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.

Wasteful Poland snatches late 2-1 win at Montenegro

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Poland was in control for much of the game, but failed to finish in front of net until Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek found the winner with eight minutes to go as the visitors increased their lead at the top of World Cup qualification Group E.

Robert Lewandowski put Poland in front five minutes before halftime with a brilliant free-kick that left Montenegran goalkeeper Mladen Blozovic completely baffled, but Montenegro looked sturdy at the back for much of the game and dangerous on the counter. They’d hit just past the hour mark as Stefan Mugosa headed in to level the score.

Lewandowski had a pair of massive chances in the second half, but couldn’t get either to go down as Blozovic was there to turn him away, and Montenegran defenders cleared off the line as well. Luckily for Poland, they had Piszczek who burst down the right to beat Aleksandar Sofranac, and he produced a stunning finish looped over the closing Blozovic from a tight angle, dinked off the far post, and into the back of the net.

That would do it for Montenegro who had little attacking ability outside of their countering abilities, and with Poland happy to ease out the clock, the hosts didn’t have enough.

The win pushes Poland six points clear at the top of Group E, a sizeable lead with five matches remaining. The battle for the second-place spot is tight, with Montenegro still in command on seven points, level with Denmark but ahead on goal differential. Armenia and Romania are even with six points each.

Netherlands manager Danny Blind fired after Bulgaria loss

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The Netherlands are in real trouble, and the manager has paid the price.

The Dutch national team has parted ways with Danny Blind the day after a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria left the Dutch fourth in their World Cup qualification group halfway through.

The move garnering all the headlines from Saturday’s loss was Blind’s decision to start 17-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt. The Ajax youth product, who has just two Eredivisie starts to his credit, made two crucial errors and yanked at halftime, but the damage had been done. Spas Delev scored twice in the opening 20 minutes for Bulgaria, and that was all the home side needed as the Dutch offered little in front of goal.

Blind was also criticized for not getting Memphis Depay on the field as they chased the game. The Netherlands held 74% possession, but could only manage 3 shots on target. Depay has been in good form since his January move to Lyon, with five goals in his 10 Ligue 1 appearances.

This decision was something Blind saw coming. He told national broadcaster NOS immediately after the Bulgaria loss, “I blame myself. It can’t go on like this. Things have to change.”

“I need to think about [my future]. I do not throw the towel in here. I’m incredibly disappointed, especially since I had a good feeling about this match. It makes sense that I put myself in front of the mirror.”

However, the problems for the Dutch go far deeper than Danny Blind. They missed out on Euro 2016 largely thanks to the failed 2nd tenure for Guus Hiddink. His assistant Blind took over, but the results have been equally as poor. The Netherlands sit fourth in UEFA World Cup qualification Group A, with losses to Bulgaria and France plus a draw with Sweden. It’s not over for them though, as they sit three points back of a second place spot with five matches to go, and three of those five at home.

With the Netherlands still yet to play their friendly against Italy this coming week, former goalkeeper Fred Grim takes over on an interim basis. Grim collected 101 caps for the Netherlands, and has served as the Netherlands U-21 manager for the last two years. Before that, he took charge of his first full managerial job as head man of Dutch 2nd-tier club Almere City.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

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It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

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The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.