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Mexico’s playoffs start Wednesday: Looking at the quarterfinal matchups

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The two clubs that contested CONCACAF’s championship finished at the top of Mexico’s standings. Santos Laguna, who lost Champions League to Monterrey last week, finished four points clear of the Rayados, earning the Liguilla’s top seed.

In Mexico, that seeding’s particularly important, for four reasons:

  • Like most playoff formats, the top seed gets matched against the highest seed in the playoffs; however,
  • Since Mexico re-draws their bracket in the semifinals (pairing the lowest surviving seed with the highest), the qualification stage’s winner always has the easiest road to the final.
  • The lowest seed always gets the second leg (in each round’s two-legged matchup) at home, and
  • If a matchup ends tied after both legs, the lower seed advances (until the final).

But even with all those advantages, it would surprise no one if Santos bowed out early.

#1 Santos Laguna (36 points, 17 games) vs. #8 Jaguares (27 points)

Though this is a rematch of the Apertura’s playoffs (won by Santos), a different kind of history is leaning on this matchup.

The fall of 2009 was the last time a top seed (superlider) advanced beyond the quarterfinals. Even then, it was only via a tiebreaker.

Year Tournament Superlider Quarterfinal Result Champion (Seed)
2011 Apertura Chivas lost to Querétaro, 1-2 Tigres (3)
Clausura Tigres lost to Chivas, 2-4 Pumas (2)
2010 Apertura Cruz Azul lost to Pumas, 3-2 Monterrey (2)
Clausura Monterrey lost to Pachuca, 1-3, quarterfinals Toluca (3)
2009 Apertura Toluca defeated San Luis, 1-1 Monterrey (5)

The last time a superlider won a Liguilla was the 2007 Clausura (Pachuca).

Beyond the premature exits for one seeds, there’s another pattern in there: Superliders have won the subsequent competition in their off the last four tournament (presumably motived by defeat). That won’t happen this time. Chivas was so motivated by their loss to Querétaro that they didn’t qualify for the Liguilla. Copa Lib may have had something to do with that.

Back to Santos. There’s no reason to believe there’s an actual superlider curse. Since people have come to think the qualification stage as something completely separate from the playoffs (and only slightly predictive), there’s no real pressure on the number one seed.

A more likely explanation for the curse: Teams that finish top in the regular season aren’t necessarily the best teams. They’re just the ones that tried harder during the regular season.

With Santos balancing CONCACAF Champions League’s knockout stages throughout the Clausura, that reason doesn’t hold up as well this tournament. Regardless, they finished number one, they have to debunk the curse, and in truth, they probably aren’t the tournament’s best team.

Quarterfinal matches: Thursday, at Jaguares, 8:00 p.m. ET; Sunday, at Santos, 7:00 p.m. ET

Recent meetings: Santos 1-0 Jaguares (Jan. 2012), Santos 1-2 Jaguares (Nov. 2011), Jaguares 2-2 Santos (Nov. 2011), Jaguares 3-2 Santos (Sep. 2011), Jaguares 1-2 Santos (Jan. 2011)

#2 Monterrey (32 points) vs. #7 Tijuana (28 points)

Most would contend Monterrey is the best team in this tournament. Long regarded as the most talented team in Mexico, the Rayados just completed their second-straight CONCACAF Champions League triumph. If there was any fear that result would cause them to flick it in neutral for league, it was alleviated by their second place finish.

They’ve got an easy first round matchup. Tijuana started the Clausura strong but evened out through the last half of qualification. They finished with the league’s best defense (allowing only 11 goals in 17 matches), but their 18 goals scored are four less than any other Liguilla qualifier.

This being their first postseason, it’s difficult to see them getting past a team of Monterrey’s pedigree, but talent won’t be enough. After all, Cruz Azul – also regarded as one of the league’s most talented squads – didn’t even make the playoffs.

Quarterfinal matches: Wednesday, at Tijuana, 10:30 p.m. ET; Saturday, at Monterrey, 9:00 p.m. ET

Recent meetings: Tijuana 1-0 Monterrey (Jan. 2012), Monterrey 4-2 Tijuana (Aug. 2011)

#3 Club América (32 points) vs. #6 Pachuca (28 points)

Club América blew a two goal lead on their final match to lose the second seed. As a result, they face Pachuca instead of Tijuana, an opponent few would prefer.

But as evidenced on Sunday, América has a trump card. Christian Benítez might be the best attacker in the region. In this weekend’s Clasico Joven, he scored twice within the first 13 minutes (though missed what would have been a game-winning penalty kick). His double left him with a league-leading 14 goals.

Unfortunately, he was bit of a one-man gang. While he led the league in goals, the rest of his team only scored 16.

It’s difficult to see Pachuca winning if they can’t slow down Chucho.

Quarterfinal matches: Wednesday, at Pachuca, 9:30 p.m. ET; Saturday, at América, 7:00 p.m. ET

Recent meetings: América 1-0 Pachuca (Feb. 2012), Pachuca 2-0 América (Aug. 2011), América 0-2 Pachuca (Jan. 2011)

#4 Morelia (31 points) vs. #5 Tigres (31 points)

Tigres rode incredible defending to win the Apertura, allowing only 1 goal through the Liguilla. It would be a mistake to doubt the resourcefulness of Morelia’s Miguel Sabah and Rafael Marquez Lugo, though Monarcas’ defense will need to make every goal count.

Just like superliders, Tigres have history to defy. The last time a team won consecutive tournaments was 2004 when Pumas won the calendar year’s Clausura and Apertura. No team has won both tournaments within a single season since the two short tournament-format was adopted 16 years ago.

Quarterfinal matches: Thursday, at Tigres, 10:00 p.m. ET; Sunday, at Morelia, 9:00 p.m. ET

Recent meetings: Tigres 4-1 Morelia (Mar. 2012), Morelia 2-0 Tigres (Oct. 2011), Morelia 0-3 Tigres (Apr. 2011)

Men in Blazers podcast: Jurgen Klopp pod special

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog sits down with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp to give you a taste of his new documentary on the eccentric German boss.

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Klopp hails “unbelievable” player performance to send Liverpool to Europa League final

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 05:  Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool gives instructions to captain James Milner of Liverpool during the UEFA Europa League semi final second leg match between Liverpool and Villarreal CF at Anfield on May 5, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp didn’t want any of the credit after Liverpool defeated Villarreal 3-0 at Anfield to send the Reds to Basel with a spot in the Europa League final.

“Wonderful night – a brilliant game from my side,” Klopp said to BT Sport after the game. “What power, what a performance, what attitude with the readiness, motivation, emotion in the game – everything.”

Liverpool held 60% of the possession and out-shot Villarreal 25-6, including 12-2 among shots on target.

“We go to Basel. We take 50,000, 60k, 70k Liverpudlians with us – maybe 100k – not in the stadium, but in the city,” Klopp said of the upcoming final. “Everybody is invited. It is a nice city by the way, close to my home! Let’s go there, create an atmosphere and do our best again. It is well deserved and I am really, really pleased for all the boys.”

Klopp, who hails from Stuttgart, Germany which is under a three hour drive from Basel, made the call to start Daniel Sturridge and Emre Can.

Sturridge was on the bench for the first leg against Villarreal when Liverpool was held scoreless and played the full 90 minutes in their loss to Swansea over the weekend. This time, he forced the opening own-goal and scored the second. Can, meanwhile, hasn’t played in a month due to an ankle injury, but he was a force in front of the Reds back line.

“The only thing we said at half time was that the first half an hour was a big emotion,” Klopp said after the game. “It was great but then the last 15 minutes of the first half we lost patience. We didn’t move them over the pitch as much and tried to go down the middle, but there was no space so we lost balls. We defended well though so nothing happened. The second half plan was to keep going with the emotional football plus using your brain little a bit more and in the end it was brilliant – wonderful goals. The whole night was unbelievable.”

“We have to create atmospheres like this in each Premier League game too.”

Barcelona’s Neymar left out of Brazil’s Copa America squad

RECIFE, BRAZIL - MARCH 25:  Neymar of Brazil reacts  during a match between Brazil and Uruguay as part of 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Qualifiers at Arena Pernanbuco on March 25, 2016 in Recife, Brazil.  (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Barcelona star Neymar has been left off Brazil’s squad for the Copa America, which will be played in the United States next month.

Brazil’s coach Dunga accepted the Catalan club’s request to use the striker either at the Copa America or at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August – and the Olympics won.

Dunga’s squad, named on Thursday, includes seven players under the age of 23 – all of whom will be eligible for the Rio games.

Dunga says “We are bringing a competitive team for an important tournament.”

Brazil is in Group B with Ecuador, Haiti and Peru and starts its campaign on June 4 against the Ecuador in Pasadena, California.

The competition, which is celebrating its centenary, will take place for the first time outside of South America.

——

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Alisson (Internacional), Diego Alves (Valencia) and Ederson (Benfica).

Defenders: Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Fabinho (Monaco), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid), Douglas Santos (Atletico Mineiro), Miranda (Inter Milan), Gil (Shandong Luneng), Marquinhos (Paris Saint Germain), Rodrigo Caio (Sao Paulo).

Midfielders: Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Elias (Corinthians), Casemiro (Real Madrid), Rafinha (Barcelona), Renato Augusto (Beijing Guoan), Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool), Lucas Lima (Santos) and Willian (Chelsea).

Forwards: Douglas Costa (Bayern Munich), Hulk (Zenit), Ricardo Oliveira (Santos) and Gabriel (Santos).

2-time defending champions Sevilla back in Europa League final behind Gameiro brace

SEVILLE, SPAIN - MAY 05:  Kevin Gameiro of Sevilla FC celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the UEFA Europa League Semi Final second leg match between Sevilla and Shakhtar Donetsk at Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan on May 05, 2016 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Sevilla is getting pretty good at this European competition thing.

The two-time defending Europa League champions are back in the finals after topping Ukranian giants Shakhtar Donetsk 3-1 in Seville thanks to a pair from Kevin Gameiro plus an insurance goal from Mariano.

With the aggregate even at 2-2 coming into the second leg, Gameiro got things started in the ninth minute all by himself when he pilfered the ball off Maksim Malyshev in the attacking half and stuck it home into the far post. Shakhtar hit back just before halftime when former Arsenal striker Eduardo finished off a wonderful through ball by Marlos that split the Sevilla defense, tying things at 1-1 and the aggregate at 3-3.

[ MORE: Liverpool into Europa League final after running Villarreal ragged ]

But with Shakhtar still trailing on away goals, Sevilla put things away straight after the break when Gameiro again proved vital. The 28-year-old Frenchman took a feed from Grzegorz Krychowiak and finished from a very tight angle. Mariano left no doubt when he struck a stunning curler that bent inside the left post and put Sevilla 3-1 up.

Sevilla has not failed in European play since they dropped out of the Europa League qualification round to Hannover 3-2 on aggregate in August 2011. They won the title in 2014 on penalties after drawing 0-0 with Benfica in Turin, and they took down Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk 3-2 in last year’s final from Warsaw.