Manuel Pellegrini: “I don’t have any fear about facing Barcelona”

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There are a lot of reasons to worry about an era of modern soccer where a handful of elite teams make title races as common as runaway champions. Within the context of Champions League, however, that means more contenders, the increased likelihood of strong groups (like the one the featured Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, and Napoli this fall), and some semifinal-quality match ups in the Round of 16.

Last year, Real Madrid drew Manchester United, a tie that saw Nani’s controversial second leg red card sway the outcome. This year, the  Round of 16 draw has paired the two greatest threats to Bayern Munich’s crown, with Barcelona and Manchester City kicking off the knockout round on Tuesday at the Etihad.

It’s a testament to how far City’s come that each club can claim to be favorites, depending on to whom you listen. For Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini, however, any suggestion his club should feel remiss about drawing a team with the Blaugrana’s recent success misses the point. If City, a team that’s never made it to this round of the competition, wants to be considered amongst Europe’s best, they have to play the best.

From The Guardian:

“I don’t have any fear about playing Barcelona, because this team has got to continue to develop the mentality to play against important, important teams …

“It’s impossible to avoid Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich if you want to continue in the Champions League. So in one moment you must play against them. We play them in the last 16, so let’s see what we can do.”

What they’re capable will depend on health. Samir Nasri returned in the team’s 2-0 win over Chelsea, solving one of the squad’s injury concerns, but two other starters are doubts ahead of Tueday’s kickoff at the Etihad. Sergio Agüero, recovering from a hamstring problem, has an outside chance of playing on Tuesday, while Fernandinho, whose injury before the first Chelsea game precipitated City’s February struggles, may also feature, but only if he’s at full strength.

“If there is any risk, they will not play.” Pellegrini said. “They have to be 100% … It’s my opinion that [for] Agüero it is very difficult.”

Club World Cup wrap: Gremio reaches final, Urawa takes fifth place

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One half of this year’s FIFA Club World Cup final was decided on Tuesday as Brazilian side Gremio topped Liga MX champions Pachuca.

Second-half substitute Everton proved to be the difference for the Brazilians, with the attacker scoring in extra time to lift Gremio.

[ MORE: LA FC selects Urena, four others in MLS Expansion Draft ]

Pachuca’s chances of completing a comeback were extinguished with 10 minutes remaining in extra time, as Víctor Guzman was sent off upon picking up his second yellow card of the semifinal.

Meanwhile, Japanese side Urawa Red Diamonds captured fifth place in the tournament after narrowly topping Wydad Casablanca, 3-2.

Despite going behind early, Urawa responded almost immediately in the first half, before building its lead to 3-1 at the hour mark.

A late penalty kick from Reda Hajhouj gave Casablanca a glimmer of hope in the dying moments, however, the Moroccan-based club couldn’t find a way to equalize.

Gremio will await either La Liga giants Real Madrid or Al Jazira in the Club World Cup final, which will be played on Saturday. The loser of that match will take on Pachuca in the third-place game.

Below are the scores from Tuesday’s FIFA Club World Cup matches.

Gremio 1-0 Pachuca (after extra time)

Wydad Casablanca 2-3 Urawa Red Diamonds — Fifth-place match

LAFC selects Urena, 4 others in MLS Expansion Draft

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Los Angeles FC selected five players in the MLS Expansion Draft, including Costa Rican national team star Marco Urena.

Whether they’ll make their way to the City of Angels is another story.

The first pick from general manager John Thorrington was goalkeeper Tyler Miller from Seattle Sounders.

[ MORE: Benitez on NUFC struggles ]

Going next was Latif Blessing from Sporting KC, an electric attacker who netted thrice with an assist last season.

Next was Urena from San Jose and the Costa Rican national team, a huge addition, and then Columbus left back Jukka Raitala before closing up the draft with Raheem Edwards from Toronto FC.

LAFC has already announced the signings or acquisitions of Carlos Vela, Walker Zimmerman, Carlos Alvarez, Monday Etim, and Guillermo Vizcarra.

The club will also loan Omar Gaber from Basel and Rodrigo Pacheco from Lanus.

WATCH LIVE: Three Premier League matches

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Chelsea visits the John Smith’s Stadium to face Huddersfield Town in one of three Premier League fixtures this chilly Tuesday in December (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues are now 14 points back of Manchester City, and three points clear of fifth place.

Meanwhile there are a pair of matches on NBC Sports Gold: Burnley looks to keep pace with its Top Four ambitions when it hosts struggling Stoke City, while in-form Crystal Palace seeks a home win that would move it out of the drop zone. In its way? Dangerous, attack-minded Watford.

Burnley vs. Stoke City — 2:45 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Huddersfield Town vs. Chelsea — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Crystal Palace vs. Watford — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

FIFA bans Colombia midfielder Cardona 5 games for gesture

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has banned Colombia midfielder Edwin Cardona for five matches for making a discriminatory gesture with his eyes toward a South Korean opponent.

FIFA will allow Cardona to serve the ban in friendly games, so he should be available for Colombia’s World Cup opener against Japan on June 19.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

Cardona has also been fined 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,150) because of the incident last month in a friendly in Seoul.

Cardona apologized at the time, saying he “didn’t mean to disrespect anyone, a country or a race, but if anyone felt offended, or interpreted it in that way, I am sorry.”