but it became impossible for women and girls to participate in any kind of sport. Militants and religious extremists, controlling many parts of the country, branded women’s sport participation as an immoral act.
Extremists were all over the news banning basketball for women in Somalia, and they even claimed that athletic gear is against Islamic teachings.

Sports like basketball can create educational opportunities, employment and safe places for women and girls. So in spite of threats from extremists, we are developing the game from grassroots to elite levels by recruiting players, training coaches across all states of Somalia, and building courts and gyms in secure environments.

Although we are making progress and galvanizing support from various communities in Somalia, the threat of violence lingers.

“They tell me to quit playing basketball, otherwise they will slaughter me,” said one young Somali woman who has come to love the sport as I do. “They will not stop me from playing basketball.”

From every state in Somalia, from every gym and court we create, our goal is give women and girls the opportunity to learn, know and love sports. My ultimate goal is to build and train the first Somali national women’s basketball team since the civil war.

In December 2016, we held the first “Somali Federal Women’s Basketball Tournament.” After one year of planning, we were able to bring together teams from the six different states of Somalia, and Somali diaspora players from the USA and Canada in the city of Garowe. With the generous support of donors, we built a brand new basketball court and carried out the tournament.

The project helped re-open the door to women and girls’ participation in sports in Somalia on both the professional and amateur levels. Some 450 young women and girls watched the games daily and 192 girls played on seven regional teams. We employed 192 Somali women for 10 days.

In October 2017, I recruited and coached a combination of Somali natives and Somali diaspora players for a team that competed in the All Arab Games.

We were the first Somali women’s team since the May 2017 overturning of the FIBA (the international basketball governing board) ban on women playing basketball with hijab.

That allowed our girls to compete while wearing the hijab. However, we came up against another FIBA rule that did not permit the girls to play with arms and legs covered — which is another requirement of our religion. Some of our players declined to play for fear that exposing their arms and legs could lead to criticism, physical abuse and even death when they returned to their home states.

From our initial efforts to rebuild basketball in Somalia, we have seen concrete benefits: Families are now encouraging girls to participate in sports, especially basketball and track and field. Parents are less convinced by extremist claims about why girls must not play sports. And perhaps best of all, the number of young girls between the ages of 8‐18 who want to play basketball has increased dramatically, and the number of female spectators increases with every tournament.

From our small beginnings, we will select a Somali Women’s National Basketball Team and plan to participate at the international level.

Here at the 4th Arab Women’s Sports Tournament in Dubai, we hope to win. But even if we lose in the tournament, Somali women basketball players are winning simply by being in the game.

Below, watch a short documentary about girls in Somalia and their love of basketball — and what they must do to play the game they love in defiance of Al-Shabab.

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Super Bowl 2018: Eagles win first Super Bowl, 41-33, stop Tom Brady, Patriots

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THE INQUIRER — MINNEAPOLIS — This night will be remembered for decades in Philadelphia, when old friends reminisce about where they were on Feb. 4, 2018, and parents tell their children about the moment the Eagles won their first Super Bowl. They’ll remember when Doug Pederson called the trick play at the goal line, when Zach Ertz dove into the end zone in the fourth quarter, when Brandon Graham stripped Tom Brady of the ball, and when the greatest dynasty in NFL history fell to an improbable champion from Philadelphia.

The Eagles won the Super Bowl. You can read that again. It’s not going away. The Eagles beat the Patriots, 41-33, at U.S. Bank Stadium to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in franchise history. A team with a backup quarterback and with players who wore underdog masks throughout the playoffs because they were never favored to win sent Brady and Bill Belichick home with a Super Bowl loss.

Pederson gathered his team together in the postgame locker room after the players danced and sang and chewed cigars and sipped scotch and enjoyed a euphoria that can only be experienced after winning a Super Bowl. He recited what had become a mantra for the team.

“An individual can make a difference,” Pederson told them,” but a team makes a miracle!”

“Goddamn we made a miracle!” one player shouted.

“We’re going to party!” Pederson said to cheers.

“Philly’s gonna burn!” another player responded.

It was one of the best Super Bowls ever played, and it had a finish that befit this year’s team. When Nick Foles connected with Ertz for a go-ahead touchdown with 2 minutes, 21 seconds remaining to give the Eagles a five-point lead, the excitement of the fourth-quarter lead collided with the anxiety prompted by knowing Brady was on the other sideline. The greatest quarterback in NFL history took the ball with a chance to win – and the Eagles didn’t let him. Graham pushed through the Patriots’ offensive line and drove Brady down, popping the ball loose. Rookie Derek Barnett recovered the fumble. The Eagles’ pass rush was their edge over the Patriots, and it helped them win the Super Bowl at the most crucial time of the game.

A late field goal gave the Eagles an eight-point lead, and Brady had no magic left. Green and black confetti fell from above, the players experienced a joy they believed all week would come, and the fans who made the trek to Minnesota were louder than they’ve ever sounded.

“It hasn’t really sunk in, but I’m so excited for that locker room,” coach Doug Pederson said. “Everything that we’ve been through this season, to get to this point — a lot of people counted us out — but that locker room believed, believed in each other, believed in me. …We found a way to get it done.”

This moment is bigger than what happened during 60 minutes on Sunday. Try nearly 60 years, generations of Eagles fans waiting since 1960 for this type of celebration. There were all those autumn Sundays, from the Franklin Field bleachers to the 700 Level at Veteran Stadium to pristine Lincoln Financial Field. There were seasons that started with championship promise and all finished with the bitter disappointment of the city’s desire going unfulfilled. And it would renew each year, from the draft to training camp to the preseason into the regular season, with every weekend serving as a referendum and the Monday-morning mood throughout the region dictated by the final score the day before. If the fans were lucky, they had postseason football. But the last game was never a victory.

Not this year. Not these Eagles. There will be a parade down Broad Street this week. It might be the biggest moment in Philadelphia sports history, with weathered fans collecting on the debt from all those years of agony. And it happened because the underdog Eagles were better than Goliath on Sunday.

“We’ve been doubted since day one,” Ertz said. “This team, no one picked us. We came out here and we’re world champions. First time in Philadelphia history. The city earned this win. We wouldn’t be here without fans in Philly.”

The fans are among those Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie dedicated the championship to during the trophy presentation. He purchased the team in 1994 and they’ve been among the most successful teams in the NFL during his ownership, but no ring to show for it. They finally won with a team that he labeled last week as the most special in his two-plus decades after they overcame Carson Wentz’s injury during an MVP-caliber season along with the absences of Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, Jordan Hicks, and Chris Maragos.

“They just know how to win and they’ve done it all year,” Lurie said. “It’s a credit to the players, the coaches, Howie [Roseman] and his staff. It’s a deep roster. Lose five Pro Bowl players, probably the best young quarterback in football, and you’re the world champs.”

Foles finished 28 of 43 for 373 yards, three passing touchdowns, and one receiving touchdown and was named MVP of the game. Tom Brady went 28 of 43 for 505 yards and three touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount led Eagles rushers with 90 rushing yards and a touchdown. Corey Clement had four catches for 100 yards and a touchdown, while Ertz and Jeffery also had scores. It was because of the roster Roseman built and Pederson and his staff developed, beating the Patriots without the franchise quarterback who was supposed to be one leading them to this point.

“I think the big thing that helped me was knowing that I didn’t have to be Superman,” Foles said. “I have amazing teammates, amazing coaches around me.”

Foles spoke throughout the week about “staying in the moment,” and it allowed to win an award and stand in a spot that’s usually reserved for Brady. Foles thought about his teammates, his family, his faith — and also when he was a kid growing up in Austin imagining a Super Bowl victory.

“This is always the outcome, the goal, but I feel like if you put it on a pedestal, you start forgetting to do the little things,” Foles said. “I was worrying about that moment, and that’s what I did today, we did today, just staying in this moment, doing everything you can in the moment to be successful, and the outcome was we were world champs.”

The Eagles jumped to a 22-12 lead in the first half, including two touchdowns that will be remembered in Eagles history. The first came when Foles faked a handoff and passed deep to the left corner of the end zone to Alshon Jeffery, who made an acrobatic catch over former Eagle Eric Rowe. Jeffery was signed during the offseason to be the Eagles’ No. 1 wide receiver, and though he didn’t put up Pro Bowl numbers this season, he showed how he is a difference-maker in the Super Bowl. After a prime-time game in Dallas earlier this season, Jeffery said: “Big-time game, big-time players make big plays.” The Super Bowl would qualify.

Before halftime, Pederson kept his offense for one of the best plays seen in a Super Bowl. After driving to the Patriots’ 1-yard line with 38 seconds remaining, Pederson elected to keep his offense on the field on fourth down. Those who haven’t seen the Eagles this season might have been surprised. But Pederson has been aggressive all year, and he wasn’t going to stop in the Super Bowl. He’s a fearless play-caller, and he made the boldest call of his career.

The play was called “Philly special.” The Eagles have spent the past few weeks working on it, but never as well as Sunday. Jason Kelce snapped the ball to running back Corey Clement, who pitched it to Trey Burton, who threw the pass to a wide-open Foles. Yes, Nick Foles caught a touchdown. Brady dropped a pass earlier in the game on a Patriots trick play. Foles showed he has the better hands, catching the ball for a 1-yard score to give the Eagles a 10-point margin. The Eagles did not call that play all season, and Pederson put it in the game plan for one of the biggest moments on the biggest stage.

“Just needed the right time, right opportunity,” Pederson said, “and the guys executed it brilliantly.”

While Justin Timberlake performed at halftime, the Patriots had an extended time to figure out how to attack the Eagles in the second half. They decided to do it by looking for tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was targeted five times on the opening drive of the half, including for a 5-yard touchdown to cut the Eagles’ lead to three points.

The Eagles responded with their own touchdown when Foles found Clement for a 22-yard score on which Clement tiptoed the blue paint to stay in bounds. Clement, a Glassboro native who went undrafted in April, kept working his way up the depth chart to the point that the team trusted him in the second half of the Super Bowl to be a key contributor for his hometown team.

“Going back to when the season started, and then to this moment, it is awesome,” Clement said. “I’ve achieved my dreams, man.”

But even with a 10-point lead, there was little reason to think it was big enough. Brady’s been in that situation before. He found every soft spot in the Eagles defense, and the pass rush that was supposed to give the Eagles their edge wasn’t hitting Brady, and the Patriots scored again.

It seemed as if the teams would need touchdowns – not field goals. So when the Eagles settled for a 42-yard field goal to make it a six-point margin, the Patriots had an opportunity. Brady again drove the Patriots to a touchdown when he was barely acquainted with the Eagles’ pass rushers on the drive. He found Gronkowski for a 4-yard touchdown to take a 33-32 lead with more than nine minutes remaining. It was the Patriots’ first lead of the game.

The Eagles have been applauded all year for their resiliency. That showed in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Foles was the clutch quarterback Sunday, with a fourth-down conversion extending the drive before he found Ertz crossing the middle of the field for the decisive touchdown. Officials confirmed the score only after a lengthy review. The ball popped out of Ertz’s hands when he reached forward into the end zone, but it was determined Ertz was a runner by that point, and the Eagles went ahead.

“If they would have overturned that,” Ertz said, “I don’t what would have happened in the city of Philadelphia.”

The Eagles failed to convert a two-point conversion, and Brady had his chance to show the magic that has defined his career. Jenkins brought the defense together. They knew the Patriots needed to pass. They knew they needed one stop. They knew somebody needed to make a play.

“We’re this close to a world championship,” Jenkins said. “There was no doubt we were going to get that stop. And we realized somebody at the end of this drive is going to be the hero. Just be ready when the time comes.”

Graham was the hero. He forced New England’s first turnover of the game, and what seemed like a dream became a reality. The Eagles, at long last, won their first Super Bowl.

“The city of Philly?” Graham said. “We’re about to have a party on Broad Street, baby!”

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Diaspora

Somali refugee team knocked out of Bandy World Championship

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Somalia was eliminated from the quarter finals of the 2018 Bandy World Championship. The team that consists of Somali refugees based in Sweden is the only non-Nordic country that takes part in this ice-hockey lookalike.

Bandy is the forerunner to hockey and the big sister of ice hockey. But there are notable differences.
The rink in which it is played is much larger than a hockey rink. There are 11 players on a team, while a hockey team consists of only six. Bandy uses a small ball, hockey uses a puck.

The net in bandy is much higher than hockey nets. The rules for bandy are similar to soccer and field hockey. But unlike the spectacular clashes that ice-hockey fans love, Bundy rules allow no full-on body checking.

Championship in China and Russia

Bandy is almost unknown in North America, but in Europe, especially Sweden and Russia, there are professional leagues.
There is a world championship for bandy held each year.

In this year’s 38th Bandy World Championships, two pools are played in China and Russia.

Division A matches are being played in the south-eastern Russian city of Khabarovsk while Division B plays in Harbin, capital of China’s Heilongjiang province.

Somali refugees in Sweden

The odd men out in the B-division are the Somali team. They come from a pool of some 3,000 Somali refugees that landed in the Swedish town of Borlänge in the 2010s.

Local NGOs helping to integrate the refugees into Swedish society came up with the plan to introduce them to Bandy, which is very popular in the region.

The Somali team largely consists of Somali football players, none of whom had ever skated on ice before. They took part for the first time in the 2014 bandy World Championships in Russia.

But, in spite of their enthusiasm, the Somali team didn’t win a single match this year.

In the B-division’s Group A that they shared with the Netherlands, China and Slovakia, they lost all three games, and in the quarter finals they lost with a massive 20-0 against Estonia.

Estonia will meet the Netherlands on 2 February in the semis and the winner of that match will face the winner of the confrontation between China and Japan for the last fight about the World Cup.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he will be present at the finals of the A-division, consisting of Sweden, Norway, Khazakstan, Finland, the US, Hungary, Germany and Russia on 3 February, to be played in Khabarovsk.

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