UEFA Champions League roundup: Bayern Munich, Manchester City into the knockout round

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Tuesday was the first day teams could secure spots in UEFA Champions League’s knockout round, an opportunity that should have seen Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City into the round of 16. But Tuesday draws meant two sides missed their chance to lockdown places, and while it’s inevitable that each will not only go through but win their respective groups, only the two teams atop Group D can claim to be qualified for the next phase of the competition.

For Bayern Munich, that accomplishment comes with a European record, their ninth straight Champions League victory tying the defending champions with 2002-03’s Barcelona for longest streak in the competition. Though their 1-0 win at Viktoria Plzen proved closer than most expected, it was still enough to keep them perfect through four games.

Second in Group D is Manchester City, whose 5-2 win over CSKA Moscow leaves them on nine points, six ahead of the Russian champions. But with the head-to-head tiebreaker slid inside Manuel Pellegrini’s blazer, City have secure their first passage into the final 16, with a hat trick from Alvaro Negredo fueling the Citizens’ history-making win.

Real Madrid, drawn in Turin, and PSG, held at home, still lead their groups, but their perfect records went out the window with Tuesday stalemates.

Here’s what else happened Wednesday in UEFA Champions League:

Group A: Real Sociedad (Spain) 0-0 Manchester United (England) [REACTION]

Zzzzz. Though in fairness … Zzzzzzzzzz.

PST’s Steve Davis:

From the lineup selections to a wee lack of urgency from the UEFA Group A leaders, it all seemed a bit deflated as Manchester United and last place Real Sociedad exchanged a couple of bad misses, a few half chances and not much else. United will retain a Group A lead after the 0-0 draw, one where the second half did come to life a bit, at least, following a first 45 that could kindly be termed “sleepy.”

Thank you, David Moyes.

United stay on top of Group A, their eight points in four enough for a one-point lead on Bayer Leverkusen.

[MORE: Manchester United, Real Sociedad plod along to a 0-0 Champions League draw]

Group A: Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine) 0-0 Bayer Leverkusen (Germany)

Shakhtar, needing a win to pull even with Bayer, seemed to throw everything at Bayer for 45 minutes, testing Bayer keeper Bernd Leno multiple times, albeit opening themselves up to counters while doing so. An open and exciting half saw the Ukranian champions dominate, though with no reward. In the second, Bayer came into the game and began to level play, doing enough to keep their three-point lead on Shakhtar through the final whistle.

Group B: Juventus (Italy) 2-2 Real Madrid (Spain) [REACTION]

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale scored in an eight-minute span of the second half pulling, the visitors in front of a Juventus side that had pinned Real in their own end throughout the first half. A Fernando Llorente goal equalized for the hosts, who were unable to find a winner over the match’s final 25 minutes.

From our recap:

The good news, however: [Juventus] still control their knockout round fate. Win both of their final group stage matches, and their nine points will see them through. But with a trip to Istanbul on the round’s last day, Juve still find themselves in a precarious position, one they could have avoided without eight terrible minutes on Tuesday.

[MORE: Eight-minute spell costs Juventus against Real Madrid, leaves Old Lady drawn, winless in Champions League]

Group B: Copenhagen (Denmark) 1-0 Galatasaray (Turkey)

Galatasaray could have taken control of the race for second with a win in Denmark, but one bad, sisth minute sequence from right back Emmanuel Eboué decided the match. The former Arsenal defender kept Daniel Braaten onside ahead of a Rurik Gislason cross, then failed to recover before the FCK attacker scored the match’s only goal. The teams are now tied on four points, six behind Real Madrid.

Group C: Paris Saint-Germain (France) 1-1 Anderlecht (Belgium)

Two weeks after losing 5-0 at home, Anderlecht earn their first point of the tournament, ruining PSG’s perfect record in the process. Sacha Kljestan’s second half run from deep midfield set up Demy de Zeeuw for a shock second half opener, a goal that was pulled back two minutes later by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Though Klejstan later saw a second yellow card, Anderlecht were able to hold on for a surprise draw in Paris.

Group C: Olympiacos (Greece) 1-0 Benfica (Portugal) 

Based on the game in Lisbon, this might have been the exact match we should have expected. Olympiacos, content to play on the back foot regardless, were given license to do so after going up early through defender Kostas Manolas. The plan, however, would have blown up in their faces had it not been for Roberto’s eight saves, preserving the result and Olympiacos’s path into the knockout round.

Group D: Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic) 0-1 Bayern Munich (Germany)

As opposed to the 5-0 in Munich two weeks ago, this was a much more typical Bayern game, with the holders’ dominance of possession not easily translated to the scoreboard. It wasn’t until Pep Guardiola sacrificed Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Müller at the hour that something happened, with substitute Mario Mandzukic beating Matús Kozácik six minutes later. Had it not been for Kozácik, though, the margin would have been much worse. The Viktoria keeper finished with eight saves.

Group D: Manchester City (England) 5-2 CSKA Moscow (Russia) [REACTION]

The Citizens secure their first knockout round spot thanks to five goals from their forward tandem, the first of which came from Sergio Agüero three minutes in. He’d complete his double within 20 minutes before Álvaro Negredo recorded a hat trick, with Seydou Doumbia’s goals on each side of half time CSKA’s only bright spots.

From our recap:

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.

[MORE: Álvaro Negredo hat trick helps Manchester City claim first Champions League knockout round spot]

Benevento remains alone in Europe without a point

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ROME (AP) Benevento remained the only club in Europe’s top five leagues without a point after losing at basement rival Hellas Verona 1-0 in Serie A on Monday.

[ MORE: USA U-17s top Paraguay in convincing style ]

Romulo scored with a long volley to conclude a counterattack in the 74th minute.

Benevento center back Luca Antei was shown a direct red card for a sliding tackle late in the first half and Verona striker Giampaolo Pazzini nearly took advantage immediately when he hit the post.

With its first win of the season, Verona moved up to 16th place with six points.

Benevento has lost all eight of its matches.

All of the top-division squads in England, France, Germany and Spain have earned at least a point.

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Calls for exiled player to go to WCup stirs storm in Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) Soon after Egypt qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1990, a hashtag began trending on social media: “Aboutrika to the World Cup.”

In a country where soccer and politics often mix, and often with explosive results, the pro-government media didn’t like that.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

The hashtag unleashed an intense online campaign by tens of thousands of fans calling for former star midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika, who is now living in exile in Qatar, to come out of retirement and play for Egypt at the World Cup in Russia next year.

It stirred a storm in the Arab country because of Aboutrika’s alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist group that has been outlawed and declared a terrorist organization by the government. The Brotherhood was outlawed after the military’s ouster of a freely elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013.

The 38-year-old Aboutrika faces a host of charges rooted in his alleged financial support for the Brotherhood and lives in exile knowing he risks arrest if he returns home. His assets have been frozen by Egyptian authorities and his name is on a terrorism list. He now makes a living as a soccer pundit on the Qatar-based sports channel beIN.

Aboutrika turned down the call to return in a message to his supporters.

“These are kind feelings for which I thank you,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “But realism is better and I don’t steal the efforts of others. Those men (on the current team) deserve to be there alone.”

Yet that gentle refusal didn’t stop the storm around him, and the unfavorable comparisons made by some between Aboutrika and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, the team’s current star and new darling of the pro-government media.

“Mohammed Salah is the player who stood by his country, not like the other one (Aboutrika),” said Ahmed Moussa, perhaps the most ardent government supporter among TV talk show hosts. “He (Salah) is Egypt’s only star.”

The 25-year-old Salah endeared himself to fans with both goals, including an injury-time penalty, in a 2-1 win over Republic of Congo on Oct. 8 that ensured Egypt qualified for the World Cup for just the third time, and first time in nearly 30 years.

Salah has also been embraced by the government of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and its supporters in the media as a patriot. A donation of 5 million Egyptian pounds (nearly $300,000) Salah made in December to a development fund founded by el-Sissi has gone a long way to endear him to them.

In the week since qualification, Salah has been branded “golden boy,” “legend” and “genius.”

One media commentator, Dandarawy el-Hawary of the daily “Seventh Day,” wrote of Salah’s decisive goal against Republic of Congo: “It touched off the volcanoes of patriotism, sense of belonging and love of one’s country.”

Not long ago Aboutrika was the national hero – he still is to many – after playing a central role in Egypt’s three straight African Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Those triumphs made Egypt Africa’s most successful team with a record seven titles.

Now, the pro-government media refers to him as a traitor.

Another talk show host, Amr Adeeb, suggested the campaign to bring Aboutrika out of retirement was the work of government critics and berated him for his failure to lead Egypt to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Aboutrika has been labeled a mercenary, with his job with the Qatar-based beIN used as evidence of his lack of patriotism because of Egypt’s diplomatic spat with Qatar over the tiny Gulf nation’s alleged support of terrorism.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Aboutrika’s supporters argue that to have him back on the team would be a just reward for his dedication to Egypt and compensation for his failed efforts to get the team to previous World Cups. They point out that Argentina great Diego Maradona and Cameroon’s Roger Milla both came out of retirement to play for their countries at the World Cup.

Responding to the criticism from government supporters, Aboutrika’s fans have also been posting videos of him scoring goals for club and country in years past, with commentators lavishly praising him for his skill and passion.

MLS playoff scenarios heading into the final weekend

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Time certainly has flown by, and just like that the MLS Cup playoffs are well within sight.

While the Eastern Conference is all locked up in terms of which teams will be in the postseason, seeding can change drastically on the final weekend.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

Meanwhile, the West sees three clubs vying for one final spot in what has proven to be a very intriguing battle over the last several weeks.

All eyes will be on three teams in the Western Conference as the San Jose Earthquakes, FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake all have an opportunity to move into the sixth spot.

Below, PST takes a look at where clubs can finish in relation to the playoff race.

Eastern Conference

#1 seed: Toronto FC is locked into the top spot

#2 seed: NYCFC — clinches the two seed with a win; Chicago Fire — clinches two with win and NYCFC draw or loss; Atlanta takes two with win plus NYCFC loss/draw and Fire loss/draw

#3 seed: Fire — finishes third with win; NYCFC — takes third with loss to Crew and Fire win; Atlanta — third with win and Fire loss; Crew — finish third with win over NYCFC and don’t overtake NYCFC on GD, plus losses by Fire and Atlanta

#4 seed: NYCFC — fourth with loss to Crew and overtaken on GD, plus Fire win; Fire — finish fourth with loss and Atlanta win, plus NYCFC win or draw; Atlanta — takes fourth with loss and NYCFC/Fire wins; Crew — fourth with win over NYCFC, Fire win and Atlanta loss/draw

#5 seed: Crew — finish fifth with loss/draw; Atlanta — finishes fifth with loss and Crew win; Fire — takes fifth with loss and Atlanta/Crew victories; NYCFC — drops with loss to Crew, Atlanta win and Fire win/draw

#6 seed: New York Red Bulls are locked into sixth spot

Western Conference

#1 seed: Whitecaps — clinch top spot with win; Timbers — finish first with win and Whitecaps loss

#2 seed: Whitecaps — finish second with loss to Timbers; Timbers — second with loss/draw and Sounders/Sporting KC losses; Sounders — finish second with win and Whitecaps win

#3 seed: Timbers — third with loss and Sounders win; Sounders — loss to Rapids and Sporting KC/Dynamo losses; Sporting KC — finish third with win, Sounders loss and Whitecaps/Timbers draw; Dynamo — third with win, Sporting KC loss and Sounders loss

#4 seed: Whitecaps — finish fourth with loss to Timbers, Sounders/Sporting KC wins; Timbers — loss to Whitecaps, plus Sounders/Sporting KC victories; Sounders — finish fourth with loss/draw and Sporting KC win; Sporting KC — fourth with loss and Dynamo loss/draw; Dynamo — finish fourth with win and Sporting KC loss

#5 seed: Timbers — fifth with loss to Whitecaps and Sounders/Sporting KC/Dynamo wins; Sounders — loss to Rapids, plus Sporting KC/Dynamo victories; Dynamo — finish fifth with loss; Sporting KC — fifth place with loss and Dynamo win

#6 seed: San Jose Earthquakes clinch with win; FC Dallas takes sixth with win/draw and Earthquakes loss/draw; Real Salt Lake clinch with win/draw, Earthquakes loss and Dallas loss/draw

The next Pulisic? A 10-year-old American is heading to AS Roma

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With everything that has transpired since last week’s U.S. Men’s National Team debacle, American soccer fans can use a pick-me-up.

What better could there be than perhaps another young star-in-the-making? Dare I say, the next Christian Pulisic?

[ MORE: Bruce Arena is out as USMNT manager ]

Perhaps, but it’s way too early to say that.

His name is Alessandro Cupini, a 10-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri that is about to complete a dream that a soccer player of any age would be thrilled to achieve.

Less than two weeks ago, Cupini and his family announced that the Kansas City Fusion midfielder/striker would be accepting a spot in the AS Roma academy starting in the Spring 2018, after having trained with the club for the better part of two years off and on.

Pro Soccer Talk had the opportunity to speak with Cupini’s father, Eddie, ahead of his son’s big move to Italy.

“This is something that Alessandro has worked really hard for,” Eddie Cupini told PST. “There are times where I tell him that he needs to take a step back and be a normal kid, but he doesn’t have any of that. He’s an incredibly hard-working and driven kid that does more than most people regardless of his age.”

Alessandro — who recently turned 10 years old — isn’t the typically American youngster though, according to his father.

“There are times where I wish Alessandro would take a break and be a kid, but that’s just not in his desire,” Cupini said. “We built him a mini stadium downstairs where he trains basically every day after school. As soon as he gets home from school he’s doing work down there and always looking for other kids to come over to practice with.”

That’s where the comparisons to Pulisic can be worked into the conversation.

Pulisic followed a very similar path to the professional level when he left his hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania at the age of 16 to sign with Borussia Dortmund. Now, he’s U.S. Soccer’s most promising star as the USMNT looks to rebuild.

“We’re very familiar with Christian’s story, and he’s certainly somebody that Alessandro looks up to,” Cupini said.

Cupini is already on the radar of U.S. Soccer and the Olympic Development Program (ODP), which helps identify young talent in the United States starting at the Under-12 level.

However, because of Cupini’s Italian heritage and his unique opportunity to move to Italy next year, Alessandro could potentially have the chance to represent either the USMNT or the Azzurri in the future.

“It’s a long ways away and we’re taking things slow in that regard,” Cupini said in regards to his son’s international plans. “We’d certainly be willing to explore our options, but I think it would be a real dream and his main goal to play for Italy.”

New Jersey-native and former Italy international Giuseppe Rossi made a similar career choice when it came down to choosing a national team. Despite living in the United States for much of his youth years, Rossi appeared for a number of Italy’s youth teams before holding a stint with the senior side from 2008 to 2014.

Prior to making the announcement that Roma would be where Cupini will ply his trade next year, the young American also had the opportunity to train with Italian academies Empoli and Atalanta.

“My father is from Rome, so for Alessandro to have the opportunity to play for his hometown club it was almost a no-brainer,” Cupini said. “We were very grateful to the other clubs for the chance Alessandro had to train with them, but Roma is a club that is very close to our family.