Germany's Miroslav Klose celebrates after scoring against Ireland during the 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin

Are Spain, Germany developing another regional duopoly?


When Italy defeated Germany in Euro 2012’s semifinals, the Azzurri temporarily calmed the notion UEFA was becoming a duopoly: Spain, Germany, and everybody else. The idea had been born not only from the countries’ huge stocks of talent but also their performances in South Africa and (to that point) Poland-Ukraine. But then Cesare Prandelli’s team happened. They knocked Germany from their perch before helping to confirm suspicions Spain are in a class by themselves.

In theory, there is a huge difference between a monopoly and a duopoly. If it’s just one team, their results can be written off as an aberration – a unique synergy of timing, talent influx, and luck that’s not worth trying to emulate. The solution would be to wait it out. But if two teams dominate, then not only is the aberration theory dispelled but there’s no longer a single target. While the two surging teams have each other to compete with (to use as motivation), the rest of the continent’s left to form a peloton trying to pull back the two driven leaders.

Unfortunately for 51 of UEFA’s member nations, Friday’s results hint the duopoly may still develop. Spain and Germany posted lopsided road results against decent teams. The world champions got three goals from Pedro Rodríguez en route to a 4-0 win in Belarus, while Germany put Giovanni Trapattoni’s job in jeopardy by routing the Republic of Ireland, 6-1. The results leave the teams a combined 5-0-0 in World Cup Qualifying, having scored 19 goals while allowing only two.

There are five other nations who remain perfect through UEFA qualifying, so it’s unclear these two are pulling (further) away from the pack. If they are, however, UEFA would fall into the curious pattern of confederations falling into duopolies:

  • There are a number of strong teams in South America, yet there’s still an unquestioned big two: Brazil and Argentina. Although the Selecao’s absence from qualifying will give them little chance to affirm that status before 2014, Argentina’s Friday win over Uruguay (3-0 in Mendoza) may be the first hint that the Americas’ titans are rising to the Celeste’s challenge.
  • Though the last Gold Cup showed CONCACAF’s pack is increasingly capable, the region is still Mexico and the United States. Although both teams have seen recent dips (the U.S. debatably still going through theirs), those are aberrations, not patterns.
  • After Australia made their mark during Asia’s 2010 cycle, Japan and South Korea are again the class of the region, the confederation having adjusted to the Socceroos. The two nations have unmatched talent, infrastructure and support. They were the two AFC nations to make South Africa’s knockout rounds, a result they’re on track to emulate in Brazil.
  • And for a number of reasons, Oceania was a duopoly before the Australia left. Now, New Zealand wait for the likes of New Caledonia to catch up.

It’s not difficult to see how these duopolies developed. In the Western Hemisphere, the most successful nations are their regions’ biggest, though Asia shows size isn’t sufficient. While China and India struggle for relevance, two of the region’s richer nations have leveraged their World Cup hosting experience to surge ahead. With Japanese and Korean culture having developed a true love of soccer, it’s unclear whether the duo will allow the region to catch up.

Spain and Germany are both large countries, but they’re not so much bigger than some of their rivals. One nation is affluent while the other is struggling financially. Each have hosted a World Cup (Germany hosted one as West Germany, one after reunification).

Though it’s easy to see why Spain and Germany have thrived, it’s harder to explain why they’re starting to be so much more successful than their nearest rivals. Spain was a sleeping giant, but the same was said about Portugal 20 years ago (size of the countries notwithstanding). Germany’s development has been spectacular, but France’s Clairefontaine was once the continent’s standard. Spain and Germany may be pulling away, even if it’s unclear why they’ve been allowed to do so.

How can Arsenal qualify for last 16 of Champions League?

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal FC
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Heading into the their final UEFA Champions League Group F game, the Gunners are still alive. Just.

Arsenal beat Dinamo Zagreb 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium in London on Tuesday to keep their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League alive for the 16th straight season.

[ MORE: Champions League standings

So, here’s what Arsene Wenger‘s men must do in their final Group F game in two weeks time in Greece to qualify and what other results will mean for the Premier League side.

  • An Arsenal win by a two-goal margin will see Arsenal finish level on points but finish above Olympiakos by virtue of having better goal different in their head-to-head encounters. Hence sealing a spot in the last 16
  • An Arsenal win by a one-goal margin, a draw or a defeat will see Arsenal eliminated and Olympiakos qualify for last 16
  • The Gunners have already sealed at least a Europa League spot regardless of what happens in Athens

There are your scenarios for Arsenal as it’s pretty simple to break it down: Win by two goals and they’re Champions League dream lives on in the last 16.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule

Anything else and it’s a spot of Thursday night soccer in the last 32 of the Europa League for Wenger’s men.

Maccabi Tel-Aviv 0-4 Chelsea: Blues go atop Group G

during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC and Chelsea FC at Sammy Ofer Stadium on November 24, 2015 in Haifa, Israel.
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Chelsea scored thee second-half goals against a ten-man Maccabi side, easing to a 4-0 win in Tel-Aviv tonight.

With the win and Porto’s loss, the Blues now sit atop Group G in the UEFA Champions League, in need of one point from their final match to advance.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

The match got off to a bit of a shaky start for Chelsea, as Tel-Aviv created some early offense on the counter-attack. However, the Blues stuck in after the opening minutes and gained control of the play.

After dominating possession, Chelsea broke through in the 20th minute through Gary Cahill. Willian whipped in a corner kick which Cahill headed on goal, but Predrag Rajkovic made a brilliant save for Tel-Aviv. However, the save hit the post and rolled right back to Cahill, who had an easy tap-in for the goal.

The pitch continued to be tilted in favor of Chelsea, and Tel-Aviv’s chances of a comeback took a huge hit when Tal Ben Haim was sent off in the 40th minute. The former Chelsea man took a wild hack at the legs of Diego Costa, giving the referee an easy decision to show a straight red. It was another case of Costa getting under the skin of his opposition, as Ben Haim lost his cool and made a reckless challenge.

Despite being down to ten men, the hosts didn’t fold in the second half and tried to steal a goal on the counter. After a string of fine saves from Rajkovic to keep Tel-Aviv alive, Asmir Begovic had to come up with a save of his own to keep Chelsea ahead. Eran Zahavi found himself free on the break and fired a shot to the far post, but Begovic just got his fingertips on the ball to hold the lead.

[ RELATED: Zlatan hoping to impress in UCL return to Malmo ]

A bit of bad news came for Chelsea in the 72nd minute, as John Terry went down after getting tangled up in a challenge. The captain looked to be in a lot of pain, as he was stretchered off and replaced by Kurt Zouma.

On the first touch of the ball after Terry’s substitution, Chelsea took a 2-0 lead from a Willian free kick. From his favorite spot at the corner of the box, the Brazilian curled home a set piece to the near post. It was his sixth goal of the season, all of which have come from free kicks in almost the exact same location.

Less than five minutes later, Oscar made it 3-0 for Chelsea. Baba Rahman played in a cross from the left wing as Oscar headed home from close range, officially sealing the points for Jose Mourinho’s men.

Substitute Kurt Zouma would add a fourth for Chelsea in stoppage time, grabbing another headed goal for the Blues in a comfortable yet vital win.

Arsenal 3-0 Dinamo Zagreb: Gunners keep last 16 dreams alive

Alexis Sanchez
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Arsenal eased past Dinamo Zagreb in their penultimate game of UEFA Champions Group F play on Tuesday as two goals from Alexis Sanchez and another from Mesut Ozil did the damage.

Arsene Wenger‘s side now sit in third place on six points in Group F and travel to Olympiakos — who currently sit in second spot on nine points — on the final matchday on Dec. 9 where they will need a win by two goals or more to make the last 16 of the UCL for the 16th straight season.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

The Gunners came flying out of the traps and were 2-0 up inside the first 32 minutes. First up Sanchez got free on the left and curled in a beautiful cross which found the onrushing Ozil who stooped and headed home. 1-0 to the Arsenal.

Moments later it was 2-0 as Nacho Monreal intercepted a pass on the edge of Zagreb’s box and slotted the ball to Sanchez who finished easily to send Wenger’s men into halftime with a healthy lead.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

In the second half Arsenal were hungry for more goals as Eduardo made a good stop from Santi Cazorla‘s shot and then palmed away Olivier Giroud‘s header from the rebound.

To their credit the Croatian outfit stuck to the task and Alexandru Matel went close with an effort but Arsenal always looked dangerous on the break as Costa Rican forward Joel Campbell volleyed an effort just wide.

Arsenal saw out the game with minimum fuss as Sanchez added another in the 69th minute when Campbell set him up neatly and the Chilean grabbed his second and Arsenal’s third of the game to make it 3-0.

That’s how the game finished as the Gunners now face a showdown in Athens in two weeks as their place in the UCL’s last 16 hangs in the balance.

VIDEO: Messi scores first goal since September in typical Barca fashion

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 12:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's 2nd goal goal during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Barcelona at Vicente Calderon Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi is back.

After coming off the bench in Barcelona’s 4-0 win over Real Madrid in El Clasico this weekend, Messi made his first start today since suffering a knee injury in September.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Tuesday’s UCL action ]

Playing against Roma in the Champions League, Barcelona jumped out to a 2-0 lead within 20 minutes, and it is clear Messi is back in form.

After Luis Suarez opened the scoring, Messi doubled Barca’s lead with a brilliant team goal, started with a string of one-touch passes before a delicate chip over the keeper from the Argentinian.

To everyone facing Barcelona in the near future, beware.