Snap Judgments: Initial reactions to Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League results

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Eight games in a just over four hours leave us with a lot of catching up to do before we can really sink our teeth into Tuesday’s Champions League results, but that doesn’t mean we can’t give some immediate thoughts on a day that saw England’s giants win on the road, Barcelona be Barcelona, Bayern fall flat, and Juventus played to a standstill in Turin.

Group E

Juventus 1-1 Shakhtar Donestk – More on this match to come, but the game of the day played out that way, and in three acts. (1) Shaktar dominated early, eventually producing the first goal. (2) Juventus responded quickly and appeared to be making this into a typical Juve match before (3) an open and intense final 30 minutes left the teams drawn at one. Shakhtar showed they’re capable of playing with one of Europe’s elite, while Juventus drops points at home, giving Group E’s pole position back to Chelsea.

Nordsjaelland 0-4 Chelsea – Goals piled on late make the final score deceptive, though there was little doubt Chelsea would win this one. They were clearly better from the opening whistle, even if it took a while for Juan Mata to break through. The Spaniard would add a second after halftime as the Blues cruised back to the top of their group. Given how other giants performed away from home on Tuesday, this is a very convincing result (that will talk more about this evening).

Group F

BATE Borisov 3-1 Bayern Munich – An incredible result for the Belarussians, producing a legendary victory in the history of their club. In the preview for this game, we not only alluded to Bayern as the world’s best at-the-moment team but also declined to go into BATE’s chances, claiming “you’re smart enough to know Bayern are heavy favorites to win this match.” Give BATE credit. They pulled the upset that wasn’t even worth considering, a far more difficult task than proving PST wrong.

Valencia 2-0 Lille – Lille has now gone winless in seven and look destined for last place in this group. Thanks to two goals from Jonas, Valencia gets their first points of the competition, setting up a home-and-home with BATE (now on six points) that could determine who’s going to the knockout round and who’s going to Europa. For Lille, Mathieu Debuchy picked up a second yellow late, putting him out for matchday three’s game against Bayern.

Group G

Sporting Lisbon 0-2 Barcelona – Exactly what you’d expect from Barcelona, though surprisingly, Lionel Messi didn’t score. Barça’s goals came from Alexis and Cesc Fábregas (both assisted by Messi, of course). A straight red for Sergio Busquets in the 88th minute means the Barça holder may miss multiple matches, a big loss with Thiago Alcantera having suffered a knee injury this weekend. For Sporting, they’re scoreless through two and need to get their post-Whitsel/Garcia life figured out before their matches with Spartak.

Spartak Moscow 2-3 Celtic – What happened to Spartak? Two weeks ago, they were almost knocking off Barcelona in Catalonia. Now they’re loosing at home to Celtic? When you give up an early goal then see a man (Juan Insurralde) red carded right when you’ve taken control of the match, you set yourself up for this kind of upset. All credit to Celtic, who came out and both started and finished strong. They sit second in the group with four points.

Group H

CFR Cluj 1-2 Manchester United – This was very typical United, giving life to a team they should have played off the field. Cluj came out strong and scored first, but two goals from Robin van Persie keeps the Red Devils perfect through two rounds. Will follow up on them later, but Cluj deserves from credit. They provided their win at Braga was no fluke. They only kept 35 percent of the possession, but late in the match, they had their chances to equalize. Right now, the look like they second-best team in this group.

Galatasaray 0-2 Sporting Braga – This result was coming, with Braga having recovered from their matchday one loss to Cluj. But when you see the scoreline, it’s still a bit surprising. Certainly Gala could use their home field advantage to carry them past a team like Braga? Apparently not. The Turkish champions conceded early and late and are now the only team in Group H without a win.

Those are our snap judgements. What are yours?

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.