Retired Germany striker says Bundesliga is now best in Europe…but is it really?

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Former German international Oliver Bierhoff has told Kicker that he believes the Champions League final is a piece of proof that the German Bundesliga may be taking over as the best league in Europe.

Bierhoff said, “Of course, Bayern and Dortmund stand out particularly. However, if one compares all of the leagues, the Bundesliga is also in position one in terms of the quality of games. Investments that were made by the DFB 10 years ago, in infrastructure, in training the coach and the players, bear fruit on a wide scaleDespite the euphoria, I’m cautious, but it might be a spark, and perhaps the beginning of a changing of the guard.”

He also made reference to the consistency of Bayern in the European competition as a boasting point.  “The fact that Bayern Munich in the last four years have reached the final three times is no coincidence. Football [in Germany] has evolved continuously and on the international level. This must now be confirmed in the coming months and years, but I’m quite optimistic.”

Obviously Bierhoff is a touch biased, but is he right? It’s not an easily answered question, and often depends on whether you value top clubs or depth more.

The most sought-after club rankings, those done by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS), come out every February, so they’re not entirely up to date.  But those have 3 Spanish clubs (Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid) in the top 7.  You have to go down to #12 to find the next country with three clubs on the list, and that’s Brazil.  If depth is your calling card, the top 50 is quite well-distributed.  Spain has 6 clubs, England owns 5, Germany with 4, Italy with 4, and France has 3.

Some believe those rankings don’t take into consideration Europe’s dominance – at least in terms of worldwide exposure – so looking specifically at Europe, UEFA’s rankings offer another outlet, but it’s still a question of top-level vs. depth.  Plus, they use the last 5 seasons of coefficients to create the rank order.  Barcelona and Real Madrid are 1 and 3 in UEFA’s rankings, and England own the 4-6 spots with Chelsea, Manchester United, and Arsenal.  Germany will be strutting Borussia Dortmund’s recent success as proof of their possible climb to the top, but due to the distance UEFA’s rankings date back to, Dortmund is a lowly 31st, 3rd in their country’s rankings behind Bayern at 2 and Schalke at 15.  UEFA’s top 50 are also quite evenly spread out: Spain and England have 7, while Germany, Italy, and France all place 5 clubs on the list.

And we all know rankings aren’t the only thing – watching the matches can help as well.  With the ever-changing environment of club soccer, it’s a question whose answer ebbs and flows with the tides of recent and past success, and time will tell what Dortmund and Bayern have to offer in terms of staying power. In the short term, Bierhoff can take solace in the fact that his idea of a “changing of the guard” is certainly one that we will see on display at Wembley in Europe’s most sought-after match.

Club World Cup wrap: Gremio reaches final, Urawa takes fifth place

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One half of this year’s FIFA Club World Cup final was decided on Tuesday as Brazilian side Gremio topped Liga MX champions Pachuca.

Second-half substitute Everton proved to be the difference for the Brazilians, with the attacker scoring in extra time to lift Gremio.

[ MORE: LA FC selects Urena, four others in MLS Expansion Draft ]

Pachuca’s chances of completing a comeback were extinguished with 10 minutes remaining in extra time, as Víctor Guzman was sent off upon picking up his second yellow card of the semifinal.

Meanwhile, Japanese side Urawa Red Diamonds captured fifth place in the tournament after narrowly topping Wydad Casablanca, 3-2.

Despite going behind early, Urawa responded almost immediately in the first half, before building its lead to 3-1 at the hour mark.

A late penalty kick from Reda Hajhouj gave Casablanca a glimmer of hope in the dying moments, however, the Moroccan-based club couldn’t find a way to equalize.

Gremio will await either La Liga giants Real Madrid or Al Jazira in the Club World Cup final, which will be played on Saturday. The loser of that match will take on Pachuca in the third-place game.

Below are the scores from Tuesday’s FIFA Club World Cup matches.

Gremio 1-0 Pachuca (after extra time)

Wydad Casablanca 2-3 Urawa Red Diamonds — Fifth-place match

LAFC selects Urena, 4 others in MLS Expansion Draft

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Los Angeles FC selected five players in the MLS Expansion Draft, including Costa Rican national team star Marco Urena.

Whether they’ll make their way to the City of Angels is another story.

The first pick from general manager John Thorrington was goalkeeper Tyler Miller from Seattle Sounders.

[ MORE: Benitez on NUFC struggles ]

Going next was Latif Blessing from Sporting KC, an electric attacker who netted thrice with an assist last season.

Next was Urena from San Jose and the Costa Rican national team, a huge addition, and then Columbus left back Jukka Raitala before closing up the draft with Raheem Edwards from Toronto FC.

LAFC has already announced the signings or acquisitions of Carlos Vela, Walker Zimmerman, Carlos Alvarez, Monday Etim, and Guillermo Vizcarra.

The club will also loan Omar Gaber from Basel and Rodrigo Pacheco from Lanus.

WATCH LIVE: Three Premier League matches

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Chelsea visits the John Smith’s Stadium to face Huddersfield Town in one of three Premier League fixtures this chilly Tuesday in December (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues are now 14 points back of Manchester City, and three points clear of fifth place.

Meanwhile there are a pair of matches on NBC Sports Gold: Burnley looks to keep pace with its Top Four ambitions when it hosts struggling Stoke City, while in-form Crystal Palace seeks a home win that would move it out of the drop zone. In its way? Dangerous, attack-minded Watford.

Burnley vs. Stoke City — 2:45 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Huddersfield Town vs. Chelsea — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Crystal Palace vs. Watford — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

FIFA bans Colombia midfielder Cardona 5 games for gesture

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has banned Colombia midfielder Edwin Cardona for five matches for making a discriminatory gesture with his eyes toward a South Korean opponent.

FIFA will allow Cardona to serve the ban in friendly games, so he should be available for Colombia’s World Cup opener against Japan on June 19.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

Cardona has also been fined 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,150) because of the incident last month in a friendly in Seoul.

Cardona apologized at the time, saying he “didn’t mean to disrespect anyone, a country or a race, but if anyone felt offended, or interpreted it in that way, I am sorry.”