CAF World Cup Qualifying: Third and final round starts Saturday

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World Cup qualifying in Africa is an interesting, and rather expedient, process. The first round consists of 12 home-and-away rounds, featuring the 24 lowest ranked sides on the continent. The 12 winners join the remaining 28 countries for the second round, in which the 40 teams are divided into ten groups. After six matches, the top sides in each group continue on to the third and final round.

And that’s where we are now: ready for another round of home-and-away legs, with the five teams finishing on top the ones that book their tickets to Brazil. CAF doesn’t force viewers to choose between two exciting matches, instead spacing the first five games out over the next four days.

Saturday, October 12

Burkina Faso vs. Algeria
Burkina Faso have never made it to the World Cup, but they did reach the final of the last Africa Cup of Nations, only to be defeated by Nigeria. It’s Algeria that have the advantage here, having made it to the World Cup last time around and putting in 13 goals in six games in the last round. But the hosts seem fairly confident, with Belgian coach Paul Put stating that “everyone is focused and motivated to deliver.”

Ivory Coast vs. Senegal
Of course it’s the Ivorians that are tipped to come away with a trip to Brazil, as they’re the top-rated team in Africa and get to boast of players like Gervinho, Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba. Meanwhile, Demba Ba misses out for Senegal, with Alain Giresse refusing to call players that don’t appear regularly for their clubs. That leaves the visitors with few experienced players on their side, and with a rather unimpressive second round, putting your money on Senegal doesn’t seem like a safe bet.

Sunday, October 13

Ethiopia vs. Nigeria
Ethiopia are the one team remaining from the first round, and just their luck, they’ve gone and drawn Nigeria. The Super Eagles are the current holders of the Africa Cup of Nations and made it through their group unbeaten. They’ve got the likes of Victor Moses, Victor Obinna and John Obi Mikel, while Ethiopia’s players mainly ply their trade in the domestic leagues. Still, Ethiopia have a great home record, so they’ve got that going for them.

Tunisia vs. Cameroon
Samuel Eto’o, who retired from international football last month, is already staging a comeback, having answered the call after being named to the Cameroon squad. The Indomitable Lions visit Tunisia, who are staging a comeback of their own. It appeared they’d lost their chance of going to Brazil after losing to Cape Verde in their final game of the second round, but after it emerged that their opponents had fielded a suspended player, Tunisia were awarded the win and moved on to the third round.

Tuesday, October 15

Ghana vs. Egypt 
It seems almost unfair — to fans of football, at least — that one of Ghana or Egypt won’t reach the World Cup. Although the Black Stars are ranked higher, it was Egypt that came out of the last round with six wins from six games. They scored 16 goals, second only to Ghana’s 18, although Egypt allowed seven to Ghana’s three. Even if we won’t be treated to both sides playing in Brazil, these two legs should at least be fun to watch. A slight tip to Ghana, though, in this one, not only as the hosts but because they’ll have their bonus’s doubled for a win. What better reason to get all three points?

What’s next for Julian Green, and what’s gone wrong?

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Julian Green will have a new team again soon, in all likelihood.

A Stuttgart publication says Green is on the transfer market this month, just eight months after moving from Bayern Munich to the then-2.Bundesliga side for less than $500,000.

Now 22, Green is three and a half years removed from Jurgen Klinsmann’s long campaign to get him into a USMNT shirt. It’s been a little less time since he scored in extra time against Belgium in the World Cup, but also less than a year since he scored goals in consecutive USMNT matches. That shouldn’t be overlooked.

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Green scored one goal in 10 appearances for Stuttgart, who was promoted to the Bundesliga at the end of last season. He fell out of favor there, but was far from poor. Green completed 87 percent of his passes and averaged 1.3 dribbles per game (only four teammates had more, though 10 matches is a smaller sample size).

Before that, he spent parts of three seasons with Bayern Munich and made just four appearances, taking a loan to Hamburg in 2014-15 that saw him banished to Hamburg II after just five appearances.

What gives? Whether attitude or skill, Green has a lot of work to do to get back to a level where he’s a reasonable USMNT call-up (Green has a respectable three goals in eight call-ups, netting against Cuba and New Zealand in Oct. 2016). Still, it’s far from over for Green at 22.

There are legit questions here, as the list of not high-profile players Bayern Munich has used in its senior team at a young age and blossomed elsewhere isn’t necessarily impressive (at least relatively speaking). Nils Petersen, Thomas Kraft, and Sandro Wagner are exceptions to the rule. Better put: Bayern has a really good idea what it’s doing when it lets young players walk, and it begs discussion on the best path for Green.

It seems likely he could get a move to another 2.Bundesliga club, and there’s an outside shot he could get a look in the top flight. It would be interesting to know where the interest lies abroad. Would it be hard to acquire a work permit for France or Spain (England seems a hard sell)? Could a move to a free-flowing Eredivisie club work?

Obviously Major League Soccer clubs would welcome his talent and it’s difficult to imagine he wouldn’t be a useful piece in the United States’ top tier, even if on a short-term move as he looks to regain confidence. Would Green see it as below him?

Arsenal’s Wilshere sent-off after brawling in U-23 match vs. Man City

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Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere isn’t standing around waiting for his next team, he’s fighting.

Period.

Wilshere got into with several members of Manchester City’s U-23 side in a match on Monday, with the English midfielder taking exception to a hockey-style hip check from City’s Matthew Smith.

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Shoving the 17-year-old Smith, Wilshere saw the City man take a tumble and stay prone. Still riled up, Wilshere tangled with City’s Tyreke Wilson.

Wilshere and Wilson were sent off.

Given his injury history, we’re not surprised Wilshere took exception to a hard and needless foul in a U-23 match.

The Arsenal man has been linked with moves to Newcastle, West Ham, AC Milan, and Sampdoria, but Arsene Wenger wants to keep Wilshere at the Emirates Stadium.

Report: PSG to dodge FFP by signing Mbappe on loan, sending Moura to Monaco

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Paris Saint-Germain’s fight to win a UEFA Champions League will receive a major boost from its main Ligue 1 rivals.

Reigning champions AS Monaco have been frustrated by phenomenal and combative forward Kylian Mbappe seeking a move to join Neymar at PSG. Mbappe was reportedly kicked out of Monaco training this week.

That move is very difficult for PSG to pull off thanks to Financial Fair Play; Les Parisiens spent more than $260 million to sign Neymar from Barcelona.

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The way around it? Sky Sports says Monaco will reportedly loan Mbappe to PSG with an agreement to sell the 18-year-old striker permanently after this season. PSG midfielder Lucas Moura would go the other way for this season.

If that rings a bit hollow to those who’d like to see FFP work against massive clubs stockpiling talent, it should; This is hardly any different from spending all the money in one window when considering that Mbappe would join Neymar and Edinson Cavani effective this season.

Incredibly, Sky also has the notion that PSG will bring Fabinho to the Parc des Princes (Yes, from Monaco).

If Mbappe ends up in Paris — forget Fabinho for a second — PSG would be favored to get past its UCL quarterfinals blockade (Les Parisiens were eliminated in the Round of 16 last season by Barcelona after four-straight quarterfinal ousters).

UEFA Champions League playoffs: Differing levels of comfort

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Only one of 20 playoff-contending clubs has a strong foot in the UEFA Champions League group stage with 10 second legs set for this week.

That’s Scottish champions Celtic, who took a 5-0 lead for manager Brendan Rodgers last week at Celtic Park and heads to the capital of Kazakhstan for a Tuesday date with Astana.

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As for the rest, there are varying levels of comfort. Napoli leads Nice 2-0 and didn’t concede an away goal to the French side, so the Serie A side has to feel pretty good. Liverpool edged Hoffenheim 2-1 in Germany and brings two goals home to Anfield. That, too, is confident footing.

Steaua Bucharest and Sporting CP are the only sides level, scoreless after a match in Portugal.

But Olympiacos is in Croatia and a goal away from being on the wrong foot after a 2-1 win at home to Rijeka, and Hapoel Be’er Sheva has the same situation in Slovenia against Maribor.

At risk? Three high-profile away trips and the same number of group stage home paydays. The losers drop into the Europa League group stage.

Tuesday
All matches at 2:45 p.m. ET unless noted

Astana vs. Celtic (Celtic leads 5-0) — 11:30 a.m. ET
Rijeka vs. Olympiacos (Olympiacos leads 2-1)
Nice vs. Napoli (Napoli leads 2-0)
Sevilla vs. Istanbul Basaksehir (Sevilla leads 2-1)
Maribor vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Hapoel leads 2-1)

Wednesday
All matches at 2:45 p.m. ET

Copenhagen vs. Qarabag (Qarabag leads 1-0)
CSKA Moscow vs. Young Boys (CSKA leads 1-0)
Slavia Prague vs. Apoel Nicosia (Apoel leads 2-0)
Liverpool vs. Hoffenheim (Liverpool leads 2-1)
Steaua Bucharest vs. Sporting CP (First leg 0-0)