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European qualifying roundup: Two qualify, while four groups remain tight

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The first two European teams clinched their places in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil by virtue of their victories on Tuesday. While Italy and the Czech Republic celebrate, the day’s results left four groups in which the top two spots are separated by four or less points, while two of those groups have ties at the top.

Russia 3-1 Israel

Russia retook control of Group F in an easy victory. Eran Zahavi scored a consolation goal in the 90th minute for Israel, but Russia scored three goals in the second half after a scoreless opening stanza to take the game.

Armenia 0-1 Denmark

Denmark still has a chance to catch Bulgaria and battle for a playoff spot in Group B. Daniel Agger scored the only goal of this game on a 73rd-minute penalty, which also saw Varazdat Haroyan sent off for Armenia.

Kazakhstan 0-1 Sweden

After falling to third place in Group C, Sweden regained its playoff positioning with a narrow victory in Kazakhstan. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored 27 seconds into the game on what is the quickest goal the Swedish team has ever scored.

Norway 0-2 Switzerland

The Swiss needed a result away from home to stave off advances from Iceland and Slovenia at the top of Group E. All three of the top teams in the group won today, but Switzerland still has a five-point lead on Iceland and a six-point lead on Slovenia.

Romania 0-2 Turkey

Turkey’s win in Bucharest not only put the away team ahead of Romania in the Group D standings on goal difference, but it also assured that the Netherlands qualified for Brazil on Tuesday. The next three spots are separated by just one point, as Hungary also defeated Estonia.

Slovakia 1-2 Bosnia-Herzegovina

An away win in Slovakia keeps Bosnia-Herzegovina in first place in Group G, thanks to its plus-15 goal difference. Slovakia can help its opponent in the next match, against the other top team in the group, Greece.

Cyprus 0-2 Slovenia

The tight pack in Group E continues to be the closest race, with all but one team in the group still in the hunt for a qualification spot. Unfortunately for Cyprus, its 2-0 home loss to Slovenia only reaffirmed that it is the odd team out, while first through fifth places are separated by just eight points — and second through fifth have just three points between them.

Andorra 0-2 Netherlands

Robin van Persie’s second-half double sent the Netherlands into the World Cup.

Hungary 5-1 Estonia

After a humiliating 3-0 loss in Romania on Friday, Hungary turned the tables in a 5-1 home win over Estonia. Hungary now sits in second place in Group D by one point over Romania and Turkey.

Italy 2-1 Czech Republic

Italy overcame an early deficit to clinch qualification with a 2-1 win in Turin. Mario Balotelli scored the winning goal on a penalty, extending his perfect record from the spot in competitive matches.

Austria 1-0 Ireland

Austria extended its hopes of earning a playoff spot with a crucial 1-0 win over Ireland. The next match, against current second-placed team Sweden, could be decisive in Group C.

Faroe Islands 0-3 Germany

Germany rolled over last-placed Faroe Islands and remained well on top of Group C. Per Mertesacker, Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller provided the German goals.

Ukraine 0-0 England

A scoreless tie was enough for England to maintain its one-point lead on top of Group H in a hostile environment in Kiev. With its final two games at home, against lowly Montenegro and Poland, England will be confident of its chances to clinch a spot in Brazil.

Greece 1-0 Latvia

With a narrow win over Latvia, delivered by a Dimitris Salpingidis goal in the 58th minute, Greece stayed tied atop Group G with Bosnia-Herzegovina. However, the Greeks trail by a large margin in goal difference, making its final two games against Slovakia and Liechtenstein ones that it must try to win by large margins to assure automatic qualification.

Iceland 2-1 Albania

Iceland moved into second place, a position it holds by one point over Slovenia, with a 2-1 win against Albania in freezing Reykjavík. Albania struck first, in the ninth minute through Valdet Rama, but Birkir Bjarnason responded in the 14th, and Kolbeinn Sigþórsson secured the win in the 47th minute.

Belarus 2-4 France

France tied Spain on top of Group I with a 4-2 win in Belarus, but Spain has a game in hand, as it played a friendly against Chile. At least a playoff spot seems safe, as third-place Finland trails by five points; the two teams meet in the last qualifier of the group stage on Oct. 15.

Other results: Lithuania 2-0 Liechtenstein, Georgia 0-1 Finland, Malta 1-2 Bulgaria, Luxembourg 3-2 Northern Ireland, Macedonia 1-2 Scotland, Wales 0-3 Serbia, San Marino 1-5 Poland

Report: Agent in China, Rooney could leave Man Utd this month

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 13:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United poses with the Premier League trophy at the start of the Premier League trophy winners parade on May 13, 2013 in Manchester, England  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
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Could Wayne Rooney‘s days at Manchester United be over as soon as the end of the month?

The BBC reports that Rooney’s agent is in China in the hopes of negotiating a contract with a Chinese Super League team.

[ MORE: Leicester grabs away goal ]

The 31-year-old is said to be wanted by Jiangsu Suning and Tianjin Quanjian. The former club has ex-Chelsea standout Ramires, while the latter is coached by Fabio Cannavaro and boasts Axel Witsel and Alexandre Pato.

From the BBC:

There are no guarantees of success and it is thought a deal remains highly unlikely before the Chinese transfer window closes on 28 February.

And if he does not leave this month it seems certain he will go in the summer.

Rooney is the all-time leading scorer for both Manchester United and England. While his legacy is secure at the former and the latter, will a move to the CSL end his time under Gareth Southgate at England before another World Cup?

So many questions to unpack as one of the Premier League’s all-timers looks set to leave the country in the next six months.

Real Madrid adds intrigue to La Liga race with rare loss (video)

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, and Real Madrid's Lucas Vazquez, left, react after failing to score against Valencia during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Valencia and Real Madrid at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia, Spain, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz)
AP Photo/Alberto Saiz
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The lone Wednesday match on La Liga’s docket injected some drama back into the chase for Spain’s crown.

Real Madrid fell 2-1 at Valencia, unable to overcome conceding twice in the first 10 minutes.

The match was one of two matches-in-hand Real held on its rivals for La Liga’s title. Now Real’s one-point lead over Barcelona and three-point advantage over Sevilla seem a bit more manageable.

[ MORE: Man Utd onto Europa Rd of 16 ]

Simone Zaza and Fabian Orellana netted for Los Che, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s 44th minute goal was the only answer the leaders could muster before full time.

Zaza’s goal was a stunner:

Real could rebuild its lead over the weekend, with Barcelona off to Atletico Madrid on Sunday and Sevilla traveling to Betis on the heels of its UCL win over Leicester City.

But for now, life’s a bit more exciting in Spain. Real hosts Barcelona on April 23, and hosts Sevilla on the penultimate weekend of the season.

Standings

 

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Real Madrid 22 16 4 2 57 20 37 10-2-0 6-2-2 52
 Barcelona 23 15 6 2 63 19 44 7-3-1 8-3-1 51
 Sevilla 23 15 4 4 46 28 18 9-1-1 6-3-3 49
 Atlético Madrid 23 13 6 4 43 19 24 8-2-1 5-4-3 45
 Real Sociedad 23 13 2 8 36 32 4 7-2-3 6-0-5 41
 Villarreal 23 10 9 4 30 15 15 7-3-2 3-6-2 39

WATCH: Giovinco nets rain-soaked preseason beauty

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Sebastian Giovinco #10 of Toronto FC is presented with the MLS Audi Golden Boot Award as leading scorer for the 2015 season prior to an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
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We still can’t get over Sebastian Giovinco’s omission from the list of finalists for the 2016 MLS MVP Award, and the Toronto FC magician gave us another reminder of his greatness on Wednesday.

Playing a preseason match against Minnesota United on a rain-soaked pitch, Giovinco scored a brace. One of those goals came off an ankle-breaking dribble and finished with rain splashing off the net.

[ MORE: Man Utd onto Europa Rd of 16 ]

Yeah, he’s still good.

Giovinco turned 30 last month but still looks good money to dance up the statistical leaderboard this season. The Reds open at Real Salt Lake on March 4.

Leicester after one leg vs. Sevilla: “We knew they are better than us”

Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri catches the ball during the Champions League round of 16 soccer match between Sevilla and Leicester City at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan stadium in Seville, Spain, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Miguel Morenatti)
AP Photo/Miguel Morenatti
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Sevilla probably should’ve put Leicester City to bed.

Thanks to Kasper Schmeichel, the Spanish powers couldn’t do that. Now stubborn Leicester is a 1-0 win away from progressing to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals.

[ MORE: UCL wrap-up ]

Credit to Jamie Vardy, too, who put away a rare Leicester chance to give the Foxes a road goal from its trip West, but Schmeichel was magnificent.

And Leicester certainly knows how to defend and hit teams on the break.

“We knew they are better than us, they have high quality in possession. We suffered. They showed their quality but we showed our heart. We showed belief and never game up. That makes me satisfied.

“At the end, if we are a little more calm on the counter-attack, we could have done more. It was very important to match them and every result is still open.”

It certainly wasn’t easy to get to the final whistle. Here’s Vardy.

“Everyone has given 110 percent and everyone has come off absolutely blowing. We knew we had to be patient and take our chances but we knew we could hurt them on the press and that’s what Danny (Drinkwater) did. He got it over to me and I slipped it in.”

Again, we wouldn’t sleep on Leicester despite Sevilla’s dominance at home. King Power Stadium will be riled up come March 14, and one moment of magic could be enough for another miraculous moment for Leicester lore.