Hulk goal, Zenit win can’t keep Borussia Dortmund from Champions League’s quarterfinals

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Despite some early theatrics from Hulk, Borussia Dortmund is in to its second consecutive UEFA Champions League quarterfinal. Though the Zenit attacker’s early, long distance goal combined with Salomón Rondon’s late winner to give the Russians a second leg victory, Sebastian Kehl’s late first half goal ensured the hosts overall lead was never in doubt. Combined with their victory three weeks ago in St. Petersburg, last year’s Bundesliga runners-up move into Europe’s final eight with a 5-4 (agg.) victory.

With a bending strike from 30 yards out, Hulk opened the scoring in the 16th minute, reducing the hosts’ overall lead to one goal. Kehl answered seven minutes before halftime with a header from six yards out, a goal that was offset in the 73rd  when substitute Salomón Rondón headed home a bouncing cross from close range.

Despited an energized pursuit, Zenit were unable to find another goal, leaving it two short of the club’s first visit to Champions League’s quarterfinals. Dortmund, on the other hand, make their sixth appearance in the final eight, though thanks to a first half yellow card, the team will be without one of their most important pieces for the first game of its quarterfinal.

A first quarter-hour’s impression of a fluid if dispirited game was awaken with a crack when Hulk supplied one of the goals of the tournament. Receiving the ball high on the right flank, the Brazilian international cut an arc today the middle of the field, a run that left him around 30 yards from goal. There the Zenit attacker released a bending shot that curved into the thin column Roman Weidenfeller left between himself and his right post. From a seemingly safe distance, Hulk reminded fans of the danger he carries in his left foot, seeing the visitors to a 1-0 lead.

(MORE: WATCH: This ridiculous bender from Hulk opened today’s scoring in Dortmund)

Shortly after falling behind, BVB saw Robert Lewandowski, who had a four-goal game in last year’s semifinals, draw a yellow card after a confrontation in the Zenit penalty area. Combined with the caution the Bayern-bound striker carried over from group stage, Lewandowski will now miss the first game of BVB’s quarterfinal.

In the 38th minute, Borussia Dortmund restored their two-goal (agg.) edge. Moving swiftly into an attack down Zenit’s right, BVB saw left back Marcel Schmelzer loft a cross toward the middle of Vyacheslav Malafeev’s area. The floating ball allowed midfielder Sebastian Kehl to run into the pass at the edge of the six-yard box, jumping over a Zenit defender to head through Malafeev’s hands. With their captain’s first goal of the tournament, Dortmund restored their lead, 5-3 (agg.).

After an even first 25 minutes to the second, Zenit again closed the gap. On a cross sent in from the left by Domenico Criscito, Rondón beat Sokratis Papastathopoulos to a bouncing ball at the edge of the six, heading his shot down and to Weidenfeller’s left for the game’s third score. With 17 minutes left, down 5-4 overall, Zenit were two goals away from the quarterfinals.

(MORE: Van Persie treble hands Manchester United incredible Champions League comeback win over Olympiakos)

But against a renewed, spirited pursuit, Borussia Dortmund dug in. While Zenit’s energy caused a few moments of drama, the Russians were never able to equalize, let alone threaten to overturn BVB’s away goals edge.

Out-shot and outlasted, Zenit was forced to settle for a moral victory, their 2-1 result carried it into a new era under André Villas-Boas, one that will begin outside of Champions League’s quarterfinals.

Premier League preview: Man United vs. Newcastle United

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  • Red Devils unbeaten in 31 of last 32 home fixtures vs. Newcastle
  • Newcastle winless in its last six PL matches
  • Lukaku hasn’t scored in United’s last seven games

Manchester United hosts Newcastle United on Saturday from Old Trafford (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) as the Red Devils could potentially welcome back several of it biggest stars for the match.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Marcos Rojo could return for Jose Mourinho’s side this weekend, as Man United looks to bounce back from its 1-0 defeat to Chelsea on Nov. 5.

The ex-Sweden international Ibrahimovic hasn’t appeared in a match since April 2017, after being United’s top goalscorer a season ago.

The Red Devils will have to deal with the absence of Phil Jones at the back, though, as the England international misses out on the match with a thigh injury.

Newcastle will be without Christian Atsu and Jamaal Lascelles, which certainly hurts the squad’s attack, while Mikel Merino and Paul Dummett remain sidelined with respective injuries.

What they’re saying

Jose Mourinho, on Paul Pogba’s status:  “I can say now because he’s back – I don’t like to speak while he’s injured – you can clearly see there is a Manchester United this season before Paul’s injury and after Paul’s injury. There are qualities in our football, qualities that influence our approach in matches, with Pogba and without Pogba. Simple as that.”

Rafa Benitez, on growing pains of being a young side“We are a newly-promoted club that has to settle down in the Premier League. We have a young squad, so it’s a learning process for everyone and losing some games is part of the process. Hopefully we can stop that this weekend, but we know it has to be like this. We have to think that the target is to stay in the Premier League, then after try to go as high as we can in the table.”

Prediction

Newcastle has had its share of struggles this season, and running into a Man United side that is gaining full fitness is a dangerous task. The Red Devils are a tough squad to beat at home, so Rafa Benitez and Co. have their hands full. Man United 2-0 Newcastle

Luiz back in Chelsea squad after being dropped by Conte

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David Luiz‘s pair of stints at Chelsea have been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride of emotions — joyous highs and painful lows.

[ MORE: Pogba, Zlatan back form injuries; available this weekend ]

After returning to the club for a second time in the summer of 2016, Luiz instantly slotted into Antonio Conte‘s three-man backline and was a pivotal part of the Blues’ title-winning team last season.

Much like the second half of his first four seasons at Chelsea, Luiz’s second season (the second time around) has started so hotly. After playing eight of the first 10 games during Chelsea’s ongoing title defense, Luiz was unexpectedly dropped from the squad for the victory over Manchester United.

Now, two weeks later, Conte has announced that Luiz has rejoined the squad and is available for selection when his side visits West Brom on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold) — quotes from the Guardian:

“David Luiz is in the squad, yes. [His exclusion] was a technical decision. When it’s a technical decision every player has to react well and accept my decision. It’s normal, this.

“I like to speak about the team and the next game that we have to pay attention to. This is the most important thing, not speaking about a single player. I repeat: I don’t like to speak about a single player.”

Pogba, Zlatan, Rojo return from injuries for Man Utd-Newcastle

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The only saving grace when it comes to injuries is that, eventually (usually), players recover from them and return to the team.

[ MORE: 2018 World Cup Power Rankings — who comes out on top? ]

It’s been a long seven months for the soccer world to be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic (torn ACL on April 20), just as it’s been a painfully long 10 weeks for Manchester United fans following Paul Pogba‘s hamstring injury on Sept. 12. Man United have dropped eight points during the latter’s absence and now coincidentally sit eight points behind Manchester City in the Premier League title race.

A bit of good news on this Friday: United manager Jose Mourinho announced today that the dynamic duo, along with defender Marcos Rojo (knee ligament damage on April 20) have returned to full fitness and will be available for selection during Saturday’s home clash with Newcastle United (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) — quotes from ManUtd.com:

“The players that stayed here and [were] recovering from injuries, even the ones that are recovering from big injuries, they are ready to play — Pogba, Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo.”

“[Ibrahimovic] made a full recovery. Now you cannot expect him to be ready to play 90 minutes or to be ready to play consecutive matches like he did all his career.

“Now he needs time to be back to his level, his fitness, his confidence, his sharpness, his everything. But, from the clinical point of view, to be good and ready is fantastic.”

2018 World Cup Power Rankings — 7 months B.W.C.

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209 days — that’s how long the world is still being made to wait for the opening game of the 2018 World Cup. It’s close, in that all 32 berths have been secured, but still so far, in that the draw is still two weeks away.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s 2018 World Cup coverage | USMNT | Premier League ]

Perhaps then, and only then, will it begin to feel really real.

According to our esteemed panelists — Joe Prince-Wright, Nicholas Mendola, Kyle Bonn, Matt Reed, Dan Karell and yours truly — four clear-cut favorites for the semifinals have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, followed by another six or eight sides with one half of their squad firing on all cylinders but some serious kinks to work out elsewhere.

[ MORE: Round 1 of the WC power rankings | Round 2 ]

Finally, the latest edition of PST’s 2018 World Cup Power Rankings, now featuring all 32 teams qualified for Russia…

Team Points Best Worst
1 (1) Germany 189 1 2
2 (2) Brazil 188 1 3
3 (4) Spain 177 3 5
4 (3) France 176 3 5
5 (8) Argentina 158 4 10
6 (5) Belgium 156 4 10
7 (7) Portugal 153 6 10
8 (11) England 150 5 12
9 (6) Uruguay 141 6 14
10 (9) Colombia 140 7 12
11 (10) Mexico 129 8 14
12 (12) Poland 125 10 14
13 (20) Croatia 118 7 20
14 (17) Switzerland 115 12 16
15 (NR) Sweden 92 16 19
16 (NR) Denmark 86 13 23
17 (NR) Serbia 83 9 28
18 (NR) Peru 80 15 25
19 (15) Iceland 79 15 24
20 (16) Japan 71 16 27
21 (NR) Egypt 66 18 27
22 (NR) South Korea 64 13 32
23 (NR) Senegal 63 17 26
24 (18) Nigeria 58 15 27
25 (19) Costa Rica 57 14 29
26 (NR) Morocco 48 18 29
27 (NR) Australia 45 22 30
28 (NR) Russia 36 20 32
29 (NR) Iran 34 22 31
30 (NR) Tunisia 30 23 31
31 (NR) Panama 19 28 32
32 (NR) Saudi Arabia 9 31 32