UEFA Champions League: Your semifinals are set; here are the four survivors

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The matchups will be drawn on Friday, but over the last 24 hours, we’ve learned which teams will make up this year’s UEFA Champions League semifinals. With wins over Manchester United and Barcelona, Bayern Munich, the reigning champions, and Atlético Madrid have moved into the final four, with Chelsea and Real Madrid having already confirmed their semifinal spots.

While some possible meetings may carry more drama than others, the teams’ histories, styles, and potential matchups make it difficult to imagine a bad semifinal. Even Atlético Madrid and Chelsea — the least glamorous of the surviving foursome — would offer a compelling clash of styles, with Atleti given a chance to show another side of their game against a team that has little in common with Barcelona.

Here’s how this year’s semifinalists reached this point in UEFA Champions League.

source:  Atlético Madrid

League: Spain
Standing: First place
Last European Cup/Champions League title: Never won
Last semifinal: 1974
Record, this year’s CL: 8-2-0
CL path: Finished first in Group G, ahead of Zenit St. Petersburg, Porto, Austria Wien; defeated AC Milan in the Round of 16, 5-1; eliminated Barcelona in the quarterfinals, 2-1.
Approach: Effort, organization, execution and belief lead to opportunities, then results.
Common perception: This is the weakest team in the draw.
Semifinal reality: Atlético an approach that can matchup with anybody’s. As we’ve seen against Barcelona, the Colchoneros don’t need the ball to be effective, and they’re perfectly capable of creating mistakes high up the field. Their recent success against Real Madrid speaks to their ability to match up with the Merengues, while matchup with Chelsea would present the opponent least capable of opening up the tournament’s best defense. Perception is one thing, but in reality, Atlético is a contender for this title.

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

source:  Bayern Munich

League: Germany
Standing: First place
Last European Cup/Champions League title: 2013
Last semifinal: 2013
Record, this year’s CL: 7-2-1
CL path: Finished first in Group D, ahead of Manchester City, Viktoria Plzen, CSKA Moscow; defeated Arsenal in the Round of 16, 3-1; eliminated Manchester United in the quarterfinals, 4-2.
Approach: With better players we play better soccer; we’ll pass you into submission.
Common perception: The clear favorites; the best team in the world.
Semifinal reality: They’re the favorites, but they also may want to draw the perceived number two: Real Madrid. Teams that can defend and counter have a chance against anybody, but Bayern seems particularly troubled by the approach. Atlético looks like a particularly troublesome matchup.

(MORE: Bayern Munich ease into Champions League semis, as Manchester United crash out)

source:  Chelsea

League: England
Standing: Second place
Last European Cup/Champions League title: 2012
Last semifinal: 2012
Record, this year’s CL: 6-1-3
CL path: Finished first in Group E, ahead of Schalke, Basel, Steaua Bucharest; defeated Galatasaray in the Round of 16, 3-1; eliminated Paris Saint-Germain in the quarterfinals, 3-3.
Approach: With strength at the back and skill in transition, we’ll find a way.
Common perception: While their coach makes them dangerous, this is a team the favorites would be happy to draw.
Semifinal reality: If they beat PSG, they can beat anybody, and while a lot of that had to do with the Parisians not rising to the occasion at Stamford Bridge, Bayern and Real Madrid are not perfect sides, either. If you have a weakness, Chelsea’s approach gives the team a chance, and this year’s semifinalists are far from perfect. The former champions are an underdog, but not a huge one.

(MORE: Chelsea stun Paris Saint-Germain, late goal sends Blues into Champions League semifinals)

source:  Real Madrid

League: Spain
Standing: Third place
Last European Cup/Champions League title: 2002
Last semifinal: 2013
Record, this year’s CL: 8-1-1
CL path: Finished first in Group B, ahead of Galatasaray, Juventus, Copenhagen; defeated Schalke in the Round of 16, 9-2; eliminated Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals, 3-2.
Approach: With brawn at the back, power in attack, history is within reach.
Common perception: This team has the talent to dethrone Bayern, and given the heights they reached this winter, they’ve shown they can play at the champions’ level.
Semifinal reality: This is a deeply dangerous put very flawed team, one that looked vulnerable in both defense and midfield against Borussia Dortmund. Given recent loses in La Liga, this is no longer the team that climbed to the top of the table in March. This is a team that could find a way to lose a fourth straight semifinal, with the mental fragility that showed up against Barcelona and (in leg two) against Dortmund potentially decisive at this point of the tournament.

(MORE: Real Madrid survives Reus, Borussia Dortmund, reaches fourth straight Champions League semifinal)

EURO 2016: Ireland shock Germany, Northern Ireland qualify

Shane Long, Ireland
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A recap of Thursday’s action in 2016 European Championship qualifying:

Ireland 1-0 Germany

Southampton striker Shane Long scored the goal that knocked off the defending world champions and pushed Ireland one step closer to next summer’s European Championship in France. Long, who entered the game in the 65th minute, latched onto Darren Randolph‘s ball over the top in the 70th minute, took one touch to settle and fired for the far post, beating Manuel Neuer for the game’s only goal.

With one game still to play, Ireland (18 points) sit third in Group D, level on points with Sunday’s opponent Poland. While the winner of Sunday’s clash could leapfrog Germany (19), they will more likely finish second in the group and qualify automatically. A draw on Sunday could still see both sides qualify automatically through the ranking of third-place finishers (the top third-place finishers from group play earns an automatic berth at EURO 2016).

Northern Ireland 3-1 Greece

Norther Ireland (20 points) topped Greece (3), 3-1 on Thursday to officially book their place at EURO 2016. Steven Davis scored twice and Josh Magennis added the third for Michael O’Neill’s side.

With one game still to play (Sunday, at Finland), Northern Ireland can finish no lower than second. A draw against Finland, or any points dropped by Romania (17) would see Northern Ireland finish top of Group F.

Portugal 1-0 Denmark

Joao Moutinho scored the only goal of the game to secure Portugal’s (18 points from just seven games) place at next summer’s tournament. The defeat sees Denmark remain second in Group I, a point ahead of third-place Albania, who lost to Serbia on Thursday. Having played all eight of their group games, Denmark can go no higher than 12 points, meaning they would fail to qualify if Albania beat Armenia on Sunday. A draw between Albania and Armenia would see Denmark qualify based on tiebreakers.

Elsewhere in EURO 2016 qualifying action

Group D

Scotland 2-2 Poland
Georgia 4-0 Gibraltar

Group F

Hungary 2-1 Faroe Islands
Romania 1-1 Finland

Group I

Albania 0-2 Serbia

Jurgen Klopp announced as new Liverpool manager

Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool FC
Liverpool Football Club/Getty Images
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Enough with the speculation and reports already, because it’s finally officially official: Jurgen Klopp has been appointed the newest manager of Liverpool Football Club, the Merseyside club announced on Thursday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Klopp will be unveiled to the world at an introductory press conference at Anfield on Friday.

According to early reports, Klopp’s three-year contract could pay him as much as $10 million per season.

[ QUOTE KING: Top 10 “Klopp-isms” from his time at Dortmund ]

The 48-year-old German has been out of work since stepping down at Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund following a seventh-place finish to the 2014-15 season. Klopp’s seven seasons in charge of Dortmund weren’t without success and silverware, though, as he led Der BVB to back-to-back league titles in 2011 and 2012, a German Cup triumph in 2012 and a UEFA Champions League final appearance in 2013.

PST’s Joe Prince-Wright will be at Anfield on Friday for Klopp’s unveiling, so be sure to follow JPW on Twitter and check back to PST for wall-to-wall coverage of Klopp’s first press conference as Liverpool manager.