Claudio Bieler’s 113th minute goal puts Sporting Kansas City into the Eastern Conference final

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He didn’t even make the traveling squad for Saturday’s first leg in Foxborough, but after 113 minutes on Wednesday, Claudio Beiler made his impact on the series. Beating Matt Reis with a one-timer from 12 yards out, the Argentine Designated Player put Sporting Kansas City into the Eastern Conference final, their 3-1, extra time win over New England allowing them to advance on aggregate, 4-3.

Bieler’s goal came after an ill-advised throw from Reis was intercepted along Sporting’s right by Benny Feilhaber, the former U.S. international carrying the ball deep down the flank for rolling a cross toward the penalty spot. With the defense still reacting to the unexpected turnover, Bieler was unmarked in front of goal, his right-footed finish into the left of the net giving Reis no chance to make up for his game-changing error.

Kansas City had reached halftime on the back of goals from two defenders, with Aurélien Collin opening the scoring in the 42nd minute. After Dimitry Imbongo’s second half goal had reclaimed New England’s lead before Seth Sinovic scored in the 79th minute, setting the stage for Bieler’s extra time winner.

The win puts Sporting in their second conference final in three years. There they will meet the Houston Dynamo, a team that has become their nemesis. Dom Kinnear’s side has seen Sporting out of the last two playoffs, and with their win tonight, the Dynamo will face Kansas City for a chance to play in a third straight MLS Cup final.

Kansas City generated the match’s first good chance in the 17th minute with a cross from Sinovic attacking the right post. A nice run from wide from C.J. Sapong drew both right back Darius Barnes and central defender Jose Goncalves, allowing Dom Dwyer to fan out into space. The KC striker’s header from eight yards out went down toward Reis’s line, but a quick reaction from the Revolution keeper saw the veteran to make a diving save.

Sapong’s influence would be felt throughout the half, losing Barnes on a 33rd minute corner headed into Reis’s hands before playing a part in the opening goal. In the 41st minute, a cross from the right from Chance Myers targeted Sapong in the middle of the box. The chaos he caused saw the ball fly over challenging defenders and onto the thigh of an unsuspecting Andrew Farrell. When the resulting ball fell to Collin, the Kansas City defender had his second goal of the series.

It was culmination of Kansas City’s dominant half, one that rarely allowed New England possession in their attacking half. Sporting outshot their visitors 11-2 over the first 45 minutes, putting four shots on target without allowing the Revolution to test Jimmy Nielsen. They had 72 percent of the half’s possession while limiting New England to 58 percent passing.

Moments after the second half’s kickoff, Sporting nearly doubled their lead, with a movement down the right flank creating a chance for Dwyer near the spot. Reis would swallow that chance and also deny the English forward 10 minutes later, when his header starting a two-chance sequence that ended with a diving save on Feilhaber.

By that time, however, New England had asserted more control of the match. The introduction of defensive midfielder Scott Caldwell (at Andy Dorman’s expense) helped the Revolution create more turnovers in the middle of the park, while improved play higher up the pitch mean New England had started to generate chances.

Their efforts paid off in the 70th minute, with two Matt Besler mistakes helping the visitors regain their lead. The U.S. international had fouled Juan Agudelo along New England’s right ahead of a Kelyn Rowe restart – a cross to the edge of the six that saw Imbongo outmuscle Besler to volley home a go-ahead goal.

The Revolution’s 3-2 lead wouldn’t last long. Nine minutes later, shortly after Imbongo was subbed off, Sinovic beat Chad Barrett to a Graham Zusi flick. Although the Kansas City defender has never scored in the regular season, his finish bent the far side netting, pulled the home side even.

In the 85th minute, an aerial challenge lost by Collin left Besler exposed at the back, with Diego Fagundez bearing down. The Revolution attacker elected to shoot from just outside the penalty area, his right footed curler grazing the cross bar as it went out for a goal kick.

In extra time, with Sporting controlling play, the Revolution had another chance to secure the upset, with Juan Agedulo beating Besler to go in on goal in the 109th minute. A quick read allowed Nielsen to get off his line and cut off Agudelo’s options.

Four minutes later, Sporting Kansas City had their winner. After a poor outlet throw from Reis, Feilhaber intercepted the ball on the right. With a surprised defense collapsing toward the edge of their six-yard box, an unmarked Bieler had plenty of time to redirect the ball into the left side of goal, giving Kansas City a 4-3 lead.

Sporting Park’s explosion at Matt Grieger’s final whistle may as well have been a sight of relief, one that transcends the roller coast nature of their Eastern Conference semifinal. With much-discussed failures of the last two postseason brought back into focus by Saturday’s performance, Kansas City was not only had defeat the Revolution but also their recent history.

Thanks to Sinovic’s equalizer and Bieler’s winner, Kansas City get another chance to put their recent past behind them. A conference final against Houston gives them a chance at redemption.

Goals

Sporting Kansas City: 41′ Aurélien Collin, 79′ Seth Sinovic, 113′ Claudio Bieler

New England Revolution: 70′ Dmitry Imbongo

Lineups

Sporting Kansas City: Jimmy Nielsen; Chance Myers, Aurélien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Oriel Rosell, Paolo Nagamura (97′ Soony Saad); Benny Feilhaber (115′ Ike Opara); Graham Zusi, C.J. Sapong, Dom Dwyer (84′ Claudio Bieler)

Unused subs: Eric Kronberg, Jacob Petersen, Teal Bunbury, Mechak Jerome

New England Revolution: Matt Reis ; Andrew Farrell, A.J. Soares, Jose Goncalves, Darius Barnes (115; Jerry Bengtson); Andy Dorman (46′ Scott Caldwell); Dimitry Imbongo (78′ Chad Barrett), Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Diego Fagundez; Juan Agudelo

Unused subs: Clyde Simms, Bobby Stuttleworth, Stephen McCarthy,  Donald Smith

UEFA playoff draw sets up intriguing battles

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The fight for the final four 2018 World Cup spots from UEFA is well and truly on.

On Tuesday in Zurich, Switzerland the draw for the two-legged playoffs was made as the eight best runners up from the UEFA qualifying group stages found out their fate.

[ MORE: Latest World Cup rankings released ]

The Republic of Ireland will face Denmark over two games, while Northern Ireland face Switzerland and two monster clashes have been set up as Sweden and Italy will lock horns and Croatia and Greece will do battle.

A spot at the World Cup in Russia next summer is the prize for the four winners of these home and away playoffs.

The Republic of Ireland seem to have got the better draw, especially as they will play at home in the second leg in Dublin. Northern Ireland will also be okay with having Switzerland but are slightly hampered by playing the first leg in Belfast. Italy against Sweden will be a tight game and one neither nation will relish, and the same can be said for Croatia vs. Greece with their intense local rivalry.

First leg matches will take place on November 9-11, while the second leg will take place on November 12-14.

Below is the full schedule for the two playoff games.


UEFA playoff schedule

First leg

Northern Ireland vs. Switzerland
Croatia vs. Greece
Denmark vs. Republic of Ireland
Sweden vs. Italy

Second leg

Switzerland vs. Northern Ireland
Greece vs. Croatia
Republic of Ireland vs. Denmark
Italy vs. Sweden

Watch Live: England, Mexico, Spain, France in U-17 World Cup action

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It is a busy day at the U-17 World Cup in India as four Round of 16 games take place.

[ LIVE: Stream U-17 World Cup ] 

Red-hot England play Japan, while France and Spain collide and Mexico clash with a very impressive Iran side who won all of their group games. Mali and Iraq complete the Round of 16 games on Tuesday.

The winners of the England v. Japan game will face the U.S. on Saturday after they blew away Paraguay 5-0 on Monday.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s four games, while you can click on the link above to watch all four games live.

Tuesday’s U-17 World Cup Round of 16 games

Iran vs. Mexico – 7:30 a.m. ET
France vs. Spain – 7:30 a.m. ET
England vs. Japan – 10:30 a.m. ET
Mali vs. Iraq – 10:30 a.m. ET

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.