France Soccer Women's Champions League

UEFA Women’s Champions League: Lyon dazzles; Arsenal, Wolfsburg fail to put quarterfinals away

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UEFA’s Women’s Champions League is down to eight teams, but after today’s first legs of the competition’s quarterfinals, one team saw their fate sealed. And predictably, it was at the hands of Olympique Lyonnais.

The two-time defending tournament champions posted a 5-0 result over Malmö on Wednesday, with goals from Elodie Thomis, Lotta Schelin (twice, pictured right), Camile Abily and Louisa Necib igiving the 2011 Swedish champions an impossible task next Thursday. Lyon hasn’t conceded in five matches this competition. On Thursday, Malmo will have to score at least five times while containing an attack that’s posted 28 goals. This tie’s over.

Given Malmö’s quality, it was a shame to see the Swedes drawn into Lyon’s section of the bracket. They were “the toughest side we could have faced,” according to Abily, mere lip service from a team capable of posting a 5-0 on anybody. After finishing joint-top in Sweden last year (Tyresö won the title), Malmö had reason to think they could be a bigger factor in this competition, had they avoided OL.

Advancing was always going to be a big ask, but if Malmo could contain Lyon in France, they may have at least had a prayer back in Sweden. Instead, the seven-time Swedish champions became sacrificial lamb.

This is a team that has talents like German veteran Anja Mittag, Danish attacker Ramona Bachmann, young Swedish star Elin Rubensson, and New Zealand international Ali Riley. Dutch attacker Manon Melis is back after a season at Linköping, while Lina Nilsson and Malin Levenstad are normally strong in defense. It’s a talented team that would compete near the top of the NWSL, but against a Lyon side that has elite players at almost every position, it wasn’t even close.

If Malmö were in another quadrant, they’d have a strong chance to make the semifinals. In the other half of the bracket, they could even be finalists, maybe. Instead, their hopes were extinguished after 90 minutes.

Americans in action: Megan Rapinoe didn’t start for Lyon, but she got a 24-minute run-out after coming on for Lara Dickenmann in the second half. The U.S. international was one of four Americans to making a Wednesday appearance and the only one that didn’t start. Kristin Edmonds went 87 minutes for Russian champions Rossiaynka, while both Yael Averbuch and Camille Levin went 90 minutes in Göteborg’s visit to France’s Juvisy.

Kerr debuts in Arsenal win

After one match, it’s unclear how much Arsenal has been hurt by Laura Harvey’s departure. In Shelley Kerr’s debut as Arsenal’s new coach, the Gunners posted an impressive 3-1 win over Italian champions Torres. Still, a late goal leaves the tie in doubt, with an injury to Arsenal’s most important player leaving a feeling that this two-goal may be vulnerable.

Arsenal took an early lead through Kelly Smith only to see their playmaker leave soon after with an apparent knee injury. Jordan Nobbs and Kim Little gave Arsenal a 3-0 lead, but when Sandy Mändly got Torres on the board in the 71st minute, the Italians were back in the tie. A 2-0 win next Wednesday in Sassari would send the Gunners crashing out.

“The girls were disappointed because it could have easily been avoided,” Kerr told the Guardian after the match. “But we’re more than capable of scoring away from home.”

To their credit, Arsenal managed to contain Italian legend Patrizia Panico. The 38-year-old had scored eight goals for Torres’s 13 goals in their first four games. Today, she was kept off the scoresheet.

Wolfsburg’s missed chance

Frauen-Bundesliga leaders Wolfsburg were heavy favorites going into their tie with Russian champions Rossiyanka, a status that was justified with early goals from Alexandra Popp and Martina Muller. When Rossiyanka defender Olesya Machina was sent off just before halftime, Wolfsburg were given a chance to put up the kind of number that would eliminate any doubts before next week’s trip to Russia.

That’s not what happened. One minute into the second half, and own goal by Josephine Henning made it 2-1, and despite playing 11-on-10 for nearly 50 minutes, Wolfsburg were unable to add to their lead. Rossiyanka not only stopped what could have been a blowout, they took a valuable road goal out of Germany.

So Rossiyanka essentially broke serve. That doesn’t mean they’re all of a sudden favorites. Wolfsburg still have the better side, and unless they get beaten in Russia, they’re through to their first semifinal.

But this was a chance to put this tie away. If, for whatever reason, Rossiyanka’s able to turn this tie around in Russia, Wolfsburg will be left to rue Wednesday’s second half.

Little between Juvisy, Göteborg

Juvisy is the litmus test for France’s Division Feminine. If they can do something in this competition, they’ll provide some justification for their domestic league and start to quell conventional wisdom that Lyon’s prowess is bolstered by a thin French circuit.

Conventional wisdom stood uncorrected on Wednesday. Despite an early goal conceded to Julie Machart on a bomb from outside the box, Göteborg — a team that finished a distant fourth in last year’s Damallsvenskan and were almost eliminated in the last round by Denmark’s Fortuna Hjørring — was able to hold out. Though their late advances never broke through for what would have been a huge away goal, they take a only 1-0 loss back to Sweden.

Though Juvisy ultimately won the game, a 1-0 vicotry in the home leg of a Champions League tie is a minimally acceptable result. They would have wanted more. Now unless they get on the scoresheet in a one-goal loss, Juvisy must get a result of some kind next week in Sweden.

Kaka hoping to stay in Orlando beyond 2017

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 08:  Kaka #10 of Orlando City SC dribbles the ball during an MLS soccer match between the New York City FC and the Orlando City SC at the Orlando Citrus Bowl on March 8, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
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Kaka is enjoying life in Florida.

The former Ballon d’Or winner is hoping to stay with Orlando City SC beyond the end of his contract, which runs its course after the 2017 season.

[ MORE: Real Madrid now winless in three ]

Kaka has been very good for the Lions, scoring 19 goals and 15 assists in 53 total matches. Reports had said he’s skip town after the third year of the deal, but Kaka refutes that idea.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“A misunderstanding because I am very happy here,” Kaká told reporters at MLS Media Day on Tuesday. “I had a three year contract, so this is the last year under this contract, but my idea is to stay here.

“Of course we never know what can happen at the end of the season or during the season, but my idea for now is to stay in Orlando and stay in the league.”

Kaka turns 35 in April, but has been consistently good even if injuries kept him to 24 MLS contests last season. If he puts forth a similar season, there’s little reason for Orlando — or another team — not to take a chance on Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite.

Gabriel Jesus cleared, could make Man City debut

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 20:  Gabriel Jesus of Palmeiras runs with the ball during the match between Palmeiras and Botafogo for the Brazilian Series A 2016 at Allianz Parque on November 20, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)
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Gabriel Jesus could go straight into Manchester City’s starting lineup.

The 19-year-old Brazilian has finally been cleared to suit up for the English side after finishing a title-winning campaign with Palmeiras.

With four goals in six caps for the Brazil national team and an Olympic gold medal with their U-23 side, Jesus is among the hottest prospects in the world.

[ MORE: City fifth in “Money League” ]

City is struggling, and the fresh injection of attacking talent could be music to the ears of boss Pep Guardiola (who, fun fact, celebrates his 46th birthday today).

From the Manchester Evening News:

“He’s a great player. Going to Europe is a good thing for a player. He will grow quicker, he will start to understand football in another way and also be respected inside the football scene.

“I guess that for Gabriel Jesus it was a good thing to leave Brazilian soccer, he did everything he had could in [Brazil]. He’s going to a very difficult, competitive [type of football] but I think that he can be successful.”

Jesus had 21 goals in 46 matches this season with Palmeiras.

Casemiro: “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose”

MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY 18:  Henrique Casemiro of Real Madrid heads the ball against Daniel Wass of Celta de Vigo during the Copa del Rey Quarter Final, First Leg match between Real Madrid CF and  Celta Vigo at Bernabeu on January 18, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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The pressure at Real Madrid can be overwhelming, and the players who thrive there generally have thick skin and short memories.

They also take losses pretty seriously.

That goes for the manager as well, as both Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane and Casemiro have reacted to Real’s third-straight non-win in serious fashion.

[ MORE: Real no longer No. 1 in money ]

Remember, this is coming after the first match of the “slump” — a 3-3 draw with Sevilla — was the final match of a world record 40-match unbeaten run.

Casemiro, whose record in the Real Madrid lineup is as good as anyone’s, said this (via Marca):

“Yes, it’s worrying to lose again,” he said just after the full-time whistle. “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose. The defeat against Sevilla has hurt us.”

And if you want to tell Casemiro to relax, that only one of those matches was in league play and the club still leads the table by a point with a match-in-hand on nearly everyone… well… enter Zidane.

“I’m the one responsible and I must find the solution,” he said in his post-match press conference. “I wasn’t surprised by the way Celta played, as we knew that they’re a team that can really hurt you. I’m not worried, although it’s a bad moment. We know that we can overcome it and we are going to overcome it.”

I’m far from a Real Madrid fan, and you can credit Florentino Perez’s ideas and the hanky-waving fans for a lot of that, but it’s impossible not admire how seriously Real takes the business of winning. And maybe, just maybe, the fan and board expectations occasionally help the squad.

Run-up shootouts, per-player match limits on FIFA’s agenda

Marco van Basten, Dutch football manager and former football player, poses for a photo on the green carpet while arriving prior to the The Best - FIFA Football Awards 2016 ceremony held at the Swiss TV studio in Zurich, Switzerland, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017.  (Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP)
Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP
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Restricting players to 60 games a year. Replacing penalty shootouts with eight-second run-ups. Introducing orange cards to send players off for 10 minutes. Scrapping offside.

Former AC Milan and Netherlands forward Marco van Basten is using his role as technical director at FIFA to propose a series of changes to soccer to stir a debate.

[ MORE: Costa back for Chelsea ]

Rather than using his job to meddle, Van Basten highlights the need to preserve soccer as the world’s most popular sport.

“I have spoken to a lot of coaches and players,” Van Basten said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We have to promote quality instead of quantity. We are playing too much football now. We have to defend players because they have to play so much and are not fresh or fit anymore.

“That’s bad for the quality of the game. Even in June when the big tournaments are played players cannot perform to their maximum because now if players are really successful they can play up to 75 official games in the year. I think that’s a bit too much and maybe they should stop at 55 or 60.”

Although FIFA will expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams from 2026, that won’t burden players with any additional games. Instead, clubs sides would have to explore reducing the number of fixtures, potentially by reducing the number of lucrative friendly games played on tours.

[ MORE: Real Madrid now winless in three ]

“That’s all for money but we have to think about football and not money,” said Van Basten, who was hired by FIFA in September. “For a lot of clubs that’s not easy. But there is enough money in football.

“(Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Lionel) Messi are earning so much money. If they are earning a little bit less but performing better that’s good for football.”

Asked about countries like England or France no longer playing two cup competitions alongside their league fixtures, Van Basten said: “In my opinion that should be an interesting discussion.”

Van Basten knows some of radical changes he proposed to the AP could make traditionalists uneasy. But the 1992 FIFA world player of the year wants to ensure the global game has a say on its future.

“We should not just let the game be organized by those with the money,” he said from FIFA HQ in Zurich. “The big clubs like Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Real Madrid who have everything.”

“In football you need opponents, competition because if you are alone with two or three clubs controlling everything you don’t have any competition.”

Here are some potential changes to soccer proposed by Van Basten:

PENALTY SHOOTOUTS

Rather than burdening players with an additional 30 minutes of action when cup games are level after 90 minutes, Van Basten is suggesting going straight to penalties.

“I think everybody is pretty tired after 120 minutes,” Van Basten said.

Now penalties are a test of nerves with players having one chance to beat the goalkeeper from the penalty spot.

“Maybe the player should start 25 meters from goal and then you can dribble the goalkeeper or shoot early,” he said. “But you have to make a goal within eight seconds. It’s more skill and less luck. It’s maybe a bit more spectacular. It’s more football but it’s still nervous for the player.”

NO OFFSIDE

Scrapping the offside rule could make soccer more visually appealing, Van Basten advises.

“I think it can be very interesting watching a game without offside,” he said. “Football now is already looking a lot like handball with nine or ten defenders in front of the goal. It’s difficult for the opposition to score a goal as it’s very difficult to create something in the small pieces of space they give you.

“So if you play without offside you get more possibilities to score a goal.”

FOUR QUARTERS

Soccer is increasingly intense and grueling, with a single 15-minute break between 45-minute halves.

“We are trying to help the game, to let the game develop in a good way,” Van Basten said. “We want to have a game which is honest, which is dynamic, a nice spectacle so we should try to do everything to help that process.”

Introducing four quarters could be advantageous.

“The coach can have three times with his players during the game,” Van Basten said.

SINBINS

Now there is no middle ground between players being shown a yellow card and receiving a red card and then being removed for the rest of the game.

“Maybe an orange card could be shown that sees a player go out of the game for 10 minutes for incidents that are not heavy enough for a red card,” Van Basten said.

Such an instance could be when a player commits repeat fouls that didn’t warrant yellow cards or obstruct opponents. Five misdemeanors could earn a player a place in a sin bin for 10 minutes, Van Basten said.

NEXT STEPS

Any changes to the laws of the game cannot be forced through by Van Basten, however close he is to FIFA President Gianni Infantino. He said he wants to listen to the views of world before any proposals are taken to the game’s law-making body, The International Football Association Board. FIFA controls half of the eight votes on IFAB, with the other four retained by the British associations.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports