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(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.

U.S. U-20s awaken in 2nd half vs. Haiti, keep WCQ hopes alive

USMNT U-20 team (Photo credit: U.S. Soccer)
Photo credit: U.S. Soccer
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With many thanks to the hat trick scored by Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake, on loan from Liverpool), the U.S. U-20 national team’s hopes of qualifying for the 2017 U-20 World Cup remain intact.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

After dropping all three points in their opening group-stage game against Panama on Saturday, Tab Ramos’ young Yanks faced elimination from CONCACAF’s U-20 Championship in Costa Rica with a defeat to Haiti on Tuesday. After 15 minutes, the Americans found themselves a goal down, the prospect of winning zero points from their first two games a terrifying possibility.

Then, Lennon struck from the penalty spot. A draw wouldn’t be enough, realistically, though, as they’d still trail Haiti by three points ahead of the final group game, against Saint Kitts and Nevis, with the top two sides from each team advancing to the classification stage.

The score remained 1-1 until halftime, after which point the Yanks roared to life with three goals in a seven-minute span. Luca de la Torre (Fulham) scored the first of the bunch, an empty-net finish after a failed punch by the goalkeeper. Lennon quickly followed suit with two more to make it 4-1.

With three points from two games and a goal differential that now sits at +2, the Yanks are second in Group B, just ahead of Haiti on goal differential (+1). Panama sit atop the group with six points and a +5 goal differential. A U.S. victory over Saint Kitts and Nevis, to go with a Haitian upset of Panama, would see the Americans finish top of the group go into Group E in the classification stage, which would see them accompanied by a pair of second-place sides. The first-place side in each classification group qualifies for May’s tournament in South Korea.

Guradiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” as a club

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City reacts as Leonardo Jardim head coach of AS Monaco looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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In the past, when faced with adversity in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City could do little more than wilt and crumble as their European dreams when up in smoke year after year, typically in embarrassing and/or heartbreaking fashion.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

On Tuesday, when faced with 2-1 and 3-2 deficits late into the second half of their round-of-16 first leg against Monaco, deja vu was quickly setting in for anyone who’s followed Man City’s rise from middling afterthought to mega-rich conglomerate with aspirations of world domination. Then, something strange (based on years of recent history) happened: Sergio Aguero fired City back to level at 2-2 in the 58th minute. Sure, more shocking defending saw the deficit restored three minutes later, but again, Aguero dissented.

For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone considering the putrid defensively display over the course of 90 minutes, first-year City manager Pep Guardiola should be heartened by Tuesday’s events at the Etihad Stadium. In his mind, it was a massive step forward in the club’s psyche — quotes from the BBC:

“I am so happy for the result, we are still alive. These kind of things help this club to achieve another step. We attacked in small spaces. That’s why they wanted me to come here. Everybody has to be congratulated.

“We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. If we don’t score in Monaco we will be eliminated.”

UCL: Aguero, Falcao bag braces as Man City edge Monaco, 5-3

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City (C) celebrates with John Stones (L) and Leroy Sane of Manchester City (R) as he scores their third goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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  • Sterling gives Man City an early lead
  • Falcao hits back with a brace
  • Aguero’s brace breathes life back into City

Radamel Falcao and Sergio Aguero bagged dueling braces, while the defenders and/or goalkeepers from their respective sides engaged in dueling disasters, resulting in a bonkers UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg for the ages: Manchester City 5, Monaco 3.

Leroy Sane, David Silva and Raheem Sterling combined to put Man City in the lead after 28 minutes (WATCH HERE). Sane danced brilliantly and effortlessly past four defenders before playing Silva to the endline. The cross was simple for Silva, with Sterling arriving into acres of space in the goalmouth.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

That’s as good as the first half would get for City, though, as their annual Champions League meltdown commenced six short minutes thereafter (WATCH HERE). The Nicolas Otamendi-John Stones-Bacary Sanga triangle of deadly defending fell asleep in unison, which allowed Falcao all the time and space in the world to size up and head home his 23rd goal (in 29 games — all competitions) this season.

Eight minutes later, everyone else in sky blue joined the aforementioned trio for nap time. Fabinho, who also whipped in the cross for Falcao’s goal, dropped the most delicate of long balls onto the foot of Kylian Mbappe, and the 18-year-old fired his first-time shot past Willy Caballero without a single defender five yards from him in any direction.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

The second half began just as disastrously for City as the first ended. Otamendi tripped Falcao inside the penalty, and after discussing with his assistant on the endline, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz awarded Monaco a penalty kick — City felt hard done by after Aguero wasn’t awarded a clear-cut penalty in the first half — which Falcao then proceeded to hit weakly into the waiting arms of Caballero. The tide had turned back in City’s favor.

Ageuro fired City back onto level terms just short of the hour mark, with many thanks to the horrendous howler of Danijel Subasic. Aguero’s effort on goal was tame, and right at the Croatian international, but the ball went right through his hands and found the back of the net to make it 2-2, a scoreline which lasted all of three minutes.

Stones tried his very best Otamendi impression, which looked like halfhearted defending as Falcao left him for dead and chipped Caballero in the 61 minute. The renaissance of Falcao will almost certainly result in a summer full of transfer stories linking him with a move back to the Premier League.

Aguero brought City back to level terms again in the 71st minute, unleashing a stunning volley from David Silva’s corner kick. Stones tapped home at the back post six minutes later to put City 4-3 ahead, and Sane completed the epic comeback with an empty-net finish in the 82nd minute.

In the end, City still have plenty of work to do in the second leg, having conceded not one, not two, but three away goals. One thing is a near certainty: no extra time shall be needed.

UCL: Atletico Madrid blitz Bayer for 4 away goals, win 1st leg 4-2

Atletico's Antoine Griezmann, front, is congratulated by his teammate Saul Niguez after scoring their side's second goal during the Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid in Leverkusen, Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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  • Four away goals for Atleti
  • Niguez, Griezmann, Gamerio, Torres on the scoresheet
  • Bellarabi, Savic (OG) give Bayer a lifeline

If you spent your Tuesday glued to Manchester City’s thrilling 5-3 victory over Monaco in the UEFA Champions League, you may now direct your attention to the day’s other first-leg festival of goals: Bayer Leverkusen 2, Atletico Madrid 4.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Saul Niguez opened the scoring with a stunning curler after 17 minutes (WATCH HERE), and Antoine Griezmann doubled Los Rojiblancos‘ advantage eight minutes later to put Diego Simeone’s side in a commanding position with two early away goals.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

Karim Bellarabi pulled one back for Bayer just three minutes into the second half, but Kevin Gamerio converted from the penalty spot to restore Atleti’s two-goal lead just before the hour mark. Stefan Savic gave one back to Bayer in the form of an owl goal in the 68th minute, before Fernando Torres brought the visitors’ away-goals haul to four in the 86th minute.