Flying Kiwis – October 22

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Chris Wood - Burnley FC (English Premier League)

Away to Leicester City, the Clarets had a tough one on their hands. Leicester were six games unbeaten at home which is the same number of games that Burnley have gone since they last won a game on the road. And it could have been a disastrous start in the third minute as an appeal roared out from the Leicester lads about a possible handball penalty against Chris Wood after some pinball defending. Neither the ref nor the VAR were bothered though.

Instead this turned out to be one of the best games Chris Wood has played all season. Paired with Jay Rodriguez after a groin injury ruled out Ashley Barnes, it meant a different dynamic up top. It seemed to be a plan for Rodriguez to play off the shoulder and use his pace while The Woodsman was free to drop in a bit and look for the ball. Which he did fantastically. He’s a beast in the air and has a third foot for a chest but his link-up play can be hit or miss sometimes. No such dramas here as he was shielding defenders and picking out passes all afternoon long. He wouldn’t even cop an offside flag until the 73rd minute of the game!

Wood almost scored early on after a bit of interplay on the edge of the area saw a ball loop up over the defence for the pouncing kiwi caption however Kasper Schmeichel was out quick to snuff it out. But Schmeichel wouldn’t have a chance in the 26th minute when Chris Wood opened the scoring. It was a perfect little representation of what Wood offers as a striker. Brought down the ball on his chest, laid it out wide to Dwight McNeil, drifted into the penalty area looking for the cross, and then timed a perfect late run to the far post to win what was quite honestly a brilliant header into the top of the goal. After ten games without a goal the Woodsman now has four in his last four.

Magnifico. He even took a pop at a heat check with a left-footed half-volley that was fired so far over the top it probably still hasn’t landed, that’s how confident he was feeling. But Leicester City are a quality team this season. And Jamie Vardy only needs a hint of a chance to score a goal. He’d basically been a passenger all first half, just the one opportunity to do anything which he’d lashed into the side-netting. But right before the half-time whistle he rose up over Ben Mee and headed in an effort almost as good as Wood’s.

Burnley responded after the break with some more of those quick transitions, getting the ball to Wood as soon as possible and having guys running off him. Those two combined immediately after the kickoff with Wood dropping one down for Jay Rod to volley wide. Then they nearly combined again with Wood’s side-footed through ball a little overhit. Still, Leicester ramped up the pressure in that second half. They forced things deeper into the Burnley half and suddenly the Woodsman was as much a defensive asset as he was an attacking one – winning one crucial header in particular to keep Jonny Evans from getting his noggin to one at the far post. Almost on the exact spot as he scored his goal, this one sent in the opposite direction. However eventually the Foxes did get their reward. Youri Tielemans, who had been superb in that midfield, getting open in the box after some great work from substitute Demarai Gray and Tielemans demolished it past Nick Pope in goal. 2-1 to Leicester with about quarter of an hour left.

Which is plenty of time for some more big drama. And of course Chris Wood was involved in that too. First there was a chance which Wood struck wide on the swivel after James Tarkowski had won a header from a long free kick. It looked like a foul but no whistle came and Wood’s goal would have stood if he’d got his angles right. Really tricky one though. Soon after, in the 80th minute, he did get one in the net. Or rather Evans did. Matt Lowton had won the ball in the Leicester half and swung one in for Wood, whose initial effort was well saved by Schmeichel with his shoulder. But as Evans and Wood struggled for that loose ball it found its way in for what probably would have been an own goal had it been a goal at all. The ref awarded it but the VAR had other ideas, ruling that Wood had tripped Evans and thus prevented him from clearing the ball off the line. Was there much contact? Would Evans have gotten to the ball anyway? Would Wood have gotten a penalty if the roles were reverse? It’s all speculative. But the goal was ruled off and Sean Dyche was apoplectic. Leicester held on to win 2-1, so great from Chris Wood but not quite enough to avoid defeat.

Up Next: Burnley vs Chelsea, Sunday at 5.30am (NZT)

Abby Erceg – North Carolina Courage (American National Women’s Soccer League)

Always nice to be in the mix for those things. Erceg won Defender of the Year in 2018 and has been named on the shortlist along with: Lauren Barnes (Reign FC), Jaelene Hinkle (North Carolina Courage), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals FC) & Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars). Considering the Courage had a little sketchy spell after the World Cup and considering that during the World Cup Abby Erceg was away with New Zealand and considering that Jaelene Hinkle won the Courage’s team award for top defender this season... it’s probably a bit much to expect Abby to win another one this year. But then you know you’re a special player when you’re getting shortlisted for these things when you didn’t even have your best season.

Say, so did you know what week it was this week? It was playoff week! Both the American soccer leagues getting into the do or die stuff and there were four kiwis involved... including the title-hunting North Carolina Courage and their captain Abby Erceg. They hosted Rosie White’s Seattle Reign, though White was named on the bench as has been the case in recent times. And she’d remain on the bench for the whole game... which at least made it easier to pick favourites. Erceg wore the armband and played the full thing, despite a little injury scare last week that led to her taking precautionary early substitution.

For the longest time this was looking like One Of Those Games. The Courage took a little while in getting going but once they did they were all over it, they just couldn’t find a goal. Lynn Williams went closest in the first half when she flicked one off the post. Things only ramped up in the second half but again the Courage were thwarted time and time again. Reign keeper Casey Murphy would make 11 saves in this one. But she couldn’t save Heather O’Reilly’s 88th minute penalty, after a Reign defender had been struck on the arm in the box. The Courage finally getting what they’d worked all game for.

But then, incredibly, the Reign equalised. With the Courage just minutes, seconds even, from advancing they kinda blew it as Ifeoma Onumonu was able to slide around Abby Erceg’s sliding block attempt and then somehow squeeze the ball in past the keeper from a close angle. One that probably should have been saved but then knockout footy does crazy things to people.

Therefore it was off to extra time. Thirty more minutes, with Seattle still buzzing from having prolonged their season. You know what though? The Courage are defending champs for a reason and they showed their championship spirit by responding superbly in bonus footy, taking the lead through birthday girl Debinha and then an own goal right at the end of the first half of ET made it three before Crystal Dunn sealed it once and for all, the Courage romping home in extras for a 4-1 win and they’ll take part in their third consecutive NWSL championship game next week.

And their opponents in that final? The Courage will face the Chicago Red Stars after Sam Kerr did what Sam Kerr does, scoring early after a brilliant ball from Yuki Nagasato (the most dangerous one-two combo in the league) and the Red Stars held on to beat Portland Thorns 1-0.

Which means a good old fashioned Trans Tasman clash, with Erceg marking Kerr for the big one. Sam Kerr has won the Golden Boot award in three consecutive seasons now after breaking the record with 18 goals in 2019 (her own record that she set in 2017). Erceg’s been on record a few times talking up what a challenge Kerr is to deal with and the Aussie scored four of her 18 goals in games against the Courage this year – with Chicago winning 3-1 and 2-1 at home and the Courage equalising for a 1-1 draw in the one that they hosted. Of course, North Carolina will host this one too as the NWSL Shield winners and they’re undefeated this year in home games... but they could not have gotten a tougher opponent. It’s gonna be a wild one.

Up Next: Monday at 9.30am, North Carolina Courage vs Chicago Red Stars – NWSL Grand Final (NZT)

Michael Boxall – Minnesota United (American Major League Soccer)

Minnesota United’s first ever playoff game and it was Michael Boxall marking Zlatan Ibrahimovic, what a spectacle. Could he shut down the self-proclaimed greatest player the MLS has ever seen? Well, yeah, he kinda did. Zlatan had six shots but only two were on target and he didn’t score, while Boxall and the Loons also caught him offside three times and Zlatan conceded three fouls. A mixed bag from that guy. And dutifully the Loons were playing sharp at home too. They should probably have scored when Robin Lod looped one over the goal mid-1H and the same goes for Angelo Rodriguez’s header early in the second. Michael Boxall had two headers as well, one that he got on target and one that he didn’t.

Playoff games are ruthless. When it’s everything on the line you cannot afford to be that wasteful. In the 71st minute a ball was chipped into the Minnesota penalty area. Zlatan brought it down and fired but Mike Boxall got across in cover to block it. Yet nobody was tracking Sebastian Lletget’s run and the ball landed right in his path for the opener. And just minutes later Jonathan dos Santos scored a beauty to make it 2-0. Jan Gregus pulled one back late but there was no time for an equaliser. A disappointing way for it all to end after such a great season for Minnesota United but you have to be clinical in these games and they weren’t.

But it’ll be some consolation to have locked down a new contract with the club going forwards, and not just a one-year deal either but multiple years guaranteed… that’s the good juice right there. It was apparently agreed upon a little while back and it follows news of Ike Opara, Box’s CB partner,also agreeing new terms with the Loons. Boxall did have a small stretch out of the team after a couple errors crept into his game but he forced his way back in there to start the final 19 games in a row and he played all of their US Open Cup matches. He’s well liked within the squad too. You love to see it.

And now for something completely different...

Up Next: The bitter wilderness of the offseason

Bill Tuiloma – Portland Timbers (American Major League Soccer)

A year ago Bill Tuiloma made his name in the playoffs, coming in as a defensive utility off the bench and ending up playing a few games as an emergency starter after Larrys Mabiala was injured and his performances there as the Timbers marched on to the MLS final, where they were beaten by Atlanta United, probably had a lot to do with getting his contract extended. This year he enters a regular starter alongside Larrys Mabiala (that pair are dubbed The French Connection in Portland, after Billy T’s time spent at Marseille... along with Mabiala being, you know, French and all that). It’s been a good twelve months for Bill Tuiloma, who up until this time has always been a guy striving for first team football wherever he went. This year he found it.

But unfortunately it’s one and done in the playoffs this year, as an inconsistent Timbers team wasn’t able to hold off Real Salt Lake. In some pretty drenched conditions, Portland had keeper Steve Clark to thank for somehow keeping them level in the 14th minute as he snuffed out a one on one, got back up and slide-tackled an attacker, then recovered his lines incredibly to tip a deep volley over the top. But there were no such heroics in the 28th minute as Damir Kreilach broke the offside trap and headed in from wide open.

Having been thoroughly bossed in that first half though, the Timbers must have had something special in those orange slices because they scored immediately after the break through Dairon Asprilla with the header from a corner. Just Portland’s second corner of the game. And then, folks, we had ourselves a game. It was still Real Salt Lake looking more likely but Portland had a few to get excited over. Christhian Paredes had a volley. There was a trio of decent efforts from deep, including one from Bill Tuiloma, though Seb Blanco went closest. Blanco also had an overhead kick from about six yards out that he couldnt quite direct goalwards. And Diego Valeri struck one wide from the edge of the area from an 85th minute counter attack.

But then RSL snatched it in the 87th minute. A ball across the defence was almost cut out by Tuiloma but his legs weren’t long enough, the ball deflecting into the path of Jefferson Savarino and his shot beat Steve Clark at the near post for the winner. Devastating time to concede. But in fairness the Timbers probably end their season about where they deserve too. Good enough to make the playoffs but not good enough to go any further. It probably didnt help that their most creative player, Diego Valeri, only played off the bench as he made his return from injury (and also amidst some unresolved contract negotiations) and their best goal scorer Brian Fernandez was unavailable at all after voluntarily entering the league substance abuse programme. Apparently as a proactive measure, with his well-being in mind after some tough times in his personal life. Best wishes to that fella for his recovery.

Bill Tuiloma in 2018: 13 GM (7 GS) | 713 MIN | 1 GOAL | 1 YC

Bill Tuiloma in 2019: 25 GM (21 GS) | 1919 MIN | 1 GOAL | 1 YC

And let’s not forget how great that goal he scored against Toronto back in April was. Dead set stunner, that one. Now the question is what happens with his contract. He had his 2019 option picked up by the Timbers back in December but that deal ends at the end of the year so fingers crossed he’s done enough to hang around a while longer. You never quite know with the MLS, Stefan Marinovic could tell you that much.

Up Next: Nada

James Musa – Phoenix Rising (American USL Championship)

While we’re still in America, might as well check in on the USL Crew and James Musa in particular because his Phoenix Rising have kept on with their history making campaign, lifting the USL Championship regular season title following a 3-1 win over OKC Energy that took them to a new record of 78 points for the term. A lovely way to prepare for their playoff run next and a nice time to regather their old form after a mini-slump towards the end of things once they knew they had top spot all wrapped up.

Phoenix Rising will find out who they’ll face in a couple days when the play in games take place. Sacramento Republic (7) vs New Mexico United (10) and Austin Bold (8) vs LA Galaxy II (9)... with Phoenix facing the lowest winning seed from those two games. So it’s all nice and sweet for them, the only drama is that The Moose will probably be on the bench. He was an 85th minute introduction against OKC Energy and with a fully available squad he tends to find himself in that role. Musa has started 20 of the team’s 32 games, though a fair chunk of those came during the Gold Cup with others unavailable. Still, for a guy who has been runner up in this competition the last two years whatever it takes to finally win one, you know?

Elsewhere in the USL you already heard that the Simon Elliott-coached Sacramento Republic cracked the playoffs. No such luck for his fellow kiwi gaffer Cam Knowles and his Portland Timbers II team who were way back in 14th on the ladder. Bill Tuiloma played a couple times for them this year too. Kyle Adams’ RGV Toros had a nice run of results towards the end of the season as they took 13 points from their final five games but it wasn’t enough to get them into the postseason. Adams played 27 of 32 games for the Toros, captaining them on numerous occasions. Likewise Elliot Collier and Memphis 901 lost their last four in a row to end in 15th out of 18 teams in the West – though Collier did score 6 goals in 28 games there on loan from Chicago Fire. But it was happy news for Sam Brotherton and North Carolina, with a late winner over St Louis ensuring they get a home play-in game. That one will be on midday Thursday against Birmingham Legion.

Up Next: Sunday at 3pm, Phoenix Rising vs TBD (NZT)

Hannah Wilkinson - Sporting CP (Portuguese 1a Divisão)

Well, bugger. With the two top teams in Portugal, Benfica and Sporting, going head to head it might only be early days in the season but there were title ramifications on the line. These two sides have distance between themselves and the rest of the pack so the two games they play against each other could well decide where the trophy goes. Plus it’s a derby, just to add a little sauce to the mixture.

But it’s first points to Benfica on that count. Wilkie got the start and played 88 minutes before she was replaced but it wasn’t much of a day to be a striker up against a team that hasn’t conceded yet all season. Benfica started fast at home and had several close calls before Nycole finally put one away in the 24th minute. Not great defence as Sporting failed to clear their lines after a corner. But Sporting settled into the game after that setback and while their own chances were mostly limited to set pieces they still kept themselves in the mix at 1-0 pretty deep into the game before a slightly dodgy penalty (tripping over a static leg!?) was converted by Darlene in the 78th minute. She then added a delightful third in stoppage time after Wilkinson had been subbed off.

Take it from the kiwi international who overcame a serious knee injury to return ahead of time to be a part of the last World Cup though: it’s all about how you respond to setbacks that matters. Benfica get the big early result but it’s early days in the season yet.

Up Next: Away to Estoril Praia, Sundat at 3.45am (NZT)

CJ Bott – Vittsjö GIK (Swedish Damallsvenskan)

The massive games keep coming for Vittsjö, their CJ Bott inspired win meant that they got to try do it all again away to FC Rosengård with second place still a genuine possibility if they can keep the wins coming to close out the season. Champions League qualification is there for the taking... the only trouble being that they were up against the champs in waiting who needed a point to secure the title.

Vittsjö had their goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo to thank for not conceding bright and early, but there was nothing she could do about Anna Anvegård’s strike in the 29th minute. However Vittsjö were able to rally and they capped a bright spell with a goal of their own, Alexandra Benediktsson with the clever reverse header to restore parity to the game. But as to who would strike next... well, Sanne Troelsgaard should have done so for the Rosies but she couldn't hit the target with only the keeper to beat. Bad miss there. Rosengård didn’t have to feel as desperate as Vittsjö to get the three points since a draw was enough to win the division at home but even still probably had the better of the second half. But neither was able to break the deadlock and 1-1 was the way it ended. Ninety minutes for Botty but no late heroics like last time. Cheeky match highlights coming at ya right here.

So what does that do to the table? Rosengård win the 2019 Damallsvenskan, so good for them. Ali Riley’s old team after all. But with Göteborg about to beat Växjö 2-1 at the same time they’re now four points clear of Vittsjö with a game to play, meaning the Champions League dream will have to wait another season. But third place is still there for the taking if they can win their final game. For a club that finished two points off relegation in 2018 and four points off relegation in 2017... it’s been an incredible run.

Up Next: Home vs Djurgården in the final game of the season – 2.30am on Sunday (NZT)

Marco Rojas – SønderjyskE (Danish Superliga)

At half-time, at home against FC Nordsjælland, it was 1-1 and Sonders were looking decent. Fast forward another 45 minutes and it had all gone to piss. They conceded twice in the first five mins of that second spell and then again with a little over ten mins remaining and went on to lose 4-1. About the only decent thing there is that Marco Rojas got another ninety minutes in there. A couple moments when he went surging into the penalty area but the ball didn’t fall for him or somebody else got in the way. Sonders’ first defeat after seven games unbeaten in all comps though.

Up Next: 6am on Monday at home vs AaB (NZT)

Nikko Boxall – Viborg FF (Danish Division 1)

Did anyone order a 5-0 win over Fremad Amager? Well too bad, that’s what you’re having. Viborg were brilliant, way too good on the day, and with that win they’re now only three points off top with a game in hand. Getting back in business after a slump a little while back and Nikko Boxall is once again a prominent force at the back there. Full game for him in this one, keeping those sheets nice and clean.

Up Next: Away to Naestved on Friday at 4.15am (NZT)

Jeremy Brockie & Dan Morgan – Maritzburg United (South African Premier Soccer League)

After so little football for so long, Jeremy Brockie’s understandably taking a little time to settle in to Maritzburg. There’s minimal patience for him as he does that, given what a big signing he was for this club, but he’s getting games so the next step is to start hitting the back of the net. However he wasn’t able to do that in Maritzburg’s Telkom Knockout match against Bidvest Wits.

Brockie started (his third game for the club, all starts) and was subbed off in stoppage time with the game destined for extra time. Not a lot to say for Brockie’s performance, it was a quiet one, although the Team of Choice were notably worse without him as fatigue set in. But luckily their keeper Bongani Mpandle stole the headlines with a couple saves in the penalty shootout, allowing Maritzburg to advance to the quarters. Dan Morgan also started, playing at left wingback, and he got in a good hour or so before he was replaced. All a lot better than Andre De Jong’s AmaZulu managed. That lot lost 5-0 to Mamelodi Sundowns with ADJ subbed on in the 78th minute.

Up Next: Cape Town vs Maritzburg, 7am on Saturday (NZT)

Erin Nayler – Girondins Bordeaux (French Division 1 Féminine)

And it was back to winning ways for Erin Nayler and Bordeaux, with a clean sheet to boot. At home against Olympique Marseille, FCGB wasted little time in establishing their dynamic attacking style once more. Emelyne Laurent went close early on, breaking the defensive line, before Viv Asseyi gave them the lead with a sharp finish in the 16th minute. Set pieces weren’t going to bad either. Khadija Shaw rocked the post from distance from a free kick and then a handball penalty allowed Asseyi to score her second to double the lead going into the break.

Marseille’s best chance came early in the second stanza when a scrappy little spell saw Erin Nayler beaten by a stabbed shot but she had cover on the line to clear it away. Laurent then added a third, polishing off a similar chance to her one at the start of the game, and then a couple fouls in the space of fifteen minutes by the Marseille keeper Blandine Joly saw her sent off but Bordeaux weren’t able to add to their lead. They didn’t need to. No dramas. After two straight defeats this was a nice comfortable win and a crucial one too as they travel to face league heavyweights Olympique Lyon next time up. It was also Nayler’s third clean sheet in six league games this season.

Up Next: Sunday at 2.30am, Lyon vs Bordeaux (NZT)

Sarpreet Singh - Bayern Munich II (German Liga 3)

So Bayern II were away to FSV Zwickau this week. Sarpreet Singh has been lighting it up for these guys ever since he dropped back full time to the reserves after the transfer window closed (ordinarily he’ll get two sessions with the top team per week, though that’s only if they don’t have a midweek game to focus on instead – otherwise he’s waiting for injuries or international duty for opportunities)... but he had a bad start to this one. He got swamped just outside his penalty area, losing the ball (with the hint of a foul) in a terrible area leading to one of his buddies conceding a penalty in scrambling to win it back. However Fabio Viteritti struck the spottie wide of the post so all’s well that ends well.

Bayern were denied a penalty of their own when Derrick Köhn went down after a storming run into the penalty area. Then Zwickau really did take the lead with a ripper of an effort from Leon Jensen in first half stoppage time. Can’t do much about those ones. Singh was the closest defender but that was an incredible goal. Less so the goal they conceded immediately after the second half started with Elias Huth whacking it in after some sloppy defending. Jensen added another quality finish ten minutes later and Zwickau cruised to a 3-0 win. There was one nice turn and pass in the highlights from Sarpreet but nothing that could halt the end of BM2’s four game unbeaten streak.

Up Next: Tuesday at 7am versus FC Waldhof (NZT)

Ria Percival – Tottenham Hotspur (English Super League)

Conti Cup week, mate. But Spurs haven’t taken the off-brand footy as seriously as other teams so it was no surprise to see Ria Percival left on the bench even if they were playing away to her old club West Ham. So we’ll keep this nice and quick and say that Spurs were looking good for the win, leading 2-0 through goals from Rianna Dean and Josie Green with only minutes remaining. Percival had been subbed on with about quarter of an hour to go to try ice this thing. But West Ham kept in it with a 90th minute goal for Martha Thomas and then, with only seconds remaining, Kenza Dali curled in a direct free kick to earn a draw for the Hammers. Spurs did go on to claim a bonus point by winning a penalty shootout though.

Up Next: Bristol City vs Tottenham, Monday at 4am in the WSL (NZT)

Olivia Chance – Bristol City (English Super League)

Very decent result here, as BCFC won 2-1 away at Brighton in the Conti Cup. Abi Harrison and Ebony Salmon scored in the first half of a game that certainly didn’t go all Bristol City’s way but although Brighton did pull one back from the penalty spot in the second half there was no equaliser to follow. Bristol City able to hold on and Olivia Chance able to log another ninety minutes in the bank. A second Conti Cup win for BCFC who are now a good bet to make the knockouts if they can close this out (and especially if they can get points off Arsenal in a month’s time).

Up Next: Bristol City vs Tottenham, Monday at 4am in the WSL (NZT)

Katie Rood - Lewes FC (English Championship)

A real heartbreaker for Lewes, as they conceded right at the end to lose 3-2 to WSL side Reading – Fara Williams scoring a hatty as the top flight side came from 2-1 down to win that thing. If only they’d had Katie Rood out there full blast, but she was an unused sub as she works back from a “little hamstring niggle”. It was Lewes’ second defeat in two Conti Cup games and it only gets harder with Chelsea next up, followed by games against West Ham and Spurs. And that’s now four defeats in a row in all comps for Lewes... but definitely a lot they can build from with this performance.

Up Next: London City Lionesses vs Lewes, Monday at 3am (NZT)

Greg Draper – The New Saints (Welsh Premier League)

Meanwhile Drapes keeps on scoring. Nothing has changed there. He scored four last week in a 6-2 win over Broughton and then scored again this time in a 3-2 away win over Penybont FC in a bit of a thriller. He’s now on the verge of breaking the all-time scoring record for TNS. “Gifted an opportunity in the seventh minute, the current JD Cymru Premier Golden Boot said thank you very much, as he slotted the ball into an empty net. It shows the alert nature of Greg though as even though the chance wasn’t one that anyone – least of all Draper himself – expected, when it presented itself he made the most of it. The goal is the 142nd league goal that the popular striker has scored for The New Saints, as he closes in on Mike Wilde’s record of 151.”

Up Next: TNS vs Bala Town, 7.45am on Saturday (NZT)

Steven Old – Morecambe (English League Two)

What’s this!? A Morecambe win! And a Morecambe clean sheet too! Bloody hell.

To sat the Shrimps needed this win would be putting it lightly. This was their first victory in any competition since August, mercifully ending a 12-game stretch of winless matches. And when you’re in a rut like that any old win will do, no matter how you achieve it. Away to Colchester there was nothing special about the way they played but Cole Stockton’s second half goal, a sneaky one from a corner, was all they needed in the end. They had to scrap for it at the end as the hosts threw everything at them that they could but Steven Old put his body on the line for a late block (which left his with a bloody nose) and Morecambe survived for a 1-0 win that lifts them off the foot of the ladder.

Up Next: 7.45am on Wednesday against Forest Green Rovers (NZT)

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