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Paris Saint-Germain takes center stage, but without Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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Three weeks ago, Juventus and Celtic took the top of the marquee on their Champions League match day, pushing Paris Saint-Germain’s trip to Valencia to a supporting role. But with the Old Lady having all but killed that tie off in Glasgow, PSG’s attempt move into the quarterfinals gets top billing today. They’ll be the first choice game on your cable box come Wednesday afternoon.

Normally that would thrust Zlatan Ibrahimovic center stage, but thanks to a controversial red card at the end of the Parisians’ trip to Spain, “Ibra” is suspended for the second leg. If PSG’s going to defend their 2-1 league, they’re going to have to do so without their best player.

While Carlo Ancelotti didn’t commit to how he’d replace Ibrahimovic, his squad leaves few options:

Kevin Gameiro could replace [suspended] Zlatan Ibrahimović, that’s one option, but we could also change our game plan, although Gameiro and Ezequiel Lavezzi are our only available strikers.

One star that seems likely to play is David Beckham, The former LA Galaxy playmakers has been impressive in his two appearances with PSG. Reading Ancelotti’s words, it seems team’s new regista is battling for a spot in the squad’s starting lineup:

He provides us with his qualities and his character and he’s as important as any other player here. Maybe he will play tomorrow, in place of the suspended Marco Verratti, maybe he won’t.

We could ask Ancelotti anything and get the same answer. Maybe Beckham’s a soccer fembot. Maybe not. Perhaps Ibrahimovic is a Norse footballing god. Perhaps not. Maybe Thiago Motta’s still throwing darts at headshots of Sergio Busquets. Or maybe his back won’t let him. The wisdom of Carlo is rather predictable.

Thankfully, Valencia coach Ernesto Valverde spoke with more certainty:

What are our tactics for the match? The same as those we used in the first leg, but hopefully without conceding. Seriously, we were punished by PSG on the break. We dominated possession but they were the more dangerous team. It’s up to us to take our chances.

Here’s the report from that match, a game where the difference was in the midfields. For Paris Saint-Germain, Blaise Matuidi had a great game, Marco Veratti was strong, while Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore each contributed to goals. For Valencia, Ever Banega and Dani Parejo were non-factors, while Tino Costa was off target for a half.

With Thiago Silva back, Paris Saint-Germain will be better situated to hold out, if they even need to. Ibrahimovic did not play a major part in either first leg goal, and if Valencia stays vulnerable to the counter attack, Lavezzi, Pastore, and Moura provide enough danger to steal a vital third goal.

But having scored twice at the Mestalla, PSG may not need it.

West Ham extend Payet’s contract in “enormous show of faith”

West Ham’s Dimitri Payet celebrates after scoring while soap bubbles are blown during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham and Newcastle at Boleyn Ground in London, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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West Ham United hope Dimitri Payet is going absolutely nowhere after the club announced on Thursday the 28-year-old Frenchman has signed a contract extension through the summer of 2021.

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Payet’s current contract was scheduled to keep him at the Premier League club through the summer of 2020, but a series of standout performances (6 goals, 4 assists so far this season, mostly during the season’s opening three months) and rumors of interest from “bigger” clubs meant tacking on another year — and plenty more cash — was the best way to keep Payet in east London for the foreseeable future. The club confirmed earlier this week that negotiations over an extension were underway.

“He’s the best player I’ve signed in 25 years,” said West Ham co-owner David Sullivan. “He’s a [$43 million] player. He’s a supreme footballer. He makes every player in our side play better. On his day, he’s world class, he’s unstoppable.”

Payet, who’s been at West Ham just eight months after signing last summer, could still depart in the summer should he finish the current season strong and/or show up and show out at the European Championship, which kicks off in June. In that event, West Ham would now bag a much heftier transfer fee than they would have done prior to the extension.

VIDEO: Dele Alli’s magnificent juggling goal recreated in hand-drawn crayon

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Remember that Dele Alli goal? No, not that one… that one. Of course you remember it. How could you not?

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How often does a player receive the ball out of the air, flick it over his head, spin 180 degrees and hit an inch-perfect volley from 20 yards out to secure all three points for his team? The answer is, of course, not very often.

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Thus, a goal such as Alli’s stunning winner against Crystal Palace last month has been, and will continue to be, immortalized through numerous recreations in this Digital Age. Above is Alli’s goal recreated in hand-drawn crayon.

Watch Live: Guatemala vs. T&T; Canada vs. Guyana in Olympic qualifying

Canadian players wave to fans after a 2-1 loss to England in a quarterfinal of the Women's World Cup soccer tournament, Saturday, June 27, 2015, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
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Group B is set to kick off Thursday night at the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, as Canada, third-place finishers at the 2012 Olympics, begin their quest to qualify for this summer’s games in Rio de Janeiro.

Guyana versus Trinidad and Tobago is up first (6 p.m. ET) from BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Tex, followed by the Canadians, who will take on Guyana (8:30 p.m. ET) in the nightcap.

[ WATCH LIVE: Guatemala vs. T&T live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

[ WATCH LIVE: Canada vs. Guyana live on line on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

The U.S. women’s national began its Olympic qualifying campaign in impressive fashion on Wednesday with a 5-0 victory over Costa Rica, while Mexico jumped to the top of Group A with a 6-0 victory over Puerto Rico.

Sunderland terminate Adam Johnson’s contract after guilty pleas in sex case

Sunderland winger Adam Johnson arrives at Bradford Crown Court, England, Wednesday Feb. 10, 2016. Johnson has pleaded guilty in court to one count of sexual activity with a child and another of grooming. The 28-year-old Johnson, who has made 12 appearances for England, denies two charges of sexual activity with a girl under the age of 16. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP) UNITED KINGDOM OUT NO SALES NO ARCHIVE
Peter Byrne/PA via AP
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SUNDERLAND, England (AP) Sunderland has fired winger Adam Johnson after he pleaded guilty to grooming and sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl at the start of his trial.

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Johnson, who has played 12 times for England, continues to deny two further counts of sexual activity with a child.

Sunderland dismissed Johnson ahead of his trial resuming on Friday at Bradford Crown Court.

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In a statement, Sunderland announced Thursday that “in light of Adam Johnson’s guilty pleas, the club has today terminated his contract with immediate effect.”

The former Manchester City player joined Sunderland in 2012 for 10 million pounds (now about $14.5 million).