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Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013
Dempsey strikes late as Spurs hold United
LONDON — Manchester United gave reigning champion Manchester City a glimmer of hope in the Premier League title race on Sunday, conceding a stoppage-time equalizer in a 1-1 draw at Tottenham that reduced the leaders' advantage to five points.
Chelsea could yet threaten the top two after beating Arsenal 2-1 to end its barren run at Stamford Bridge, but the European champions must make up an 11-point gap to United with 15 matches remaining.
Clint Dempsey rescued Spurs with a close-range strike in the third minute of stoppage time, cancelling out Robin van Persie's league-high 18th goal of the campaign that looked to be enough for United at White Hart Lane.
"We did so well at everything, the disappointment is not finishing them off," said United manager Alex Ferguson, who could find himself in disciplinary trouble for criticizing a linesman for not awarding a penalty for a foul on substitute Wayne Rooney shortly before Dempsey's goal.
Despite the draw, fourth-place Tottenham fell four points behind Chelsea in the fight for the third automatic Champions League place after goals in the opening 16 minutes by Juan Mata and Frank Lampard secured the win against Arsenal.
Dreadful in the first half, Arsenal improved after the break but couldn't add to Theo Walcott's goal in the 58th minute. Arsene Wenger's side is seven points behind Spurs, and its hopes of qualifying for the Champions League for a 16th straight season are hanging in the balance.
"We can't afford to lose more points," Wenger said. "It's a concern."
Famous for rescuing points by scoring late goals, United got a taste of what it feels like to concede in the final minutes.
Goalkeeper David De Gea failed to deal with a cross into the area and Aaron Lennon prodded the loose ball across to Dempsey, who stroked home coolly from the edge of the six-yard box. The United States forward also scored what proved to be Spurs' winner at Old Trafford in a 3-2 victory in September.
"It was a big relief," Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas said. "I thought we dominated the complete game.
"I think the boys have embraced the spirit that we want to be in the Champions League next year."
Van Persie continued his stunning first season at United by rising to meet Tom Cleverley's cross with a powerful header in the 25th. That was one of the few chances created by Ferguson's side, which was put under pressure after Man City's 2-0 win over Fulham on Saturday.
"Before the game we would have taken a point," United defender Rio Ferdinand said. "We have a good record here over the years, but Spurs have improved so we would have taken a point, but we are disappointed."
Mali wins, Ghana held
PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa — The African Cup of Nations returned to something more like its normal order on Sunday when sunshine, empty stands, reckless yet eye-catching soccer and politics were all thrown in at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Seydou Keita ensured Mali was the first team to win at the tournament then called attention to his conflict-torn country by wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a slogan calling for peace.
Mali's 1-0 win over Niger through captain Keita's late goal also ended a run of three straight draws to start the African Cup, although Ghana's pulsating 2-2 result against Democratic Republic of Congo in Sunday's other game was nothing like the drab scoreless encounters on a rain-dampened opening day of nil-nils in Johannesburg.
Instead, under blue skies in Port Elizabeth, title contender Ghana blew a 2-0 lead against a bold Congo team to open Group B in a flurry of attacking enthusiasm and defensive naivety from both.
Defending champion Zambia begins its tournament in Group C on Monday against Ethiopia. There, the continent's youngest champion faces one of the oldest as 1962 winner Ethiopia returns after a 30-year absence for one of African soccer's founding members.
Keita pounced on a goalkeeping mistake in the 84th minute to eventually break down a defensive Niger and put Mali top of its group. He then donned a white T-shirt with the French words "Paix au Mali" in red letters across the front: "Peace in Mali."