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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.

Cantona claims ethnicity played role in Benzema, Ben Arfa France snubs

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 14:  Former Footballer Eric Cantona of France speaks during a press conference at the Shanghai Grand Theatre prior to the  Laureus World Sports Awards  on April 14, 2015 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images for Laureus)
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Eric Cantona has made the headlines again, this time making some bold claims against France national team manager Didier Deschamps.

Cantona, a former Manchester United legend and French international, questioned whether Deschamps excluded Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa from the team due to their North African origins.

[ MORE: Skrtel set to leave Liverpool ]

Speaking to The Guardian, Cantona calls Benzema and Ben Arfa two of France’s best footballers, both of whom will not be playing for the national team this summer.

Benzema is a great player. Ben Arfa is a great player. But Deschamps, he has a really French name. Maybe he is the only one in France to have a truly French name. Nobody in his family mixed with anybody, you know.

So I’m not surprised he used the situation of Benzema not to take him. Especially after [French Prime Minister Manuel Valls] said he should not play for France. And Ben Arfa is maybe the best player in France today. But they have some origins. I am allowed to think about that.

One thing is for sure – Benzema and Ben Arfa are two of the best players in France and will not play the European Championship. And for sure, Benzema and Ben Arfa, their origins are north African. So, the debate is open.

Cantona’s view doesn’t hold much merit as Deschamps did not even have the option of selecting Benzema, the country’s active leading goalscorer. The Real Madrid striker is suspended by the federation, embroiled in a blackmail sex-tape scandal involving French teammate Mathieu Valbuena, who was also left off the EURO roster.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine the Champions League final ]

France is an extremely diverse nation with a large North African population, Benzema of Algerian descent and Ben Arfa’s father a former Tunisian international. Both players were born in France and have received prior call-ups under Deschamps, with Cantona’s quite ridiculous comments likely to cause a stir before the EURO.

FA Cup will no longer have quarterfinal replays

HALIFAX, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09:  The FA Cup is seen prior to the FA Cup First Round match between FC Halifax and Bradford City  on November 9, 2014 in Halifax, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Starting in 2017, the FA Cup will no longer have replays in the quarterfinal round.

The decision was made in an effort to combat the congested English fixture list, which has been a topic of debate for years now.

[ MORE: Lukaku wants out at Everton ]

This season, Manchester United defeated West Ham in a quarterfinal replay before going on to win the competition.

In a statement released by the FA, these changes aim to add drama to the matches while eliminating an extra matchday needed for replays.

The revamped competition will see eight clubs battle it out over one weekend with each tie to be played to a finish on the day, adding to the drama and impact the competition has enjoyed in recent years.

Other new initiatives will be explored to ensure The FA Cup retains its status and appeal. These plans also form part of The FA’s commitment to help ease English football’s congested fixture schedule.

There will still be replays in the earlier rounds of the tournament, which allows lower level clubs the opportunity to earn a nice financial boost should they force a second match at a Premier League ground.

The Premier League is the only top league in Europe that does not take a winter break, a schedule that has been criticized by multiple managers, including Jurgen Klopp.

Judge hears arguments on US women’s team strike rights

HARRISON, NJ - MAY 30:  The United States team poses for a team picture before the match against the South Korea during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on May 30, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO — A federal judge in Chicago has heard arguments whether the world champion U.S. women’s soccer team has the right to strike for improved conditions and wages before this year’s Olympics.

Lawyers for the U.S. Soccer Federation told Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman at a Thursday hearing that a no-strike clause is implied in a still-valid 2013 memorandum with players.

[ MORE: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

But a lawyer for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association balked at that claim. Jeffrey Kessler said the federation had “screwed up” by not securing a no-strike clause in writing and can’t argue three years later that such a provision is implied.

The union wants the option to strike before the Olympics start in August, but hasn’t said it will. Many players have voiced concern over gender equity in soccer.

Three battles that could determine the Champions League final

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 14:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF is tackled by Koke of Atletico Madrid and Mario Suarez of Atletico Madrid during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final First Leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on April 14, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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We’re just two days away from the Champions League final, as Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid prepare to face each other in Milan on Saturday.

The tie is a rematch of the 2014 final when Real Madrid won 4-1 to claim a record tenth Champions League title. Atletico led that match 1-0 in stoppage time, only to concede a late equalizer before collapsing in extra time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

With Real one of Europe’s best attacking teams and Atleti the best defensive side, two completely different styles of play will clash at the San Siro this weekend. Below, we take a look at a few key matchups that could determine who leaves Milan as champions.

Keylor Navas vs. Jan Oblak

In the Champions League this season, Navas has kept nine clean sheets in ten appearances (tied for the most-ever in a single campaign), while Oblak has kept eight in 12 appearances. Oblak was named to the La Liga Team of the Year after a stellar season for Atleti, and his massive double-save on Thomas Muller’s penalty kick in the semifinals helped Simeone’s men reach Milan. For Navas, the keeper’s strong play is often overshadowed by Real’s attack, but the Costa Rican international has proved massive for the club all season long. In what will surely be an extremely tight match, one big save could prove the difference.

[ MORE: Ranking the Copa America Centenario contenders ]

Luka Modric vs. Gabi 

These may not be two “superstar” names in the sides, but Luka Modric and Gabi may be the most important men on the pitch for Real and Atletico, respectively. When Real goes forward, it starts with Modric in the midfield. The Croatian playmaker is confident in possession and spreads the ball all over the pitch, seemingly always in the right place at the right time. On the other side, Gabi epitomizes what Diego Simeone wants in his Atletico squad. The hard-nosed midfielder sits right in front of the back-line, in charge of clogging up and holes and making sure the rest of his midfield tracks back and keeps shape, which will be vitally important against Real. A product of the Atleti youth system, red and white runs through Gabi’s veins, and having already experienced a loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League final back in 2014, Simeone’s leader on the pitch will want to turn the tides this time around.

(Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Atleti back-line vs. BBC

When all is said and done, the biggest battle will be between the stout Atleti defense and Real’s potent attack. Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez have become the best center-back pairing in Europe, while Real’s BBC trio of Bale, Benzema, and Cristiano combined for 119 goals in all competitions this season. Atleti have already kept clean sheets in the Champions League against Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but both of those matches were in front of a home crowd at the Vicente Calderon. Expect a few heavy challenges to come in early, as the Atletico defense will look to keep Ronaldo & Co. honest.