THE FRIDAY FIVE – 25.11.2016

1. The Afghan Whigs – Regret
2. Rory Lavelle – All These Horrors
3. Madness – Can’t Stop Us Now
4. Bear’s Den – Dew On The Vine
5. Blink 182 – Home Is Such A Lonely Place

Next Wednesday is St Andrew’s Day. As this blog loves any excuse for a theme chart, here’s two. One for Scottish acts, and one for musical Andrews. Though there will be no Andys, which is bad news if you want pre 1987 Duran Duran or post 1999 Oasis.

FIVE SONGS BY SCOTTISH ACTS

1. Twin Atlantic – Heart and Soul
2. The View – Blondie
3. Nina Nesbitt – He’s The One I’m Bringing Back
4. Aztec Camara – Somewhere In My Heart
5. Del Amitri – Roll To Me

FIVE SONGS BY SINGERS CALLED ANDREW OR BANDS WITH A MEMBER CALLED ANDREW

1. Wax – Bridge To Your Heart
2. INXS – Baby Don’t Cry
3. Wham! – Freedom
4. Hozier – Take Me To Church
5. Roachford – Cuddly Toy

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LINFIELD 1-2 CLIFTONVILLE 19.11.2016

Panto Season arrived early in Belfast as Raymond Crangle brought his award winning live show (***** review in Glentoran Gazette) to Windsor Park, with Linfield v Cliftonville as the support act.

Having been on the road over the past fortnight, Linfield were back at Windsor Park, hoping to build on the momentum of those three games.

Cliftonville had just come off the back of a League Cup defeat, their first in the competition since 2011, and after extra-time as well. You’re never tired if you win after extra-time.

Going into the game, Linfield were four points clear of Cliftonville. Not only would a win keep up the pressure on Crusaders, but pull themselves clear of Cliftonville, to ensure they are looking up and not having to be looking at who was behind them.

Linfield kept the same team that started against Dungannon, and had the first attacking moment of the game when Ross Gaynor’s cross went across the six yard box. Agonisingly, nobody was running in.

Cliftonville were having half chances, forcing Linfield into last gasp tackles. They were having too much possession in Linfield’s final third.

Linfield thought they had the lead when Jamie Mulgrew fired a shot just wide. It was Cliftonville who had the best chance of the half when Stephen Garrett’s volley just went wide of the post. He really should have scored.

Andrew Waterworth had Linfield’s best attacking moments in the first half when a shot was saved from a wide angle, and a half chance in the six yard box was diverted wide for a corner.

Crangle gonna Crangle, denying Linfield a penalty when Paul Smyth was clattered in the penalty area at a cross with the ball nowhere to be seen.

When Linfield fans held him to account at free-kicks by counting one to ten in a chant, he managed to walk in tiptoes rather than actual steps.

One of those free-kicks was a Niall Quin shot fro ma central position, which went just wide.

In the early minutes of the second-half, it was Cliftonville who took the lead when a headed clearance fell perfectly for Daniel Hughes to fire home.

Thinking on the positive side, it should have been the wake-up call for Linfield. It wasn’t. The response was slow in coming.

Paul Smyth had the best chance when he fired over from close range. In a game where Linfield had created very few chances, it was essential to make the most of them whenever they came.

David Healy turned to the bench, bringing on Ross Clarke and Kirk Millar.

It was Sean Ward who had Linfield’s next chance, but his volley was saved by Peter Burke. It looked like being one of those days.

There wasn’t long to wait for an equaliser, as Andrew Waterworth fired home from close range after a header was cleared.

Having lost leads away to Glenavon, Ballymena, Crusaders and Glentoran, it’s clear that Cliftonville are vulnerable when teams equalise against them on the road. This goal should have been the cue for Linfield to push forward and get the win, especially with left-back Levy Ives struggling with injury.

It was Cliftonville who looked the most likely team after that, and got a late winner when Ross Lavery scored from close ranger after a scramble.

At home to a team who have struggled on the road, and had a demoralising extra-time defeat on Wednesday night, Linfield should have powered on after the equaliser. This was three points thrown away. Coumpounded by news of Crusaders getting another injury time winner.

The title race is far from over, but there’s not much room for error for Linfield. Without sounding arrogant, the fixture list over the coming weeks is generous, with Portadown, Carrick and Ards next up.

If we have any ambitions of winning the league, nine points has to be the target. In the same run of games, Crusaders have to go to two grounds (Dungannon and Ballinamallard) they’ve struggled at in recent years. It could all change in the coming weeks. If it does, it has to be in Linfield’s favour. The gap can’t be allowed to get any bigger.

Next weekend, the Swifts will be battling to reach the Steel and Sons Cup Final. Good luck to them. The final is on Christmas Eve this year, so it’ll be more convenient for me (and i’m sure many other supporters) to attend this year.

That game at Portadown next week is one i’ll be missing as i’ll be in England. Next Saturday, i’ll be seeing Lisburn take on Sandy Row, in respect of the opposing managers in Oldham (Stephen Robinson) v Peterborough (Grant McCann) as I’m going over to Old Trafford on Thursday to see United take on Feyenoord, then staying over for the West Ham game the following Sunday, my first glimpses of Mourinho’s United in the flesh.

Not that United’s form is cheering me up at the moment.

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THE FRIDAY FIVE – 18.11.2016

1. Bastille – Send Them Off
2. Rose Elinor Dougall – Stellular
3. Tove Lo – True Disaster
4. Bruno Mars – 24k Magic
5. Catfish and the Bottlemen – Outside

Tomorrow, is International Men’s Day. Just another day for me, but if you’re commemorating it, enjoy yourself.

Some people even choose to celebrate it by being a self-hating dick on Twitter.

But most importantly, it’s an opportunity to do some theme charts. And yes, I do the same on International Women’s Day. It’s on March 8th if you don’t know. You may be shocked to realise you can point out the date of something and not be a sneering dick like Richard Herring.

SONGS WITH MAN/MEN/BOY IN THE TITLE

1. Duran Duran – Wildboys
2. Michael Jackson – Man In the Mirror
3. The Verve – Lucky Man
4. The Charlatans – North Country Boy
5. Andrew Gold – Lonely Boy

SONGS BY MEN

1. Simple Minds – She’s A River
2. U2 – The Fly
3. Bruce Springsteen – Badlands
4. Enrique Iglesias – Do You Know?
5. 10CC – The Things We Do For Love

SONGS WITH MEN’S NAME IN THE TITLE

1. Elliott Smith – Son Of Sam
2. Bat For Lashes – Daniel
3. Joshua Kaddison – Jesse
4. Oasis – Little James
5. Rednex – Cotton Eye Joe

NORTHERN IRELAND 0-3 CROATIA 15.11.2016

In a year of milestones and firsts, Northern Ireland ended 2016 with another first, a first ever meeting against Croatia, meaning that Macedonia, Bosnia, Andorra, Gibraltar, Kazakhstan and Kosovo are now the only UEFA members that Northern Ireland have never played.

It was a game that had been a long time coming. The sides were supposed to meet at Windsor Park in March 1998 in what was Lawrie McMenemy’s first game in charge. That game got scrapped for some reason and Northern Ireland ended up playing against Slovakia instead. Ironically, Northern Ireland wore red and white squares against the Slovaks.

There were rumours of a game in 2009 while Davor Suker, now President of the Croatian FA, hinted at a future friendly when visiting Belfast to present an award to David Healy in 2014, before a meeting finally became a reality.

It was an indication of how far Northern Ireland have come that they can attract opposition of this level to Belfast.

Already two points clear in their World Cup Qualifying group, it would be a major surprise if they didn’t end up in Russia in June 2018, no disrespect to Ukraine, Turkey and Iceland.

Assuming they do, it will be their tenth tournament out of twelve they’ve tried to qualify for. The only ones they’ve missed out on have been when the year ends in 0, so don’t be putting money on them to win Euro 2020.

Despite their qualifying ratio, their record in finals isn’t that great, only reaching the Quarter-Finals once since France 98. Despite that, and the fact they’d be missing stars such as Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, this would still represent a major test for Northern Ireland to see where they are at.

Northern Ireland were hoping to make it a Croatian double of sorts, as Croatia legend Robert Prosinecki is the manager of Azerbaijan.

Unsurprisingly, Michael O’Neill made some changes for this game, giving starts to Liam Boyce, Alan Mannus and Matthew Lunds. Mannus would be familiar with Mario Mandzukic, who scored in both legs of Dynamo Zagreb’s European Cup tie against Linfield in 2008.

Northern Ireland had the first attacking moment of the game when Josh Magennis cross was fired across goal, with nobody running in to take advantage of it.

It was Croatia who got the first goal when Alan Mannus could hold on to a fierce shot and the ball was eventually scrambled in by Mario Mandzukic, though it looked like a handball by him as it went in.

Northern Ireland held their own but Croatia’s class was there to see, and they made it 2-0 when Duje Cop finished from close range after a corner was flicked on.

The match was a non event, not that surprising for a friendly in mid November. Fans were treated to a spectacular long range strike from Andrej Kramarić, drawing applause from the home fans as well.

Northern Ireland kept going, but their best opportunity came when Kyle Lafftery won possession from a defender, but couldn’t get enough height to lob it over the keeper.

Despite a late flurry, Northern Ireland couldn’t make any of their set pieces count, as they chased a goal to finish off the year.

It finished 3-0. A disappointing end to a year that Northern Ireland got to the knockout stages of the European Championship and made a good start to their World Cup Qualifying group.

This match won’t live long in the memory, but 2016 most certainly will for Northern Ireland supporters.

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DOWN BY THE ROYAL MAIL II

Those who travel into Belfast from a Northerly direction, or perhaps commute to and from Clarendon Dock can’t help but notice one thing as they travel into the City Centre, a wall mural in the car park close to Royal Mail offices.

It had been there for a while. I have photos going back to 2012 of the wall.

Over the coming years, it fell into a state of neglect, with pieces being painted over and it started looking like a mess.

Over the past few weeks, it has been updated, with new pieces mysteriously appearing. It was enough to intrigue UTV Live.

Naturally, I headed down with my camera and got a few snaps, of Bruce Lee and Kes, as well as some empty spaces, making me curious as to what will appear next.

A few weeks later, I got the answer, as images of Leonardo DiCaprio and David Bowie appeared.

There were still some blank spaces, so I waited to see if there was more activity.

Driving past it, I did catch a glimpse of some new work, so headed back the following Sunday when it was emptier and better daylight.

The new ones added were Christopher Walken, the dandy highwayman i’m too scared to mention and (I think) Harrison Ford – feel free to correct me if i’m wrong on that last one.

How apt that a man who had a hit called Stand and Deliver should appear on a mural near Royal Mail’s offices.

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DUNGANNON SWIFTS 0-4 LINFIELD 12.11.2016

Linfield concluded a busy week on the road with a trip to Dungannon hoping to build on the performances at Glenavon and Ballymena, totally contrasting yet both satisfying.

The game had an even start. Dungannon weren’t afraid to attack Linfield, having a header go wide of the post with their best opportunity and forcing Roy Carroll to be alert at set pieces. Linfield were doing just as much attacking.

Even in the early moments, it looked like being a game where the first goal would be vital. It would have been a bigger blow for Dungannong to concede it than Linfield, as even if Dungannon went 1-0 up, you would have felt Linfield could come back. If Linfield went 1-0 up, they always looked like they would take control and get the three points.

Stephen Lowry fired just wide from the edge of the box as Linfield went in search of it, while Mark Haughey headed over from close range.

Just before the half hour, Linfield got the breakthrough when a Ross Gaynor free-kick was bundled into the net. It looked like a Chris Hegarty own goal but Jimmy Callacher was claiming it. TV replays seem to back up that it was an own goal. However, there is no Dubious Goals Committee in the Irish League, and if the attacking player shouts loud enough, they generally get awarded it.

As Callacher ran away as if he scored it, he’ll probably get credited with it.

It was the second goal this week to come from an inswinging cross into the six yard box from Ross Gaynor.

Linfield instantly doubled their lead when a misplaced pass went to Paul Smyth who found space to play it to Jamie Mulgrew who fired home via a slight deflection.

Linfield were in the mood to wrap the game up, Paul Smyth firing over first time after a ball was played in behind the defence.

Another misplaced pass from Dungannon saw Niall Quinn get some space in a shooting position, replicating Chris Brunt’s goal against Azerbaijan less than 24 hours earlier, firing low into the net.

It should have been 4-0 when Jimmy Callacher blasted over after his original shot was cleared off the line.

Linfield continued on the attack in the second-half, and a Save Of The Season contender from Andy Coleman denied Stephen Lowry a Goal Of The Season contender when his first time shot from outside the box after a header clear was tipped onto the bar. It would have been a goal so good, it deserved commentary from Alan Partridge.

There wasn’t long to wait for a 4th goal, a cross wasn’t cut out and went straight to Ross Gaynor, who fired home.

You could argue that three goals were gifted to Linfield, but they weren’t in the mood to turn down gifts. Why should they? There’s already Christmas adverts on the TV, it’s the time of year for it.

Despite a 4-0 lead, Linfield weren’t in a reciprocal gift giving mood in defence. Long may this scroogeness continue.

After that, the game unsurprisingly meandered, giving Linfield an opportunity to give players a rest. Surprisingly, Aaron Burns was again made to wait on the bench.

Stephen Lowry seemed to be having a personal battle with Andy Coleman and Dungannon’s defence, unable to get a fifth goal. It didn’t matter, four was enough.

Crusaders won, so the deficit is four points still.

Linfield’s poor run of form in October means they’ll have their feet up in midweek while other clubs are in action in the League Cup. One of those is next Saturday’s opponents Cliftonville. Wouldn’t it be awful if their match on Wednesday against Glenavon went to extra-time? I suppose the same could be said for Coleraine v Crusaders but Crusaders play Ards next Saturday, and they would probably beat Ards even if they played a match on Saturday morning.

After Cliftonville, comes Portadown, Carrick and Ards. That is a generous run of games after next week, and a great chance to build some momentum ahead of a busy and potentially season defining run of games over Christmas/New Year.

Ten goals, three great performances and no lost ground. It’s fair to say Linfield have had a productive week on the road, though it will be great to be back at Windsor Park next week.

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NORTHERN IRELAND 4-0 AZERBAIJAN 11.11.2016

Northern Ireland faced familiar foes on Friday night, with Azerbaijan visiting Windsor Park for the third time in four World Cup Qualifying campaigns.

The two previous meetings, saw both sides battling it out to avoid finishing bottom of the group. This time around, they were battling it out for second place and a play-off spot. Victory for Northern Ireland would see them go into the Winter break in that position, which was currently occupied by Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan’s opening three games had seen two wins and a draw, keeping clean sheets in all of them. A win over Norway and a draw against Czech Republic suggests they’re better than people think. Only managing to beat San Marino 1-0 suggests they’re not as good as their second place position suggests.

Azerbaijan is an ambitious country, determined to showcase themselves to the world, hosting Eurovision, European Games, European Grand Prix and Euro 2020.

One of their leading clubs, Qarabag, are regulars in the UEFA Cup Group Stages. What they really want, is for their national team to reach a major finals.

Northern Ireland’s past meetings with Azerbaijan have been associated with false dawns. Northern Ireland’s only win against them in September 2015 was a few days before the famous win against England which kickstarted the heroic, but ultimately unsuccessful Euro 2008 Qualifying campaign.

The draw at Windsor Park in 2012 had followed a draw in Portugal, bringing everyone back down to earth.

It was Azerbaijan who had the first attack of the game, with Chris Brunt being forced to head the ball out for a corner in the opening minutes as an Azeri attacker eyed up a cross.

There was a nervous moment (from where I was) when Shane Ferguson had a coming together during a challenge in his own penalty area, but the lack of Azerbaijan protest suggested they didn’t believe it was a penalty, which was fine by me.

After that, Northern Ireland took control of the game, which wasn’t disrupted when the game was stopped due to a clash of heads between Chris Brunt and an Azerbaijan player.

Both players were fit to return, embracing each other was they re-entered the pitch.

Shane Ferguson had Northern Ireland’s first real chance when he hit the side netting from close range.

Despite being on top, Northern Ireland had to be wary of Azeri counter-attacks.

Eventually, the goal came when a long throw was flicked to Kyle Laffety, who fired home, similar to his goal against Finland in 2015.

The pressure continued, and a second goal came via a header from Gareth MacAuley, who was in 4th Year at secondary school when Azerbaijan played their first competitive international in 1994.

Azerbaijan made a good start to the second-half as they tried to get back into the game, with Michael McGivern being forced out to make a save, while another shot went just over the bar.

The most flammible man in world football, Will Grigg, was introduced from the bench. Ironically, he probably should have been playing for Azerbaijan, which is known as “The Land Of Fire”

It wasn’t Grigg who got the third, but Conor McLaughlin, heading home from a corner. That was the three points wrapped up. There was no doubt any more.

That wasn’t the end of the scoring, as Chris Brunt made it 4-0, a second successive home win by that score.

Just a pity supporters in The Kop had to endure smelly tramps smoking throughout the game while stewards sat about doing nothing. It’s bad enough that the designers of Windsor Park pander to these arseholes by giving them their own area, but it’s still not good enough for them, that they don’t even have the basic consideration for other supporters to go 45 minutes without.

Elsewhere in the group, Czech Republic beat Norway 2-1. A draw would have been great.

Next up, is Norway. Northern Ireland can effectively put Norway out of the race by beating them at Windsor Park in March next year.

The only problem is, our record against Norway is awful, but those were friendly games. Maybe we are due a win in a competitive game? Norway’s last competitive visit to Belfast was a 3-0 win for Northern Ireland in 1975.

The fixture list is tantalising. After Norway is Azerbaijan away, then San Marino. Imagine the momentum if we won those games ahead of Czech Republic visiting Windsor Park in September 2017.

Anyway, it’s time to put thoughts of Russia to one side for a few months, but not before a friendly at home to Croatia to finish the year off.

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Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan 2012

Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan 2012 Photo Album

BASTILLE – LIVE AT THE ODYSSEY 9.11.2016

Regular visitors to Belfast, Bastille dropped by on their biggest tour to date to perform at The Odyssey.

It’s been a gradual climb for the band, as singer Dan Smith reference during the show. Their first Belfast gig was at The Oh Yeah Centre, then Mandela Hall, then Ulster Hall, supporting The Killers at Tennent’s Vital, headlining Belsonic, and then this gig at The Odyssey.

My own Bastille history is varied. I faffed about too much in 2013 and missed out on getting a ticket for their Ulster Hall. The following year, I saw them supporting The Killers at Tennent’s Vital. When they performed at Belsonic last year I was away, so missed out on them.

That Belsonic concert last year, they were still touring their debut album Bad Blood. This time around, they were performing songs from their second album Wild World, a grandiose concept album projecting images of media overlords.

The band get their name because singer Dan Smith was born on Bastille Day. Imagine if he was born two days earlier, it would have been a laugh to see a band called King Billy’s White Horse doing a gig in Belfast.

Support came from Rationale. I’d seen them on Jools Holland a few weeks ago. They were decent. Chilled out songs you can dance to. There was also a band called Keywest (You probably had to do a double take there because you thought I wrote Kanye West) who were also decent, even though their songs were more toetappers than dancers.

Eventually, Bastille appeared on stage, jumping straight into new single Send Them Off, which was not a reference to the events at Mourneview Park the previous Saturday, with it’s distinctive brass riff and groove getting everyone dancing before performing on of the big hits from their debut album, Laura Palmer.

As the world continued to digest Donald Trump’s election victory in America, Dan Smith urged the crowd to “forget about certain people for one night”

Smith was everywhere during the show, walking through the crowd, walking along the seated area, singing from the mixing desk area, even singing from the balcony of a corporate area during the encore.

Naturally, each of these occasions saw eager fans desperate from their idol.

All the big hits were on the setlist, Things We Lost In The Fire, Bad Blod, Of The Night, Good Grief, with the crowd being sent home with Pompeii.

On social media afterwards, the band tweeted visiting the Game Of Thrones throne, a random trend amongst bands who visit Belfast. It appears that nobody can come to Belfast to do a concert without posting a photo on social media with Bastille joining Jimmy Eat World and KT Tunstall in this trend.

There were some new gigs announced this week which tempt me, mostly of a Scottish theme.

Simple Minds are touring, with KT Tunstall supporting them in Mainland Europe. Fingers crossed for a Belfast gig with that line-up.

Meanwhile, Primal Scream are headlining Bundoran Sea Sessions (no date for their gig yet) which might tempt me to do a Innishowen Cycling/Finn Harps/Sligo Rovers/Primal Scream weekend.

Live at the Marquee in Cork announced it’s first headliners this week – Elton John, Cliff Richard and Nathan Carter. I know, underwhelming. Might leave it until 2018 before I visit Cork again.

Photo Album

Bastille live at Boucher Road Playing Fields

Bastille live at Boucher Road Playing Fields Photo Album

BALLYMENA UNITED 1-4 LINFIELD 8.11.2016

Last Tuesday night, the eyes of the world were focused on a battle for supremacy between red and blue.

The polls had Crusaders in a six point lead, with Linfield hopeful of overcoming that ahead of Polling Day on April 29th 2017.

It would have been a seven point lead until Linfield held a successful rally in Lurgan on Saturday, as a former occupier of the Oval Office watched from the sidelines.

David Healy, riding on a ticket of Make Linfield Great Again took his side to the battleground state of Ballymena, hoping for a better result than his last visit, a 4-1 defeat in the League Cup last month.

Like events in the US, we even had an exoneration in the build-up with Roy Carroll being cleared to play after his red card against Glenavon, and he didn’t even have to delete an e-mail. Matthew Clarke was not so lucky.

It could have been easy for Linfield not to fancy it on a cold and wet night. The evidence at Mourneview on Saturday suggested they would have been relishing it.

Both sides lined-up level on points, but it was Linfield who had the early pressure. The goal they deserved came in 20 minutes when Andrew Waterworth’s header went over Alan Blayney, returning after injury just in time as Ross Glendenning was ineligible to play against his parent club.

Linfield couldn’t make their dominance count, and it was Ballymena who equalised from a Tony Kane free-kick. Not even Donald Trump could have built a wall to stop it going in.

Level at the break, Linfield dusted themselves down and went about regaining the lead, having most of the ball in the early minutes of the second-half, Paul Smyth being involved is most of these attacks.

It was Smyth who was involved in Linfield’s second goal, when his shot was a wide angle was put in by Stephen Lowry, getting there just before a defender trying to clear.

For scorer and assister, it was a case of getting their rewards for taking a chance. Smyth could have thought it was too wide to shoot, and the opportunity would have been gone. Lowry could have thought it was going in, only to see the defender clear it.

In the lead for the second time, Linfield weren’t in the mood to give it up.

It got better when Mark Haughey put the ball home from close range after Ross Gaynor’s inviting cross. Haughey was preferring to do his heroics in the opposition six yard box with a white shirt rather than his own six yard box with an orange shirt this time.

Linfield then had a chance to make it 4-1 but Ross Gaynor missed a penalty. Gaynor has a mixed record at Ballymena Showgrounds with a goal, a red card, and a penalty miss on his three visits there.

Something like this could re-energise a trailing team for the final ten minutes, but all Ballymena fans could muster was a half hearted roar after the miss. All Linfield had to deal with was a brief flurry of corners, which was easily cleared.

It looked like the perfect opportunity to bring Aaron Burns on off the bench, but David Healy resisted that opportunity.

The last meaningful kick of the game came from Jamie Mulgrew when he fired home from the edge of the penalty area to add some icing to a delicious cake.

At Mourneview Park, Glenavon continued to be useless when they blew another two goal lead to draw 3-3 with Crusaders, two of Crusaders goals coming from a player who should have been serving the second of a three match ban.

As supporters were leaving the ground, news emerged that Glenavon had a penalty. I didn’t even get excited because I knew they would miss it.

The important thing was, that Linfield won, and the gap at the top of the table had been reduced to four points a few days after it increased to six.

The second of an away day trilogy had brought three points, getting closer to Crusaders and pulling away from Ballymena and Cliftonville.

We all know what happened in America on Tuesday night. The Democratic Party will have to wait for years to get a chance of getting back into power. Linfield will be hoping they will only have to wait five months.

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