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European World Cup Qualifying Preview: 24 matches to entertain

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Tuesday could be a big night in Europe with Germany, Italy, Holland and Switzerland all in line to punch their ticket to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Twenty-four matches are set to battle it out across Europe and with just three rounds of games remaining, the competition should prove cutthroat. Of course, we here at NBC Sports Pro Soccer Talk will have you covered with up to the minute results for all the games.

GROUP A: Macedonia vs. Scotland and Wales vs. Serbia

With first place Belgium (22 points) and second place Croatia (17 points) well out in front these two Group A matches will have no impact on qualification.

GROUP B: Armenia vs. Denmark; Italy vs. Czech Republic and Malta v. Bulgaria

First place Italy (17 points) can book their spot in Brazil with a win over Czech Republic (9 points) but it won’t come easy as the Azzurri drew with their opponents 0-0 in Prague last time out. Manager Cesare Prandelli is expected to throw everything at the Czech’s with Mario Balotelli, Pablo Osvaldo and Riccardo Montolivo all fit to play.

Armenia will look to build on their impressive 2-1 victory over Czech Republic when they take on Denmark, who is even on points with nine. A victory for either side could prove huge in a challenge to Bulgaria (10 points), who currently occupy the second spot and are looking to take full advantage of last place Malta.

GROUP C: Kazakhstan vs. Sweden; Faroe Islands vs. Germany and Austria vs. Ireland

Leaders Germany (19 points) will book their place in Brazil if they can overcome Faroe Islands, who has failed to win a single point in seven qualifying matches, and Sweden (14 points) fail to defeat Kazakhstan (4 points). If the second place Swedes do lose to Kazakhstan that could benefit Austria (11 points) or Ireland (11 points), should one of those sides come out victorious in their clash in Vienna.

GROUP D: Romania vs. Turkey; Andorra vs. Holland; Hungary vs. Estonia

Holland (19 points) can win Group D with a victory over last placed Andorra (0 points) and either Turkey (10 points) beat second place Romania (13 points) or the two sides draw and Hungary (11 points) draws with Estonia (7 points).

GROUP E: Norway vs. Switzerland; Iceland vs. Albania and Cyprus vs. Slovenia

It’s all to play for in Group E where leaders Switzerland (15 points) can go through if they defeat second place Norway (11 points). Third place Albania (10 points) travel to Iceland (10 points) where both sides are still capable of winning the group while Slovenia (9 points) is in must-win territory as they travel to cellar-dwellers Cyprus (4 points).

GROUP F: Russia vs. Israel and Luxembourg vs. Northern Ireland

With a game in hand second place Russia (15 points) can grab control of Group F with a victory over Israel (12 points) on Tuesday. Despite their 1-1 draw with Azerbaijan on Saturday, the Blues and Whites can still snatch a play-off spot if they can manage points in St. Petersburg.

Luxembourg (3 points) have been eliminated while Northern Ireland (6 points) will need to win each of their remaining contests to have any hope of salvaging a run to Brazil.

GROUP G: Lithuania vs. Liechtenstein; Slovakia vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece vs. Latvia

With Bosnia-Herzegovina’s 1-0 loss to Slovakia on Friday the leaders allowed Greece to come even on 16 points atop the board. With a victory against eliminated Latvia (7 points), the Greeks will go top of the table putting all the pressure on Bosnia-Herzegovina to revenge last week’s loss with a result in Slovakia (12 points). Lithuania (5 points) and Liechtenstein (2 points) have been eliminated.

GROUP H: England vs. Ukraine and San Marino vs. Poland

Holding a game in hand over Montenegro, England (15 points) can take sole possession of first place with a victory over third place Ukraine (14 points) in Kiev. Roy Hodgson’s men enter the match short on strikers with Danny Welbeck suspended and Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge both sidelined with injury. The two sides drew in the reverse fixture and a win for either side will prove vital entering the final two matches of the group.

Fourth place Poland (10 points) is down but not out and must earn a victory at bottom of the barrel San Marino (0 points) if they are to keep their hopes of Brazil alive.

GROUP I: Georgia vs. Finland and Belarus vs. France

Second place France (11 points) can secure second place if they win in Belarus (4 points) while Georgia (5 points) and Finland (6 points) will need three points if either side plan on making a run at a qualifying spot. Leaders Spain (14 points) have two matches remaining, both of which will be played on home soil.

LIVE – Europa League group stage finale: Saints, Man United in crucial deciders

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03:  Virgil van Dijk of Southampton celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and FC Internazionale Milano at St Mary's Stadium on November 3, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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This is it, don’t get scared now.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Premier League duo Southampton and Manchester United both go into their final group game of the UEFA Europa League needing to avoid defeat if their going to make the knockout rounds.

For United, their task is simple. Jose Mourinho’s men need just a point from their trip to Ukraine to play Zorya Luhansk to advance to the Round of 32, while a win could see them finish top depending on the result of the Feyenoord vs. Fenerbache game.

As for Southampton, it’s a little bit more complicated.

A win for Claude Puel‘s side at home against Hapoel Be’er Sheva at a sold out St Mary’s would see them safely through to the knockout rounds of the Europa League for the first time in club history. A 0-0 draw would also do the trick but a score draw (1-1, 2-2, 3-3 etc) would send the reigning Israeli champions through instead as they’d have the advantage in head-to-head away goals after the duo drew 0-0 in Israel back in October. Making the knockout rounds of this competition would be a huge deal for Southampton and would keep their cup momentum going after they reached the semifinals of the EFL Cup last week.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]   

Elsewhere there is plenty on the line across the 12 groups, with the standings page in the link above very handy to work out the permutations as the top two teams from each group (first place team is seeded, the second unseeded) advance to the Round of 32 and will be joined by the eight teams who finished third in their respective groups in the UEFA Champions League group stage.

Below is the full schedule for Thursday’s game which kick off in three separate time slots, while you can follow live commentary and stats on the games by clicking on the link above.


Full Europa League schedule, Thursday Dec. 8

11 a.m. ET
Konyarspor vs. Gent
Qarabag vs. Fiorentina
Osmanlispor vs. Zurich
Braga vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Villarreal vs. Steaua Bucuresti
PAOK vs. Liberece

1 p.m. ET
Vikrotia Plzen vs. Austria Wien
Apoel Nicosia vs. Olympiacos
Sassuolo vs. Genk
Anderlecht vs. Saint-Etienne
Zorya Luhansk vs. Manchester United
Rapid Wien vs. Athletic Bilbao
Young Boys vs. Astana
AZ Alkmaar vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Feyenoord vs. Fenerbahce
Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Dundalk
Mainz vs. Gabala
Astra Giurgiu vs. Roma

3:05 p.m. ET
Panathinaikos vs. Celta Vigo
Standard Liege vs. Ajax
Inter Milan vs. Sparta Prague
Southampton vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva
RB Salzburg vs. Schalke
Nice vs. Krasnodar

Bob Bradley will remain in charge, says Swansea chairman

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With reports circulating in the British press that American coach Bob Bradley could be fired after just seven games in charge of Swansea City, their chairman has publicly backed the former U.S. national team head coach.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Bradley, 58, has just one win in his opening seven games in charge of the Swans who currently sit bottom of the Premier League table on nine points, three points off safety.

That poor form, coupled with many other issues at the club, has reportedly prompted new American owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien (they took over as majority owners in July) to conduct an extensive review of every department at the club.

However, chairman Huw Jenkins has moved to quell rumors about Bradley becoming the second Swansea manager to be fired through the opening 14 games of the season.

“I don’t know where that story came from, but it’s natural in football that everyone wants and needs results. But the last thing we need at this moment of time is a continual change in manager. We need stability first and foremost,” Jenkins told talkSPORT. “Take a team like Fulham, they changed managers three times in the season they tried to stave off relegation and we’re in a similar position now.”

“Perhaps in the summer I could have made a better decision – from pre-season onwards I don’t think things were right, it was too flat at the club. That had a knock-on effect and obviously it’s taken us a while to work through it. But we’re with Bob now to try and turn that corner – that’s what we’re working towards. We look at the January window as a chance to reinforce things. There are players not hitting the form levels they have done in the past and we have to find out why that is and get that right as well.”

So, it seems that sense is prevailing after all.

Jenkins took the blame for Swansea’s poor start to the season in media interviews on Wednesday and now the long-time chairman is backing his manager.

The south Wales businessman was part of a consortium which saved Swansea in 2004 and then led them on an incredible journey up from the fourth-tier to the Premier League, plus winning the League Cup and getting to the group stages of the Europa League. He and other directors have come in for some serious stick from Swansea’s fans for selling their stake to the new American owners and Jenkins is believed to have made just over $10 million from selling 8.2 percent of his 13.2 percent stake in the club.

On the pitch, it’s difficult to blame Bradley for the current situation Swansea finds itself in.

After some woeful moves in the transfer window last summer (Jenkins has admitted they weren’t great with Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew allowed to leave for big profits but their replacements just haven’t been good enough) the American coach needs at least one transfer window to bring in better players and the Swans are only three points off safety with a pivotal stretch of six games to come in the Premier League.

Home games against Sunderland, West Ham and Bournemouth, plus trips to West Brom, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace will see the Swans go up against direct relegation rivals between now and Jan. 3.

The next four weeks will be huge not only for Swansea’s future but also for Bradley and ahead of their crunch home game against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) the American coach is eager to cut out defensive mistakes as the Swans have now conceded 19 goals in his seven games in charge.

“When you are a manager it (the pressure) goes with the territory,” Bradley said. “It is work as usual, knowing from the beginning when I got here that it would be a big challenge, and it is. When you see a scoreline like that it is easy to jump on us. We are not going to survive if we keep on conceding goals like this.”

Man United’s Europa League clash in doubt over frozen pitch

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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Manchester United and Jose Mourinho may not play their UEFA Europa League game against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday.

[ MORE: Ozil, Sanchez leaving Arsenal? ]

Amid freezing conditions in the Ukrainian city of Odessa (Zorya cannot play their games at home due to the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine) the pitch underwent an inspection on Thursday and with covers and heaters on the playing surface overnight, there is hope the game should go ahead.

However, Jose Mourinho has already talked about the state of the pitch as not being ideal, while the likes of Daley Blind and Paul Pogba looked far from impressed when they went out for a training session on Wednesday in freezing conditions.

Remember, United only needs a point from the game against Zorya to qualify for the Europa League Round of 32 and Mourinho has selected a strong 19-man squad for the trip. 

A statement from Zorya said the following on Thursday morning, as they remain hopeful of the game going ahead.

“Everything depends on the weather. The pitch is not brilliant at the moment. We are expecting temperatures of two or three degrees and everything should be okay.”

Below was the scene in Odessa yesterday for United’s training session, via Simon Peach of the Press Association.


Yep, the pitch doesn’t look great.

Barcelona invites Chapecoense to play friendly

CHAPECO, BRAZIL - OCTOBER 22: Supporters of Chapecoense cheer their team during the match between Chapecoense and Sao Paulo for the Brazilian Series A 2014 at Arena Conda on October 22, 2014 in Chapeco, Brazil. (Photo by Alan Pedro/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has extended an invitation to host a friendly match against the Brazilian soccer club involved in last week’s plane crash.

Chapecoense was on its way to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, one of South America’s most prestigious club tournaments, when its flight went down in Colombia, killing all but six of the 77 players, officials and journalists on board.

The match would be played in August. The friendly, called the Joan Gamper trophy, is used as Barcelona’s traditional curtain raiser for the new season.

Barcelona says it sent a formal invitation to Chapecoense on Thursday.

Barcelona says it wants to “pay homage to the 71 people who died in the accident as well as their families.”