Snap judgments: Quick reactions to Wednesday’s Champions League action

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There may not have been many remarkable results in Wednesday’s Champions Legaue action (with the exception what happened in Glasgow), but fans can take recourse in one number: 35. That’s how many goals were scored over the day’s eight matches, and while the diehard soccer fan doesn’t need big scorelines to be drawn in, Champions League represents a rare opportunity to lure a casual consumer. Goals tend to do that.

Amid all those goals were a hat trick from a Turkish international, a Brazilian giving a London giant a glimpse of what they’re missing, and an awaken from an Italian titan rebounding from weekend disappointment.

Group E

Chelsea 3-2 Shakhtar Donetsk: The defending champions salvaged a victory they had little right to claim, but after Shakhtar gave them two first half goals from elementary mistakes, it’s hard to feel bad for the visiting side. Ukraine’s champions had a chance to lock down first on Group E (having a home game against Nordsjaelland still on their schedule), but thanks to a 94th minute goal by Victor Moses, Mircea Petrescu’s team will need a result in their upcoming match with Juventus.

MORE: Chelsea takes advantage of Shakhtar mistakes

Juventus 4-0 Nordsjaelland: The Old Lady finally gives the type Champions League performance pundits and fans have expected, scoring three times in the first 37 minutes, paving their way to their first win of the tournament. Nordsjaelland, who got a draw from Juve two weeks ago in Copenhagen, were held to one shot on goal.

Impact: With two home games remaining, Shakhtar is the slight favorite to win this group, particularly with Chelsea still facing a trip to Turin. That match at Juventus will likely decide who goes through with the Ukranians to the knockout round.

Standings: Chelsea 7 pts. (+4), Shakhtar 7 (+2), Juventus 6, Nordsjaelland 1.

Group F

Bayern Munich 6-1 Lille: Remember yesterday, when I called Zenit and Manchester City the most disappointing teams of the tournament. Obviously, Lille felt ignored, because they spend 90 minutes in Munich reminding the world they bare little relation to the team that finished first and third over the last two years in France.

Valencia 4-2 BATE Borisov: It’s not even midnight, and Cinderella’s already being shown out of the ball, though BATE did make it interesting. After falling down three shortly after half time, the Belarussians fought back to within one only to see Sofiane Feghouli put the game away in the 86th minute.

Impact: BATE, six points up on Lille for third, have a Europa League spot locked up. Bayern and Valencia will decide the group champion on Nov. 20 at the Mestalla.

Standings: Bayern 9 pts., Valencia 9, BATE 6, Lille 0

Group G

Celtic 2-1 Barcelona: Previewing the first matchday of this year’s tournament, I said Celtic might be the worst team in this tournament. Clearly, they’re not. An incredible night at Parkhead (and a gift second goal) gives Celtic a famous and deserved victory over Barcelona.

Benfica 2-0 Spartak Moscow: Jorge Jesus’s side gets their first win of the tournament thanks to a strong left flank of midfielder Ola John and left back Lorenzo Melgarejo. For the second time this tournament, Spartak finished a match on 10 after Nicolas Pareja saw red in the second half.

Impact: Barcelona is still going to win this group, but for a team with Celtic’s conservative style, being able to draw your way into the knockout stage is very reassuring.

Standings: Barcelona 9 pts., Celtic 7, Benfica 4, Spartak 3

Group H

Braga 1-3 Manchester United: The Red Devils never look good in group stage, do they? An uninspired performance gave Braga the opener after a Jonny Evans’ 49th minute foul allowed Alan to convert from the spot in the. United’s malaise persisted until the 80th minute when a Robin van Persie goal put the Red Devils on course to a 3-1 win. The final score looks impressive, but the performance was not.

CFR Cluj 1-3 Galatasaray – All the strides Cluj had made to get to second place through three rounds were cancelled out by a poor home performance against the Turkish Champions. Burak Yilmaz had his best day since joining the Istanbul club this summer, scoring three times as Gala vaulted to second in Group G.

Impact: Manchester United clinch first place and are likely to start second choice XIs in their final matches against Cluj and Galatasaray. Still, being done with United, Braga has to be favored to claim second place.

Standings: Manchester United 12 pts., Galatasaray 4, Cluj 4, Braga 3

 

Celtic’s Griffiths tears into Rangers chairman after “gulf” comments

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Celtic star Leigh Griffiths took the Old Firm bait and promptly swallowed the fisherman.

If you missed it, Rangers chairman Dave King said Celtic should’ve been even further ahead of their rivals given the setbacks handed to Rangers, who finally climbed back to the Scottish Premiership this season.

Celtic went unbeaten, drawing just four of 38 matches and finished 39 points ahead of Rangers on the table.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

If Celtic won all 38, they could’ve finished 47 points clear of Rangers. So, we guess the gulf could be bigger.

Here’s what Griffiths had to say:

“What was the gulf? 30-odd points. How does he expect that to be bigger? They were touting at the start of last season that they were going to win the league and this and that.

Joey Barton was coming up and saying he was going to be the best player in Scotland – he lasted a few months. In the first [Old Firm] game, they got hammered 5-1 and they got hammered 5-1 at the end of the season. So, the gulf couldn’t be any bigger. This season, they’ll be trying to bridge the gap.

“Ultimately it’s about what we do and if we are at our best nobody in Scotland can live with us.”

It was absurd talk from King, who doesn’t need to amp up one of the world’s best rivalries and also doesn’t have a leg to stand on considering the dominant season from the Bhoys. Wow.

San Jose adds Designated Player from Legia Warsaw

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Valeri ‘Vako’ Qazaishvili is the latest MLS Designated Player, as the Georgian will hit the pitch for San Jose this season provided his visa and ITC go through.

Qazaishvili comes from Legia Warsaw after five seasons with Vitesse in the Eredivisie. The 24-year-old attacking midfielder has been capped 24 times, and scored in Georgia’s 2-2 draw with Moldova earlier this month in World Cup qualifying.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

Equally adept at right or left wing, Qazaishvili posted a goal and two assists for Legia following his transfer from Vitesse. He scored 28 goals and added 13 assists in 121 matches for the Dutch side.

From SJEarthquakes.com:

“We were looking for a player, a younger, offensive player, that really excites the fans and has the possibility to stay with us for a long period of time. That’s what we found with Vako,” said Earthquakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli. “We wanted a player that knows how to take on a defender one-on-one, that sees the goal and that also wants to bring a spark to our game.”

San Jose sits seventh in the Western Conference table, and only two teams — Colorado and DC — have scored fewer goals in MLS. Jahmir Hyka and Cordell Cato have been fine, but San Jose needed a better chance creator.

Qazaishvili, in theory, fits the bill. If he has half the impact of fellow Legia export Nemanja Nikolic, San Jose is cooking with gas.

Transfer rumor roundup: Van Dijk to Chelsea, Ox to Anfield

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More and more players are being linked with Manchester United, but — believe it or not — the Red Devils aren’t the only club seeking talent.

DiMarzio is reporting that Antonio Conte is close to securing the services of Southampton center back Virgil Van Dijk, insisting the Dutch back is Conte’s top choice ahead of Juventus power house Leonardo Bonucci (which isn’t to say there isn’t room for both). The price? An eyebrow-raising $77 million.

[ MORE: Confederations Cup scenarios ]

Meanwhile, Conte is selling talented Bertrand Traore outside the Premier League. A solid season on loan at Ajax upped interest in the 21-year-old striker, and L’Equipe says it’s a $22 million move to Lyon for Traore.

How much do you think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is worth? Liverpool may think his value is as high as $32 million, as The Independent reports that Arsenal is prepared to sell the Southampton Academy product to the attacker-heavy Reds.

Meanwhile, Serge Gnabry‘s wild journey looks to have another stop despite a purchase from Bayern Munich this summer. Gnabry was one of Germany’s heroes at the Olympics and left Arsenal for Werder Bremen last summer. He thrived, and earned a deal to Bayern, but Kicker brings quotes from a Hoffenheim player that are hopeful of a loan for this season.

Messi offers to pay $558,000 to avoid 21-month jail sentence

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi has offered to pay an additional fine of 500,000 euros ($558,000) to ensure he avoids a 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud that a judge is expected to suspend, a Spanish state prosecutor said Friday.

State prosecutor Isabel Lopez Riera told The Associated Press the fine-for-time deal was presented by Messi’s lawyers to the judge who will rule on whether to suspend Messi’s sentence – as is widely expected. Lopez Riera said she has told the judge that her office is not opposed to the deal.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

Lopez Riera said Messi’s lawyers have made a similar offer for the Barcelona player’s father, Jorge Horacio Messi. He is offering to pay 360,000 euros ($402,000) to avoid his 15-month sentence for helping his son cheat on his taxes.

In Spain, prison sentences under 24 months for first-time offenders can be suspended by a judge.

The government attorney representing Spain’s Tax Office in the case will also be able to weigh in on the proposed deal. As state prosecutor, Lopez Riera is impartial in the case as a defender of the public interest.

Last year, a court in Barcelona found Messi and his father each guilty of three counts of defrauding tax authorities of 4.1 million euros ($4.6 million) from 2007-09. The unpaid taxes were from money made through endorsement deals, not Messi’s salary paid by Barcelona.

Messi was fined 2 million euros and his father 1.5 million euros. Both were originally sentenced to 21 months, but his father’s sentence was later reduced to 15 months.

In the last two weeks, Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo and former Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho have been accused by a Madrid-based state prosecutor of having defrauded Spain’s Tax Office of millions of euros (dollars) in unpaid taxes.

Both have denied wrongdoing.