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]

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

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.

[ MORE: Full FIFA-Qatar report leaked? ]

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.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 23-man roster questions ]

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.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

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?