How things stand at half time of UEFA Champions League quarterfinals

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We have reached the halfway point of the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, and three of the four ties are still hanging in the balance with all to play for next week.

As things stand, the path to the final four is still not clear for some of Europe’s biggest teams.

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Four massive matches are coming up on April 8 and 9, and now it is time to take stock after the first legs.

Tension, ecstasy and despair have been rife in the first four games of the quarters… crank that up plenty of notches, and you might have a chance of replicating the emotions inside all four stadiums during the second legs.

FC Barcelona vs. Atletico Madrid

What a tie we had at the Nou Camp in the first leg, as Atletico drove at the heart of Barcelona’s defense time and time again, and that’s without their injured talisman Diego Costa. His replacement, plain old Diego, scored a stunner to give the capital club the lead, and a second half equalizer from Neymar leaves the tie hanging in the balance. Diego Simeone’s Atleti are hungry to succeed in the UCL and make the last four. With the second leg at home against Barca at a fired up Vicente Calderon, the partisan crowd will play a huge factor. Barca’s galaxy of stars, led by Lionel Messi, haven’t figured out how to beat Atletico’s relentless high-pressure approach. They have to do that quickly. PST’s Richard Farley was waxing lyrical about the first game between these two. If you want to see two hugely contrasting styles of Spanish soccer clash, this is the match for you.

First Leg: FC Barcelona 1-1 Atletico Madrid

Second Leg: April 9, Vicente Calderon, Madrid

source: AP
A fiery encounter played out at Parc des Princes. Can Chelsea overturn PSG’s two-goal lead?

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Chelsea

Have PSG finally arrived on the big stage? The reigning French champions looked the real deal for vast swathes of their home victory against Chelsea in the first leg. Ezequiel Lavezzi opened the scoring and was a bright spark all evening, while Eden Hazard leveled and Chelsea looked solid until around the hour mark. Then an own goal by David Luiz and a late Javier Pastore strike, after a mazy run, handed the initiative to Les Parisiens in an absorbing clash at the Parc des Princes. Chelsea’s defending was sloppy and they now have to overturn a two-goal advantage at Stamford Bridge next Tuesday. Can Jose Mourinho’s men do it? They will likely face PSG without their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic who limped off injured with 20 minutes to go in the first leg.

First Leg: Paris Saint-Germain 3-1 Chelsea

Second Leg: April 8, Stamford Bridge, London

Manchester United vs. Bayern Munich

In a turbulent week for David Moyes, and seven days after his side were humiliated by crosstown rivals Manchester City at Old Trafford, a very different United team turned up to play Bayern. The Red Devils conceded possession to the reigning European champions, but hit them on the break time and time again. A Nemanja Vidic header was cancelled out by Bastian Schweinsteiger’s goal, as a pulsating class took place under the lights at Old Trafford. Bayern dominated played but United dug in superbly, as two late yellows for Bayern will see Javi Martinez and Schweinsteiger sit out the second leg. Not many people thought Man United would still be in with a chance of advancing to the semifinals by the time the return game had come around, but they are very much in this tie. A cracking evening in Bavaria between two old foes awaits. Plus, Moyesy has faith.

First Leg: Manchester United 1-1 Bayern Munich

Second Leg: April 9, Allianz Arena, Munich

 

source: AP
Real rout Dortmund, as revenge tasted sweet for the Madrid club.

Real Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund

Before this game Dortmund’s head coach Jurgen Klopp proclaimed himself delighted just to get to the knockout stages and anything was a bonus. It seems as if the quarterfinals is as far as that bonus goes. Spanish giants Real Madrid smashed BVB 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu, with goals from Gareth Bale, Isco and Cristiano Ronaldo doing the damage. Last season Dortmund humiliated Real by winning 4-1 at home with four goals from Robert Lewandowski. Surely the big Polish striker can’t repeat that feat this season? Dortmund need a miracle, as Real’s juggernaut guided by Carlo Ancelotti, continues to plow through Europe’s elite with ease. Can the second leg deliver a game, or will Madrid simply run away with it?

First Leg: Real Madrid 3-0 Borussia Dortmund

Second Leg: April 8, Westfalenstadion, Dortmund

Report: Liverpool to escape punishment over Van Dijk pursuit

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The Times states that Liverpool will not be punished further for pursuing Southampton defender Virgil Van Dijk.

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Earlier this month the Reds issued a public apology to Southampton and stated they had ended their interest in the 25-year-old Dutch defender following allegations that Van Dijk was flown to Blackpool (just north of Liverpool) to meet with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and their manager messaged VVD “regularly” as they chased the Dutch international.

Southampton, as you would expect, were far from happy about this so-called “tapping up” from Liverpool and reported the Reds to the Premier League by making an official complaint.

Liverpool’s apology was then followed by a preliminary investigation, but reports state that there will be no further action taken against Liverpool by the PL with “insufficient evidence” to support the claims surrounding the alleged “tapping up” of Van Dijk and unless new evidence arrives then the case will be closed.

Regardless, this whole episode has been incredibly embarrassing for Liverpool, especially when you take into account their current ban from signing academy players when a similar case cropped up over chasing a youngster in Stoke City’s academy.

Klopp has not only lost the chance to sign Van Dijk (at least, that’s the way it seems for now) but Liverpool have also lost some respect for the way they supposedly went about this business. American owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) went to great lengths to apologize for this situation and are keen to stress they always conduct their business in a respect manner.

Now, we would all be a little naive to believe that this type of thing doesn’t happen a lot in soccer. A player (usually through his agent) will perhaps gently let another team know he’s interested in a move to them, and the ball gets rolling from there. Of course, the two clubs are supposed to agree a fee for the player first and then said player can meet with his potential new club to square away the details.

Southampton are said to still be furious about the approach from Liverpool to Van Dijk, so much so that if they were to sell their star player and captain this summer (they maintain he’s not for sale) they’d rather take less money from another club (Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal are all said to be interested) than let him leave for Anfield for over $70 million.

After Liverpool plucked Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne and Sadio Mane from Saints in the past few years, it’s easy to understand why the South Coast club are now standing firm and saying enough is enough.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

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Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

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Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

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That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

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Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup