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Soccer Capsules: Club America spending big as Apertura opens

Club America will be looking to win its first title since 2005 when the Apertura season opens Friday, having broken the Mexican domestic transfer record in the offseason by signing Christian Benitez for almost $10 million from Santos.

Benitez may give America an edge, but the Mexican first division is set to be as unpredictable as ever from the opening game between Estudiantes Tecos and Toluca.

Seven different teams have won championships in the past 10 seasons, but the front-runners again should include the four traditional powers: Cruz Azul, Pumas, Guadalajara Chivas, America — and then add in Monterrey.

Benitez scored 51 goals in 85 games since joining Santos in 2007 from Birmingham in the English Premier League.

“I always said going to Europe was a good option but it did not come off and the offer came in from America, which is a good team and a good institution,” Benitez said.

Like most leagues in Latin America, Mexico is divided into the Apertura (Opening) and Clausura (Closing) seasons with a champion crowned in each half.

America’s weak defense, rather than scoring, was its downfall last season. The Mexico City club could have even more problems following the move of Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa to French team Ajaccio.

America’s great rival, Guadalajara Chivas, which fields only Mexican nationals, is going down a different route. Chivas will again rely on the club’s youth academy after having done very little in the transfer market.

“We reached the semifinals last season and we believe we can count on an interesting team that can do a good job,” said Rafael Ortega, president of sport for the 11-time league champions.

Defending champion Pumas has also been quiet in the transfer market and is counting on a similar blend of youth and experience that brought them the 2011 Clausura title. Pumas will rely even more heavily on youth as an experienced pair of Mexican international midfielders were sold: Leandro Augusto to Club Tijuana and Israel Castro to Cruz Azul.

CONCACAF Champions League winner Monterrey should be stronger with the signing of former Cruz Azul favorite Cesar Delgado from French side Lyon. The northern team has won two of the past four first-division titles and can again count on free-scoring Chile striker Humberto Suazo.

Eight-time league winner Cruz Azul has been close to the championship in recent years but has not managed to lift the league trophy since 1997. Cruz Azul’s most notable signings include Israel Castro from Pumas and Gerry Flores from Atlas. The team will start the season without Mexico goalkeeper Jesus Corona and captain Christan Gimenez. Both were suspended for the first six games due to their role in a mass brawl, involving punches and head-butts, in the semifinal of the Clausura 2011 against Morelia.

It is notoriously difficult to make predictions in the Mexican league. The volatility is due to the playoff system and offseason moves. Puebla has brought in 18 new players while Estudiantes Tecos have 11 new faces.

Puebla made headlines with its transfers, especially that of Luis Garcia. The 33-year-old Spaniard was a free agent after playing for Panathinaikos in Greece last season. American midfielder DaMarcus Beasley, 29, joined from German side Hannover. Both have represented their countries in World Cups and are high-profile signings for a side that failed to make the playoffs in the 2011 Clausura.

Estudiantes Tecos has brought in a raft of experienced players, including 29-year-old U.S. international Herculez Gomez.

A new rule for the 2011 Apertura season scraps the three-group system for a less complicated one, in which the top eight teams in the standings automatically qualify for the postseason playoffs.

Relegation in Mexico is based on results across three years with one team being relegated to the Liga de Ascenso every year.

Those likely to be in the fight to stave off relegation over the Apertura and Clausura seasons are Queretaro, Estudiantes Tecos, Jaguares de Chiapas and Atlas.

Atlante, 2011 Clausura finalist Morelia, San Luis, Pachuca, Tigres, Toluca and Santos should make up the middle of the table but perhaps lack the firepower to be one of the favorites.

Promoted Club Tijuana has invested heavily in players including ex-Pumas Leandro Augusto, Colombian striker Dayro Moreno and Jose Sand, twice the top scorer in Argentina.

The team survived a scandal in early June when the alleged owner of the club, Jorge Hank Rhon, was arrested by the Mexican military for illegal possession of firearms.

There were calls for Tijuana to be kicked out the first division until one of Hank Rhon’s 19 children, Jorge Alberto Hank Inzunza, was identified as the official owner of the club.

On Saturday, it is: Tijuana vs. Morelia, Pachuca vs. Santos, Tigres vs. Cruz Azul, Atlas vs. Puebla and Atlante vs. Chivas.

On Sunday, it is: Pumas vs. San Luis, America vs. Queretaro and Jaguares vs. Monterrey.

U.S. Soccer

Dynamo deals Chabala, Palmer to Portland

HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Dynamo have traded defender Mike Chabala and midfielder Lovel Palmer to Portland for midfielder Adam Moffat and allocation money.

Chabala was drafted by Houston in 2006 and played in 69 games for the Dynamo. Palmer started the first 16 games this season.

Moffat, from Scotland, is playing in his fourth full season in Major League Soccer. He played for Columbus when the Crew won the MLS Cup in 2008. In 2010, Moffat set a career high with 23 starts before he was selected by Portland in last year’s expansion draft. Moffat will occupy a domestic slot on the Dynamo roster.

Manchester United trying to beat Fire, heat

CHICAGO (AP) — The next stop on Manchester United’s U.S. tour is a match against the Chicago Fire. The English soccer giants also will be trying to beat the heat.

With temperatures hovering near the 100-degree mark as the team arrived at its hotel in downtown Chicago on Thursday, United manager Alex Ferguson said his players will be tested in Saturday’s friendly at Soldier Field — and not just by their opponents.

“We’ve come from the nice, cool atmosphere in Seattle to a furnace,” Ferguson said.

Fire interim coach Frank Klopas joked that he was going to find a way to turn up the heat even more for Saturday’s game.

“I think I’ll just stay in the hotel, then,” Ferguson joked.

If the staggering heat and humidity keep up, Ferguson said he might make changes to the team’s training session on Friday and adjust his substitution strategy during Saturday’s game.

“In the game itself, we’ll have to make the appropriate changes,” Ferguson said. “Probably quite a few at halftime, and some beyond in the second half.”

While the temperatures were cooler in Seattle, the Premier League champions still managed to roast their hosts. Wayne Rooney scored three times as United routed the Seattle Sounders 7-0 in a friendly Wednesday night.

Sounders coach Sigi Schmid apologized to fans after the game, but Ferguson said the lopsided score wasn’t a fair indication of the way the Sounders played. United led 1-0 at halftime and both teams made substitutions — including Rooney, as United had the luxury of bringing one of the world’s best players off the bench.

“I think it was a harsh reflection on the game for Seattle,” Ferguson said. “So I think you have to dismiss that one, really.”

Ferguson said it was just one of those games where almost everything United tried found its way into the back of the net. He gently chided United player Michael Owen, who was sitting next to him in the news conference, for missing a scoring chance in the game.

“We didn’t miss many, apart from Michael’s,” Ferguson joked.

Even coming off a lopsided victory, Owen said he and his teammates aren’t going to let down Saturday.

“There’s a lot of experience in our team, and we’ve been in situations before where we’ve won by a big number in the previous game,” Owen said. “And I think the experience will show and we won’t take anything for granted. I’m sure it will be a tight game. Sometimes you get games like (Wednesday’s), where everything you hit goes in the goal. And sometimes you get lots and lots of chances and you can’t score. It was one of those games.”

While it wasn’t much of a game in the second half, Ferguson said he loved the atmosphere generated by Seattle fans — who managed to mingle with United fans in the stands, something that wouldn’t likely happen at home.

“So far, the atmosphere of the stadiums has been fantastic,” Ferguson said. “Yesterday in Seattle was absolutely wonderful. The great thing for me was supporters mixing with one another. It was a throwback to the old days, really. Now we have segregation (between home and away fans) in English grounds, which makes a total difference.”

Owen has been impressed with U.S. fans.

“There’s been full stadiums, great support,” Owen said. “Even around our hotel there’s been lots of fans. So it’s been great to see our support.”

Klopas said he expects a sellout at Soldier Field.

“I know that it’s a game that our players are looking forward to, and also the fans,” Klopas said. “This is a great city, I think it’s rich in soccer tradition and history, and I think it’s a city that represents the world. When you look at the city, it represents ethnicities from all over the world, and it shows you the support we have for this game.”

Klopas is promising United a competitive match — and more.

“The boys are ready,” Klopas said. “I can assure Sir Alex that the boys are going to compete hard. And I promised him a good bottle of Greek wine after the game.”

— Chris Jenkins

Cosmos announce squad to play Man United on Aug. 5

NEW YORK (AP) — Fabio Cannavaro and Brian McBride have been included in the New York Cosmos squad for the Aug. 5 friendly against Manchester United, which will have Paul Scholes in its team for the last time to end the midfielder’s 17-year career at the club.

The recently reformed Cosmos will be coached by former Man United star Eric Cantona in becoming the first American team to play at Old Trafford.

Former U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel was also selected, along with former Manchester United stalwart Gary Neville and French World Cup champion Patrick Vieira.

Man United is not expected to field many regulars because the team will play Manchester City on Aug. 7 in the Community Shield. The Cosmos are trying to join Major League Soccer.

American Bedoya agrees terms with Glasgow Rangers

GLAGSOW, Scotland (AP) — Rangers says United States midfielder Alejandro Bedoya has agreed terms with the Scottish champions. The 24-year-old Orebro SK player will join Rangers in January after the Swedish season ends if he is granted a British work permit.

Bedoya has been in Sweden since 2009 and made his U.S. debut in 2010. From Glasgow, Bedoya wrote on Twitter: “Crossing fingers Work Permit goes through! Thanks for the support!”

FIFA Capsules

Bin Hammam returns to FIFA for bribes case verdict

ZURICH (AP) — Accused of trying to bribe his way to becoming the FIFA president, Mohamed bin Hammam returns to FIFA headquarters Friday for a hearing that could banish him from the sport.

Bin Hammam will face a five-man ethics panel which is set to deliver a verdict Saturday on the latest and most serious corruption scandal in FIFA’s 107-year history.

The Asian Football Confederation president was suspended seven weeks ago pending a full probe into allegations he arranged to pay Caribbean officials $40,000 cash bribes to back his election challenge against FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

With a lifetime ban among the possible sanctions, another round of negative headlines for FIFA would take attention away from Saturday evening’s 15-match program of Asian qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup, including bin Hammam’s native Qatar playing in Doha against Vietnam.

Bin Hammam has pledged to give “convincing grounds” to refute evidence gathered by investigators, including the private firm of former FBI director Louis Freeh.

An ethics panel interim report, leaked to international media, stated there was “compelling” evidence from whistleblowers of a bribery conspiracy involving bin Hammam and his longtime FIFA executive committee colleague Jack Warner when Caribbean Football Union members met on May 10 in Trinidad.

Warner won’t face the panel’s judgment after resigning his FIFA vice presidency and all other soccer duties last month. He returned to his post as a Trinidad and Tobago government minister with FIFA’s thanks and a declaration of his “presumption of innocence.”

The ethics court also will hear charges leveled against two CFU staffers, Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester, for their alleged part in distributing brown envelopes stuffed with $100 bills. Neither came to the initial May 29 hearings in Zurich and FIFA can’t compel them to attend Friday.

Since being suspended, bin Hammam has disappeared from public view and said little.

“As the process is still not yet completed, I have no intention, at the moment, to make any statements or interviews,” the 62-year-old Qatari wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

Bin Hammam has updated his campaign website twice since Blatter was re-elected unopposed June 1, publishing statements condemning “continuous leaks of confidential information” and claiming FIFA bias against him.

“Despite all these, I am still looking for and hoping to receive a fair hearing — one which will not be influenced by any political agenda or motivation,” he wrote.

Bin Hammam denies buying votes but acknowledged transferring $360,000 to the CFU to pay for delegates’ travel to Trinidad, arranged through Warner’s family travel agency, plus accommodation and conference expenses.

The scandal was sparked when Bahamas officials alerted Warner’s longtime ally Chuck Blazer, an American member of the FIFA executive body, to the cash offers.

Whistleblowers from Bermuda, Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands also gave witness statements — described in the leaked report as “coherent, credible and detailed” — alleging that Warner informed them that he advised the Qatari candidate to provide cash gifts that could be spent as they chose.

At least nine of the 25 CFU members have helped the FIFA probe, including Louis Giskus of Suriname. He told the AP he was not suspicious at first because gifts are typically given on FIFA-related business, and Warner often dealt in cash.

Other Caribbean officials have denied being offered money and face their own FIFA investigation if the ethics panel opens a second wave of cases.

Bin Hammam has complained that the panel disregarded 12 CFU officials who provided written statements backing him and Warner.

FIFA and Freeh sought to question those supporters, who were warned that the ethics committee “may draw a negative inference” if they did not cooperate.

Interviews scheduled in Miami were canceled when most refused to travel to the United States, and some were later questioned in the Bahamas.

Bin Hammam’s Asian allies at FIFA, Worawi Makudi and Vernon Manilal Fernando, joined him in Trinidad and were asked to give evidence.

Manilal Fernando told The AP by telephone that he met with ethics panel member Robert Torres of Guam last month in Zurich, and that “the Freeh people were also there.”

“They asked for a statement and I made it. It’s not proper for me to discuss that. I should keep that part confidential,” the Sri Lankan official said, adding that FIFA told executive committee members not to contact bin Hammam during the investigation.

FIFA said this week that the ethics hearing was an independent process, and it could not comment on who was invited to attend Friday.

“FIFA offered to pay for the travel expenses of Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester, since they were also summoned as witnesses,” the governing body said in a statement.

The ethics panel, chaired by Namibian judge Petrus Damaseb, will begin its deliberations Saturday, though its decisions could prove just the latest chapter in a legal saga.

If found guilty, bin Hammam can challenge the verdict at FIFA’s appeals committee, the Court of Arbitration for Sport and then the Swiss Federal Tribunal, which can overturn CAS rulings if judges believe legal process has been abused.

Eight months ago, FIFA’s ethics committee banished bin Hammam’s former colleague Amos Adamu for three years for seeking bribes in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests won by Russia and Qatar, respectively.

Nigeria’s Adamu is still waiting for an appeal hearing date at CAS.

— Graham Dunbar

FIFA to test nine goal-line technology systems

ZURICH (AP) — Nine goal-line technology systems are to undergo tests to try to win approval for match-day use next year, FIFA said Thursday.

FIFA did not identify the nine candidates, all from Europe, which will be examined between September and December by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology.

“Each company’s respective technology will be scrutinized across a broad range of criteria, in both daylight and floodlit conditions,” FIFA said in a statement.

FIFA’s rule-making body, the International Football Association Board, will study the results in London next March and invite the best systems to a second round of trials.

The IFAB panel, composed of FIFA officials and the four British associations, can approve successful systems at a meeting scheduled next July.

First, the nine candidates must show their technology’s “recognition of free shots on goal, with 100 percent accuracy required, as well as static and dynamic accuracy tests, to 90 percent accuracy in the first phase.”

FIFA also requires that the match referee must know within one second if a goal has been scored.

The message is relayed “with both a vibration and visual signal required to be sent to the referee’s watch. This indication must be received wherever the referee is positioned on the field of play, or within the technical areas,” FIFA said.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter reversed his opposition to tests after England was denied a clear goal in its second-round loss against Germany at the 2010 World Cup.

Blatter has said the technology could be in place at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, though that plan will be opposed by influential UEFA President Michel Platini. He favors employing additional assistant referees beside each goal.

Nine systems were previously tested at FIFA headquarters before the annual IFAB meeting in March but their accuracy was unacceptable.

Hawk-Eye, the Sony-owned company whose ball-tracking technology is used in tennis and cricket, declined to participate because its system uses cameras that need to be set up in a stadium.

FIFA said the nine candidates can propose testing venues which have still to be agreed for the next round of trials.

Brazil says stadium work will be done by late 2013

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazil’s sports minister says the construction and renovation work on the 12 stadiums scheduled to host matches at the World Cup will be concluded by late 2013.

Orlando Silva said Thursday in a conference call that 10 of the stadiums will host matches for the 2013 Confederations Cup, a test event for soccer’s showcase tournament.

Silva says Brazil will invest $14 billion in airports, urban transportation, ports and stadiums for the World Cup.

Copa America

Chavez complains about call in Venezuela’s loss

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Thursday commiserated with his country’s football fans saying the national team was “robbed” of a goal in the Copa America semifinal loss to Paraguay.

Chavez, who is undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba, posted a string of messages on his Twitter account Thursday morning, saying Venezuela should complain to CONMEBOL, the governing body of South American football.

“Paraguay didn’t beat us in that game,” one message said. The president added that he had been watching the match along with former Cuban President Fidel Castro and they both “clearly saw the goal they took away from us.”

“In my modest opinion,” Chavez continued, “… THEY ROBBED US OF THE VICTORY GOAL! And I hope that with this I’m not offending anybody!”

Oswaldo Vizcarrondo had a goal disallowed in the first half of the match Wednesday night after a close offside decision. TV replays backed the referee’s call that the Venezuelan player was offside.

Venezuela also hit the woodwork three times before the game finished 0-0 and Paraguay won a penalty shootout.

“Why the devil was that referee going to nullify such a spectacular goal?” Chavez asked in another message. He said he had spoken with Venezuela coach Cesar Farias.

Thousands of Venezuelans cheered their team in a Caracas plaza while watching on a giant screen, and then their cheers turned to silence during the penalty shootout when Paraguay’s goalkeeper stopped a shot.

Many fans said afterward that they were proud of Venezuela’s historic feat in making the Copa America semifinals for the first time, and believed their squad had shown better play than Paraguay throughout the match in Argentina.

Venezuela, long known largely for its standout baseball players, has seen its national football team improve markedly in recent years.

“We’ve shown that Venezuelan football should be respected,” said Alexander Rivas, a 23-year-old university student. Even with the loss, he added, “For us, they’re heroes.”

Elsewhere

Man City’s Mancini still sanguine about Tevez

MARINA DEL REY, California (AP) — Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini considers Carlos Tevez an important member of his squad despite the Argentina striker’s uncertain future with the club.

Tevez has expressed a desire to leave the English Premier League club after two seasons in order to be near his family in South America. He remains with Manchester City after an agreement on a move to Corinthians was unable to be worked out.

“At the moment, Carlos is still a City player,” Mancini said. “In the future, we will see what can happen. For us, Carlos is an important player.”

Mancini said he has yet to speak with Tevez but respects the captain’s wish to play closer to his family. The Manchester City manager said the uncertainty isn’t affecting the way he is preparing for the season.

“Carlos wants to leave for his family,” Mancini said. “Only because of this the, club accepts it. I think it’s because we respect his reason.”

Tevez appeared to be on his way to Corinthians until the proposed move fell through this week. The transfer would have reunited Tevez with his former club, but Corinthians said they needed more time to arrange a deal.

Tevez has been a stabilizing force up front in his time with City, scoring 43 goals in Premiership play over the past two campaigns. He had 20 goals last season in helping Manchester City qualify for the Champions League.

While his departure would be a blow to Manchester City, the club is exploring avenues of improving its squad through the acquisition of multiple players, according to Mancini, who wouldn’t mention specific names.

The club has been linked to highly sought-after striker Sergio Aguero of Atletico Madrid. But Mancini cautioned that the competitive market doesn’t make it easy to sign players of Aguero’s caliber.

“It’s difficult to buy good players because all the good teams want these players,” Mancini said. “I hope before the game against United, we can add players.”

Manchester City has been training in the United States in preparation of its season opener against rival Manchester United in the FA Community Shield on Aug. 7.

Manchester City will play the third game of its preseason tour against the host Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer on Sunday. Already Manchester City has defeated Club America and the Vancouver Whitecaps on its trip.

“The games have been good for what we need at this stage of preseason,” midfielder Gareth Barry said. “The one on Sunday will probably be the toughest test. But we’re where we want to be.”

Tevez has been absent from the U.S. tour while playing for Argentina in Copa America. Barry said his teammates remain relatively unaffected by the uncertainty surrounding the star striker.

“Obviously, there are a few conversations about it. But the lads are just trying to get fit and enjoy the games,” Barry said. “For the players, there’s nothing really you can do anything about.”

Barca sign Chile forward Sanchez for €26 million

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona signed Chile forward Alexis Sanchez from Udinese for €26 million ($37 million) on Thursday, becoming the European champion’s first major signing during the offseason transfer market.

The three-time defending Spanish champion said on its website that the 22-year-old Sanchez has agreed to a five-year contract. He becomes the first Chilean player to join Barcelona. Terms of the move were not released.

Barcelona said bonuses could add an extra €11.5 million ($16.5 million) to the deal. Sanchez will undergo a medical and sign his contract before being presented in the Catalan capital on Monday.

Sanchez scored 12 goals in 31 Serie A games for Udinese last season after joining from Argentine team River Plate in 2008. He also previously played for Colo Colo and helped Chile reached the quarterfinals of the Copa America in Argentina this month.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola is likely to utilize the winger’s pace and skill on the flanks to bolster Barcelona’s attack. Last season, David Villa and Pedro Rodriguez played there without much of a rest.

“He’s very young,” Guardiola said. “He can play in all three attacking positions, he shows intense defensive skills, he’s direct and from what I’ve been told, he’s a very nice kid.”

The football transfer is also the most expensive involving a Chilean. It could be end up being worth more than double what Juventus paid Lazio for Marcelo Salas in 2001, when striker Darko Kovacevic was included in a $25 million deal.

Should the deal reach a maximum €37.5 million ($54 million), it would be Barcelona’s second most expensive signing after having paid Inter Milan $65 million (€45 million) for striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a move that included Samuel Eto’o going the other way.

Barcelona can now concentrate on trying to sign Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas. Guardiola said Sanchez was the club’s No. 1 transfer priority, but Barcelona still wants to bring Fabregas back to his boyhood club.

Koeman appointed Feyenoord coach

AMSTERDAM (AP) — Feyenoord named former Dutch football star Ronald Koeman as head coach on Thursday, signing him to a one-year contract.

The 48-year-old Koeman replaces Mario Been, who quit this month after players said they had lost faith in his leadership — plunging the cash-strapped club into turmoil shortly before the start of the new season. Feyenoord finished 10th in the Dutch league last season, as archrival Ajax won its 30th title.

Koeman has been looking for work since a 5-month stint with AZ Alkmaar ended abruptly in December 2009. He has previously coached Ajax and PSV to league championships, and had brief spells at Valencia and Benefica.

“Needless to say, Feyenoord is a splendid club for me to pick up the thread again as head coach,” Koeman said.

He described the young team as “brimming with talent.”

“With the players and the whole club I have the burning ambition to show we can do a lot more than we’ve shown in the recent past,” he said.

During an illustrious playing career as a defender and free-kick specialist, Koeman won 78 caps for Netherlands, including playing on the team that won the 1988 European Championship. He also won Dutch league titles with Ajax and PSV, and won the Spanish league title four times and the 1992 European Cup with Barcelona.

With Thursday’s appointment, Koeman becomes the first person to play for Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord and later coach them all as well.

Feyenoord named the recently retired Giovanni van Bronckhorst as Koeman’s assistant.

Controversy as Chelsea beats Malaysian XI on tour

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Chelsea’s Didier Drogba scored a controversial winner and Israeli teammate Yossi Benayoun was booed by spectators during a preseason friendly in this Muslim-majority nation on Thursday.

Benayoun was the first Israeli in recent memory to play in Malaysia, which is a staunch supporter of the Palestinians and has no diplomatic ties with Israel. The midfielder was booed and jeered during his appearance for the first half of Chelsea’s 1-0 win over a Malaysian XI.

Drogba, a second-half substitute, fired in a 78th minute free kick that struck both the post and goalkeeper Mohd Izham Tarmizi. The linesman flagged that the ball had crossed the line, sparking protests by the Malaysian team, which was made up of youth and professional players.

Former Liverpool striker Fernando Torres had another quiet game for the Blues. He enjoyed the first opportunity of the match when he raced onto a through ball by Frank Lampard but was flagged offside. A mixup in the Malaysians’ defense also allowed Lampard a free shot but he blasted wide.

Chelsea were denied two other chances when tackles from Malaysian centerback S. Subramaniam thwarted Salomon Kalou and then Torres.

Lampard had his best chance of the game in the 42nd minute after Kalou sliced open the Malaysian defense with a wonderful pass, but the veteran midfielder failed to connect with the ball.

Chelsea changed its entire lineup after the break, but despite the inclusion of John Terry, Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Daniel Sturridge failed to dent Malaysia’s defense until Drogba’s strike. Chelsea will move on to Thailand next before playing two matches in Hong Kong on its Asian tour.

Park expected to sign new deal with United

CHICAGO (AP) — Alex Ferguson expects South Korean midfielder Park Ji-sung to sign a contract extension that will keep him at Manchester United for two more years.

Speaking at a news conference in Chicago, where United will face the Chicago Fire in a friendly at Soldier Field on Saturday, Ferguson says Park has been offered a new deal and is certain he will sign it.

“He has been offered a new contract, yes,” the veteran United manager said. “I’m sure he’ll sign it. His career at United has been nothing but excellent, a tremendous professional. And I’m sure he’ll accept the new offer, and tie himself to the club for the next two years.”

Park, who joined the club in July 2005, scored a goal in United’s 7-0 exhibition rout of the Seattle Sounders on Wednesday.

Benfica sign Villarreal’s Capdevila to two-year deal

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Benfica has signed Spain defender Joan Capdevila from Villarreal in a two-year deal. The Portuguese club says on its website that the 33-year-old Capdevila’s contract also included a €20 million ($28 million) buy-out clause. The cost of the transfer was not revealed.

Capdevila is seen as a likely replacement for Fabio Coentrao at fullback after the Portugal international joined Real Madrid in a €30 million ($43 million) deal. The former Deportivo La Coruna defender leaves Villarreal after four seasons.

Capdevila has made 57 appearances for Spain and was a starter as Spain won the World Cup last year and the European Championship in 2008.

Bulgaria criminalizes match-fixing

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Bulgaria’s parliament has approved legal amendments to make match-fixing and corruption in sport a crime with penalties of up to six years in prison.

Lawmakers voted on Thursday to add a whole new chapter “Offenses against Sports” to the Penal Code under which those convicted of match-fixing or bribing will also face fines of up to €7,600 ($10,800).

Last year, authorities investigated allegations of match-fixing in eight football matches but legal proceedings stumbled over the lack of provision in criminal law.

The new legislation is expected also to counter illegal online betting which has gained immense popularity in the country.

Platini to visit Greece over match-fixing scandal

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek sports authorities say UEFA President Michel Platini will visit the country on July 26 for high-level meetings to discuss the country’s match-fixing scandal.

Greece’s sports ministry said Thursday in a statement that Platini and his UEFA delegation will meet with Prime Minister George Papandreou.

More than 60 soccer club officials, players, businessmen and others are under investigation in a corruption probe. Ten people were in custody on charges of money laundering and participation in a criminal organization.

Greece’s Papastathopoulos joins Werder Bremen

BREMEN, Germany (AP) — Greece defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos is joining Bundesliga club Werder Bremen on a one-season loan from Genoa.

Bremen said Thursday that it has an option to buy the 23-year-old player once the loan is finished. Papastathopoulos played for AC Milan last season. Bremen struggled last season, finishing 13th in the 18-team top division and conceding 61 goals.

Makoto Hasebe extends contract with Wolfsburg

WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Japan midfielder Makoto Hasebe has extended his contract with Wolfsburg. The Bundesliga club says it extended Hasebe’s contract by another two years until 2014.

Hasebe arrived in Wolfsburg from Urawa Red Diamonds in 2008 and won the Bundesliga championship the next year.
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