Looking back on a great week for Germany

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The German Bundesliga has no shortage of fans, and because of its clubs’ relative financial stability and an ownership paradigm that requires supporters own clubs (the 50+1 rule), the league may be the most admired circuit in the world. Yet as far as the competitive qualities of its clubs, the Bundesliga has generally been thought of as trailing the English Premier League and Spain’s Primera Division, even if many feel its quality has passed Italy’s Serie A.

Over at ESPN FC, renown Bundesliga expert Uli Hesse notes this week’s showing from German clubs in Europe – a slate of results comprised by six wins and a scoreless draw – may be the first signs of a continental breakthrough:

Anyway, as you can see, this European week was anything but normal, so one hesitates to imbue this string of good results with deeper meaning or relevance. Perhaps it was just the kind of coincidence that statistically has to happen one day.

But – whisper it – maybe it’s really indicative of the long-awaited and predicted Bundesliga resurgence on the European stage. In the past ten seasons, only two German clubs have reached a European final (Bayern and Bremen) and that’s clearly unacceptable.

I have called the resurgence “long-awaited and predicted” because our clubs have been saying for many years that they will sooner or later reap their just rewards for not spending more than they have as it’s only a question of time until the ruinous system in Spain or Italy has to collapse like a house of cards.

Milan embody Italy’s problems. One of the circuit’s marquee clubs, the 2010-11 champions are mired in quicksand amid reports the club’s holding company wants the team to stand on its own two feet financially. That the team wasn’t able to reinvest all the money from their Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva sales exemplifies Italian teams “[reaping] their just rewards.”

As Hesse alludes, however, this week’s results may only be a hint of what’s needed: Progress toward actual titles. I say that as somebody that doesn’t value titles that much – if three German teams make the Champions League semis yet none win the trophy, that’d be a great show of strength for the league. But this is about others’ standards, not mine, and by those standards, German teams need to start making a bigger impact in Champions League.

As the article alludes, there’s a theory behind Germany’s lack of success in Champions League: “financial doping.” Paris Saint-Germain and Zenit St. Petersburg have bought in ways German clubs won’t, and they’re only playing catchup to the perpetual big spenders in England, Spain, and (to a diminishing extent) Italy.

As Hesse notes, money may not have been the issue. It may have been experience.

But if it isn’t a levelled playing field that has boosted the Bundesliga’s performance, what is it? Well, maybe having paid your dues. Needless to say, Dortmund’s learning curve is quite pronounced, but there are also teams like Hannover 96 and Schalke, who managed to get a considerable amount of European games under their belt last season. I’m not a big friend of the Europa League (who is?), but its bloated and drawn-out schedule at least gives you plenty of practice under floodlights.

It’s something to think about, as is the rest of Hesse’s piece. Regardless of the alchemy that’s producing it, Germany does appear to be translating it’s of-field buzz into on-field success. For now. Best to check back in March to see which of their upstarts have managed to navigate a Champions League knockout round.

Wigan player races off for son’s birth after scoring 2 goals

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WIGAN, England (AP) It was better than a hat trick.

A player for English soccer team Wigan had a night to remember when he scored his second goal before dashing off the field and to the local hospital, where his girlfriend was in labor.

[ MORE: Chelsea advances to UCL Round of 16 after win over Qarabag ]

A picture of Ryan Colclough holding his new-born baby, Harley, while still in his soccer uniform was shared on social media by Wigan chairman David Sharpe.

Colclough said his father, sitting in the stands on Tuesday for Wigan’s 3-0 win over Doncaster in the second division, “gave me the action that the waters had broken,” but he didn’t want to come off until the ball was out of play.

“My head was a little bit battered, but I went and scored, looked at the manager and he said we’ll bring you off now,” Colclough said Wednesday of his 58th-minute goal, which he celebrated by pretending to rock a baby. “I came off and was straight down the tunnel, grabbed my keys and my phone, and went to hospital.”

Colclough had visited the midwife that day, and was told the baby was unlikely to arrive for “another couple of days.”

Lille suspends coach Marcelo Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) French club Lille has provisionally suspended coach Marcelo Bielsa following a string of poor results in the top tier.

[ MORE: Basel stuns Man United late to keep UCL hopes alive ]

The northern side said in a statement that Bielsa has been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club.” Lille did not elaborate.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but has failed to make the club competitive again, with the team second to last after 13 matches.

The 2 Robbies podcast: PL sides in the UCL, Pulis sacking and more

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In today’s Euro Pod Edition, the Robbies breakdown the latest Champions League action. Man United lose at Basel, Chelsea cruise at Qarabag, Spurs impress against Dortmund, Man City continue to win, Liverpool surrender a 3-goal lead against Sevilla. Plus, the guys weigh in on the Oumar Niasse ban for diving and the Tony Pulis sacking.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Europa League preview: Arsenal looks to wrap up Group H and more

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While several teams have already booked their place in the knockout phase, the Europa League reaches its penultimate round on Thursday with many big matches in hand.

[ MORE: Yannick Bolasie finally returns to Everton training ]

Of the two Premier League sides in the competition, only one will advance to the Round of 32, as Arsenal have all but assured themselves of the top spot in Group H. The Gunners can do so tomorrow with a win over Koln or a Red Star Belgrade defeat.

The other end of the spectrum features Everton, who has already been eliminated from reaching the next round after acquiring just one point in its first four matches.

European giants AC Milan can lock up a spot in the knockout phase on Thursday despite the club’s ongoing struggles in Serie A, while fellow Italian side Atalanta can move a step closer to the Round of 32 in Group E along with Lyon.

Here’s the full rundown of Thursday’s UEL matches.

Astana vs. Villareal — 11 a.m. ET
Konyaspor vs. Marseille — 1 p.m. ET
Rosenborg vs. Real Sociedad — 1 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. Vitesse — 1 p.m. ET
Viktoria Plzen vs. Steaua Bucuresti — 1 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv vs. Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit vs. Vardar — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Vitoria — 1 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao vs. Hertha Berlin — 1 p.m. ET
BATE vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Ostersund vs. Zorya — 1 p.m. ET
Koln vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET
Nice vs. Zulte Waregem — 1 p.m. ET
Lugano vs. Beer-Sheva — 1 p.m. ET
Ludogorets vs. Istanbul — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga vs. Hoffenheim — 3:05 p.m. ET
AEK vs. Rijeka — 3:05 p.m. ET
AC Milan vs. Austria Wien — 3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. Apollon — 3:05 p.m. ET
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Slavia Praha — 3:05 p.m. ET
Sheriff vs. Zlin — 3:05 p.m. ET
Partizan vs. Young Boys — 3:05 p.m. ET
Skenderbeu vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:05 p.m. ET
Everton vs. Atalanta — 3:05 p.m. ET