Barcelona's Pique fights for the ball with Real Sociedad's Bergara during their Spanish First division soccer league match at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona

Messi, Neymar help Barcelona extend Real Sociedad’s winless run

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In this fixture last year, Barcelona won 5-1, so today’s 4-1 loss by Real Sociedad may not be as bad as it seems. But that game took place on Aug. 19 – over a year ago. Since then La Real has posted five-month unbeaten run (Jan. 6-May 6), a fourth place finish in Spain, and a Champions League playoff win over Lyon – a win that put them back in Europe’s premier club competition for the first time in 10 years. Perhaps only a year has passed since their last trip to Camp Nou, but it was a defining year, one that cast today’s lopsided loss in a different light.

Sociedad was terrible for the first 23 minutes, enough time to dig a three-goal deficit. Poor defending against Alexis Sanchez and the inability to deal with the Chilean’s cross allowed Neymar to score his first La Liga goal on five minutes. Shortly afterward, the Brazilian’s far post lob from the left found a diving Lionel Messi for the Argentine’s seventh goal of the season. And 15 minutes later, poor decision-making on a ball coming out of the Real area allowed Sergio Busquets to blast home Barcelona’s third. After the teams traded second half goals (Alberto De La Bella, Marc Bartra), Real Sociedad had their worst loss of the season, the latest disappointment in what’s become a five-match winless run.

[MORE: Neymar scores his first La Liga goal (Video)]


It may be too early to truly worry about La Real, though, as their fixture list plays a huge part in their recent downturn. This five-match slide started with a 2-1 loss at home to a still perfect Atlético Madrid. They then drew on the road at Levante (0-0), lost in Champions League to Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2), and were drawn at San Sebastian this weekend my Málaga (0-0). Barcelona’s win was more lopsided, but Jagoba Arasante’s team isn’t the first to be on the wrong side of Nou Camp shellacking. When Sevilla visit this Saturday, Real Sociedad should see their winless run end.

That doesn’t mean there are no reasons for concern. De La Bella’s 64th minute goal ended a 355 minute scoreless run, with the absence of their first choice number nine (Imanol Agirretze) continuing to limit their attack. And at the other end, goalkeeper Claudio Bravo gave a disappointing Tuesday performance behind a defense that offered little resistance wide of goal (each Barça goal was built wide before playing in). Even by Barcelona standards, Tuesday’s win was easy for the hosts.

La Real started the year unbeaten in four, their two wins over Lyon putting them in Champions League for the first time in 10 years. Perhaps this drive is just their course self-correcting. But after going five months without a loss under Philipp Montanier, it may be time to consider the implications of the former boss’s move to Stade Rennes. Will Sociedad be left to rue their inability to sign Montainer to a new deal?

The team’s next six league matches should answer that question. Sevilla, Rayo Vallecano, and Valencia all present challenges, some of which Arasante should be expected to overcome. After that, matches against Almería, Real Valladolid, and Osasuna give the team a chance to build momentum ahead of their trip to the Santiago Bernabéu.

By then, Sociedad’s course should be corrected. And if it’s not, we’ll have a better idea of how much Montanier’s departure’s meant to La Real.

EURO 2016: Who’s headed to France?

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - OCTOBER 10: Volkan Sen of Turkey in action during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group A Qualifier match between Czech Republic and Turkey at Letna Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Prague, Czech Republic. (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)
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The group stage of qualification is complete, as 20 teams have clinched a berth at EURO 2016, which kicks off next summer in France.

The top-two finishers in each group automatically qualified, as did the best third-place side out of all the groups (Turkey). France qualified automatically as the host nation.

[ MORE: EURO 2016 roundup ]

That leaves eight third-place teams to battle for the final four spots through a play-off. The draw for the matchups will take place on October 18, and those matches will be held from November 12-17 as a home-and-home play-off.

Group A

  1. Czech Republic
  2. Iceland
  3. Turkey (automatically qualified as best third-place side)

Group B

  1. Belgium
  2. Wales
  3. Bosnia and Herzegovina (qualified for play-off)

Group C

  1. Spain
  2. Slovakia
  3. Ukraine (qualified for play-off)

Group D

  1. Germany
  2. Poland
  3. Republic of Ireland (qualified for play-off)

Group E

  1. England
  2. Switzerland
  3. Slovenia (qualified for play-off)

Group F

  1. Northern Ireland
  2. Romania
  3. Hungary (qualified for play-off)

Group G

  1. Austria
  2. Russia
  3. Sweden (qualified for play-off)

Group H

  1. Italy
  2. Croatia
  3. Norway (qualified for play-off)

Group I

  1. Portugal
  2. Albania
  3. Denmark (qualified for play-off)

EURO 2016: Dutch disaster as Netherlands fail to qualify

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - OCTOBER 13:  Robin van Persie of the Netherlands (19) reacts during the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying Group A match between the Netherlands and the Czech Republic at Amsterdam Arena on October 13, 2015 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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The group stage of qualifying for the 2016 European Championship has come to a close, and one of the top teams in the world will not be playing in France next summer.

Netherlands 2-3 Czech Republic

The Netherlands finished second at the 2010 World Cup and third at the 2014 World Cup, but have failed to qualify for EURO 2016. Playing in front of a home crowd in a must-win match against the Czech Republic, the Dutch got off to a dreadful start, falling behind 2-0 as manager Danny Blind was forced to make a substitution within the opening 40 minutes. The Czech Republic was sent to ten men before the break, but an own-goal from Robin Van Persie made it 3-0 as the Dutch couldn’t recover. A disastrous result for the Netherlands, as big changes will surely come from the top down.

[ RELATED: David de Gea fighting for starting goalkeeper position with Spain ]

Italy 2-1 Norway

Italy finishes atop Group H without a loss after defeating Norway 2-1 today. Norway took the lead through Norwich City’s Alexander Tettey, but late goals from Alessandro Florenzi and Southampton’s Graziano Pelle gave the Italians all three points.

Malta 0-1 Croatia

With Norway’s loss, Croatia jumped into second place in Group H and secured qualification to EURO 2016 with a 1-0 win away at Malta. Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic scored the game’s only goal, as Croatia advances despite having one point deducted due to inappropriate actions from their fans.

Elsewhere in EURO qualifying

Group A

Turkey 1-0 Iceland
Latvia 0-1 Kazakhstan

Group B

Belgium 3-1 Israel
Wales 2-0 Andorra
Cyprus 2-3 Bosnia and Herzegovina

Group H

Bulgaria 2-0 Azerbaijan