John Arne Riise retires from international football – leaves Norway with five World Cup Qualifiers to play

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The man they call ‘Thunderbolt’ will no longer be banging in shots from distance for Norway as John Arne Riise announced his international retirement on Monday.

The 32 year old left-back goes out as Norway’s most-capped player ever with 110 appearances. Riise made his debut for the Drillos against Iceland in January 2000 and went on to score his first international goal against Turkey in a friendly the following month. Over the ensuing decade Riise solidified his spot as Norway’s first-choice left-back. In last August’s match against Greece, Riise played his 104th match for Norway, equalling the 50 year old record held by Thorbjørn Svenssen.

Riise claims his decision to quit international football was because he recognized he was in the final phase of his career and wanted to fully focus on club football at Fulham. “After a lot of thought I’ve decided not to continue with international football,” Riise said in a statement on Monday.

“I am going into the final stage of my career and I’m at an age where I have to take a clear decision if I want to achieve my final goal, to play another four or five years in Europe.”

While Norwegian Football Association president Yngve Hallen was gracious in his receipt of the news – noting that “[Riise’s] contribution on the pitch has been formidable,” – the ginger has chosen an interesting time to retire.

With just five matches remaining in FIFA World Cup Qualifying, Norway sits in fourth place in Group E, just five points behind group leader Switzerland and two adrift of Iceland and Albania. It’s a position that many would feel Norway could take advantage of as they try to qualify for their first World Cup since 1998. Furthermore, the fact that Riise has never participated in a World Cup makes the decision even more surprising.

Like many players on the wrong side of 30, Riise’s decision makes financial sense. By freeing himself of international football he decreases the strain on his legs, increasing the likelihood that he can continue to perform well for Fulham and earn himself one more contract to pad that bank account.

 

Europa League Preview: Everton, Milan look to make group stage

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Everton look to make it back into the Europa League group stage for the first time since the 2014-2015 season and it has a two-goal advantage heading into the second leg of its tie.

Ronald Koeman and co. travel to Croatia to face Hadjuk Split Thursday having won the first leg at Goodison Park, 2-0. Everton is coming off a hard-fought draw on Monday with Manchester City and will be on short rest heading into the match.

Elsewhere in Europa League action, AC Milan take its 6-0 aggregate lead to Skopje, Macedonia as the legendary club looks to return to the group stage of a European competition for the first time since 2013-2014.

Here’s a look at all of Thursday’s Europa League matches, with the current aggregate scores:

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EFL Cup Rewind: Southampton, Newcastle knocked out by Championship sides

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Last season, Southampton made it to the EFL Cup final. This year, it’s a different story.

The Saints were bounced by Wolverhampton Wanderers, 2-0 at home on Wednesday in the second round of the cup. Joining Southampton of Premier League sides going home early was Newcastle, which lost 3-2 after extra time at home against Nottingham Forest.

Four other Premier League sides did advance to the third round, as Stoke City, Huddersfield Town, West Ham United and Burnley all won their fixtures.

Here’s a look at the rest of Wednesday’s EFL Cup action:

Blackburn 0-2 Burnley

Cheltenham 0-2 West Ham

Huddersfield 2-1 Rotherham

Newcastle 2-3 Nottingham Forest

Southampton 0-2 Wolverhampton

Stoke City 4-0 Rochdale

Breaking down who each Premier League team could face in the UCL Group Stage

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The UEFA Champions League group stage lineup is complete, with five Premier League clubs making the list.

On Wednesday, Liverpool joined Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United in the group stage after beating Hoffenheim, 6-3 on aggregate in the playoff qualification round.

Thursday’s Champions League draw (2 p.m. ET) will place clubs into groups of four, where they’ll play three matches at home and away.

Here’s a look at the four coefficient pots and who each Premier League club could face:

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Follow Live – Texas Derby, Cascadia Cup headline busy night of MLS action

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Welcome to MLS Rivalry Week.

The surging Houston Dynamo could move to first place in the Western Conference with a win over rivals FC Dallas while the current first-place side, the Seattle Sounders travel north and across the border to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The Dynamo have made an impressive turnaround under coach Wilmer Cabrera and he’ll have the trio of Ricardo Clark, Alberth Elis and star forward Erick Torres available to face Dallas after missing the Dynamo’s match at Vancouver last weekend, which ended 2-1 in favor of the Whitecaps.

FC Dallas are in its worst form of the season, winless in its last four games, but the team will be extra motivated to beat its rivals.

El Capitan is on the line after draws between FC Dallas and the Dynamo in two matches earlier this season.

Meanwhile up in Vancouver, the Whitecaps host a Sounders squad that pulled out a last-gasp victory last weekend over Minnesota United. While the team is in great form on the road recently (two wins and two draws), the top story heading into the game is the unexpected absence of Joevin Jones, who left the Sounders for his home in Trinidad and Tobago ahead of the upcoming international break.

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On the other side, Fredy Montero faces his former club and carries an interesting record into Wednesday’s match. Of his 35 MLS goals, 11 have been scored against Cascadia Cup competition.

Here’s a look at Wednesday’s action:

Full schedule

Columbus Crew vs. LA Galaxy – 7:30 p.m. ET

D.C. United vs. Atlanta United – 7:30 p.m.ET

FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo – 8 p.m. ET

Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union – 8 p.m. ET

Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes – 10 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Seattle Sounders – 10 p.m. ET

Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids – 10:30 p.m. ET