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UCL: Ranking each 2017/18 group from easiest to most difficult


It’s always to play the “which team has the hardest or easiest group?” game before UEFA Champions League play has even kicked off.

[ MORE: UCL draw — Group H features Real, Dortmund and Spurs ]

So, that’s exactly what we’re going to do here today.

Thursday’s draw featured many twists and turns, just as every other year does, but there’s little debating which groups will be the most challenging for the 2017/18 group stage.

[ MORE: Ibrahimovic move helps Man United’s aspirations in 17/18 ]

Below, we’ll rate and take a look at which groups present the biggest threat to the teams in them starting with the easiest and working our way down to the most difficult.

(Scale is 1-10 with 1 being the easiest and 10 presenting the biggest challenge)

Group A: Benfica, Manchester United, FC Basel, CSKA Moscow

(Rating: 2)

Other than the travel to Russia, Manchester United should have little problems with their group. Benfica is a side worth watching out for given their track record in the UCL, which includes reaching the knockout phase in the last two seasons.

Group B: Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Anderlecht, Celtic

(Rating: 4)

There’s no doubting who the two heavyweights are in this group, so it’s a massive uphill climb for Anderlecht and Celtic if they want to pull off any upsets. Chances are though, both clubs will be vying for a place in the Europa League.

Group D: Juventus, Barcelona, Olympiakos, Sporting Lisbon

(Rating: 4.5)

Barca and Juventus will be the two sides most people are looking at — and rightfully so. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Sporting or Olympiakos advances, but both clubs present difficult fixtures when playing at home, so they could quietly make some noise.

Group E: Spartak Moscow, Sevilla, Liverpool, Maribor

(Rating: 5)

Liverpool got the group it wanted and needed as the Premier League side re-joins the UCL this season. Sevilla has had loads of success in the Europa League, winning three of the last four years, but the Champions League is a different animal.

Group C: Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, AS Roma, Qarabag

(Rating: 6)

On paper this should be a tricky group given the three big names, but Roma is a very different side than they were last year. They don’t boast the attacking threats that they once did, and Atletico and Chelsea should be able to handle themselves, despite having to make tough trips to Azerbaijan to face Qarabag in their inaugural UCL season.

Group F: Shakhtar Donetsk, Manchester City, Napoli, Feyenoord

(Rating: 7)

This group is a lot tougher than it looks. Feyenoord won’t have much expected of them, but the Dutch side proved last season in domestic play that they can be a force to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, Napoli and Man City present dangerous attacking fronts and will be the ones that are expected to reach the last 16.

Group G: Monaco, Porto, Besitkas, Red Bull Leipzig

(Rating: 7.5)

This could very well be the most underrated group given the names in it, but don’t sleep on any of these four clubs. Monaco should be the favorite to win Group G, but given all the losses they’ve suffered this summer in the transfer market it’s simply a different team from the 2016/17 season. Also, watch out for RB Leipzig in its first UCL appearance.

Group H: Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham Hotspur, APOEL

(Rating: 9.5)

As far as English sides go, Spurs really got the short end of the stick with this draw. While APOEL will likely be the club that has to receive the brutal beatings from all three contenders, Spurs will have the challenging task on its hands of trying to finish above Real and Dortmund, who have both found success in the competition as of late.

Retailer removes T-shirt from sale over Hillsborough links

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LONDON (AP) A British retailer has withdrawn a T-shirt from sale in its stores and online following complaints that its design could be associated with the Hillsborough soccer disaster.

[ MORE: Liverpool, Man City drawn in UCL quarterfinals ]

Topman had on sale a red shirt with a large “96” on the back and the phrase “what goes around comes around” underneath. The word “Karma” is written on one of the sleeves.

Ninety-six people were crushed to death in the Hillsborough stadium disaster, which happened in Sheffield in April 1989 at an FA Cup semifinal match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Topman said it “apologizes unreservedly for any offense caused by this T-shirt” and that the “garment has been removed from sale online and in stores.”

The retailer said the design was inspired by a Bob Marley track, with the number referring to the year of the re-release.

Cosmos, Miami FC petition USSF for 2018 U.S. Open Cup entry

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NASL’s decision to cancel the 2018 regular season has caused significant ramifications, with the latest forcing several clubs to be excluded from the U.S. Open Cup.

The New York Cosmos and Miami FC — both of whom participated in the 2017 U.S. Open Cup have not been named among the eligible teams for the 2018 edition following NASL’s cancellation of the league season.

Now, the two teams have petitioned to U.S. Soccer and its new president, Carlos Cordeiro, to rethink its decision and allow the clubs to play despite not belonging to a professional league.

Both clubs do boast reserve teams though — New York Cosmos B and Miami 2 — which is the lead argument from each organization as to why U.S. Soccer should grant the teams an exemption and a spot in the tournament.

Cosmos B and Miami FC 2 will both play in the NPSL once again in 2018, with both rosters largely comprised of senior team players.

As it stands, 94 teams have been placed in the 2018 Open Cup field, as announced by U.S. Soccer on Wednesday.

Both open letters from the respective clubs can be found below.

Brazil’s Luis could miss World Cup after leg fracture

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MADRID (AP) Brazilian left back Filipe Luis has a leg fracture that could stop him going to the World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Arsenal draws CSKA Moscow in Europa quarters ]

Atletico Madrid said Friday that Luis sustained the injury to his left leg in the second half of the Spanish team’s 5-1 rout of Lokomotiv Moscow in the Europa League round-of-16 match on Thursday.

The club did not say how long Luis will be sidelined. Similar injuries have required at least six weeks of recovery time and longer if surgery is required.

The 32-year-old Luis was called up by Brazil coach Tite for friendlies against Russia in Moscow on March 23 and against Germany in Berlin on March 27. Brazil’s first game at the World Cup is against Switzerland on June 17.

Luis was injured while trying to prevent Lokomotiv forward Eder taking a shot from inside the area in the 60th minute. He successfully cleared the ball but his leg was hit from behind.

Luis left the field on a stretcher and tests Friday in Madrid confirmed the fracture in his lower leg.

Atletico advanced 8-1 on aggregate after the victory in Russia.

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

Casemiro: Neymar “would get along very well with Cristiano” at Real

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The speculation (transfer) train keeps chugging along as domestic seasons near their conclusion, and one rumor continues to be fueled linking one of the world’s top players to Real Madrid.

[ MORE: FA Cup preview ]

Neymar’s time at Paris Saint-Germain has been short, less than a season to be precise, but the Brazil international could be moving on from the Parc des Princes sooner rather than later after his side crashed out of the UEFA Champions League recently against Real.

Nothing concrete has been determined about Neymar’s future, but Real Madrid continues to be linked with the South American star, and one current Real player feels Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo would get along “very well.”

“[Neymar] has always been spectacular, since he was 11 years old. He does crazy things,” Real midfielder Casemiro told El Partidazo .l”I don’t think there is any chance that he will come to Real, but you have to ask [Madrid president] Florentino Perez.

“He knows that the door is always open for him in Madrid, but he is happy in Paris. He always says that he is happy there, that he is comfortable in Paris. There are many Brazilians there too, it is very quiet there, but whether it’s possible you have to ask Florentino.

“With the quality that he has, I would sign him for sure. I hope he comes this season.

“He is a great player, one of the top three in the world. He can do whatever he wants off the pitch if he continues to do what he does on it.

“He would get along very well with Cristiano, very well.”

Real is currently in the midst of a historic run in the Champions League, having won the competition three times in the last four seasons.

Casemiro isn’t the only Real player eager to bring in a talent such as Neymar though.

Defender Dani Carvajal also recently told the media that he would be ecstatic to have a teammate like the Brazilian come into the fold at the Santiago Bernabeu.