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)

With no World Cup for USMNT, Altidore shifts focus

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For Jozy Altidore, this was supposed to be the time when the United States was preparing for this summer’s World Cup. That changed early in October when the Americans got bounced from the tournament.

[ MORE: Kamara to La Liga? ]

The stunning failure shifted Altidore’s focus.

He spent the beginning of 2018 in Grand Cayman, where his foundation is bringing soccer to kids in a region hit by hurricanes last fall. Soon, he’ll start the new season with defending MLS Cup champion Toronto FC.

As for this summer? Altidore will watch a few of the matches in Russia on television. The 28-year-old forward isn’t stewing in the loss, he’s looking with hope to the future.

“Of course I’ll obviously be disappointed not to be there, but at the end of the day, man, we’re blessed to do what we do,” he said.

Apart from the national team loss, Altidore is coming off one of the better years of his career. He scored 18 goals with the Reds and another four with the U.S. national team. Toronto FC won the Supporters’ Shield for the best regular-season record before sweeping through the playoffs and defeating Seattle 2-0 for the league title. Altidore scored in the final and earned MLS Cup MVP honors.

The victory was a bit of revenge for a loss to the Sounders for the MLS Cup the previous season, but Altidore said Toronto’s motivation was part of a season-long journey he took with his teammates and coach Greg Vanney.

“I think more than anything we understood how close we were and how it hurt that we had come up short that season,” he said. “The focus for us was to do what we did that last year and if we got to the last game, obviously make sure we got the W and make the most of our chances.”

Altidore celebrates his goal against the Seattle Sounders during the MLS Cup Final (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP)

Toronto teammate and fellow national team player, Michael Bradley, echoed the sentiment after the title match.

“When push comes to shove, you want to step into the biggest moments with people that you would do anything for, that you love, that you believe in, that you trust, that you know have your back,” Bradley said.

But it wasn’t all smooth. Altidore got into a confrontation with New York Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan in a tunnel at BMO Field during the conference semifinals. Altidore and Kljestan were handed red cards in the aftermath.

Altidore sat out Toronto’s next game, while Kljestan was suspended an additional game and won’t be able to play the first two games of the upcoming season. Kljestan, who was also fined, was traded in the offseason from the Red Bulls to Orlando.

Altidore and Bradley were also jeered – sometimes with profane and personal attacks – by opposing fans over the U.S. team’s qualifying performance.

“Look, all that stuff I think would have been magnified had we not achieved our objective,” Altidore said. “But we did, and we did it in such a convincing manner.”

Following the 2-1 U.S. loss in Couva, Trinidad, that cost the national team a spot in the World Cup, coach Bruce Arena stepped down and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said he would not run for another term.

Interim U.S. coach Dave Sarachan called 30 players into January training camp in advance of an exhibition game against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Jan. 28 in Carson, California. Altidore and many of the team’s veterans were not invited.

The camp roster includes 15 players who have never played in a match for the senior national team. The most experienced was LA Galaxy midfielder Gyasi Zardes, who is 26. Twenty-one of the players are 24 and younger.

Altidore, who has 41 goals in 110 appearances with the national team, understands that developing young talent is important heading into the next World Cup quadrennial. “We have to do a better job of identifying new talent, for sure,” he said, suggesting that missing out on the past two Olympics – where under-23 teams compete – has hurt development efforts.

For now, Altidore is pouring his energy into charitable endeavors.

Altidore, whose parents are from Haiti, launched his foundation in 2011 following the devastating earthquake that hit the country the year before. The foundation built a well to provide water to a town of more than 400 in Haiti, along with other rebuilding efforts. In 2016, he paid to bring the Copa America matches to television in the country.

The latest effort in the Cayman Islands focuses on getting youth involved in soccer.

“I think the whole region, the Caribbean has a lot of talent and has a lot of kids who want to become players. And I think it helps to see and identify with players who have played in different leagues from around the world,” he said. “If I’m able to be one of those guys that can start that whole thing, it’s a great opportunity and honor for me.”

Report: Ola Kamara wanted by mid-table La Liga outfit

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Columbus Crew star Ola Kamara is ready to leave the side, but he may not be moving inside of Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: FA Cup replay roundup ]

Metro.Us reporter Kristian Dyer says the Norwegian star is subject to a bid from a mid-table La Liga club. He’d been linked with a trade to Colorado as well.

Kamara, 28, came to MLS from Austria Wien and has since scored 34 goals in two seasons, a year after bagging 21 goals on loan for Molde in Norway.

Seventh place and 15th are separated by just four points in Spain’s top flight. Leganes and Espanyol are having the hardest time scoring goals, in terms of mildly educated speculation.

Transfer rumor roundup: Fred to Man City; Aubameyang wanted

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Could this January transfer window rival last season’s in terms of activity?

[ MORE: FA Cup replay roundup ]

Last season saw Crystal Palace save its season and Hull City nearly do the same, Morgan Schneiderlin head to Everton, Leicester find a decent N'Golo Kante replacement, and much, much more.

This season has been less active, though Ross Barkley has headed to Chelsea while former club Everton nabbed Cenk Tosun and Liverpool added Virgil Van Dijk.

The BBC has news involving Napoli which could affect two Premier League clubs. The Neapolitans apparently want Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who wants to be an every week starter, to be a prime part of their push to end Juventus’ Serie A stranglehold.

That would unseat Pepe Reina, who’s been long linked with a reunion with former boss Pepe Reina at Newcastle United. Napoli currently has Luigi Sepe as a No. 2 to Reina, though UEFA Europa League fixtures mean it’s no guarantee Mignolet’s arrival would allow Reina to leave town.

Sky Sports says Manchester City would like to see Fred as a long-term replacement for Fernandinho. Fred went 90 minutes for Shakhtar Donetsk in a pair of UEFA Champions League contests against City, including the 2-1 home win over the Premier League leaders’ B-squad on Dec. 6. The 24-year-old has two goals and two assists in league play, and could cost more than $25 million.

Don Balon proffers news that could unsettle Arsenal fans, as Real Madrid is apparently entering the bidding for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Florentino Perez would like an upgrade to Karim Benzema for his struggling La Liga super powers, and goodness knows Real will tempt Borussia Dortmund’s bank account.

One liners:

— The BBC also says Besiktas want Islam Slimani to join the club from Leicester City.

— Ola Kamara’s move from Columbus to another MLS team may be hijacked by La Liga.

Mourinho reportedly close to Man Utd contract extension

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Jose Mourinho is scheduling an extended stay at Manchester United.

[ MORE: Donovan unveiled by Leon ]

The 54-year-old has a contract through the end of next season, the dreaded third at a club for Mourinho, but reports say United is keen to keep him around through 2021.

Mourinho has not tasted a fourth season with a club despite winning league titles at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid.

The 2019-20 season at Old Trafford would be Mourinho’s fourth. According to the BBC:

Talks have progressed well and it is now just a matter of time before Mourinho commits to remain at Old Trafford beyond the expiry of his present deal in 2019.

Somehow, this feels it should be deemed another loss for Antonio Conte.