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UEFA wrap: Spain clinches, Iceland grabs control

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There were certainly surprises in UEFA on Friday.

Serbia opened the door to Group D’s automatic spot, while Spain clinched the 11th berth in Russia thanks to another big win and a shocking draw between Italy and Macedonia.

[ MORE: U-17 World Cup Day 1 roundup ]

Wales and the Republic of Ireland found new leases on automatic qualifying life, while Group I remains quite murky.


GROUP D

Georgia 0-1 WalesRECAP

Tom Lawrence of Derby County stepped up with a goal in the absence of Gareth Bale, as Wales made sure to put pressure on Serbia with the first result of the day.

Austria 3-2 Serbia

Crystal Palace man Luka Milivojevic scored in the 11th minute to put Serbia on the precipice of Russia, but Guido Burgstaller knotted it up 14 minutes later.

It stayed 1-1 until Stoke City’s Marko Arnautovic scored only to find an answer for Serbia in the form of Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic.

Yet Louis Schaub scored just before stoppage time to provide an intriguing final day to qualifying.

Republic of Ireland 2-0 Moldova

Daryl Murphy scored twice in the first 19 minutes to set up a massive final match at Wales on Monday

Matches and scenarios:

Monday
Wales vs. Ireland
Serbia vs. Georgia
Moldova vs. Austria

The read: Serbia can still advance automatically by holding serve against Georgia, but a draw would open the door to Wales or Ireland and Georgia proved no pushover for Wales on Friday. The Welsh can ensure no worse than second at home by beating Ireland, while either winner would pass a losing Serbia.


GROUP G

Italy 1-1 Macedonia

Giorgio Chiellini darted into the heart of the six to pass home a goal which sealed Italy’s place in the playoffs, though it was Aleksandar Trajkovski’s 78th minute goal which assured the Italians would not catch Spain.

Spain 3-0 Albania

Rodrigo, Isco, and Thiago Alcantara all scored before the match was a half-hour old to stylishly insure a spot in Russia.

Liechtenstein 0-1 Israel

Eitan Tibi’s 21st minute goal was the lone marker.

Scenarios: Spain wins group. Italy will head to the playoffs. Imagine, as it stands, the possibility of Italy vs. Portugal over two legs for a World Cup berth.


GROUP I

Turkey 0-3 Iceland

Johann Gudmundsson (Burnley), Birkir Bjarnason (Aston Villa), and Kari Arnarson (Aberdeen) scored to banish Turkey from qualification and put Iceland in the driver’s seat for a trip to Russia.

Kosovo 0-2 Ukraine

It was a second half own goal that kept Ukraine’s World Cup hopes alive, and set up a critical final day between Ukraine and Croatia in Kiev.

Croatia 1-1 Finland

Mario Mandzukic broke through in the 57th minute, but Pyry Soiri scored in stoppage time to score a fine result for Croatia and put Iceland in the Group I driver’s seat.

Matches and scenarios:

Monday
Ukraine vs. Croatia
Iceland vs. Kosovo
Finland vs. Turkey

The read: Iceland is through to Russia with a win. There are other scenarios to send Iceland through, including with a loss (That would require a Ukraine-Croatia draw).

Croatia can advance to Russia with a win and an Iceland draw or loss, and would currently finish second if it draws Ukraine.

Ukraine can finish first if it beats Croatia and Iceland loses to Kosovo, or if Iceland draws and Ukraine beats Croatia by more than a goal. Other scenarios exist, but are more complicated.

Turkey is now out.

Suspended Villar says Spain in danger of missing World Cup

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The suspended president of the Spanish soccer federation, who is under investigation for corruption, tried Monday to stoke up fears that the country could be kicked out of the World Cup because of government interference.

Angel Maria Villar, who is free on bail, spoke at a news conference in Madrid and again denied any wrongdoing. He also blamed the government for meddling in the federation’s affairs by suspending him.

“This government is putting Spain’s participation in the World Cup at risk,” the 67-year-old Villar said in his first news conference since being arrested in July along with his son, Gorka Villar, and two other officials.

[ BLANC: I turned down USMNT talks ]

“The risk is serious,” Villar said. “The only party responsible for Spain not going to the World Cup will be the Spanish government.”

Villar spoke three days after FIFA said it was concerned about the independence of the Spanish soccer federation and that it would soon send a delegation to analyze the situation. FIFA made no mention of a possible suspension of the federation, which could keep Spain out of next year’s World Cup in Russia or even knock Real Madrid and Barcelona out of the Champions League.

Villar, who has spent time behind bars to impede the possible destruction of evidence, and the other three officials are being investigated for alleged improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

Villar resigned his vice presidencies of both FIFA and UEFA following his arrest. But he tried to stay on as the head of Spanish federation, a post he held for three decades.

His refusal to listen to pleas for him to step down led the Spanish government to suspend him from the post for one year pending the outcome of the investigation. Court documents allege that besides misappropriated funds, Villar is suspected of corrupting several regional federations by offering favors in exchange for votes.

Villar fired back at the government, saying his suspension had broken FIFA rules since it represented interference in the federation’s management.

“It’s easy to see that the source of concern was my arbitrary and unjustified removal from the presidency of the federation and for not respecting the presumption of innocence,” Villar said, adding that other teams are ready to take Spain’s place at the World Cup.

“Be careful. There are other powerful countries that didn’t qualify like Italy that are waiting to pounce and take our place,” Villar said.

Spain, which won the World Cup in 2010, is considered to be among the favorites for next year’s tournament.

Blanc: I turned down USMNT talks

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U.S. Soccer has not been inactive when it comes to the USMNT coaching search, despite its uncertainty with an impending presidential election.

Le Parisien has an interview with Laurent Blanc in which the ex-Bordeaux, France, and Paris Saint-Germain boss says he was approached by the United States Soccer Federation, but was not interested in the gig.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table ]

Blanc said an international job would have to touch his roots, and he’s most certainly not American. The tall 52-year-old had a glittering playing career with Saint-Etienne, Barcelona, Marseille, Inter Milan, and Manchester United amongst other stops.

More important, it shows that Sunil Gulati and his men have to some degree moved forward with keeping their imprint on the national team.

That’s a little worrying on any team: A hierarchy that may not be around much longer may be working to fill a position arguably more important than its own. It’d be nice to have them commit to not hiring anyone until after February’s election.

Premier League Preview: Everton vs. Swansea City

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  • Everton leads all-time 15W-9D-3L
  • BUT Swans unbeaten in 7 vs. Toffees
  • Toffees go ninth with win
  • Swans four back of safety

Everton hopes its up-turn in form can end three seasons of futility against visiting Swansea City when the two sides meet at Goodison Park on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Gylfi Sigurdsson gets a chance to face his former club for the first time, while longtime Swans man Ashley Williams may also feature for Sam Allardyce.

Swansea has no time to focus on the past, as Paul Clement‘s men sit deep in the drop zone. The last place Swans are four points shy of safety.

What they’re saying

Everton’s Ashley Williams on facing his former club (again)“The game is a little bit more important to me, I would be lying I said it wasn’t. You always want to play against your old teams and it’s a fixture you always look for.  I have been looking forward to this one and it will be nice to see old faces and old friends. It is a game we want to win and to keep a clean sheet in, especially at home, in order to keep our momentum going.”

Swansea City’s Roque Mesa on the match“This is a massive game for us. We need to pick up points because we are bottom and we need to improve our position. Everton have a new manager and their players have done very well under him – you can see their confidence has grown since he joined. But we did well against West Brom and picked up three points, which was very important. Then we faced Manchester City and they proved too good for us. They are the best team in the league, and unfortunately, we couldn’t match them on the night.”

Prediction

Swans need to move past that Man City loss and build on a 1-0 win over West Brom a few days previous. That may not be possible at Goodison, and the Welsh side would be thrilled to escape with a draw. It seems unlikely. Everton 2-1.

Report: Man City, Guardiola to discuss new contract this summer

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Manchester City does not want to let Pep Guardiola start the third year with the club without signing on for longer term.

Guardiola enters the third and final year of his deal in August, and the BBC reports that Man City plans to negotiate a new deal with the Catalan wizard this summer.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table ]

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given City’s outstanding sophomore season under Guardiola.

Unbeaten City has an 11-point lead on the Premier League table after 18 weeks, with one draw and a PL record 16-straight wins. They have 56 goals scored, conceding just 12.

They’ve won five of six UEFA Champions League matches, only losing a match their opposition needed and they did not, 2-1 to Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine. City faces Basel next, and visits Leicester City in the League Cup quarterfinals Wednesday.