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World Cup qualifying: State of play in Europe

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With four rounds of qualifying remaining, all 13 European slots for the World Cup are still up for grabs. The picture should become clearer over the next week, with Germany able to secure its place at next year’s tournament in Russia.

The nine group winners qualify automatically. The worst runner-up will be eliminated, but the other eight second-place teams enter a playoff round in November with the four winners qualifying for the World Cup.

Here is the state of play in the groups:

GROUP A

After being in comfortable control of Group A, France is now in a more precarious position going into Thursday’s game against the Netherlands.

A comical error by goalkeeper Hugo Lloris gifted Sweden a 2-1 win in the last round, giving the Swedes 13 points at the top of the group alongside France and leaving the Dutch within striking distance.

A win for the Netherlands at Stade de France will move it level with European Championship runner-up France, and turn the group it into a three-way scrap with three matches remaining.

Sweden will be hoping France loses or draws but faces a tough trip of its own to Bulgaria, which can maintain its slim chances of qualifying with a win.

Last-place Luxembourg hosts struggling Belarus in the other game.

GROUP B

Switzerland has a perfect six-win record at the top of the group, while Portugal has won five straight since an opening 2-0 loss to the Swiss and has a much better goal difference. An Oct. 10 showdown in Lisbon will likely decide which team wins the group and which must go through the playoff round.

Until then, the No. 4-ranked Swiss host Andorra on Thursday and play at Latvia on Sunday.

European champion Portugal hosts the Faeroe Islands and travels to Hungary, which has slumped since reaching the last 16 at Euro 2016.

GROUP C

World Cup champion Germany, one of two countries to win its opening six qualifying games, looks unstoppable and could qualify over the next week.

If the Germans beat the Czech Republic on Friday, they will be guaranteed first place with a home win over Norway on Monday and if second-place Northern Ireland fails to beat the Czechs on the same night.

Germany has scored more goals (27) and conceded fewer (1) than any other country in European qualifying.

Northern Ireland, which last appeared at a World Cup in 1986, could close in on at least a playoff place by beating San Marino on Friday. The Czech Republic is in third place, four points behind the Northern Irish with four games left.

GROUP D

With the top four teams – Serbia, Ireland, Wales and Austria – separated by four points, there is still everything to play for in a group that looked difficult to predict from the outset.

Serbia is ahead of Ireland on goal difference, and they play each other in Dublin on Monday. Before then, Serbia hosts Moldova and Ireland is at Georgia on Friday.

Wales and Austria are even on points in third and fourth place, four points behind their rivals, and meet in Cardiff on Saturday. Whichever team loses will likely be out of realistic contention for a top-two finish.

Wales, which reached the semifinals of the European Championship last year and has Gareth Bale back from suspension, has drawn five of its six qualifiers.

GROUP E

Poland is closing in on securing a spot in the top-seeded pot at the World Cup draw on Dec. 1 in Moscow.

Robert Lewandowski has scored 11 goals in qualifying – tied with Cristiano Ronaldo for most in the European zone – and Poland is six points ahead of second-place Montenegro. Poland plays Friday at third-place Denmark, and hosts Kazakhstan three days later.

Montenegro travels to play the winless Kazakhs before hosting Romania.

Denmark is level on points with Montenegro and needs to take three points from Armenia on Monday.

GROUP F

It has been an unconvincing qualifying campaign by England, which played one game under Sam Allardyce and subsequently Gareth Southgate. Yet the group favorites remain unbeaten and have won four of their six games to lead the group by two points.

A potentially defining match comes on Monday, when second-place Slovakia visits Wembley Stadium. A win for the English would bring the team close to a spot in Russia.

England will prepare for that match by playing last-place Malta on Friday, when Slovakia hosts Slovenia in Trnava. Slovenia is in third place, three points behind England.

It is England’s first round of internationals since Wayne Rooney, the country’s record scorer, retired from international duty. Although the striker had been dropped for recent matches, Southgate still wanted the experienced Rooney back in the squad for the upcoming qualifiers.

GROUP G

Spain and Italy meet in one of the most-anticipated games in European qualifying, with the winner moving into good position to qualify. Both teams have five wins in addition to the draw between them last year in Turin.

There will be only three games left for each of the teams after they meet Saturday at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, all against the group’s weaker teams.

Since only the group winner automatically qualifies, the winner of Saturday’s match will be set to make it to Russia without having to go through a playoff.

GROUP H

Belgium is on a smooth passage to the World Cup, which could get even smoother if the group leaders can complete the next week with victories over last-place Gibraltar and Greece. But the Greeks, four points behind in second place, are the only team to take points off Belgium so far by drawing 1-1 in March.

If Greece beats Estonia on Thursday and then secures a victory over Belgium on Sunday, the pursuit of first place would be wide open going in the final two rounds of matches in October.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is challenging for second place, a point behind Greece. Both of their meetings have been draws. The toughest game remaining for the Bosnians is against Belgium next month after trips to Cyprus and Gibraltar in the coming days.

GROUP I

The tightest European group, toughest to predict and most likely to make news off the field has Croatia, Iceland, Turkey and Ukraine all separated by only two points.

Third-place Turkey has the biggest week ahead, playing at Ukraine and on Saturday and hosting first-place Croatia on Tuesday.

Iceland has kept momentum from its inspiring run to the Euro 2016 quarterfinals and travels to Finland before hosting Ukraine. Croatia has a solid goal difference advantage over second-place Iceland and should solidify its group lead Friday against visiting Kosovo in Zagreb.

More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

AP Sports Writers Tales Azzoni, Steve Douglas, Graham Dunbar, Rob Harris and Jerome Pugmire contributed to this report.

Juventus president Andrea Agnelli banned for 1 year

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Juventus president Andrea Agnelli was banned for one year by the Italian soccer federation on Monday for his role in selling tickets to hardcore “ultra” fans that encouraged scalping.

[ MORE: Mourinho escapes ban after sending off ]

The court also fined Juventus 300,000 euros ($350,000).

The ban comes less than three weeks after Agnelli was elected to chair the 220-member European Club Association.

“Having taken note of today’s decision by the FIGC’s National Tribunal, Juventus preannounces its appeal to the FIGC Court of Appeal in the full conviction of its own good arguments, which have still not found adequate recognition,” the Serie A club said in a statement.

“The club expresses its own satisfaction because today’s sentence, even though it inflicted heavy bans on the president and other people involved, has “after extensive evaluation of the evidentiary material” (page 11 of the sentence) excluded all alleged links with representatives of organized crime.”

Federation prosecutor Giuseppe Pecoraro also said he would appeal for a harsher sentence. Pecoraro requested a 2 1/2-year suspension, a fine and an order to force Juventus to play two home matches behind closed doors.

“I am partially satisfied because we managed to prove everyone’s guilt but the facts are so serious that I think they should be punished more,” Pecoraro told Italian news agency Ansa. “The judgment of another court would be useful, taking into account that the resources coming from the ticket scalping went to a criminal organization, and that is very serious.”

The ban means Agnelli remains Juventus president but cannot represent the club in any official matter governed by the FIGC. He cannot, for example, go into the dressing room during matches or have transfer dealings with players’ agents.

However, the ban has not been extended to UEFA and FIFA – and there is no chance of that happening until all the appeals have been heard. Agnelli’s position as head of the ECA is not at risk for now.

Agnelli allegedly authorized the sale of season passes and other tickets. He has acknowledged meeting with Rocco Dominello, an “ultra” fan linked to the Calabrian `ndrangheta crime mob who has since been sentenced to nearly eight years in prison for scalping.

But Agnelli said the meetings came only with large numbers of other fans at celebratory occasions and that the club never intended to engage in illegal activity.

Juventus security director Alessandro D’Angelo has been banned for 15 months while ticketing director Stefano Merulla and former marketing director Francesco Calvo have also been handed one-year suspensions.

Each of the four has also been fined 20,000 euros ($24,000) for violating sporting integrity and illicit relations with fans.

The 41-year-old Agnelli has led Juventus, the club his family has owned for nearly a century, since 2010. Agnelli has also been a non-voting member of the UEFA executive committee since 2015. He received full voting rights last week at a UEFA meeting in Geneva.

[ MORE: Villareal sacks manager Escriba after one year in charge ]

Dominello’s father, Saverio Dominello, was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a court in Turin in June for his role in the scalping case.

Anti-mafia prosecutors said the `ndrangheta was involved in scalping among Juventus ultra fans for at least 15 years, guaranteeing order in the stadium in exchange for open ticket access.

Juventus has denied any wrongdoing.

Report: NYCFC seeks stadium project near Belmont Park

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New York City FC has found its feet pretty well in MLS, and the club could finally be closing in on a location for its own stadium moving forward.

Newsday Sports is reporting that NYCFC is prepared to bid on land at Belmont Park as the club continues its search to find a permanent stadium for its future.

[ MORE: Which players should be up for MLS MVP honors? ]

The report also states that Belmont isn’t NYCFC’s preferred destination to play matches, with the stadium in Elmont — roughly an 18-mile distance from the club’s current venue, Yankee Stadium.

In the past, Flushing Meadows has been one of many sites discussed as a location for NYCFC to build its own venue, which would make sense given the fact that the land currently houses the New York Mets as well as the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

NYCFC has shared Yankee Stadium with MLB franchise, New York Yankees, since the MLS side entered the league in 2015.

A move to Belmont could hinge on what the New York Islanders of the NHL do moving forward as well because the hockey team is reportedly looking at options outside of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where they currently play.

UCL Tuesday preview: Dortmund hosts Real; 3 PL sides in action

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Round two of the UEFA Champions League is back on Tuesday, and while clubs cannot book their place in the Round of 16 just yet it’s just as easy for them to put themselves out of contention.

Three Premier League sides will be action on the afternoon, including Tottenham — who has the chance to start Group H play with six points.

Meanwhile, Liverpool and Manchester City will also take the pitch in Group E and F, respectively.

The day’s biggest clash of the day though comes in Germany as Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid meet in the other Group H fixture. Dortmund will be looking for a positive result after falling to Spurs in their opening day loss in the competition.

[ MORE: Who is the most complete striker in the Premier League? ]

Here’s the full rundown of matches on Tuesday’s UCL docket.

All games kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET

Group E

Spartak Moscow vs. Liverpool
Sevilla vs. Maribor

Group F

Manchester City vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Napoli vs. Feyenoord

Group G

Besiktas vs. Red Bull Leipzig
Monaco vs. Porto

Group H

Borussia Dortmund vs. Real Madrid
APOEL vs. Tottenham Hotspur

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints take in Arsenal match

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The New Orleans Saints will be playing a different sort of football on Sunday at historic Wembley Stadium, but the NFL franchise took in Arsenal’s match today during their trip to London.

[ MORE: PL playback — Who is the most complete striker in the PL? ]

Super Bowl-winning quarterback Drew Brees posted a picture on Instagram with several of his Saints teammates taking in the Arsenal-West Brom fixture at the Emirates Stadium six days before the NFL team plays the Miami Dolphins.

The Saints-Dolphins matchup is the second NFL game to take place in England thus far in 2017, after the Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the Baltimore Ravens, 44-7, on Sunday at Wembley.

Headed to the Arsenal game in London. Our first Premier League game! Pumped

A post shared by Drew Brees (@drewbrees) on