Wenger: Robben ‘made a lot of’ Szczesny contact; penalty ‘killed the game’

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The replay seemed clear, though in Arsène Wenger’s defense, he eventually confessed that he still needed to “see [the play] again.” But after his team’s 2-0 loss to Bayern Munich, that didn’t stop the Arsenal boss from claiming München attacker Arjen Robben “made more of [the contact]” he received from Wojciech Szczesny in Wednesday’s 37th minute. The Arsenal goalkeeper was shown a straight red card, leaving the Gunners to play with 10 men for 53 minutes in their UEFA Champions League defeat.

The incident occurred when Bayern midfielder Toni Kroos, from the middle of his attacking half, lofted a ball over the Arsenal defense, sending Robben in alone on Szczesny. The Arsenal keeper came out to try and beat Robben to the ball, but when the Dutch international played a touch past the challenge and toward goal, Szczesny’s outstretched leg brought him down, denying the attacker a goal scoring opportunity.

Wenger, speaking post-match, claimed Robben embellished the Szczesny’s contact, which wouldn’t have justified a sending off in every league.

“I think the rules are different in every country,” Wenger said, asked about the sending off. “Our‘keeper went for the ball but he touched Robben, who certainly made more of it. That’s what I told [Robben].

“[The call] killed the game. The game was top quality until then, in the second half it was boring. It was one way traffic. The referee made the decision that killed the game.”

Wenger stopped short of describing Robben’s act with the d-word, but when asked if he was accusing the Bayern attacker of diving, he did everything but stamp the label on Bayern’s entire squad.

“[Robben] has enough experience to know to make more of it,” Wenger said of Robben. “Overall, Bayern made a lot of every single contact. We are not used to that in England.”

What they are used to in England (and everywhere else in the world) is managers seeing games from a very partisan perspective – a view so biased that coaches see what you want rather than what actually happened. Given license to say whatever they feel in the wake of a disappointing loss, managers are allowed to discard perspective and balance and indulge their most jaded, often conspiratorial fantasies. At least this time, the manager in question stopped short of saying the officials were actively working against him.

Perhaps Robben did exaggerate the effect of Szczesny’s contact, but it’s too much to imply a goalkeeper tripping an attacker moving in on goal would be called differently in other countries. There is, after all, a reason Szczesny left the field with almost no protest, with more disappointment than surprise when he was shown the red card. If Wenger is imagining a world where such plays don’t end with a whistle, he may also be imagining a world where his post-match comments don’t sound embittered by his goalkeeper’s error.

To Wenger’s credit, he did concede Szczesny may have been culpable, albeit slightly.

“The regret I have tonight, Wojiech misjudged the situation, maybe,” Wenger said, before going on to address the sanction. “It was no clear desire to make a foul.  It completely killed the game.

“I feel frustrated. It was a great football game until half time, and it was no game at all after half time. On a European night it was very frustrating.”

Equally frustrating: The implication that certain games should have a different set of rules than others. That’s what Wenger is implying when he suggests the quality of the play and the Champions League occasion should have been part of the decision-making process. Though he doesn’t come straight out and say it, that’s always the subtext when managers try to add circumstance and the game’s flow to the list of factors a referee should consider.

Overall, the press conference comes off as whining, which is understandable. Perhaps other managers would handle themselves differently, but it’s no mystery why a man who saw his team perform well for 37 minutes feels bitter after his goalkeeper’s momentary lapse. That lapse has his team down two and on the brink of elimination from Champions League.

Reporting from Joe Prince-Wright contributed to this post.

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

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The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia