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5 teams likely to win the Tournament

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Most teams set off from their various countries to the AFCON tournament with the sole aim of winning the title.

For some, that dream is a mirage. For others, failure to do so makes the whole AFCON outing, an exercise in futility and a waste of the nation’s precious financial resources, a view the Guinean President, Colonel Mamadou Doumbouya holds.

The 2021 AFCON presents a platform for the 24 teams to battle for supremacy. Out of the 24 teams, some teams are more likely to win, whilst the chances of others are like that of Leicester City in the Premier league in 2016 or if you’re religious, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for some teams to clinch the title.

As the saying goes many are called but few are chosen. The boys will be separated from the men.

The ensuing preview explores the chances of 5 teams which are more likely to win the AFCON.

CAMEROON

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They are the hosts of the ongoing tournament and the teeming crowds will be an advantage to them. With the arrival of Samuel Eto as the FA President of Cameroon and his wide network of friends in high places, Cameroon is destined for greatness for years to come.

Therefore Samuel Eto’o will love to register his good intentions by inspiring the team in whatever medium to make the Indomitable Lions host and win the AFCON. In 2017, Cameroon shocked the whole footballing world when they won with a relatively unknown squad. In 2019, Cameroon painfully exited the Nations Cup in the Round of 16.

The strength of the Indomitable Lions’ rests in midfield, where they’re blessed with options that can dismantle the opposition and dictate the tempo of the game.

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Napoli’s Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa is the orchestra in midfield with his “addiction” to the ball and his ability to locate his teammates even when found in tight spaces heavily marked by the opponents.

Head Coach of the Indomitable Lions, Antonio Conceicao has been in charge since September 2019 and adores controlling games from kick-off. Under him, Cameroon has reverted to a high-intensity game where the wing-backs are expected to defend and attack in equal measure.

With Vincent Aboubakar as the Centre forward, Lyon’s Karl Toko Ekambi on the left flank and Clinton N’jie on the right flank, the host nation look unstoppable with the “boisterous crowd” at their rescue.

MOROCCO

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The Atlas Lions head into this competition with the aim of ending the 46-year AFCON drought and they are without their star man Hakim Ziyech. Morocco have been on a resurgence ever since Bosnian coach valid halihodzic took over. He has brought in discipline and is in no rush to instil his values in his team without fear or favour.

This has improved the squad immensely and with most of their star players doing excellent in Europe, it’ll be the perfect time to clinch the trophy they once won with an inspired hadji team.

Morocco never lost a game during the AFCON 2021 qualifiers & have only conceded once and scored 10 goals, finishing five points above runners-up Mauritania. Again in the World Cup Qualifiers, the Atlas lions scored 20 goals and conceded just a goal.

Valid Halihodzic has in his ranks Youssef En-Nesyri, Ayoub El-Kaabi, Achraf Hakimi, Sofiane Boufal who has been one of the most prolific dribblers, with only Wolves’ Adama Traoré (8.9 per 90) averaging more per 90 minutes than the Moroccan.

IVORY COAST

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The Elephants have assembled a very talented, energetic and resourceful team for this year’s Africa Cup of Nations.

Over the years, egos and individualistic tendencies of certain key players are the reason they’ve not won the AFCON trophy for a third time. Their 2 trophies have been against Ghana in marathon penalty shootouts in 1992 and 2015.

A major talking point for The Elephants is the fact that they have the most in-form striker in the world after Robert Lewandowski, Sebastian Haller in their fold. Sebastien Haller has scored a whopping 22 goals in the 1st half of the season including 10 in his debut UEFA Champions League season. Haller will be seeking to translate that form into the continental Championship to help the Ivory Coast win their 3rd title.

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Haller will be assisted on the flanks by Maxwell Cornet who is in red-hot form and Wilfried Zaha or have Ibrahim Sangaré partner with him up top as a second striker. Coach Beaumelle has a large pool of experienced players such as Max Gradel, Sylvain Gbohouo, Franck Kessié, Serge Aurier, Eric Bailly and Serey Die.

The Ivory Coast has one of the “wildest” collections of midfield generals such as Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro (Lazio), Franck Kessie (AC Milan), Hamed Traore (Sassuolo), Jeremie Boga (Atalanta), Max Gradel (Sivasspor) and Jean Michael Seri (Fulham).

Patrice Beaumelle is indeed spoilt for choice as to who to field to marshall the midfield for him. After falling to qualify for the World Cup for the 2nd time running, winning the AFCON is non-negotiable for the Ivory Coast.

SENEGAL

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Senegal has never won the African title but are one of the tournament’s favourites tipped to win the title. For Senegal, this AFCON is a make or break, a do or die affair. Senegal ranked 1st in Africa, is in Group B with Guinea, Malawi and Zimbabwe and is expected to easily cruise past the others to progress to the knockout rounds.

Senegal is obviously one of the powerhouses in African football yet for some strange reasons, the Teranga Lions have no trophy to show for it. The Teranga Lions are in the form of their lives but have never roared on Africa before and will look to end their long wait for their first title. The Senegalese have come close and yet so far on several occasions in their 15 AFCON outings. Senegal’s best performance in the AFCON has been 2 silver medals in 2002 and 2019.

In fact, Head Coach Aliou Cissé missed a penalty in the final in 2002 to hand over the trophy to Cameroon and was in charge of the Teranga Lions in 2019 when they lost 1-0 to Algeria in the final. To make matters worse, several high profile former Senegalese Internationals such as El Hadji Diouf and Khalilou Fadiga have openly told Cisse that failure to win this AFCON should warrant his exit from his role as Head Coach. Thus from the aforementioned, Aliou Cissé is under immense pressure to annex the ultimate.

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Senegal has an assembly of top football players almost in every major league in the world and has maintained the core of the team that featured in the last AFCON in 2019. For instance, Sadio Mané, Edouard Mendy, Cheikhou Kouyate and Ismaila Sarr ply their trade in the English Premier League. Abdul Diallo, Krépin Diatta and Idrissa Gana Gueye play in the French League, whiles Kalidou Koulibaly and Keita Balde represent the Teranga Lions in Italy. Boulaye Dia also plays for Villareal in the Spanish league.

Until their appearance in the final in 2019, Senegal had performed poorly in their last 6 AFCON tournaments exiting at the group stage on 3 occasions, exiting at the Quarter-final once and not qualifying at all twice. Injuries have also wreaked havoc to their team.

Ismaila Sarr has not played a game for his club side, Watford since November 20 after picking up a knee ligament injury in the 4-1 win over Manchester United at Vicarage Road whiles Koulibaly, had been a doubt for the tournament after picking up a thigh strain in a match against Sassuolo on 1st December 2021.

Monaco’s Krépin Diatta will miss the tournament due to an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. With Edouard Mendy in post, Kalidou Koulibaly in defence, Gana Gueye and Chiekhou Kouyaté in the middle of the park aided by lynchpin Sadio Mané and Ismaila Sarr leading the line, Aliou Cissé and his charges have no option but to bring the trophy home or consider themselves failures.

Another point worth taking note is that, by the next Africa Cup Of Nations tournament , Sadio Mané, Cheikhou Kouyaté , Edouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly will be over 30 years and may not function with the efficiency, steam and firepower they are known for now.

“The Golden Generation” must therefore clinch the title when they’re still in their elements and can give off their maximum best before their strength dwindles.

Coach Aliou Cisse is on a personal mission to restore national pride after missing the crucial penalty that cost Senegal a trophy in 2002. Senegal having lost that final to a bizarre goal will be looking to have one more try. Senegal are unbeaten in seven straight games and have won five of them and do not look like they will be backing down any sooner.

Sadio Mané will also love to avoid joining that seemingly endless list of African giants and legends who did not win the AFCON. The list includes Asamoah Gyan, Nwankwo Kanu, Didier Drogba, El Hadji Diouf, George Weah.

ALGERIA

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Algeria are the defending champions and playing with supreme confidence, but they have a very difficult path and teams will play ultra-cautious against them. It won’t be easy to retain the trophy. In football, retaining a trophy won is a herculean task. In AFCON, only 3 countries have done that.

Algeria still has the core of the team that won the last edition of the AFCON in 2019 and with 34 games unbeaten they’re just getting better. The fear factor of facing a team that hasn’t lost in more than two years is a big plus to them.

Algeria has a plethora of arsenals at their disposal including captain Riyad Mahrez, Saïd Benhrama, Youcef Belaili, Baghdad Bounedjah and Algeria’s all-time top goalscorer Islam Slimani. Coach Djamel Belmadi is expected to maintain the same starting lineup that helped him win the 2019 title.

Although he stuck to a dynamic 4-3-3 in Egypt, Belmadi has also employed a more direct 4-4-2 which produced satisfactory results in the Qualifiers. Koulibaly and Djamel Belmadi’s men scored 19 goals and 25 goals in the Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup Qualifiers respectively.

Last year, Algeria won the Arab Cup held in Qatar in December. Algeria led by skipper Riyad Mahrez are clearly dominating Africa and are clear favourites to annex their 3rd trophy.

         












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One year of Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea – Back or Sack?

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This week marks a year since Thomas Tuchel was confirmed to take over Chelsea as the head coach after club legend Frank Lampard faced the sack at the West London club on an initial 18-month contract with an option to extend it. Tuchel took over the reigns with a squad which was heavily invested in the previous summer with more than 200 million pounds spent on world-class players like Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell, Edouard Mendy and Thiago Silva. Chelsea were languishing in 9th place when the managerial change took place and Tuchel faced an uphill task of finishing in the top 4 with a squad who were low on morale and signings who were taking time to adjust to the new league and new culture. Known for his gegenpressing and fluid style of play, the German came in with a reputation of being a tactically flexible coach and being similar to Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool both being prodigies of Ralf Rangnick the present interim manager of Manchester United.

Tuchel’s first game was a home game against Wolverhampton Wanderers where he switched to a 3 at the back formation which was something Lampard rarely used during his tenure. The match ended in a stalemate 0-0 draw but there were already encouraging signs for the fans watching the match on their TVs as they could see the new system was working and the team looked defensively solid with that one extra man in defence.

As the season progressed, the results of the team kept improving and Chelsea managed to avoid finishing without a trophy for yet another season. Tuchel became the fifth German manager to win the Champions League after defeating Manchester City 1-0 thanks to a goal by Kai Havertz who almost paid back the 60 odd million pounds spent on acquiring him in one night. It was Tuchel’s second ever Champions League final having lost the first one in the 2019/2020 season when he was at PSG to Bayern Munich. The Chelsea board clearly were left impressed by Tuchel with the club winning their second Champions League after that night in Munich.

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Over the summer, Tuchel extended his contract at Chelsea for further 2 more years as the Champions League win triggered the extension clause. During the 21/22 season’s transfer window, the club were quiet for the most part of it with the major focus being on managing to sell deadwood players to free up the wage bill and sign a world-class no.9 to compete for the title. Romelu Lukaku was the man chosen to fill the void up top and was signed for a whopping fee of 97.5 million pounds which was the second most expensive transfer in that window behind Jack Grealish’s transfer to Manchester City worth 100 million pounds. Lukaku came back to the club having previously played once for Chelsea in the 2012-2013 season. This was the time for him to redeem himself and try to be the man to win Chelsea the title after 4 years since they last won it.

Fast forward to today, Chelsea are potentially out of the title race this season after lingering behind Manchester city by 10 points. They are third in the league 1 point off Liverpool in second place and the title charge seems to be over. This may have disappointed a lot of Chelsea fans but Tuchel needs to be appreciated in the way he has managed to keep Chelsea 3rd in the league, reach the Carabao Cup final and R-16 in the champions league despite losing their two creative fullbacks in the likes of Ben Chilwell and Reece James to long term injuries with the former being out for the season with an ACL tear, players contracting COVID-19 and having 16 first team players available to play majority of the December month. Chelsea have played 18 games since the November international break in all competitions which is the most in the league with Liverpool in second playing 16 games. Fixture congestion and the uncertainty of the pandemic has derailed the season but being alive in 4 other competitions (FA cup, Carabao Cup, Club world cup and UCL) is still something to look forward to before the season ends.

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Keeping the dressing room environment healthy and avoiding a clash of egos is something Chelsea has struggled to do over the last years. During the Roman Abramovich era, there are a number of instances where player power has led to the end of a manager’s tenure at the club. Tuchel’s predecessor Frank Lampard reportedly lost the dressing room in his final weeks which was one of the reasons behind the dip in form. A source told the Athletic: ‘The problem was, the manager didn’t talk to the players — well only the ones he liked. I know of players who weren’t in the team that didn’t hear from him for many months. That’s very frustrating for a player because you don’t know what you have to do to do better, what the manager is thinking. It’s crazy.’ A similar situation was faced by Thomas Tuchel when an interview of Lukaku speaking to Sky Italia was published by the Italian media on 31st December wherein he was quoted saying, “Physically I’m fine, even better than before. After two years in Italy, in which I worked a lot at Inter with trainers and nutritionists, I am physically fine. But I’m not happy with the situation, this is normal. I think the coach has chosen to play with another module, I just have to not give up and continue to work and be a professional. I am not happy with the situation, but I am a worker and I must not give up.” These kind of statements by a club-record signing and one of the leaders of the dressing room certainly sent the fans into a frenzy and Tuchel was left surprised with the Belgian striker. Lukaku has scored 8 goals in 24 appearances across all competitions which is definitely not upto the mark by the striker’s standards who managed to score 30 goals in 44 matches the previous season wherein he won the Scudetto with Inter Milan in the Serie A. Tuchel decided to address this situation behind closed doors and spoke to Lukaku privately rather than doing it in front of the media and making the situation worse. Chelsea were preparing for a crucial match against Liverpool at home when this interview was published and it was thus decided that Lukaku will be entirely dropped from the squad for the game. A £500,000 fine was imposed on Romelu for his actions and the situation cooled down with Tuchel managing to handle the media in his press conferences in a composed manner. The punishment of being dropped from the squad was reportedly taken with consultation of senior squad players like N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, Antonio Rudiger and club captain Cesar Azpilicueta.

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Having the senior players have the manager’s back is a positive sign indicating that there is enormous trust between the players and the manager. This saga not only revealed the unity of the dressing room at the club and the trust they have in the manager, but also strengthened Tuchel’s ties with the upper hierarchy at the club. Sources close to the club reported that the way in which this situation was handled by Tuchel impressed Roman Abramovich and the board members. Past experiences in similar situations with different managers haven’t being very kind to the club with managers publicly addressing problems which led to harming the ties with the board and damaging the club’s reputation in the media.

Performance-wise, the German manager overall has done a very good job at the club with his backroom staff and looking at his record against the world’s best managers he has faced makes his FIFA world’s best manager Award look absolutely justified.

Managers Games Played Wins Draw Losses
Pep Guardiola 5 3 0 2
Jurgen Klopp 3 1 2 0
Zinedine Zidane 2 1 1 0
Diego Simeone 2 2 0 0
Antonio Conte 3 3 0 0

Fair to say Tuchel has been a success so far for Chelsea and if he is given time and backing the transfer windows, he can have a similar managerial career as Pep Guardiola in the Premier League and build a dynasty with Chelsea. The champions league triumph within 5 months of taking over the club and winning games comfortably against the big teams could work in his favour and he might end up being a manager who breaks the “Hire and Fire” policy at the club. With the squad backing the manager, the upper hierarchy left impressed in the direction the club is headed to and the fans showing their complete support, Thomas Tuchel is backed from all possible sides and continuing to win games is the only way he can continue at Chelsea Football Club.












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Arsenal pre-match shirt for 2022/23 season LEAKED!!

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Over the last few years, Arsenal have been known for churning out the best outfits in the Premier League, rather than playing out their best on the pitch. The Gunners have had some outstanding kits to don over the years and if the leaked images of their 2022/23 pre-match shirt are anything to go by, Arsenal could be continuing the routine while Mikel Arteta also works his way to get his side to play in the prestigious UEFA Champions League.

With assistance from Footy Headlines, we take a look at Arsenal 2022/23 pre-match shirt.

With their deal with Adidas yet to be over, the leaked pre-match shirt for Arsenal is made by the manufacturing company.

Arsenal 2022/23 pre-match kit sees an introduction of an outstanding yellow look with black and green graphics. With the exception of the collar of the shirt, the graphic is printed on the entire shirt.

With connections with other clubs such as AC Milan, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, the Adidas Arsenal pre-match shirt template is similar to photos leaked of the Los Blancos’ pre-match shirt for next season.

The logos of the parties involved with the club’s shirt, Adidas and Fly Emirates, are printed in black and white according to the leaked images. This is to give a decent contrast against the multicolour base.

The Adidas Arsenal 2022/23 pre-match shirt is expected to be worn for warm-up ahead of the team’s games. The top will be launched later this year before the start of next season.

What will be your rating of the jersey based on the leaked pictures?












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Getting senses into WHY Arsenal are pushing for Arthur Melo

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Arthur Melo is a player most famously known for the strange and often-joked-about transfer saga he was involved in when Juventus purchased him in the summer of 2020 for more than 80 million pounds, swapping Miralem Pjanic to Barcelona in the process. Arthur is now back in the news as reports have surfaced linking the former Grêmio and current Juventus midfielder to Arsenal this month. Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is apparently a fan of Arthur’s and, with a depleted midfield core that has recently lost players like Ainsley Maitland-Niles to transfer and Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey to red cards, Arteta and Arsenal are clearly looking at the potential of bringing in a new player to restore some balance.

Arthur is an interesting player, he specializes as a number 8 who links the backline to the frontline and likes to be heavily involved in overall play, drifting to the ball-side frequently when he isn’t. Arthur’s qualities are hard to miss, he is a mazey dribbler with a consistent first touch and at his best he can act as a metronome to retain possession for his team, give them a comfortable out-ball, and recycle play when the pressure is on. Contrary to his ability to recycle play and retain possession, underlying stats show that he also likes to pass into the final third with regularity and isn’t afraid to try and break the lines if he spots a forward player making a run. One of the issues when evaluating Arthur is that he has only amassed 1096 minutes over the past 365 days according to FBref, this means that a majority of his underlying metrics are potentially very misleading and don’t accurately reflect his ability or his form. Using mostly the eye test for the rest of this piece, I will attempt to analyze Arthur as a player and evaluate his potential impact on Arsenal if his reported loan comes to fruition.

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I want to start with the things Arthur is known for and how well he’s done those things during his time at Juventus. Arthur is a classic metronomic number 8 with vision, active scanning, an excellent first touch, and great dribbling ability which allows him to retain possession and keep the play alive. It is understandable why Barcelona decided to purchase him given their connection to possession-based football and high-volume midfield passers. His job, which he has done quite for spells since his move to Europe, is to keep his team in the game and on the ball. He does this by dropping between the center backs or just ahead of them in the left half-spaces and making himself available either with his back to goal or on the half-turn, looking to progress the ball further upfield or beat a man to break the press. Arthur is a strong dribbler with great lower body strength and the ability to essentially bump defenders off him when he is pressed, this makes him a fairly safe option to pass to in these scenarios. He is mobile as well and likes to drift around the pitch to stay involved in the build-up. While his vision is also pretty good, Arthur does struggle to execute long balls, particularly in the air, preferring to keep the ball on the ground whenever possible. It is hard to tell if this is an issue of weakness in his muscles or if it’s just a reflex or gap in his game.

Some smaller details I noticed while watching Arthur play; He has a consistent ground diagonal pass in his repertoire that he uses quite often to link play to attackers dropping in. You can see this during his time at Barcelona playing with Luis Suarez, often Arthur would receive the ball in the left-half space just below or just above the halfway line, assuming he isn’t being pressed, Arthur would take a few touches toward the opposition goal before zipping and perfectly weight ball diagonally across the pitch the aforementioned Suarez who is dropping deep to receive. The quality of these passes and the vision to execute them cannot be overstated and would be a great addition to the Arsenal system which often deploys it’s striker in a deeper, more creative role. Another thing Arthur is great at is losing his defender with a drop of the shoulder, it’s not something I saw a lot in the footage I watched of him at Juventus but, again, it’s something he has in his toolkit and it can be vitally important in breaking lines to spring an attack. Arthur has lost a bit of his explosiveness due to injury in recent years but this skill can still be applicable in certain situations and shows that he has the tools to be very press resistant when he’s at the top of his game.

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Arthur’s weaknesses aren’t as concerning as some on Twitter or in the media may suggest but in regards to his ability to play in the Premier League, they may be exacerbated by a move to England. Firstly, Arthur has been fairly injury-ridden since leaving his boyhood club Grêmio in March 2018, in total he missed 135 days of action due to injury during his time at Barcelona according to Transfermarkt, which amounted to 24 games out. His time at Juventus hasn’t been much better, he’s missed 17 games for the Bianconeri since joining, including a 77 day absence after having surgery done on his right leg. A move to the Premier League will likely not help fix these injury woes as many foreign players and managers alike have called the PL the most physically demanding and brutal league in Europe. Another issue Arthur has is his overall physique, at about 5 foot 6, Arthur is not the most physically imposing player on the pitch, while this may not be a huge issue when playing in a less physical league like La Liga or a less active league like Serie A, it may cause problems for Arthur if he were to join Arsenal in England. While he does possess wonderful lower body strength, this does not guarantee he will be able to fight off tacklers with the same consistency as he does in Serie A for Juventus.

When it comes to how Arthur would fit into Mikel Arteta’s system at Arsenal, I can only speculate that he would be signed as a backup to Granit Xhaka who has played as a box-to-box number 8 this season when Arsenal move to a 4-3-3 setup. Arthur plays in almost the same positions as Xhaka but also has the mobility to drift which is something Xhaka doesn’t do a lot of at all. Arthur would be tasked primarily with ball retention and with progressing the ball through the lines to an attacking player. Overall, this fit looks good on paper but I question it in practice given Arthur’s weaknesses and his lack of physical and aerial presence. With a plethora of exciting attacking talents at his disposal, Arteta is most in need of a physically imposing number 8 who can break up play, win 50-50s and do all the on-ball work mentioned above. In this regard, Arthur feels like 50% of the player Arsenal need right now. All of this being said, Arthur Melo is far from washed up or a bad player, he possesses high technical ability, great vision, and has tools to play line-breaking passes. He is also a clever dribbler and at his best, is very hard to press due to his low center of gravity and comfort, turning either way and driving at different angles. Regardless of how his latest transfer saga plays out, there is a place for Arthur somewhere at a top team in Europe, whether that team is Arsenal or Juventus, or neither is a question we may still be pondering long after deadline day.












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