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Lionel Messi injury leaves PSG-Barcelona result open to interpretation

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For the second straight round, Barcelona will return to Spain with more questions than answers. While today’s 90-minute score is far kinder to the Blaugrana than during their Round of 16 scare, today’s 2-2 draw at Paris Saint-Germain comes with four ominous words: Lionel Messi is hurt.

The Barcelona star came off at halftime after putting his team up 1-0 in the 38th minute. The final moments of his day were spent near the sideline pushing at what appeared to be a right hamstring problem.

With Cesc Fábregas on in the second half, Barça and PSG looked destined to take the one-goal game back to Catalonia. Then a late rush of goals left the sides on even footing: Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 78th minute goal fulled PSG even; a late Xavi Hernández penalty kick seemed to give Barcelona the win; but Blaise Matuidi’s stoppage time tally eventually provided PSG’s silver lining.

But until we know more about Messi’s injury, it’s impossible to put this result in context. If Messi can’t play eight days from now, Paris Saint-Germain are in great shape. True, they were drawn in their home leg and allowed two away goals, but for much of the match at the Parc de Princes, they seemed to be the better side. Messi’s opener against the run of play changed that dynamic, but with the teams even ahead of kickoff next Wednesday, PSG has reason to hope their plan can send them into the semifinals.

(MORE: Bayern worlds ahead of Juventus.)

Ancelotti’s plans go to waste

If Messi plays, however, that plan my prove as irrelevant as it was on Tuesday. So what if PSG were the better team over the first 38 minutes? Ezequiel Lavezzi’s shot off the woodwork in the fifth minute ultimately didn’t matter. Lucas Moura’s success down the right? Ibrahimovic’s 18th minute direct kick, forcing a diving stop from Víctor Valdes? Or the shot Ibrahimovic scuffed wide in the 25h after being set up eight yards?

source: APWith two pieces of gold in the 38th minute, Barcelona rendered all that insignificant. That’s when Daniel Alves, with the outside of this right foot, curled a ball over a defense pushing out from a corner kick. Messi sprinted by Moura and Javier Pastore, past a PSG defense that’d failed to reestablish its shape, and onto Alves’s ball. He drilled his left-footed volley into the ground, off Sirigu’s left post, and in for the opening goal.

As the teams went in for halftime, you couldn’t help but wonder what was going through the mind of Carlo Ancelotti, the PSG coach whose plan seemed so right from the get-go. His team was dropping very deep in defense, his back four willing to camp inside the penalty area long before Barcelona’s attack forced them to retreat. Ancelotti allowed his central defenders to come into midfield and challenge the withdrawn Messi, while the team’s counterattack was generating threat after threat with Moura on the right. Sometimes those threats resulted in shots on goal, other times they won free kicks that made the surprise selection of David Beckham seem prescient.

But just Lionel Messi can dominate a match (his Tuesday goal lifting his season total to a context-defying 59), the world’s best player can just as readily serve as an equalizer. For so many reasons, Paris Saint-Germain looked more likely to find the first goal, with Barcelona’s only hints of potential being Andrés Iniesta’s 20-plus-yard shots taken in front of a recoiling midfield. Yet with a sharp angle finish that did justice to the brilliant ball he was served, Messi’s moment of magic proved more valuable than 38 minutes from PSG’s 11 stars.

If it weren’t for Víctor Valdes’s work before the goal, Messi’s may not have been the opener. Defender Gerard Piqué was particularly strong, giving one of his better performances of the season. The near 70 percent possession Barça held during the first half also limited their exposure. And Alves’s pass? It was the best of the Champions League season.

But ultimately, it was Messi who made all that work pay off.

(MORE: Three goals in 15 minutes close PSG-Barça – Highlights)

source: Getty ImagesLate match explosion

Barça’s clean sheet was ruined in the 79th minute after being left to defend a restart without two defenders. Given how the ball was served, it’s unlikely Javier Mascherano or Jordi Alba (injured in the preceding sequence) could have helped when Thiago Silva provided the high point of his stand-out performance, uncoiling on a ball from 12 yards out. The resulting rebound off the left post came to Ibrahimovic, who pulled the Parisians even.

Barcelona regained their lead just before fulltime when Xavi Hernández converted from the spot, the penalty kick rewarded after a clumsy Sirigu takedown of Alexis Sanchez following a backheel from Fábregas. Yet minutes later, a ball knocked down by Ibrahimovic for Blaise Matuidi set up the midfielder for a deflected shot that beat Valdes.

The way PSG scored their goals will be particularly concerning to Barcelona. Defending aerial balls will always be a problem for them, but with Carles Puyol, it becomes a major liability. Silva’s play on the 79th minute restart came as Gerard Piqué and little else had to defend Silva, Alex, and Ibrahimovic. Then in stoppage time, a ball lofted from the right by Christophe Jallet allowed Ibrahimovic to set up Matuidi.

(MORE: Highlights of Bayern’s cruise past Juve.)

Just deserts and moving on

A sliver of controversy will follow the tie to Barcelona, with Ibrahimovic appearing to have been offside position ahead of his goal. Yet the result was no less than the Parisians deserved. While the teams played an even match after Messi’s opener, it was PSG that came out the better team with a superior plan. Had they broken through with one of their early chances, Barcelona would have been left to solve an often debilitating scenario: Breaking down a deep, tightly organized team with a group particularly ill-equipped to bust bunkers.

But thanks to Messi, Barcelona got on the board first, a fact that brings us full circle. Until we know Messi’s status for leg two, it’s impossible to assess the value of today’s result. If he’s healthy, Barcelona did well to get two goals in Paris. If he can’t go, they may be left wishing they’d got more than one score in the 45 minutes where they had their star.

CONMEBOL declare Chapecoense as 2016 Copa Sudamericana champions

ADDS NAMES - In this Nov. 2, 2016 photo, players of Brazil's Chapecoense team pose before a Copa Sudamericana soccer match against Argentina's San Lorenzo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Top row from left, goalkeeper Marcos Danilo Padilha, Bruno Rangel Domingues, Helio Hermito Zampier Neto, Cleber Santana Loureiro, Willian Thiago. Bottom row from left, Guilherme Gimenez de Souza, Ananias Eloi Castro Monteiro, Tiago "Tiaguinho" Da Rocha Vieira, Matheus Bitencourt da Silva, Dener Assuncao Braz and Jose "Gil" Gildeixon Clemente de Paiva. A plane carrying the Brazilian soccer club Chapecoense team that was on it's way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia's Atletico Nacional crashed in a mountainous area outside Medellin, Colombian officials said Tuesday, Nov. 29. (AP Photo/Gustavo Garello)
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Chapecoense have officially been crowned as the 2016 Copa Sudamericana champions.

The Brazilian Serie A club tragically lost 19 players, plus its head coach and many of its backroom staff and directors in a charter plane crash last Monday in Colombia as Chapecoense traveled to play Atletico Nacional in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final.

[ MORE: Latest on Chapecoense tragedy ]

In total, 71 of the 77 passengers on board died as the plane was reportedly short on fuel and suffered a complete electrical failure leading it to crash in a mountainous region just south of Medellin, Colombia.

Now, following a request from Atletico Nacional to award the trophy (the South American equivalent of the UEFA Europa League) to Chapecoense, the title has been officially ratified by CONMEBOL, the governing body of soccer in South America.

In a statement on their website, CONMEBOL confirmed that Chapecoense would receive the trophy and “all the honors and prerogatives of the 2016 South American Cup Champion” which go along with it.

CONMBEOL stated that the decision was made after they received a latter on Nov. 30 from Atletico Nacional asking “to hand over the title of the South American Cup to Chapecoense to honor its great loss and to act as a posthumous homage to the victims of the fatal accident.”

The governing body also confirmed that Atletico Nacional had been awarded a “Centennial Conmebol Fair Play award” for their remarkable act of fair play in such tragic circumstances.

Since the tragedy which has shocked the world occurred, the soccer community has come together to honor Chapecoense.

Last Wednesday, on the night the game between Chapecoense and Atletico Nacional should have taken place, fans of Nacional packed the stadium in Colombia and honored the victims in a memorial service and songs. Brazilian soccer has also acted to propose that Chapecoense is immune from relegation from Brazil’s top-flight for three seasons, plus plenty of the biggest clubs in the nation have said they will not charge loan fees for players if Chapecoense needs them.

The team from the small city of Chapeco in southern Brazil was on the verge of its greatest ever week as a club as they had battled up from the fourth-tier of Brazilian soccer in 2009 to the final of a continental tournament in 2016.

Now, they’ve been crowned the champions of the Copa Sudamericana to honor Chapecoense’s players, staff and all of those lost in the tragedy.

Victims in British sex-abuse scandal unite, call for justice

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 04:  An aerial view of Wembley Stadium on November 4, 2009 in London, England. The UK's capital city is home to an population of over 7.5 million people, it has the world's oldest and most extensive underground train network and it's airspace is the busiest of any city.  (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) The man whose harrowing testimony of being sexually abused by a youth coach sparked an ongoing crisis in English soccer wants to take the issue to a global level.

“I can’t even begin to give you the numbers of people contacting me directly, not just footballers and ex-footballers but members of the public,” Andy Woodward told The Associated Press on Monday. “It’s everywhere.”

If he’s not too weary by the sheer scale of the scandal he helped to uncover, Woodward will fly to New York on Wednesday to speak to an American broadcaster about his 30-year journey from abused youth player to an inspiration to millions.

“I personally know that in America, there are certain things which have potentially happened there,” Woodward said. “It’s just about reaching out to everyone.”

Woodward was the first of a growing list of former soccer players to go public over the past three weeks about the ordeals they went through as youngsters.

The effect has been bigger than they could ever have imagined.

About 450 people have reported incidents of child sexual abuse at soccer clubs to 18 British police forces. A hotline set up by a children’s charity in response to sex abuse claims has taken about 1,000 calls in little more than a week. At least 55 clubs, professional and amateur, have been implicated in the story.

On Saturday, Chelsea – the current leader of the English Premier League and one of the biggest clubs in the country – apologized to a former player who was sexually abused while a member of the club’s youth team and who was paid 50,000 pounds ($77,500) to keep the matter out of the public domain.

The English Football Association, meanwhile, has started an internal review to re-examine its response to convictions of soccer coaches in the 1990s.

All this because Woodward was brave enough, after decades of anguish and soul-searching, to break his silence.

“I have no words for the emotion about how I feel about it all,” Woodward told the AP. “In my stomach, I knew there was a lot more (victims) out there.”

The scandal is sure to get bigger.

On Monday, Woodward and other victims launched an independent trust to support players – and their families – who have suffered from child abuse. The aim of the “Offside Trust” is to create a support network for victims, and establish a united front in the search for justice.

“We can’t let that happen again,” Woodward said at an emotionally charged news conference in Manchester. “We need to let players from this beautiful game we’ve got to be able to be free from (our) horrible experience and go on to be those footballers they are aspiring to be.”

Comments from a lawyer who sat alongside Woodward at the news conference, and who is helping to run the trust, sparked renewed concern about the scope of the scandal.

Ed Smethurst, managing director of law firm Prosperity Law LLP, said he was aware of other cases where soccer clubs have used confidentiality clauses in settlements with victims of sexual abuse. Smethurst also said he knows of people still involved in coaching who victims have spoken about and “certainly need further investigation.”

Woodward and other victims have become like a family. Clearly tense before the news conference, he and fellow victim Steve Walters embraced and nervously sipped water.

Walters – the second person to go public about sexual abuse he suffered as a young player – broke down at one stage, and didn’t want to answer certain questions.

“I’ve had over 50 different players get in touch with me (about abuse they suffered),” Walters told the AP afterward. “Some have been professionals, some are still in the game now, a lot of them have fallen by the wayside.

“There are sad stories that people have turned to drink, had broken relationships, one or two have had mental breakdowns. People don’t realize the mental torture it provides for you.”

Walters said a Belgian player contacted him to speak about his experience of being abused as a youngster, and that he has also spoken to people from Canada, the United States and Australia.

There are two things Walters and the others want to come out of all this.

“We want justice,” Walters said. “And we want our future children, especially those involved in sports, to be protected so something like this can never ever happen to a child again.”

After talks, struggling West Ham to stand by Slaven Bilic

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 07:  Manager Slaven Bilic of West Ham United reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Swansea City at the Boleyn Ground, May 7, 2016, London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Slaven Bilic has been given the dreaded vote of confidence by West Ham’s owners…

[ MORE: Chelsea, Man City charged by FA ]

Reports have stated that Bilic has met with Hammers co-owner David Gold and David Sullivan following the 5-1 defeat to Arsenal on Saturday and they believe the Croatian coach can still turn things around. Other reports suggested Bilic could be fired after a dreadful start to his second season in charge of the Hammers.

In simple terms, this is season is a pretty epic sophomore slump for Bilic after he led West Ham to a seventh place finish last season with the Hammers flirting with the top four for most of the campaign.

West Ham currently sit just one point off the relegation zone and have lost three of their last five Premier League games, plus their much-maligned move to the London Stadium has added to the air of negativity engulfing the east London club.

In a statement posted on West Ham’s website, co-owner Sullivan had the following to say

I saw Slaven’s comments after the game and as always he was completely honest with his assessment. Slaven cares passionately about the Football Club and this defeat will be hurting him as much as anyone. I have no doubts that he is doing everything he can to address the situation and everyone is working together to ensure we turn our season around. We cannot forget the amazing job that Slaven did in his first season at the Club.

With a bit more luck he could have taken us into the top four. His passion, commitment and outstanding track record at the highest level were among the many reasons we appointed Slaven in the summer of 2015. Despite what some people have said, there is still a great spirit among the players and everyone is working towards the same objective. We all need to stick together and get behind the team. We are all part of the West Ham United family and in hard times families pull together.

Bilic was bullish following the defeat to Arsenal but he was also honest, questioning the lack of intensity in training from his players since the summer and he acknowledge that he is under pressure to turn things around.

“I am a very positive, open person. I tried to be open and honest here. I am very optimistic. I never give up,” Bilic told the media after the defeat against Arsenal. “I was that kind of a player, I am positive. I can turn this around. Do I enjoy being in this situation? No I don’t enjoy it. Do I feel the pressure? Yeah. But it’s not about the pressure. I don’t want to feel like I do now. Did I do enough last season for West Ham to get some credit? I think I did. At the same time, I’m 48 and I’ve spent all of my life in football. I now how it works in football. Do I like my job? Yes I like it.”

This can go one of two ways for the former West Ham defender. The backing of the owners and chairmen will be a relief to him, yet we will see just how supportive they are between now and early January as a pivotal stretch of games arrive.

After West Ham’s trip to Liverpool this weekend they face four big games against fellow relegation rivals Burnley, Hull City, Swansea City and Leicester City.

Anything other than 9-10 points from the four games against fellow strugglers and it could be goodbye Bilic.

FA charge Man City, Chelsea with failing to control players

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Following the almighty melee which broke out in the closing stages of Chelsea’s 3-1 win at Manchester City, both clubs have been charged by the FA.

[ MORE: Aguero gets four games ]

Sergio Aguero’s late lunging tackle in David Luiz (which earned the Man City striker a four-game ban) sparked the mass brawl and in the melee which ensued Fernandinho was sent off for pushing and grabbing Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas around the neck as City finished the game with nine men.

The FA also stated that Chelsea’s Fabregas will face no further action for his part in the coming together with Fernandinho, as alternate camera angles appeared to show him hit City’s Brazilian midfielder in the face.

Below is the statement in full from the FA on the brawl, plus Fabregas’ involvement:


Both Manchester City and Chelsea have been charged for failing to ensure their players conducted themselves in an orderly fashion and/or refrained from provocative behaviour. 

It follows an incident in the 95th minute of the game on Saturday 3 December.

Both clubs have until 6pm on 8 December 2016 to respond to the charge.

Meanwhile, Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas will not face any further action in relation to an incident involving City’s Fernandinho.

Off the ball incidents which are not seen at the time by the match officials are referred to a panel of three former elite referees.

Each referee panel member will review the video footage independently of one another to determine whether they consider it a sending-off offence.

For retrospective action to be taken, and an FA charge to follow, the decision of the panel must be unanimous.

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