IIHF

Hockey qualification kicks off in Japan

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While we wait for the NHL pros to end their differences with management and lace up their skates on American soil once again, hockey fans everywhere will be glad to know that Olympic qualification kicked off in Japan Friday.

The Japanese squad started their journey off well, winning 2-0 against Romania as they seek their first Olympic berth since automatically qualifying as the host nation during the 1998 Nagano Games.

Yutaka Fukufuji, who played four games for the Los Angeles Kings during the 2006-07 campaign, stopped 22 shots in the shutout while teammate Tetsuya Saito scored in the first period and Takuro Yamashita added an insurance goal in the third.

South Korea earned a 5-4 OT victory against Great Britain in the second game after falling behind by two goals three different times. Won Jung Kim scored a hat trick to keep the South Koreans in the game, Geunho Kim scored the equalizer to force overtime, and goaltender Sungje Park shut out the Brits in a shootout.

“We expected to win, we didn’t think we were the underdogs,” Won Jung Kim told an IIHF reporter after the game. “We are a fast team and our coach told us that we could outskate them.”

The winner of this weekend’s four-team round robin will go on to the final stage of qualification in February, where teams from around the world will vie for the final three spots in the 12-team Olympic tournament.

The other nine teams will earn automatic bids for Sochi based on the International Ice Hockey Federation world rankings. The United States team currently sits safely in seventh place.

Brazil fires coach of Rio Olympic soccer gold medalists

BRASILIA, BRAZIL - AUGUST 04: Rogerio Micale coach Brazil at Mane Garrincha Stadium on August 4, 2016 in Brasilia, Brazil. (Photo by Celso Junior/Getty Images)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s football confederation has fired the coach who ledNeymar and company to the country’s first Olympic football gold medal in Rio de Janeiro.

Confederation spokesman Gregorio Fernandes confirmed on Monday that youth division coach Rogerio Micale was removed after Brazil failed to qualify for the next Under-20 World Cup.

In nine games in the South American U20 championship, Brazil won three, drew four, and lost two, ending in fifth position.

Micale started with Brazil U20s in May 2015, shortly before the U20 World Cup inNew Zealand, where Brazil lost the final to Serbia.

After Dunga was removed as coach in June 2016, Micale took over Brazil’s Olympic team.

Micale’s contract was recently extended to the 2020 Olympics.

His successor has not been picked.

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MORE: Neymar reflects on Rio Olympic shootout

North Korean member of IOC expects team at PyeongChang Olympics

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 12:  Song Chol Ri of North Korea carries the national flag during the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at BC Place on February 12, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
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The North Korean member of the International Olympic Committee believes a North Korean delegation will be at the PyeongChang Olympics, according to Kyodo News.

“There is no reason why we won’t come and no reason why we can’t,” IOC member Chang Ung said last week at the Asian Winter Games in Japan, according to the news agency. “We will proceed according to the Olympic Charter.”

An IOC spokesman previously said that the first step toward possible North Korean participation in the PyeongChang Olympics would be the North Korean Olympic Committee’s response to its invitation to the Winter Games sent out two weeks ago.

The IOC sends invitations to National Olympic Committees around the world coinciding with one year out to an Olympics.

However, it’s not a certainty that North Korea will qualify any athletes for the Winter Games. Despite winning at least four medals at every Summer Games since boycotting Seoul 1988, it didn’t have any athletes at the Sochi Olympics and just two at Vancouver 2010.

North Korea has zero top performing international winter sports athletes and few who even appear at major competitions.

North Korean short track speed skater Choe Un Song ranks No. 123 in the world after appearing in one World Cup this season in Beijing. A pairs figure skating team is ranked No. 54. A different North Korean pairs team missed a Sochi berth by 1.5 points at the last qualifying competition.

Nations without qualified athletes are still able to enter one man and one woman in the Summer Olympics in swimming and track and field. But no such exception applies in the Winter Games.

The IOC has given no indication that an exception could be made to invite a non-qualified North Korean athlete to PyeongChang.

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MORE: PyeongChang 2018 daily schedule highlights