Andrey Arshavin, Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Borussia Dortmund punish slack Zenit Saint Petersburg in 4-2 Champions League win

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Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund traveled to Russia and came back with a massive 4-2 win in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last 16 tie with Zenit Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.

Dortmund struck twice through Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marco Reus in the first five minutes to stun Zenit, but the Russian team fought back in the second half as Oleg Shatov pulled a goal back to make it 2-1. But less than five minutes later Robert Lewandowski punished some slack marking to make it 3-1, however a penalty kick from Hulk in the 68th minute made it 3-2 in an enthralling contest at the Petrovosky stadium.

However just when you thought Zenit were about to clinch an unlikely draw to take with them to Germany next month, Lewandowski popped up to make it 4-2 and clinch a crucial away win for last season’s Champions League finalists. The win means that out of five UCL last 16 games played so far, the away side has won on every occasion.

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In the third minute Dortmund went ahead as Reus ran past Zenit defender Lombaerts in the box and instead of going down the German international squared the ball to Mkhitaryan who slotted home to make it 1-0.

Then just 70 seconds later Dortmund went 2-0 up as Italian left back Domenico Criscito was caught of position and Reus punished him with a low strike into the bottom corner to stun the home crowd. With the Russian league on a winter break, Zenit have been without a competitive game since December and that showed early on with some lackluster defending.

source: AP
Zenit battled hard, but Dortmund always had the edge.

That trend continued throughout the first half as in the 18th minute Robert Lewnadowski raced clear but saw his shot saved by Lodygin as Dortmund threatened to increase their lead before the break. In the 29th minute Reus worked some room on the edge of the box and clipped a right footed shot just wide of the far post.

Zenit did rally and steadied the ship slightly after that disastrous start which saw them go 2-0 down within the opening five minutes, but Dortmund went in 2-0 up at the interval without having to force the issue at all.

After the break Zenit, predictably, improved as Brazilian striker Hulk tried twice to get in behind with clever runs across the defense. In the 56th minute Zenit were back in the game as Hulk’s run opened up the chance for Rondo to shoot twice and his second effort cannoned off the post but fell straight to Shatov who hammed the ball home to make it 2-1.

But less than five minutes later Dortmund regained their two-goal advantage as Lewandowski played a great one-two with Tomasz Piszczek and the Polish international swept home to make it 3-1 to the away side.

However just when Zenit looked to be down and out, they were handed a lifeline as Viktor Faizulin was brought down in the box and Hulk smashed in the penalty kick to make it 3-2 in the 68th minute. But just two minutes later Zenit switched off again as Tymoshchuk gave the ball away and Lewandowski was played in to hammer home his second and Dortmund’s fourth to make it 4-2.

The rest of the  game played out with Zenit trying to get back into the match, but Dortmund held firm and now take a 4-2 advantage into their second-leg at the Westfalenstadion in March.

LINEUPS

Zenit Saint Petersburg: Lodygin; Criscito, Lombaerts, Luis Neto, Anyukov (Smolnikov, 82) Fayzulin (Kerzhakov, 84), Witsel; Arshavin (Tymoshchuk, 15), Shatov, Hulk; Rondon

Goal: Shatov (56′), Hulk (68′)

Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller; Piszczek, Sokratis, Friedrich, Schmelzer; Kehl, Sahin; Grosskreutz (Durm, 90), Mkhitaryan (Aubameyang, 70), Reus (Hofmann, 85); Lewandowski

Goals: Mkhitaryan (3′), Reus (4′), Lewandowski (61′ & 71′)

AFCON wrap: Tunisia joins Senegal in knockout rounds (video)

Tunisia's Wahbi Khazri smiles during a press conference in Libreville, Gabon, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group B soccer match against Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Half of the field is set for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations knockout rounds, as Group B completed his final day of group play on Monday in Gabon.

[ FIFA: World Cup draw date at Kremlin ]

Senegal will move onto play Cameroon on Saturday, while Tunisia will take on Burkina Faso.

Senegal 2-2 Algeria

Leicester City’s Islam Slimani scored twice, but it wasn’t enough to get Algeria into the knockout rounds of AFCON.

Papakouly Diop and Moussa Sow answered Slimani’s goals, and Senegal enforced its hold on the group it had already clinched after two matches.

Algeria needed a win and help, and looked to get it when Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani carried over their chemistry from the Foxes of England to the Fennecs of Algeria.

Zimbabwe 2-4 Tunisia

Sunderland’s Wahbi Khazri scored of the fourth of Tunisia’s first half goals as the Eagles of Carthage emphatically clinched their knockout round spot. Tunisia lost in the quarterfinals in 2015.

Lille’s Naïm Sliti was also among the goal scorers for Tunisia, with Youssef Msakni (Lekhwiya) and Taha Yassine Khenissi (Esperance de Tunis) also netting markers.

Tendai Ndoro (Orlando Pirates) and Knowledge Musona (Oostende) scored for Zimbabwe.

Three USMNT players leave camp, two with injuries

Kekuta Manneh chases the ball during practice of the U.S. men's national soccer team Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Carson, Calif. Manneh has become a U.S. citizen, moving the Vancouver Whitecaps forward closer to eligibility for the men's national team. U.S. Soccer announced Manneh received his citizenship Wednesday, after the opening practice of January training camp under new coach Bruce Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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Less than a week from Bruce Arena’s second debut as USMNT boss, we know three players who won’t be in the Starting XI.

Injuries have felled FC Dallas duo Kellyn Acosta and Matt Hedges, while Vancouver attacker Kekuta Manneh is leaving the squad to join his ‘Caps teammates for preseason in Wales.

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Acosta has a mild left ankle sprain and Hedges has a mild right knee sprain.

While Manneh may have been a long shot to see significant playing time on Sunday against Serbia or Feb. 4 versus Jamaica, Hedges had a chance to start at center back and Acosta has been capped before as well.

FIFA going to Kremlin for World Cup draw in December

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  Vladimir Putin, President of Russia speaks as FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter looks on during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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ZURICH (AP) FIFA says it will stage the 2018 World Cup draw on Dec. 1 at a Kremlin concert hall in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been allowing FIFA to use high-profile venues for World Cup ceremonies.

In July 2015, the qualifying program draw was made on the grounds of one of Putin’s official residences, Konstantin Palace near St. Petersburg. The summer was home built at the direction of Peter the Great.

The World Cup in Russia kicks off on June 14 at Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital, and returns there for the final on July 15.

Jurgen Klopp discusses Liverpool’s title chances

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool reacts during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Swansea City at Anfield on January 21, 2017 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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It was a disappointing weekend for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.

[ MORE: New odds for title contenders ]

The German coach watched on as his side lost 3-2 to Swansea City on Saturday in the Premier League and the Reds fell 10 points behind leaders Chelsea with 16 games to go.

Klopp’s men have only won once in six outings in all competitions in January, and ahead of their EFL Cup semifinal second leg against Southampton at Anfield (they trail 1-0 from the first leg) he was asked if they still have hope of overhauling Chelsea and winning the Premier League.

Speaking to the media, Klopp revealed that his team are good enough to at least be in the top four battle.

“We fight in each game, that’s maybe the most important thing. Then we have to see what happens around,” Klopp said. “Of course, in cup competitions the target is to win the competition. In the Premier League, it’s probably the same but it’s not that easy to plan or whatever. In this case, if Chelsea win all their games – which they pretty much do – there is no chance for any other team. For us, it’s still absolutely important to finish the season as well as possible – whatever that means. We’ll see after the season.

“You can imagine we have the quality to fight for the Champions League, that’s what we should do. If we do this and we are then close enough in the decisive moment of the season, you can still fight for a little bit more. But in this moment, it’s nothing we have to think about or we should think about. We now have two games and then we play Chelsea, so that’s when I’ll think about Chelsea but not how we can get them or whatever. We fight for everything we are able to, that’s all.”

He’s right. Liverpool finishing in the top four this season would be a great achievement at this stage of his project.

Perhaps more worrying for Klopp is that his side may now capitulate and finish outside of the top four for a second-straight season.

There’s no doubting that Liverpool have exceeded the expectations of most people so far in 2016-17 but Klopp’s men faded badly last season to finish in eighth place and with no wins in their last three games in the Premier League the pressure is on.

Without leading scorer Sadio Mane, who is away at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal, they’ve struggled to break opponents down and their defensive issues came to the fore against Swansea with sloppy mistakes costing them dear.

No team in the top seven has conceded more than Liverpool and with the Reds in fourth place and just four points ahead of sixth-place Manchester United and two points ahead of Manchester City who sit in fifth, all of a sudden they are looking over their shoulders instead of up at Chelsea.

Liverpool has lost momentum.

Boy do they need a big win in the EFL Cup against Southampton on Wednesday to regain some confidence and take that into their next PL clash, which just so happens to be against Chelsea at Anfield on Jan. 31.

Whatever he says publicly, Klopp must know that Liverpool cannot afford to lose to Chelsea. If they do and fall 13 points behind the Blues, the Kop can kiss goodbye to their title hopes for another season.