chelsea

Quick Six: Chelsea stays top, Liverpool’s onslaught, and the rest of the headlines from the PL weekend

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1. Chelsea wears down Everton, stays top of Premier League

There came a point in Saturday’s match where Everton seemed to hit a wall, where the oppression Chelsea began to inflict with the halftime insertion of Ramires at Oscar’s expense began to pay off. Though the Premier League’s leaders had been the better team for most of the day, it wasn’t until the match’s end that their control seemed worth two extra points. By the time John Terry got his foot in front of Tim Howard on Frank Lampard’s stoppage time restart, the Blues were deserved winners.

[MORE: Chelsea 1-0 Everton: Late goal seals crucial win to keep Blues top (video)]

The 1-0 result may overshadow the strong performance Everton gave through much of the match, but it also highlights the resiliency José Mourinho has forged. Whereas the Toffees looked the slightly better team through the first 45 minutes, Chelsea’s halftime adjustment produced a team capable of grinding out a game in typical Mourinho-ian style. With Hazard controlling the attack and Ramires, Lampard, and Nemanja Matic congesting the midfield, the Blues showed the improvement they’ve made since the teams’ first meeting at Goodison Park. Whereas that result went 1-0 to the Toffees, Saturday’s allowed Chelsea to remain atop the league.

Manchester City’s game in hand means the Blues’ lead is a tenuous one, but against a quality (if receding) opponent, Chelsea’s progression was evidence once again. Whereas earlier in the season the team’s attack may not have found a game-winning goal, Saturday saw Samuel Eto’o, Willian, and Fernando Torres help Hazard wear Everton down, something that produced a series of late fouls and corners. And whereas the team’s defense had been suspect during the middle of the campaign, Terry and Gary Cahill were rarely bothered on at Stamford Bridge.

Perhaps the absences of Lacina Touré (injured in warm ups) and Romelu Lukaku (injured, but also loaned from Chelsea) help explain that. Regardless, Mourinho’s side continues to show itself capable of holding off City at the top.

2. Manchester City back in wins, goals businesses

At one time, Manchester City seemed destined to break Chelsea’s four-year-old record for most goals in a season, yet ahead of Saturday’s visit from Stoke City, Manuel Pellegrini’s team had been shut out in their last two league games, a run that persisted until the 70th minute against the Potters. Able to get a cross from Aleksandr Kolarov out of his feet before Stoke’s defense could close him down, Yaya Touré beat Asmir Begovic from the middle of the Potters’ area, giving City a 1-0 reprieve.

Given how City performed against Barcelona before Martín Demichelis’s mid-week sending off, their scoreless run seems like an outlier, not the start of a new pattern. But the run does highlight how difficult it is for a Premier League team to break the century mark for goals in a season. Whereas two weeks ago City was on pace for 108 goals, their now on track to score over 100 times (100.8), a pace that will leave them three goals short of Chelsea’s record.

Given the effortless way players like David Silva, Sergio Agüero and Álvaro Negredo have been able to create goals this season, it’s difficult to image a squad having a more commanding run through the Premier League. Yet here we are, 11 rounds from the finish line, and City’s pace has regressed. For as much talent as Pellegrini’s able to pack into a starting XI, his team may still come up short of the Premier League’s all-time mark.

That mark, however interesting it may be, is nothing compared to the possibility of a second Premier League title. Thanks to Touré’s 13th goal of the year, City stayed within three points of league-leading Chelsea, with a match in hand against Sunderland giving them a slight edge heading into the season’s final three months.

3. Giroud returns, Arsenal rolls over Sunderland

A week of controversy that’s included rumors of personal problems, Twitter apologies, and being dropped from the starting XI for Arsenal’s Champions League match against Bayern Munich culminated in a small piece of redemption for Gunners’ striker Olivier Giroud. With two goals on Saturday, the French international helped Arsenal to a 4-1 win over Sunderland in his return to the starting lineup, keeping the Gunners within one point of the first place Blues.

Although summer signing Yaya Sonogo put in two decent, somewhat reassuring shifts during Giroud’s sabbatical, the Gunners’ lack of depth at striker was still evident, giving the lingering critics of Arsenal’s transfer policies a convenient Nelson Muntz moment. With Arsène Wneger forced to start the 21-year-old French attacker against Liverpool and Bayern, detractors’ ha-has have been evident through social media. They told Wenger to get a striker. Why didn’t he listen?

In reality, the striker position has been less of a problem than another of the Gunners’ transfer storylines, that of Mesut Özil. Having missed a penalty kick during a disappionting performance on Wednesday, the German international was left out on Saturday, giving him a much-needed rest. Cruising to a three-goal win (one which included some of the team’s most beautiful goals of the season), Arsenal never missed their marque summer purchase.

It would be mistake to judge Özil on one bad week, yet his team’s performance without him was a reminder: The importance of any single player is often overstated. While Giroud’s return may say otherwise, his inclusion probably would not have changed either the  against Liverpool (a win) or Bayern (loss) results. And while Özil has been lauded as the Gunners’ pièce de résistance, Arsenal proved quite capable without their record purchase.

4. Four-goal Sunday gives Liverpool room in race for fourth

Amid growing discussion Liverpool’s title prospects, the race for the Premier League’s final Champions League spot had become overlooked. After this weekend, though, a waning discussion may be more appropriate for the league’s fourth place spot. After the  Reds won another shootout, defeating Swansea City 4-3 at Anfield, Liverpool have a six-point cushion on fifth place, with Tottenham and Everton giving grown to Brendan Rodgers’ surging squad.

The Toffees can’t be faulted for their one-goal loss at Stamford Bridge, particularly given the quality they showed throughout most of the match. But the loss still leaves them 11 points behind their Merseyside rivals. Whereas at one time Roberto Martínez had his team in contention for a top-four finish, a now seventh place Everton sit one place lower than they finished the 2012-13 season. Manchester United’s victory over Crystal Place pushed the Red Devils into sixth.

The more inexplicable loss was Tottenham’s, with the team’s 1-0 defeat at Norwich City leaving them six points behind the Reds. While the 11 games remaining in the season give Tim Sherwood’s team plenty of time to make up that ground, the difference in quality between its Sunday showing and Liverpool’s hints there’s something more than six points that separates the sides. Whereas Spurs were once rising under their new boss, the team has now lost momentum.

Liverpool, however, are playing their best soccer of the season. Two goals from Daniel Sturridge complemented by a double from Jordan Henderson helped the Reds overcome another lackluster defensive effort, marking the third time in 2014 they’ve won despite giving up multiple goals.

Defense wins championships is supposed to be the cliché, but outscoring your opponents works all the same. Liverpool’s not competing for the title, but finishing fourth has a prestige of its own. If they claim the league’s last Champions League spot, it will the goals, not defending, they carried the Reds back into the top four.

5. West Ham in top half after win over Southampton

One month ago, we were debating Sam Allardyce’s worthiness for the West Ham job. His Irons, stuck in 18th, looked out of ideas, waiting for Andy Carroll’s impending return to rekindle their hopes of Premier League survival. Given the former Newcastle and Liverpool striker’s injury history, those hopes seemed thin, given how the Hammers had played without him.

Fast forward one month and Allardyce has his team in the top half, with Saturday’s 3-1 win over visiting Southampton the latest in a four-match winning streak. After giving up an early opener to Maya Yoshida, West Ham got goals Matt Jarvis, Carlton Cole, and Kevin Nolan, with the veteran midfielder’s 71st minute bicycle kick sealing one of the Hammers’ best performances of the season.

All of which makes people like me look pretty foolish. Again. Four weeks ago, there was no shortage of head scratching about how Allardyce had managing to survive in East London. Now, thanks to a February surge and a packed bottom half of the standings, West Ham’s looking down on 10 teams, highlighting how quickly January prognoses can be made to look foolish.

Give it another month, and West Ham might be back near the bottom. Look at Aston Villa’s recent plunge (having lost at Newcastle on Sunday). In the interim, the Hammers have left their January woes behind them, making the previously embattled Allardyce look awfully smart.

6. Magath debut can’t push Fulham out of cellar

After Saturday’s 4-0 loss at home to Hull City, Cardiff City look like the worst team in the Premier League, even if the standings tell a different story. After giving up a late goal to West Brom, Fulham remain at the bottom of the table, with Saturday’s 1-1 at The Hawthorns leaving the Cottagers five points from safety.

In the short-term, however, Fulham’s first performance under Magath looks like an encouraging one. While the team still exhibited some of the conservative tendencies that characterized the final games under René Meulensteen, the bottom line was better. Whereas the Cottagers had given up nine goals in their four games before their new coach’s arrival, Fulham held West Brom to one on Saturday. Sure, the Baggies’ attack may have had something to do with that, but last place teams can’t be too picky about the type of progress they make.

Given the miserable season Fulham has endured, the potential for a more solid, capable defense represents a light at the end of the tunnel. Between Cardiff City, Sunderland, West Brom … Crystal Palace, Stoke, Norwich, and Aston Villa, there aren’t enough teams volunteering to avoid relegation to write off Fulham. One good run may be enough.

Particularly given the type of chances Fulham created early in the West Midlands, Magath’s presence is reason for renewed hope. And hope is more than Fulham had a week ago.

Story of Leicester’s success: Game-by-game look at title-winning season

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Leicester City were crowned the 2015-16 Premier League champions on Monday after a magical season which defied belief.

Claudio Ranieri‘s Foxes won the club’s first-ever top-flight title in their 132-year history after starting the season as 5000-1 outsiders and among the favorites for relegation.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

Now, they’re champions of England and will be playing in the UEFA Champions League next season. It has been an unforgettable season, one of the greatest in sporting history and it is a story that has encapsulated the soccer, and sporting, world.

Here’s a look back at every game this season to remind us of just how magical this journey was.

[ VIDEO: Leicester players celebrate

Nicholas Mendola takes us through the first half of the season as momentum built, while Joe Prince-Wright talks us through the second half where they got the job done.


Mendola kicks things off – Game 1 – Leicester 4-2 Sunderland

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 08: Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Sunderland at The King Power Stadium on August 8, 2015 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

How did we not see this coming? Leicester had an undefeated preseason with wins over mighty Lincoln City, Mansfield Town, Burton Albion, Rotherham United and Birmingham City before turning its attention to Sunderland.

Leicester’s four goals boosted the Foxes to the top of the Premier League on Opening Day, as Marc Albrighton helped produce three goals and Riyad Mahrez scored twice. Leicester scored three times in the first 25 minutes, and Sunderland sank to 20th.

Game 2 – West Ham United 1-2 Leicester

Mahrez stayed hot, and Mainz transplant Shinji Okazaki scored his first Premier League goal as Leicester took a 2-0 lead by halftime. This victory looks even better in retrospect, as Slaven Bilic‘s Hammers went to the next level.

Game 3 – Leicester 1-1 Spurs

Again, the headliner here is Mahrez. Spurs went up 1-0 with 10 minutes to play thanks to a debut PL goal from some guy named Dele Alli, but Leicester’s Algerian wizard quickly equalized with a gorgeous move from the right to score his fourth goal in three matches.

Game 4 – Bournemouth 1-1 Leicester

Leicester again trailed late thanks to a Callum Wilson bicycle kick goal, but Jamie Vardy threw himself a penalty kick party. The 29-year-old dribbled into the box only to get knifed down, and the 86th minute saw him scoring the penalty off a diving Artur Boruc to give the visitors a point.

Game 5 – Leicester 3-2 Aston Villa

during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Aston Villa at the King Power Stadium on September 13, 2015 in Leicester, United Kingdom.

Those impressive moments aside, this is where the magic starts to feel incredibly real. At the time, we didn’t realize Tim Sherwood hadn’t fixed much of anything from the year before, and that Villa was in big trouble.

Villa scored on both sides of halftime, and led the derby 2-0 with about a half hour to play. Ritchie De Laet made it 2-0 thanks to goal line technology, and Vardy tied it up within 8 minutes. Substitute Nathan Dyer scored in the 89th minute to win it, and fans on both sides had very different intonations of “Wow”.

Game 6 – Stoke City 2-2 Leicester

These guys! Vardy and Mahrez scored again, and there was no change in the dramatics from the previous week. Stoke had opened up a 2-0 lead before the twin terrors tabbed late goals, Mahrez by penalty, as the Foxes claimed a point and kept the Potters scrambling near the bottom of the table.

Game 7 – Leicester 2-5 Arsenal

Vardy’s early goal gave Leicester’s home faithful hope that this remarkable run could be on a championship path, but Arsene Wenger‘s Gunners weren’t interested in that sort of story. Alexis Sanchez had a hat trick to join scorers Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud on the sheet. Vardy had another in the blowout, as Foxes don’t quit.

Game 8 – Norwich 1-2 Leicester

Vardy won and converted another crafty penalty to keep his goal-scoring streak alive, and Jeff Schlupp also scored in lifting Leicester to its first win in three matches.

Game 9 – Southampton 2-2 Leicester

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17: Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Leicester City at St Mary's Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

Yet another Vardy-inspired comeback from another 2-0 hole, as the PL’s leading scorer made it nine on the season in canceling out an equally-remarkable pair of unlikely goal scorers on the home end: defenders Jose Fonte and Virgil Van Dijk. The Foxes had 16 points and remained in the Top Five at the close of business, three more than a Saints club they’d need to hold off if European competition was to be (Hint: They did),

Game 10 – Leicester 1-0 Crystal Palace

At the time, it looked like Leicester and Palace would be duking it out for a top half spot, and most would’ve still thought Palace was a more legit option. But… Vardy, again. Palace had a late giveaway that the striker used to beat Julian Speroni and move four points clear of the visitors.

Game 11 – West Brom 2-3 Leicester

Salomon Rondon opened the scoring for Tony Pulis‘ Baggies, and surely it’d be hard to break down a lead-holding WBA. Marc Albrighton’s magical crosses continued to find the mark, and Mahrez tied the match at 1 before using a back post volley to make it 2-1. Danny Drinkwater then played in Vardy for an insurance tally that made the English striker the third player in PL history to score in 8-straight games, joining Ruud van Nistelrooy and Daniel Sturridge. Impressive company, no?

Game 12 – Leicester 2-1 Watford

Kasper Schmeichel‘s big saves prepared another feast for Leicester, and Vardy devoured history on the way. N'Golo Kante gave the Foxes the lead when Heurelho Gomes bungled a fairly routine save, and the keeper later took down Vardy for yet another PK. Nine-straight.

Game 13 – Newcastle United 0-3 Leicester

“Leicester City is for real, and so is Jamie Vardy‘s place in history.”

So began our recap of the Foxes’ thumping of the Magpies at St. James Park, as Vardy worked a 1-2 with Leonardo Ulloa to join Ruud van Nistelrooy as the only players in Premier League history to score goals in 10-straight matches. Ulloa later added one of his own, joining Okazaki on the list of scorers in the clean sheet victory.

Game 14 – Leicester 1-1 Manchester United

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: A message to congratulate Jamie Vardy of Leicester City on the new Premier League record of scoring 11 consecutive games is displayed at the screen after the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

The first of Leicester’s 1-1 draws with the Red Devils was the day Vardy became immortal (so to speak, as an actual immortal Vardy is pretty terrifying). How fitting that Vardy became the first PL player to score in 11-straight games against RVN’s team, and that he slotted past impressive backstop David De Gea to do it. Bastian Schweinsteiger provided the equalizer, and Leicester was level on points with first place Man City.

Game 15 – Swansea 0-3 Leicester

As we’d later learn from a 4-0 decision at King Power, Leicester was a major matchup problem for the Premier League’s Welsh mainstays. Mahrez was greedy, scoring all of Leicester’s goals as Vardy’s streak ran its course in Wales.

Game 16 – Leicester 2-1 Chelsea

If you’re like me, you thought the Foxes were entering a four-match run that would halt their title momentum for good. So, if you’re like me, you were really wrong. Mahrez found Vardy before scoring himself, and Chelsea could only manage a Loic Remy goal near the end in a notable win for Leicester.

Game 17 – Everton 2-3 Leicester

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 19: Riyad Mahrez (R) of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal with his team mate Marc Albrighton (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Leicester City at Goodison Park on December 19, 2015 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

This was one of those days that symbolized the good fortune needed to win a title, as Mahrez converted penalty kicks in both halves. Shinji Okazaki added a third goal to make it 3-1, and Leicester held on for a win at Goodison Park.

Game 18 – Liverpool 1-0 Leicester

DYK: The Foxes were capable of being blanked? Christian Benteke, of all people, gave the Reds a home win to put Leicester in the loss column for the second time this season.

Game 19 – Leicester 0-0 Manchester City

Another day without a goal for Leicester wasn’t too worrying, as the Foxes held Man City off the scoresheet to stay ahead of the visitors on the Premier League table.


JPW takes up the story – Game 20 – Leicester 0-0 Bournemouth

A game where the Cherries were reduced to 10-men but somehow Leicester couldn’t find a way through. This definitely felt like two points dropped for Ranieri’s side.

Game 21Tottenham 0-1 Leicester

Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane, right, lifts the ball over Leicester City’s goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel but fails to score during their English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City at the White Hart Lane stadium in London Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Spurs hit the crossbar, went close on several occasions but Leicester held on. Then, on a cold January night at the Lane, Robert Huth scored a late winner to send the away fans wild.

Game 22Aston Villa 1-1 Leicester

Another little blip for the Foxes against their Midlands rivals Villa. Okazaki gave Leicester the lead but Rudy Gestede‘s late equalizer got Villa a point.

Game 23Leicester 3-0 Stoke

This win sent Leicester three points clear at the top as Danny Drinkwater netted his first Leicester goal, plus Vardy ended his seven-game drought.

Game 24Leicester 2-0 Liverpool

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02: Jamie Vardy (C) of Leicester City controls the ball against Dejan Lovren (R) and Mamadou Sakho (L) of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Liverpool at The King Power Stadium on February 2, 2016 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

Vardy belted in a sensational volley to down a spirited Liverpool side who had looked the more likely to go ahead. The Foxes were now starting to truly believe.

Game 25Manchester City 1-3 Leicester

If the Liverpool win gave them belief, victory at title rivals Man City almost handed Leicester the advantage in the title race. Mahrez dazzled City and Huth scored two crucial goals and the Foxes were now six points clear. “We’re going to win the league!” was sung by the Leicester fans, perhaps for the first time they truly believed it.

Game 26Arsenal 2-1 Leicester

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14: Robert Huth and Kasper Schmeichel of Leicester City react after Danny Welbeck of Arsenal scored the winning goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Leicester City at Emirates Stadium on February 14, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

This was the game where everybody thought the wheels had come off. Vardy’s PK gave them an early lead but a goal from Walcott and then a last-gasp winner from Welbeck had everyone believing Arsenal would now take hold of the title and the Foxes would crumble…

Game 27Leicester 1-0 Norwich

Perhaps one of the most important 1-0 wins, Leicester left it incredibly late with Leonardo Ulloa scoring a stoppage-time winner. His goal actually caused mini-earthquakes at the KP Stadium, according to records of seismic activity.

Game 28Leicester 2-2 West Brom

The Baggies battled hard with Leicester and Craig Gardner‘s fabulous free kick grabbed the Baggies a point. Leicester’s lead was now down to just three points at the top.

Game 29Watford 0-1 Leicester

This was the start of the Foxes incredible run of 1-0 wins. Mahrez, again, provided a magic moment with a fine, curling goal from the edge of the box. The Algerian wizard was the difference.

Game 30Leicester 1-0 Newcastle

Okazaki’s fine overhead kick was the winner this time as Rafael Benitez tasted defeat on his managerial debut for Newcastle.

Game 31Crystal Palace 0-1 Leicester

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 19: Riyad Mahrez (R) of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his team mate Jamie Vardy (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Leicester City at Selhurst Park on March 19, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Mahrez, again, was the hero as Vardy crossed for him in the first half and he swept home. Palace hit the bar and had shots cleared off the line late on. Leicester fans sing “We’re going to win the league!” louder and longer than ever before. They were now eight points clear at the top.

Game 32Leicester 1-0 Southampton

I was at the KP and said it on the day: this felt like the day Leicester won the Premier League. Wes Morgan‘s powerful first half header won it for the Foxes, with penalty calls going their way in a tight game. Doughnuts and beer were handed out to all home fans to celebrate the chairman’s birthday in the sun. A real party atmosphere and the dream was inching closer.

Game 33Sunderland 0-2 Leicester

Vardy scored twice in the second half and Jack Rodwell missed a glorious chance as the Foxes overcame the Black Cats. Ranieri was overcome with emotion at the final whistle as he began crying on the pitch.

Game 34Leicester 2-2 West Ham

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 17: Leonardo Ulloa of Leicester City celebrates with team mates after scoring his team's second goal of the game from the penalty spot during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and West Ham United at The King Power Stadium on April 17, 2016 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Controversy galore. Vardy put Leicester ahead early but was sent off in the second half for simulation. Pandemonium as he then launched an attack on the referee and received a further game ban. At the other end West Ham scored twice in three minutes to turn the game on its head, the first a penalty kick, as the Hammers look to have ruined the party. However, a very dubious late penalty kick was awarded by the under-fire referee, Jon Moss, and Ulloa slotted it home to send the KP wild. Leicester had dodged a massive bullet.

Game 35Leicester 4-0 Swansea

No Vardy, no problem. Ulloa scored twice as the stand in and he Foxes moved eight points clear. Spurs slipped up at home the following day against West Brom, so they were now within three points of the title.

Game 36 Manchester United 1-1 Leicester

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 01: Wes Morgan of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's opening goal with team mates during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on May 1, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Morgan canceled out Martial’s early strike and despite penalty calls and United pushing late on, the Foxes held on. That meant anything other than a win for Tottenham against Chelsea on Monday meant they would win the title. Spurs were 2-0 up… then crumbled and Eden Hazard’s late equalizer sealed their first-ever title win in their 132-year history. Cue parties, euphoria and excitement on the streets of Leicester.

Game 37 – Leicester – Everton – TBD

The title will be handed to the Foxes in front of their own fans on Saturday. The players were partying long into the night so don’t expect too many goals or fine performances this Saturday. Who cares though? A ticket to this game will be the hottest ticket in town and were being sold for more than $11,000 each three weeks ago.

Game 38 – Chelsea – Leicester – TBD

On the final day Leicester will travel to the team they took the title from, Chelsea. The Blues drew with Spurs to clinch the crown for Leicester and former Chelsea boss Ranieri will return to his former club as a champion. You couldn’t have written the script better. Bellissimo.

Kosovo elected as UEFA member in 28-24 vote

Supporters of Kosovo's national soccer team raise Kosovo flag during their international friendly soccer match at Adem Jashari Stadium in Mitrovica, Kosovo on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Kosovo host Turkey for their second friendly match of the country's national football team. Turkey won the match 6-1. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu
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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) Kosovo was given UEFA membership Tuesday, and could now be fast-tracked into FIFA and the 2018 World Cup qualifying program.

UEFA’s member federations voted 28-24 to accept the former province of Serbia, which led the opposition. Two votes were declared invalid.

The UEFA congress also elected Florence Hardouin, the French soccer federation’s marketing director, as a member of its executive committee.

[ VIDEO: Leicester fans react to title ]

UEFA met without its president, Michel Platini, who should get a verdict next Monday from CAS in his appeal against a six-year ban by FIFA. Platini and former FIFA president Sepp Blatter were sanctioned over a $2 million payment the former France great received in 2011 as uncontracted and backdated salary.

Whatever the CAS decision on Platini’s fate, France ensured itself of a spot on UEFA’s executive committee with Hardouin’s election. By defeating Karen Espelund of Norway 33-21, Hardouin becomes the first elected female member of the panel and will serve a three-year mandate until executive elections in 2019.

Kosovo has sought international recognition through sports since declaring independence from Serbia in 2008.

Fadil Vokrri, president of the Football Federation of Kosovo, said the result was a “historic moment.”

“We will be able to bring people together through football on the pitch and around the pitch,” Vokrri said. “This is our vision for the future as the 55th member association of UEFA.”

Before the vote, Serbian soccer federation president Tomislav Karadzic said the decision on Kosovo was a “political vote, not a footballing proposal.”

With Kosovo’s UEFA membership, “politics would abuse football in the harshest possible way,” Karadzic said.

UEFA supported Kosovo’s case after resisting previous efforts by FIFA in 2012 to let its national and clubs teams play opponents from other countries.

A breakthrough came in January 2014 when FIFA ruled that teams from Kosovo could play international matches, except against teams from other parts of the former Yugoslavia.

Kosovo needs to be accepted as a FIFA member before it can enter a World Cup qualifying group, which kicks off in September.

[ MORE: Kiev will sell Yarmolenko, but not to Stoke or Everton ]

FIFA’s ruling council will meet in Mexico City on Monday, and can send Kosovo’s application for a decision by the FIFA congress four days later.

Earlier at the congress, FIFA President Gianni Infantino urged European soccer leaders to give money to poorer federations from the increased funds they get from Zurich.

“Give it to other federations around the world if you don’t need the money,” Infantino told the 54 UEFA member federations at their annual congress.

All FIFA members should get big increases in their annual grant to fulfil a key election promise by Infantino.

The FIFA president was elected in February after promising to give each member federation $5 million every four years from World Cup revenues. That pledge would more than double the $2.05 million that each FIFA member received in the four-year cycle tied to the 2014 World Cup.

European federations earn much more than other countries as UEFA, the richest of the six continental confederations, pays even more to its members than they get from FIFA.

“You in Europe, we can show together, we can make a difference in the world,” said Infantino, who served UEFA members as general secretary for seven years. “With very little we can achieve a lot.”

Infantino noted that FIFA could add two European federations to its membership at its own congress in Mexico City next week. The admission of Kosovo and Gibraltar would likely be added to the world soccer body’s agenda, Infantino said.

[ REPORT: Portland Timbers’ Fanendo Adi linked to Crystal Palace ]

On Monday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ordered FIFA to stop blocking Gibraltar’s application for membership and allow it “without delay.”

Gibraltar, a British territory whose sovereignty is disputed by neighboring Spain, has been a UEFA member since 2013 and played in the qualifying program for the 2016 European Championship.

Like Kosovo, Gibraltar could be fast-tracked by FIFA into 2018 World Cup qualifying groups.

Regarding Platini’s situation, UEFA has called an emergency meeting of its executive committee in two weeks to weigh options after the Platini verdict, UEFA and FIFA vice president Angel Maria Villar told the congress.

The meeting will be in Basel, Switzerland, on the sidelines of the Europa League final on May 18.

If a presidential election is needed to replace Platini, the most likely date is mid-September in Athens, Greece, at an already-scheduled meeting of European soccer leaders.

AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar reported from Geneva.

Premier League Team of the Week — Round 36

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 30: Karl Darlow of Newcastle United is congratulated by Jamaal Lascelles of Newcastle United after saving a penalty during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace at St James' Park on April 30, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
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It’s incredible that Karl Darlow is Newcastle United’s starting goalkeeper, let alone a member of the PL Team of the Week.

The 25-year-old Northampton-born backstop is the Magpies’ third-choice keeper, having arrived from Nottingham Forest last summer to learn under Tim Krul and Rob Elliot.

[ VIDEO: Leicester fans react to title ]

But injuries to both of his international superiors thrust Darlow into the spotlight, and it took him some time to acclimate to the Premier League.

He looked just fine in Newcastle’s potentially massive 1-0 win over Crystal Palace, stopping a penalty amongst several other stops as the Magpies moved out of the drop zone for the first time since February.

Premier League Team of the Week — Week 36

Goalkeeper: Karl Darlow (Newcastle United)

Defenders: Wes Morgan (Leicester City), Leighton Baines (Everton), Winston Reid (West Ham United)

Midfielders: Mark Noble (West Ham United), Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham United), Dusan Tadic (Southampton), Andros Townsend (Newcastle United)

Forwards: Troy Deeney (Watford), Sadio Mane (Southampton), Andre Ayew (Swansea City)

VIDEO: Claudio Ranieri’s best moments, quotes this season

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 14:  Claudio Ranieri the manager of Leicester City reacts as Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Chelsea at the King Power Stadium on December14, 2015 in Leicester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Claudio Ranieri is everyone’s favorite manager.

And not just because “Dilly-ding, dilly-dong” will be added to the English dictionary very soon.

The Italian boss, 64, has guided Leicester City to the 2015-16 Premier League title — the first top-flight trophy in their 132-year history — in just his first season in charge at the King Power Stadium.

[ VIDEO: Leicester players celebrate ]

He has guided the 5000-1 shots at the start of the season to an incredible title win. At the start of the campaign he was the favorite to be the first manager to be fired this season.

After spending four years at Chelsea from 2000-04 where he was ruthlessly sacked by Russian owner Roman Abramovich who didn’t believe he could win trophies, Ranieri has won the biggest one of them all in his first season back in England.  Remarkable.

[ MORE: Latest Leicester news after PL win ]  

The veteran boss has now won his first-ever league title in his long and distinguished managerial career against all the odds. He is, without doubt, the mastermind behind Leicester’s remarkable title win. There are calls for Ranieri to be knighted by the Queen of England and given what his team has achieved, why not?

Despite his obviously skill as a manager, he is also a genuinely nice bloke when it comes to interacting with fans and the media.

The video below looks at some of the most memorable moments this season from the lovable Italian.

Bellissimo.