Britain Soccer Champions League

Van Persie treble hands Manchester United incredible Champions League comeback win over Olympiakos


A sensational Robin van Persie hat trick gave Manchester United a 3-0 win over Olympiakos at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, as the Red Devils secured a stunning comeback victory to make it through to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League 3-2 on aggregate.

Trailing 2-0 from the first leg, United had a mountain to climb but RVP single-handedly cancelled out Olympiakos’ advantage with a penalty kick midway through the first half and then a cool finish right at the interval to make it 2-0. Those goals, especially the second, lifted the roof off of Old Trafford as the home fans believed a remarkable comeback was in the offing.

Five minutes after the break the incredible turnaround was complete, as RVP curled a free kick from 25-yards around the wall to wrong-foot Olympiakos ‘keeper Roberto and put United 3-0 up. Late on Olympiakos pushed for a goal that would’ve put them through on away goals, but United held on to seal a memorable win which sees them advance to the last eight for the first time since they reached the final in 2010-2011.


Manchester United started nervously as Olympiakos whipped in some great crosses from the left that United eventually cleared, as tension began to build  early at Old Trafford.

In the 6th minute Rooney had United’s first effort of the game, as his bending free kick was acrobatically punched away by Roberto, then shortly after Robin van Persie had a half chance. After that the game went into a scrappy period as first Kostas Manolas was booked, then Antonio Valencia was involved in a clash of heads with Joel Campbell and when he got up the Ecuadorian was scythed down by Alejandro Dominguez who was also shown a yellow card. Shortly after Michael Carrick also got a yellow, as a real blood and thunder affair played out under the floodlights.

source: Getty Images
RVP bags his first goal from the penalty spot, as United’s Dutch striker came to the rescue.

Olympiakos had a gilt-edge chance to go 3-0 ahead on aggregate in the 15th minute, as Joel Campbell bamboozled Phil Jones then pulled the ball back to Perez… but he ballooned his effort over from six yards out. In the 17th minute Rooney then headed towards goal but Olympiakos ‘keeper Roberto tipped the ball onto the post and away to safety.

Then in the 23rd minute United were awarded a penalty, as RVP was nudged in the back by Jose Holebas and referee Björn Kuipers pointed to the spot. Van Persie stepped up and slammed home the penalty kick to put United 1-0 up, as the home fans started to dream of a monumental comeback. Just before the half hour Olympiakos whipped in a dangerous ball from the right which Carrick somehow managed to hook clear from danger, as the away side came back into the match before the interval.

Before the break United pushed to level the score up on aggregate, as Patrice Evra’s header was brilliantly clawed out of the top corner by Roberto. But right on half time RVP scored his and United’s second of the match to send Old Trafford wild. A beautiful chipped ball from Carrick found Rooney, and the Englishman found his strike partner RVP to slot home a cool finish as Old Trafford erupted just with United 2-0 ahead.

It took just six minutes after the interval for RVP to smash in a free kick from the edge of the box to make it 3-0 on the night,  giving the Dutchman a hat trick, as the Red Devils were battering Olympiakos and were in front for the first time in the tie. The Greek side tried to regroup but United looked comfortable defensively as a long-range effort from Dominguez flew over the bar. However inevitable tension began to build amongst the home fans as the clock ticked down in Manchester.

Despite pulverizing their opponents, United were stuck in a excruciating stick-or-twist situation as they held off from attacking but invited pressure from Olympiakos. David Fuster has a shot well saved by David De Gea, as Olympiakos chucked the kitchen sink at United in the closing stages with plenty of nervy moments for the home fans to endure.

With Moyes ferociously gesticulating from the technical area and spurring his team on, United sucked all the energy out of the game. However that nouse, coupled with RVP’s sensational display, was enough to seal their passage into the last eight of the Champions League, after a night that will live long in the memory.

Good times are back at Old Trafford, for now.


Manchester United: De Gea; Rafael, Jones, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia (Young, 77′), Carrick, Giggs, Welbeck (Fletcher, 81′); Rooney, van Persie (Fellaini, 89′)

Goals: Van Persie (23′, 45′, 51′)

Olympiakos: Roberto, Maniatis, Holebas, Manolas, Marcano, Leandro Salino (Machado, 74′), N’Dinga, Perez (Valdez, 57′), Fuster (Vergos, 82′), Campbell, Dominguez

‘Ravens’ challenge soccer orthodoxy in Belarus

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MINSK, Belarus (AP) Less than three years ago, Alexander Skshinetsky’s soccer career seemed over.

The former under-21 international found himself unemployed after his career stalled, and was working on construction sites when an offer came. Would he consider joining an amateur team that had been playing seven-a-side soccer but now wanted to go pro, founded by a small group of fans staking thousands of dollars of their own money to build a club from scratch?

Two seasons and two promotions later, the 26-year-old midfielder is a key player in one of European soccer’s most unlikely success stories. In only its third professional season, Krumkachy Minsk is playing top-flight soccer, beating established names and challenging the economic orthodoxy in one of Europe’s most closed-off countries.

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Krumkachy – “Ravens” in Belarusian – has soared into the country’s top league with a shoestring budget but an enthusiastic and growing fan base of hipsters, families and others turned off by the stagnation of soccer in the ex-Soviet nation. Before a recent run of losses, it was even challenging for Europa League qualification.

The secret has been finding talented players on the verge of leaving the game, or even those who have already quit, “people who have been underestimated and put down,” in the words of co-founder Denis Shunto, who set up Krumkachy with friends in 2011. “We get those guys and we can really make them into a team.”

After starting out in recreational competitions, Shunto and his friends decided to aim higher. Belarusian soccer has a three-tier league system packed with clubs backed by various government agencies and state-run factories in the country’s Soviet-style economy, a set-up which prefers predictability over ambition and can give rise to conflicts of interest. With a spot open in the third tier, but without a state patron, Krumkachy scraped together a few thousand dollars to apply. Each subsequent step up the pyramid brought predictions of imminent financial collapse.

“Everyone said we wouldn’t have the money, we couldn’t take part,” said Skshinetsky, the midfielder. “We played for free in the second division, and in the first division it wasn’t much. Maybe $100 for a win in the first division and salaries maybe $150 (a month).”

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On a freezing Friday night in Minsk, the crowd was small and the game scrappy. Goalkeeping errors helped to hand Krumkachy a 2-1 win which all but ensured the club’s top-flight survival for 2017 in the Belarusian league’s calendar-year system. Financial survival is always a trickier question.

“We’ve got the smallest budget (in the league) and we’re still putting money in ourselves,” said Shunto, who wonders if the approach of going without government funding may be “too romantic.”

At Friday’s game, commercial tie-ups were prominent and Krumkachy’s shirts were covered in a myriad of small logos from various businesses which have chipped in as sponsors, while opposition Granit Mikashevichi bore only the logo of its backer, a state-run quarry. Consumerism may be the norm in most European leagues, but in Belarus’ state-dominated economy, it’s the mark of the plucky underdog.

After ending a nine-game wait for victory, the players came over to celebrate with the sparse crowd. An hour later, the reserve players were still sharing the field with fans and their children having a kickabout.

“It’s an atmosphere like home, very warm. It’s been helping the guys not to give up,” said Vasily Khomutovsky, one of Krumkachy’s two co-coaches.

At a recent away game, “a woman with two children who went there, with two small kids 7 and 10 years old, she made each player a little souvenir by hand and signed it, something different for each player,” Khomutovsky said.

There’s a family atmosphere within the club, too, with Shunto’s brother serving as a backup goalkeeper and Skshinetsky’s wife in charge of fitness training.

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Vladimir Harlach, one of the team’s supporters, said Krumkachy reminds him of AFC Wimbledon, the English club founded by fans after owners relocated its previous incarnation to another town, and which has since shot up several divisions.

“That’s a bit different, there was history,” Harlach said. “Here, it’s from scratch. History is being written in front of our eyes. You could compare it to other countries 100 years ago, when (soccer) was all being created.”

Krumkachy’s average home attendance of about 1,500 is tiny by European standards, but enough to put it comfortably above all but the biggest clubs in Belarus, as well as higher than that of FC Minsk, the city government-run club whose stadium Krumkachy is using.

Some at the club wonder whether European qualification might be possible next year, another improbable step up, but the top spot in Belarus appears far out of reach. Able to outspend rivals with cash from occasional Champions League appearances, BATE Borisov has just sewn up its 11th straight title.

Khomutovsky welcomes the comparison to Leicester, a team which was promoted to top division in England, survived one season, then won a wildly unlikely title the following year.

“I hope next year,” Khomutovsky said, “we do what we can to become the Belarusian Leicester.”

MLS Cup Playoffs Weds. preview: Toronto, LA host openers

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco, right, celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against the New England Revolution during first-half MLS soccer game action in Toronto, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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Here we go, sports fans.

Major League Soccer starts its playoffs with a pair of knockout round games on Wednesday and another two on Thursday.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Philadelphia Union at Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. ET

The Union are back in the playoffs for just the second time in playoff history, the same amount as Toronto. The difference is that Toronto has made the postseason in back-to-back season and isn’t entering the second season on a brutal cold streak.

Philly has lost three-straight and five of seven, making the playoffs on goal differential and — as Brotherly Game points out — has the lowest points-per-game of a playoff team since 2006.

That’s probably not going to fly at the new, loud BMO Field, where TFC’s supporters will finally get a home playoff match. Sebastian Giovinco is close to full fitness, Jozy Altidore has been on fire, and Michael Bradley isn’t exactly a player who shirks the big game spot light.

But it’s going to be players like Drew Moor and Clint Irwin who keep TFC calm under the bright lights. They’ve been here before. In fact, Moor has actually been at BMO in the playoffs, when Colorado trumped FC Dallas for a 2-1 win at MLS Cup 2010.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Real Salt Lake at LA Galaxy –10:30 p.m. ET

Before the season began, LA looked like it had an embarrassment of riches that could challenge for one of the best records in MLS history. Between Giovani Dos Santos, Robbie Keane, Ashley Cole, Nigel de Jong, Steven Gerrard, and Gyasi Zardes — let alone the rest of the crew — the Galaxy were terrifying.

CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 11: Robbie Keane #7 of Los Angeles Galaxy celebrates his goal with Giovani dos Santos #10 to take a 4-1 lead over the Orlando City FC at StubHub Center on September 11, 2016 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Dos Santos and Keane (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

About 700 miles northeast was a team expected to do, well, not much. Real Salt Lake had its mainstays in Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, but had the club done enough to make up a 10-point playoff deficit from 2015?

Injuries and defections stopped the Galaxy from reaching its potential, while RSL rode a hot start into the playoffs. Both teams finished their seasons in cold fashion; In Real’s case, ice cold.

The Galaxy only lost one game at the StubHub Center this season, and it’s realistic to think that trend will continue on Wednesday. But there’s something about RSL and the playoffs — and the potential absences of not just Zardes but Keane and Gerrard — that lead us to believe something strange could be coming by the time Thursday morning hits the East Coast.

USMNT’s Zardes nearing return for LA… but not this week

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 09:  Gyasi Zardes #11 of Los Angeles Galaxy attemps to break away from Leiton Jimenez #30 of Club Tijuana at StubHub Center on February 9, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
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Gyasi Zardes waits on X-rays, and it’s not just a matter for LA Galaxy concern.

Yes, the MLS side is chasing its sixth Cup and has as many as two playoff matches coming in the next five days.

But Jurgen Klinsmann has regularly called upon the 25-year-old attacker for the United States men’s national team who, in case you haven’t heard, have two of the toughest World Cup qualifiers on their slate in the next few weeks.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

There’s good news and bad news. First, the good, from

Gyasi Zardes, returning from a broken foot this past August, happily took to the field with his teammates in a sign of a potential return in time for the postseason. The offensive favorite spent a little under an hour with the team, not quite completing a full training session, but definitely close to returning to his usual fitness.

Now the less good: Zardes cannot return until his next scheduled X-ray on the aforementioned broken foot.

That X-ray comes next Thursday – well after Wednesday’s game and any weekend matches.

Will a fit Zardes instantly reclaim a spot in Klinsmann’s 23? Wingers have had strong performances in his stead, and the coach’s take on that position is a bit unknown as we anticipate the United States and Mexico in Columbus on Nov. 11.

Juventus CEO: agent to earn $30 million for Pogba transfer

VERONA, ITALY - JANUARY 31:  Paul Pogba of Juventus celebrates the victory after the Serie A match between AC Chievo Verona and Juventus FC at Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi on January 31, 2016 in Verona, Italy.  (Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)
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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus CEO Giuseppe Marotta has revealed that Paul Pogba‘s agent will be paid 27 million euros ($30 million) for the player’s record transfer to Manchester United.

Pogba returned to United in August for a world-record fee of $116 million.

Marotta was quoted by Italian media as telling Juventus’ shareholders meeting Tuesday as saying “27 million (euros) will be paid to (Pogba’s) agent Mino Raiola. So the total net gain for Pogba was 72 million ($78 million)” after other fees are taken into account.

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Marotta says that Pogba joined Juve from United in 2012 for a bargain price of 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million).

Marotta adds that Juan Cuadrado‘s two-year loan from Chelsea costs 5 million euros ($5.4 million) per season and if Juventus wins Serie A this season it will be obliged to buy Cuadrado’s full rights for an additional 20 million ($22 million).