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Europa League: Dzeko rampant, Ajax held, Fiorentina wins

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The first leg of the Europa League knockout phase came and went, and gave fans a picture to what will likely come.

For Premier League sides, Tottenham looked poor on the road in Belgium en route to a 1-0 to KAA Gent.

[ MORE: Listless Spurs falls to Gent as goal drought continues ]

Meanwhile, Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored three of his less impressive goals as Manchester United survived at home against French side St. Etienne thanks to the striker’s hat-trick.

[ MORE: Manchester United wins 3-0 behind a trio from Zlatan ]

Elsewhere around the Europa League, Edin Dzeko looked unbeatable as he scored a hat-trick to put Roma through by a whopping 4-0 score on the road at Villareal. Brazilian youngster Emerson scored the opener just past the half-hour mark, but Dzeko took over in the second half as Roma made the second leg in the Italian capital a formality.

Alexander Lacazette scored twice as Lyon took command of their matchup with AZ Alkmaar thanks to a 4-1 road win in the Netherlands. Lyon fans have turned on Lacazette since he announced he would leave the club in the summer, but goals and wins assuage all problems, and his pair has the French side close to a berth in the final 16.

Fiorentina snatched a big 1-0 away victory at Borussia Monchengladbach despite the German side’s attacking intent. Federico Bernardeschi scored the game’s only goal in the 44th minute with an absolute peach of a free-kick from a good distance outside the top of the box. Dutch giants Ajax were held to a 0-0 draw on the road in Poland. Ajax held 64% possession but could only put five shots on target against Legia Warsaw, and were reduced to 10 men with six minutes to go as 21-year-old full-back Kenny Tete was shown as second yellow card.

Athletic Bilbao won 3-2 over Cypriot side Apoel Nicosia, but the visitors bagged an important second away goal in the 89th minute via Giannis Gianniotas on a superb one-two with former Gladbach and Hoffenheim striker Igor de Camargo. Anderlecht picked up a 2-0 home win over Russian giants Zenit thanks to a pair from 23-year-old Ghanan international Frank Acheampong.

FINAL SCORES:

Manchester United 3-0 St. Etienne
KAA Gent 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur
AZ Alkmaar 1-4 Lyon
Villareal 0-4 AS Roma
Borussia Monchengladbach 0-1 Fiorentina
Legia Warsaw 0-0 Ajax
PAOK 0-3 Schalke
Anderlecht 2-0 Zenit St. Petersburg
Athletic Bilbao 3-2 Apoel Nicosia
Olympiacos 0-0 Osmanlispor
FC Krasnodar 1-0 Fenerbahce
Celta Vigo 0-1 Shaktar Donetsk
FC Rostov 4-0 Sparta Prague
Astra Giurgiu 2-2 KRC Genk
Ludogorets 1-2 FC Copenhagen
Hapoel Be’er Sheva 1-3 Besiktas

On This Day: The Battle of Old Trafford

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Fourteen years ago today, Arsenal headed north to Manchester for a famous matchup with Manchester United.

Taking the field at Old Trafford, Arsenal were unbeaten to start the season, having won its first four Premier League matches before drawing a week prior at home against Portsmouth. Manchester United meanwhile had four wins and one loss in that span.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

By way of Arsenal’s FA Cup title and Man United’s Premier League title the year before, the two teams met for the annual Community Shield a month earlier, and the game descended into a physical battle. Five yellow cards were shown, Arsenal substitute Francis Jeffers was shown a red card and defender Sol Campbell was later banned for kicking at an opponent, and Man United – backed by a young Tim Howard in goal – won 4-3 on penalty kicks after the score was tied at 1-1 after extra time.

With numerous physical encounters over the years, the September 21 encounter was shaping up to be another monumental showdown, and in terms of physicality, it didn’t disappoint.

Each team were shown four yellow cards and there was a combined 31 fouls. The match took a turn when Patrick Vieira was shown a second yellow card and subsequent red card for kicking out at Man United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy after Van Nistelrooy had fouled Vieira going for a header. The decision set off a scrum in the middle of the field.

Despite being down to ten men, Arsenal held on until the final minutes, when Martin Keown was whistled for a foul in the box on Diego Forlan, giving Man United a penalty kick. But whether it was karma or lady luck, Van Nistelrooy’s penalty clanged off the crossbar and away to safety. Arsenal held on for a goalless draw, which helped boost the team’s belief in itself.

The Gunners went on to finish the 2013-2014 season undefeated, the only team to finish a Premier League season without a defeat. Man United wound up taking the FA Cup crown, settling for third place in the Premier League.

Watch some highlights from the match below.

Former Sunderland forward Scocco scores five goals for River Plate

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Veteran forward Ignacio “Nacho” Scocco is quickly endearing himself to the River Plate faithful.

Nearly three months since joining River, Scocco scored an incredible five goals in the second leg of his team’s Copa Libertadores quarterfinal matchup with Bolivian side Jorge Wilstermann. Scocco scored a first half hat-trick and added two more in the second half as River turned around a 3-0 deficit heading into the second leg.

Scocco had a mostly frustrating spell in 2014 ahead of the World Cup with Sunderland, joining the club as they staved off relegation by one point. Scocco failed to score for Sunderland in eight appearances, all off the bench.

However, since then, he returned to his native Argentina and starred for his hometown club Newell’s Old Boys before moving this summer to River as a replacement for Sebastián Driussi, who completed a transfer to Zenit St. Petersburg.

Here’s a look at all of Scocco’s goals Thursday evening.

Tammy Abraham denies switching national teams

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Fans of the England National Team may still have a chance to see Tammy Abraham don the Three Lions crest one day.

Abraham refuted reports from earlier Thursday that he was in the process of switching his national team to Nigeria from England. The 19-year-old Swansea City forward on-loan from Chelsea has played as high as the England Under-21 Men’s National Team but because of his Nigerian father, he’s eligible for the African nation.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Abraham confirmed that he had met with Nigeria Football Federation chief Amaju Pinnick after Swansea’s last game, but denied that he was looking to play for the Super Eagles.

“I have informed The FA that I remain available for selection for England,” Abraham said, via the BBC. “Contrary to reports in the media I would like to clarify that I have not agreed to switch my national team allegiance. I can confirm I met the President of the NFF after our last game against Tottenham at Wembley on Saturday given he is a friend of my father. However, any suggestion that I have made a decision to change my international representation is incorrect and wide of the mark.”

Earlier in the day, reports emerged that Pinnick said the process was underway for Abraham to switch his international allegiance.

Abraham’s apparently decision to remain with the England set-up is good news for his club Swansea City, who will get to keep him closer to Wales on a regular basis, but Abraham may be missing a chance to play senior national team soccer at a young age.

Paulinho has silenced his critics at Barcelona

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MADRID (AP) Brazil midfielder Paulinho wasn’t greeted with the warmest of welcomes when he arrived in Barcelona.

Fans made it clear they were not too thrilled to see the club spend 40 million euros ($48 million) on a defensive midfielder who was playing in the Chinese league.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule ]

They were expecting a blockbuster signing after Neymar’s departure and ended up getting a player they knew very little about.

Paulinho didn’t have any links to the club’s youth academy and his style apparently didn’t suit the team’s traditional ball-possession game.

A video of Paulinho struggling to juggle the ball during his presentation at Camp Nou Stadium didn’t help, going viral and igniting even more criticism against the player and the club.

But things have changed quickly in favor of the low-key, hard-working Brazilian.

After five Spanish league games, Paulinho has done enough to mollify the critics.

He has two goals, including a late winner against Getafe last weekend, and showed some of the prowess that led him to success in Brazil and made him an indisputable starter for his national team.

He thrived after coming off the bench in his first four matches, and eventually earned a start on Tuesday against Eibar.

“I’m happy with how things have gone for me,” Paulinho said. “I’m glad that I’m playing well, it helps me get adapted to the club. I’m playing alongside some great players and they have all been supporting me a lot.”

The 29-year-old Paulinho has added versatility to the midfield. He is solid as a defensive midfielder but also excels with attacking runs that often surprise defenders.

That’s how he scored the decisive goal in the 2-1 win against Getafe, making a run between defenders and entering the area to fire a firm shot into the far corner. His second goal was a header in a 6-1 rout of Eibar.

“He will end up being a cheap signing,” Brazil teammate and former Barcelona player Dani Alves said.

Paulinho has a lot more presence in the area than some of the team’s other midfielders, including Ivan Rakitic and even Andres Iniesta.

It was this that made Paulinho a key player in the Corinthians team that won Club World Cup in 2012. His success with the Brazilian club prompted a move in 2013 to Tottenham, where he disappointed in his two seasons before moving to Guangzhou Evergrande.

Paulinho, who signed a four-year contract with Barcelona, said he had regained his confidence while playing in China. And his good performances with Brazil also helped.

“He gives us a lot of versatility. He can help us in many different ways,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said.

Barcelona’s next game is on Saturday at Girona. The Catalan club has won its first five Spanish league games and has a two-point lead over second-place Sevilla.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

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