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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.

AT THE HALF: Man City 1-2 Monaco; Atleti lead in UCL round of 16

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Radamel Falcao Garcia of AS Monaco celebrates as he scores their first and equalising goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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We’re only halfway through the first leg of Manchester City versus Monaco, and Bayer Leverkusen versus Atletico Madrid, in the UEFA Champions League round of 16, but the goals are coming fast and furious from England to Germany.

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Man City found themselves 1-0 up at the Etihad Stadium, when Leroy Sane turned on video-game mode to set up Raheem Sterling for the opening goal in the 28th minute. But, as City have so typically done in the Champions League, they began self-destructing four minutes later. Radamel Falcao‘s diving header brought Monaco level in the 32nd minute, and Kylian Mbappe’s finish over the head of Willy Caballero put the visitors 2-1 up eight minutes later.

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As for Tuesday’s other round-of-16 tie, Saul Niguez simultaneously opened the scoring and snatched the soul of every Bayer defender who dared to contest him. Antoine Griezmann added a second for Atleti, who hold their 2-0 lead at halftime, seven minutes later.

LIVE: UCL last 16 – Man City v Monaco; Bayer v Atletico Madrid

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his sides fourth goal during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between West Ham United and Manchester City at London Stadium on January 6, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clashes get underway on Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Manchester City host AS Monaco at the Etihad Stadium with Pep Guardiola knowing his shaky defense must stay strong against the leading scorers in France’s top-flight. Monaco have already come to England and beaten Tottenham Hotspur in the UCL group stage and under talented manager Leanardo Jardim the likes of Radamel Falcao looks fired up and ready to go.

That said, City have been much better in recent weeks and have shown their best form this season in the UCL. Remember, Pep has never failed to reach the semifinals of this competition as a manager. Quite the record.

Elsewhere Bayer Leverkusen welcome Atletico Madrid to the BayArena with Mexico’s Javier Hernandez back among the goals and aiming to give the Bundesliga outfit a lead to take with them to Madrid.

The runners up late season, Atleti are currently fourth in La Liga but Diego Simeone’s side have looked stellar in Europe this season once again as they finished above Bayern Munich to win their group. Expect a tense, tough game in Germany.

Click on the link above to follow live commentary on both games, while we will have reaction and analysis on all of the UCL knockout games here at Pro Soccer Talk.


Tuesday’s UCL Round of 16, first legs

Manchester City vs. AS Monaco – 2:45 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Atletico Madrid – 2:45 p.m. ET

Bayern defends Ancelotti for middle-finger gesture to fans

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich has defended coach Carlo Ancelotti for raising his middle finger to Hertha Berlin fans after supposedly being spit at following a dramatic 1-1 draw in the Bundesliga.

[ MORE: Shaw in betting investigation ]

Bayern says “basically we find the human reaction of Carlo Ancelotti with the gesture to be emotionally understandable after the nasty spitting attack.”

Robert Lewandowski’s injury-time equalizer for Bayern on Saturday prompted altercations between Bayern and Hertha players in a heated atmosphere at the Olympic Stadium.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

The German soccer federation ended its investigation into the matter after Ancelotti agreed to pay 5,000 euros ($5,300) to its foundation for social work.

In 2014, Norbert Duewel, then-coach of second-division club Union Berlin, was fined 3,500 euros for raising his middle finger in a 4-1 loss at home against 1860 Munich.

Sacha Kljestan ready to take reigns as Red Bulls captain

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 6:  Sacha Kljestan #16 of New York Red Bulls dribbles past Steven Beitashour #33 of Toronto FC  during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 6, 2016 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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When news began to spread of a trade regarding one of Major League Soccer’s most recognizable faces, Sacha Kljestan was with his New York Red Bulls teammate at the U.S. Men’s National Team’s January camp.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The clarity over Dax McCarty’s move to Eastern Conference foe Chicago Fire is very much uncertain — even a month after the fact — but the veteran midfielder’s absence left an opening for the Red Bulls captaincy.

[ MORE: PST talks with Atlanta president Darren Eales ahead of 2017 ]

And that was an opportunity that Kljestan was honored to be named.

“I was just proud. My first feeling was that I’m thankful for Jesse [Marsch] having that trust in me and my teammates having that trust in me as well, which is very important,” Kljestan said. “But I just feel very proud to represent Jesse and the coaching staff and represent every member of the club that works with the New York Red Bulls. Most importantly I want to represent the fans in a way that they are proud of.”

Fortunately for the Red Bulls, what they have had over the past two seasons in Kljestan is a player that not only provides flash and brilliance on the pitch but also stability off the field and in the locker room.

Since making his return to MLS in 2015, Kljestan has notched an astounding 34 assists — the most of any player during that span — to go along with his 14 goals.

Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch has been impressed with Kljestan’s work ethic since bringing in the Designated Player, and he says little thought needed to be put into naming the U.S. international his squad’s next captain.

“It almost wasn’t even a choice at all,” Marsch said in regards to naming Kljestan his primary captain. “He had served as basically a vice-captain for two years and it was an natural fit. There were discussions with the staff but I think it was pretty clear that this is a guy that is a top leader. That being said, we’ve said all along that the captain isn’t a one man job.

“It’s about a community of people and certainly the two guys that will support Sacha the most will be Luis [Robles] and Brad [Wright-Phillips]. I think the three of them will take on big leadership roles and there’s room for young guys to blossom into bigger leadership positions as well.”

The Red Bulls have undoubtedly proven their success in the regular season since rebranding to the aforementioned name in 2006 when the Global giant, Red Bull, acquired the franchise.

The last 11 seasons have provided the club with plenty to cheer about, including two Supporters’ Shield crowns and only missing out on the postseason once, but the Red Bulls have struggled to get past one major hurdle.

Winning an MLS Cup is challenging.

It’s only something that 11 teams have accomplished in the league’s history. Of those 11 teams, only five of them have won two or more titles since MLS’ inception in 1996.

Marsch’s approach since day one has been very clear to both his team and the opponents that the Red Bulls face. The goal has been to play an attacking-minded press, similar to that of Barcelona in the club’s hay day.

While that pressing style likely won’t change, the team is prepared to add another dimension to its attack by switching to a two-forward setup starting in 2017.

“With our little tweak in formation that we’re doing now, we’re trying to be less susceptible to opening ourselves up and creating too much space between our lines,” Kljestan said. “We’re working on ways now to become more connected and become harder to break down and really make teams earn their chances against us. We might go through some growing pains with the formation but I think it’ll make us stronger in the long run.”

The Red Bulls begin their 2017 journey on Wednesday when they face the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. The two sides will meet a second time on March 2 in Vancouver.