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Germany to dominate for the next decade

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Soccer comes in cycles. Certain countries produce generations of exceptional players then suddenly one day it stops.

The all-star, World Cup-winning group of Iker Casillas, Carles Puyol, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Villa, among others, are now either in their 30s or late 20s, and there is a feeling that their dominance of the international game will end at next summer’s World Cup in Brazil. They have won three major tournaments in a row, but all good things have to come to an end at some point.

Lurking behind them are the Germans, who look set to take over Spain’s empire at the top of international soccer.

You only have to see this season’s Champions League to appreciate just how many young Germany stars are emerging. After they were knocked out of the European Championships in 2000, the German Football Association overhauled their youth development system, and that decision is now looking like a great one.

GOALKEEPER

Manuel Neuer is not only Germany’s undisputed first-choice ‘keeper, he’s also one of the top three in the world. The 27-year-old is young in goalkeeping terms, and has a decade in the national side ahead of him still. The likes of Rene Adler and Ron-Robert Zieler are good, young reserves to Neuer.

DEFENSE

Mats Hummels is the main star of Germany’s defense, and the 24-year-old has the look of a future Germany captain about him. He has shone for Dortmund in the Champions League, and his poise, elegance and stature make him a hugely formidable player. Marcel Schmelzer, again of Dortmund, is a very solid left-back, while the Bayern Munich duo of Holger Badstuber and Jerome Boateng, both also 24, complete the first-choice future back four. The experience of players like Philipe Lahm, Per Mertesacker and Marcel Jansen remain, but they won’t be around forever.

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MIDFIELD

With the brilliant Bastian Schweinsteiger nearing 30, his place in the German side is slowly coming under threat. His midfield partner, Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira, is only just 26 and he has years ahead of him. The most impressive young midfielder is Dortmund’s Ilkay Gundogan, who looks a superb prospect. He can do everything: pass, tackle, shoot, header. He is the complete midfielder. At 22 he could be around for many years while Sven Bender his 23-year-old Dortmund teammate is also a very good defensive midfielder.

OFFENSE

The offensive area of the pitch is the most exciting for Germany, where they have many great youngsters. Mesut Ozil, despite his experience, is still just 24 and will get better and better with age. Playing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid will only help his development. Tony Kroos and Thomas Muller and both only in their early 20s but are regulars for Bayern, keeping the likes of Arjen Robben out of the side at times. Both are very good technically and score plenty of goals. Dortmund’s magnificent duo of Mario Gotze and Marco Reus are perhaps even more impressive. Both are just 20 and 23 respectively, and are being spoken of as potential ‘top 5 players in the world’ material. For all their great depth of youngsters, these two are the real stars. Keep an eye on 19-year-old Julian Draxler too.

While the 2014 World Cup may come to soon for this brilliant German side, with South American conditions favouring Brazil and Argentina, there is no doubt that they could dominate international soccer for many years to come.

AEK Athens beats Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) AEK Athens defeated Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0 in an ill-tempered game on Sunday that saw 12 yellow cards and two dismissals.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win of season ]

Astrit Ajdarevic scored the only goal in the 34th minute with a free kick that deflected off Olympiakos defender Manuel da Costa.

Olympiakos’ athletic director Francois Modesto was sent to the stands for protesting about the lead-up to AEK’s goal. His team’s central defender Alberto Botia was dismissed after a second yellow card in the 75th for pulling an advancing AEK forward’s jersey.

Despite the defeat, its second of the season, Olympiakos has a 10-point cushion over second-place Panionios, which beat 10-man Iraklis 1-0.

PAOK, a 4-0 winner over Veria, remains in third place, one point ahead of Panathinaikos, which beat Asteras 5-0 on Saturday. AEK is joint fifth with Xanthi.

PSG drops points against Toulouse days after massive UCL win

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 14:  Julian Draxler of Paris Saint-Germain looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona at Parc des Princes on February 14, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Just days after its massive (and somewhat unexpected) beatdown of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain failed to close the gap on league leaders Monaco.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win ]

PSG settled for a 0-0 draw on Sunday at the Parc des Princes against eighth-place Toulouse, leaving the Parisian side three points behind Monaco through 26 rounds of action.

[ MORE: Bielsa returns to Ligue 1 with Lille ]

Despite holding the visitors to just three shots (one on target), Toulouse managed to contain a rampant PSG attack, which posted four goals midweek in their rout of the Blaugrana.

PSG’s first strong chance came in the 14th minute when Lucas Moura’s effort was saved in the bottom corner by goalkeeper Alban Lafont.

Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani may have had the game’s best opportunity to break the deadlock when the Uruguayan attacker struck the post from inside the penalty area.

Unai Emery’s group will be back in action on Feb. 26 when PSG travels to Dimitri Payet and Marseille.

Wenger worried over Sutton’s pitch heading Monday’s clash

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 16:  Pundits Paul Merson (4L) and Matt Le Tissier (2L) take part in a training session alongside Paul Doswell manager of Sutton United (L) and players during a Sutton United FA Cup media day on February 16, 2017 at the Borough Sports Ground in Sutton, Greater London. Sutton United are due to face Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup Fifth round on 20 February.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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The story of Monday’s encounter between Arsenal and fifth-division Sutton United will be whether the minnows can overcome the mighty Gunners.

[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” against Blackburn ]

However, Arsene Wenger already fears a bigger challenge within the game, one that concerns his players’ safety.

Sutton’s 5,000-seat Gander Green Lane features an artificial surface, which is largely uncommon for English and most European venues regardless of club standing.

“First of all the pitch. Secondly their enthusiasm. Thirdly that we are not ready mentally for a big fight and think subconsciously that it doesn’t matter,” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s FA Cup meeting in South London.

In preparation for their meeting with the U’s, Wenger had his side train on their own indoor artificial field on Friday.

“Look, ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. Competition is as well to deal with what you face, and we’ll face an unusual pitch and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.

“We practice inside [on Friday] because we have an artificial pitch. It’s not the same as it’s a dry pitch, and at Sutton I’ve heard that’s a wet pitch, they water it before the game. So it will be much quicker than what we have.”

Leipzig beats ‘Gladbach 2-1, cuts Bayern’s Bundesliga lead

Leipzig's scorer Willi Orban, center, and his teammates celebrate their side's 2nd goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between RB Leipzig and Hertha BSC Berlin in Leipzig, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
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BERLIN (AP) Leipzig held on for a 2-1 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach to cut Bayern Munich’s lead in the Bundesliga to five points on Sunday.

[ MORE: Messi rescues Barca, Pescara wins second Serie A match ]

Emil Forsberg scored one and set up another for the promoted side to end its two-game losing streak and stay on course for Champions League qualification with its 14th win of the season.

[ MORE: Bielsa makes Ligue 1 return, joins Lille as new manager ]

`Gladbach `keeper Yann Sommer pulled off a brilliant fingertip save to deny Marcel Sabitzer early on, but he was powerless to stop Forsberg from breaking the deadlock after half an hour played.

Sabitzer and Timo Werner played their way through the static `Gladbach defense and Werner laid the ball off for the Sweden midfielder to fire inside the bottom left corner.

The home side was given a lifeline when Marvin Compper brought down Lars Stindl and referee Felix Zwayer pointed to the spot, but Peter Gulacsi saved Thorgan Hazard‘s penalty before the break.

More poor defending allowed Werner grab the second 10 minutes after the break, firing inside the far post after Forsberg played him through.

Jannik Vestergaard pulled one back with a powerful header from a corner to set up an exciting finale. However, six minutes of injury time were not enough for an equalizer.

Leipzig had kicked off to a chorus of whistles from the home fans, who then mostly stayed silent till the 19th minute in protest against the visiting side. Huge banners in the north stand said “Traditional club since 1900” – an apparent protest against Leipzig, founded in 2009 when Austrian energy-drink billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz rebranded a fifth-tier team with his company’s livery before financing its steady promotion through the lower leagues.

COLOGNE 1, SCHALKE 1

Cologne stopped Schalke’s progress but the point was enough for the visiting side to overtake `Gladbach on goal difference in 10th.

Alessandro Schoepf got the visitors off to a flying start in the second minute with the help of the left post, and Leon Goretzka hit the post after half an hour with the home side still struggling to get into the game.

But Anthony Modeste equalized before the break with a fine strike inside the far post, and might even have scored again just minutes later, when his hesitation allowed Benedikt Hoewedes get back and clear.

Guido Burgstaller came closest to a winner for Schalke in the second half, his shot just wide of the far post after beating the goalkeeper.