Arturo Vidal hat trick gives Juventus first win of Champions League, vaults team second in Group B

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It may have taken five matches, but after an Arturo Vidal hat trick at Juventus Stadium, the two-time defending Serie A champions have their first win of this year’s UEFA Champions League. With penalty kicks on each side of half time followed by a 63rd minute header, the Chilean international helped his team to a 3-1 win over visiting FC Copenhagen, his third, fourth, and fifth goals of the tournament vaulting Juve into second in Group B.

If they can protect that position in their final group stage match on Dec. 10, Juventus will be into the competition’s round of 16 despite sitting last through four rounds. That position meant last year’s quarterfinalists would be unable to advance if they lost to Wednesday to Copenhagen. Instead, in a controlling performance that saw the Old Lady outshoot their guests 20-7, Juventus leapt into second place, Galatasaray’s loss in Spain to a 10-man Real Madrid further helping the Italians’ round of 16 hopes.

Closing their group stage with a trip to Istanbul, Juventus need only a draw at Turk Telekom Arena on Dec. 10 to advance to the knockout round. Copenhagen, however, can not advance after tonight’s loss, their best case scenario being third place and a Europa League spot.

Though the teams shared possession for much of the first half, the bulk of the first period’s action took place in Copenhagen’s half, action that started in earnest with a sixth minute shot from Paul Pogba. From there, the opportunities FCK saw on the ball usually culminated with a speculative play into Juve’s end, plans which usually ended with the bianconeri on the ball. Over the first 45 minutes, Copenhagen never put a shot on Gianluigi Buffon despite holding 48 percent of possession.

Juventus wasn’t not so ineffectual. Stretching the Copenhagen defense by playing flank-to-flank, the hosts eventually broke through when a ball lobbed for Pogba in the left of the penalty area fell on the arm of FCK right back Lars Jacobsen. Referee Jonas Eriksson was given little choice but to point to the spot, where a blast into the left of goal from Vidal beat Johan Wiland for the Chilean’s third goal of the tournament.

Pogba nearly added a second in the 41st minute, his blast from just outside the left post going into the crown. Four minutes later, Juventus was walking into the dressing room up 1-0, a controlling half leaving the team 45 minutes from climbing out of Group B’s cellar.

Eleven minutes into the second half, however, Juventus were back where they started, their inability to defend a long throw leaving it 1-1. After an innocuous start to the half, a throw in deep down Copenhagen’s right presented trouble after a poor clearance from Vidal. When two Juve defenders failed to win an ensuing aerial battle with Ragnar Sigurdsson, Olaf Mellberg was allowed to clean up. His right-footed volley from near the penalty spot beat Buffon to level the score.

That even-footing lasted all of five minutes, with Mellberg doing his best to give the goal back at the other end. His two-armed takedown of Fernando Llorente inside Copenhagen’s penalty area drew another whistle from Eriksson, with Vidal scorching the left-side netting to give Juventus their second converted penalty of the night.

Within two minutes, the hat trick was complete, Vidal pushing his tournament total to five goals after a cross from Pogba found him unmarked attacking the right (far) post. His arcing header into the left of goal gave left Wiland flat-footed, a Copenhagen goalkeeper racing back across goal unable to stop his momentum in time to prevent Juve’s third goal.

Up two, Juventus clicked it into neutral, only giving up one more shot on target after Mellberg’s goal. Finally putting in the type of performance most expected in their first four games, Juve claimed the Group B place they were supposed to occupy all along. Though they’ve won once in five matches, that may be all they need to advance to the round of 16. A draw at Galatasaray in two weeks will clinch second place and put them into the knockout round.

Goals

Juventus: 29′ Arturo Vidal (p.k.), 61′ Vidal (p.k.), 63′ Vidal

Copenhagen: 56′ Olof Mellberg

Lineups

Juventus: Gianluigi Buffon; Martín Caceres; Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini; Simone Padoin (69′ Claudio Marchisio), Arturo Vidal (83′ Angelo Obinze Ogbonna), Andrea Pirlo, Paul Pogba, Kwadwo Asamoah; Carlos Tévez (81′ Mirko Vucinic), Fernando Llorente

Unused substitutes:  Marco Storari, Federico Peluso, Fabio Quagliarella, Paolo De Ceglie

Copenhagen: Johan Wiland; Lars Jacobsen, Olof Mellberg, Ragnar Sigurdsson, Pierre Bengtsson; Christian Bolaños (61′ Thomas Kristensen), Claudemir, Thomas Delaney (76′ Danny Amankwaa); Rurik Gisiason, Nicolai Jørgensen, Youssef Toutouh (81′ Marvin Pourie)

Unused subs: Christoffer Remmer, Jakob Busk Jensen, Georg Margreitter, César Santin

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

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According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.

Diego Costa injured, but will stay with Spain squad for friendly

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Chelsea striker Diego Costa pulled up in Spain training on Sunday, and with the Blues in first in the Premier League and Costa in great form, there were obvious concerns.

With Costa struggling with leg and ankle injuries, the RFEF informed Chelsea that there was an issue, and Costa was pulled from training and sent for tests. X-Rays at the local hospital in Madrid were negative, and he’s rejoined the squad.

According to the RFEF, doctors will continue to monitor the 28-year-old and he will continue with the national team for the rest of the international break. With a World Cup qualification win over Israel already in the books and just a friendly against France to go on Tuesday, it’s odd that Spain would risk Costa moving forward, but they will continue to keep him around.

Costa has scored 18 goals this season to lead the Blues, and he scored in the win over Israel. Spain takes on France in Saint-Denis on Tuesday, with both teams leading their World Cup qualification groups. Spain has a goal-differential lead on Italy with both teams miles above the rest of the Group G, and France is ahead of Sweden by three points in Group A, with the Netherlands back in fourth.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.