What we learned from Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League demolition of Bayer Leverkusen

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  • Bayer’s out of its depth at this level of the tournament

We’ve been harping on it over the last 48 hours, but there’s no way to understand the significance of this result without looking back on Bayer’s flops throughout the course of the tournament. Against a Manchester United team that’s proven to be a shadow of their former selves, Bayer lost 4-2 and 5-0 in group stage. Today, at home, with month to figure out how to stay in this tie, they went down in the third minute en route to a four-goal loss. When teams like Juventus, Napoli, Porto and Basel are in the Europa League while Bayer’s in the final 16, you see how fortunate Sami Hyypia’s team was to be drawn into an easy group.

[MORE: UEFA Champions League: Ibrahimovic brace helps PSG cruise 4-0 at Bayer Leverkusen]

  • Paris Saint-Germain deserves credit for seizing the opportunity

Leverkusen was weak, but that doesn’t mean PSG shouldn’t get some credit for their performance. On the contrary, we often see teams sleepwalk through games like this, lulled into a sense of security that keeps them from putting up a dominant result. Had the Parisians sat on Blaise Matuidi’s early opener, using their dominance of possession to bleed out the game’s next 87 minutes, they would have to start a full team in Paris to fully kill off the tie. Instead, up four goals, Laurent Blanc will be able to use his prodigious depth to rotate his squad, something that could prove valuable as league, cup, and European games pile up.

[MORE: FC Barcelona seizes control of Champions League series with 2-0 win over Manchester City]

  • Zlatan on fire, part of everything

Ibrahimovic’s second goal was nasty. We use the term unstoppable a lot, but that was one of the more apt goals for that description – a shot that may have been ever more powerful than his gasp-inducing goal earlier in the tournament against Anderlecht. A soccer ball is never going to be truly unstoppable, but that hasn’t stopped Ibrahimovic from trying.

That goal is the headline. The body of Tuesday’s story: Ibrahimovic was a part of everything PSG did. On the first goal, he played the ball in from the right to Marco Verratti ahead of Blaise Matuidi’s opener. He doubled his team’s lead with a hard hit penalty in the 39th, while his work along the left flank contributed to the buildup for PSG’s final goal. In the lead up to that final salvo, he had dropped back into midfield to help control play as the Parisians passed their way through the match’s final half hour. He is the star, leader, danger man and focal point – the main reason PSG are becoming one of Europe’s elites.

UEFA put a stat out before today’s match: In his last 27 games for club and country, Ibrahimovic had scored 33 goals. Today in Germany, he improved on that ratio. The man is one of the four or five best players on the planet, and if he keeps putting up performances like these, PSG has a chance to beat anybody.

[MORE: What we learned in Barcelona’s Champions League win over Manchester City]

Statement from suspended UEFA president Michel Platini

Michel Platini, UEFA & FIFA
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Statement from suspended UEFA President Michel Platini:

Early this afternoon, I was informed of the FIFA ethics committee’s decision to impose on me a provisional 90-day suspension with immediate effect. That decision, which I will of course contest in the appropriate manner at the appropriate time, had already been the subject of a deliberate leak, and I gave my opinion on that earlier in the day.

I reject all of the allegations that have been made against me, which are based on mere semblances and are astonishingly vague. Indeed, the wording of those allegations merely states that a breach of the FIFA Code of Ethics “seems to have been committed” and that a decision on the substance of the matter cannot be taken immediately.

Despite the farcical nature of these events, I refuse to believe that this is a political decision taken in haste in order to taint a lifelong devotee of the game or crush my candidacy for the FIFA presidency.

I want everyone to know my state of mind: more than a sense of injustice or a desire for revenge, I am driven by a profound feeling of staunch defiance. I am more determined than ever to defend myself before the relevant judicial bodies.

I want to reiterate in the strongest possible terms that I will devote myself to ensuring that my good faith prevails. I have received numerous messages of support today from UEFA’s member associations and the other confederations encouraging me to continue my work serving football’s interests. Nothing will make me give up on that commitment.

EURO 2016: Ireland shock Germany, Northern Ireland qualify

Shane Long, Ireland
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A recap of Thursday’s action in 2016 European Championship qualifying:

Ireland 1-0 Germany

Southampton striker Shane Long scored the goal that knocked off the defending world champions and pushed Ireland one step closer to next summer’s European Championship in France. Long, who entered the game in the 65th minute, latched onto Darren Randolph‘s ball over the top in the 70th minute, took one touch to settle and fired for the far post, beating Manuel Neuer for the game’s only goal.

With one game still to play, Ireland (18 points) sit third in Group D, level on points with Sunday’s opponent Poland. While the winner of Sunday’s clash could leapfrog Germany (19), they will more likely finish second in the group and qualify automatically. A draw on Sunday could still see both sides qualify automatically through the ranking of third-place finishers (the top third-place finishers from group play earns an automatic berth at EURO 2016).

Northern Ireland 3-1 Greece

Norther Ireland (20 points) topped Greece (3), 3-1 on Thursday to officially book their place at EURO 2016. Steven Davis scored twice and Josh Magennis added the third for Michael O’Neill’s side.

With one game still to play (Sunday, at Finland), Northern Ireland can finish no lower than second. A draw against Finland, or any points dropped by Romania (17) would see Northern Ireland finish top of Group F.

Portugal 1-0 Denmark

Joao Moutinho scored the only goal of the game to secure Portugal’s (18 points from just seven games) place at next summer’s tournament. The defeat sees Denmark remain second in Group I, a point ahead of third-place Albania, who lost to Serbia on Thursday. Having played all eight of their group games, Denmark can go no higher than 12 points, meaning they would fail to qualify if Albania beat Armenia on Sunday. A draw between Albania and Armenia would see Denmark qualify based on tiebreakers.

Elsewhere in EURO 2016 qualifying action

Group D

Scotland 2-2 Poland
Georgia 4-0 Gibraltar

Group F

Hungary 2-1 Faroe Islands
Romania 1-1 Finland

Group I

Albania 0-2 Serbia