Mauro Zarate completes deal to West Ham United, signs three-year contract

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Just one week after West Ham United decided to stick with manager Sam Allardyce – so long as he “provide more entertainment next season” – the club have gone out and signed themselves Argentine forward Mauro Zarate to a three-year deal.

The 27-year-old makes his way to Upton Park from Argentine side Velez Sarsfield, where he was the top-tier’s leading scorer with 18 goals in 28 appearances. 

“My reaction is that I am very happy to be at West Ham,” Zarate said after completing his deal with West Ham.

“This is a new chance for me and I want to play. I think I played well for Velez this season and that was important for me. I had some good team-mates and they helped to make it a fantastic season for me.”

Despite finishing 13th in the table, West Ham endured an underwhelming 2013/14 season that exposed holes both defensively, at wing-back in particular, and offensively in the generation and scoring of goals. The latter proved the major blemish, as the Hammers netted only 40 times in the 38 match season.

The lack of offensive production was due to a number of issues, in particular the extended injury absence of Andy Carroll and a lack of service. With Carroll out, Allardyce was forced to play a committee of forwards (Modibo Maiga, Ricardo Vaz Te, Marco Boriello and Mladen Petric) who, with the exception of the surprising Carlton Cole (6 goals, 23 appearances), was relatively toothless.

In Zarate, the Hammers have a player who has the skills, goal-scoring ability and most importantly, desire. “If you ask me what I can bring to the squad then I say I hope I will bring goals!” he exclaimed upon sealing his deal. Pacy and quick to shoot with either foot, the 5’9″ speedster can be a handful for opposing defenses. The key will be playing to his abilities and getting him the ball, which given West Ham’s style is no sure thing. 

To get the most out of Zarate the club’s style will need to change. Route 1 football won’t suit the Argentine, as he needs the ball at his feet with options around him to be at his best. At West Ham, expect him to play inside of Carroll in a 4-4-2 or on the left wing in the 4-2-3-1 setup typically deployed by the club this past season.

Fortunately for both Zarate and the Hammers, the Argentine has experience in the Premier League after he spent the second half of the 2007/08 Premier League campaign on loan at Birmingham City from the Qatari side Al Sadd. In that 14 match stint Zarate scored 4 goals, proving himself to be a fantastic talent capable of the incredible.

Balancing that considerable talent, however, is a dark side. After his spell with Birmingham Zarate was sold to Lazio where he spent three seasons (scoring 25 goals in 103 appearances) but was also handed a two-match ban after being photographed giving a fascist salute amid the Ultras section of fans. A spokesman later pled Zarate’s innocence due to his not knowing what the gesture meant. Since then Zarate has undergone a number of other questionable incidents including clashing with club executives and going on holiday when he was supposed to be receiving treatment. 

With the deal secure it’s clear that Allardyce has deemed the risk of Zarate to be worth the reward. For the sake of Big Sam’s future at the club, he best hope that turns out to be true.

Sydney FC to face Melbourne Victory in A-League final

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SYDNEY (AP) Sydney FC will face the Melbourne Victory in next weekend’s grand final of Australian football’s A-League after the top-ranked teams won contrasting semifinals.

[ MORE: Spurs revel in North London rule, but want more ]

While Sydney was as dominant as it has been throughout a 27-match regular season in its 3-0 win over Perth on Saturday, Melbourne needed a 70th-minute goal from striker Besart Berisha to advance with a 1-0 win Sunday over Brisbane.

Josh Brillante, Jordy Buijs and Filip Holosko scored first-half goals as Sydney continued a seemingly unstoppable drive towards its third A-League title – and its first since 2010. The video referee interceded in two of the goals, making the win contentious, but Sydney still demonstrated superiority over the young, confident and ambitious Perth side.

Sydney lost only once in 27 regular-season matches and will enter the final as a considerable favorite.

Berisha sank the hopes of his former club, Brisbane, with his late strike in Sunday’s second semifinal. While the margin was small, the Victory deserved to win after playing more assertively throughout the match.

Its semifinal victory means that the teams that finished first and second at the end of the regular season will contest the final for the fifth straight year. The final repeats the 2015 showdown between Sydney and Melbourne, which the Victory won 3-0.

Hoffenheim reaches Champions League qualifiers for 1st time

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BERLIN (AP) The youngest coach in the Bundesliga, 29-year-old Julian Nagelsmann, has steered Hoffenheim to a place in the Champions League qualifiers in the club’s best ever season.

Hoffenheim could even secure its first appearance in the Champions League group stage if it holds on to third place – where it now stands after Benjamin Huebner scored in the last minute to snatch a 1-0 home win over Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday. It has three more matches to play this season.

Huebner’s late goal, a powerful header to Sebastian Rudy’s corner, moved the side one point above Borussia Dortmund, which was held to a scoreless draw at home by Cologne on Saturday.

The goal was scored by the son of Frankfurt sporting director Bruno Huebner.

“A lucky win,” acknowledged Hoffenheim backer Dietmar Hopp, the software billionaire whose finances helped his hometown club progress from minor leagues to the Bundesliga.

A co-founder of the SAP software giant, Hopp became the first private owner of a Bundesliga side when he took a majority stake in Hoffenheim in 2015. By then he had already spent an estimated 350 million euros on the team.

However, Hoffenheim’s best appointment to date appears to be that of Nagelsmann, who took over in February 2016 after Huub Stevens stepped down for health reasons.

Then 28, Nagelsmann hadn’t even earned his coaching credentials from the German football federation (DFB). But he saved the side from relegation and Hoffenheim is enjoying its best ever season this year.

The win over Frankfurt extended its unbeaten run at home to 16 games and ensured it beat its previous best-mark of 55 points from the 2008-09 season.

As a player, Nagelsmann lined up for Bavarian sides Augsburg and 1860 Munich before turning his attention to coaching. He spent almost a decade coaching the youth sides of 1860 Munich and then Hoffenheim, for which he was also assistant coach in 2012-13.

Earlier this year, Nagelsmann was named the German football federation’s coach of the year for 2016.

Dortmund hosts Hoffenheim next weekend for a game that is likely to decide which side goes into the qualifiers and which secures automatic qualification for the Champions League.

AUGSBURG 4, HAMBURGER SV 0

Hamburger SV slipped closer to its first ever relegation in a humiliating defeat at fellow struggler Augsburg.

Hamburg, the last founding member of the league to have played every season since its formation in 1963, was left in the relegation playoff place with three games remaining.

“We’re all affected by the performance we showed today,” Hamburg coach Markus Gisdol said. “We were hoping for something different. But we’ve got over other setbacks before and have to deliver the best in the next game.”

Hamburg goalkeeper Tom Mickel and the left post denied Augsburg early on before Halil Altintop fired the home side ahead, midway through the first half.

Altintop scored another before the break, set up by Philipp Max, to give Augsburg some breathing space.

Michael Gregoritsch reacted with a brutal challenge on Dominik Kohr, for which the Hamburg midfielder was fortunate to escape with a yellow card.

Max sealed the result on a counterattack before setting up Raul Bobadilla to complete the scoring late on.

“We could even have scored more goals,” Augsburg coach Manuel Baum said. “But more than three points wouldn’t have been possible.”

Victory lifted Augsburg out of the relegation playoff place and two points above Hamburg, Wolfsburg and Mainz, all level on 33 points. Hamburg, which has conceded a league-worst 59 goals in 31 games, has an inferior goal difference to the other two.

Ingolstadt and Darmstadt occupied the automatic relegation spots. Ingolstadt was four points behind Hamburg, while Darmstadt was all but doomed, nine points behind.

Balotelli, Nice may have spoiled PSG’s title chances

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Monaco took care of business at the top of Ligue 1 on Saturday and now the Champions League semifinalists could be closing in on France’s crown.

[ MORE: Spurs revel in ruling North London, but want more ]

Paris Saint-Germain slipped up on Sunday with a 3-1 loss against third-place Nice, and it could spell the end for the Parisians’ hopes of winning Ligue 1 in 2016/17.

Mario Balotelli sprung Nice in front after 26 minutes with a curling left-footed effort from outside the box, before Ricardo Pereira doubled the advantage for the hosts just three minutes into the second stanza with a lovely curler of his own.

PSG managed to pull a goal back in the 64th minute as Marquinhos gave the visitors a glimmer of hope to keep their title hopes alive.

However, the final minutes of the match took a drastic turn for the worse for PSG as Thiago Motta and Angel di Maria were both shown red cards for violent tackles on Nice players.

Nice also found a third finish after PSG was dwindled down to nine men when Anastasios Donis headed home a lofted cross from the left wing.

With three matches remaining for PSG, Unai Emery’s side sits three points behind league leaders Monaco, who also have a match in hand. PSG finishes up their Ligue 1 account with matches against Bastia, St Etienne and Caen.

Video: Camilo Sanvezzo scores wonder goal for Queretaro

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Camilo Sanvezzo scored two goals on Sunday for Queretaro but many won’t even remember the score of the game after his brilliant first effort.

The Queretaro forward scored the first of two finishes in the 66th minute after winning the ball in his own half, carrying it into the Toluca end and unleashing a deadly shot from just inside midfield.

Sanvezzo eventually scored his side’s second goal in the dying minutes of the match, and his 88th minute finish proved to be the winner for Queretaro, who currently sit 13th in Liga MX.

The 28-year-old should be familiar to MLS fans after Sanvezzo’s time with the Vancouver Whitecaps from 2011 to 2013. The veteran scored 39 goals in 92 matches with the Canadian side.