UEFA Champions League Roundup: Messi lifts Barça, Chelsea issued wake up call (Video)

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Where Tuesday had a flurry of goals, Wednesday had talking points. A game-changing red card in Napoli. And own-goal decider late in Milan. Another Messi hat trick in Barcelona. And, of course, Chelsea being upset at home. It was those headline events that took the place of Tuesday’s glut of goals, helping to round out an encouraging start to UEFA’s marque tournament.

But whereas yesterday’s action was also defined by the imposing power of some of Europe’s elites, today’s most notable performances came from a trio of big clubs few would put among the Real Madrids and Manchester Uniteds of the world: Napoli won the day’s big game, knocking off German leaders Borussia Dortmund; Schalke continued their resurgence with a three-goal win at home; while Atlético Madrid showed they may be Group G’s favorites.

[MORE: Tuesday UCL roundup: Upsets make way for goals.]

[MORE: Dortmund left to fight back down a player, coach.]

Here’s what else happened as Wednesday’s action rounded out match day one of UEFA Champions League:

Group E: Chelsea (England) 1-2 Basel (Switzerland) [RECAP]

In time, when Chelsea’s going through to the knockout round at the top of this group, we may see this result as the cold shower the Blues needed to awaken their season. Right now, however, it’s a reminder that talent alone does not win games. There was no question who had the better players, with Chelsea able to hold 57 percent of the ball while outshooting their opposition. But come the 71st minute, there were doubts as to who would win this game. When Marco Stellar’s winner built on Mohamed Salah’s opener, Basel had the competition’s first shock result.

[MORE: Basel records first major upset of Champions League season.]

Group E: Schalke (Germany) 3-0 Steaua Bucharest (Romania)

The Romanian champions held out for 67 minutes before the reality of their situation became apparent. They are the underdogs in Group E, and against one of the two teams who will compete for second behind Chelsea (or, perhaps more after today’s result), Steaua saw how little margin for error they have. When their defense misjudged a cross with 23 minutes to play, Atsuto Uchida scored an unlikely opening goal.  Eleven minutes later, the threat of the Julian Draxler-Kevin Prince Boateng combination was made clear, as the young German set up Prince’s score. Then, in the 85th minute, Draxler added one of his own, completing Steaua’s rude awakening.

Group F: Napoli (Italy) 2-1 Borussia Dortmund (Germany) [RECAP]

Napoli were deserved winners, using goals from Gonzalo Higuaín and Lorenzo Insigne to outweigh Juan Camilo Zuñiga’s late own goal, but this is a match the viewers may wish had played out differently. Near the end of a quality first half that saw only Higuaín’s 29th minute header separate the sides, Dortmund keeper Roman Weidenfeller was sent off for a hand ball outside the box. The call was the correct one (Pedro Proença had to make it), but it still ruined what could have been the best match of the young European season.

[MORE: Napoli take full points from short-handed Dortmund.]

Group F: Marseille (France) 1-2 Arsenal (England)

A strong Arsenal start gave way to an even first half, with Marseille the slightly better side come halftime. The Gunners, however, found their stride in the second, Theo Walcott hammering home the opener after Jérémy Morel’s failed clearance before Aaron Ramsey notched his sixth goal of the season (seriously: six). The Welsh midfielder gave one back late, his penalty leading to Jordan Ayew’s 93rd minute conversation, but comfortably ahead by the time l’OM pulled one back, Arsenal posted an impressive opening round result.

Group G: Atlético Madrid (Spain) 3-1 Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia)

Subtly, this was a very impressive performance from Atlético, particularly since Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti employed a bit of a gambit to slow them down, surprisingly going three-at-the-back. The setup, however, seemed to overlook the fact Atlético, because of the suspension to Diego Costa, were unlikely to go 4-4-2, Diego Simeone conceding before the match that Adrían’s inclusion would change their formation. With only David Villa up top, Atlético were able to undo Spalletti’s plans, getting goals from Miranda, Koke, and Leo Bapistao en route to an impressive victory.

Group G: Austria Wein (Austria) 0-1 FC Porto (Portugal)

Wein coach Nenad Bjelica spent the buildup to this match explaining a vast difference in the clubs’ resources means nothing once the match starts. And in the first half, he was right. Much like Chelsea-Basel, you could see which side had to more talented players, but Wein were generating all the opportunities despite only seeing 34 percent of the ball. Ten minutes into the second half, however, Lucho Gonzalez, a player the Austrians could not dream of affording, finished a Danil cross for the game’s only goal, one of only two shots the Portuguese champions managed on Heinz Lindner.

Group H: Barcelona (Spain) 4-0 Ajax (Netherlands) [RECAP]

Three more Champions League goals from Lionel Messi (and one for good measure from Gerard Piqué) gave Barcelona a result many would have predicted, especially after a penalty kick allowed the hosts to take an early lead. After that score, Ajax loosen up and gained a greater place in the match, forcing Victor Valdes into a number of good saves (including one from the spot). Ultimately, however, this was a pretty typical performance for Barcelona at home in Champions League.

From PST’s Steve Davis, on Barcelona and the team that inspired the Catalans’ style:

Indeed, they may be stylistic kindred spirits, having birthed their games through some of the same tactical DNA, but Barca and Ajax are hardly playing the same game these days. (Haven’t been for a while, in fact.) Ajax players, gifted as they are, just cannot match Barca’s technical aptitude nor the collective wit – especially not when playing as the visitors in Catalonia.

[MORE: Messi hat trick decides battle of kindred spirits]

[MORE: Looking at the updated Champions League scoring chart.]

Group H: Milan (Italy) 2-0 Celtic (Scotland)

Max Allegri’s team were the better side throughout, but against a team with Celtic’s well-established counter attacking prowess, the 0-0 halftime scoreline was a dangerous one. Eight minutes from time, when it looked like Celtic (who finished the match without a shot on goal) were going to salvage a draw, Emilio Izaguirre inadvertently undid his team’s hopes, deflecting a Cristián Zapata shot home for the game’s opening goal. Sulley Muntari would add insurance four minutes from time to give a depleted Milan a deserved three points.

UEFA playoff draw sets up intriguing battles

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The fight for the final four 2018 World Cup spots from UEFA is well and truly on.

On Tuesday in Zurich, Switzerland the draw for the two-legged playoffs was made as the eight best runners up from the UEFA qualifying group stages found out their fate.

[ MORE: Latest World Cup rankings released ]

The Republic of Ireland will face Denmark over two games, while Northern Ireland face Switzerland and two monster clashes have been set up as Sweden and Italy will lock horns and Croatia and Greece will do battle.

A spot at the World Cup in Russia next summer is the prize for the four winners of these home and away playoffs.

The Republic of Ireland seem to have got the better draw, especially as they will play at home in the second leg in Dublin. Northern Ireland will also be okay with having Switzerland but are slightly hampered by playing the first leg in Belfast. Italy against Sweden will be a tight game and one neither nation will relish, and the same can be said for Croatia vs. Greece with their intense local rivalry.

First leg matches will take place on November 9-11, while the second leg will take place on November 12-14.

Below is the full schedule for the two playoff games.


UEFA playoff schedule

First leg

Northern Ireland vs. Switzerland
Croatia vs. Greece
Denmark vs. Republic of Ireland
Sweden vs. Italy

Second leg

Switzerland vs. Northern Ireland
Greece vs. Croatia
Republic of Ireland vs. Denmark
Italy vs. Sweden

Watch Live: England, Mexico, Spain, France in U-17 World Cup action

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It is a busy day at the U-17 World Cup in India as four Round of 16 games take place.

[ LIVE: Stream U-17 World Cup ] 

Red-hot England play Japan, while France and Spain collide and Mexico clash with a very impressive Iran side who won all of their group games. Mali and Iraq complete the Round of 16 games on Tuesday.

The winners of the England v. Japan game will face the U.S. on Saturday after they blew away Paraguay 5-0 on Monday.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s four games, while you can click on the link above to watch all four games live.

Tuesday’s U-17 World Cup Round of 16 games

Iran vs. Mexico – 7:30 a.m. ET
France vs. Spain – 7:30 a.m. ET
England vs. Japan – 10:30 a.m. ET
Mali vs. Iraq – 10:30 a.m. ET

Benevento remains alone in Europe without a point

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ROME (AP) Benevento remained the only club in Europe’s top five leagues without a point after losing at basement rival Hellas Verona 1-0 in Serie A on Monday.

[ MORE: USA U-17s top Paraguay in convincing style ]

Romulo scored with a long volley to conclude a counterattack in the 74th minute.

Benevento center back Luca Antei was shown a direct red card for a sliding tackle late in the first half and Verona striker Giampaolo Pazzini nearly took advantage immediately when he hit the post.

With its first win of the season, Verona moved up to 16th place with six points.

Benevento has lost all eight of its matches.

All of the top-division squads in England, France, Germany and Spain have earned at least a point.

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Calls for exiled player to go to WCup stirs storm in Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) Soon after Egypt qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1990, a hashtag began trending on social media: “Aboutrika to the World Cup.”

In a country where soccer and politics often mix, and often with explosive results, the pro-government media didn’t like that.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

The hashtag unleashed an intense online campaign by tens of thousands of fans calling for former star midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika, who is now living in exile in Qatar, to come out of retirement and play for Egypt at the World Cup in Russia next year.

It stirred a storm in the Arab country because of Aboutrika’s alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist group that has been outlawed and declared a terrorist organization by the government. The Brotherhood was outlawed after the military’s ouster of a freely elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013.

The 38-year-old Aboutrika faces a host of charges rooted in his alleged financial support for the Brotherhood and lives in exile knowing he risks arrest if he returns home. His assets have been frozen by Egyptian authorities and his name is on a terrorism list. He now makes a living as a soccer pundit on the Qatar-based sports channel beIN.

Aboutrika turned down the call to return in a message to his supporters.

“These are kind feelings for which I thank you,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “But realism is better and I don’t steal the efforts of others. Those men (on the current team) deserve to be there alone.”

Yet that gentle refusal didn’t stop the storm around him, and the unfavorable comparisons made by some between Aboutrika and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, the team’s current star and new darling of the pro-government media.

“Mohammed Salah is the player who stood by his country, not like the other one (Aboutrika),” said Ahmed Moussa, perhaps the most ardent government supporter among TV talk show hosts. “He (Salah) is Egypt’s only star.”

The 25-year-old Salah endeared himself to fans with both goals, including an injury-time penalty, in a 2-1 win over Republic of Congo on Oct. 8 that ensured Egypt qualified for the World Cup for just the third time, and first time in nearly 30 years.

Salah has also been embraced by the government of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and its supporters in the media as a patriot. A donation of 5 million Egyptian pounds (nearly $300,000) Salah made in December to a development fund founded by el-Sissi has gone a long way to endear him to them.

In the week since qualification, Salah has been branded “golden boy,” “legend” and “genius.”

One media commentator, Dandarawy el-Hawary of the daily “Seventh Day,” wrote of Salah’s decisive goal against Republic of Congo: “It touched off the volcanoes of patriotism, sense of belonging and love of one’s country.”

Not long ago Aboutrika was the national hero – he still is to many – after playing a central role in Egypt’s three straight African Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Those triumphs made Egypt Africa’s most successful team with a record seven titles.

Now, the pro-government media refers to him as a traitor.

Another talk show host, Amr Adeeb, suggested the campaign to bring Aboutrika out of retirement was the work of government critics and berated him for his failure to lead Egypt to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Aboutrika has been labeled a mercenary, with his job with the Qatar-based beIN used as evidence of his lack of patriotism because of Egypt’s diplomatic spat with Qatar over the tiny Gulf nation’s alleged support of terrorism.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Aboutrika’s supporters argue that to have him back on the team would be a just reward for his dedication to Egypt and compensation for his failed efforts to get the team to previous World Cups. They point out that Argentina great Diego Maradona and Cameroon’s Roger Milla both came out of retirement to play for their countries at the World Cup.

Responding to the criticism from government supporters, Aboutrika’s fans have also been posting videos of him scoring goals for club and country in years past, with commentators lavishly praising him for his skill and passion.