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European power, U.S. enclave Tyresö FF continues playing out its sad soccer parable

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The financial collapse of former Swedish champions Tyresö FF has been one of women’s soccer’s most depressing stories, but as the team that has Marta, Christen Press, and Verónica Boquete on its books inches closer to next month’s UEFA Champions League final, new angles on the team’s demise continue to surface. Today comes word that the team, currently tied 0-0 with Birmingham City after one leg of the Champions League semifinals, may not be able to distribute full player bonuses should they claim Europe’s crown. Currently in administration, the Swedish tax authorities will get first crack at any prize UEFA hands back to the club, should the club exist at all.

The story is a common one in modern soccer, outlining the ironic downside to unrestrained ambition. Particularly over the past year, Tyresö has spend itself into the ground, climbing Europe’s women’s soccer ladder while doing to.

It’s a process that’s not only brought five-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta to southeast Sweden but also lured a slew of U.S. international stars. At one point this winter, the then-Damallsvenskan leaders and defending champions had five prominent Americans on its roster, adding defender Whitney Engen, right back Ali Kreiger, and goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris to a team that already had attacker Christen Press and defender/midfielder Meghan Klingenberg.

They also had Women’s Professional Soccer Most Valuable Player Verónica Boquete. And Swedish stars like Caroline Seger and Lisa Dahlkvist, Tyresö build a team that was primed to transcend the Swedish league and its limited history to become a true European power.

source: Getty Images
Emerging U.S. national team start Christen Press will join the Chicago Red Stars this summer. In the interim, she’s part of a Tyresö team that’s spend its way to European relevant, the brink of financial destruction. (Photo: Getty images)

It’s ambition that’s put the team within one win of the Champions League final, though those positive results stand in stark contrast to everything else that’s happened at the club. Almost immediately after the team’s winter influx, the club stumbled domestically, losing its undefeated record and eventually finishing seven points behind league champion Rosengard. This season, the team has lost its first two league games, a plight that pales in comparison to its financial troubles. With Swedish tax authorities managing the club, there’s a chance the team’s doors could eventually close, potentially preventing them from taking part in the Champions League final.

At least, that’s what Sweden’s Radiosporten is reporting, a fate that would prevent the team from cashing in a lucrative payday. If the team wins next month’s final, UEFA’s prize will be just under $3.2 million (€2.3 million). If it loses, the club will still be in line for near-$2.5 million, provided it can first get past Birmingham City in Sunday’s second leg (and not be closed down by administrators in the process).

With the club struggling both on and off the field, there’s no guarantee that will happen. Even if it does, the rewards will be greatly diminished. Though the squad will still have the glory of its accomplishment, player bonuses for winning Europe (reportedly as high as $1.4 million for Marta) will be severely cut. Where playing for pride has become a sports cliché, Tyresö’s talented squad may have no other reward.

This is Leeds, Málaga, Anzhi, and the myriad of other more broadly told stories of teams trying to spend their way to history. It’s also a story of a club that could be done before the next Champions League season starts.  If it goes out of business, the memories of Tyresö’s accomplishments will be tied to an ambition that destroyed the club.

AEK Athens beats Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) AEK Athens defeated Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0 in an ill-tempered game on Sunday that saw 12 yellow cards and two dismissals.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win of season ]

Astrit Ajdarevic scored the only goal in the 34th minute with a free kick that deflected off Olympiakos defender Manuel da Costa.

Olympiakos’ athletic director Francois Modesto was sent to the stands for protesting about the lead-up to AEK’s goal. His team’s central defender Alberto Botia was dismissed after a second yellow card in the 75th for pulling an advancing AEK forward’s jersey.

Despite the defeat, its second of the season, Olympiakos has a 10-point cushion over second-place Panionios, which beat 10-man Iraklis 1-0.

PAOK, a 4-0 winner over Veria, remains in third place, one point ahead of Panathinaikos, which beat Asteras 5-0 on Saturday. AEK is joint fifth with Xanthi.

PSG drops points against Toulouse days after massive UCL win

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 14:  Julian Draxler of Paris Saint-Germain looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona at Parc des Princes on February 14, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Just days after its massive (and somewhat unexpected) beatdown of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain failed to close the gap on league leaders Monaco.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win ]

PSG settled for a 0-0 draw on Sunday at the Parc des Princes against eighth-place Toulouse, leaving the Parisian side three points behind Monaco through 26 rounds of action.

[ MORE: Bielsa returns to Ligue 1 with Lille ]

Despite holding the visitors to just three shots (one on target), Toulouse managed to contain a rampant PSG attack, which posted four goals midweek in their rout of the Blaugrana.

PSG’s first strong chance came in the 14th minute when Lucas Moura’s effort was saved in the bottom corner by goalkeeper Alban Lafont.

Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani may have had the game’s best opportunity to break the deadlock when the Uruguayan attacker struck the post from inside the penalty area.

Unai Emery’s group will be back in action on Feb. 26 when PSG travels to Dimitri Payet and Marseille.

Wenger worried over Sutton’s pitch heading Monday’s clash

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 16:  Pundits Paul Merson (4L) and Matt Le Tissier (2L) take part in a training session alongside Paul Doswell manager of Sutton United (L) and players during a Sutton United FA Cup media day on February 16, 2017 at the Borough Sports Ground in Sutton, Greater London. Sutton United are due to face Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup Fifth round on 20 February.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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The story of Monday’s encounter between Arsenal and fifth-division Sutton United will be whether the minnows can overcome the mighty Gunners.

[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” against Blackburn ]

However, Arsene Wenger already fears a bigger challenge within the game, one that concerns his players’ safety.

Sutton’s 5,000-seat Gander Green Lane features an artificial surface, which is largely uncommon for English and most European venues regardless of club standing.

“First of all the pitch. Secondly their enthusiasm. Thirdly that we are not ready mentally for a big fight and think subconsciously that it doesn’t matter,” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s FA Cup meeting in South London.

In preparation for their meeting with the U’s, Wenger had his side train on their own indoor artificial field on Friday.

“Look, ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. Competition is as well to deal with what you face, and we’ll face an unusual pitch and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.

“We practice inside [on Friday] because we have an artificial pitch. It’s not the same as it’s a dry pitch, and at Sutton I’ve heard that’s a wet pitch, they water it before the game. So it will be much quicker than what we have.”

Leipzig beats ‘Gladbach 2-1, cuts Bayern’s Bundesliga lead

Leipzig's scorer Willi Orban, center, and his teammates celebrate their side's 2nd goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between RB Leipzig and Hertha BSC Berlin in Leipzig, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
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BERLIN (AP) Leipzig held on for a 2-1 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach to cut Bayern Munich’s lead in the Bundesliga to five points on Sunday.

[ MORE: Messi rescues Barca, Pescara wins second Serie A match ]

Emil Forsberg scored one and set up another for the promoted side to end its two-game losing streak and stay on course for Champions League qualification with its 14th win of the season.

[ MORE: Bielsa makes Ligue 1 return, joins Lille as new manager ]

`Gladbach `keeper Yann Sommer pulled off a brilliant fingertip save to deny Marcel Sabitzer early on, but he was powerless to stop Forsberg from breaking the deadlock after half an hour played.

Sabitzer and Timo Werner played their way through the static `Gladbach defense and Werner laid the ball off for the Sweden midfielder to fire inside the bottom left corner.

The home side was given a lifeline when Marvin Compper brought down Lars Stindl and referee Felix Zwayer pointed to the spot, but Peter Gulacsi saved Thorgan Hazard‘s penalty before the break.

More poor defending allowed Werner grab the second 10 minutes after the break, firing inside the far post after Forsberg played him through.

Jannik Vestergaard pulled one back with a powerful header from a corner to set up an exciting finale. However, six minutes of injury time were not enough for an equalizer.

Leipzig had kicked off to a chorus of whistles from the home fans, who then mostly stayed silent till the 19th minute in protest against the visiting side. Huge banners in the north stand said “Traditional club since 1900” – an apparent protest against Leipzig, founded in 2009 when Austrian energy-drink billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz rebranded a fifth-tier team with his company’s livery before financing its steady promotion through the lower leagues.

COLOGNE 1, SCHALKE 1

Cologne stopped Schalke’s progress but the point was enough for the visiting side to overtake `Gladbach on goal difference in 10th.

Alessandro Schoepf got the visitors off to a flying start in the second minute with the help of the left post, and Leon Goretzka hit the post after half an hour with the home side still struggling to get into the game.

But Anthony Modeste equalized before the break with a fine strike inside the far post, and might even have scored again just minutes later, when his hesitation allowed Benedikt Hoewedes get back and clear.

Guido Burgstaller came closest to a winner for Schalke in the second half, his shot just wide of the far post after beating the goalkeeper.