Battling Arsenal bow out, as Bayern Munich reach UEFA Champions League quarters after 1-1 draw (3-1, agg.)

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Arsenal crashed out of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday, as they drew 1-1 with Bayern Munich away at the Allianz Arena, but lost 3-1 on aggregate in the last 16 tie.

Bayern took the lead early in the second half as Bastian Schweinsteiger slotted home Franck Ribery’s cross from the left, as the Gunners fell further behind. But to their credit Arsene Wenger’s side had a real go at it, as German international Lukas Podolski leveled things up in the 57th minute to give the Gunners hope.

However as the second half wore on Bayern looked more likely to score, as Arsenal struggled to break down the reigning European champions. It was a brave performance in Bavaria from Arsenal but after a disastrous second half of the first leg in North London, the Gunners simply left themselves with too much to do. Late on Thomas Muller saw his penalty kick saved by Lukasz Fabiansk in the dying moments.

After holding Arsenal at bay Munich advance to the quarterfinals of the Champions League for the third-straight season, as the German powerhouse looks to be hell bent on defending their fifth European crown successfully.

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Early on Arsenal pressed high up the pitch to try and take the game to Bayern, but the home side had all of the early play as the Gunners tried to launch some counter attacks. One of those came from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was scythed down by Bayern defender Dante who was handed a yellow card.

Bayern dominated possession but Arsenal held firm and looked solid at the back, however in the 19th minute a lighting quick attack on the left saw David Alaba set up Franck Ribery who chipped the ball to the back post but an onrushing Arjen Robben hit his volley into the ground and over the bar.

In the 26th minute Bayern thought they’d gone ahead as Javi Martinez volleyed home from a free kick, but Arsenal’s defense held their line well to leave four Munich attackers, including Martinez, in an offside position. The Gunners got it right that time, but a nervy night continued.

source: AP
Podolski’s strike leveled things up to give Arsenal hope, but that was as good as it got for the Gunners.

Around the half hour mark Arsenal burst into life as an enterprising run from Oxlade-Chamberlain brought a sustained spell of pressure for the Gunners. The Ox was brought down in the 31st minute and from the resulting free kick Podolski’s effort was deflected off target for a corner. From that set piece Olivier Giroud rose highest but his header was saved well by Manuel Neuer.

Despite that bright spell for the visitors, Bayern midfielder Alaba ran through several defenders in the 35th minute but the Austrian international dragged his shot wide. Moments later the best chance of the first half came as Robben was found 12-yards out but scuffed his shot into the ground after being closed down by several defenders, then Mario Mandzukić sent a header just over the bar as Bayern’s offense started to click. Just before the interval Mario Gotze controlled and volleyed goalwards but Fabianski saved well down low to thwart Bayern as the teams went in level at the break.

After the interval Arsenal took the game to Bayern, as Arsene Wenger made one half time switch by replacing record signing Mesut Ozil, who had an extremely disappointing first half, with Tomas Rosicky in central midfield.

That switch didn’t do much, as Bayern took the lead in the 55th minute and effectively killed off the tie when Schweinsteiger slotted home from six-yards out after good work on the left by Ribery as the Gunners looked to be down and out. But as they trailed 3-0 on aggregate, moments later Arsenal pulled a goal back instantly through Podolski. The German winger played a great one-two with Giroud, before looking to have hauled down Bayern defender Lahm but the referee waved play on as everyone stopped and Podoslki lashed the ball home to make it 1-1 on the night.

Podolski’s goal gave the Gunners hope and soon after a last ditch tackle stopped Giroud from slotting home and then Oxlade-Chamberlain had a long-range effort saved by Neuer as Arsenal went for broke to keep their Champions League dreams alive. Bayern tried to get back on the front foot and should have gone ahead on the 68th minute as Thiago played in Mandzukić to slot home from close range but the Croatian international was stopped by the brilliant Fabianski. In

Arsenal, try as they might, just couldn’t engineer another decent chance and Munich missed a stoppage time penalty kick after Laurent Koscielny was adjudged to have taken down Arjen Robben, but Fabianski saved Muller’s spot kick superbly. Regardless of that late drama, Munich saw the game out to advance to the final eight of Europe’s elite club competition.

LINEUPS

Bayern Munich: Neuer, Dante, Thiago, Ribéry (Müller, 85), Martínez, Mandzukić, Robben, Götze (Kroos, 58), Lahm, Alaba, Schweinsteiger

Goal: Schweinsteiger (55)

Arsenal: Fabianski, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Arteta (Gnabry, 77), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Flamini, 83), Cazorla, Ozil (Rosicky, 45), Podolski, Giroud

Goal: Podolski (57)

Kevin de Bruyne questionable for injury-laden Belgium

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Belgium, already without superstar Eden Hazard for the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Greece, will now be without playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who picked up an injury in training on Friday and will miss both the match against Greece and the subsequent friendly against Russia three days later…maybe.

The Belgian National Team official Twitter account sent out a quote from manager Roberto Martinez that confirmed De Bruyne would miss the pair of matches, but the tweet was quickly deleted.

Instead, this one was pushed out in its place, correcting his availability and also updating the type of injury:

Should De Bruyne miss out, it means Belgium would likely rely heavily on Dries Mertens and Kevin Mirallas for the playmaking duties, with midfielder Radja Nainggolan potentially taking on a more attacking role as well.

Belgium and Martinez also confirmed that right-back Thomas Meunier will miss out after failing to recover from an ankle injury, while Marouane Fellaini‘s status is unknown after he was held out of Thursday’s training session.

The injury also leaves De Bruyne’s status for Manchester City up in the air, with a pair of massive games in London in quick succession after the injury break. City visits Arsenal next Sunday, followed by a hop over to Stanford Bridge on Wednesday.

Landon Donovan retires again, this time for good

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After coming out of retirement last fall to join the LA Galaxy for one more shot at an MLS Cup, Landon Donovan has once again called time on his career, saying he’s certain he will not play again.

With a number of other ventures on his plate, the USMNT all-time leading scorer is looking forward to spending his time elsewhere.

“Yeah, I’m done,” Donovan said. “I’m done. No more playing for me. I have not [gone public with it yet]. But that is definitely the case.”

Donovan scored one goal in nine games for the LA Galaxy in his comeback bid, with the club ravaged by injuries and still gunning for the Cup. However, after the season was over with a loss to Colorado in the Conference Semifinals, the Galaxy confirmed it was nothing more than a short-term stopgap.

“With Landon, when he came back, it was always going to be a short-term thing,”team president Chris Klein said to the L.A. Times in December. “He’s enjoying what he’s doing and we see we’re comfortable in the direction that we’re headed.”

In January, reports claimed Real Salt Lake had offered Donovan a Designated Player contract, but it appears he’s turned it down, and will now have time to concentrate on his other ventures. Off the field, Donovan is an analyst on Fox’s soccer coverage, is on the advisory committee for the Los Angeles 2024 Olympics bid, and has joined the ownership group attempting to bring an expansion MLS team to San Diego.

Former Spurs midfielder Paulinho scores thunderbolt for Brazil

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Brazil topped Uruguay 4-1 to move on the verge of World Cup qualification, but there was much more to the first half of this match than meets the eye.

Uruguay went ahead 1-0 on a 9th-minute penalty won and scored by Edinson Cavani, and for a moment it seemed like the home side might find its way to pull within a point of Brazil at the top of the CONMEBOL standings. That would not last very long.

[ MORE: Full roundup of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying action ]

Just 10 minutes later, a bad giveaway near the midfield stripe saw Neymar casually feed Paulinho a good 50 yards from goal. The former Spurs man took matters into his own hands, charging forward and unleashing a vicious strike that continued to rise until it ripped the chords in the top-right corner.

 

Not only was the goal a sight to behold, it was an important moment in the match. Brazil was back level at 1-1, and Paulinho would be on his way to an eventual hat-trick with a pair in the second half. Neymar scored once as well to complete the 4-1 final scoreline, and the three points for Brazil saw them remain perfect in the World Cup qualifying round as they march seven clear of Uruguay at the top of the standings.

For Paulinho, the hat-trick brings him to four goals in the World Cup qualifying round, adding to his score in the 3-0 win over Argentina. They also mark an important moment for the Chinese Super League, where Paulinho now plays, having moved from Spurs in July of 2015. Some national team coaches have left players on the outside of the squad for moving to leagues such as the Chinese League or Major League Soccer, but Paulinho has clearly been an asset to Brazil despite his club situation. In fact, in China, Paulinho has scored four goals in his four league matches for Guangzhou Evergrande this season plus another in the Asian Champions League, leaving him in top goalscoring form coming into this international break, something which has clearly translated directly to international play.

The 28-year-old had lost his place in the national team squad in 2014, going over two years without a single international appearance, but has been a mainstay in the Brazilian side during this World Cup qualification cycle.

Dele Alli banned three European games for straight red card

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Spurs may be out of the Europa League this season, but should they end up qualifying for the Champions League next season, they will start the campaign short-handed.

Tottenham will be without midfielder Dele Alli for the first half of the group stage after his horrifying tackle on Brecht Dejaegere of KAA Gent in their 2-2 draw which saw Spurs out of the competition on aggregate in the Round of 32.

Alli went to ground on the 39th-minute challenge, and made contact on high up on Dejaegere’s leg with both his studs, finishing with a scissior-whip motion. It was a blatant red card, and now UEFA’s disciplinary committee has handed down the three-match ban. Straight-red cards for violent conduct only carry a minimum penalty of one match in UEFA tournament play, but the disciplinary committee clearly thought a longer punishment was necessary, with the ability to sentence anyone up to five matches.

The straight red was the first of Alli’s professional career. Alli apologized to Dejaejere after the match, according to the Gent midfielder. He’s since scored in four straight matches, and when asked on Sunday if that moment was still in his mind, he said, “I’m never going to say sorry for wanting to win or trying as hard as I can but things happen and you have to learn from them.”

Spurs currently sit in second place in the Premier League table with 59 points and look to be in a strong position for Champions League qualification, with a seven-point cushion on fifth-placed Manchester United.