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UEFA Women’s Champions League roundup: Heath, PSG out; Wolfsburg sets new mark

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One way or another, prominent Americans were going home. In the home side at Charlety in Paris were Tobin Heath and Lindsay Horan, the duo hoping to see Paris Saint-Germain overcome their 2-1 deficit and make UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16. To do so, however, they would have to end the season of Christen Press, Ali Krieger, and the rest of the American contingent from Sweden’s runners up, Tyresö. One team would leave eliminated by the round’s least favorable draw.

Heath, Press, and Krieger weren’t the only prominent names visiting Paris on Wednesday. Tyresö, having aggressively targeted American signings this summer, also started U.S. internationals Whitney Engen and Meghan Klingenberg. Washington Spirit goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris was in goal, while former Women’s Professional Soccer Most Valuable Players Marta and Verónica Boquete featured in attack. A fan of the women’s professional game in the U.S. would have recognized most of Tony Gustavsson’s starting XI.

That star power was the result of a summer buildup that was questioned when the then-Damallsvenskan leaders risked their winning formula to bring in the likes of Krieger, Harris and Engen, but against a PSG side that’s spent big to bring in Heath, Horan (among others), it’d be needed. French internationals Laure Boulleau, Laura Georges, Marie-Laure Delie were also in today’s lineup, joining a foreign contingent German defender Annike Krahn and Swedish attacker Kosovare Asllani.

These teams too talented to be meeting in the first round (Round of 32), a contention undermined by the reality of Wednesday’s game. There they were, two of the more talented teams in Europe, about to see one eliminated at step one of the process. Had they been draw against other clubs, each would be threats to make the semifinals. Instead, one of them was going home three rounds earlier, that club’s big spending set to go for naught.

With those stakes, it’s no surprise the tie’s second leg played out as a cagey affair, the visiting Swedes playing as if a clean sheet was their best hope. Despite the presences of Marta, Press, and Boquete, Tyresö would only put two shots on Karima Benameur, finishing the match outshot 13-6.

It was indicative of the type of control PSG exerted, twice seriously testing whether Harris could protect Tyresö’s slim edge. One slip, and the roles would be reversed, PSG left to decide whether to defend their away goals edge of press for insurance. When the match hit intermission scoreless, it still seemed like a matter of time before PSG turned those tables.

source: AP
Ashlyn Harris, seen here playing for the U.S. Women’s National Team, had five save for Tyresö today in Paris. (Photo: AP Photo.)

Yet as the second half ticked away, Farid Bensetti’s side never found a way through. They made changes, taking off Asllani, Heath and Jessica Houara in favor of Linda Bresonik, Kenza Dali, and Horan. They forced 10 corner kicks and generally controlled the match. But unable to unlock an opponent readily sacrificing attacking verve for defensive zeal, Paris Saint-Germain were left with the what if. The 0-0 result made Tyresö 2-1 aggregate winners.

For team that’s signing players to six-figure deals, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, particularly given their control of the match. Yet PSG’s is a long-term ambition. They may have thought themselves capable of making noise in this year’s competition, but their domestic tests against superpower Lyon showed they’re still progress to be made.

Unfortunately for them, however, this result means the few tests they’ll get against OL will be the only time they face Champions League-caliber competition for the rest of this year. The biggest challenge remaining in their season isn’t progressing in Champions League; it’s preventing Juvisy or Montpellier from claiming their place in next year’s tournament.

For Tyresö, however, their investment is starting to pay off, even if the shakeup may have cost them a league title (Malmö has clinched the Damallsvenskan title). Though there’s no guarantee things will be easier for them in the Round of 16, Marta, Boquete, and the team’s contingent of Americans can move forward knowing they’re capable of knocking off teams with PSG’s firepower.

Here are the rest of the day’s results:

source: Getty Images
38-year-old Patrizia Panico, seen here playing for the Italian national team, scored as Italian champions Torres advanced on Wednesday. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Torres (Italy) 3-1 Spratzern (Austria); Torres advances, 5-3 aggregate: This one was more lopsided than it looks, with first half goals from Swiss international Sandy Mändly and 38-year-old icon Patrizia Panico putting Spratzern on the ropes early. The Austrians finally got on the board in the 84th minute through forward Lisa Makas, but by that time, they were three goals down and still hadn’t reversed Torres’s edge in away goals.

Birmingham City (England) 1-0 PK-35 (Finland); Birmingham City advances, 4-0 aggregate: The Blues start to make amends for last year’s early exit after finishing off Finland’s champions, with last week’s lopsided result in Vantaa taking the drama out of today’s second leg. Despite only getting a goal from Chelsea Weston in the 50th minute, Brum outshot their guests 21-3, preventing PK-35 from recording a shot on goal.

Zorky (Russia) 4-1 Thór/KA (Iceland); Zorky advances, 6-2 aggregate: Three goals over a 13-minute span of the first half took the life out of this one, with midfielder Elena Morozova (22′) , Ukraine’s Vira Dyatel (24′) and American Nick Astley (34′) putting Zorky up 5-1. The teams traded second half goals, with Zorky’s coming from Chicago Red Star midfielder Alyssa Mautz.

Wolfsburg (Germany) 13-0 Pärnu (Estonia); Wolfsburg advances, 27-0 aggregate: It’s a growing competition. Much like when the World Cup started expanding its field, when a couple of tournaments forced teams to take their lumps, this is short-term pain for long-term gain. This particular pain represents a new tournament record, with Washington Spirit forward Connie Pohlers adding three more goals to her personal competition high mark.

Brønby (Denmark) 2-2 Barcelona (Spain); Barcelona advances on away goals, 2-2 aggregate: After being held to a scoreless draw last week in Catalonia, Barça’s progress in the women’s game look set to be stunted, something that was affirmed when Anja Thorsen put the Danes up after 25 minutes. The second half, however, saw the Spanish champions convert on the two shots they put on Jenny Olsson. Marta Corredera’s 52nd minute equalizer gave the visitors an away goals edge, while 18-year-old Serbian international Jelena Čanković left Brønby chasing miracles after her 87th minute goal. Four minutes into stoppage time, Boye Sørensen pulled the home side even, but away goals see them out of the competition.

Fortuna (Denmark) 2-0 Tavagnacco (Italy); Fortuna advances, 4-3 aggregate: Camilla Larsen’s 32nd minute opener equalized for Fortuna, making the two goals recorded last week in Italy potentially decisive. When Romanian Laura Rus added insurance in the 81st minute, the Danes were into the Round of 16.

source: Getty Images
German international Anja Mittag, seen celebrating her country’s victory at Euro 2013, scored twice for Malmö on Wednesday. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Malmö (Sweden) 5-0 LSK (Norway); Malmö advances, 8-1 aggregate: German international Anja Mittag posted a first half double, Dutch starlet Manon Melis scored in the 21st (and 84th) minute, while Swiss star Ramona Bachmann completed the first half assault. The hosts up 4-0 (7-1) by the 34th minute.

Turbine Potsdam (Germany) 6-0 MTK (Hungary); Potsdam advances, 11-0 aggregate: Three players, three doubles, all within the match’s last half-hour:  Japanese striker Asano Nagasato scored in the 62nd and 92nd minutes; 19-year-old Macedonian midfielder Natasa Andonova added goals in the 63rd and 88th; and Swedish midfielder Antonia Göransson recorded hers in the 65th and 84th minutes. Potsdam outshot MTK 49-4.

Neulengbach (Austria) 1-1 Apollon (Cyprus); Neulengbach advances, 3-2 aggregate: FC Kansas City’s Sinead Farrelly, one of six Americans starting for Apollon, pulled the Cypriot side within one in the 77th minute, but a 58th minute goal from 22-year-old Slovakian Alexandra Bíróová held up, sending the most U.S.-friendly club out of the tournament.

Lyon (France) 6-0 Twente (Netherlands); Lyon advances, 10-0 aggregate: Lotta Schelin and Megan Rapinoe added goals from the bench, though by the time they were brought on (46′, 59′), Twente were already chasing six. Lartitia Tonazzi and Louisa Necib had the hosts up two at halftime, while Élise Bussaglia and Eugénie Le Sommer doubled their team’s lead before Schelin and Rapinoe made their contributions.

Sparta Praha (Czech Republic) 1-1 Zürich (Switzerland); Zürich advances, 3-2 aggregate: 16-year-old Mirjine Selim’s early strike not only gave Zürich valuable insurance but also pulled back the goal they conceded at home in leg one. Iva Mocová’s second half score gave the Czechs life, but the hosts were never able to mount the pressure needed to pull back the final goal.

There are four more Round of 32 deciders tomorrow:

  • Rossiyanka (Russia) return home with a 4-2 edge over Spartak Subotica (Serbia);
  • Konak Belediyesi (Turkey) try to protect their 2-1 lead against Unia Raciborz in Poland;
  • Glasgow City (Scotland) return home having earned a 2-2 draw at Standard Liege (Belgium);
  • and Arsenal (England) hold a 7-1 edge over Kazakhstan’s CSHVSM-Kairat.

The Round of 16 matchups have already been drawn, with matches to begin the second week of November, with Germany’s teams both drawing tough matchups:

  • Barcelona vs. Zürich
  • Konak/Urai vs. Neulengbach
  • Fortuna vs. Tyresö
  • Spartak/Rossiyanka vs. Torres
  • Turbine Potsdam vs. Lyon
  • Zorky vs. Birmingham City
  • Malmö vs. Wolfsburg
  • Kairat/Arsenal vs. Standard/Glasgow

LIVE – Europa League group stage finale: Saints, Man United in crucial deciders

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03:  Virgil van Dijk of Southampton celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and FC Internazionale Milano at St Mary's Stadium on November 3, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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This is it, don’t get scared now.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Premier League duo Southampton and Manchester United both go into their final group game of the UEFA Europa League needing to avoid defeat if their going to make the knockout rounds.

For United, their task is simple. Jose Mourinho’s men need just a point from their trip to Ukraine to play Zorya Luhansk to advance to the Round of 32, while a win could see them finish top depending on the result of the Feyenoord vs. Fenerbache game.

As for Southampton, it’s a little bit more complicated.

A win for Claude Puel‘s side at home against Hapoel Be’er Sheva at a sold out St Mary’s would see them safely through to the knockout rounds of the Europa League for the first time in club history. A 0-0 draw would also do the trick but a score draw (1-1, 2-2, 3-3 etc) would send the reigning Israeli champions through instead as they’d have the advantage in head-to-head away goals after the duo drew 0-0 in Israel back in October. Making the knockout rounds of this competition would be a huge deal for Southampton and would keep their cup momentum going after they reached the semifinals of the EFL Cup last week.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]   

Elsewhere there is plenty on the line across the 12 groups, with the standings page in the link above very handy to work out the permutations as the top two teams from each group (first place team is seeded, the second unseeded) advance to the Round of 32 and will be joined by the eight teams who finished third in their respective groups in the UEFA Champions League group stage.

Below is the full schedule for Thursday’s game which kick off in three separate time slots, while you can follow live commentary and stats on the games by clicking on the link above.


Full Europa League schedule, Thursday Dec. 8

11 a.m. ET
Konyarspor vs. Gent
Qarabag vs. Fiorentina
Osmanlispor vs. Zurich
Braga vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Villarreal vs. Steaua Bucuresti
PAOK vs. Liberece

1 p.m. ET
Vikrotia Plzen vs. Austria Wien
Apoel Nicosia vs. Olympiacos
Sassuolo vs. Genk
Anderlecht vs. Saint-Etienne
Zorya Luhansk vs. Manchester United
Rapid Wien vs. Athletic Bilbao
Young Boys vs. Astana
AZ Alkmaar vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Feyenoord vs. Fenerbahce
Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Dundalk
Mainz vs. Gabala
Astra Giurgiu vs. Roma

3:05 p.m. ET
Panathinaikos vs. Celta Vigo
Standard Liege vs. Ajax
Inter Milan vs. Sparta Prague
Southampton vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva
RB Salzburg vs. Schalke
Nice vs. Krasnodar

Bob Bradley will remain in charge, says Swansea chairman

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With reports circulating in the British press that American coach Bob Bradley could be fired after just seven games in charge of Swansea City, their chairman has publicly backed the former U.S. national team head coach.

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Bradley, 58, has just one win in his opening seven games in charge of the Swans who currently sit bottom of the Premier League table on nine points, three points off safety.

That poor form, coupled with many other issues at the club, has reportedly prompted new American owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien (they took over as majority owners in July) to conduct an extensive review of every department at the club.

However, chairman Huw Jenkins has moved to quell rumors about Bradley becoming the second Swansea manager to be fired through the opening 14 games of the season.

“I don’t know where that story came from, but it’s natural in football that everyone wants and needs results. But the last thing we need at this moment of time is a continual change in manager. We need stability first and foremost,” Jenkins told talkSPORT. “Take a team like Fulham, they changed managers three times in the season they tried to stave off relegation and we’re in a similar position now.”

“Perhaps in the summer I could have made a better decision – from pre-season onwards I don’t think things were right, it was too flat at the club. That had a knock-on effect and obviously it’s taken us a while to work through it. But we’re with Bob now to try and turn that corner – that’s what we’re working towards. We look at the January window as a chance to reinforce things. There are players not hitting the form levels they have done in the past and we have to find out why that is and get that right as well.”

So, it seems that sense is prevailing after all.

Jenkins took the blame for Swansea’s poor start to the season in media interviews on Wednesday and now the long-time chairman is backing his manager.

The south Wales businessman was part of a consortium which saved Swansea in 2004 and then led them on an incredible journey up from the fourth-tier to the Premier League, plus winning the League Cup and getting to the group stages of the Europa League. He and other directors have come in for some serious stick from Swansea’s fans for selling their stake to the new American owners and Jenkins is believed to have made just over $10 million from selling 8.2 percent of his 13.2 percent stake in the club.

On the pitch, it’s difficult to blame Bradley for the current situation Swansea finds itself in.

After some woeful moves in the transfer window last summer (Jenkins has admitted they weren’t great with Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew allowed to leave for big profits but their replacements just haven’t been good enough) the American coach needs at least one transfer window to bring in better players and the Swans are only three points off safety with a pivotal stretch of six games to come in the Premier League.

Home games against Sunderland, West Ham and Bournemouth, plus trips to West Brom, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace will see the Swans go up against direct relegation rivals between now and Jan. 3.

The next four weeks will be huge not only for Swansea’s future but also for Bradley and ahead of their crunch home game against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) the American coach is eager to cut out defensive mistakes as the Swans have now conceded 19 goals in his seven games in charge.

“When you are a manager it (the pressure) goes with the territory,” Bradley said. “It is work as usual, knowing from the beginning when I got here that it would be a big challenge, and it is. When you see a scoreline like that it is easy to jump on us. We are not going to survive if we keep on conceding goals like this.”

Man United’s Europa League clash in doubt over frozen pitch

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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Manchester United and Jose Mourinho may not play their UEFA Europa League game against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday.

[ MORE: Ozil, Sanchez leaving Arsenal? ]

Amid freezing conditions in the Ukrainian city of Odessa (Zorya cannot play their games at home due to the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine) the pitch underwent an inspection on Thursday and with covers and heaters on the playing surface overnight, there is hope the game should go ahead.

However, Jose Mourinho has already talked about the state of the pitch as not being ideal, while the likes of Daley Blind and Paul Pogba looked far from impressed when they went out for a training session on Wednesday in freezing conditions.

Remember, United only needs a point from the game against Zorya to qualify for the Europa League Round of 32 and Mourinho has selected a strong 19-man squad for the trip. 

A statement from Zorya said the following on Thursday morning, as they remain hopeful of the game going ahead.

“Everything depends on the weather. The pitch is not brilliant at the moment. We are expecting temperatures of two or three degrees and everything should be okay.”

Below was the scene in Odessa yesterday for United’s training session, via Simon Peach of the Press Association.


Yep, the pitch doesn’t look great.

Barcelona invites Chapecoense to play friendly

CHAPECO, BRAZIL - OCTOBER 22: Supporters of Chapecoense cheer their team during the match between Chapecoense and Sao Paulo for the Brazilian Series A 2014 at Arena Conda on October 22, 2014 in Chapeco, Brazil. (Photo by Alan Pedro/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has extended an invitation to host a friendly match against the Brazilian soccer club involved in last week’s plane crash.

Chapecoense was on its way to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, one of South America’s most prestigious club tournaments, when its flight went down in Colombia, killing all but six of the 77 players, officials and journalists on board.

The match would be played in August. The friendly, called the Joan Gamper trophy, is used as Barcelona’s traditional curtain raiser for the new season.

Barcelona says it sent a formal invitation to Chapecoense on Thursday.

Barcelona says it wants to “pay homage to the 71 people who died in the accident as well as their families.”