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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.

Europa League qualifying roundup: West Ham falls in Slovenia

NYON, SWITZERLAND - AUGUST 08:  The UEFA Europa League trophy is displayed during the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League Play-off round draw at the UEFA headquarters, The House of European Football on August 8, 2014 in Nyon, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In what is often described as more of a distraction than anything for English teams, the Europa League third qualification round is under way, and a Premier League club is in danger of crashing out of the competition prior to the group stage for the third straight season.

West Ham fell 2-1 at NK Domzale, the third-placed finishers in the Slovenian league last season. Mark Noble grabbed an 18th-minute penalty, the only takeaway from an otherwise depressing road result. On the other side, 24-year-old Matic Crnic scored twice to put Domzale through.

Last season, the Hammers also dropped out of the competition in the third qualification round, to Romanian club Astra Giurgiu, although they had wins in the first and second rounds after entering the competition via fair play. In addition, Southampton also crashed out of last year’s Europa League in the playoff round to Danish side FC Mitdjylland. Hull City dropped out of the tournament two seasons ago in the playoff round.

West Ham has the opportunity to turn things around at home in a week as they host Domzale at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday, August 4 in what will be West Ham’s first competitive in their new home.

Other notable scores from Europa League qualification include:

  • Lille 1-1 Gabala FC
  • Panathinaikos 1-0 AIK
  • Genk 1-0 Cork
  • Pandurii Targu Jiu 0-3 Maccabi Tel Aviv
  • Videoton 0-1 Midtjylland
  • Hertha BSC 1-0 Bronby
  • AZ Alkmaar 1-0 Giannina

Napoli chief calls Gonzalo Higuain a “traitor,” striker hits back

Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain shows the Juventus' jersey as he arrives in the team headquarters in Turin, Italy, Wednesday July 27, 2016. Italian champion Juventus said Tuesday it has signed  Higuain from Serie A rival Napoli for 90 million euros ($99 million). (Alessandro Di Marco/Ansa via Ap)
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Gonzalo Higuain’s summer move to Juventus has not come without bad blood.

When the 28-year-old striker moved from Naples to Turin thanks to Juventus activating his release clause, it left Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis with a sour taste in his mouth. “There are those who say that talk of betrayal is an exaggeration, but I think the opposite,” De Laurentiis told Corierre dello Sport. “Because, in this decision, there is the full sense of betrayal, which also includes ingratitude.”

“We never seriously thought he would leave. Nor that he would have erased in a flash the memories of his three years in Naples.”

That didn’t sit well with Higuain, who fired back that it was de Laurentiis who drove him out of his former club.

“It was my decision to leave, but it was [De Laurentiis] who pushed me into making it,” Higuain told the media at his Juventus unveiling. “I’d like to thank the fans and my teammates, but not De Laurentiis. I no longer had a relationship with him; I couldn’t stand another minute with him.”

Higuain was more celebratory about his time at Stadio San Paulo. “These have been three amazing years,” Higuain said, “and I can only say thanks for all the love I was given, but this was a decision I took for my own reasons. I can understand that they are angry with me and I’ve seen the insults, but it is something I had to do and I’m happy about it.”

Napoli visits Turin in Serie A play on October 30, while Juventus will not travel to Naples for the return fixture until early April of 2017.

Pep Guardiola says he benched Samir Nasri because he’s “a little bit overweight”

BEIJING, CHINA - JULY 24:  Samir Nasri of Manchester City attends the pre-game training ahead of the 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Olympic Sports Center Stadium on July 24, 2016 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Samir Nasri‘s soccer career has taken a nosedive since his seven-goal, nine-assist season in 2012/13, both internationally and domestically.

The 29-year-old winger has retired from the French national team after to being frozen out by Didier Deschamps, and has seen a decline in playing time for Manchester City two seasons in a row. Now with a new manager and a fresh start at the Etihad, things aren’t exactly off with flying colors out of the gates.

Nasri hasn’t featured thus far in Manchester City’s preseason, and manager Pep Guardiola said it’s because of his fitness. “Samir arrived a little bit overweight,” Guardiola said following the team’s win over Borrusia Dortmund in International Champions Cup play from China. “He’s much better now, but still there is a little bit of weight. Last season he was injured and we want to avoid that.”

City took down Dortmund on penalties following a 1-1 draw. The squad fell 1-0 to Bayern Munich last week in the team’s first pre-season match. Nasri did not appear in either, and defender Gael Clichy – without naming names – said that Guardiola has forced those with fitness issues to train on their own.

“We have a few players who are not training with the team yet,” Clichy, a former teammate of Nasri’s at Arsenal, said on Wednesday. “If your weight is too high, you’re not training with the team. You have to know that if your weight is 60 kilos and you are on 70 kilos, then you cannot play football.”

Guardiola backed up his policy on Wednesday following Clichy’s comments. “The weight is so important. When you are not fit, danger is coming. You’re not fast enough or quick enough in the head. That’s why you need to be fit.”

Leicester City inks Ben Chilwell to new contract, warding off Liverpool interest

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Liverpool wanted to get younger at the back, but they’ll have to look elsewhere.

Despite reportedly heavy interest from Anfield, 19-year-old defender Ben Chilwell has signed a new five-year deal with Leicester City, tying him down through the summer of 2021.

The Leicester City defense desperately needs Chilwell’s youth as it ages yet another year following their run to the Premier League title. Robert Huth is 31 years old, Wes Morgan – also on a new deal this summer – is 32, and backup Marcin Wasilewski is 36. On the left edge, where Chilwell is most proficient, first-choice left-back Christian Fuchs is 30, while Jeffrey Schlupp provides the only other true bit of youth at 23. On the right, Danny Simpson is 29 and Richie De Laet is 27.

The youngster was reportedly a high-priority target for Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, lodging a number of bids with the news that Brad Smith would move to Bournemouth. According to reports in England, the Reds made one last effort to bid for Chilwell prior to his extension, but it did not bear fruit.

“Ever since I arrived in Leicester, Ben has been a young player that has shown a lot of promise,” Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri told the club’s official website. “He has all the attributes you would want in a defender and shows a lot of maturity for a player of just 19. He has come back for pre-season in very good condition and is already showing that he is ready to push for a place in the team.”

Chilwell, a Leicester City academy product, has yet to make a Premier League appearance, but has featured for the England youth teams at multiple levels.