UEFA Champions League recap: Barça, Chelsea, Dortmund claim groups; Arsenal through; Juve out

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Group B: Galatasaray (Turkey) 1, Juventus (Italy) 0

Consider the situation Juventus were in: Held over for an extra day after yesterday’s ice-out. While Galatasaray players went home, slept in their own beds, work up to their normal routines, Juve spent a day essentially held against their will. I want to make it seem like they were held hostage in Istanbul, but they certainly didn’t plan on being in Turkey come Wednesday morning. It’s not difficult to image a little discontent in the squad ahead of today’s match.

Thus, it’s understandable Juventus weren’t at their best, with their Champions League campaign coming to an end after Wesley Sneijder’s late goal at Turk Telekom Arena. If anything, today highlighted the failures of match days one through five, where a win and three draws left Juventus needing a result in Istanbul to advance.

Had the Old Lady performed better before Tuesday’s ice-out, they wouldn’t have left themselves subjected to Mother Nature’s whims. As is, they’re in Europa League.

[MORE: Snow’s over: Galatasaray finishes off Juventus in Champions League on Sneijder strike]

Group E: Chelsea 1 (England), Steaua Bucharest (Romania) 0

The performance was more impressive than the scoreline, with Chelsea rarely allowing Mark Schwarzer to be threatened by the group’s cellar dwellers. With Demba Ba converting one of Chelsea’s 10 corner kicks in the first 27 minutes, the Blues locked up Group E, their fourth win in six games completing an uneasy group stage.

[MORE: Demba Ba’s goal enough to give Chelsea 1-0 Champions League win, first place in Group E]

Group E: Schalke (Germany) 2, Basel (Switzerland) 0

How do you undermine a group stage campaign where your team took six points from Chelsea? By going winless in your other four games, a performance Basel confirmed with their loss today in Gelsenkirchen.

Goals from Julian Draxler (50′) and Joel Matip (57′) had the Miners up two before the hour, with Basel reduced to 10 men in the after Ivan Ivanov was judged to have denied a goal scoring chance. With the red, Basel paved their path to Europa League while Schalke were on to another knockout round.

Group F: Napoli (Italy) 2, Arsenal (England) 0

The Gunners would have won their group with a draw but were guaranteed a spot in the knockout round if they stayed within two, so even after José Callejon’s 93rd minute goal built on Gonzalo Higuaín’s 73rd minute opener, Arsenal had enough to go through. The only question remaining: Whether Napoli or Borussia Dortmund would join them, a quandary that was answered in Marseille.

[MORE: Arsenal advance in Champions League, but …]

Group F: Marseille (France) 1, Borussia Dortmund (Germany) 2

Robert Lewandowski’s goal four minutes in hinted BVB’s attack would have enough to overcome the plague of injuries suffered at the back. Souleymane Diawara’s 14th minute equalizer said otherwise, though when Dimitri Payet volunteered for his second yellow card in three minutes with a theatrical dive in the box, l’OM opened the door for last year’s finalists to claim first place.

Marseille, however, held out for 53 minutes before Kevin Großkreutz, one-timing a ball from Erik Durm just beyond the penalty area, beat Steve Mandanda for the game-winning goal. With one kick, BVB had gone from Europa League to group winners, sending Marseille to their sixth loss in as many group stage games.

Group G: Austria Wien (Austria) 4, Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia) 1

In a result nobody saw coming (particularly after Alexander Kerzhakov had Zenit up after 35 minutes), Austria romped to their first ever Champions League victory, their four-goal onslaught denying the Russians’ chance to lock up second place in Group G. Two from Phliipp Hosiner were complemented by goals form Tomás Jun and Roman Kienast, leaving Zenit’s knockout round hopes at the mercy of Atlético-Porto.

Group G: Atlético Madrid (Spain) 2, Porto (Portugal) 0

Two hit posts and a missed penalty saw Porto into halftime down 2-0, Raúl García and Diego Costa giving Atleti a lead despite having nothing to play for. Though the visitors would control the game through the final whistle, accumulating 70 perfect of the possession along the way, they were only able to put three shots on Daniel Aranzubia, the backup’s clean sheet sending the Dragons to Europa League (and Zenit through).

Group H: Barcelona (Spain) 6, Celtic (Scotland) 1

Well, that got out of hand. From our recap:

If the purchase of Neymar was supposed to alleviate Barcelona’s dependence on Lionel Messi, the 21-year-old phenom finally put that plan into effect on Wednesday. Scoring three times and setting up a fourth, Neymar found his way onto a UEFA Champions League scoresheet for the first time in six games …

It was a refreshingly dominant performance for a Barcelona team that’d lost two of its last three games, their only victory coming against a lower division club in Spain’s Copa del Rey …

In the process, they showed why the team need not be so wary of their star’s absence. Whereas a spring injury to Messi derailed Barça’s 2012-13 Champions League campaign, this year they have insurance. If this is the Neymar was can expect going forward — one that’s shaken free of his transition phase to embrace his potential — Barcelona may ready to be more than Messi and friends.

[MORE: Neymar’s first three Champions League goals see Barcelona to 6-1 win, top of Group H]

Group H: Milan (Italy) 0, Ajax (Netherlands) 0

Riccardo Montolivo’s early red card set up a battle of old stereotypes. Could the Italian team, reduced to 10 and given license to defend, hold out for 90 minutes? And would the Dutch side, alleviated of doing that staid, defensive dirty work, break down their opponents and advance to the knockout round?

Well, you see the final score. The numbers? Ajax held 71 percent of the ball. They out-shot Milan 25-5 but only got five attempts on target, stats that tell you all you need to know about this game.

Once Montolivo went off (22nd minute), Milan held on for dear life, a life they’ll take into the knockout round.

PHOTOS: Tottenham’s stunning new stadium

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Tottenham Hotspur’s new $1 billion stadium is taking shape and it is looking magnificent.

The plan is for Spurs’ new home at White Hart Lane to be ready for the 2018/19 season, with reports stating that Mauricio Pochettino‘s men will play their first couple of games away from home next season in order to squeeze in a few more weeks for construction.

Spurs’ new  home will seat 62,062 fans and will be the second-largest stadium in the Premier League behind Manchester United’s Old Trafford.

Take a look at the photos below in the spring sunshine in London, with the largest single-tier stand in Europe looking sublime as the roof panels are going on and the stadium is really starting to come to life.


Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso handed three-game ban

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After being named in the PFA’s Premier League Team of the Year on Wednesday, it has been a mixed few days for Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso as he has received a three-game ban with immediate effect after being found guilty of violent conduct.

Alsono, 27, stamped on Shane Long‘s calf in Chelsea’s 3-2 comeback win at Southampton last time out but referee Mike Dean missed the incident completely.

Since then Alonso has received a retrospective charge from the English FA and although the Spanish left back appealed the decision and the length of the ban, it was upheld and he will now miss Chelsea’s next three games.

Alonso will miss the clash at Burnley on Thursday, the FA Cup semifinal against Southampton on Sunday and the trip to Swansea City on Apr. 28.

Who will come in for Alonso?

Antonio Conte has already stated that Emerson Palmeri, a January arrival from AS Roma, will start at Burnley on Thursday and if the Brazilian full back impresses then it is highly likely he will stand in for Alonso in the big FA Cup semifinal on Sunday against Saints. Other options would be Davide Zappacosta playing as the left wing-back or even Cesar Azpilicueta out there.

As for Saints, they feel hard done by after Dean didn’t spot Alonso’s foul even though he was standing yards away from the incident and looking straight at it. At the time of the incident they led 1-0 going into half time and their manager Mark Hughes believes it would have made a big difference as Alonso’s cross set up Olivier Giroud to make it 2-1 and the Spaniard made a big difference from left back in the incredible 3-2 comeback victory. Still, at least Saints won’t have to play against Alonso on Sunday with revenge in the air…

PHOTOS: Liverpool unveil new 2018/19 kit

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Liverpool have gone for a “pepper red” kit for the 2017/18 season.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game ]

On Thursday the Anfield club released their new jersey for next season with New Balance once again their kit suppliers.

The key features of this new kit is a small collar, with a fresh white and red look throughout.

Check out the images and video below.


VAR decisions at World Cup to be explained on giant screens

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Fans attending World Cup matches in Russia won’t be left wondering about the reasons behind decisions of the video assistant referee.

After the VAR’s decision is made, replays will be shown on giant screens inside the stadiums accompanied by a written explanation.

It’s all part of the VAR information system that FIFA unveiled Wednesday .

[ MORE: Man Utd makes historic hire ]

FIFA will place someone in the VOR (video operations room) who will listen in to the VAR’s decisions and communicate them to both TV commentators and stadium personnel operating the giant screens.

“So we will have graphics on the giant screens, we will have replays after the decision on the giant screens, and we will also inform the fans about the outcome of a VAR incident and review,” said Sebastian Runge, group leader of football innovation at FIFA.

With the VAR making its tournament debut during the June 14-July 15 World Cup, FIFA is holding its final training camp this month for the 99 match officials – 36 referees and 63 assistants – who have been selected to go to Russia.

Thirteen VARs have been pre-selected and are being trained at Italy’s Coverciano complex, and FIFA referees chief Pierluigi Collina said more VARs and VAR assistants will be chosen from the 99 match officials.

Three of the 13 VARs come from Italy’s Serie A and two from Germany’s Bundesliga – elite competitions that already use video assistants.

The VAR can support the referee in four game-changing situations: goals and offenses leading up to a goal, penalty decisions and offenses leading up to a penalty, direct red card incidents and cases of mistaken identity.

Still, VARs in both Italy and Germany have received vehement criticism for long delays and bungled decisions this season.

On Monday, Mainz was awarded a penalty during halftime against a rival Freiburg side that had already left the pitch for the break – prompting the unusual scene of a team returning from the changing room to defend a penalty.

“Yesterday we had already discussed this incident here and gave match officials and VARs clear indication about what should be done if something similar in FIFA competition – specifically the World Cup – happens,” Collina said without providing further detail.

Collina added that the VAR should not be overused, adding that ideally it would intervene at all in a match.

“The goal of VAR is to avoid major mistakes,” Collina said. “The objective is not to have clear and obvious mistakes committed on the field of play. This is the target, the goal is not to re-referee the match using technology.

“There will continue to be incidents when a final answer will not be given and there will be different opinions,” Collina added.

Among other items involving the VAR:

MOSCOW CONTROL CENTER

FIFA will follow the Bundesliga model of a central control center for the VAR rather than using trucks outside stadiums.

“We will have all of the referees based in Moscow so there won’t be any stress in terms of travel,” Collina said.

For each match, Collina will select one VAR and three assistant VARs.

Training operation rooms presented to media included six monitors for the VARs and two more for technical assistants enabling the VARs to see requested replays.

There could be up to four technical assistants in the room for World Cup matches.

OFFSIDE CAMERAS

FIFA will install two extra cameras at matches to monitor offside decisions.

The cameras will be in addition to the 33 cameras used for broadcasters and they will be installed under stadium roofs.

Broadcasters will not have direct access to the cameras but if they are used by the VAR then broadcasters can show the video.

Runge added that three dimensional technology – considered the ultimate strategy for determining offside – is not ready for real-time access yet.

SWEAT AND STRESS

VARs will not officiate more than one match per day.

“It’s not like watching a match on the sofa sipping coffee,” Collina said.

Collina, who officiated Brazil’s 2-0 win over Germany in the 2002 World Cup final, explained why the VARs will wear track suits similar to referees’ on-pitch attire.

“The reason is at the end they sweat as much as someone on the field, because the tension is very high,” Collina said. “They can’t do two matches per day – it’s too stressful.”

COMMS AND HACKING

The Moscow control center will be connected to match officials via a fiber optic network.

If the network fails, the backup plan includes an old-fashioned land telephone line and a telephone stationed near the fourth referee for emergency use.

“Worst-case scenario includes a backup plan on site. That’s when the IBC is down – no power, no fiber network,” Runge said. “Then we have a plan in place where the fourth official would become the VAR and the fourth official would be replaced by the reserve referee.

“We have a cabin in the broadcast compound from where we send all of the feeds to the IBC anyway. That cabin can be turned into a smaller, light version of the VOR.”

Hacking has also been considered.

“We are aware that there might be something but our IT department put measurements in place that will protect us from that,” Runge said.

POST-MATCH BRIEFINGS

In extraordinary circumstances, FIFA will hold post-match briefings to explain decisions in greater detail.

“If something should happen that we think should properly and accurately be explained – and it doesn’t matter if it’s related to VAR or something different – if it is a matter to explain the background of a decision, as an exception certainly we will do it,” Collina said.

“But it won’t be a post-match press conference for every match, explaining every single decision taken during every single match.”

More AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf