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

Report: Man City bid for Mendy rejected

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According to a report by Sky Sports, Manchester City has seen a bid for Monaco full-back Benjamin Mendy rejected, and will have to significantly increase their offer for the transfer to be completed.

The report states that Manchester City bid $58 million for the 23-year-old French international, but Monaco values Mendy at the $65 million level Man City paid for Kyle Walker, a world record for a defender.

[ MORE: Barcelona president warns PSG over Neymar move ]

Monaco is in an advantageous position in this situation, with Manchester City desperate for full-backs and Monaco not obligated to sell. Mendy’s current contract with the defending Ligue 1 champions runs through the summer of 2021.

City has already purchased Walker, but with the departure of aging full-backs Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy, and Bacary Sagna, the club is almost completely devoid at the position, with just Walker and Aleksandr Kolarov on the roster.

Mendy has shown blistering pace and great crossing ability, racking up 11 assists last season across all competitions, including four in seven Champions League appearances. His tackling numbers are also surprisingly competent for such a young defender, completing just about 50% of his attempted tackles during league play last season, and sporting a 64% completion rate in Champions League play.

MLS to add VAR replay in early August

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Less than a month from now, Major League Soccer will introduce Video Assistant Replay to its matches, the league confirmed Thursday.

VAR took its biggest jump forward yet when it was introduced at the 2017 Confederations Cup. Referees on the field were alerted by video assistants in a booth about questionable calls, and the on-field ref would then have the opportunity to review a decision themselves on a video screen.

The MLS press release read, “A fifth member of a game’s officiating crew, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), located in a booth at the stadium, will have access to all available broadcast angles and check all plays for potential clear and obvious errors or serious missed incidents in four game-changing situations — goals, penalty decisions, direct red cards, and cases of mistaken identity.” The league confirmed August 5th would be the introduction of VAR.Major L

For VAR to be successfully implemented and affect the flow of game as little as possible, the system will have to be tightly monitored as to not be used to challenge 50/50 decisions or those too close to call. In addition, quick decisions will be paramount to the system to keep confusion at a minimum and continue play as quick as possible.

There were examples of both good and bad use of VAR during the Confederations Cup. Early in the tournament, Portugal saw a goal correctly wiped off against Mexico thanks to a blatant offside call, with the decision coming 53 seconds after the ball hit the back of the net. However, later in the tournament, Chile saw a goal by Claudio Vargas controversially erased when the system was used to overturn an incredibly close call.

MLS says its decision to use VAR comes after three years of research and testing. It’s somewhat surprising the system is being implemented in the middle of a campaign, with any possible kinks to work out despite the stretch run of the regular season.

Back in early July, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said there is “nothing standing in the way of VAR” use at the 2018 World Cup.

Africa Cup of Nations moving to summer

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The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations has been moved to the summer, neutralizing the effect of the tournament on domestic leagues, the CAF has announced.

In the past, players were forced to choose between club and country with the tournament taking place in January and February. Now, players will not have to choose, and will be able to play for their country without missing any critical club time. Last season, clubs like Liverpool struggled in the absence of key players like Sadio Mane while they left to play for their country.

With the change to playing in June and July, teams will need to manage the heat of a summer tournament in Africa, although it wouldn’t be as bad as one might expect. The 2019 tournament is set to be played in Cameroon, where average temperatures in June start at around 87 degrees and fall throughout the month, reaching closer to 80 degrees by the start of July. Cameroon hosted Morocco in their most recent AFCON qualifier 10 days ago in Yaoundé, and the high temperature for that day (June 10) was 78 degrees.

The CAF also confirmed that the tournament will expand from 16 teams to 24 teams, despite qualification for the tournament having already begun. To fill out the additional slots, the CAF has not announced how it will change qualifying, but it’s likely that 2nd place finishers in all 12 groups would make the field, rather than the top three 2nd place finishers that currently progress. In the current format, the host country automatically qualifies, but still participates in qualification. Cameroon is currently leading Group B after one match.

Eight additional teams could pose problems for Cameroon, who admitted on Wednesday that preparations were behind schedule for the 2019 tournament. “Despite security concerns, social and economic crises, the government and President Paul Biya are totally engaged to do everything for the Nations Cup to go ahead,” said Cameroon Sports Minister Ismael Bidoung.

Finally, the CAF release confirmed that the tournament will, in the future, stay on African soil with only African teams. That means there will be no tournaments held in foreign nations such as China, and non-African teams will not be invited. Both were possibilities the organization was considering.

Barcelona president warns PSG over FFP

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Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu is warning Paris Saint-Germain that even if they try to sign Neymar, they would condemn themselves to UEFA sanctions.

With PSG heavily linked to the Brazilian superstar, rumors suggest the French club is hoping to activate Neymar’s monstrous release clause set at $258 million.

However, that could have serious consequences, warns Bartomeu. “These clauses are impossible to activate if you want to comply with Financial Fair Play,” the Barcelona president told the Associated Press. “If someone doesn’t want to comply, then of course it can be activated.”

The Spaniard assured fans that Neymar is a critical part of Barcelona’s success.

“He has a contract for the coming four years and, of course, we count on him,” Bartomeu said. “He’s part of our team. He’s part of this trident [with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez].”

The 25-year-old signed a five-year contract extension last October that runs through the summer of 2021. Club vice-president Jordi Mestre also said he was “200 per cent” sure Neymar would stay with Barcelona.