Italy Soccer Europa League Final

Europa League group draw: Everton, Spurs face stiff tests

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There was a time when capturing the UEFA Cup was considered a better accomplishment than winning the European Cup, which only included league champions and thusly left out plenty of top opponents.

Winning the trophy now has a bit more luster with the added bonus of a Champions League berth to the victor, though certainly no one’s comparing the two trophies much anymore. The UEFA Europa League group stage draw was conducted this morning, as teams learned the next step on their desired paths to the UCL.

There are some groups where it’s relatively easy to predict the two clubs who will emerge but, unfortunately for fans of Everton and Tottenham, Groups C and H are not among them.

The latter group features Spurs, and will find the London club battling for a spot in the Round of 16 alongside Turkish powers Besiktas and respected Serbian club Partizan Belgrade. In the rankings of fourth teams to put in a group, Asteras may not be a household name but hail from a Greek Super League ranked No. 12 in the UEFA coefficient. Still, you’d have to figure Mauricio Pochettino’s boys will be favored to emerge.

Meanwhile, Everton has a beast of a challenge ahead of itself. They’ll take on Divock Origi and the dangerous Great Danes of Lille, a Wolfsburg team that boasts Kevin De Bruyne and Diego Benaglio, and Kubin Krasnodar of the eighth-ranked Russian Premier League.

Returning champions Sevilla get a tough draw in Group G.

Here are the groups. As an added bonus, I’ll italicize the two teams I predict will emerge from the group (provided their clubs like the prospect of advancing in the competition and treat it seriously).

Group A: Villarreal, Borussia Monchengladbach, Zurich, Apollon

Group B: Copenhagen, Club Brugge, Torino, HJK Helsinki

Group C: Spurs, Besiktas, Partizan Belgrade, Asteras

Group D: Red Bull Salzburg, Celtic, Dinamo Zagreb, Astra

Group E: PSV Eindhoven, Panathinaikos, Estoril, Dynamo Moscow

Group F: Inter Milan, Dnipro, St Etienne, Qarabag

Group G: Sevilla, Standard Liege, Feyenoord, Rijeka

Group H: Lille, Wolfsburg, Everton, Krasnodar

Viktoria Plzen set to sign midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz

Obafemi Martins, Oniel Fisher, Andreas Ivanschitz
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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PRAGUE (AP) Czech champion Viktoria Plzen is close to signing Austrian midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz.

Plzen says Ivanschitz agreed terms for a contract lasting 1 + seasons and will sign it when the team returns from a training camp in Spain. Ivanschitz has already joined the squad at the Oliva Nova resort, the club says.

Ivanschitz helped the Seattle Sounders win their first MLS Cup in December.

[ NEW HOMES: Fonte | Berahino ]

No financial details were given.

The 33-year-old Ivanschitz also played for Rapid Vienna and Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, Mainz in the Bundesliga, Levante in Spain and Panathinaikos in Athens.

Ivanschitz played 69 games for Austria in 2003-14, scoring 12 goals.

FIFA allows Matip to represent Liverpool during AFCON

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 29: Joel Matip of Liverpool heads to score his team's third goal during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Liverpool at Selhurst Park on October 29, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
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Joel Matip is going to get to play for Liverpool during AFCON after all.

The center back had turned down the chance to represent Cameroon at the Africa Cup of Nations, and Liverpool was forced to apply to FIFA for a waiver.

[ PL PREVIEW: Swansea vs. Liverpool ]

Matip suffered an ankle injury in December, adding to his desire to stay at Anfield. He declared himself internationally retired and was one of six Cameroon players who refused call-ups for AFCON.

He last played for the Reds on Dec. 11, and can be selected by Jurgen Klopp against Swansea City on Saturday.

Man United captain Rooney raises $1.5m from charity game

FILE - A Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017 file photo of Manchester United's Wayne Rooney leaving the field after the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, England. Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney says he raised 1.2 million pounds ($1.5 million) for charity from a friendly game against former club Everton last year. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)
AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney says he raised 1.2 million pounds ($1.5 million) from a friendly game against former club Everton last year.

That represents the profits, after operational costs, from August’s sellout match at Old Trafford and goes toward the Wayne Rooney Foundation’s target of raising 5 million pounds for children’s charities.

[ NEW HOMES: Fonte | Berahino ]

Rooney said: “I’d like to thank all the fans who came to the testimonial and made it such a special night. They’ve raised a huge amount of money for children who are disadvantaged and it will make a real difference to their lives.”

Rooney is one goal from breaking Manchester United’s scoring record, with the striker currently tied with Bobby Charlton on 249 goals.

Rooney joined United from Everton in 2004.

WATCH: Lewandowski’s juggling stoppage time winner

Bayern's Robert Lewandowski celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the German soccer Bundesliga match between SC Freiburg and FC Bayern Munich in Freiburg, Germany, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (Patrick Seeger/dpa via AP)
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Robert Lewandowski picked up where he left off.

The Polish striker scored twice for Bayern Munich, once in stoppage time, as the Bavarians improved their Bundesliga lead to six points after toppling Freiburg 2-1 on Friday.

[ MORE: Bundesliga second half preview ]

And what a winner it was, Lewandowski taking a Douglas Costa cross with two juggling touches before hitting an offspeed bouncer inside the post.

It was the league’s first match following the winter/holiday break, giving Bayern a cushion before RB Leipzig takes the pitch against Eintracht Frankfurt in a Top Five tilt on Saturday.

Lewandowski moves closer to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the goal scoring chart. His 13th and 14th goals have him two back of Borussia Dortmund’s striker, as Lewandowski pursues a third Golden Boot in four seasons.

Full Weekend Schedule
Freiburg 1-2 Bayern Munich — Friday
Augsburg vs. Hoffenheim — Saturday
Schalke vs. Ingolstadt — Saturday
Darmstadt vs. Borussia Monchengladbach — Saturday
Werder Bremen vs. Borussia Dortmund — Saturday
Wolfsburg vs. Hamburger SV — Saturday
RB Leipzig vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — Saturday
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hertha Berlin — Sunday
Mainz vs. Koln — Sunday