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UEFA Champions League roundup: Arsenal, Wien, Basel, Steaua, Schalke advance

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In the final hurdle before the UEFA Champions League group stage, five teams from across Europe advanced on Tuesday to the main stage of the continent’s premier club competition. Three out of five matches on the day finished with one goal deciding the outcome, including Steaua Bucharest defeating Legia Warsaw on away goals to make the group stage for the first time in five years.

Schalke also left it late, qualifying despite going down to 10 men, and Dinamo Zagreb nearly defeated Austria Wien in miraculous fashion, only for a goal in the last 10 minutes to break the Croatians’ hearts.

The final five participants in the group stage will be decided Wednesday, after a final batch of qualifiers.

Arsenal 2-0 (5-0 aggregate) Fenerbahçe

Already with one foot in the group stage thanks to a resounding 3-0 win in Istanbul, Arsenal strolled to a 2-0 win over Fenerbahçe at the Emirates Stadium. Aaron Ramsey scored the game’s only goals in the 25th and 72nd minutes.

Austria Wien 2-3 (4-3 aggregate) Dinamo Zagreb

Dinamo Zagreb needed a quick start against Austria Wien to have any hope of reversing a two-goal deficit in the second leg. Instead, Florian Mader put the home side up in the first five minutes, but Marcelo Brozović and Junior Fernándes pulled two back for Dinamo before halftime. Fatos Bećiraj completed an improbable comeback in the 70th minute, but the Croatians’ joy would turn to despair after Roman Kienast came off the bench and scored for the home side in the 82nd.

FC Basel 2-0 (6-2 aggregate) Ludogorets Razgrad

In a similar position as Arsenal, FC Basel found a similar result over Ludogorets Razgrad. Fabian Frei scored in the 11th minute, and the Bulgarian side never seriously threatened to mount a comeback, managing just one shot on target throughout the second 90 minutes of this tie. Substitute Philipp Degen added the final nail in Ludogorets’ coffin in the 79th minute.

Legia Warsaw 2-2 (3-3 aggregate) Steaua Bucharest

After a 1-1 tie in Romania last week, both Legia Warsaw and Steaua Bucharest had all to play for on Tuesday. Steaua got off to the best possible start, scoring twice in the first 10 minutes through Nicolae Stanciu and Federico Piovaccari, ensuring Legia would need three goals on the night to advance. The Polish champion pulled one back through Miroslav Radović in the 27th minute, but Steaua’s staunch defense withstood a second-half barrage to send the team into the group stage. Jakub Rzeźniczak’s stoppage-time goal was too little, too late, ensuring only that Steaua would advance on away goals instead of with an outright win in the Polish capital.

PAOK 2-3 (3-4 aggregate) Schalke

In the most closely contested tie of the day, PAOK hosted Schalke with a great chance to advance. Those chances were dented when Hungarian international Ádám Szalai put the German team up 1-0 just before halftime. The tables seemed to turn midway through the second half after Stefanos Athanasiadis equalized, and U.S. midfielder Jermaine Jones saw a red card for his second cautionable offense.

However, just three minutes after the red card, Julian Draxler scored for Schalke, his team’s second away goal, ensuring there would be no extra time. His team down a goal but up a man, Kostas Katsouranis tied the match with 79th-minute strike, but PAOK could not break through one more time in the final 10 minutes. Szalai scored in the 90th minute, giving Schalke an outright win over two legs.

Wednesday’s games (2:45 p.m. ET unless otherwise noted): Zenit St. Petersburg vs. Paços de Ferreira (noon, 1-4 first leg), NK Maribor vs. Viktoria Plzeň (1-3 first leg), Real Sociedad vs. Olympique Lyonnais (2-0 first leg), AC Milan vs. PSV Eindhoven (1-1 first leg), Celtic vs. Shakhter Karagandy (0-2 first leg)

AFCON wrap: Tunisia joins Senegal in knockout rounds (video)

Tunisia's Wahbi Khazri smiles during a press conference in Libreville, Gabon, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group B soccer match against Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Half of the field is set for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations knockout rounds, as Group B completed his final day of group play on Monday in Gabon.

[ FIFA: World Cup draw date at Kremlin ]

Senegal will move onto play Cameroon on Saturday, while Tunisia will take on Burkina Faso.

Senegal 2-2 Algeria

Leicester City’s Islam Slimani scored twice, but it wasn’t enough to get Algeria into the knockout rounds of AFCON.

Papakouly Diop and Moussa Sow answered Slimani’s goals, and Senegal enforced its hold on the group it had already clinched after two matches.

Algeria needed a win and help, and looked to get it when Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani carried over their chemistry from the Foxes of England to the Fennecs of Algeria.

Zimbabwe 2-4 Tunisia

Sunderland’s Wahbi Khazri scored of the fourth of Tunisia’s first half goals as the Eagles of Carthage emphatically clinched their knockout round spot. Tunisia lost in the quarterfinals in 2015.

Lille’s Naïm Sliti was also among the goal scorers for Tunisia, with Youssef Msakni (Lekhwiya) and Taha Yassine Khenissi (Esperance de Tunis) also netting markers.

Tendai Ndoro (Orlando Pirates) and Knowledge Musona (Oostende) scored for Zimbabwe.

Three USMNT players leave camp, two with injuries

Kekuta Manneh chases the ball during practice of the U.S. men's national soccer team Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Carson, Calif. Manneh has become a U.S. citizen, moving the Vancouver Whitecaps forward closer to eligibility for the men's national team. U.S. Soccer announced Manneh received his citizenship Wednesday, after the opening practice of January training camp under new coach Bruce Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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Less than a week from Bruce Arena’s second debut as USMNT boss, we know three players who won’t be in the Starting XI.

Injuries have felled FC Dallas duo Kellyn Acosta and Matt Hedges, while Vancouver attacker Kekuta Manneh is leaving the squad to join his ‘Caps teammates for preseason in Wales.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League Playback ]

Acosta has a mild left ankle sprain and Hedges has a mild right knee sprain.

While Manneh may have been a long shot to see significant playing time on Sunday against Serbia or Feb. 4 versus Jamaica, Hedges had a chance to start at center back and Acosta has been capped before as well.

FIFA going to Kremlin for World Cup draw in December

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  Vladimir Putin, President of Russia speaks as FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter looks on during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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ZURICH (AP) FIFA says it will stage the 2018 World Cup draw on Dec. 1 at a Kremlin concert hall in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been allowing FIFA to use high-profile venues for World Cup ceremonies.

In July 2015, the qualifying program draw was made on the grounds of one of Putin’s official residences, Konstantin Palace near St. Petersburg. The summer was home built at the direction of Peter the Great.

The World Cup in Russia kicks off on June 14 at Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital, and returns there for the final on July 15.

Jurgen Klopp discusses Liverpool’s title chances

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool reacts during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Swansea City at Anfield on January 21, 2017 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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It was a disappointing weekend for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.

[ MORE: New odds for title contenders ]

The German coach watched on as his side lost 3-2 to Swansea City on Saturday in the Premier League and the Reds fell 10 points behind leaders Chelsea with 16 games to go.

Klopp’s men have only won once in six outings in all competitions in January, and ahead of their EFL Cup semifinal second leg against Southampton at Anfield (they trail 1-0 from the first leg) he was asked if they still have hope of overhauling Chelsea and winning the Premier League.

Speaking to the media, Klopp revealed that his team are good enough to at least be in the top four battle.

“We fight in each game, that’s maybe the most important thing. Then we have to see what happens around,” Klopp said. “Of course, in cup competitions the target is to win the competition. In the Premier League, it’s probably the same but it’s not that easy to plan or whatever. In this case, if Chelsea win all their games – which they pretty much do – there is no chance for any other team. For us, it’s still absolutely important to finish the season as well as possible – whatever that means. We’ll see after the season.

“You can imagine we have the quality to fight for the Champions League, that’s what we should do. If we do this and we are then close enough in the decisive moment of the season, you can still fight for a little bit more. But in this moment, it’s nothing we have to think about or we should think about. We now have two games and then we play Chelsea, so that’s when I’ll think about Chelsea but not how we can get them or whatever. We fight for everything we are able to, that’s all.”

He’s right. Liverpool finishing in the top four this season would be a great achievement at this stage of his project.

Perhaps more worrying for Klopp is that his side may now capitulate and finish outside of the top four for a second-straight season.

There’s no doubting that Liverpool have exceeded the expectations of most people so far in 2016-17 but Klopp’s men faded badly last season to finish in eighth place and with no wins in their last three games in the Premier League the pressure is on.

Without leading scorer Sadio Mane, who is away at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal, they’ve struggled to break opponents down and their defensive issues came to the fore against Swansea with sloppy mistakes costing them dear.

No team in the top seven has conceded more than Liverpool and with the Reds in fourth place and just four points ahead of sixth-place Manchester United and two points ahead of Manchester City who sit in fifth, all of a sudden they are looking over their shoulders instead of up at Chelsea.

Liverpool has lost momentum.

Boy do they need a big win in the EFL Cup against Southampton on Wednesday to regain some confidence and take that into their next PL clash, which just so happens to be against Chelsea at Anfield on Jan. 31.

Whatever he says publicly, Klopp must know that Liverpool cannot afford to lose to Chelsea. If they do and fall 13 points behind the Blues, the Kop can kiss goodbye to their title hopes for another season.