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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)

VIDEO: 70-yard run leads to incredible goal at Africa Cup of Nations

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Take a bow, Piqueti.

Guinea-Bissau took the lead against Cameroon in stunning fashion on Wednesday in group play at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.

Watch the incredible clip below as Piqueti — full name Piqueti Djassi Brito Silva — controlled the ball and ran 70-yards before hammering home to put the underdogs ahead.

The winger for SC Braga in Portugal has certainly made a name for himself.

What a goal!


LIVE: Liverpool, Saints both in FA Cup replay action

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 08: Emre Can of Liverpool takes a free kick during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Liverpool and Plymouth Argyle at Anfield on January 8, 2017 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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The final three games of the FA Cup third round will take place on Wednesday and it is time for some more replays.

[ LIVE: Follow FA Cup scores here

Premier League title contenders Liverpool head down to the far south west of England to play fourth-tier Plymouth Argyle after the Pilgrims grabbed a famous 0-0 draw at Anfield to set up this replay. Jurgen Klopp will once again rest plenty of first team stars. The winner of this game will host Wolverhampton Wanderers at home. Surely we couldn’t see a massive giant-killing down at Home Park…

The other Premier League side in action is Southampton as they host Championship outfit Norwich City. Both teams will be understrength as second-tier Norwich focus on getting back into the playoff hunt in the league, while Saints have an EFL Cup semifinal second leg at Liverpool next week on thier mind plus a big Premier League game against Leicester this Sunday as they aim to stop a run of four-straight defeats in the PL. Whoever wins this clash will host Arsenal in round four.

Two big teams clash in the Championship as Newcastle United host Birmingham City at St James’ Park with Rafael Benitez’s side top of the second-tier as they chase an instant return to the Premier League. Rafa’s massive squad means he can rotate his team, while Birmingham boss Gianfranco Zola is still looking for his first win in charge of the Blues since taking over in December. The winner of this tie will travel to Oxford United in the fourth round.

Hit the link above to follow the scores from all of the FA Cup games on Wednesday, while we will have reaction to the matches right here on Pro Soccer Talk.

Here is the schedule.


Wednesday’s FA Cup third round replays

Newcastle United vs. Birmingham City – 2:45 p.m. ET
Plymouth Argyle vs. Liverpool – 2:45 p.m. ET
Southampton vs. Norwich City – 2:45 p.m. ET

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Morata to Chelsea; Ulloa, Sakho in demand

UDINE, ITALY - MARCH 24:  Alvaro Morata of Spain looks on during the international friendly match between Italy and Spain at Stadio Friuli on March 24, 2016 in Udine, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Diego Costa and Antonio Conte making up for now, the focus is on who could be the long-term striker at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: United need Griezmann

The Daily Telegraph believes that Conte will turn to Real Madrid forward Alvaro Morata in the summer as he looks to the Spanish international to be his go-to man up top. With Costa causing problems behind the scenes at Chelsea, it is believed Conte is ready to cash in on the troublesome striker despite his 14 goals and five assists putting Chelsea top of the Premier League with five games to go go.

As for Morata, the 24-year-old is stuck behind the likes of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo once again after returning to Real Madrid in the summer following two years at Juventus. Real exercised the buy-back clause in Morata’s deal in the summer and refused to sell him to Chelsea. Morata has started just six La Liga games this season but has scored five goals and Conte was the man who signed him for Juventus before he moved on to manage the Italian national team.

If Chelsea sell 28-year-old Costa to China for a big profit and then bring in Morata, that would seem like a decent deal. Conte gets rid of a wantaway player and adds a talented and hungry striker who is four years younger and ready to prove himself at the top level. What could go wrong?


The Liverpool Echo is reporting that Liverpool’s central defender Mamadou Sakho is interesting Crystal Palace.

Sakho, 25, hasn’t played for the Reds all season after a fall out with manager Jurgen Klopp in the summer. Sakho rejected a loan move to Stoke City in the summer but has only played for Liverpool’s U-23 side since. The former Paris Saint-Germain defender has also been linked with a move to Southampton in the January window but with Liverpool said to be intent on selling Sakho rather than loaning him, that considerably cuts down his options.

Palace are in need of defensive help with new manager Sam Allardyce gaining just one point from his first four games in charge. Palace also have the third worst defensive record in the PL but it would be interesting to see if the Eagles would splash out nearly $20 million on Sakho and if he would likely take a pay cut to join a team which is outside the relegation zone only on goal difference.

Allardyce is known for building his teams around a solid defense and Sakho could certainly land in worse place than south London if the Eagles manage to stay up.


Leicester City striker Leonardo Ulloa is a man in demand.

Ulloa, 30, has come off the bench time and time again this season for the Foxes but has struggled to hold down a regular spot in the team and the Uruguayan forward reportedly wants a move away from the King Power Stadium. Ulloa played the bit-part superbly last season in Leicester’s title-wining campaign, scoring valuable goals off the bench and often replacing Shinji Okazaki for the final 30 minutes of games to batter opposition defenses.

This season Ulloa has scored just once in 18 appearances in all competitions, starting just two games.

Sky Sports claim that Spanish side Alaves have placed a bid with Leicester but that has reportedly been rejected, while the Daily Express states that a quartet of Premier League clubs are sniffing around the powerful striker with West Brom plus strugglers Hull City, Swansea City and Sunderland all interested.

With Okazaki, Islam Slimani, Ahmed Musa and Jamie Vardy around, it is unlikely Ulloa will get any significant minutes for Leicester for the rest of the season. Will the Foxes really sell him to a potential rival in the battle against PL relegation though?

USMNT snub: No US players in CONCACAF Best XI of 2016

HARRISON, NJ - JUNE 01:  John Brooks #6 of United States and teammates Clint Dempsey #8,Michael Bradley #4,Geoff Cameron #20 and Julian Green #16 wait for the corner kick in the second half against Turkey during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on June 1, 2014 in Harrison, New Jersey.The United States defeated Turkey 2-1.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Well, this is a little surprising.

[ MORE: Griezmann needed at United ]

CONCACAF released its Best XI from 2016 on Wednesday and there were zero U.S. national team players in the list of 11.

Zero.

Players from Mexico and Costa Rica dominate, while Canadian midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, Jamaican defender Wes Morgan and French forward Andre-Pierre Gignac were also included. The top 11 players were selected after either playing for a national team or club team in the CONCACAF region.

Only one player from Major League Soccer made the list, Ronald Mataritta of New York City FC.

Still, the fact that USMNT defenders Geoff Cameron and John Brooks didn’t get in the Best XI of 2016 after their heroics at the Copa America Centenario is quite mind-boggling. No offense against Morgan or Mexico’s Rafael Marquez, but come on. Also, surely Christian Pulisic or Jozy Altidore would have been worthy additions to this team?

Then again, when you see the highlight video below, most of the winners are shown scoring or playing well against the USMNT. That could go a little way to explain why there are no U.S. players on this list…

Below is the team in full. Intrigued to hear your comments in the section below.