Champions League matchup with Atlético Madrid a cursed blessing for Milan’s Seedorf

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Clarence Seedorf sounds confident ahead of tomorrow’s visit from Atlético Madrid; then again, what’s the new Milan boss suppose to say? That a Milan team that remains lodged in the middle of the Serie A standings is improving but still flawed? That the dramatic turnaround some loyalists hoped for hasn’t happened?

In lieu of such honestly, the four-time Champions League winner (as a player) is offering less committal responses. The recently retired midfielder is promising “a great night” in Milan, while saying Atlético has “weak points” he intends to exploit. Diego Simeone’s team is “one to respect and very strong,” but Seedorf contends his team is “confident although it will be hard.”

If Seedorf’s confidence comes from facing Atlético, he’s making the same mistake many around Italian soccer made when Milan were drawn against the Colchoneros. Though they’ve slumped recently (losing three games in a row earlier this month), Atleti have only lost four times in all competitions this season. Contrast that with Milan, who’ve lost 10 times. The Italian media may be lauding Milan’s chances because they didn’t draw Barcelona or Real Madrid, but their chances to advance are only slightly better against Atlético.

They’re expectations that work against Seedorf, whose meeting with Atlético is being seen as the new head coach’s first major test. In a fair world, he would be judged purely in terms of the incremental progress he makes from the state in which Max Allegri led the team. By next year, Milan may be ready to resume their place near the top of Serie A. Instead, Atlético lack of response beyond Spain has given fans hope.

In all likelihood, it’s false hope. Perhaps a Milan team with Mario Balotelli, Keisuke Honda, and Kaká will finally start converting their league-leading possession into better chances. And maybe Atlético will regress into the slump they’ve just busted. More likely, though, a mediocre Milan’s going up against one of the strongest teams in Europe, and because of their history, the presence of a new coach, and a lack of respect for Atlético, some see them as more than long shots they are.

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

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The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

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The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

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Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

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The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

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On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.