Álvaro Negredo hat trick helps Manchester City claim first Champions League knockout round spot

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Nothing symbolized the status of Manchester City’s climb into Europe’s elite like their Champions League record, but after Tuesday’s result at the Etihad Stadium, the ignominious distinction of having never made the knockout stage is gone. Thanks to five goals from their forward tandem, the Sky Blues have clinched a place in final 16, their 5-2 win over visiting CSKA Moscow giving Manuel Pellegrini’s team a six-point edge on the Russian champions. The head-to-head tiebreaker gives City the spot with two group stage matches left.

As opposed to the teams’ contest two weeks ago, one which saw a resourceful City take an invaluable 2-1 win out of Khimki Arena, Tuesday’s game was never close. Zoran Tosic’s third minute take down of David Silva in the left side of the area allowed Sergio Agüero to open the scoring from the spot.  At the 20-minute mark, the Argentine international scored his second, his movement along CSKA’s defense utilizing a weapon that would prove unstoppable throughout the night. The right-footed finish into Igor Akinfeev’s lower-left hand corner giving City a 2-0 lead.

It’s been a persistent problem for both CSKA and the Russian national team: The lack of foot speed in central defense. Unfortunately for Leonid Slutsky’s side, Sergio Agüero is one of the worst matchups in the world for a team with that deficiency. From the get-go on Tuesday, center halfs Sergei Ignashevitch and Alexei Berezoutski were out-matched, left chasing a dynamo Khimki’s poor pitch slowed down two weeks ago.

But come the half hour, Agüero took a back seat to Álvaro Negredo, who started and finished the movement on City’s 30th minute goal. A perfect cross from Agüero set up the Spaniard for a tap-in far post, leaving the home side up three.

Seydou Doumbia pulled CSKA within two just before halftime, but after another open net finish from Negredo in the 51st minute, City had restored their lead. The Spanish international completed his hat trick just before the final whistle, by which time Doumbia had scored again, this time from the spot.

Coming off a 7-0 win in Premier League, Tuesday represented City’s second offensive explosion in four days, one which earned the club a bit of history. Though they remain three points behind Bayern Munich for first in Group D, their six-point edge on third-place CSKA ensures the team will be in Champions League come February. For the first time in club history, the team will take part in the competition’s knockout rounds, and while that’s a misleading factoid given City have only made three appearances in the competition, third and fourth place group stage finishes the last two years were seen as bitter disappointments – part of the season Manuel Pellegrini was brought in to replace Roberto Mancini.

After four rounds, Pellegrini has already put that history behind them, and although the first three months of the season have not been perfect, the Chilean has City playing as well as they have all season. With relative ease, the Citizens are into the final 16, looking capable of not only debuting but doing damage come February.

Goals

Manchester City: 3′, 20′ Sergio Agüero, 30′, 51′, 90′ Álvaro Negredo

CSKA Moscow: 45′, 71′ Seydou Doumbia

Lineups

Manchester City: Costel Pantilimon; Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Demichelis, Matija Nastasic, Gael Clichy; Samir Nasri (77′ Jesus Navas), Fernandinho (45′ James Milner), Yaya Touré, David Silva (66′ Aleksandar Kolarov); Sergio Agüero, Álvaro Negredo

Unused Subs: Edin Dzeko, Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott, Joe Hart

CSKA: Igor Akinfeev; Georgy Schennikov, Segei Ignashevich, Alexei Berezoutski, Kiril Nabakin; Pontus Wernbloom, Georgi Milanov (45′ Rasmus Elm); ZoranTosic, Keisuke Honda (78′ Vitinho), Ahmed Musa (45′ Steven Zuber); Seydou Doumbia

Everton loses Coleman to leg break on Ireland duty

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A horror tackle from Wales’ Neil Taylor snapped Seamus Coleman‘s leg in gruesome fashion on Friday.

Taylor was given a red card, and Coleman was stretched off the pitch in the 0-0 draw.

[ MORE: UEFA World Cup qualifying wrap ]

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill confirmed what was apparent from the match replay: the Everton man has a broken ankle.

“It’s a bad break. He’s a fantastic player and character. It’s a major blow for the lad, his club and us.

“Apparently it wasn’t the best challenge in the world – I haven’t seen it. He’s gone to hospital. I saw his reaction immediately and it didn’t look good. He was holding is leg up and it didn’t look good.

This is not only awful for the player, but causes stress as Everton mounts its assault on the Top Six. The right back has also manned right mid for Ronald Koeman this season, and has four goals and four assists in 26 Premier League matches.

Mason Holgate, Muhamed Besic, and Phil Jagielka have played some right back for Everton, while Ramiro Funes Mori has deputized at left back.

Emotional McClean speaks after honoring deceased teammate (video)

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After wearing the No. 5 to honor of his recently deceased teammate, James McClean met with the media following Ireland’s 0-0 draw with Wales in World Cup qualifying on Friday.

McClean played with Ryan McBride at Derry City, and left Ireland camp to attend funeral services after McBride died following a match last weekend. McClean was also mourning the death of friend and Sinn Féin politician Martin McGuinness.

Throw in a gruesome injury to teammate Seamus Coleman and, in McClean’s words, “I’ve had better weeks”.

[ MORE: UEFA World Cup qualifying wrap ]

McClean, 27, spoke with evident emotion following a Man of the Match turn in Ireland’s draw (video below).

“It was a really tough week. The lads here have been great. They rallied around me. The manager was first class as well. He let me go up to Derry there on Tuesday and say my goodbyes. It’s been a tough week with Seamus injury as well. It’d been nice if we had have got a win and ended on a positive note, but it wasn’t to be.

“(McBride and McGuinness) were going through my thoughts today. I wanted to put in a performance that would make them proud. In the national anthem and the moment’s applause, holding my wee girl, it was emotional but I tried to put that in the right way into my performance. Hopefully tonight I’ve done the lads proud.”

World Cup qualifiers: Wales in trouble; Buffon hits 1000

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Friday’s matches mark the midway point of the main round of qualifying in UEFA, and the tables remain tight near the top of Groups D and G.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Group I, however, is seeing some distance between first and second thanks to Croatia’s result versus Ukraine.

Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales

Neil Taylor was sent off in the 69th minute for Wales, whose World Cup hopes are in trouble.

Seamus Coleman was stretchered off after the tackle, with a scary-looking injury that will leave Everton fans sick in more ways than one. Coleman’s leg was broken, and left dangling by the challenge.

Ireland couldn’t take advantage of the sending off, and failed in a bid to overtake Serbia for first in Group D. The Irish trail on goal differential, and will host Serbia on Sept. 5.

But Wales will rue the result more, remaining four points back of second-place Ireland. Chris Coleman’s side drops a point behind Austria as well, and will not have Taylor or Gareth Bale (card accumulation) in its next match. That comes against leaders Serbia.

Italy 2-0 Albania

Daniele De Rossi scored a 12th minute penalty kick won by Andrea Belotti, and Ciro Immobile scored late to provided the goals in Gianluigi Buffon’s 1000th appearance for club and country. Fittingly, it ended in a clean sheet. The match was briefly delayed after flares were thrown onto the field.

Spain 4-1 Israel

David Silva, Vitolo, and Diego Costa stakes the Spaniards to a three-goal lead, with Lior Refaelov ruining David De Gea‘s clean sheet with 11 minutes to play. Isco scored the match’s final goal.

Spain remains atop Group G on goal differential, eight better than second place Italy. Israel is four points behind both.

Croatia 1-0 Ukraine

Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic’s 38th minute goal was enough for the hosts, and Croatia is now five points clear of Ukraine and three above Iceland midway through qualifying.

Elsewhere
Austria 2-0 Moldova — RB Leipzig’s Sabitzer nabs winner
Liechtenstein 0-3 Macedonia — Ilija Nestorovski bags brace
Kosovo 1-2 Iceland — Sigurdsson PK the match winner
Georgia 1-3 Serbia — Mitrovic, Tadic lead the way
Turkey 2-0 Finland — Brace for Cenk Tosun

Boro’s Gibson called to England after injury to Man Utd’s Smalling

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Scoring goals has been the biggest problem for Middlesbrough in its return to the Premier League, and that overshadows how well the Northeast club has defended its own goal.

Ben Gibson has been a huge part of that, and now he’ll earn the chance to represent his nation thanks to an injury to Chris Smalling. Gibson will join England ahead of Sunday’s home World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.

[ MORE: Podolski leads Germany past England ]

Gibson has far and away been Boro’s best player, leading the side in blocked shots and clearances. The blocked shots total is tied for ninth in the Premier League, 11 behind current leader and new England teammate Michael Keane.

Smalling’s undisclosed injury is a bigger problem for Manchester United, which had already lost center back depth on England duty when Phil Jones was hurt.