Barcelona’s Martino says ‘better side’ won, ‘results happen for a reason’

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After a night that saw nearly every good chance fall to his opponents, Barcelona head coach Gerardo Martino couldn’t muster excuses. It was clear his team, now outside UEFA Champions League’s semifinals for the first time in seven years, were second best, and while four previous meetings this season against Atlético Madrid hint the two teams are practically equals, one night at the Vicente Calderón put distance between two of Spain’s title contenders. Atlético moves on; Barcelona moves out.

“Results happen for a reason,” Martino offered after his team’s 1-0 loss. “When Atlético were the better side, they scored their goal. We also had opportunities and just one goal from us would have changed the course of the game.”

(MORE: Atlético Madrid breaks through, sends Barcelona out of Champions League)

Perhaps Xavi Hernández’s second half through ball for Neymar was his team’s best chance. Maybe it was the volley Lionel Messi put over the bar that followed. Compared to Atlético, however, the chances were few and far between, with an early goal from Koke the highlight of a game that saw Adrían Lopez, David Villa, Diego, Gabi and Cristian Rodríguez test Pinto. The game may have ended 1-0, but Atlético could have made it much worse.

“At certain points, we couldn’t do the things [we wanted] because of how our opponents played, Martino explained, alluding to an Atlético approach that saw high pressure wane into numbers behind the ball. “Atlético kept a lot of players near their penalty area – they did that very well and that made it hard for us to find any space.”

Barcelona finished the night with 71 percent possession, a function of the teams’ styles as well as Atlético’s early goal. But the Blaugrana were outshot 15-12, with the home side putting five shots on target to Barça’s three. Among those chances not on target: Three first half shots that hit the Barcelona woodwork.

It was the most lopsided game of the teams’ five-match seasons series. With the clubs set to meet on the last day of the Spanish season, Barcelona will have a chance at redemption, though after Wednesday’s result, Martino’s team clearly needs to adjust.

“We have to keep fighting in the two competitions that remain for us now: the league and the Copa del Rey.” For the first time since 2007, Champions League is not on the last in mid-April.

VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week – Matchday 9

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There was some eye-popping moments in the Premier League this weekend, yet still very little debate who shone brightest.

Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri scored a pair of Goal of the Month competitors in the same day in the Potters’ 2-0 win at Hull City on Monday.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

The first was a curling wonder from distance, while the second came from a bit closer as the big-calfed Swiss attacker bamboozled the Hull wall and goalkeeper.

The Potters are up to 16th in the Premier League table with nine points.

Finnish fans celebrate surprise title for IFK Mariehamn

IFK Mariehamm
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HELSINKI (AP) Fans of IFK Mariehamn have gathered in the main square of the remote Finnish town to celebrate their team’s surprise league title.

“I feel very proud,” the club’s managing director, Peter Mattsson, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Monday, adding that “thousands” were expected to turn up for the party.

Watched by more than 4,000, Mariehamn clinched the Finnish title on Sunday with a 2-1 home victory over Ilves, from the industrial city of Tampere.

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Mariehamn held off 11 other teams, including the traditionally strong Helsinki club, HJK, and defending champion SJK from western Finland. It ended three points clear of second-placed HJK for its first league title.

Local media dubbed the team “Leicester” after the surprise English Premier League champions last season.

Mariehamn, which has a population of 11,500, is the capital of the Aland islands off the southwestern Finnish coast

Kroenke: “Very high” on Wenger who is “very hard” to replace

Jeff Fisher
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LONDON — Arsenal remains “very high” on Arsene Wenger and it will be “very hard” replacing the manager who is in the final year of his contract, owner Stan Kroenke told The Associated Press on Monday.

Wenger this month celebrated 20 years in charge of Arsenal and has offered no indication whether he wants to sign a new deal into next season.

The 67-year-old Frenchman became the Premier League’s longest serving manager when Alex Ferguson retired from Manchester United in 2013. United is now on its third manager in three years and has not competed for the Premier League title since Ferguson’s departure.

In a rare interview about Arsenal, Kroenke noted the tricky post-Ferguson succession at United while discussing the challenge of eventually replacing Wenger.

“You see it (at United), you bring up a comment like that,” Kroenke told the AP after Arsenal’s annual general meeting. “It’s very hard. He’s a great manager.”

Wenger signed his last three-year contract extension in 2014.

“We will sit down and discuss the future at the appropriate time,” Arsenal chairman Chips Keswick told shareholders at a meeting where Wenger didn’t address his contract situation in his speech.

Although Wenger has won the Premier League three times, the last success came in 2004 – a drought which frustrates fans.

“He’s been a wonderful influence on the club,” Kroenke said. “We are all very high on Arsene. We are (joint) top of the table right now.”

Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool are only separated on goal difference at the summit. Despite Wenger only winning the FA Cup twice since 2004, the team is in the lucrative Champions League for the 19th successive year thanks to its runner-up finish last season. Wenger is yet to win European football’s top prize.

“I know a number of (sports team) owners that are very successful that say the same thing – the hardest thing to do is be consistently competitive at the top of the league,” said Kroenke, who also owns the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. “Arsene has always done that and Arsenal has always been in that position. We have always been competitive.

“We may not always win the things we want to win. We are very focused on winning for sure the league. Arsene’s been consistently at the top and I will tell you – it’s very, very hard to do if you look around sports.”


2016 MLS Cup playoffs bracket in full

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Michael Bradley #4 and Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC celebrate a goal by teammate Tsubasa Endoh #9 during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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With Major League Soccer’s Decision Day 2016 in the books, we now know who will battle it out for MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Who will win MLS Cup? ]

Up first on Wednesday and Thursday are the four knockout round games, then the Conference semifinal first legs kick off this weekend.

We get into it thick and fast.

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The PST crew already selected their picks for the postseason and filled out their bracket. You can see that by clicking on the link above. FWIW, I have Toronto FC beating the Seattle Sounders in MLS Cup…

[ MORE: Ranking MLS playoff teams ]

Below is the MLS playoff bracket in full so you can make your picks and let us know who you went for in the comments section below.


MLS Playoff bracket, 2016

MLS Playoff bracket, 2016