Never a problem as Juventus knock Celtic out of Champions League

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Neil Lennon knew his team needed a miracle. Coming into today’s match after a 3-0 at Parkhead, the Celtic boss hoped his team could pull off an upset. Maybe a 2-1 or 1-0 win in Turin. You know: Something to be proud of on the long win back to Scotland.

But Celtic were never really that close. Two goals off rebounds gave Juventus a 2-0 victory, sending Italy’s champions through to the Champions League quarterfinals after a 5-0 aggregate result.

The final score may exaggerate the gap between the two teams, particularly after a day when Celtic and Juve played a relatively even match. Of course, a number of teams come out of matches with Juventus feeling they could have done more, but the scoreboard always sets them straight.

Perhaps Wednesday as a good example. Drop in on the match at any given point and the game seemed relatively equal. Juventus’s superior quality was obvious, particularly in midfield, but the disparity wasn’t so great that Celtic couldn’t find a way to break through. One team was obviously better, but 5-0 over two legs better?

But that’s the crux of Juve’s deception. Other teams don’t seem to execute against them when it counts while precise, finite execution from Juventus leaves teams with a series of what ifs. What if we had just stopped them in that one moment.

Wednesday’s first moment came in the 14th minute when Federico Peluso took the ball off Gary Hooper’s feet. The Juve wingback fed Fabio Quagliarella, whose shot was spilled in the box by Frazier Forrester. Alessandro Matri’s clean up act put Juventus up four.

Early in the second half, an exquisite ball over the defense from Andrea Pirlo allowed Arturo Vidal to draw Forester out before putting the ball back across goal for Quagliarella. An open goal allowed the Juve striker to put his team up 5-0.

Celtic had their moments, at one time forcings a lunging save from Gianluigi Buffon to save Hooper’s deflection of a long Kris Commons shot. But the execution just wasn’t there. Juventus converted on two of their three or four moments of brilliant. Celtic never got close.

In the bigger picture, Celtic were never supposed to get this close to begin with. In the face of ever-dwindling Scottish league results in Europe, Celtic were expected to be the next in a line of valiant but lacking SPL champions. Instead, they bested Benfica and Spartak Moscow to make the knockout round, and while they were never close to moving past Juve, they were never as bad as the final score hints. Celtic made a lot of us look stupid.

Because a lot of people will still underestimate Celtic, Juventus’s quality will be dismissed, particularly because it wasn’t accompanied by the kind of smothering dominance we’re seeing from Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund. And the quality of their opponent was nowhere near that of Real Madrid’s.

But in the result we see almost a stereotypical Italian trait, the robust quality to match up against anybody. In a one-off, Juventus can match up with the kings of Europe, and before this competition is out, they may prove capable of wearing the crown themselves.

Are they favorites to win Champions League? No, they shouldn’t be. But nobody wants to draw them in the next round.

Injuries leave host Russia limping ahead of World Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) With less than three months to go until the World Cup in Russia, the host nation’s players are dropping like flies.

A spate of knee injuries this year has left the Russians hurrying to find cover at the back and trying to replace a key attacking threat.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

First, center back Georgy Dzhikiya tore his knee ligaments during a friendly in January. The same happened to Viktor Vasin a month later. Russia’s defense was already thin, so those injuries prompted calls for the 35-year-old Berezutsky twins, Alexei and Vasily, to return from international retirement. They refused to do so.

Now coach Stanislav Cherchesov must also seek a replacement for Zenit St. Petersburg forward Alexander Kokorin, who tore his knee ligaments in the Europa League last week. That puts more responsibility on the shoulders of Fyodor Smolov, now likely to be Russia’s undisputed first-choice striker for the World Cup.

“We’re not complaining about anything,” Cherchesov said Thursday. “Fate is often testing us in various ways but we always try to be ready.”

The injuries mean Cherchesov will be forced to experiment during Friday’s friendly against Brazil and Tuesday’s game against France, both at home. Short-term medical issues have ruled three more fringe players out of those games.

Here’s a closer look at the issues facing Russia ahead of the World Cup:


If you had to pick one Russian striker for the World Cup, it might as well be Fyodor Smolov.

On track to be the Russian league’s top scorer for the third season in a row, Smolov has been working on his English skills as he eyes a move to the Premier League.

Smolov was linked with West Ham during the January transfer window but opted to stay with FC Krasnodar, saying he didn’t want to abandon his team as it battles for a spot in the Champions League next season.

With Kokorin almost certainly out of the picture for the World Cup, Russia’s backup options include Anton Zabolotny, who is still settling in at Zenit after a recent move from newly promoted FC Tosno. The 22-year-old Alexei Miranchuk can play as a forward, but is better in a deeper role.


Russian players tend to stay in their domestic league, but there’s one big exception in midfield – Denis Cheryshev.

The winger came through the Real Madrid youth system when his father was coaching there and is now at Villarreal, but frequent injuries have dented hopes he can add some spice to the national team.

Now he’s fit again and in the squad to face Brazil and France.

Elsewhere in the midfield, there are the promising and creative youngsters Roman Zobnin and Alexander Golovin, but Russia doesn’t currently have a dominant defensive midfielder.


Cherchesov has a reputation as a difficult coach to get along with, and Russian media have regularly reported fallings-out with various players.

One of those outside the squad is Igor Denisov, who last played for Russia in 2016. He has been playing well in a defensive midfield role this season for Lokomotiv Moscow, the team at the top of the Russian league standings. Denisov and Cherchesov clashed during the latter’s time as Dynamo Moscow coach.

Also absent from the squad is forward Artyom Dzyuba. A talented striker who has scored 11 goals in 22 games for Russia but has a reputation for being hot-headed, Dzyuba was deemed surplus to requirements at Zenit and sent on loan to Arsenal Tula. In three games there, he has scored three goals and set up two more to put himself back in the World Cup contention.


Russia’s soccer team hasn’t escaped the country’s doping scandals.

Defensive midfielder Ruslan Kambolov is under investigation by FIFA for a possible doping case revealed by Moscow laboratory documents, but hasn’t been suspended.

The team’s schedule was disrupted Wednesday by drug-testing, which took more than five hours and delayed training. On Thursday, the team said five more doping control officers turned up to take samples from the team.

Wilshere injured, could play in England’s second friendly

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I have no idea what tendinopathy means, but Arsenal and England will be hoping it’s only a minor thing for Jack Wilshere.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

The resurgent Gunners midfielder is going to miss at least one of England’s friendlies this international break after suffering a knee injury in training.

“Jack just felt some tendinopathy in his knee but it’s nothing too serious,” Southgate said. “We decided to leave him back at base and see how he responds, and we hope to have him with us on Saturday.”

England is in Netherlands on Friday, and returns to London to host Italy at Wembley on Tuesday.

Arsenal doesn’t play until April 1 when it visits Stoke City.

Zlatan confirms Manchester United departure

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic has confirmed myriad reports he’s leaving Manchester United with a perfectly-Zlatan Instagram message.

Ibrahimovic is expected to join the LA Galaxy next week.

[ MORE: MLS All Stars vs. Juventus ]

The words aren’t too important, but Ibrahimovic posted an old graphic of him in Greek god garb, arm-wrestling a devil. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

The living Swedish legend, 36, has been limited to seven appearances, one start, and one goal in returning from a season-ending knee injury, but finishes his Manchester United tenure with an impressive 29 goals and 10 assists in 53 games (deduct the seven and one for peak impressiveness).

Bale breaks Wales scoring record

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Gareth Bale has now unquestionably written his name into Wales history.

The 28-year-old Real Madrid scored a hat-trick for Wales in its 6-0 demolition of China, taking his overall tally to 29 goals, breaking Ian Rush’s record.

“It is right up there, maybe as the best,” Bale told reporters after the game. “I suppose when I was a little boy I never dreamed of being a record-breaker for Wales. It is a massive honor. I was not thinking about it, but now it has come it’s an incredible honor and one of the best things I’ve achieved in my career. On a personal note it’s great to break the record, but I could not have done it without my team-mates.”

Bale was unable to carry Wales to the 2018 World Cup, but he first became a National Team legend by helping take Wales to the Euro 2016 semifinals, scoring three goals along the way.

Here’s a look at Bale’s record-breaking goal.