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UEFA WCQ roundup: Spain, Italy battle on; Iceland catch Croatia

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in 2018 World Cup qualifying around Europe…

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Macedonia 1-2 Spain

When the groups were drawn, Group G was only going to be like this: Spain and Italy would duke it out for the automatic qualification place, and the runners-up would head to the qualification playoff where they would presumably roll right into next summer’s World Cup in Russia. After six of 10 games, it’s safe to say everyone was spot-on with their prognostications. Each on 16 points (Spain ahead on goal differential, +18 to +14), the next closest hopefuls are Albania and Israel, on nine points apiece.

Sunday’s win over Macedonia, which La Furia Roja only just held onto after going up 2-0 early on, was enough to keep Julen Lopetegui’s side ahead of the Italians, though their goal differential advantage was reduced considerably. David Silva (15th minute) and Diego Costa (27th) got the goals to set up what will likely be the group-deciding game next time out, in September: Spain hosting Italy.

Italy 5-0 Liechtenstein

Five goals, scored by five different goalscorers, helped Italy gain a fair bit of ground on Spain — from a +9 goal differential, to +14.

Lorenzo Insigne (35th minute) Andrea Belotti (52nd), Eder (74th), Federico Bernardeschi (83rd) and Manolo Gabbiadini (90th) got the goals to hand the Azzurri their most comfortable victory this round of qualifying thus far (they beat Liechtenstein 4-0 in their first meeting).

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

Iceland 1-0 Croatia

Following Iceland’s 90th-minute winner over group-leading Croatia, the Group I standings currently read as follows: Croatia (13 points), Iceland (13), Turkey (11), Ukraine (11). With four games still to play, two of the four will likely crack the 15-point plateau, and fail to even qualify for the playoff.

Sunday’s game looked to be headed for a scoreless draw, until Bristol City defender Hoerdur Magnusson headed Strakarnir okkar (Our boys) into the lead in the final minute of regular time.

Kosovo 1-4 Turkey

Turkey, like Iceland and Ukraine, used Croatia’s slip-up to creep closer to the summit, as Ay-Yıldızlılar (The Crescent-Stars) put four past Kosovo away from home.

Volkan Sen opened the scoring after just seven minutes, but the home side drew level 15 minutes later, though Amir Rrahmani. The level scoreline was short-lived, though, as 19-year-old Cengiz Under put Turkey back ahead just after the half-hour mark. It remained 2-1 until the hour mark, when Burak Yilmaz bagged his 22nd career international goal to move level with former Middlesbrough and Stoke City striker Tuncay Sanli as the second-most prolific scorer in Turkish history. 22-year-old Ozan Tufan completed the scoring on 82 minutes, and Turkey moved to within two points of the top of Group I.

Elsewhere in UEFA WCQ

Group D

Moldova 2-2 Georgia
Ireland 1-1 Austria
Serbia 1-1 Wales

Group G

Israel 0-3 Albania

Group I

Finland 1-2 Ukraine

Facebook, Amazon Prime could bid for Premier League streaming rights

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One day in the not-too-distant future, we could be watching Premier League games on Facebook or Amazon’s streaming services.

That’s according to Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who confirmed that both Facebook and Amazon are expected to to bid for the Premier League’s broadcast rights when they open again in 2022.

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“Absolutely I think they’ll enter the mix,” Woodward said. “Anecdotally there was strong interest in the last cycle, and we’re hearing that around the Premier League table, but we’re also hearing that from a European perspective as well in terms of interest in the Champions League and Europa League rights.

“In the wider picture you have to look at what’s happening elsewhere at the moment.There isn’t any clear European sale to these kind of partners at the moment. But looking at the interest Facebook and Amazon had in the Indian Premier League rights, anecdotally it sounded like very big numbers.

“So I do think we are going to see an increase in engagement from these and we would welcome the interest. I think it’s going to be increasingly important to digitally engage with fans, and we think we can be complementary to partners like this coming in.”

According to reports, Facebook bid $600 million to stream India’s cricket league aptly named the Indian Premier League but lost out to 21st Century Fox’s Star India, which bid for the television and streaming rights together.

Currently, NBC owns the Premier League rights in the U.S., including streaming rights, but perhaps in the future we could see separate deals for television and streaming sites.

However, more than likely, pressure from Facebook and Amazon Prime could drive the cost of the rights up, ensuring an even bigger payout for all 20 Premier League clubs.

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.

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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.