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Croatia fire coach Igor Stimac, despite reaching World Cup qualifying playoff

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Apparently a 2-0 defeat away to Scotland is too much to handle for the Croatian Football Federation, as they fired head coach Igor Stimac on Wednesday despite still having a huge chance of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

Stimac’s side had finished second in Group A behind Belgium and face a home and away playoff series with either France, Iceland, Portugal, Ukraine, Romania or Sweden next month to decide their fate.

However an alarming slide in recent games, with three defeats and one draw from their last four qualifiers, saw the Croats just hold onto their playoff spot and Stimac lost his job due to that poor form. After the defeat to Scotland on Tuesday, Stimac reportedly offered his resignation and was then cast aside by Croatia.

“I am aware that Stimac offered his resignation in a statement to the media after the game but we received nothing from him in written or verbal form on the flight back or afterwards, hence he was sacked,” President of the Croatian Football Federation Davor Suker said. “It was a difficult decision because Stimac is a personal friend and a former Croatia team-mate. But a string of poor results and performances made it inevitable.”

(MORE: Field set for UEFA’s eight-team playoff, Denmark the odd man out)

So, in caretaker charge for Croatia’s crucial two-legged playoff in November will be the current U-21 coach Niko Kovac and his brother Robert Kovac. Both of whom played for the national team for many years, and the weight of expectation now falls firmly on their shoulders for this playoff, and the foreseeable future.

“Kovac will take over as the caretaker coach for the upcoming play-off,” Suker said. “But our intention is to offer him a long-term contract whether or not we reach the World Cup finals in Brazil. Kovac is full of enthusiasm and we are hoping that he will steer us to Brazil because he is the right man for the hard work that lies ahead in a very short time frame.”

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Modric and other Croatian stars need to step up if they’re going to make Brazil 2014.

No pressure, Niko. But seriously, the Croatian players will respect the Kovac’s for all they accomplished in putting Croatian soccer on the map. But now they must deliver from the dugout instead of the pitch.

Is it me, or does changing a manager just a few weeks before a huge World Cup playoff game seem a little bizarre? Some would argue it’s a knee-jerk reaction, however with Stimac clearly losing the locker room and players not performing, something drastic had to be done, and Suker and the Croatian Football Federation have duly obliged.

There are some massive nations Croatia could face in the UEFA playoffs — France, Ukraine, Portugal and Sweden to name a few — but with players like Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic and Ivica Olic, the Croats could make a big splash in Brazil.

Hopefully this managerial change has the desired effect and gives the talented group of players a much needed kick up the backside.

It’s a bold move, but I like it.

Liverpool announce plans for $62 million training ground

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 24:  Players warm up during a Liverpool training session ahead of their UEFA Europa League round of 32 second leg match against FC Augsburg at Melwood Training Ground on February 24, 2016 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Liverpool have announced plans to move away from their famous training ground at Melwood.

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On Wednesday the Premier League side announced details about redeveloping the site of their current academy training center at Kirkby. They hope to spend over $62 million to update the facilities and house the first team and academy all in one venue.

If Liverpool, who are working with the local council in Knowsley on the project, get the green-light for the impressive project then work is expected to finish in 2019.

Chief operating officer at Liverpool, Andy Hughes, is eager to see the first team and academy players all housed in one facility moving forward.

“Our proposed plans to bring the first team and young players together in one location is a really exciting proposition. The scheme includes state-of-the-art facilities which will be used to support the development of our players and provides all-weather training options.”

The project will also see amateur club Kirkby AFC get a complete overhaul of their facilities, while the local community will benefit from improvements to the current pitches on the site. A public consultation will take place next month with more information on the plans expected.

Why move from Melwood?

Anybody who has ever visited the site can tell you about the glaring issues at the historical training ground which has been home to Liverpool’s first team since the 1950s. First of all, many fans or interested onlookers often hop on a trash can or a small ladder to see right over the fence and watching training which is a big privacy issue for Jurgen Klopp and his team.

Also the current Melwood site has a concrete wall surrounding it and is penned in by houses and roads, so it has reached capacity and there is no more room for new pitches.

With the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, Manchester City and Southampton developing impressive new training grounds in recent years, Liverpool don’t want to be left behind.

Having the first team and academy together makes sense, especially with the likes of Steven Gerrard taking up a new role in Liverpool’s academy and the fact that Klopp continues to give plenty of youngsters a chance to shine in the first team.

LIVE: Europa League – St. Etienne v Man United headlines

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United in action during the UEFA Europa  League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Manchester United aim to finish off Ligue 1 outfit St. Etienne on Wednesday in the UEFA Europa League.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Jose Mourinho’s men lead 3-0 from the Round of 32 first leg as Zlatan Ibrahimovic continued his stunning recent form by bagging a hat trick last week at Old Trafford. Ahead of their EFL Cup final against Southampton at Wembley on Sunday, United have fielded a strong team with Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata and Zlatan Ibrahmovic all starting in France.

Wayne Rooney and Phil Jones have not traveled with the team and are in a race against time to be fit for the EFL Cup final.

In the other two Europa League last 32 second leg ties taking place on Wednesday (the other 13 take place on Thursday, the traditional night for UEL action) evening across Europe Schalke also have a healthy 3-0 advantage from their first leg against Greek outfit PAOK, while Turkish giants Fenerbache will be hoping to overcome a 1-0 deficit as Russian side Krasnodar come to Istanbul.

Click on the link above for live scores, updates and stats from the three games on Wednesday, while we will have updates and analysis on all the action right here at Pro Soccer Talk.

Here’s the Europa League schedule below, with the score from the first leg in parenthesis.


Wednesday’s Europa League Round of 32, second legs

St. Etienne vs. Manchester United (0-3) – 12 p.m. ET
Schalke 04 vs. PAOK (3-0) – 12 p.m. ET
Fenerbache vs. Krasnodar (0-1) – 12 p.m. ET

From champs to a relegation battle: Why are Leicester struggling?

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What the heck has happened to Leicester City this season?

That debate has been present in bars across the world as the reigning champions of the Premier League are battling against relegation and are in terrible form in 2017.

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The Foxes are in the knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League but are just two points off the bottom of the Premier League after suffering five-straight defeats and not scoring in nay of their last six PL games.

With N'Golo Kante gone, plus Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez struggling to regain their form from last season, everything is stacking up against Claudio Ranieri‘s side.

[ MORE: Full PST Extra archive

Ahead of their big game against Liverpool at the King Power Stadium next Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) they badly need a boost to spark a surge away from the relegation zone.

In the latest PST Extra Jenna Corrado and I discuss what’s gone wrong this season and if Leicester can drag themselves away from trouble.

Click play on the video above for your latest PST Extra fix.

CCL Preview: MLS teams enter quarterfinal stage

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 22:  Bradley Wright-Phillips #99 of New York Red Bulls celebrates a goal against the D.C. United during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 22, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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CONCACAF Champions League action is back.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live ]

Three teams from Major League Soccer remain in the tournament as an all-MLS tie takes place at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday between the Whitecaps and New York Red Bulls.

The first leg of their quarterfinal will provide an intriguing peek as to the offseason work both Carl Robinson and Jesse Marsch have done to crank their teams up a few notches, as both clubs will rely on plenty of young talent once again this season. Marsch has handed the captains armband to U.S. national team midfielder Sacha Kljestan after Dax McCarty’s departure in the offseason, while the Whitecaps have never lost at RBA in three previous visits.

Former Seattle Sounders star Fredy Montero won’t make his debut for the ‘Caps as he continues to work on his fitness but he could play on Mar. 2 in the return game at BC Place, while this tie at least confirms that one MLS team will be in the semifinals of North America’s top club competition.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Reigning MLS Supporters’ Shield champs FC Dallas also kick off the first leg of their CCL quarterfinal against Arabe Unido from Panama on Wednesday as the Texas outfit host the opener before heading down to Central America next week for the second leg. New DP signing Cristian Colman has impressed and given the absence of the injured Mauro Diaz, Oscar Pareja will look at him to make Dallas’ offense tick against a Panamanian outfit who went a perfect 4-0-0 in the CCL group stage.

In the two other CCL quarterfinals not involving MLS clubs, Costa Rican powerhouse Deportivo Saprissa drew 0-0 at home against Liga MX side Pachuca on Tuesday in the first leg of their quarterfinal. El Tri star Hirving Lozano was kept quiet by Saprissa but Pachuca will fancy their chances of advancing with a home game to come in the second leg. On Wednesday two Liga MX teams do battle as Tigres host Pumas in Monterrey as the runners up from last season look to make another charge to the final.

Below is the full schedule for the CCL quarterfinals, while you can stream the games on Facebook Live here.


CCL quarterfinal 1st legs

Deportivo Saprissa 0-0 Pachuca – Played on Tuesday, Feb. 21
New York Red Bulls vs. Vancouver – Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET
Tigres UANL vs. Pumas – Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET
FC Dallas vs. Arabe Unido – Thursday, 8 p.m. ET

CCL quarterfinal 2nd legs

Pachuca vs. Deportivo Saprissa – Tuesday, Feb. 28 – 10 p.m. ET
Arabe Unido vs. FC Dallas – Wednesday, Mar. 1 – 8 p.m. ET
Pumas vs. Tigres UANL – Wednesday, Mar. 1 – 10 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. New York Red Bulls – Thursday, Mar. 2 – 10 p.m. ET