Champions League Preview: Real Madrid, Galatasaray already looking past Tuesday in Istanbul

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José Mourinho is on the verge of his fourth consecutive semifinal. In the nine UEFA Champions League knockout stages he’s been in since qualifying Porto for the 2003-04 competition, Mourinho has guided four different teams to six semifinals, taking two titles. If there’s anybody who can assess his odds of winning Real Madrid’s decima, it’s the Special One.

“Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus and Bayern München are one step ahead of the others,” he said on Monday. “I give each of these teams a 25 percent chance of winning the Champions League.”

Only one of Juventus and Bayern will advance after their Wednesday meeting, but given Mourinho seems to be underrating Borussia Dortmund (a team Real went 0-1-1 against in group stage), 25 percent sounds reasonable enough. If there’s something significant separating the contenders from Germany and Spain, we’re not seeing it.

All of which is pretty dismissive of Galatasaray, Real Madrid’s Tuesday opponent. The Merengues may be up 3-0 after last Wednesday’s opening leg at the Bernabeu, but as Mourinho’s told his players, the match isn’t necessarily over. Right?

“I told my players that a team who won the first match 3-0 may lose the second by the same result. I said anything is possible …”

But although anything can happen in Turkey, there’s little to suggest anything remarkable will occur. Beyond the massive talent gap between the two sides, there’s history – our best indication of the challenges ahead in Istanbul. Real Madrid lost their previous Champions League knockout round trip to Galatasaray, 3-2 in 2002. The only other time a team’s traveled to Istanbul this late in the competition, Chelsea lost at Fenerbahçe, 2-1 in 2008.

For his part, Gala manager Fatih Terim sounds like he’s already putting things in perspective, the tone of his comments suggesting he’s begun consolidating his team’s accomplishments:

“When you analysz the 24 teams that have already been eliminated in the competition, Galatasaray’s achievements can be better understood.”

In other words, don’t compare us to the team we’re playing on Tuesday, a team we really don’t have a hope of beating. Compare us to the 24 teams who didn’t make it this far. Or the hundreds of teams that didn’t even qualify for the competition! They’re not even good enough to not be good enough for Real.

“I would like to thank all my players,” Terim said Monday, seemingly reading from a concession speech. “Anything is possible in football but when you are playing against Real Madrid things are not so easy.”

So I guess you’re saying we should watch the game, right Fatih?

Notes

  • Despite making seven changes, Real Madrid rolled this weekend, handing Levante a 5-1 loss at the Bernabeu.
  • Galatasaray made the fewest changes of any Champions League team in beating Mersin Idmanyurdu, 3-1. With seven players retained in Terim’s starting lineup, Gala may make significant changes against Real.
  • You may have heard: Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso are out for this one. Luka Modric and Pepe may take their places, though Pepe will give way to Raul Albiol if his hamstring doesn’t respond to treatment.
  • Iker Casillas will be back in the team, though he won’t play unless Diego López goes down.
  • Like Alonso and Ramos, Burak Yilmaz is out for Gala, a huge blow for a team that’s scored only 11 times in the competition. He has eight of them. Johan Elmander will get the start.
  • Central defender Dany Nounkeu is also out, having accumulated too many yellows. Hakan Balta could get the call in the middle.

Possible Lineups

Galatasaray (4-3-1-2): Fernando Muslera; Albert Riera, Hakan Balta, Semih Kaya, Emmanuel Eboué; Selcuk Inan, Felipe Melo, Hamit Altintop; Wesley Sneijder; Didier Drogba, Johan Elmander

Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Diego López; Fabio Coentrao; Raphael Varane, Raul Albiol, Michael Essien; Luka Modric, Sami Khedira; Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria; Karim Benzema.

CONMEBOL WCQ: Venezuela, Bolivia teetering on elimination

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CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying is always a challenge, and this World Cup cycle is no different.

With six teams currently separated by a mere five points under leaders Brazil, everything is left to play for as Round 14 hits South America.

[ MORE: Messi could face suspension from CONMEBOL ]

Here’s a look at what’s on the docket for Tuesday:

Bolivia vs. Argentina — 4 p.m. EDT

It wasn’t pretty at all, but La Albiceleste picked up a crucial three points against Chile, which could produce a morale lift for Argentina given their past struggles against the reigning Copa America holders.

Lionel Messi’s actions from the match could harm the Albiceleste though, with the Barcelona man reportedly facing sanctions from CONMEBOL for verbally abusing a linesman.

Meanwhile, Bolivia is in desperate need of a win in La Paz, and anything but three points could potentially end La Verde’s hopes of reaching Russia 2018.

Ecuador vs. Colombia — 5 p.m. EDT

It took a long time for Colombia to crack the Bolivia backline on Thursday but a late run from Juan Cuadrado helped set up the eventual winner from James Rodriguez, and kept Los Cafeteros in the top four.

Ecuador didn’t have the same fortunes though four days ago after falling to a very game Paraguay side. La Tricolor have gone winless in three of its last four World Cup qualifiers, leaving Gustavo Quinteros side with little margin of error against the Colombians.

Chile vs. Venezuela — 6 p.m. EDT

Chile’s qualifying struggles continued on Thursday after falling to La Albiceleste in a closely-contested match. Arturo Vidal’s six goals leave the Bayern Munich midfielder third in all of CONMEBOL this campaign, but the Chileans still sit on the outside looking in at the moment and in sixth place.

Venezuela is teetering on the edge of elimination, and a loss against Chile would all but seal their fate of missing out the World Cup. After reaching the quarterfinals at last summer’s Copa America Centenario, La Vinotinto have failed to replicate that form this qualifying campaign with just one win to show.

Top scorer Josef Martinez is no longer with Venezuela after suffering an injury in Thursday’s 2-2 draw against Peru, creating a major void in the side’s attack.

Brazil vs. Paraguay — 8:45 p.m. EDT

The Selecao continue to score at a lightning pace this qualifying campaign with 32 goals in the first 13 rounds of play. Despite conceding early to Uruguay on Thursday, Brazil responded emphatically with four goals, and most notably Paulinho‘s hat-trick.

Elsewhere, Paraguay kept itself within striking distance of the top five after its 2-1 win over Ecuador. The side is just two points behind fifth place Ecuador.

Peru vs. Uruguay — 10:15 p.m. EDT

Los Incas have not reached a World Cup since 1982, and although the team is just five points behind fifth, they need to pick up victories. Ricardo Gareca will be pleased with his side’s resiliency against Venezuela on Thursday, but more draws simply won’t do with only four rounds remaining after Tuesday.

Uruguay still sits in a solid second position after Thursday’s slip up against Brazil but another defeat could be potentially disastrous for La Celeste, who are just three points above sixth place Chile. However, Edinson Cavani’s nine goals leads all of CONMEBOL and Peru has allowed the third-most goals this campaign (22).

Ugly scene forces Ivory Coast-Senegal match to be abandoned

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Monday’s international friendly between Ivory Coast and Senegal turned out to be anything but that when the match was interrupted towards the tail end.

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

The fixture was abandoned with two minutes remaining in regulation after pitch invaders disrupted the the match by getting past security guards and began chasing after players from both sides.

The score was level at 1-1 in the 88th minute when the disruptions occurred, causing the referee to halt play at the Stade Sebastien Charlety in Paris.

One of the intruders even managed to tackle Senegalese defender Lamine Gassama (as shown in the picture to the right).

Liverpool’s Sadio Mane gave Senegal the lead minutes into the second stanza after he converted from the penalty spot, while Cyriac Gohi Bi leveled the score at one apiece just minutes later.

Messi could face CONMEBOL suspension for verbal abusing official

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Already facing some uncertainty with a depleted roster, Argentina could face a significantly greater challenge.

[ MORE: Aguero left out of Argentina starting XI vs. Bolivia ]

Barcelona star Lionel Messi could face suspension after reportedly verbally abusing linesman Marcelo Van Gasse during the second half of Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile.

UPDATED: Fox Sports Argentina is reporting that Messi will receive a two to four match suspension and will be effective for tomorrow’s match against Bolivia.

Messi was reported to CONMEBOL for yelling, “F*** off, your mother’s c***” at Van Gasse and refused to shake the official’s hand at the end of the match.

The officiating crew from the match didn’t initially include Messi’s rant in the post-match report, however, it was added on Monday and submitted to CONMEBOL.

The South American federation must now decide if and when it will punish Messi for his reported actions, and there is the potential that the world-class attacker could be suspended for Tuesday’s clash against Bolivia if the federation acts quickly.

There are several other scenarios though for CONMEBOL to action, including disregarding Messi’s verbal assault.

La Albiceleste currently sit third in World Cup qualifying on 22 points.

Arena speaks about USMNT turnaround, says “no secret formulas”

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It’s only been one competitive match since Bruce Arena regained control of the U.S. Men’s National Team and there’s already been a noticeable difference in form.

[ MORE: Three keys for the USMNT ahead of Panama clash ]

The former LA Galaxy manager wouldn’t have you believe that though following Friday night’s convincing 6-0 victory over Honduras in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

“It’s nothing I can write a book on,” Arena said about his team’s turnaround in form against Honduras. “You have a sense of your group, and you go about doing your business. There’s no secret formulas to this stuff. Work together, take ownership in what you’re doing, treat them like responsible professional athletes, and you get on with your business.

He added, “They want to be successful. They want to play in a World Cup. Is that a recipe for success? I don’t know. I’m sure Honduras wants to play in a World Cup too.”

Arena, who took over for Jurgen Klinsmann following the U.S.’ collapse during the first two matches of the Hexagonal, is unbeaten in his first three games in charge since getting his job back with the Stars and Stripes.

Although there has been a considerable turnaround in the way the USMNT has performed in the first three matches of 2017, Arena wouldn’t stoop to comparing his style to that of Klinsmann.

“I’m not doing anything differently,” he said. “I’m not taking a survey [of the players]. I know it’s different. We lose tomorrow, there will be articles written that, ‘This a—— is letting these guys run loose.'”

“I have spent no time on the past. There’s nothing I can do about it. I kind of have a sense about things, but there’s no point in me spending time investigating what went on in the past. The idea was to get it going the right way from the start.”

Arena’s next test with the U.S. will be on Tuesday when the Yanks travel to Panama City to take on Panama.