World Cup Qualifying: is CONMEBOL all but sorted?

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Friday saw four games played out in South America, and absolutely no surprises in CONMEBOL qualifying. There’s been no shift in the table, and in each match, the higher placed country came away with the win. Now, with three games maximum left to play for each country, many observers believe the top teams are etched in stone. But with difficult matches ahead for many of the teams, it’s still possible that a surprise contender could sneak in, at least into the playoff round.

Who’s Out?

Bolivia. Bolivia lost 4-0 to Paraguay on Friday night, are out of the running, with just 10 points from 14 games played.

Paraguay. Despite Paraguay demonstrating their impressive goal scoring abilities against Bolivia, they’re pretty much out of the running as well. Sure, they could pick up three wins from their last three matches, but they’d also have to rely upon Uruguay not picking up another point. And then they’d still end up in the playoff round facing the fifth placed AFC team.

Who’s In?

No one has yet to mathematically clinch a spot at the World Cup, but three countries are assured of at least making the playoff round (Which, you’d think, would mean that at least two of those countries would be into the tournament. But that sort of thinking can cause the head to hurt).

Argentina. La albiceleste got a rest this weekend, but still managed to remain top of the CONMEBOL table, with 26 points. They’re set to face Paraguay on Tuesday and will most likely have no problems taking all three points.

Colombia. The most fun team in South America, and possibly the world, is now even on points with Argentina. A 1-0 victory over 10 man Ecuador gives the Colombians a 8-2-3 record and 26 points. Their free flowing attack is balanced by a solid defense, which has conceded just seven goals in 13 games, the best in CONMEBOL.

Chile. Chile are an interesting one, currently coming in third in South America despite their all-or-nothing attitude. That’s right, la roja have played 14 matches and have yet to record a draw. Still, they’re on 24 points and will at least make the playoff round, so little Jorge Sampaoli must be doing something right.

Who’s Got a Chance? 

Ecuador. Ecuador made qualification that much more difficult for themselves on Friday night, when Gabriel Corozo got himself sent off in the 28th minute. But they’ve still got 21 points from 13 matches, so really, finishing third isn’t out of the question. But with Uruguay and Chile left to face in their last three games, Ecuador will have a tough time staying above fifth place.

Uruguay. Remember how Uruguay made it to the semi-finals of the last World Cup? And then won Copa América the next year? Then came this team, aging, creaking at the joints, and only able to finish fourth in the Confederations Cup. La Celeste have managed some impressive wins during their qualification campaign, but have also recorded some devestating losses. To avoid the playoff, Uruguay need to get three more points than Ecuador, which is tough when the two face each other, with Uruguay also needing to play Argentina and Chile.

Venezuela. Venezuela had a tough time of it on Friday, losing 3-0 to Chile. But they’re only three points back of Uruguay and have just Peru and Paraguay left to face. With Uruguay’s remaining matches looking quite difficult, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that La Vinotinto could slip into the fifth spot and head to the playoffs.

Peru. Ok, things look bad for Peru. A Luis Suárez brace and a sending off for Peru’s Yotún put Friday’s match out of reach for them, with only a consolation goal from Jefferson Farfán giving the Peruvians anything to smile about. But three wins from their last three matches can put them right back in it — provided Uruguay and Ecuador cooperate, of course. Still, it ain’t over til it’s over, right?

Rapids add longtime Bundesliga winger Aigner from 1860 Munich (highlights)

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The Colorado Rapids are hoping for an injection of offense from veteran Bundesliga right winger Stefan Aigner.

The soon-to-be 30-year-old has played 274 games between the first and second tiers of German soccer, with 25 goals and 25 assists in Bundesliga play and a further 31 and 25 in the second tier.

Most recently with 2.Bundesliga side 1860 Munich for a third time, he’s played most of his career between Munich and Eintracht Frankfurt.

[ MORE: BVB’s Merino to Newcastle ]

Aigner has the resume to succeed and perhaps star in MLS, especially if he wasn’t slowed too much by a knee injury last season (He returned and produced at the 2.Bundesliga level).

Here’s what Rapids interim general manager Padraig Smith said:

“We’re excited to add a player of Stefan’s caliber to our roster for the next three-and-a-half years,” said Smith. “As an organization we are committed to fielding a forward-thinking side and bringing in Stefan – a technical and versatile player who can excel in multiple attacking roles – will help us achieve that vision.”

UEFA Champions League wrap: Celtic held; U.S. GK Horvath busy

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It was a busy night in the UEFA Champions League, with clubs battling for berths in the playoff round where they could draw big names Liverpool, Napoli, Sevilla, Sporting CP or Hoffenheim.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up? ] 


Club Brugge 3-3 Istanbul Basaksehir

American backstop Ethan Horvath was under siege at home, but his Club Brugge side overcame throwing away a 2-0 deficit to claim a 3-3 draw with İstanbul Başakşehir. The three road goals will give the Turkish visitors every reason to feel good about the Aug. 2 second leg.

Celtic 0-0 Rosenborg

Brendan Rodgers‘ Scottish champions outshot the visitors 12-8, but couldn’t find a way into the goal. Now the Bhoys will have to score in Norway to advance to the next round.

Nice 1-1 Ajax

Mario Balotelli‘s 32nd minute staked Nice to a halftime lead, but the UEFA Europa League finalists snared an away goal through Donny van de Beek to send Ajax back to Holland with a slim advantage.

UCL first legs

Tuesday
Qarabag 0-0 Sheriff
Slavia Prague 1-0 BATE Borisov
AEK Athens 0-2 CSKA Moscow
Steaua Bucharest 2-2 Plzen
Vardar 1-0 Copenhagen
Partizan Belgrade 1-3 Olympiacos

Wednesday
Astana 3-1 Legia Warsaw
Dynamo Kyiv 3-1 Young Boys
RB Salzburg 1-1 Rijeka
Hapoel Be’er Sheva 2-0 Ludogorets Razgrad
Viitorul 1-0 APOEL Nicosia
Maribor 1-0 FH

Terim steps down as Turkey manager after restaurant fight

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) Turkey’s soccer federation says it has parted ways with national team manager Fatih Terim.

The announcement on Wednesday came weeks after Terim and his two sons-in-law were involved in a fight with a restaurant owner.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up? ] 

The Turkish Football Federation statement said Terim, 63, and the federation agreed that “it would be healthier for both sides to part ways,” saying non-football related issues were harming both Terim and the federation.

It also thanked Terim, who has headed the national team since 2013, for his services.

Terim previously managed Galatasaray, Milan and Fiorentina. There was no word on who would replace him.

BVB mid Merino reportedly undergoing Newcastle medical

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It’s been a wild year for Mikel Merino, and now the Spaniard is close to playing for a legend from his home country.

Merino joined Borussia Dortmund from Osasuna last summer, and the 21-year-old had a hard time getting playing time under Thomas Tuchel.

[ MORE: Gold Cup Final preview ]

A defensive midfielder who also plays center back and a bit further up the pitch, Merino is set to join Rafa Benitez on loan at Newcastle United for the club’s return to the Premier League next month.

Merino was photographed in Newcastle on Wednesday, and would join a central midfield with Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Hayden. Both players thrived in the Championship last season.

The Magpies turned Christian Atsu‘s loan permanent to start the summer, and then purchased Florian Lejeune, Jacob Murphy, and Javier Manquillo.