(Video) Gareth Bale’s wonder strike not enough for Tottenham to capture Champions League dreams

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Another game-winning strike from Gareth Bale wasn’t enough to save Tottenham from more Champions League heartache as Spurs missed out on a top-four berth to Arsenal.

The incredible strike once again came from outside the penalty area (his ninth this season – four more than any other player), giving Spurs a 1-0 win over Sunderland. Unfortunately for Andre Villas-Boas’ squad, the win meant nothing as Arsenal blanked Newcastle 1-0 to clinch the final spot in the Champions League. With the Gunners victory, Tottenham finishes in 5th place meaning they will be headed to the Europa League for the second consecutive season.

Things began well for Tottenham, who rose to the challenge among a vociferous atmosphere at White Hart Lane.  Emmanuel Adebayor’s 5th minute header was tipped wide by Sunderland netminder Simon Mignolet. The striker was at it again two minutes later when he received Bale’s throw-in in the box and went down under Carlos Cuellar’s challenge, only for referee Andre Marriner to signal play-on.

Controversy erupted in the 20th minute when Tom Huddlestone sent a 30 yard ball over the Sunderland defense for the streaking Bale. The Welshman left Cuellar and Seb Larsson in the dust and his lucious first touch put him prime position for a breakaway. With two quick dribbles, Bale was in the box. As the Spurs winger steadied himself to shoot, Larsson closed in and appeared to use both hands to push Bale in the back, sending him to the turf.

With Spurs fans screaming for a penalty, Marriner sent shockwaves through White Hart Lane when he showed Bale a yellow card for diving. The Welshman went into hysterics, rolling on the turf in disbelief that he was being penalized. Spurs persevered, however, and continued to pepper Mignolet with shots.

In the 30th minute Sunderland had its first quality opportunity when striker Connor Wickham stabbed a shot that was saved by the chin of Spurs netminder Hugo Lloris. Six minutes later Bale was at it again, this time receiving Aaron Lennon’s pass and cracking a shot that Jack Colbeck blocked, leading some to claim handball. But Marriner once again played-on.

Eleven minutes after half-time, Spurs had yet another shout for a penalty when a Tottenham possession around the box found Clint Dempsey, whose shot was blocked by the outstretched arm of Cuellar. Marriner thought long and hard about blowing the whistle but decided against it, sending Villas-Boas into an uncharacteristically furious outburst.

Spurs continued their barrage on goal and in the 60th minute Scott Parker and Aaron Lennon each had shots cleared off the line by Colbeck. Just when it seemed nothing was going Tottenham’s way, Marriner finally gave them some relief. Lennon possessed the ball 35 yards out on the left side of the pitch. Looking to unlock the Spurs defense the winger dribbled laterally across the pitch where he was met by a reckless David Vaughan, who crashed into Lennon’s knee. Marriner didn’t hesitate and showed Vaughan a straight red card.

With the man advantage, Spurs continued to press to no avail. Villas-Boas then brought on Gylfi Sigurdsson in the 84th minute and directed his squad into a 3-1-6 formation. Sunderland manager Paulo Di Canio countered the tactic four minutes later by taking Wickham off and handing a debut to 18 year old Adam Mitchell. The move proved disastrous.

Smelling blood, Spurs immediately swung the ball to Bale on the right side of the pitch. With Mitchell showing the winger right, Bale shimmied and cut left before unleashing a ferocious shot from 25 yards out that dipped over Mignolet’s out-stretched hand.

The Welshman’s 21st goal of the season was enough to earn Spurs their highest points total in Premier League history, but it was all for naught as Arsenal held on to defeat Newcastle 1-0.

And so, Spurs now turn to a summer transfer window with hopes that their chairman, Daniel Levy, will open his checkbook and sign top players that can help the club crack the top four. The top priority, of course, will be to hold onto Bale, who is being closely watched by the world’s richest clubs including Real Madrid, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.

FIFA worried about government interference in Spain

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Concerned about the independence of the Spanish soccer federation, FIFA said Friday it will send a delegation to the country to investigate government meddling.

FIFA said in a statement written in Spanish that it had recently sent a letter to the federation “expressing our concern for the situation that the federation is going through and reminding (its officials) that, according to the Statutes of FIFA, all member federations must manage their affairs independently and assure that there is no interference by third parties.”

Spanish newspaper El Pais reported earlier Friday that the FIFA letter warned of a possible suspension because of the government’s push to hold elections following the arrest of federation president Angel Maria Villar in July on suspicion of corruption.

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

According to El Pais, FIFA is concerned that the government’s interest in federation elections could be considered outside meddling and break its rules. If the national federation were to be suspended, Spain’s team would not be allowed to play at next year’s World Cup.

FIFA’s statement made no mention of a suspension or other punitive measures.

But the scare was big enough for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to say that Spain will not miss soccer’s biggest event.

“I am sure that Spain will go to the World Cup in Russia and that it will win it,” Rajoy said at a news conference in Brussels.

FIFA added in its statement that “in the coming days” it will send a delegation, which will include representatives from UEFA, to Madrid to “observe and analyze the situation” of the Spanish soccer federation.

The federation said in a separate statement that its interim president, Juan Luis Larrea, had spoken with FIFA and UEFA officials at the World Cup draw on Dec. 1 and that he had passed on their “enormous concern” to Spain’s minister of education, culture and sport.

The Spanish federation said it was waiting for the ministry to set a date for a meeting.

Spanish police arrested Villar, his son, and two other soccer officials in July on suspicion of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

Villar was replaced by Larrea, the body’s treasurer for three decades. Critics of Villar argue that elections are needed to make a clean start for the institution that has been tarnished by the scandal.

Newcastle linked with targets as Benitez begins transfer quest

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Newcastle United’s players have canceled their Christmas party, as manager Rafa Benitez admits he’s working on January gifts for the St. James’ Park set.

The Magpies have one point from their last eight matches, and face Arsenal, West Ham, and Manchester City in the run-up to the New Year, closing off a run of five matches in 16 days with Brighton and Stoke.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City vs. Spurs ]

Benitez says he’s begun talks with managing director Lee Charnley about the January window. The team is expected to make moves whether Mike Ashley completes a reported sale of the team or not. From Sky Sports:

“At this time it is just to talk about ideas,” he said. “You might say ‘I would like to sign this player’ and someone will say ‘£40m’ – maybe it is not realistic.

“The main thing, we had this conversation, then we have to move forward quickly. I don’t know the details but at least we were talking about that. We have to progress and it is so obvious that we have to improve things.”

Newcastle has been linked with a number of notable names a few weeks from the start of the January market, including Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, prolific Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun, as well as Liverpool’s Danny Ings and Manchester United’s Luke Shaw.

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace

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  • Leicester leads all-time 26W-18D-23L
  • Foxes 3W-1D vs. Eagles since Oct. 2015
  • Palace won at Leicester in Feb. 2015

The Claude Puel revolution at Leicester City has the Foxes surging up the Premier League table, and Saturday’s visitors from Crystal Palace are making moves of their own (Watch live Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Leicester has won four-straight matches, the latest a 4-1 beatdown of Southampton at St. Mary’s, and returns to King Power Stadium with a chance to make a dent on the five-point deficit between the Foxes and the Top Four.

 

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After beginning the season 0-7, Crystal Palace has claimed 14 of 30 points to move from 20th to 18th on the table. Roy Hodgson’s men have two wins and four draws in their last six matches.

What they’re saying

Leicester’s Harry Maguire on the task at hand:

Palace’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek on his high-flying loan spell from Chelsea: “It’s what you aspire to be when you’re younger. Right now it’s a case of trying to improve as much as I can and to keep the performances up. As long as I’m enjoying it I think I’ll do well, so I’m really happy. The experience of playing week in week out and the physical side of things, getting my body used to playing games – sometimes three in a week – has been a massive thing for me, especially when I haven’t played for two years regularly. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to get away from Chelsea, to play regular football, get my body used to it, get more robust and I think once you have that then it’s a platform to play better.”

Prediction

This could be a fun one, with names like Zaha, Townsend, Loftus-Cheek, Vardy, Mahrez, and Gray ready to bless the match with pace and creativity. Goals have come in bunches when Leicester’s on the pitch, and we’ll call it 2-1 to the Foxes.

RBNY’s Grella heads to Columbus (through Colorado)

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Mike Grella didn’t get to pick No. 20 of the MLS Re-Entry Draft, but that didn’t stop Columbus from getting their hands on the New York Red Bulls veteran.

Colorado selected Grella with the third overall pick, then sent him to Columbus for a second round pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.

[ MLS: Ousted “blacklisted” by MLS? ]

The only other pick was made by Minnesota United, who took Tyrone Mears from Atlanta United.

Grella, 30, is a well-traveled Duke product who has played in England and Denmark. He scored 18 times with 13 assists in 89 matches for the Red Bulls, but missed most of the 2017 season with a pair of knee injuries.

It’s a good gamble for the Crew, and an extra draft pick for 2019. Second-round picks have become long odds to make MLS rosters, with Tommy McNamara and Aaron Long the last impact players to come out of the round. That was in 2014, and both needed changes of scenery before hitting their MLS strides.