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UEFA WCQ: France, Portugal one win away; Netherlands all but eliminated

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A roundup of Saturday’s penultimate matchday of 2018 World Cup qualifying action from all around Europe…

[ MORE: USMNT routs Panama to boost WC dreams in a big way ]

Bulgaria 0-1 France

With one game left to play, France remain one point clear of Sweden in Group A following a nervy 1-0 victory away to Bularia on Saturday. Blaise Matuidi scored the game’s only goal, in the 3rd minute, as Didier Deschamps’ side clinched a top-two finish in the group, guaranteeing at minimum a place in the qualification playoffs.

Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante was subbed off with an apparent hamstring injury in the 34th minute.

A victory over Belarus on Tuesday would see France qualify straight through to next summer’s tournament in Russia. Should Les Bleus slip up, Sweden, who boast a massively superior goal differential (+19 to +11) would need a superior result against the Netherlands to overtake them.

Belarus 1-3 Netherlands

Despite their own victory over Belarus, the combination of Sweden’s 8-0 victory over Luxembourg and France’s victory over Bulgaria, means the Dutch have been all but officially eliminated from contention to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Needing to overturn to make up three points and 12 goals in the goal-differential column in their finale against Sweden, the Oranje will miss a second straight major international tournament (EURO 2016).

The Netherlands finished as runners-up at the 2010 World Cup and third-place finishers in 2014.

Bosnia and Herzegovina 3-4 Belgium

Belgium clinched their place in Russia during the last international break, turning the rest of their Group H schedule into a chance to finely tune themselves and perhaps spoil the dreams of others. Saturday’s seven-goal thriller against Bosnia went a long way toward doing just that, as the home side’s defeat left the door wide for Greece to leapfrog their way into second place by two points. Unfortunately for the Bosnians, that’s exactly what happened after Greece won away to Cyprus, 2-1.

Jan Vertonghen marked his record-tying 96th cap with a goal in the 68th minute. While it looked set to be the game-winning goal, the Red Devils conceded an equalizer eight minutes from full-time, necessitating an 84th-minute winner from Yannick Carrasco to go nine points clear atop the group.

Thomas Meunier fired the visitors ahead in the 4th minute, only to be pegged back by Philadelphia Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin right on the half-hour mark. Nine minutes later, Edin Visca made it 2-1 to the hosts. That lead would remain intact until the 59th minute, when Michy Batshuayi equalized and set up the frantic final 30 minutes.

Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini picked up an injury, believed to be knee ligament damage, in the 29th minute. Initial reports have speculated he could be out for a number of weeks.

Andorra 0-2 Portugal

Portugal took care of business away to Andorra, thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s 79th international goal and the game-winner in the 63rd minute, but the reigning European champions remain second in Group B, three points back of Switzerland, though they possess an insurmountable goal-differential advantage (+26 to +18). As fate would have it, the second-place side hosts the leaders on Tuesday, needing three points to qualify automatically.

Andre Silva completed the scoring four minutes from full-time.

Switzerland 5-2 Hungary

Steven Zuber scored twice in Switzerland’s 5-2 rout of Hungary, to go with individual tallies from Granit Xhaka, Fabian Frei and Stephan Lichtsteiner.

Elsewhere in UEFA WCQ

Group A

Sweden 8-0 Luxembourg

Group B

Faroe Islands 0-0 Latvia

Group H

Gibraltar 0-6 Estonia
Cyprus 1-2 Greece

Report: Newcastle sale closer after improved bid of $400 million

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The Geordie dream appears one giant step closer to reality after Amanda Staveley has reportedly made a significantly larger bid in her attempt to purchase Newcastle United from long-embattled owner Mike Ashley.

[ TIMELINE: Ashley puts club up for sale | Staveley’s first bid rejected ]

According to multiple reports out of the UK — the Telegraph offers the most information at this time — Staveley has increased her initial offer from $335 million to today’s $400-million figure which is expected to be enough to convince Ashley to accept and bring to an end his decade-long, rocky relationship with the Toon Army.

Ashley purchased the club for $177 million back in 2007 and has reportedly invested somewhere in the neighborhood of another $177 million, in the form of interest-free loans, during his stewardship. He stands to make a sizable profit in light of today’s reports, though his original asking price of $534 million is nowhere close to being met.

[ STREAM: Newcastle host Everton — Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. ET ]

The biggest question which remains — now that will he or won’t he sell? appears to have been answered — is how quickly the deal can be completed, thus allowing Staveley to back manager Rafa Benitez during the January transfer window. Once the two sides enter into deeper takeover talks and the process of transferring ownership from one to the other begins, a transfer embargo will be activated.

Benitez and Ashley traded verbal jabs over the club’s transfer dealings — or, lack thereof — in the summer, and the Spaniard has again this week insisted significant investment is needed in January, otherwise the Magpies could very well be relegated, once again. After a strong start to the season, Newcastle are winless in their last seven Premier League games (six losses) and have tumbled to 16th in the league table, now just two points clear of the relegation zone.

Klopp explains rotation vs. Everton, Salah’s injury scare

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Jurgen Klopp took a fair bit of criticism over his decision to rotate four members of his first-choice starting lineup for Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Everton, and the Liverpool manager might not be done rotating just yet — only this time, his hand could be force by an injury scare.

[ MORE: Klopp says post-game interview not a big deal ]

Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum were all dropped to the bench, on the advice of the club’s medical team, at the end of a 21-day stretch which saw the Reds play seven times. Klopp came under further scrutiny for his decision to substitute Mohamed Salah, Liverpool’s undisputed player of the season thus far, with Liverpool leading 1-0 in the 67th minute.

Now, Klopp has revealed, that Salah was forced off due to fear of a potential hamstring injury, though the Egyptian is expected to be available to start when West Bromwich Albion visit Anfield on Wednesday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold) — quotes from the Guardian:

“I have 500,000 pieces of information and I have to make a decision; I cannot write a book before each game. I do not want to say [it was a risk to play Coutinho and Firmino] as that would sound like an excuse and I don’t need an excuse.

“I find it funny that we talk after this game about that but we did not speak about it after the 5-1 or 3-0, why they did not play [the wins at Brighton and Stoke when Salah, Coutinho and Sadio Mane did not all start]. This is one game we should have won they did not play. We play it 10 times and we win. We had a bit of information but, come on, it would sound like an excuse to me.

“I took Mo Salah off because he felt the hamstring a little bit. Then everyone said, ‘How can you take him off?’ I do not go out and say: ‘Because he is close to being injured.’ He is not injured at the moment, thank God. Hopefully we took him off early enough. We have to do it. Seven games in 21 days before Everton and now six games in 18 days. It is exactly the same. We need the best quality we can have before each game. We cannot ignore the number of games.”

The only thing Klopp could have done to draw even more criticism would have been to ignore the advice of the doctors prior to the game, then leave Salah on the field for all 90 minutes — win, lose or draw in the end. Once the above information had inevitably leaked out in said scenario, words like “irresponsible” and “negligent” would have been lobbed his way with reckless abandon.

It’s almost as if managers have more information available to them than the average, angry fan.

Independiente and Flamengo meet for South American trophy

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SAO PAULO (AP) Independiente, relegated for the first time in its history in 2013, can complete a remarkable turnaround by winning the Copa Sudamericana at the Maracana Stadium on Wednesday.

[ MORE: LA FC selects Urena, four others in MLS Expansion Draft ]

The Argentine team will go into the second leg of the final holding a 2-1 lead over Brazilian club Flamengo from the first leg.

Independiente, which has won multiple titles in South American tournaments, will be counting on 18-year-old midfielder Ezequiel Barco, one of the best players in this year’s competition.

Flamengo is also seeking to restore some pride in Rio de Janeiro. The big-spending Brazilian club, playing in its first Copa Sudamericana final, finished its domestic championship in a disappointing sixth place.

The Rio team will be without Peru striker Paolo Guerrero, who is serving a one-year doping ban.

Instead, veteran midfielder Diego will be the key player as Flamengo looks to claim its first regional title since winning the now-defunct Copa Mercosur in 1999.

After Independiente won the first leg, the club posted on its social media channels a picture of its players celebrating at the Maracana in 1995 when the two teams played for the Supercopa.

If the Argentines lose 1-0 on Wednesday, there will be a penalty shootout to decide the winner.

Last year, Brazilian club Chapecoense was awarded the title before the final after 19 players, plus club directors and several members of staff, died in an air crash.

The Copa Sudamericana is the continent’s second most prestigious tournament after the Copa Libertadores.

Bundesliga wrap: Dortmund wins in Stoger’s managerial debut

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For the first time since late September, Borussia Dortmund has won a league match, while Leipzig’s slip up opens the door for Bayern Munich to extend its lead in Germany’s top flight.

[ MORE: Chelsea tops Huddersfield, level on points with Man United ]

Here’s a brief look at all of Tuesday’s Bundesliga action.

Mainz 0-2 Borussia Dortmund

10 points separates Dortmund from league leaders Bayern Munich, who also have a match in hand, but for the moment, the bleeding his stopped. BVB picked up a crucial win on Tuesday to end its domestic woes upon manager Peter Stoger’s debut. The side’s drought stretched over an eight-match winless period. Second-half goals from Sokratis and Shinji Kagawa moved Dortmund into the top four, while Mainz remains 15th in the league table.

 

Wolfsburg 1-1 Red Bull Leipzig

Meanwhile, RB Leipzig’s form continues to slide downward after the second-place side dropped points in its fourth straight match across all competitions. The road side’s fortunes were dampened early on when Paul Verhaegh converted from the penalty spot, however, Marcel Halstenberg did manage to pull a goal back for Leipzig in the 52nd minute. Leipzig’s misfortunes carried on in stoppage time though when Dayot Upamecano was sent off after picking up his second yellow card of the day.


The rest of Tuesday’s scores

Hamburg 1-2 Frankfurt
Freiburg 1-0 Borussia Monchengladbach