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

Barcelona president warns PSG over FFP

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Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu is warning Paris Saint-Germain that even if they try to sign Neymar, they would condemn themselves to UEFA sanctions.

With PSG heavily linked to the Brazilian superstar, rumors suggest the French club is hoping to activate Neymar’s monstrous release clause set at $258 million.

However, that could have serious consequences, warns Bartomeu. “These clauses are impossible to activate if you want to comply with Financial Fair Play,” the Barcelona president told the Associated Press. “If someone doesn’t want to comply, then of course it can be activated.”

The Spaniard assured fans that Neymar is a critical part of Barcelona’s success.

“He has a contract for the coming four years and, of course, we count on him,” Bartomeu said. “He’s part of our team. He’s part of this trident [with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez].”

The 25-year-old signed a five-year contract extension last October that runs through the summer of 2021. Club vice-president Jordi Mestre also said he was “200 per cent” sure Neymar would stay with Barcelona.

Bruce Arena must change tactics to win Gold Cup

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If last night’s 2-0 “win” over El Salvador proved anything to USMNT fans, it’s that Bruce Arena has plenty of work to do if the United States is to seriously challenge for the 2017 Gold Cup title.

Lowly El Salvador has beaten one CONCACAF opponent in its last 10 tries. That victory came over Curaçao. Nevertheless, the United States struggled to deal with the Central American nation, as El Salvador sported multiple stretches of good pressure, and the U.S. back line was unbelievably lucky to come out with a clean sheet they did not deserve.

Given the performance, Bruce Arena has only one option going forward. With the B Team he’s put together on the current 23-man roster, the USMNT manager cannot stick to his usual 4-4-2 formation. He must adapt.

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With a significantly worse defensive line than the U.S. is used to, Michael Bradley is unable to play by himself in a central defensive midfield role as he did against El Salvador. With just Bradley and Darlington Nagbe in the middle of the pitch, the United States sported a gaping hole down the center, begging their quarterfinal opponent to counter up the gut, which they did to great effect.

Arena knew the U.S. strength was down the flanks, and that’s where he chose to attack. You can see by the halftime touch map that the United States chose to move the ball up the edge, particularly the left with Justin Morrow and Gyasi Zardes.

Arena knew his midfield was thin, and attacked accordingly. Nevertheless, defensively it failed to hold up. Without the more superior John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, and DeAndre Yedlin behind them, a midfield pair of Bradley and Nagbe just isn’t enough to cut down the counter-attack.

So what is Bruce Arena to do? Change his tactics; it’s the only option. Instead of his favored 4-4-2, he must change to a 4-2-3-1. While that cuts down on room for more attacking players, it allows Bradley to partner with Kellyn Acosta in the midfield hole. In front of the pair can either be Clint Dempsey or Darlington Nagbe in the ACM role depending how Arena plans to attack. That leaves Jozy Altidore alone up front, and while that’s less than ideal for a striker who plays better with a partner, it’s the necessary sacrifice that must be made so the U.S. midfield isn’t carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey by the better attacking teams left in the Gold Cup.

Bruce Arena’s preferred tactics may work with better players on the first-choice USMNT roster, but with a significantly downgraded selection at his disposal, especially along the defensive line, the United States coach must adjust his tactics against Costa Rica and likely Mexico to even have a chance.

Villar appears before judge after arrest in corruption probe

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MADRID (AP) The president of the Spanish Football Federation, his son, and two other officials will appear before a judge on Thursday, two days after being arrested in an anti-corruption probe.

Federation president Angel Maria Villar, his son Gorka Villar, Juan Padron, the federation vice president of economic affairs who is also president of the Tenerife federation, and Ramon Hernandez, the Tenerife secretary, were arrested by Spain’s Guardia Civil on Tuesday.

National Court Judge Santiago Pedraz will question the four, who are accused of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption, and falsifying documents as part of an inquiry into the finances of the federations.

Judge Pedraz will also decide on Thursday whether the suspects remain in custody, a spokesman for the National Court told The Associated Press. The spokesman asked to remain anonymous in line with court policy.

Angel Maria Villar has been president of the Spanish federation for three decades. He is also the senior vice president of FIFA and a vice president of UEFA.

Police said on Tuesday they suspect the elder Villar of having arranged matches for Spain that led to business deals benefiting his son, a sports lawyer who has worked for CONMEBOL under three presidents who were all implicated in corruption cases.

Angel Maria Villar has spent the last two nights in a Guardia Civil jail on the outskirts of Madrid, not far from the Spanish federation offices which were raided by police on Tuesday along with private properties and regional federation offices.

AP writer Joseph Wilson in Barcelona contributed to this story.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Aurier to Man United; Wilshere to West Ham

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The Independent is reporting that Manchester United is set to make a move for Serge Aurier with a deal for Monaco’s Fabinho taking too long to finalize.

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Aurier, 24, is a powerful defender who can play at right back or center back and he has excelled for Paris Saint-Germain in recent seasons despite issues off the field as he was fond guilty of assaulting a police officer in Paris and was also suspended by PSG for allegedly mocking teammate Angel di Maria and then manager Laurent Blanc in a periscope session.

The Ivory Coast international is said to be available for $31 million, with PSG and Real Madrid in the running for Fabinho as his price is now said to have rocketed to past $51.9 million.

Jose Mourinho has been speaking about the spiraling costs for “good players” and not “big players” as said he may now have to settle for three new signings than the four he targeted at the start of the summer. With Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelof coming in for over $135 million combined, United were said to have been agonizingly close with a deal for winger Ivan Perisic and a move for Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic is also said to still be a possibility.

Quick, strong and an all-out defender, Aurier is a solid Mourinho player. Antonio Valencia had a fine 2016-17 season but he will soon be 32 years old, so United have to look for other options at right back with both Matteo Darmian and Timothy Fosu-Mensah not doing enough to usurp Valencia last season.

All in all, this seems like a sensible solution rather than breaking the back for Fabinho who can play at both right back and as a holding midfielder.


The Daily Star claim that Arsenal have told West Ham United they’ll have to pay $28 million for Jack Wilshere and insert a buy-back clause in any deal.

Wilshere, 25, spent last season on loan at Bournemouth and although he impressed in spells he ended the season with yet another injury after suffering a left leg fracture against Tottenham Hotspur in April.

The academy product has 12 months left on his current contract and his future at Arsenal remains uncertain with Serie A side Sampdoria also said to be interested in his services, but is now the time for Wilshere to move on permanently?

Once the greatest hope of the English national team, Wilshere’s career has been ravaged by injuries and although Arsene Wenger rates him highly (hence the buy-back clause report) the Gunners have Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and Mohamed Elneny in central midfield.

With Arsenal having a Europa League campaign this season perhaps Wilshere will get plenty more games with the Gunners under his belt to try and impress, but surely he wants to be playing week in, week out in the Premier League.

His England teammate Joe Hart just signed for West Ham and with the Hammers’ rivalry with Arsenal not as intense as other London neighbors Spurs and Chelsea, this deal may work. If not permanently then on a season-long loan, but Wenger was very specific about Wilshere joining Bournemouth for the style of soccer Eddie Howe‘s men play. Under Slaven Bilic West Ham aren’t a free-flowing side but at this point Wilshere’s options in the PL seem limited.

The next 12 months are critical in shaping the rest of his career. We’ve said that many times before, but it feels like now or never for the talented central midfielder.