UEFA Women’s Champions League: Big picture thoughts on Lyon’s unexpected exit (Part 1 of 2)

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Olympique Lyon had been to four straight UEFA Women’s Champions League finals. If it wasn’t for a complete, well executed sit-deep-and-wait plan this spring from Wolfsburg, it would have been three titles in-a-row. So until this week, they were the monarchs of Europe, the best team in women’s club soccer, and probably the best club team we’ve ever seen in a section of the sport that’s just starting to mature.

Then they lost. In the Round of 16, the competition’s overwhelming favorite (to at least make their fifth straight final) couldn’t protect the 1-0 lead they’d earned Nov. 9 in Germany. Lyon were victimized by the team they beat to claim their first title (2010-11), with Turbine Potsdam using goals from Stefanie Draws and Maren Mjelde bringing the Germans back from two goals down to overthrow the crown. When Mjelde’s 73rd minute penalty conversion gave Potsdam the away goals tiebreaker, Lyon was left to ruminate with their 2012-13 final misgiving, Wolfsburg having also won via a converted penalty.

Despite Potsdam’s obvious quality, their upset has left the tournament in a slightly uncertain state. Obviously, the show will go on, and for those that have rued Lyon’s Euro-fueled rise, this day was long in coming. Yet there’s little doubt OL were the competition’s highest profile team. Losing them this soon is like Barcelona going out just after group stage. Or Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls being upset before the finals. Or Roger Federer in his prime being upset in round one at Wimbledon. Of course it could happen. That doesn’t mean we’re prepared for it.

But the wreckage of Lyon running aground isn’t so bleak. Challenging people to look beyond the easy story, this crash may have a silver lining. There may be some secret magic on this island that will give us some insight on who we are. We could learn to walk on our own, find love again, and leave all the trappings of our other lives behind.

Then again, we could all end up at a church, incredulous and despondent at how things turned out.

In a follow up post, we’ll sift thought the pros and cons of Lyon’s early exit, but it’s worth noting: These are the kind of existential problems that come from a tournament’s maturing. Four years ago, nobody would have cared if a dominant team bowed out of Women’s Champions League. Now, a small ripple actually makes it to shore. People may not know much about women’s soccer, but some of them know Lyon’s the standard. That knowledge alone is a type of progress.

Now the task for Champions League is to create another heroine – a second, replacement headline that will keep those that came for dominance invested in chaos. Is that focal point Turbine? The holders’ Wolfburg? Or a United States’ national team-heavy squad, Tyresö? Or maybe the chaos can be contained, discussed, appreciated and sold. Maybe it’s time for Women’s Champions League to be the show, not Lyon.

source: AP
Malmo’s Manon Melis, left, and Wolfsburg’s Verena Faisst fight for the ball during the teams’ UEFA Women’s Champions League Round of 16 matchup.

There’s no need to settle on one answer. Whether it be about rulers or serfs, Women’s Champions League doesn’t have to be a single-story competition anymore. If the potential of Lyon’s exit is realized, casual fans may come to think beyond the two-time champions when considering the world’s best club competition.

Here are the Round of 16’s other results:

  • Tyresö (Sweden) 4-o Fortuna Hjørring (Denmark) [6-1, agg.] – U.S. international Whitney Engen scored as Sweden’s runners up make their first final eight.
  • Torres (Italy) 2-0 Rossiyanka (Russia) [2-1, agg.] – 38-year-old Patrizia Panico scored in the 63rd minute, with a late goal line clearance in stoppage time sending Italy’s champions through.
  • Neulengbach (Austria) 3-0 Konak Belediyespor (Turkey) [6-0, agg.] – The Turkish club’s first appearance in Champions League ends one round later than many though, even if they were never in a tie that serves as another argument for improved seedings, draw procedures.
  • Wolfsburg (Germany) 3-1 Malmö (Sweden) [5-2, agg.] – The second of the round’s highlight matches send the holders through thanks to goals from Lena Goessling, Luisa Wensing, and Martina Müller.
  • Zürich (Switzerland) 1-3 Barcelona (Spain) [1-6, agg.] – A surprisingly easy tie for the Spanish champions, who make their first quarterfinal. 18-year-old Serbian Jelena Cankovic standout, given her first start of the competition, scored her second goal.
  • Glasgow City (Scotland) 2-3 Arsenal (England) [2-6, agg.] – Even though Suzanne Lappin scored two minutes into the second leg, this matchup was never close, though their second leg trouble (outshot by Glasgow) does raise questions as to whether Arsenal is really more than a dark horse in this competition.
  • Birmingham City (England) 5-2 Zorky (Russia) [7-2, agg.] – The debuting Russians were out of their league against a team also taking their first turn in Champions League, with a brace from Kirsty Linnett help Brum to their easy win.

You read that title right. There are two big posts on UEFA Women’s Champions League. The pro/con debate on Lyon’s exits is here.

Qatar stadium safety concerns again raised by death investigation

Photo by Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy/Qatar 2022 via Getty Images
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An investigation into why a British man fell to his death on a building site for the 2022 Qatar soccer World Cup has raised concerns about stadium roof safety.

World Cup organizers on Thursday released partial findings of an assessment of the accident at the Khalifa International Stadium, but said the full report cannot be released while local authorities continue their own investigation. It is one of two work-related deaths detailed in Qatar’s latest welfare report on preparations for the 2022 soccer tournament, which currently involves 12,367 workers on eight construction sites.

The 40-year-old British man fell 39 meters in January after one end of the roof catwalk he was installing dropped and a safety rope snapped.

“During the course of the investigation, the team had raised concerns with the method of installation of the raised catwalk system,” the welfare report from Qatar’s World Cup organizers stated. “This required further investigation regarding the method itself and the supervision skills of the specialist contractor staff.”

It has led to “corrective and preventative actions” being implemented by the contractor, a joint venture between Belgian and Qatari firms, along with safety checks across all stadium sites, the report said.

“These included a review of all working-at-height activities across all SC projects, an enhanced process when reviewing specialist activities within construction sites, and a detailed review of all roof and gantry designs,” the Supreme Committee overseeing stadium projects added.

The British man is the only European working on Qatar stadiums to have died in a country relying on a low-paid migrant workforce from south Asia to prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Six non-work related deaths have been announced by organizers, with most suffering from heart or breathing problems.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the supreme committee’s secretary general, said medical staff are trying to raise awareness of the “importance of healthy lifestyles” by evaluating diets and identifying health issues, including hypertension and diabetes. Cooling helmets have also been developed in an attempt to make it safer for workers on outdoor sites during the searing summer heat.

World Cup preparations have been dogged by concerns about the welfare of workers since the natural gas-rich Gulf nation won the FIFA vote in 2010. Mounting international pressure led to Qatar raising living standards and worker rights. Inspections led to three contractors being blacklisted and 14 entities “demobilized” from projects for failing to tackle welfare issues, the World Cup report reveals.

“There is still work to be done to ensure our workers’ welfare standards continue to have a tangible impact on the ground and we are comprehensive in our attempts to tackle the myriad of issues facing migrant workers across the SC program,” Khalid Al-Kubaisi, who oversees worker welfare at the Supreme Committee, said in a statement.

The report has been released as Qatar is gripped by a diplomatic crisis that has seen it isolated in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.

Official (finally): Salah completes move from Roma to Liverpool

Photo credit: Liverpool FC / Twiter: @LFC
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It was the summer’s first transfer rumor-turned-real-story-turned-never-ending-saga that seemed to refuse to cross the finish line, but it’s finally come to pass: Mohamed Salah is a Liverpool player.

Salah’s move from Roma to Liverpool took so long to complete that the club’s poor social-media manager probably never wants to read the words “Announce Salah” for the rest of his/her life.

The deal will cost Liverpool something in the neighborhood of $50 million — a new Liverpool club record — and completes the utterly terrifying attacking quartet Jurgen Klopp can’t wait to unleash on the Premier League come August — Salah on one side, Sadio Mane opposite, Philippe Coutinho in the middle, and Roberto Firmino at striker. Salah, by the way, will take over Firmino’s no. 11 shirt, with the Brazilian switching to no. 9.

Alexis sets the record, but Germany come back for draw

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Alexis Sanchez became Chile’s all-time leading goalscorer (38) on Thursday, and La Roja inched ever closer to progression at the 2017 Confederations Cup with a 1-1 draw against Germany.

[ MORE: VAR steps in to help Aussies draw Cameroon, 1-1 ]

Sanchez moved past Marcelo Salas with his 6th-minute opener (above video) to capitalize on a poor turnover and complete a quick one-two atop Germany’s 18-yard box. Arturo Vidal put a foot in to disrupt Germany’s attempt to play out of the back, and the ball fell to Sanchez who quickly played it back to Vidal, who played Sanchez into the box for a left-footed finish inside the near post.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Chile’s lead wouldn’t quite last until halftime, though, as Lars Stindl got on the end of Jonas Hector’s cross in the 41st minute to bring the reigning World Cup champions back to level terms and all but secure their place in the next round.

With the result, Chile and Germany remain tied on top of Group B (4 points) with one game to play. Given the distance between themselves and Australia and Cameron (1 point each) in third and fourth, a draw in their final group games would be more than enough to go through to the semifinals. One-goal defeats would even do the trick.

Kenny Saief approved for one-time switch from Israel to USMNT

Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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Kenny Saief has been officially cleared by FIFA to make his one-time switch of international allegiance from Israel to the United States, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced on Thursday.

Saief, 23, was born in Panama City, Fla., to Druze-Israeli parents and began his youth career with Maccabi Haifa in 2005, at the age of 11. After a handful of first-team appearances for various Israeli clubs between 2010 and 2013, Saief earned a regular place in Ironi Nir Ramat HaSharon’s first team during the 2013-14 season. In the summer of 2014, he moved to Belgian side Gent, where he’s played in the UEFA Champions League and Europa League. U.S. men’s national team head coach Bruce Arena included Saief on his 40-man preliminary roster for next month’s 2017 Gold Cup.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

He appeared for Israeli youth national teams at just about every level, but having grown frustrated at the lack of a call-up to the senior team, Saief made it known many months ago he would consider a switch to the USMNT if the omission continued.

Saief figures to serve as something of a utility-man for the USMNT, at least from the start. He’s a left-footed midfielder who’s played extensively on both the left and right wings, and even a bit at left back. It’s the latter that should most intrigued USMNT fans, considering the dearth of options available at the position.