Mihai Pintilii

European Qualifying roundup: England triumphs, Romania wins big, Ronaldo bags hat trick

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With just three matches left in Europe’s World Cup 2014 qualification, there are many matches around the continent that have massive implications going forward.  Teams can make or break their road to Brazil with each point gained or dropped.

If you are new to the European qualification procedures, each group has six teams.  The group winners automatically qualify, and eight of the nine runners-up play a knockout match for four spots. (Group I is the exception, with only five teams).

Here’s a roundup of who grabbed the bull by the horns and who suffered major setbacks:

GROUP A:

Macedonia 2-1 Wales:

Gareth Bale, still gaining fitness after recently completing his world-record transfer to Real Madrid, watched from the bench as Wales fell on the road.  It’s a relatively meaningless game as Group A is already all but locked up by Belgium and Croatia, but Bale remains a storyline as he clearly isn’t fit enough to play for his country, so it may be a while still until he makes his Madrid debut.

Macedonian goalscorers were Aleksandar Trajkovski and Jovan Kostovski, while Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey bagged a goal for Wales on a penalty.

Scotland 0-2 Belgium:

Everton’s Kevin Mirallas scored and so did Steven Defour to put the Belgians all the way up to 19 points atop Group A.  This one’s pretty much over, but it remains to be seen whether Croatia can catch the Belgians for the automatic qualifying spot.

Serbia 1-1 Croatia:

Serbia needed a win to give themselves any hope of making Brazil 2014, but they couldn’t get it done and are all but eliminated from contention.  Mathematically they could still make it, but they’d need to win out, hope Croatia falls in all three, and they’d need to make up 6 goals in goal difference as well.

Bayern Munich’s Mario Mandzukic put the Croatians up early after the halftime break, and Aleksandar Metrovic leveled things soon after.  Each side had a player sent off as well.

GROUP B:

source: Getty Images
Italy’s Alberto Gilardino put his country in firm position atop Group B

Czech Republic 1-2 Armenia:

A more comprehensive match recap can be found here.  The Armenians made Group B incredibly interesting, with the possibility of a three-way tie for third place after play completes tonight.

Italy 1-0 Bulgaria:

Alberto Gilardino scored for Italy to establish a foothold at the top with a four-point lead on the group. The Italians and Bulgarians both hold a game in hand, so it’s not disaster for Bulgaria, who remain in second place with 10 points.  The three teams below them will need a bit of help to make it into the top two, all sitting on nine.

Malta 1-2 Denmark:

The Danes pulled into a three-way tie for third with the win, as a Malta own goal by Ryan Camilleri proved the difference.

This group warrants keeping an eye on, not only to see who gets into second place, but also to see if that second-place finisher has enough points to move on.  Only eight of the nine group runners-up can make the knockout stage, with the deciding factor being points not including those against the 6th place finishers.

GROUP C:

This group – with Austria, Sweden, and Ireland all tied for second behind Germany coming into today – is possibly the most interesting group in European qualifying at the moment, so you can check out the Group C action in its own post here.

GROUP D:

Romania 3-0 Hungary:

The Romanians are without question one of the biggest winners on the day, having come into their match with Hungary a point behind their opponents for second place.  There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the win puts them now two points up and into a qualifying position.

Striker Ciprian Marica wasted no time getting the Romanians on top, scoring in just the second minute.  Marica, who last played with Bundesliga side Schalke, will do himself well with the goal, as he is currently a free agent looking for a team.  Mihahi Pintilii (pictured, top) put his team 2-0 before halftime, and Cristian Tanase iced it at the death for the 3-0 scoreline.

Estonia 2-2 Netherlands:

The Netherlands were almost shocked by fifth place Estonia, but they pulled out a draw to earn a point and remain in firm control of Group D.  With three matches remaining, including two against Turkey and Andorra, the Netherlands would need a massive choke to lose their leading spot.

Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben put the Dutch 1-0 up in just the second minute, and a questionable penalty was slotted home by Robin van Persie in the fourth minute of stoppage time to cancel out a brace from Estonia’s Konstantin Vassiljev.

Turkey 5-0 Andorra:

Poor Andorra remains on zero points after their thrashing in Turkey.  The Turks with the win are in a decent position to challenge for the group’s second spot, although plenty of work remains to be done.  They now sit in fourth with 10 points, just one behind Hungary and three back of Romania.  They play Romania next, and have Estonia and the Dutch left.

Galatasaray striker Umut Bulut picked up a hat-trick for Turkey, and his club teammate Burak Yilmaz also scored.

GROUP E:

Switzerland 4-4 Iceland:

A wild match ended with Switzerland choking away a 4-1 lead, as Iceland stormed back and denied Switzerland a vital three points.  The Swiss are still at the top of the group, sitting on 15 points, but other results mean their lead is much much less comfortable.

Johann Berg Gudmundsson, a former teammate of Jozy Altidore at AZ Alkmaar, opened the scoring for Iceland in just the second minute, but a first-half brace from Stephan Lichsteiner meant Switzerland had a 3-1 lead going into halftime.  They added one more on a penalty after halftime.  However Gudmundsson collected two more after that, including the equalizer in stoppage time, to complete both his hat-trick and the comeback.

Norway 2-0 Cyprus:

A comfortable win for the Norwegians means they now sit just one point back of Switzerland in second place.  The two teams remain the clear favorites to come out of the group, with the third and fourth spots clustered a bit back, but now it remains a battle to find out who will get the automatic qualifying spot and who will be left to the wolves in a knockout game.

Slovenia 1-0 Albania:

The Albanians come out of today’s qualifying rounds as one of the biggest losers.  With Switzerland’s choke job, Albania had an opportunity to follow Norway in their climb to just below the Swiss.  Instead, a goal by young midfielder Kevin Kampl means the Albanians continue to wallow back in third place with 10 points, with Norway now four points ahead in second.

GROUP F:

source: Getty Images
Cristiano Ronaldo secured his first hat-trick for Portugal in just 16 minutes as his side completed a monstrous comeback.

Northern Ireland 2-4 Portugal:

Insanity. That’s the only way to describe this one.  With Northern Ireland winning 2-1 and Portugal a man down thanks to a straight red to Helder Postiga, it seemed the Portugese were in serious trouble.  Then Cristiano Ronaldo took over.  The Real Madrid star grabbed his first-ever hat-trick for Portugal, and did it in a 16-minute span to lead Portugal to all three points.  He was helped when Chris Brunt found himself his second yellow, and substitute Kyle Lafferty also received marching orders from referee Danny Makkelie.

The win puts the Portugese into first place by two points, although the problem for Portugal is Russia and Israel lurk below with a game (or two for Israel) in hand.  The Portugese take on the Israelis next in a crucial match.

Russia 4-1 Luxembourg:

Alexander Kokorin collected a brace – including a goal in just 20 seconds – as Fabio Capello’s side remained on pace, two back of Portugal with a game in hand.  They do not play Portugal again, although do have to play Israel early next week.  The Israelis have a tough road, but if they are to qualify they will have earned it against the top two teams in the group.

GROUP G:

Bosnia-Herzegovina 0-1 Slovakia:

The Bosnians picked a terrible time to see their three-match winning streak come to an end, as their Group G lead evaporated thanks to a 77th minute goal from Viktor Pecovsky.

The win puts the Slovakians four back of the top spot, but the bigger implications fall on Bosnia.  With a three-point lead heading into today, the Greeks have caught them.  Both teams get to play basement dwellers Liechtenstein once, but the Greeks and Bosnians don’t play again so it will be a shootout to the finish.

Liechtenstein 0-1 Greece

Olympiacos striker Kostas Mitroglou gave Greece a huge win with his 77th minute goal after each side had been reduced to 10 men.  Greek defender Jose Hoelbas and Liechtenstein midfielder David Hasler each received a second yellow within six minutes of each other before Mitroglou’s goal.

Greece are now level with Bosnia at the top of the group, with Slovakia four points back.

Latvia 2-1 Lithuania

Neither team have a prayer of qualifying, but the Lithuanians were officially eliminated with the Latvian victory.

GROUP H:

England 4-0 Moldova:

source: AP
Rickie Lambert got his second goal in as many games for England to continue the storybook start to his international play.

Rickie Lambert’s England dream continued as England dispatched Moldova to put them atop Group H by a point.  The Southampton striker put England 2-up with a tap-in header after Steven Gerrard put the hosts ahead early.

The win is important as the English are now a point above Montenegro, with a crucial matchup against the Ukraine coming up next.  England will be without Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck for that tie, as he received his second yellow card – a mindboggling one – after firing a shot over the bar a fraction of a second after the whistle had gone.  Welbeck did atone a bit by scoring just a minute later, but his absence will be huge against the third-place Ukrainians, with Rooney, Carroll, and Sturridge all out.

Ukraine 9-0 San Marino:

Yeah, San Marino aren’t very good. The newly FIFA-sanctioned country still are without a point as they got slaughtered by a Ukranian team looking for a goal-difference advantage.  San Marino haven’t even scored a goal in this round of World Cup qualifying, now sitting on a goal difference of -38.

Poland 1-1 Montenegro:

Robert Lewandowski equalized for Poland in the 16th minute and that was all she wrote on the scoresheet as Montenegro pulled level with England at the top of the group, albeit England have a game in hand.  Poland sit back in fourth place with 10 points, but certainly aren’t out of things with away matches against England and Ukraine still to come.

GROUP I:

Georgia 0-0 France

France are the other massive losers out of today, as they failed to grab a goal against lowly Georgia.  In the only group with just one qualifying spot, they failed to keep pace with Spain and are now three points back of the leaders without a chance to play them again.  French striker Karim Benzema was a ghost most of the match, and was replaced in the 62nd minute by Andre-Pierre Gignac.

Finland 0-2 Spain

The Spaniards capitalized on the French failure by firmly beating Finland.  Goals from Jordi Alba and Alvaro Negredo mean Spain move to 14 points while France sit on 11.  Both teams have matchups with Belarus remaining, and Spain get Georgia while France play Finland.  The French will need a Spanish slip-up to directly qualify for the World Cup, or else they will look to make the knockout round on points.

PL stars Rashford, Alli, Iheanacho on nominees list for 2016 Golden Boy award

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10:  Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates his goal during the Premier League match between Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur at Britannia Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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The end of 2016 is quickly approaching, which means it’s nearly time to hand out a bunch of awards to players who performed exceptionally well over two halves of two completely different seasons during the calendar year.

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While we already know one of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will likely take home the Ballon d’Or for a ninth straight year, the field is much larger and wide open for the 2016 Golden Boy award, which goes to the best player under the age of 21 currently plying his trade in Europe.

Headlining the list of 40 nominees are 10 players currently contracted to Premier League clubs, including the likes of Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, Tottenham Hotspur’s Dele Alli, and Manchester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho.

The full list of nominees:

Dele Alli (Tottenham), Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), Leon Bailey (Genk), Riechedly Bazoer (Ajax), Gabriel Boschilia (Monaco), Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen), Carlos Fernandez (Sevilla), Andreas Christensen (Borussia Monchengladbach), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Ante Coric (Dinamo Zagreb), Amadou Diawara (Napoli), Mahmoud Dahoud (Borussia Monchengladbach), Danilo Barbosa (Benfica), Moussa Dembele (Celtic), Ousmane Dembele (Dortmund), Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan), Breel Embolo (Schalke), Gabriel Barbosa (Internazionale), Aleksandr Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Goncalo Guedes (Benfica), Demarai Gray (Leicester), Marko Grujic (Liverpool), Alen Halilovic (Hamburg), Kelechi Iheanacho (Manchester City), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Viktor Kovalenko (Shakhtar Donetsk), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), Lucas Hernandez (Atletico Madrid), Emanuel Mammana (Lyon), Nathan (Vitesse), Olivier Ntcham (Genoa), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Renato Sanches (Bayern Munich), Jairo Riedewald (Ajax), Ruben Neves (Porto), Tonny Sanabria (Real Betis), Leroy Sane (Manchester City), Jonathan Tah (Bayer Leverkusen), Youri Tielemans (Anderlecht), Almamy Toure (Monaco)

[ MORE: PL power rankings — Man United soar; City still the standard ]

The last five winners of the Golden Boy award reads as such: Anthony Martial, Raheem Sterling, Paul Pogba, Isco and Mario Gotze. While that’s a not-so-bad list to potentially join, the three winners before them: Mario Balotelli, Alexandre Pato and Anderson. So, it’s a less-than-perfect gauge for the trajectory of a player’s career. Although, some guys named Sergio Aguero, Cesc Fabregas, Messi, Wayne Rooney and Rafael van der Vaart took home the first five awards.

Howe calls England “the ultimate job,” says he’s “committed” to B’mouth

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 20: Eddie Howe, Manager of AFC Bournemouth looks on  during the EFL Cup Third Round match between AFC Bournemouth and Preston North End at Goldsands Stadium on September 20, 2016 in Bournemouth, England.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Eddie Howe makes no bones about the fact he aspires to one day manage the English national team — one day.

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That day is not today, however, according to the 38-year-old Bournemouth boss, whose name was one of the first, and most frequent, linked with the now-vacant England post after the abrupt dismissal of Sam Allardyce earlier this week.

Speaking Thursday, ahead of his side’s Premier League clash with Watford on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com), Howe all but excused himself from consideration for the job — this time around, at least. He said England is still “the ultimate job,” presumably for English managers, but reaffirmed his commitment and focus on the job at hand: his beloved Cherries — quotes from the Guardian:

“I’m absolutely committed here. Nothing has changed from the summer. They haven’t come to me and my message is very similar. I am committed here, I love the job. The England job is the ultimate job. I have signed players very recently and I am committed to them. I need to show them the same loyalty that they showed me. It’s all hypothetical. It’s not been a great week for football. It’s not ideal the England situation has come up again but I won’t get distracted.”

If we are to now cross Howe’s name off the listAlan Pardew made comments similar to those of Howe this week — that leaves the likes of Steve Bruce and Harry Redknapp as potential permanent replacements. Gareth Southgate has been handed the job on an interim basis, and will undoubtedly be auditioning for the full-time job when he leads the Three Lions into their final four games of 2016 in October and November.

[ MORE: PL power rankings — Man United soar; City still the standard ]

At this point, nearly two months into the European club season, it’s probably in England’s best interest to stick with Southgate for until next summer at the earliest. None of the currently available names inspire any level of confidence or excitement, which is fine, because you and/or I could steer England to a top-two finish in a 2018 World Cup qualifying group that also includes Scotland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania and Malta.

Steer clear, Eddie Howe. The England job will be open again in 20 months’ time, then again 24 or 48 months after that, and 24 or 48 months after that, and so on forever and ever.

Liverpool to postpone further Anfield expansion after fan protest

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: General view of the new stand during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Leicester City at Anfield on September 10, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Liverpool owner John Henry says fan protests against ticket prices are causing the club to reassess plans to further redevelop Anfield.

Henry’s Fenway Sports Group apologized to fans earlier this year and reversed planned rises in ticket prices after a walkout during a game.

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But having funded the redevelopment of Liverpool’s main stand over the last year, the next phase of the expansion program might not make economic sense if the club can’t recoup the construction cost. The Anfield Road stand had been next in line for rebuilding at the 54,000-capacity Anfield.

“I don’t know if there is a next step because ticket prices are an issue in England,” Henry said. “That may foreclose further expansion. We’ll have to see.”

Henry was speaking Tuesday at Yankee Stadium where his baseball team, the Boston Red Sox, was playing the New York Yankees.

Liverpool has opened its first full season with Juergen Klopp in charge by winning four of its six Premier League games. The German signed a contract extension in July through 2022.

[ MORE: PL power rankings — Liverpool fall, through no fault of their own ]

“He was a perfect fit for Liverpool, for the culture of the club, for the supporters, for the kind of team that we were trying to build,” Henry said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better fit.”

With no European matches this season, Liverpool is chasing a top-four finish to return to the Champions League.

From the 2018-19 season, entry into the Champions League group stage is easier for English clubs with the Premier League’s fourth-place team no longer having to go through a playoff.

The “market pool” system, which steers UEFA prize money to clubs in England, Germany, and Italy, where the broadcasting deals are bigger, will be changed to reward better historical results in the competition. That should help Liverpool as a five-time European champion but see income drop for Manchester City, which has never won the continent’s top prize.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s Champions League roundup | Wednesday ]

The Champions League changes were agreed by a small number of club officials and UEFA, with the rest of Europe not knowing the outcome until the announcement in August.

Henry said he was aware of other teams in England “obviously not happy with the UEFA deal.”

“The changes weren’t really discussed with us, they were implemented essentially. They unilaterally made changes to the market pool and there should have been I think more discussion. But I can tell you that the (Premier League) owners were not happy … at least among the clubs that I speak with.”

AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.

Premier League Power Rankings: Red Devils on the rise; City still the standard

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United reacts  during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on September 24, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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The 2016-17 Premier League season is a month and a half old now, which means we think we know who some of these teams are.

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Of course, that’ll change a handful of times between now and the end of the season, but it’s fun to pretend every Thursday before the latest round of shocking results completely upset the applecart.

[ ARCHIVE: All of PST’s Power Rankings ]

With that said, feast your eyes on the latest round of PL power rankings…


TEAM RANKING
source: 20 (17) West Ham: Four straight losses, by a combined score of 14-5, see the Hammers fall three more places to last place in the Power Rankings. They’re currently just two points clear of the bottom in the real-life table. Slaven Bilic needs a win, badly.
source: 19 (19) Sunderland: Six games into the season, one of two sides without a win. Blew a 2-0 lead against Crystal Palace, and lost 3-2, at home. Yet another fight against relegation looks on the cards for the Black Cats.
source: 18 (20) Stoke City: The other winless side. PL-worst four goals scored. The scheduled has gotten easier the last two weeks, but the Potters managed just one point from games against Crystal Palace and West Brom. Up next: Man United. Dun dun dun dunnnnn.
source: 17 (16) Swansea CityJust a win and a draw thus far, but they’ve been in just about every game. Haven’t lost a game by more than two goals this season, unlike the aforementioned cellar dwellers. Don’t be surprised if that changes this weekend, against Liverpool.
200px-Middlesbrough_crest
16 (13) MiddlesbroughThree straight losses after winning five points from their first three games. Palace, Everton and Tottenham isn’t an easy stretch, though. Away to West Ham this weekend — just what the doctor ordered?
Hull City logo 15 (14) Hull City: With just one point in their last four games, the early-season honeymoon is over. Fortunately for the Tigers, there have been far worse teams thus far. Unfortunately, they’re all more talented and figure to snap out of it eventually.
source: 14 (18) Bournemouth: Handed Everton their first defeat of Toffees’ season, while keeping the second clean sheet of their own. Unexpected points are the best kind.
burnley fc crest 13 (15) Burnley: Unbeaten in their last three games at home following a 2-0 victory over Watford. Still without a point away from home. Arsenal visit Turf Moor this weekend. They wouldn’t, would they?
source: 12 (8) Leicester City: Beating the side you’d expect them to do, and losing to the big boys with ambitions for the title. Exactly what you’d have expected from them last season. Southampton at home this weekend — it’s right in the coin-flip zone.
source: 11 (11) Chelsea: Totally no-showed the first half against Arsenal, the biggest game of their season so far. A disaster defensively, Antonio Conte has a tall task ahead of him. And, Arsenal just scored again.
source: 10 (6) Watford: The best, so far, of the five sides currently on seven points. That said, after topping Man United at home one week, you’d have expected a better showing away to Burnley the next.
source:
9 (9) West Brom: Took a 1-0 lead into stoppage time against Stoke, but threw away a pair of points at the Britannia. 20 percent of the way to 40 points for the season, with just 15.7 percent of fixtures played.
source:
8 (10) Southampton: Sure it was only West Ham, but that’s more like it. Anytime you win 3-0 away in the PL, it’s cause for celebration.
source: 7 (12) Manchester United: With Wayne Rooney dropped to the bench, the sky is the limit for Jose Mourinho’s United. I kid, I kid … kind of. It needed to be done, and now it must persist.
source: 6 (7) Crystal Palace: Three straight wins, including the comeback against Sunderland, has Pardew’s Eagles all the way up to 7th in the league table. A massive test at Everton this week, under the lights on Friday. 
source: 5 (3) Everton: No longer unbeaten, but still a worthy candidate for European qualification. Romelu Lukaku is still only 23 years old (finally?), and he looks the best striker in the PL this season. Sky’s the limit under Ronald Koeman

source:
4 (5) Tottenham: For the second straight season, PL-best defensive record (three goals conceded). Eeked out a win (and two goals) without Harry Kane. Heung-Min Son has five goals in Spurs’ last three games (all competitions). Harry who?
source: 3 (2) Liverpool: Three straight wins, by a combined score of 11-3. Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds are a terrifying attacking juggernaut, but a clean sheet would be nice. Most goals conceded (9) of any side in the top half, to go with 2nd-most goals scored (16) in the PL.
source: 2 (4) Arsenal: Four straight wins, by a combined score of 12-3. Since the Gunners have started the season so brightly, they’ll fade around Christmas time and limp to a fourth-place finish. That’s how this works, right? They’re beyond brilliant to watch right now, though.
Logo_Manchester_City 1 (1) Man City: Suffered their first blemish under Pep, but still perfect in the league. PL-best 18 goals scored. The season’s first adversity: Kevin De Bruyne is out three weeks. Will the onslaught of goals continue?