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Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast triumph in first leg of African World Cup qualifying

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On Saturday, Africa kicked off its third and final round of World Cup qualifying. Ten countries remain in the running, playing two-legged, home and away ties. The five teams that come out on top book their spots in Brazil.

(MORE: A closer look at Africa’s third round of World Cup qualifiers)

Tonight, it’s Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast that hold the advantage. The first match was a thriller, with the hosts taking it right down to the wire in Ouagadougou against Algeria. The visitors were slight favorites, as Burkina Faso have never qualified for a World Cup, but the Stallions were out to prove that their impressive finish in January’s Africa Cup of Nations was not a fluke. Jonathan Pitroipa opened the scoring just before the halftime whistle, but Algeria came back with an equalizer from Sofiane Feghouli just after the restart. Djakaridja Kone put Burkina Faso back ahead in the 65th minute, but it took less than five minutes for Carl Medjani to put the visitors on equal footing once more. In the end it was an 86th minute penalty, converted by Aristide Bance, that gave Burkina Faso the win.

Things went a bit smoother for Ivory Coast, who’d had their win wrapped up by the 50th minute. Senegal, the clear underdogs against a team that included Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Gervinho, conceded a penalty before five minutes were up. It was Drogba that stepped up to bury the shot. Things went from bad to worse for the Lions of Teranga when, just ten minutes later, defender Lamine Sané put the ball into the back of his own net. All hopes of a comeback were squished early in the second half, when Salomon Kalou put in the third for Ivory Coast. The three goal deficit will certainly be difficult for Senegal to overcome when the two sides meet again in November.

On Sunday, Ethiopia host Nigeria before Cameroon visit Tunisia. Monday’s football free, but Africa swings back into action on Tuesday when Ghana play Egypt.

Arsenal: Wenger, Koscielny big fans of Ludogorets after PSG result

Arsenal's players celebrate scoring against Basel during their Champions League Group stage Group A soccer match between Switzerland's FC Basel 1893 and England's Arsenal FC in the St. Jakob-Park stadium in Basel, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. (Georgios Kafalas/Keystone via AP)
Georgios Kafalas/Keystone via AP
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As it stands, winning a 2016-17 UEFA Champions League group promises to be a better idea than finishing second.

Thanks to a big win at Basel and a stunning bit of work from Ludogorets Razgrad, Arsenal is experiencing that first place feeling.

[ MORE: Draw options as they stand ]

After Arsenal clobbered Basel 4-1 in Switzerland on the power of a Lucas Perez hat trick, Ludogorets built 1-0 and 2-1 leads before holding on for a draw at the Parc des Princes against Paris Saint-Germain.

PSG just needed a win to finish first and avoid Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Leicester City, and Napoli, as well Juventus or Sevilla, and Borussia Dortmund or Real Madrid.

Now Arsenal avoids that bunch, and also gets that valuable second match at home. At worst, Arsene Wenger says his bunch can take comfort in knowing it did its best to avoid a nightmare opponent:

“I thought Ludugorets were a good side – they made a great result that helps us top the group, which was what we wanted.

“It is difficult to know but you feel a bit less guilty if you have a bad draw if first than second – we have done our job and let’s see what happens.”

Laurent Koscielny agreed, and the ex-Guingamp, Tours, and Lorient man is pumped to do what the French giants could not.

“We had a small chance to finish first tonight – after PSG last time we said we had one more game, we did our job and PSG did not.

“It is important to finish first because we have a second game at home but we will have a big team so we will see who we get in the draw.”

This promises to be a fun knockout round, and Arsenal has a bevy of promising match-ups if the draw falls their way.

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Who can Arsenal, Leicester, Man City draw in the knockout rounds?

Basel's Marc Janko, center, in close action with Arsenal during their Champions League Group stage Group A soccer match between Switzerland's FC Basel 1893 and England's Arsenal FC in the St. Jakob-Park stadium in Basel, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. (Georgios Kafalas/Keystone via AP)
Georgios Kafalas/Keystone via AP
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The UEFA Champions League is one Real Madrid win away from setting both the Bundesliga and La Liga for three potential quarterfinalists.

That means the opportunities for Arsenal, Leicester, and Man City are fairly wide open in terms of knockout round opponents.

The UCL rules dictate that teams from the same group cannot redraw each other in the knockout rounds, and the same is true for teams from the same league.

[ UCL: Matchday recap — Arsenal rolls, Man City draws ]

The draw will be held Monday.

With Arsenal and Leicester City winning their groups, here’s who they could draw as it stands:

Arsenal: Bayern Munich, Benfica, Bayer Leverkusen, Porto or Copenhagen
Juventus or Lyon, Borussia Dortmund or Real Madrid.

Leicester City: Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Benfica, Bayer LeverkusenJuventus or Lyon, Borussia Dortmund or Real Madrid.

If we’re Arsenal, we like the Bayer Leverkusen or Copenhagen match-ups in terms of style. Ideal for Leicester? Lyon or Benfica.

As for unseeded Manchester City, it was not a boon to finish second to Barcelona, though City won’t face the Blaugranas and also avoids Arsenal in addition to either BVB or Real Madrid.

Manchester City: Atletico Madrid, Napoli, Monaco, Juventus or Sevilla, Borussia Dortmund or Real Madrid

We suspect Guardiola would prefer Monaco.

Seeded
Arsenal
Atletico Madrid
Barcelona
Napoli
Monaco
Leicester City
Juventus or Sevilla
Borussia Dortmund or Real Madrid

Unseeded
Paris Saint-Germain
Bayern Munich
Manchester City
Benfica
Bayer Leverkusen
Porto or Copenhagen
Juventus or Lyon
Borussia Dortmund or Real Madrid

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UCL: Arsenal buries Basel, wins group on Perez hat trick; Man City draws

Arsenal's Lucas Perez, back left, and Mesut Oezil, back right, cheer after Arsenal's second goal during their Champions League Group stage Group A soccer match between Switzerland's FC Basel 1893 and England's Arsenal FC in the St. Jakob-Park stadium in Basel, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. (Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP)
Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP
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Benfica and Napoli secured the two knockout round berths available Tuesday, and Arsenal ended up surprise Group A winners on a Champions League match day with a lot of dead rubber.

[ MORE: Ref attack could trigger Argentine strike ]


Basel 1-4 Arsenal

Look what Arsenal has in the cupboard.

Lucas Perez’s second Champions League appearance for the Gunners was a runaway success, as the 28-year-old Spaniard nailed a hat trick by the 47th minute of Arsenal’s X-0 win over Basel on Tuesday.

Perez scored 17 goals for Deportivo de la Coruna last season, but entered Tuesday with under 500 minutes for Arsenal this season. An ankle injury had cost him a month on the sidelines.

Alex Iwobi scored the Gunners’ fourth goal. Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, and Kieran Gibbs provided assists in the win.

Seydou Doumbia scored late for the hosts.


Manchester City 1-1 Celtic

With nothing on the line but pride and experience, Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola used a lot of youth on Tuesday against Celtic.

The City manager tapped Pablo Zabaleta as a defensive center mid next to Fernando, and used Bacary Sagna as a center back while youngsters Pablo Maffeo and Tosin Adarabioyo got starts in the back.

Celtic's Emilio Izaguirre, left, and City's Pablo Maffeo challenge for the ball during the Champions League group C soccer match between Manchester City and Celtic at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, England, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016.(AP Photo/Dave Thompson))
Celtic’s Emilio Izaguirre and City’s Maffeo (AP Photo/Dave Thompson).

 

Unfortunately (fortunately?) for Pep, the first City man to score was on loan at Celtic. Young Patrick Roberts, scooped up from Fulham last season, netted in the fourth minute against City’s unorthodox back six.

City broke through courtesy of Kelechi Iheanacho, and it was 1-1 at the break. Nolito had one pulled back for offside just after the match restarted in Manchester. City was also denied a penalty kick for handball.

City keeper Wily Caballero was called upon a few times in the second half, as Celtic and its noisy traveled fans were prepared to make a memory.


Elsewhere
Barcelona 4-0 Monchengladbach — Hat trick for Arda Turan
PSG 2-2 Ludogorets — Shock draw at the Parc des Princes
Dynamo Kiev 6-0 Besiktas — Red card dooms Turkish side
Benfica 1-2 Napoli — Jose Callejon nets Napoli opener
Bayern Munich 1-0 Atletico Madrid — Lewandowski ruins perfection for Atleti
Eindhoven 0-0 Rostov

Follow @NicholasMendola

Argentina referees could strike after official is attacked

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 07:  Referee Cuneyt Cakir  reacts during the Men's Group D first round match between Argentina and Algeria during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 7, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) Argentina’s union of referees has threatened to go on strike to protest the brutal attack on an official by angry fans.

Union director Guillermo Marconi says the group wants to launch the stoppage after the attack on referee Claudio Elichiri.

The violence broke out Sunday after Elichiri failed to award a penalty in favor of local team Sarmiento in a decisive regional league game against Sansinena.

[ MORE: Vieira on NYCFC offseason, Mix Diskerud ]

Sansinena scored a goal right after, putting them ahead 2-1. Irate fans invaded the field and the referee expelled several protesting Sarmiento players and suspended the game, enraging local fans and players.

Elichiri escaped with the help of some Sarmiento players. He told local radio that he had to get stitches under his eye and is still hurting from bruises.