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UEFA Champions League Roundup: Zenit, Porto through; Celtic sunk by late Maribor goal

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Five of the final 10 places in this year’s UEFA Champions League field were decided today – the first of two days which complete the competition’s final playoff round. Closing out their two-leg matches at home, APOEL Nicosía, BATE Borisov, Porto, and Zenit St. Petersburg built on positive results last Wednesday, while Maribor’s late goal at Celtic Park put the Slovene champions into the competition’s 32-team group stage.

Each loser moves into the group stage of UEFA’s Europa League, with the draw for each competition schedule to be held Friday in Monaco.

Zenit St. Petersburg hosted the day’s early kickoff, carrying a 1-0 lead from its first leg at Belgium’s Standard Liège. That lead was doubled through Salomon Rondón in the 30th minute, with 10-man Zenit adding two goals through Hulk  (pictured) after Viktor Faizulin’s late first half sending off.

In Cyprus, APOEL had its tie with Danish champions Aalborg under control by halftime, a dominant first half performance yielding goals from Vinicius and Tomas De Vicenti. Second half goals from Efstathios Aloneftis and Cillian Sheridan piled on the Danes, who head to Europa League after a 4-0 pasting in Nicosía.

BATE Borisov got first half insurance on the 1-1 edge they earned at Slovan Bratislava when Mikhail Gordeychuk scored in the 41st minute, capitalizing off strong work from Vitali Rodionov and Dmitri Likhtarovich to beat Dusan Pernis. Late goals from Segrey Krivets and Rodionov gave the Belarusan champions a 3-0 win and its first trip to Champions League since 2012-13, when BATE earned an upset victory over Bayern Munich.

In Warsaw, Celtic’s result will be seen as justice served. After last week’s 1-1 draw in Slovenia, Celtic — whose 5-1 (agg.) loss to Legia Warsaw in the last round was overturned after confusion over ineligible player — was on the verge of making another group stage, with the score 0-0 at Celtic Park entering the final quarter hour. But in the 75th minute, chaos in front of Craig Gordon’s goal devolved into a chance for Marcos Tavares, who put the Slovenes into the final 36.

And finally in Portugal, a strong start for FC Porto waned as Lille came into the first half, but four minutes after intermission, Alergian international Yacine Brahimi, building on the 1-0 lead the Dragons took out of France, struck a demoralizing blow. Firing his direct kick into Vincent Enyama’s top corner, the Porto attacker gave his team a 2-0 lead, with Jackson Martínez’s insurance 20 minutes later sending Julen Lopetegui’s team into Champions League proper.

Five more matches tomorrow will complete this year’s Champions League field, with Arsenal, Bayer Leverkusen, Napoli, and Athletic Club among the teams competing for the last places in Europe’s premier club competition.

Scores and schedules:

Tuesday’s results

Zenit St. Petersburg 3-0 (4-0) Standard Liège
APOEL Nicosía 4-0 (5-1) Aalborg
BATE Borisov 3-0 (4-1) Slovan Bratislava
Porto 2-0 (3-0) Lille
Celtic 0-1 (1-2) Maribor

Wednesday’s matches
(with first leg results; all games kick off at 2:45 p.m. Eastern)

Malmö 1-2 Red Bull Salzburg
Ludogorets 0-1 Steaua Bucharest
Arsenal 0-0 Besiktas
Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 Copenhagen
Athletic Club 1-1 Napoli

MLS Preview: Conference leaders meet as Philly head west to Colorado

COMMERCE CITY, COLORADO - APRIL 02:  Dillon Powers #8 of Colorado Rapids controls the ball against the Toronto FC at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on April 2, 2016 in Commerce City, Colorado. The Rapids defeated Toronto FC 1-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The weekend is nearing, which means another full slate of ten matches across Major League Soccer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

With Sporting KC and D.C. United kicking things off on Friday night, Saturday is jam-packed with eight matches before the league’s youngest clubs NYCFC and Orlando wrap up the action on Sunday.

Colorado Rapids vs. Philadelphia Union — Saturday, 9:00 p.m. ET

There’s not a misprint on the table, Colorado and Philadelphia are both at the top of their conferences. After sitting near the bottom of MLS for the past two seasons, Colorado has shocked everyone, currently leading the league in points (27) with the fewest goals conceded (9). On Saturday, the Rapids put their perfect 6-0 home record on the line when they host the Union, who currently lead the East by two points.

New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC — Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET

Coming off of a massive 7-0 win in the Hudson River Derby against NYCFC, the Red Bulls will look to continue trending upwards when they host Toronto FC. Two of the preseason favorites to top the Eastern Conference, both sides are currently tied on points, although the Red Bulls have a game in hand. For Toronto, Sebastian Giovinco will be keen to prove Antonio Conte wrong after being left out of the Italy squad for EURO 2016 after the Italian boss talked down upon MLS.

[ MLS: Standings | Stats | Schedule ]

Montreal Impact vs. Los Angeles Galaxy — Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET

Didier Drogba has scored in each of his last three starts, a streak he will look to keep alive against the Los Angeles Galaxy this weekend. While Drogba will be looking to score, Montreal must make sure their defense is in top form as the Galaxy have scored a league-high 25 goals through 11 matches.

Elsewhere around MLS

Sporting KC vs. D.C. United — Friday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Houston Dynamo — Saturday, 6:00 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew SC vs. Real Salt Lake — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
New England Revolution vs. Seattle Sounders — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. Portland Timbers — Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET
San Jose Earthquakes vs. FC Dallas — Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET
New York City FC vs. Orlando City SC — Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET

Cantona claims ethnicity played role in Benzema, Ben Arfa France snubs

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 14:  Former Footballer Eric Cantona of France speaks during a press conference at the Shanghai Grand Theatre prior to the  Laureus World Sports Awards  on April 14, 2015 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images for Laureus)
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Eric Cantona has made the headlines again, this time making some bold claims against France national team manager Didier Deschamps.

Cantona, a former Manchester United legend and French international, questioned whether Deschamps excluded Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa from the team due to their North African origins.

[ MORE: Skrtel set to leave Liverpool ]

Speaking to The Guardian, Cantona calls Benzema and Ben Arfa two of France’s best footballers, both of whom will not be playing for the national team this summer.

Benzema is a great player. Ben Arfa is a great player. But Deschamps, he has a really French name. Maybe he is the only one in France to have a truly French name. Nobody in his family mixed with anybody, you know.

So I’m not surprised he used the situation of Benzema not to take him. Especially after [French Prime Minister Manuel Valls] said he should not play for France. And Ben Arfa is maybe the best player in France today. But they have some origins. I am allowed to think about that.

One thing is for sure – Benzema and Ben Arfa are two of the best players in France and will not play the European Championship. And for sure, Benzema and Ben Arfa, their origins are north African. So, the debate is open.

Cantona’s view doesn’t hold much merit as Deschamps did not even have the option of selecting Benzema, the country’s active leading goalscorer. The Real Madrid striker is suspended by the federation, embroiled in a blackmail sex-tape scandal involving French teammate Mathieu Valbuena, who was also left off the EURO roster.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine the Champions League final ]

France is an extremely diverse nation with a large North African population, Benzema of Algerian descent and Ben Arfa’s father a former Tunisian international. Both players were born in France and have received prior call-ups under Deschamps, with Cantona’s quite ridiculous comments likely to cause a stir before the EURO.

FA Cup will no longer have quarterfinal replays

HALIFAX, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09:  The FA Cup is seen prior to the FA Cup First Round match between FC Halifax and Bradford City  on November 9, 2014 in Halifax, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Starting in 2017, the FA Cup will no longer have replays in the quarterfinal round.

The decision was made in an effort to combat the congested English fixture list, which has been a topic of debate for years now.

[ MORE: Lukaku wants out at Everton ]

This season, Manchester United defeated West Ham in a quarterfinal replay before going on to win the competition.

In a statement released by the FA, these changes aim to add drama to the matches while eliminating an extra matchday needed for replays.

The revamped competition will see eight clubs battle it out over one weekend with each tie to be played to a finish on the day, adding to the drama and impact the competition has enjoyed in recent years.

Other new initiatives will be explored to ensure The FA Cup retains its status and appeal. These plans also form part of The FA’s commitment to help ease English football’s congested fixture schedule.

There will still be replays in the earlier rounds of the tournament, which allows lower level clubs the opportunity to earn a nice financial boost should they force a second match at a Premier League ground.

The Premier League is the only top league in Europe that does not take a winter break, a schedule that has been criticized by multiple managers, including Jurgen Klopp.

Judge hears arguments on US women’s team strike rights

HARRISON, NJ - MAY 30:  The United States team poses for a team picture before the match against the South Korea during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on May 30, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO — A federal judge in Chicago has heard arguments whether the world champion U.S. women’s soccer team has the right to strike for improved conditions and wages before this year’s Olympics.

Lawyers for the U.S. Soccer Federation told Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman at a Thursday hearing that a no-strike clause is implied in a still-valid 2013 memorandum with players.

[ MORE: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

But a lawyer for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association balked at that claim. Jeffrey Kessler said the federation had “screwed up” by not securing a no-strike clause in writing and can’t argue three years later that such a provision is implied.

The union wants the option to strike before the Olympics start in August, but hasn’t said it will. Many players have voiced concern over gender equity in soccer.