Who’s in across Europe? Glancing at the 2014/15 UEFA Champions League

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We’re down to the Final Four (don’t sue) in the 2013/14 UEFA Champions League, and by now we know plenty about Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Bayern Munich. So who will we see in next season’s edition?

Some slots are firm, while there’s plenty to be settled in the next few weeks in others. Let’s take a look at whose guaranteed to make the group stage:

Spain: Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Barcelona
England: Liverpool
Germany: Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund
Italy: Juventus, Roma
Portugal: Benfica, Sporting CP
France: Paris Saint-Germain
Greece: Olympiacos

As for the open spots in the group stage:

England (Second and third-place clubs still undecided): Right now, it’s Chelsea (75 points, 3 to play) and Manchester City (74 points, 4 to play) with a sizable advantage on fourth-place Arsenal (70 points, 3 to play) and fifth-place Everton (69 points, 3 to play). City’s pretty much a lock, and the Blues aren’t far behind despite recent injury troubles.

Germany (Third-place club still undecided): Schalke is in the driver’s seat, with 58 points and three matches left in the Bundesliga. Bayer Leverkusen is four back of Schalke while Wolfsburg is five back.

France (Second-place club still undecided): Monaco will be in the Champions League, but it’s group stage fate is uncertain until Lille fades a bit further back. There are four matches to be played, but any points lost by Lille will all but clinch the group stage spot for Monaco.

Ukraine (First-place club still undecided): This one could go right down to the final match day on May 17. Shakhtar Donetsk is currently in first by three points, but have played one more match than Dnipro. Shakhtar has the better goal differential as well.

Russia: (First-place club still undecided): Zenit St. Petersburg has the pole position by a single-point, but their upcoming match with second-spot Lokomotiv Moskva means CSKA Moskva has a shot despite being four points back.

Netherlands: (First-place club still undecided): Ajax is in the Champions League and their group stage fate with a single point in their remaining two matches, both against lower clubs. Feyenoord waits six points back with only the weakest hopes.

Turkey: (First-place club still undecided): Fenerbache would be in the competition, holders of a healthy 12-point lead on second-place Besiktas, but sanctions have the club barred from Europe. So it’ll be either Besiktas or third-place Galatasaray, the latter being two points back of second place.

Belgium: (First-place club still undecided): Still five rounds of playoffs to go, meaning Standard Liege, Club Brugge, Zulte Waregem, Anderlecht, Lokeren and Genk are all options. The first round mentioned are within four points of each other and have the best chance to advance.

And while there are plenty of clubs alive for berths, why don’t we take the chance to congratulate some of the other auto-qualifiers, regardless of whether their missions begin in July or December:

Gibraltar: Lincoln Red Imps
Estonia: Levadia Tallinn
Northern Ireland: Cliftonville
Faroe Islands: Havnar Boltfelag

Wales: The New Saints
Portugal: Porto
Austria: Red Bull Salzburg
Scotland: Celtic

Latvia: Ventspils
Belarus: BATE Borisov
Croatia: Dinamo Zagreb
Kazakhstan: Aktobe

Finland: Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi
Sweden: Malmo
Iceland: Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur
Norway: Stromsgodset

Ireland: St. Patrick’s Athletic
Lithuania: Zalgiris Vilnius

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

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According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.

Diego Costa injured, but will stay with Spain squad for friendly

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Chelsea striker Diego Costa pulled up in Spain training on Sunday, and with the Blues in first in the Premier League and Costa in great form, there were obvious concerns.

With Costa struggling with leg and ankle injuries, the RFEF informed Chelsea that there was an issue, and Costa was pulled from training and sent for tests. X-Rays at the local hospital in Madrid were negative, and he’s rejoined the squad.

According to the RFEF, doctors will continue to monitor the 28-year-old and he will continue with the national team for the rest of the international break. With a World Cup qualification win over Israel already in the books and just a friendly against France to go on Tuesday, it’s odd that Spain would risk Costa moving forward, but they will continue to keep him around.

Costa has scored 18 goals this season to lead the Blues, and he scored in the win over Israel. Spain takes on France in Saint-Denis on Tuesday, with both teams leading their World Cup qualification groups. Spain has a goal-differential lead on Italy with both teams miles above the rest of the Group G, and France is ahead of Sweden by three points in Group A, with the Netherlands back in fourth.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.