World Cup injury bug snatches Croatian winger with ruptured hamstring

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Croatia is the latest country to be stung by the vicious injury bug making the rounds before this summer’s World Cup.

According to reports out of the country, 29-year-old winger Niko Kranjcar will not be available for the tournament after rupturing his hamstring, and will now have to focus on both returning to fitness and sorting out his club situation.

Kranjcar, on loan from Dynamo Kiev, made 29 Championship appearances for Queens Park Rangers this season, started the playoff final against Derby County Saturday.

However, was removed in the 33rd minute after feeling his hamstring pop. He went back to Zagreb for an MRI, which confirmed the injury.

Before his injury, Kranjcar was one of just five players who represented Croatia in their last World Cup, 2006 in Germany.

He owns 81 caps for his country, in which he has 16 goals, some of which have been vitally important. Kranjcar scored the opener in Croatia’s famous 3-2 win over England in Euro 2008 qualification at Wembley, which eliminated the home side from contention and securing the departure of then-England manager and current Derby County boss Steve McClaren.

Kranjcar’s injury only compounds the problems for boss Niko Kovac, who is already dealing with the losses of Ivan Strinic and Ivo Ilicevic.

The frustrating part for Croatia is that Kranjcar had already tweaked his hamstring in the playoff semi-final, but manager Harry Redknapp decided to use him anyways in the final, and the result was a complete tear.

After the semi-final, Redknapp praised his Croatian winger, who he started over young star Ravel Morrison. “I played a bloke called Niko Kranjcar,” Redknapp said. “He’s got something like 86 caps for Croatia and is a fantastic player, a fantastic person and can make things happen. Ravel has done well but I went with Niko. I went for experience – Niko knows the game and I hope he’ll be fit to play at Wembley.”

It’s now time for Kranjcar to determine whether he will return to Dynamo Kiev, stay at QPR, or seek other options.

Pep sticking with Bravo for final: “Locker room more important”

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Petr Cech and Ederson will watch from the bench as their clubs start the League Cup Final on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola announced that Manchester City will turn to Claudio Bravo between the sticks against Arsenal, which has already appointed David Ospina as its backstop for the final.

[ MORE: Europa League draw ]

And if you think Pep, having seen his side lose to Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup, should go back to Ederson for the final, he gets it.

“You can have an opinion, I am the manager. We are here for Claudio. He saved two lots of penalties. He deserves to play in the final. The locker room is more important than the final.”

The points aren’t completely independent, of course, but at this point the final is pretty darn important as Man City could see its trophy potential drop from 4-2 in little more than a week’s time.

Bravo has played just 45 minutes in the Premier League, against Liverpool in relief of Ederson, but has been the man for each of eight League and FA Cup matches.

City has just one clean sheet in that group, but won the seven matches apart from the 1-0 Wigan defeat. Two of those, against Wolves and Leicester, came in penalty kicks.

Arsenal gets AC Milan in Europa League Round of 16

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Arsenal’s path to the UEFA Champions League just got a whole lot tougher.

[ MORE: Arsenal loses 2nd leg, advances ]

Already eight points back of the Premier League’s Top Four, the Gunners have drawn Gennaro Gattuso’s AC Milan in the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 16.

The first leg is March 8 at the San Siro before moving to the Emirates a week later.

Milan is currently 7th in Serie A despite its big-spending summer, and faces a similar problem to the Gunners; Gattuso’s men need to make up eight points on Lazio and seven on fifth-place Inter Milan.

Elsewhere, Moscovian sides CSKA and Lokomotiv got no favors with trips to Lyon and Atletico Madrid, respectively.

Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund will be pleased to see Red Bull Salzburg, while the latter’s sister club, RB Leipzig, was held apart from it by a draw with Zenit Saint-Petersbug.

Here’s the draw in full.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16
Lazio vs. Dynamo Kiev
RB Leipzig vs. Zenit St Petersburg
Atletico Madrid vs. Lokomotiv Moscow
CSKA Moscow vs. Lyon
Marseille vs. Athletic Bilbao
Sporting Lisbon vs. Viktoria Plzen
Borussia Dortmund vs. Red Bull Salzburg
AC Milan vs. Arsenal

CCL: Lodeiro from 45; Royer’s diving header — SEA, RBNY lead (video)

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After 45 minutes of their respective CONCACAF Champions League knockout-round quests, things are going unnervingly well for the Seattle Sounders and New York Red Bulls.

[ MORE: FC Dallas disappoint in CCL; Club America flying ]

If you’ve watched Major League Soccer teams try, try and try again — only to eventually fail in spectacular fashion — in CCL over the years, you might say things are going a little too well.

There’s still another 45 minutes to be played on Thursday — plus the return legs next week — but both the Sounders and Red Bulls hold 1-0 halftime leads, and the vitally important away goals which come with it. Nicolas Lodeiro’s 45-yard, first-time lob of the Santa Tecla (El Salvador) goalkeeper in the 15th minute has already been eternally etched into the memories of Sounders fans.

Just 15 minutes later, Daniel Royer perfectly executed the diving header and got on the end of Bradley Wright-Phillips’ curling ball into the box to Jesse Marsch’s side ahead of Honduran side CD Olimpia.

Villarreal DF Semedo charged with attempted murder

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MADRID (AP) A Spanish judge has charged Villarreal defender Ruben Semedo with attempted murder and ordered him to be temporarily detained without bail.

Court officials in Lliria say on Thursday the Portuguese player is also charged with assault, robbery, illegal detention, and illegal possession of firearms.

Semedo testified before a judge on Thursday, and left the court in handcuffs.

The 23-year-old Semedo was detained early Tuesday, accused of tying up, assaulting and threatening another man last week. Authorities say he and two other men allegedly held the victim captive while they robbed his apartment.

Semedo’s agents told Spanish media the player denies any wrongdoing.

Villarreal on Tuesday said it was investigating Semedo and would take appropriate disciplinary action.

Villarreal signed Semedo from Sporting Lisbon last summer for a reported fee of $17 million.