Where They Stand: Groups A through D after three rounds of UEFA Champions League

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When we look back on today’s UEFA Champions League action, two results will stand out as most influential, neither of which involved contenders for this year’s title. Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, and Real Madrid stayed perfect, but they were expected to do so. Had they slipped, they’d still be favorites to claim first in their groups. The more important results involved teams fighting for second place, with clubs able to claim valuable road points earning a distinct advantage.

If that reads like a bunch of nonsense, consider today’s result in Moscow. Manchester City and CSKA are battling in a group Bayern will claim, leaving duo to fight for the one remaining knockout round spot. Both came into the day on three points, but City was able to claim three road points, riding a Sergio Agüero double to a 2-1 victory. CSKA fell three points behind, essentially making match day four’s visit to Manchester a must-win.

In Group C, Olympiacos couldn’t hold on for full points in Lisbon, but they got a result against their chief rival for second behind PSG. Though they’re only one point ahead of Benfica, they deprived the Portuguese club of two points they would have expected. Two weeks from now, when the teams meet in Piraeus, the Greek champions will be favored to take full points and pull away from the Eagles.

Here’s where Groups A through D stand after Wednesday’s Champions League action:

* – To each of these standings we’ve added a column labeled +/-: a crude attempt to track how many points a team has dropped at home (minus) or picked up on the road (plus). It’s a very crude attempt to gauge the extent to which teams are holding serve.

Group A
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Manchester United 3 2 1 0 6 3 +3 2-0-0 0-0-1 7 +1
Bayer Leverkusen 3 2 0 1 8 5 +3 2-0-0 0-1-0 6 +0
Shakhtar Donetsk 3 1 1 1 3 5 -2 0-0-1 1-1-0 4 +1
Real Sociedad 3 0 0 3 1 5 -3 0-1-0 0-2-0 0 -3

Shakhtar Donetsk’s result looks bad, losing 4-0 in Leverkusen, but in the bigger picture, they’re still ahead of the game. Their match day one victory at Real Sociedad remains the only road  win in the group – a result Bayer may not replicate. If Shakhtar can win at home against Bayer and get Sociedad to go their part, the disadvantage they put themselves at with a four-goal loss may become meaningless.

Group B
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Real Madrid 3 3 0 0 12 2 +10 2-0-0 1-0-0 9 +3
Galatasaray 3 1 1 1 6 9 -3 1-0-1 0-0-1 4 -2
Juventus 3 0 2 1 4 5 -1 0-0-1 0-1-1 2 -1
Copenhagen 3 0 1 2 2 8 -6 0-0-1 0-2-0 1 -2

We’ve been harping on this since Galatasaray left Turin, but it’s worth repeating: Things are not looking good for Juventus. Clearly, third place is a sub-optimal spot, but given the rest of their schedule includes a visit from Real Madrid and a trip to Istanbul, it’s no given they’ll make up the points needed to pass Gala. The Turkish champions still have a trip to the Bernabéu, but if they win in Copenhagen and hold serve against Juve, they’re going through at the Old Lady’s expense. If Gala win in Denmark, Juventus will need a result in Istanbul.

As for the group leaders, Real Madrid can clinch a spot in the knockout round with a win at Juventus. If Copenhagen also gets a result against Gala, Real Madrid wins the group.

Group C
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Paris Saint-Germain 3 3 0 0 12 1 +11 1-0-0 2-0-0 9 +6
Olympiacos 3 1 1 1 5 5 0 0-1-0 1-0-1 4 +1
Benfica 3 1 1 1 3 4 -2 1-0-1 0-1-0 4 -2
Anderlecht 3 0 0 3 0 10 -10 0-2-0 0-1-0 0 -6

Paris Saint-Germain’s in a simliar situation to Real Madrid. Win at home against Anderlecht and they’re into the knockout round. If Olympiacos and Benfica also draw, PSG clinches Group C.

The big battle here’s between Olympiacos and Benfica, with the Greek champions holding a number of subtle edges. They’ve already claimed points at Benfica, have the Portuguese runners-up in Greece next round, have two games remaining at home, and host Anderlecht while Benfica visits Brussels. The Belgian champions are this group’s doormat, but if they’re going to claim any points this season, they’re more likely to do so at home than on the road.

Group D
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Bayern Munich 3 3 0 0 11 1 +10 2-0-0 1-0-0 9 +3
Manchester City 3 2 0 1 6 4 +2 0-1-0 2-0-0 6 +6
CSKA Moscow 3 1 0 2 4 7 -3 1-1-0 0-1-0 3 -3
Viktoria Plzen 3 0 0 3 2 11 -9 0-1-0 0-2-0 0 -3

Bayern can’t clinch anything next round without Manchester City’s help, but with a trip to Plzen on matchday four, the defending champions are likely to go to 12 points. If City gets a result against CSKA, that’ll be enough to clinch a knockout round spot.

Thanks to their win in Moscow, City doesn’t necessarily need a win against CSKA in Manchester. A draw means City stays three points ahead, clinches the tiebreaker between the teams, and has a path to 10 points via their remaining match with Plzen. CSKA, having another match with Bayern, are unlikely to get to 10 points without a victory in England.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

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Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

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That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

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Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?

Report: German publication has full FIFA corruption report

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The unedited 2014 report into World Cup bidding published by Michael Garcia has been ‘leaked’ into the press by German publication Bild.

FIFA had released a 42-page version of the report that claimed to clear corruption allegations against Qatar. This “suppressed” report is over 400 pages.

Garcia quit his job as investigator with the FIFA ethics committee in 2014, saying he believed progress in reforming FIFA had slowed considerably.

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Bild said it will publish more information and the full report on Tuesday, but the BBC notes a couple interesting facets of the initial release:

  • “Three Fifa executive members were flown to a party in Rio in a private jet belonging to the Qatari federation before the vote for 2018 and 2022 hosting rights.”
  • “Bild’s report includes details of a $2m (£1.6m) sum allegedly paid to the 10-year-old daughter of a Fifa official.”

Before you overreact, the 10-year-old is an incredibly gifted footballer.

The reporter who filed the story says the report shows no proof of a bought bid, but that it is like “a puzzle.”