For the first time in 17 years, no English clubs will be appearing in the latter stages of the Uefa Champions League, a fact that concerns Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger however the Frenchman should take comfort that the Europa League seems to be a more comfortable level.
All three clubs remaining in the ugly step child tournament step forward and take a bow. Chelsea, Newcastle and Tottenham somehow limped over the finish line in one form or another to grace the last eight.
Newcastle after getting a credible 0-0 draw against Anzhi Makhachkala in the first leg left it as late as possible before snatching a dramatic last second winner through Papiss Cisse. The red card issued to Anzhi and Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez certainly helped but the Toon Army were made to suffer every second during the final 45 minutes knowing that any goal conceded would surely have sent them tumbling out.
At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea made hard work for themselves by conceding in the first half versus Steaua Bucharest meaning they would have to score three to advance. Juan Mata, John Terry and wonder of wonder, Fernando Torres scored to send a nervy Blues through however Torres contrived to miss a penalty in the 86th minute meaning that the last few ticks of the clock were more than agony for the Shed faithful.
In Italy Tottenham performed the great escape and will stagger back to White Hart Lane wondering just how they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory only to well, you know. 4-4 on aggregate only tells the score line and not the story as Inter Milan almost pulled off one of the most spectacular comebacks of all time.
The question now is can they avoid each other in the last 8 and help repair the damaged psyche of English football. Whether this year was a blip on the radar or a taste of things to come, we at least know that the Europa League can provide a small dose of pride.
Man United captain Rooney raises $1.5m from charity game
MANCHESTER, England (AP) Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney says he raised 1.2 million pounds ($1.5 million) from a friendly game against former club Everton last year.
That represents the profits, after operational costs, from August’s sellout match at Old Trafford and goes toward the Wayne Rooney Foundation’s target of raising 5 million pounds for children’s charities.
Rooney said: “I’d like to thank all the fans who came to the testimonial and made it such a special night. They’ve raised a huge amount of money for children who are disadvantaged and it will make a real difference to their lives.”
Rooney is one goal from breaking Manchester United’s scoring record, with the striker currently tied with Bobby Charlton on 249 goals.
Rooney joined United from Everton in 2004.
WATCH: Lewandowski’s juggling stoppage time winner
It was the league’s first match following the winter/holiday break, giving Bayern a cushion before RB Leipzig takes the pitch against Eintracht Frankfurt in a Top Five tilt on Saturday.
Lewandowski moves closer to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the goal scoring chart. His 13th and 14th goals have him two back of Borussia Dortmund’s striker, as Lewandowski pursues a third Golden Boot in four seasons.
Full Weekend Schedule Freiburg 1-2 Bayern Munich — Friday
Augsburg vs. Hoffenheim — Saturday
Schalke vs. Ingolstadt — Saturday
Darmstadt vs. Borussia Monchengladbach — Saturday
Werder Bremen vs. Borussia Dortmund — Saturday
Wolfsburg vs. Hamburger SV — Saturday
RB Leipzig vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — Saturday
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hertha Berlin — Sunday
Mainz vs. Koln — Sunday
After wins over Sunderland and Watford, Stoke City gets a higher class of opponent on Saturday at the Britannia Stadium (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).
Fortunately for Stoke, it’s had some success against Manchester United in recent years.
Stoke and United drew 1-1 at Old Trafford on Oct. 2, though Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils are flying now. United is hard to break down, and arguably deserved better than the 1-1 draw it earned versus Liverpool last weekend.
Stoke is now 11 points clear of the drop zone, and a win could raise its status to closer to the Top Five than Bottom Three. United, meanwhile, wants three points that would move it to precipice of the Top Four.
What they’re saying
Stoke City’s Glenn Whelan on facing United: “There has been a wind of change there and the supporters seem a lot happier now and you get the sense that they are together as a group now. You only have to look at the players within the squad, and even the ones who are leaving, to see how much strength in depth they have there.”
Jose Mourinho praises newly-extended Antonio Valencia: “I don’t think it is a reward, I don’t see it in this perspective. I just think he is the best right-back you can have. There is no better right-back in football. It is just for us to keep the best. I don’t think it is a reward. It is a privilege for us to have such a good player and such a good man.”
United gets it done, only barely. Stoke will put up a brave battle for boss Mark Hughes, but there are too many weapons to suppress. United, 1-0.
A thrilling first half had DR Congo leading 1-0 and 2-1, with only Wilfried Bony netting for the Ivory Coast. Les Elephants grabbed a draw through Serey Die’s 67th minute goal.
DR Congo now leads the group and is primed to advance with a result against Togo or a Morocco loss or draw against Ivory Coast.
Morocco 3-1 Togo
Mathieu Dossevi gave Togo a surprise fifth minute lead lead, but Aziz Bouhaddouz kickstarted the Moroccan attack to plug the victors into Group C’s second spot ahead of a Jan. 24 showdown with Ivory Coast.
Ghana vs. Mali — 11 a.m. ET
Egypt vs. Uganda — 2 p.m. ET