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Way early UEFA Champions League predictions

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Now that the UEFA Champions League has drawn its ties for the 2016-17 quarterfinal, who has the edge in each match-up.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 29 ]

Barcelona vs. Juventus

Juventus has allowed just two goals in eight UCL matches this year, an even better mark than its sparkling 19 goals conceded in 28 Serie A matches.

Barcelona is surely going to test that number, likely to find a way to at least double Juve’s European concession.

Yet the Old Lady will have a chance to flex its offensive prowess through Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala, and Miralem Pjanic. With Sami Khedira posted atop a sterling back line, Juve has the recipe to hold off Barca.

The Blaugranas, however, have Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar and an incisive pair of midfield metronomes in Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic.

Prediction: Barca, 3-2.

Monaco vs. Borussia Dortmund

What’s the over/under for goals on this one? 8? 10? More?

Monaco brings its high-flying attack and BVB replies with… its high-flying attack. For every argument one side would like to make, there’s an answer on the other side.

The prowess of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, one of the top strikers in the world? Meet a trio of very different attackers in resurgent Radamel Falcao, young Kylian Mbappe, and under-the-radar vice captain Valere Germain.

The difference as we see it will be how Monaco’s marauding wing backs/fullbacks Benjamin Mendy and Djibil Sidibe operate given the threats provided to their defensive positions by Christian Pulisic, Ousmane Dembele, and Marco Reus.

Prediction: Monaco, 7-5.

Leicester City vs. Atletico Madrid

Pontus Kaamark of Leicester City (lef) takes on Juninho of Atletico Madrid during the 1997 UEFA Cup (Graham Chadwick /Allsport).

Both sides probably fit quite neatly into their respective leagues’ “Never rule out” category, for different reasons.

With Leicester, it’s a club which has achieved the unthinkable: Defeating all comers in what was probably the most surprising championship of all-time.

In terms of Atletico, there’s a defensive wizard in Diego Simeone who has twice been to the precipice of Champions League glory despite finishing better than third in La Liga exactly once this century.

We imagine Leicester will find a way through the Atleti back line at least once, but Antoine Griezmann and company represent a step up in class from Sevilla (Yes we realize Sevilla has a five-point table edge on Atleti).

Prediction: Atletico, 4-1.

Real Madrid vs. Bayern Munich

Carlo Ancelotti has Bayern Munich on the verge of its fourth-straight semifinal, with a club that controversially dismissed him standing in the way.

That club also is the most successful side in European Cup history, even if the first six of their 11 titles came when the tournament was limited to one club per league.

Tactically, it’s very difficult to imagine where the advantage lies for these super powers. There are even unique emotional “advantages” on both sides, with Real’s Gareth Bale aiming to play a final in his home country of Wales and Bayern looking to buoy both Ancelotti and the final season for hero Philipp Lahm.

Your guess is as good as ours, but we’re going with Ancelotti’s bunch… on a hunch.

Prediction: Bayern, 4-2.

Bonus: Onwards

Semifinals
Bayern Munich defeats Atletico Madrid
Barcelona tops Monaco

Final
Bayern Munich outlasts Barcelona

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.

Report: Guardiola close to adding $43m Benfica goalkeeper

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Year Two of the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City could feature another big goalkeeper purchase.

Claudio Bravo hasn’t panned out in sky blue, and Joe Hart doesn’t look likely to be coming back. Wily Caballero is getting the lion’s share of the minutes right now, playing every minute aside from a trio of FA Cup matches since February.

[ MORE: Podolski scores screamer in German finale ]

$43 million is the fee noted by Abola when it comes to the latest target for Guardiola, a neck-tattooed Brazilian by the name of Ederson.

The Benfica backstop, 23, has 20 clean sheets in 32 appearances this season. He signed a new six-year deal in late January, but money may talk here.