UEFA Champions League Roundup: Arsenal held; Athletic takes 1-1 draw out of Naples

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Playing in Istanbul is never easy, part of the reason Arsène Wenger may take solace in his team’s result, but when Besiktas’s Demba Ba gave Arsenal scares at the beginning and end of the first half, a harsher reality set in for the talented Gunners: Tuesday’s game, the first of their two-legged, Champions League playoff, had to be able survival.

Limited to three shots on target, and out-shot 14-10 overall, Arsenal managed to survive, with the Gunners’ best chance coming through Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 89th minute. Thanks to a save from Tolga Zengin (and some help from the post), the teams ended their first leg 0-0, leaving the sides as they started when they resume next week at the Emirates.

That’s not to say nothing’s changed. With two yellow cards, Aaron Ramsey earned himself a one game ban, with Slaven Bilic potentially joining him in the stands next Wednesday. The Beskitas head coach was sent from his bench late at Vodafone Arena, with the nature of the dismissal set to dictate whether the former Croatia boss will be on the sidelines in North London.

Whether he will or not, Bilic has to relish his team’s position. While it would have been ideal to see Ba convert one of his chances, Besiktas is still in a position to take advantage of the away goals rule. Though they’ll be heavy underdogs, a score draw next week will send Turkey’s third place finishers into the group stage.

Napoli 1-1 Athletic

Iker Munain’s goal just before half time sent Los Leones into halftime up one, with a Napoli team that held 56 percent possession throughout the opening leg spending the rest of the night in pursuit. In the 68th minute, that pursuit came good, with Gonzalo Higuaín pulling Rafa Benítez’s team even, but leaving the San Paulo on even footing, Napoli must now overcome an away goal at an Athletic side that’s never lost at home against Italian opposition.

Red Bull Salzburg 2-1 Malmö

A match dominated by Salzburg tuned sour after miscommunication at the back in the 90th minute allowed a looping ball for Emil Forsberg to give the Swedes a crucial away goal. Though Salzburg ended the night with 27 shots while holding 57 percent of the ball, goals from Franz Schiemer and Jonatan Soriano could only craft a tenuous lead. The Austrians will go north knowing a 1-0 loss will send them to Europa.

Steaua Bucharest 1-0 Ludogorets

A game of few chances saw the Romanians salvage their home leg in the 88th minute when Alexandru Chipciu, who had missed a spot kick earlier, scored from close range. The goal also made up for the yellow card the forward drew in the first half, a booking that will keep him out of the second leg in Bulgaria.

Copenhagen 2-3 Bayer Leverkusen

A 5th goal from Stefan Kießling drew a quick response from the Danes, who converted on set pieces in the ninth (Zanka) and 13th (Daniel Amartey) minutes. Finishing an explosive first half, Bayer got goals from Karim Bellarabi and Heung-Min Son, allowing the visitors to take a one-goal lead into intermission. With neither team proving as clinical in the second half, the Germans take that edge back the BayArena, with Stale Solbakken’s team given the unenviable test of overcoming a one-goal deficit and three away goals.

Southgate: Racism isn’t just a Russian problem

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Credit England boss Gareth Southgate for honesty.

The national team manager was asked about the plethora of stories regarding racism in Russian football ahead of this summer’s World Cup.

[ MORE: PSG punished for incidents vs. Real ]

Given the climate between Russia and England, there are any number of roads he could’ve taken in reply. Suffice it to say, he chose the high one.

Pointing out that racism is everywhere, Southgate used the example of Kick It Out manager Troy Townsend showing the coach some racist comments posted on a photo of English youth national team.

“Our teams mix and the youngsters look up to the senior team,” said Southgate. “I know most of those young players really closely and I’ve seen them come through. To see them abused in that way is absolutely disgusting. When we speak about other countries, I find it difficult to deflect what we’ve seen there.”

“I don’t think we should just talk about racism in Russia. We have got to get our own house in order. There are still things going on in our own country around racism that aren’t correct. We keep pointing the finger at Russia, where we are going to be guests in the next couple of months, but we haven’t resolved the issue in our own country and until we do I think we should stop firing those things off elsewhere.”

Full marks to Southgate for that, now more folks need to turn words into action and cut the vile comments off at the knees.

PSG fined, will have to close part of stadium at next UCL match

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Paris Saint-Germain’s fans had a bit too much fun in their UEFA Champions League loss against Real Madrid, but apparently just a bit.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

Les Parisiens  are facing a partial stadium ban for next season’s first UCL contest after their fans were charged with blocking a stairway, setting off fireworks, and using a laser pointer.

The punishment includes closing the North Stand at the Parc Des Princes and a fine of a little over $52,000.

The stadium ban is one thing, but $52,000, UEFA? How will PSG ever afford it? Neymar will certainly have to take a pay cut.

(If you’re curious, Neymar makes approximately $1 million per week).

Injuries leave host Russia limping ahead of World Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) With less than three months to go until the World Cup in Russia, the host nation’s players are dropping like flies.

A spate of knee injuries this year has left the Russians hurrying to find cover at the back and trying to replace a key attacking threat.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

First, center back Georgy Dzhikiya tore his knee ligaments during a friendly in January. The same happened to Viktor Vasin a month later. Russia’s defense was already thin, so those injuries prompted calls for the 35-year-old Berezutsky twins, Alexei and Vasily, to return from international retirement. They refused to do so.

Now coach Stanislav Cherchesov must also seek a replacement for Zenit St. Petersburg forward Alexander Kokorin, who tore his knee ligaments in the Europa League last week. That puts more responsibility on the shoulders of Fyodor Smolov, now likely to be Russia’s undisputed first-choice striker for the World Cup.

“We’re not complaining about anything,” Cherchesov said Thursday. “Fate is often testing us in various ways but we always try to be ready.”

The injuries mean Cherchesov will be forced to experiment during Friday’s friendly against Brazil and Tuesday’s game against France, both at home. Short-term medical issues have ruled three more fringe players out of those games.

Here’s a closer look at the issues facing Russia ahead of the World Cup:


If you had to pick one Russian striker for the World Cup, it might as well be Fyodor Smolov.

On track to be the Russian league’s top scorer for the third season in a row, Smolov has been working on his English skills as he eyes a move to the Premier League.

Smolov was linked with West Ham during the January transfer window but opted to stay with FC Krasnodar, saying he didn’t want to abandon his team as it battles for a spot in the Champions League next season.

With Kokorin almost certainly out of the picture for the World Cup, Russia’s backup options include Anton Zabolotny, who is still settling in at Zenit after a recent move from newly promoted FC Tosno. The 22-year-old Alexei Miranchuk can play as a forward, but is better in a deeper role.


Russian players tend to stay in their domestic league, but there’s one big exception in midfield – Denis Cheryshev.

The winger came through the Real Madrid youth system when his father was coaching there and is now at Villarreal, but frequent injuries have dented hopes he can add some spice to the national team.

Now he’s fit again and in the squad to face Brazil and France.

Elsewhere in the midfield, there are the promising and creative youngsters Roman Zobnin and Alexander Golovin, but Russia doesn’t currently have a dominant defensive midfielder.


Cherchesov has a reputation as a difficult coach to get along with, and Russian media have regularly reported fallings-out with various players.

One of those outside the squad is Igor Denisov, who last played for Russia in 2016. He has been playing well in a defensive midfield role this season for Lokomotiv Moscow, the team at the top of the Russian league standings. Denisov and Cherchesov clashed during the latter’s time as Dynamo Moscow coach.

Also absent from the squad is forward Artyom Dzyuba. A talented striker who has scored 11 goals in 22 games for Russia but has a reputation for being hot-headed, Dzyuba was deemed surplus to requirements at Zenit and sent on loan to Arsenal Tula. In three games there, he has scored three goals and set up two more to put himself back in the World Cup contention.


Russia’s soccer team hasn’t escaped the country’s doping scandals.

Defensive midfielder Ruslan Kambolov is under investigation by FIFA for a possible doping case revealed by Moscow laboratory documents, but hasn’t been suspended.

The team’s schedule was disrupted Wednesday by drug-testing, which took more than five hours and delayed training. On Thursday, the team said five more doping control officers turned up to take samples from the team.

Wilshere injured, could play in England’s second friendly

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I have no idea what tendinopathy means, but Arsenal and England will be hoping it’s only a minor thing for Jack Wilshere.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

The resurgent Gunners midfielder is going to miss at least one of England’s friendlies this international break after suffering a knee injury in training.

“Jack just felt some tendinopathy in his knee but it’s nothing too serious,” Southgate said. “We decided to leave him back at base and see how he responds, and we hope to have him with us on Saturday.”

England is in Netherlands on Friday, and returns to London to host Italy at Wembley on Tuesday.

Arsenal doesn’t play until April 1 when it visits Stoke City.