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Paris Saint-Germain crush Chelsea in absorbing Champions League clash

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Paris Saint-Germain beat Chelsea 3-1 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League tie at Parc des Princes on Wednesday.

Ezequiel Lavezzi put PSG ahead but an Eden Hazard penalty made it 1-1 at half time, then an own goal from David Luiz put PSG 2-1 up early in the second half. However one of the major taking points from the game will be a hamstring injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as Paris Saint-Germain’s talisman limped off and his status for next Tuesday’s second leg at Stamford Bridge looks to be hanging in the balance.

However PSG now have a massive advantage heading into the return game, as substitute Javier Pastore danced past three Chelsea defenders in the 93rd minute and slammed the ball past Petr Cech to potentially put the tie beyond Chelsea. The 3-1 victory was the tenth in a row in all competitions for Laurent Blanc’s side and gives them a two-goal advantage heading into the second leg. Can Jose Mourinho rally his side for a Champions League comeback in West London?

(MORE: Chelsea on brink of Champions League elimination, are PSG the real deal?)

PSG took a deserved lead in the fourth minute, as Lavezzi capitalized on a poor defensive header from John Terry and half-volleyed the ball into the roof of the net to put Les Parisiens in front. That stunning start energized PSG, with the home fans baying for Chelsea’s blood as the English side were caught cold early on. Ramires was then booked for Chelsea after a bad tackle and will miss the second leg, with the marauding midfielder walking a tight-rope for the rest of the game.

However as the first half wore on Chelsea settled down and the West London side drew level in the 27th minute from the penalty spot. Oscar was brought down by Thiago in the box, as the Brazilian defender took down his countryman with a needless lunge in the box. Hazard stepped up and sent Salvatore Sirigu the wrong way, as Chelsea bagged a valuable away goal.

source: AP
Lavezzi gave PSG an early lead, as Les Parisiens have a one-goal advantage to take to London with them.

PSG still looked dangerous, with Ibrahimovic, Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani causing plenty of problems. Yet it was Chelsea who came closest to going in ahead at the break, as Hazard met Willian’s right-wing cross with a perfectly executed volley across goal but the Belgian’s effort hit the foot of the post and PSG cleared.

(MORE: Zlatan injures hamstring, huge blow for PSG)

A hugely entertaining first half carried over into the second period, as Matuidi’s cross from the left was headed just over by Lavezzi as PSG started the second half superbly. A midfield battle then ensued, as Chelsea soaked up pressure and tried to hit the reigning French champions on the break.

However in the 61st minute PSG took the lead, as David Luiz gave away a cheap free kick on the left after a clumsy foul on Matuidi. Lavezzi then whipped in a delightful ball into the ‘corridor of uncertainty’ and amongst a whole host of bodies Luiz knocked the ball into his own net to put PSG back in front and compound the Brazilian’s misery.

After that setback Chelsea, predictably, surged forward time and time again as substitute Fernando Torres, Hazard and Oscar linked up to take the game to Paris Saint-Germain. Then in the 67th minute a pivotal moment in the tie arrived, as Ibrahimovic fell to the ground and clutched his hamstring after he lofted the ball forward but then struggled to accelerate. PSG’s Swedish talisman limped off the field, as the Ligue 1 club were dealt a huge blow ahead of the second leg at Stamford Bridge in just six days time.

(RECAP: Minute-by-minute updates from PSG 2-1 Chelsea)

PSG’s players were dropping likes flies late on as Marco Verratti was caught late and the Italian youngster also limped of, with Blanc forced into two quick-fire substitutions. Late on Chelsea pushed for an equalizer, but the home side almost extended their lead late on as Cavani worked some space on the edge of the box and curled a vicious effort just wide of the post. Substitute Pastore then scored a crucial goal, as he picked the ball up in the box and looked to be running down a blind alley. However the Argentine danced past three Chelsea players and rifled in a hammer blow to Chelsea’s hopes of advancing in the UCL.

The battle between two teams from either side of the English Channel will recommence in less than a week, with the French side sitting on a two-goal cushion as Chelsea have it all to do.

LINEUPS

Paris Saint-Germain: Sirigu, Jallet, Alex, Thiago Silva, Maxwell, Verratti (Cabaye, 76′), Motta, Matuidi, Ibrahimovic (Moura, 68′), Cavani, Lavezzi (Pastore, 85′)

Goals: Lavezzi (4′), David Luiz – Own Goal (61′), Pastore (90+3′)

Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill, Terry, Willian, Ramires, Schürrle (Torres, 59′), Oscar (Lampard, 79′), Hazard

Goal: Hazard (27′)

MLS Preview: Conference leaders meet as Philly head west to Colorado

COMMERCE CITY, COLORADO - APRIL 02:  Dillon Powers #8 of Colorado Rapids controls the ball against the Toronto FC at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on April 2, 2016 in Commerce City, Colorado. The Rapids defeated Toronto FC 1-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The weekend is nearing, which means another full slate of ten matches across Major League Soccer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

With Sporting KC and D.C. United kicking things off on Friday night, Saturday is jam-packed with eight matches before the league’s youngest clubs NYCFC and Orlando wrap up the action on Sunday.

Colorado Rapids vs. Philadelphia Union — Saturday, 9:00 p.m. ET

There’s not a misprint on the table, Colorado and Philadelphia are both at the top of their conferences. After sitting near the bottom of MLS for the past two seasons, Colorado has shocked everyone, currently leading the league in points (27) with the fewest goals conceded (9). On Saturday, the Rapids put their perfect 6-0 home record on the line when they host the Union, who currently lead the East by two points.

New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC — Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET

Coming off of a massive 7-0 win in the Hudson River Derby against NYCFC, the Red Bulls will look to continue trending upwards when they host Toronto FC. Two of the preseason favorites to top the Eastern Conference, both sides are currently tied on points, although the Red Bulls have a game in hand. For Toronto, Sebastian Giovinco will be keen to prove Antonio Conte wrong after being left out of the Italy squad for EURO 2016 after the Italian boss talked down upon MLS.

[ MLS: Standings | Stats | Schedule ]

Montreal Impact vs. Los Angeles Galaxy — Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET

Didier Drogba has scored in each of his last three starts, a streak he will look to keep alive against the Los Angeles Galaxy this weekend. While Drogba will be looking to score, Montreal must make sure their defense is in top form as the Galaxy have scored a league-high 25 goals through 11 matches.

Elsewhere around MLS

Sporting KC vs. D.C. United — Friday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Houston Dynamo — Saturday, 6:00 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew SC vs. Real Salt Lake — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
New England Revolution vs. Seattle Sounders — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. Portland Timbers — Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET
San Jose Earthquakes vs. FC Dallas — Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET
New York City FC vs. Orlando City SC — Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET

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.