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?

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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.

Sacha Kljestan stars in “When Panenkas Fail” (video)

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 22:  Sacha Kljestan #16 of New York Red Bulls heads the ball in front of Steve Birnbaum #15 of D.C. United during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 22, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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When Panenkas don’t go well, players look foolish.

Sacha Kljestan looks foolish.

The New York Red Bulls captain strode to the penalty spot to level the score in Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg against the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps.

[ MORE: Leicester grabs away goal ]

Only he didn’t. Kljestan chipped his attempt barely a foot off the ground, allowing David Ousted to kick the chance away. Bradley Wright-Phillips blazed the rebound over the frame, and it remained 1-0 for the ‘Caps.

WATCH: Liverpool loanee nets hat trick for U.S. U-20 side

STEVENAGE, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 19:  Brooks Lennon of Liverpool celebrates his goal during the Premier League 2 match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at The Lamex Stadium on September 19, 2016 in Stevenage, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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If Brooks Lennon brings this sort of scoring prowess to Real Salt Lake, he may just walk away Rookie of the Year.

On loan from Liverpool, Lennon is first on duty with the United States U-20 men’s national team in Costa Rica.

The U.S. opened U-20 World Cup qualifying with a 1-0 loss to Panama, and was under the gun when it allowed an early goal to Haiti late Tuesday evening.

[ MORE: Rooney’s agent in China ]

But Lennon scored a trio of goals and sent in the corner that Luca de la Torre eventually finished as the Yanks won 4-1. The U.S. has St. Kitts and Nevis in the final group match on Friday.

The top two teams from each group of four advance to the next round, in which four teams will qualify for the U-20 World Cup. That tournament is set for May in South Korea.

WATCH: Amazing bicycle kick goal at beach soccer championship

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Anyone who’s competed in a beach soccer match can attest to the tricky nature of getting traction on sand.

That’s what makes this feat from Makenson Cadet so impressive (and fun).

[ MORE: Rooney’s agent in China ]

Turks and Caicos was trailing Costa Rica 8-1 in their CONCACAF Beach Soccer Championship game, and Cadet gave the visitors something to brag about by popping the ball up for a juggle and bicycle kick goal.

Cadet is only 17, and apparently has some game on the grass as well. He was on trial with Nottingham Forest in 2015.

Europa League: Spurs look to overturn 1-0; La Liga resurgent?

GENT, BELGIUM - FEBRUARY 16:  Kenny Saief of KAA Gent and Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur in action during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 first leg match between KAA Gent and Tottenham Hotspur at Ghelamco Arena on February 16, 2017 in Gent, Belgium.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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Who will join Manchester United, Schalke, and Krasnodar in the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 16?

Four-goal leads give Roma and Rostov a very good shot at advancing, while Anderlecht, AZ Alkmaar and Besiktas will also like their chances of moving forward.

[ MORE: Leicester grabs away goal ]

But plenty remains up for grabs, including Tottenham Hotspur’s chance of moving to the Round of 16. Spurs trail Gent 1-0 after their road leg, and now have to get a shutout or two-goal win at Wembley.

Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino says his side can’t push too hard, too soon, if it wants to move onto the next:

“We need to be patient. It’s important to know that tomorrow is a game that we need to win, that is in our mind. We need to turn the result (around) and it’s true that we need to have very good balance – that is key. It’s important for us to keep the balance between attacking and defence because it’s only 1-0 from the first leg and now we have time to turn it (around). We need to be clever, play well, be aggressive and improve our performance from the game in Belgium.”

Spanish sides are in danger of elimination on Thursday. While Athletic Bilbao won its first leg versus APOEL Nicosia, it allowed two road goals. Villarreal trails Roma 4-0, and Celta Vigo is down 1-0 against Shakhtar Donetsk.

Full Thursday schedule

11 a.m. EDT
Osmanlispor vs. Olympiacos (0-0)

1 p.m. EDT
Apoel Nicosia vs. Athletic Bilbao (AB leads 3-2)
Besiktas vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Besiktas leads 3-1)
Ajax vs. Legia Warsaw (0-0)
Roma vs. Villarreal (Roma leads 4-0)
Zenit Saint Petersburg vs. Anderlecht (Zenit trails 2-0)
Fiorentina vs. Borussia Monchengladbach (Gladback trails 1-0)

3:05 p.m. EDT
Lyon vs. AZ Alkmaar (Lyon leads 4-1)
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Celta Vigo (Shakhtar trails 1-0)
Sparta Prague vs. Rostov (Rostov leads 4-0)
Genk vs. Astra Giurgiu (2-2)
Copenhagen vs. Ludogorets (Copenhagen leads 2-1)
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Gent (Spurs trail 1-0)