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Reus, Blaszczykowski, Aubamenyang goals see Borussia Dortmund down Napoli, move second in UEFA Champions League group

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At the beginning of the day, Borussia Dortmund were staring down scenarios that would send them to Europa League, but after goals from Marco Reus, Jakub Blaszczykowski, and Pierre-Emerick Aubamenyang, last year’s UEFA Champions League finalists are back in second place in their group. With their 3-1 win over Napoli at the Westfalenstadion, Dortmund pass the Italian club in a hotly contested Group E,  giving the Germans the inside track on the group’s second knockout round spot.

The result leaves both teams on nine points, three behind group-leading Arsenal, who defeated Marseille Tuesday night in North London, 2-0. Having lost 2-1 at Napoli in the team’s first meeting in September, Dortmund holds the tiebreaker edge over the partenopei thanks to a superior goal difference in games between the side.

[ELSEWHERE: Arsenal cruises past Marseille, draws closer to Champions League knockout rounds]

At the onset, Napoli appeared set to replicate their approach from the teams’ meeting in Naples, playing off of Dortmund while letting a team more comfortable playing in transition dominate control the ball. But whereas BVB seemed uncertain how to attack Napoli in September, the hosts showed some early patience in the face of Rafa Benítez’s approach, willing to hold the ball and establish themselves in their opponents’ half rather than impetuously push forward.

In the ninth minute, however, the referee’s whistle sent both teams’ plans flying out the window. Whistling Napoli defender Federico Fernández for fouling BVB’s Robert Lewandowski on a corner kick, Carlos Velasco paved the hosts’ path to an early lead, Marco Reus opening his right foot onto the 10th minute conversion.

Reus nearly doubled Dortmund’s lead in the 17th minute, a free kick from the edge of the area forcing a diving save from Pepe Reina at the left post. From there forward, however, Napoli started controlling more of the game, the one-goal margin allowing Dortmund to recede into their more comfortable counter attacking posture. The visitors would go on to hold 54 percent of the half’s possession, nearly equalizing through José Callejon in the 29th minute only to see the former Real Madrid midfielder’s try go off the post. Come halftime, Reus’s conversion was all that separated the sides.

Dortmund came out of halftime on the front foot, able to sustain pressure once they established a presence in Napoli’s defensive third. As the hour mark approached, chances for Reus, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Nuri Sahin drew saves from Reina, with the home team looking evermore likely to find a decisive second goal.

In the 59th minute, however, Napoli were given a brief moment of hope when a pass from Callejon found Gonzalo Higuaín open 16 yards from goal. Goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller, however, had read the play brilliantly and charged off his line to give the Argentine little chance of scoring.

source: AP
An early first half confrontation between teams saw Sebastian Kehl, Goran Pandev carded after Raúl Albiol foul on Henrikh Mkhitaryan. (Photo: AP Photo.)

Moments later, Dortmund had their decisive goal. A break down the left flank saw Reus played into space, BVB launching into one of their vaunted counters. As the German international approached the penalty area, he played a long pass across the box to Jakub Blaszczykowski, who was cutting in from the right. With Reina working to get back across to contest the shot, Blaszczykowski one-timed the cross low and between the Spaniard’s legs, giving Dortmund a two-goal lead after an hour of play.

Eleven minutes later, however, Napoli were back in the match, taking advantage of a Dortmund turnover in their own half to get on the scoresheet. After forcing the giveaway near the center circle, Napoli quickly played to Higuaín toward the left, whose one-touch pass into Dortmund’s right channel put substitute Lorenzo Insigne in on goal. The Neapolitan’s first touch arced over the oncoming Weidenfeller and into the far corner, making it 2-1.

Insigne’s spark persisted after his breakthrough, but a Napoli team chasing the goal that would keep them ahead of Dortmund in the standings was forced to expose themselves to counterattacks. It nearly left them down two when Aubamenyang went wide right on a 76th minute breakaway, but two minutes later, the Gabon international finished the scoring. Put in on Reina by Lewandowski, the BVB attacker lifted his shot over the charging keeper and into goal, restoring Dortmund’s two-goal edge.

That margin gives BVB a crucial edge in goal difference over Napoli, not only earning them an advantage in their head-to-head tiebreaker but leaving them likely to go through if there’s a three-way tie atop the group after the next round. If both Dortmund and Napoli win on December 11, three teams will finish with 12 points, with almost every tiebreaker scenario seeing last year’s finalists ahead of at least one of Arsenal or Napoli.

Goals

Borussia Dortmund: 10′ Marco Reus (p.k.), 60′ Jakub Blaszczykowski, 78′ Pierre-Emerick Aubamenyang

Napoli: 71′ Lorenzo Insigne

Lineups

Borussia Dortmund: Roman Weidenfeller; Kevin Großkreutz, Sven Bender, Sokratis Papastatopoulos, Erik Drum; Nuri Sahin, Sebastian Kehl; Jakub Blaszczykowski, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marco Reus; Robert Lewandowski

Unused subs: Jonas Hofmann, Mitchell Langerak, Oliver Kirch, Koray Günter

Napoli: Pepe Reina; Christian Maggio, Federico Fernández, Raul Albiol, Pablo Armero; Blerim Dzemali (62′ Gohkan Inler), Valon Behrami; José Callejon (66′ Lorenzo Insigne), Goran Pandev (76′ Duvan Zapata), Dries Mertens; Gonzalo Higuaín

Unused subs: Paolo Cannavaro, Miguel Britos, Burno Uvini, Rafael Cabral

Watch Live: Chelsea vs. West Brom (Lineups, Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 22:  Diego Costa of Chelsea and Joleon Lescott of West Brom battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge on November 22, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Chelsea hosts West Bromwich Albion from Stamford Bridge (Watch live, 7:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Blues look to extend their eight-match win streak.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

The Blues make one change from last weekend’s 3-1 come-from-behind victory over Manchester City as Cesc Fabregas makes way in the starting XI for Nemanja Matic.

Antonio Conte‘s side will be opposed by a West Brom side that is unbeaten in their last four Premier League matches. The Baggies remain unchanged from last week’s 3-1 win over Watford as the side looks to move above eighth in the table.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill (c); Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Diego Costa, Hazard. Subs: Begovic, Aina, Ivanovic, Chalobah, Fabregas, Willian, Batshuayi.

West Brom: Foster; Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Nyom; Yacob, Fletcher (c); Brunt, Morrison, Phillips; Rondon. Subs: Palmer; Olsson, Robson-Kanu, Gardner, McClean, Galloway, Chadli.

“Pretty unreal, a fairy tale” — Alonso, Marshall celebrate Sounders title

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TORONTO — Talk about penalty kicks all you want, and definitely talk about that save, but Seattle’s formative heart kept Toronto FC’s vaunted attack off the scoreboard to win its first MLS Cup final.

Veterans Chad Marshall, Osvaldo Alonso, Stefan Frei, and Roman Torres simply got the job done against Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and the high-flying Reds.

“We knew what a great offensive team they are,” Marshall said. “Giovinco and Jozy are incredible. The amount of goals they put up this postseason is pretty ridiculous, so to keep them off the board for 120 minutes is incredible.”

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

The man in front of him, Alonso, was a prime reason for that. Countless connecting passes and perfect spacing limited TFC’s chances with the ball. After an MVP caliber season, you could argue that Alonso deserved just as much of a shout for MLS Cup MVP as winner Frei.

“In the final you have to give everything you have to win,” Alonso said. “I step on the field to play for my team, play for myself, and play for my family. And I think I did that.”

Both Alonso and Marshall spoke of the moments following Torres’ match-winning PK, as the Sounders crew flew down to pitch to celebrate in front of a rave green and blue visitors section high above BMO Field.

[ MORE: Bradley apologizes to fans ]

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

“I think I threw my back out on the run to Roman, and he flew right by me,” Marshall said. “It was just nuts. I lost my voice in a matter of 20 seconds. It’s just so exciting.”

Alonso was filled with pride for the fans at the game, and the ones back in Seattle who stood by the Sounders after a midseason coaching change.

“They deserved this, the trophy, because they are always there for us,” Alonso said. “Even when we were down at the bottom of the table. This trophy means a lot for me.”

Marshall admitted the words weren’t coming to him, even an hour after the game.

“I don’t know if I can. It’s an incredible feeling, from where we in July, the Kansas City game, to this moment right now, it’s pretty unreal, a fairy tale.”

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Bradley lauds “fearless” teammates after heart-wrenching MLS Cup loss

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TORONTO — Michael Bradley paused to collect himself, several times actually, before apologizing to Toronto FC’s supporters.

The game of football, with its soaring highs and gutting lows, was the latter now. TFC had dominated Seattle over a lackluster 120 minutes, Bradley engineered several big interventions and some delightful balls that didn’t have an end product.

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

Much of that won’t be remembered, though, because Bradley passed his penalty kick right into the path of a waiting Stefan Frei. Surrounded by reporters in the TFC locker room, Bradley chose his words carefully.

“When you put everything you have into something, when you come in every day ready to pour your heart and soul into something, the highs are amazing and emotional and incredible in a positive ways,” Bradley said. “And the setbacks… hit you hard. Every guy here is going to have to take the time to get over this one, to let it hurt, let it frustrate you, let it anger you.

“It’s not for the weak, and you see that on nights like tonight.”

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

Bradley was one of the final men to emerge from the showers at BMO Field, and he answered every question with brutal honesty.

“On behalf of the team, we can only thank every person in this city for their support and for the passion and the emotion and the energy that they put into this, together with us,” he said. “I’m sick to my stomach that we couldn’t reward them with the biggest trophy tonight.”

In defeat, it was easy to see why TFC’s locker room is drawn to its captain. Bradley shirked nothing, answering the tough questions and humoring those who would lob softballs about his family.

Among the former was this response, one of those quotes that moves a team into formation.

“The margins are so small, and on nights like this you have no choice but to go for it,” he said. “We talked about having a group of guy who were gonna, on the biggest of nights, be fearless and go after things in an aggressive way. And we did that. We were strong, brave, and went after the game in a really, really hard away from the first minute right up until the 120th minute.”

That Bradley missed a PK will howl to the moon in Toronto to the wee hours of this Sunday morning, and his critics will be happy to join in. But as the 29-year-old prepares for a winter that could see him head across an ocean before returning for World Cup qualifying and another MLS season, Toronto can be happy to put its faith — and its backbone — in No. 4.

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Altidore, Frei react to “that save” after Sounders claim MLS Cup

TORONTO, ONTARIO - DECEMBER 10:  Stefan Frei #24 of the Seattle Sounders stops Michael Bradley #4 of the Toronto FC during the penalty kick phase during the 2016 MLS Cup at BMO Field on December 10, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Seattle defeated Toronto in the 6th round of extra time penalty kicks. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — When it came down to it, Jozy Altidore and Toronto FC were inches away from becoming MLS Cup champions.

The man who walked away with MLS Cup MVP was the reason they didn’t land the title.

[ WATCH: Frei’s big save ]

Deep in extra time, Altidore leapt high to loft a header toward the far post. Frei adjusted his body for one dramatic lunge, just slapping the ball toward Roman Torres for a clearance.

“(Altidore) does the right thing because he goes against the way that I’m coming from, and that point you just move your feet as quick as you can see what’s possible,” Frei said.

Altidore thought it was in.

“I thought so,” he said. “It was a tough ball to begin with. … It was a hell of a save. At the end of the day you’ve got to pull off something special.”

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