Four-goal second half sees Wolfsburg topple another big spender, defend Champions League title

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Handed a two-goal deficit after 30 minutes, defending UEFA Champions League winners VfL Wolfsburg scored four times in the second half, with Martina Müller’s second goal giving the Germans a 4-3, title-defending win over Tyresö.

The Swedes struck first and twice within a three-minute span in the first half, with goals by Marta and Veronica Boquete giving the first time finalists a 2-0 lead at half time. Within minutes of the second half’s kick off, Alexandra Popp cut Tyresö’s lead in half part of a four-goal, second half onslaught that saw Verena Faißt complement Müller’s brace en route to the title.

With the win, Wolfsburg becomes the competition’s second back-to-back winner in its five-year history. Including winners of the tournament’s predecessor, the Champions Cup, Germany has won six of 13 European titles.

The win also gives Wolfsburg a chance to defend its title next season. After finishing third in the Frauen-Bundesliga this season (albeit one point off of first), Ralf Kellerman’s team needed a win on Thursday to qualify for next year’s competition. With Müller’s 80th minute goal, Wolfsburg won its chance to become the first team to win three-straight European titles.

“We played a fantastic game in the first half – we did everything we were supposed to do,” Marta, five-time FIFA Player of the Year, said after her team’s disappointment. “We were a bit slower after the break – maybe we thought it was over at 2-0. We played a good game on the night, but Wolfsburg were stronger than us in the end.”

Thursday’s match in Lisbon stood in stark contrast to last season’s final in London, one that was decided by Martin Müller’s late second half penalty. Though Wolfsburg’s early play hinted today’s match could play out similarly to that 1-0 win over Lyon, first half goals two minutes apart from Tyresö create a more open affair.

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U.S. international Christian Press set up Tyresö’s second goal but was kept out of the game during Wolfsburg’s four-goal second half. (Photo: Getty Images)

Taking advantage of a Wolfsburg turnover in the 28th minute, Marta converted her first of the match, her right-footed shot from 14 yards out, to the right of goal, beating Almuth Schult far post for the opening goal. Two minutes later, a long diagonal for Christian Press saw the U.S. international cut across the defense at to the byline before chipping back toward Veronica Boquete, whose volleyed finish at the edge of the six-yard box gave the Swedes a 2-0 lead.

The lead left Tyresö poised to capitalize on investment that’s brought the club to the brink of extinction. With the purchase of a number of players, most notably Marta, the Swedish club has funded an ascent up the Swedish and European ladders. In the process, though, the club has gone into administration, with its status in the Swedish league brought into question by its finances. With quick start against Wolfsburg, Tyresö was on track to reap a final reward before the teams torn apart.

With its second goal, Tyresö closed a dominant stretch that saw the energy Sweden’s 2012 champions carried out of the dressing room give the team control of the defending champions. Though Wolfsburg would respond, generating a half-chance for Müller before intermission, the team went into halftime down two, its Champions League reign 45 minutes from its expiration date.

Less than two minutes into the second half, Wolfsburg began resetting that date, with Popp’s goal 77 seconds after kickoff cutting Tyresö’s lead to one. Six minutes later, the Tyresö defense was beaten badly as Müller, moments after failing to convert a breakaway, produced an equalizer, giving the holders 37 minutes to find a title-defending goal.

In the 56th minute, Marta’s second stanched Wolfsburg’s momentum, with the five-time FIFA Player of the Year’s cutback onto her right foot in the left of the penalty area producing a perfectly placed shot inside Schult’s far post. The cure proved short-lived, though, with two more Wolfsburg goals completing the champions’ inspired retort.

In the 68th minute, Verena Faißt got inside substitute Madeleine Edlund on the defense’s right to give Wolfsburg its second equalizer, exploiting a team temporarily playing with 10 women after right back Meghan Klingenberg limped off. Twelve minutes later, midfielder Nadine Keßler, UEFA’s woman of the match, took advantage of Line Røddick and a fatigued Tyresö to produce Müller’s second, allowing the Germans to claim back-to-back titles.

In doing so, Ralf Kellerman’s team built on the smash-and-grab that halted the would be OL dynasty – one that prevented France’s big spenders from claiming a third straight title. On Thursday, handed an early two-goal deficit, Wolfsburg added a four-star triumph to last year’s groundout crown, again proving the limits of money’s influence.

‘Nothing is impossible’: Bonucci brings hope to AC Milan

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MILAN (AP) Nothing is impossible. That’s AC Milan’s new unofficial slogan following Leonardo Bonucci’s surprise transfer from defending six-time Serie A champion Juventus.

[ MORE: Neymar reportedly tells Barca teammates he’s off to PSG ]

Presenting fans to Bonucci via Weibo on Friday, Milan CEO Marco Fassone recounted how Italy’s top defender moved to a rival club.

“It started by chance and it seemed impossible but Leo interrupted me right away and said, `Nothing is impossible. When there’s desire to do things you can get them done.”‘

Milan has been on a spending spree following the club’s sale to a Chinese-led consortium for $800 million in April, and Bonucci is the top acquisition, so far.

“Leo doesn’t require introductions,” Fassone said. “It’s an extraordinary reinforcement for us. … He completes a mosaic sought after by (Milan chief sport officer Massimiliano) Mirabelli – a mix of younger players and experienced leaders who will make the road ahead easier.”

Other recent signings by Milan included forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

Bonucci thanked Kessie for letting him wear his preferred No. 19 shirt, and pointed to Milan’s seven European Cups and Champions League titles as a reference point for a club that did not even qualify for continental play the last three years and hasn’t won Serie A since 2011.

“Milan deserves to be among the elite again in Italy and Europe,” Bonucci said. “When you are united you win. The strength has to be that of the squad whereas singular players alone can do nothing. We can get back to the top and that’s what this club deserves.”

Bonucci’s transfer fee reportedly topped the 40 million euro ($45 million) mark, and the center back was signed to a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros ($11 million) per season, including bonuses – making him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Meanwhile, Juventus is reportedly near to signing prized winger Federico Bernardeschi from Fiorentina for a reported fee of 40 million euros ($45 million). The Gazzetta dello Sport reported Juventus will sign the 23-year-old Bernardeschi to five-year contract worth 4 million euros ($4.6 million) per season.

Vertonghen: “We need to level up” like rest of PL contenders

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Tottenham put up a heck of a title fight in 2016/17 as the club attempted to chase down Premier League champions Chelsea, but Spurs have been inactive this summer as Mauricio Pochettino‘s group gears up for next month.

[ MORE: Striker Morata signs five-year contract with Chelsea ]

The London side finished second in the PL a season ago — a record-high for the club during the modern Premier League Era.

[ VIDEO: History of the North London Derby ]

However, Pochettino and Co. have made no moves in the transfer market this summer, while its competitors — Chelsea, Manchester United, etc. — have all made significant roster additions to bolster their lineups.

Defender Jan Vertonghen says that Spurs must compete with the rest of the PL’s elite in the transfer market if the club is to finally realize its goal of finishing atop England’s top flight.

“The way our rivals are strengthening this season, we need to be aware of that and we need to level up as well,” Vertonghen told ESPN FC.

“I’m not saying with new players, but we need to take our levels up and I think we can. I’m the oldest outfield player in the team and I feel very fit. The younger guys can improve even more. It can definitely be our year and we want it to be our year.

“Luckily we almost kept everyone from this year. Obviously the window is not closed yet but if we can keep these guys, we can do the same thing again. It’ll be a bit harder because we play at Wembley! [The pitch] is a lot bigger but the training pitches have already been adapted.

While Spurs certainly benefit from having one of the strongest young groups of players in England, the club’s lack of spending is a bit concerning, especially after its recent loss of Kyle Walker — who joined Manchester City for a record fee.

Zouma signs new Chelsea contract, is immediately loaned to Stoke City

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Kurt Zouma‘s long-term future is secure at Chelsea, but his short-term future will be away from Stamford Bridge.

The France international centerback signed a new six-year contract with Chelsea and was promptly sent out on a season-long loan to Stoke City. Zouma made just three starts and nine total appearances last season as he came back from a torn ACL suffered in February 2016.

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“It is fantastic Kurt has chosen to commit his future to Chelsea,” Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo said in a statement. “He has shown his talent since joining us three years ago, and has returned from a serious injury with a fantastic attitude.

“Now he has the opportunity to play regularly in the Premier League and we will be monitoring his progress closely while he is at Stoke.”

The move to Stoke will give Zouma a new experience, playing for a mid-table side in the Premier League, and it will be interesting to see where he fits in at centerback, battling with American Geoff Cameron and Englishman Ryan Shawcross.

Even with John Terry leaving the club, Zouma was likely to be second-choice in the back three for Chelsea and if he wants to make France’s squad for the 2018 World Cup, he’ll have to play regularly.

Morata signs five-year contract at Chelsea

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Chelsea FC will have another Spanish international leading the front line, with Diego Costa likely on his way out of town.

The club announced that Alvaro Morata has completed a transfer from Real Madrid, signing a five-year contract at Stamford Bridge. The BBC reports the transfer fee at nearly $78 million.

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“I am so happy to be here,” Morata said in a statement. “It’s an incredible emotion to be part of this big club. I am looking to work hard, score as many goals as I can and to win as many trophies as possible.”

Morata emerged as an option to replace Costa after Romelu Lukaku decided on joining Manchester United over his former club Chelsea. Morata, who was a Manchester United target at first, then turned his sights on London after becoming disillusioned in Madrid, playing second-fiddle to Karim Benzema.

Despite not being first-choice up top, Morata scored 15 goals in 26 La Liga games and another three in the UEFA Champions League, which Real Madrid went on to win over Morata’s former club Juventus. Morata started for Juventus the last time the club had been in the Champions League final.

Despite being just 24, Morata is emerging as one of the world’s top forwards. He has nine goals in 19 games for the Spanish National Team and now is the right time for him to experience the challenge of the Premier League, where the games come thick and fast and the pace of the game is a step up from what he’s experienced in Spain and Italy.

However, the tactical knowledge he’s learned in both places should help him in England, where he can position himself between the opposing centerbacks.