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

3 Comments

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

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images
Leave a comment

TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.