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Archive for the ‘soccer’ Category

Random Week 1 Predictions

Posted by hiphopmama on August 19, 2009

In a very limited number of matches, there have already been quite a few surprises and the question now becomes whether or not particular teams are as good/bad as they looked in their earliest outings. These are my gut feelings as to which teams are pretenders and contenders at this most preliminary of stages.

  • Manchester United are finally going to fall off their championship pace, but not by as much as many think (or as I would like). I know they’ve looked pretty mediocre in their first two matches, but they are a historically slow-starting team and Sir Alex is a strong enough coach that I’m sure they will eventually settle in and start rolling off games. If nothing else, Rooney will at some point hit a groove and score something like 30 goals in 4 matches to earn them a few points. Will it be enough to keep them at the top of the table? No, but they’ll do better than they should based purely on quality of management.
  • Manchester City will both exceed and fall short of people’s expectations. Now a lot of this depends on whose expectations we’re talking about, but the point is true nonetheless. They will exceed expectations because haters and hypocritically bitter opponents (see Chelsea fans’ “money isn’t everything” banter) are already writing them off as impostors masquerading as the real deal and are predicting middling returns on their investments. While I believe their weaknesses at the back will eventually be their undoing – and while I would love to see them flounder in general – I find it hard to believe that the assembled group of superstars won’t at least mildly improve their fortunes over last year, when they finished 10th. That said, I don’t see them making any drastic jumps in the table, and they will probably be lucky to qualify for a European spot at all. Having splashed out close to £100 million in the summer transfer market, mere qualification will inevitably not satisfy the owners and some supporters, who will have their own ideas about how the money might have been better spent. If a top four spot is in their future, it’s a long-term plan at this point.
  • Last season’s upstarts will be under pressure even if they produce similar results. I expect both Martin O’Neill and David Moyes to be on the hot seat at some point this year, mostly because they got their teams to perform so admirably last year. Everton and Aston Villa secured their positions as the best non-Big Four teams in 2008-’09, but this will be more of a curse than a gift in ’09-’10 as both will be expected to improve upon last year’s performances despite the improbability of this task. Fair? No, not particularly, but I see it on the horizon nonetheless.
  • Tottenham will be all up in the mix. No one doubts that Harry Redknapp produced magic when he took over for Spurs last season, but I fully expect him to continue the upward movement at the club and get the most out of a typically underperforming yet talented squad. Bringing both Robbie Keane and Jermaine Defoe back into the fold will bolster the team, as will the addition (again) of Peter Crouch. They’re currently sitting at the top of the Premiership table, and while that certainly won’t lost, don’t be surprised to see them hovering around the danger zone till late in the season.
  • Arsenal will surprise people with the consistency of their challenge. Yes they’re still young and still a bit iffy at the back, but they are no joke and this year Wenger’s faith in his youngsters will finally start to pay off. In just two games, we’ve already seen improvement from players like Denilson and Song, neither of whom was dubbed as having much potential to rejuvenate the squad last season. Now, with another season under their belts and that much more savvy to draw on – not  to mention with a healthy Fabregas and Arshavin for the full season – they will take their game to the next level. Look for them to be challenging for the title till the bitter end.
  • Chelsea are indeed that good and will likely win it all this year. They finished not far off the pace last season, and that was after a horrendous run under Luiz Felipe Scolari. Now, with a squad almost entirely carried over from last year’s, further time to gel, and (hopefully) some consistency in coaching, they are poised to reclaim the title and bring it back to London. Liverpool only just missed a chance to win the Premiership last season and would have been the obvious choice to hoist it this year had they not last their midfield maestro Xabi Alonso. Without him pulling the strings in the center of the park and making things go, I just don’t see them mounting the same kind of challenge. Chelsea, on the other hand, have essentially the same team they had last season with the potentially key addition of Yuri Zhirkov to bolster an already strong left side that includes Ashley Cole, Florent Malouda, and Joe Cole. Couple that with arguably the strongest central defensive pairing in the league in John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho, as well as a playmaker with metronomic consistency in Frank Lampard and you have the recipe for a Premiership champion. I’m an Arsenal fan at heart, but I believe they’re a year and a defender away from true contention, so a Chelsea title would be the next best thing. Say it with me now: Anybody But United.
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Better All The Time

Posted by hiphopmama on August 19, 2009

jensen save

Burnley 1-0 Manchester United
1-0 Blake, 19′

This one was sweet. I’ve been waiting upward of three years for someone other than Manchester United to hoist the Premier League trophy, and it seems this may finally be my year. He would never admit it, but Sir Alex appears to have thrown in the towel on the season already, accepting the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez with little more than a whimper of protest and little done to remedy the squad depletion it caused. Michael Owen? Okay, that’s cute and all, but no one, least of all Sir Alex, expects him to fill the boots of CR7 or Tevez. And with the team’s cadre of veterans racking up another year on those old bodies, you have to wonder how players like Giggs, Scholes, and Neville will hold up over a long, grueling season without a player like Ronaldo to lean on during dry spells.

All these weaknesses and more were on display in their match against Premier League newcomers Burnley, whose hometown population apparently would fit inside of Old Trafford in its entirety, according to the game announcers. That is a nice bit of perspective for the upset they pulled off, as is the fact that they hadn’t won a game in top-flight football in 33 years. Robbie Blake’s lovely volley gave Burnley the only lead they would need inside of 20 minutes, but goalkeeper Brian Jensen had just as crucial a role to play in the victory. His stop on Michael Carrick’s penalty just before halftime buoyed the team and gave them the will to hold on by their fingernails to the slim margin and keep ManU off the scoresheet. He made a few more key saves, and his defense scurried around just enough to put United off their rhythm, so that even the substitution of Berbatov and Valencia did nothing to change the outcome.

While it’s not quite as satisfying watching ManU (potentially) fall off their perch with such a weakened squad, you won’t hear any complaints – or sympathy – from me. If either of my London teams can step in to fill the void, I will be doubly happy, but even if the title goes elsewhere I will still be grateful to Florentino Perez and Kia Joorabchian for helping break up the dynastic unit and let in some sunshine at the top.

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Gunners Win In Glasgow

Posted by hiphopmama on August 18, 2009

arsenal-celtic

Celtic 0-2 Arsenal
0-1 Gallas, 43′
0-2 Caldwell (0g), 71′

Two games, two wins. Top of the Prem table, in line for Champions League qualification. Yeah it’s early, and neither has much predictive value at this point, but I’ll take what I can get.

While both games witnessed some traditional Arsenal football, they both also featured some atypical goals, and this was especially true today against Celtic. Arsenal are certainly renowned for the flair with which they play and the manner in which they move the ball around the field, but grinding out victories has never been their strong suit. Yet in one of the most hostile environments in Europe, the Gunners walked out with a comfortable win and two crucial away goals in their pocket. And they did it in a rather fortuitous manner, scoring two goals on two deflections. The first came off a Fabregas free kick, which accidentally ricocheted off the back of William Gallas and past the outstretched arms of the keeper. The second resulted from a nice build-up by substitute Diaby and Gael Clichy, whose cross was deflected into the net by Celtic defender Gary Caldwell.

To be fair, Arsenal deserved the two-goal margin they got, dominating possession throughout and creating a multitude of chances besides the two that went in. Celtic did have a few nice opportunities, but they were mostly isolated incidents and the Arsenal defense always looked capable of handling the threat. Gallas, who looked to be on his way out around this time last year, has regained his form remarkably and looks to be a team stalwart at this point. He was partnered well by Vermaelen, who seems to be settling in as nicely as could have been hoped for. Sagna, Fabregas, and Denilson all played despite questionable injury status, and their inclusion surely helped stabilize the line-up by providing consistency from one game to the next. Bendtner was slightly anonymous for most of the night, but the rest of the front line covered the gaps, especially Arshavin in his roaming, creative role. And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Alex Song, whose steadiness in the holding midfield role laid the foundation for the team’s forward movement by helping secure the back line. He caught a lot of flack last season from fans, myself included, who felt the team lacked both experience and steel in the center of midfield, but he has really stepped up to the plate this season and proved us all wrong. In my own defense, the team was in need of a wily veteran in the middle of the park last year, and could probably still do with another player in that area, but Song is developing right on pace and fulfilling that role better than I could have imagined. Kudos to him, and may he keep it up all this season and the next.

With the 2-0 victory and two away goals, Arsenal have set themselves up for a relatively straightforward home leg of this tie and are clear favorites to advance. With the extra money that a Champions League spot will ensure, I have some hopes, however mild, that these funds may be reinvested in the squad. With Arsene Wenger, though, and given the stellar start to the season he has enjoyed, I don’t put much stock in them. There’s still a little time left before the transfer window closes, and even just one addition could be key in the team’s push for silverware this year. With both Liverpool and ManU having lost important players, the time could be ripe for Arsenal to sneak in and steal one. Fingers crossed on my end.

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Happy Birthday To Me

Posted by hiphopmama on August 15, 2009

arsenal-evertonEverton 1-6 Arsenal
0-1 Denilson, 26′
0-2 Vermaelen, 37′
0-3 Gallas, 41′
0-4 Fabregas, 48′
0-5 Fabregas, 70′
0-6 Eduardo, 89′
1-6 Saha, 90′

So yeah, it’s not really my birthday, not even close, actually. But it’s as good as, with the Premier League starting back up today and finally bringing to an end the mortifying period when European soccer, basketball, and American football are all in their off-seasons. Aside from the occasional MLS broadcast, only baseball is still in action, which is a non-entity in my book anyway, even with the Dodgers leading their division. Praise be unto the lord almighty that they don’t much believe in the concept of “rest” for their footballers in Europe, because their abbreviated off-season has mercifully sprung me from the depths of sporting boredom.

The new season was perfectly inaugurated by my Gunners, who put a hurting on Everton in their season opener. Aside perhaps from Liverpool-Tottenham, Arsenal easily had the toughest fixture of the Big Four sides in their trip to Goodison Park. Plenty had been made of the “losses” of Adebayor and Toure, as well as the limited acquisitions the team made in the transfer market, plus all the usual guff about the team’s (excessive) youth and lack of killer instinct. Yet while Chelsea needed all of extra time to pull out a victory against Hull City, Arsenal made quick and easy work of David Moyes’ side, netting three goals per half, including a brace from captain Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard helped set up the first goal as well, laying it off nicely for Denilson to send one wailing goalward from just outside the box. Newcomer Thomas Vermaelen headed home the second off a Robin Van Persie free kick, and Gallas scored on another header shortly thereafter. Fabregas got his first on a classic Arsenal counterattack to start the second half, tucking it under Everton keeper Tim Howard, then knocked in his second on a quick strike from distance. Eduardo put the capper on it in the dying minutes, slotting home the rebound off a shot Arshavin never should have been allowed to get off. Saha did eventually get Everton their consolation goal in extra time, but it did little to dampen the euphoria of the 6-1 thrashing.

It was all done in typical Arsenal fashion, too, making it that much sweeter to watch this group of youngsters pull off what Wenger always believed they could. The question now will be whether or not they can replicate this kind of performance, but for now I’m not going to let pragmatism cloud this victory. I was a bit surprised to see them come out in the formation they did. The 4-3-3 itself wasn’t really a shock, but Bendtner playing out wide with Arshavin in the center of the front line was not what I expected to see. Wenger clearly knows more than me, though, if you didn’t already know that, because Bendtner played beautifully on the wing and Arshavin gliding around in the middle. The Dane used his size to control the ball well and used his skill to set up his teammates in and around the box. It was his good work on the flank that helped pave the way for Denilson’s opening goal. So while unexpected, his performance out wide was excellent, and Arshavin can obviously play anywhere on the field he likes. With Eduardo still working his way back to full fitness and Rosicky’s potential return on the horizon (I can dream, right?), Arsenal’s prospects for the season are exciting if they can hold their mettle in the middle of the park. Let’s all pray Alexandre Song keeps eating his Wheaties and the center-backs stay fit, so we can ignore the team’s thinness at those spots and revel in the creative potential of the squad. Today, at least, we look like we can win it all.

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Geez

Posted by hiphopmama on June 11, 2009

So it’s (semi-) official. Cristiano Ronaldo is the next in line for the galactico parade currently making its way to the Bernabeu. Both team’s official websites have confirmed that Real Madrid have offered an “unconditional” €93.9M bid for CRon. This comes on the heels of the team’s announcement of Kaka as its latest signee from AC Milan, all of which means that Real have splashed out €163M on TWO PLAYERS over the last week. Geesh. As a fan of Los Blancos, it’s titillating to watch the superstars pour in, but as a pragmatist I have to ask what they’re thinking. I understand they technically play different positions, but with just one of those guys they have a world class playmaker at their disposal and I can’t help but think they’d be better off investing that kind of cash on multiple role players to fill all the gaps in the squad. Like, you know, at all those defensive positions they need to shore up. Cannavaro is gone, Marcelo has been revealed as a project at right back, and the left back position is still wide open. With €93.9M they could have easily slotted a few high quality players into those spots.  Everyone saw what happened when they focused too heavily on offense at the expense of the dirty work defenders (count the trophies after Makelele left), so let’s hope the next galactico era ends differently.

Furthermore, it’s also being reported that the close of the David Villa deal is fast approaching as well, as Chelsea have gotten the rebuff from the Spanish international who has no desire to leave La Liga. Chalk another one up…

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The Real Blitz Continues

Posted by hiphopmama on June 5, 2009

More news on the Real Madrid transfer front, of the tentative nature, of course. With Kaká set to make his decision at the end of international duty on Monday, Florentino Perez & co. are swirling like vultures around Valencia’s prized pickings, David Silva and David Villa. Agents for Silva, Valencia, and Real Madrid linked up yesterday to discuss a possible move, and Silva himself has said it is “flattering” to be courted by the Spanish giants. The price range seems to be between 20-30M€. David Villa’s price tag is considerably higher, closer to 40M€, although he is being courted by multiple clubs, including Chelsea. In a somewhat older story, Chelsea and Madrid may be competing on another front for the services of Inter’s right back Maicon. This one is beyond even the “tentative” status of the other Real targets mentioned, but it’s yet another log on the fire. And speaking of jockeying between Chelsea and Real, Florentino went on record recently stating that Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery is on Madrid’s wish list. Chelsea are reported to have already made an offer for the French winger, but the wrench in the gears is Ribery’s former international teammate Zidane, who is on board with Real and has been discussing the possible move with him. Roman Abramovich must be getting tired of being thwarted by these guys. I’m curious to see who will win out on all these fronts, although it seems a fairly easy bet that Real with have the first go at everybody. Gotta love transfer season.

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It Starts

Posted by hiphopmama on June 3, 2009

The news – and by “news” I mean unverified, overhyped media gossip – coming out of Spain is that Real Madrid’s bid for Kaká is all but finished, and they will be announcing the Brazilian as their newest addition when he finishes his time with the Brazilian national team next week. This comes on the heels of Florentino Perez’s ascension to the Real Madrid presidency and the introduction of Manuel Pellegrini as the new manager of the club. The rumor mill was working overtime just a day or two ago with the news (there’s that word again) that Chelsea had swooped in with a ginormous bid and last-ditch attempt to steal Kaká from under Real’s nose. That line of reasoning appears to be going nowhere, though, as Chelsea’s official website has disavowed any offer being made for Kaká. Not that that necessarily means anything, but I don’t think anyone really sees Kaká playing anywhere other than Madrid next season, despite the fact that former AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti will be at the helm of the Stamford Bridge club.

Meanwhile, the tabloids run amok with the supposed battle between David Villa and Diego Forlan as the team’s big-name striker signing for the off-season. I tend to agree with the folks at SFS, though, in that the whole thing is likely a diversionary tactic attempting to lower Villa’s asking price for a transfer away from bankrupt Valencia. And, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo is still on the horizon, whether for this season or next, and Real are sure to play the situation all wrong but still win out in the end despite their mishandling. Never a dull moment as a fan of this team.

I must admit that, as a relatively new (and fairly reluctant) recruit to the Real Madrid bandwagon, this whole mess is exciting, to say the least. After a disappointing season, the prospect of landing all these top-tier signings is jizz-in-your-pants material. Yet I can’t help but ask, how did the whole Galáctico tactic work last time? I seem to remember that it didn’t fare nearly as well as it is being viewed in hindsight and left the team riddled with problems – particularly an over-reliance on offensive stars to the detriment of the team’s back line – that it is still coping with. Claude Makelele, anyone? Let’s just hope that they can do some course correction and get it right the second time around. Otherwise, I don’t see them breaking their five season-long streak of bombing out of the Champions League in the Round of 16. Oh, and there’s still Barcelona hanging around La Liga and not looking to get any weaker, with or without Samuel Eto’o. Happy hunting, Florentino. I’m rooting for you, albeit sheepishly and only from the shadows.

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Barça Still Can’t Wrap It

Posted by hiphopmama on May 10, 2009

silva joaquin
Valencia 3-0 Real Madrid
     1-0 Mata, 28′
     2-0 Silva, 32′
     3-0 Baraja, 68′

abidal villarreal
Barcelona 3-3 Villarreal
     1-0 Keita, 11′
     1-1 Llorente, 22′
     2-1 Eto’o, 36′
     3-1 Alves, 45′
     3-2 Fernandez (pen), 78′
     3-3 Llorente, 90′

Let’s be clear. The La Liga title is still a foregone conclusion. With three games to go, Barcelona has to face Mallorca, Osasuna, and Deportivo, not exactly the Spanish Armada. Real Madrid awaits the challenges of Villarreal, Mallorca, and Osasuna, a slightly more formidable list. Real do have the advantage of playing those teams after they have been run through the ringer by Barcelona, but given the miraculous occurrences that would have to happen for Madrid to catch Barça, I don’t see anything changing in the current position of the top two. However, with the treble still on the table and two other competitions demanding their attention, it does make it interesting that Barça is forced to keep working toward complete supremacy in La Liga. 

 They couldn’t have known, but if Real could have put up a better effort against Valencia, they might have made up two of the three points they lost in last week’s Clasico blow-out. Instead, they barely even showed up and let Los Che run all over them in a similar fashion to what Barça did to them the previous week. To be fair, Real looked the likelier of the two teams to score in the opening minutes, but Mata was the one to break the deadlock on 28 minutes with a beautiful team goal. Just minutes later, David Silva doubled Valencia’s advantage by doing the unthinkable and catching out Casillas. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as all that, and it does little to hurt his claims on sainthood, but Iker dove and made it to the ball but still allowed it to trickle through. Instead of fighting back with any of the pride we thought they had, Real rolled over and died, letting Valencia pour forward and create opportunity after opportunity. Iker kept the score at least respectable, but even he could do nothing about the incredible goal Baraja put in on 68 minutes. He hit it off a volley at the edge of the box, a once in a lifetime strike, just absurd. I won’t even try to describe it because I couldn’t do it justice. Just watch the goals below:

And here’s the full highlights package:

Barcelona’s fortunes looked to be much brighter when they scored an early goal against Villarreal, as the Real Madrid loss gave them a chance to clinch the title with a win. Keita’s deflected shot put the blaugrana in front, but Llorente benefited from a rare Yaya Toure mistake to even the match. Barça triumphantly reclaimed the lead when Eto’o finished off a ping-pong session through the box, and they must have been prepping the champagne in the locker room after Alves drilled a free kick. But Villarreal wasn’t finished and spent the entirety of the second half, all the way into extra time, chipping away at that Barcelona lead, and you couldn’t feel particularly bad for them losing late in injury time after what happened at Stamford Bridge last week. The worst part of the whole deal for Barça was the damage done to their squad list in pursuit of this draw. Abidal earned himself a red card and a suspension for the Copa Del Rey final this week against Catalan rivals Athletic Bilbao, making it the second cup final he will miss. Worse, Iniesta picked up a knock that may put him out of the Champions League final and definitely rules him out of the Copa Del Rey final. The word is that he has a torn muscle in his right thigh, and it seems as if their fast and furious schedule of games is finally starting to catch up with them.

Goals:

Full highlights:

They’re not my team, but to be honest they deserve to win the treble this year and I hope they do. It was difficult to type that, but it’s true, even more so because it’s nice to see someone win while playing such beautiful football. They withstood all the negative tactics (read: Chelsea) and futile pursuits (ahem, Real Madrid), and still no one could catch them. The only team that can stand in their way at this point is Manchester United, and I hope to god Sir Alex and his minions get put in their place by the best team in world football. For once, in three weeks’ time I will be wearing the blaugrana colors. Vamos Barça.

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Champions League Finals Set

Posted by hiphopmama on May 8, 2009

fabregas manyoo
Arsenal 1-3 Manchester United (Agg. 1-4)
     0-1 Park, 8′
     0-2 Ronaldo, 11′
     0-3 Ronaldo, 61′
     1-3 Van Persie (pen), 76′

iniesta chelsea
Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona (Agg: 1-1)
    
1-0 Essien, 9′
     1-1 Iniesta, 90′ 

Apologies to anyone in the world who actually reads my soccer updates. I’ve been too disillusioned by the results of the Champions League semifinals to bring myself to post about it. Plus, with the Lakers losing game one of their series with the Rockets, it made three straight days of disappointing results for me, and it was too much for me to get over and start writing right away. I’m not going to summarize these games. By this point, you all know what happened anyway. What I will do is give my opinion on all the contentious issues. So here goes. 

There was no controversy to the first game. Arsenal got beat, flat out, and it hurt. It really hurt. This was the Gunners’ last chance at a trophy this year, and while I didn’t really expect them to win it, I didn’t expect them to go out like that. The first goal was just pure misfortune, with Kieran Gibbs slipping and allowing Park to nick it past Almunia. The second was pure Ronaldo. And the third was pure Manyoo, Ronaldo supplied by Rooney. Arsenal got a concession goal from the penalty spot near the end, but this was a rout and, sad to say, a just result. Where is Thierry Henry when you need him?

Oh yeah, he plays for those Spanish guys now. And those Spanish guys were taking on my other London favorites, Chelsea, across town for the final spot in the title game in Rome. If I loved Chelsea as much as I loved Arsenal, this one would have brought me to tears. The Londoners seized the lead in the 9th minute on a miraculous shot by Michael Essien, watched as Barça was reduced to ten men, and then stood helpless as Andres fucking Iniesta equalized and put Barça ahead on away goals with a great strike from 20 yards at the dead end of extra time. You all saw it, there’s nothing left to say about it. It was an incredible finish to an exciting game. But Chelsea deserved at least ONE of those possible penalties to be called. I thought the Alves foul was inside the box and Drogba’s fall to the turf could have gone either way, but there’s no point running all those down because the game was Chelsea’s to put away and they failed to do so. A lot of credit has to be given to Victor Valdes, who has been much reviled by many Barça supporters for failing to be Iker Casillas. And for all he has been guilty of in occasional missteps and less than authoritative moves for the ball, he was stellar in this most crucial of games and kept Barcelona within a goal long enough to let them get that away goal that put them over the top and into the final. Hats off to him for his work.

So now the final is set and we have the match-up everyone predicted going in: Barcelona vs. Manchester United. Pep vs. Fergie. Messi vs. Ronaldo. And it’s easy for me to root for someone in this game. In some sense, this works out well for me in that, even though neither of my teams won in the semi’s, it now makes it easy for me to root for the right team, which is Barça by a long shot. I am so tired of Manyoo running rampant all over everything, and although I’m not the biggest Barça fan in the world (it’s hard to be when you pull for Real Madrid), I will have no trouble pulling for them when they head to Rome in three weeks’ time. Messi for Ballon d’Or 2009.

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Clasico Photos

Posted by hiphopmama on May 2, 2009

henry-casillas
messi-clasico

puyol-clasico
shirtless-victory

barca-clasico

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