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Isn’t there a better way for UEFA to sort out its World Cup berths?

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There’s euphoria in Portugal and frustration in Switzerland after goal differential propelled Cristiano Ronaldo’s men into the World Cup after the Group B teams finished with twin 9W-1L marks.

There’s bitterness in Italy and relief in Spain after the two recent World Cup winners did battle in Group G, almost inexplicably allowed to be drawn together.

[ UEFA: Who’s qualified, and who’s in the playoffs? ]

And how about Slovakia, who was punished for finishing second to England and ahead of Slovenia and Scotland in a very tricky group?

Then there’s Group I, with Iceland snaring the only automatic spot in what was probably the deepest group in UEFA. Croatia gets to contend a playoff, but Ukraine and Turkey are left on the outside looking into Russia.

At the risk of being labeled reactive, UEFA needs to sort itself out when it comes to World Cup qualifying.

Already handed the most spots in the world, deservedly you must admit, the methodology of European qualifying is never going to satisfy everyone. But surely there’s a way to narrow the minnows a bit faster.

France had to go to the playoffs in 2014 qualifying because, like Italy, it had the misfortune of drawing Spain.

Meanwhile, the world is treated to score lines like this:

Sweden 8-0 Luxembourg (2018)
San Marino 0-8 Germany (2018)
Belgium 9-0 Gibraltar (2018)
Ukraine 9-0 San Marino (2014)
England 6-0 Andorra (2010)
Liechtenstein 0-6 Germany (2010)

Those score lines don’t happen in Asia, where there were only two 4-goal wins in the final round of qualifiers (60). Africa has one 6-goal blowout and three 4-goal wins so far. CONCACAF has USMNT 6-0 Honduras and two 4-goal wins (including a U.S. win and loss). CONMEBOL has no worse than a pair of 5-0 away Bolivia losses. Even Oceania isn’t a total cakewalk for New Zealand.

How to remedy? Some of this in moot if the World Cup field is expanded again. But, in 2006 the top two second placed teams automatically went to the World Cup, which would put Switzerland and Italy into the fray this time around (and that seems fair).

Or maybe this idea would pop, and follow me here:

— UEFA has 52 teams fighting for 13 places in the 2018 World Cup. It gets 14 matches this cycle because a European team is hosting (Russia), so normally it’s 53 teams going for 13.

— Right now each team plays a minimum of 10 matches plus a potential two playoff legs.

— I propose that the top teams are separated from the bottom teams for an initial group stage. X numbers of nations, say 8 of the 13 berths, earn a spot from competing with only the best of the best.

— The bottom group, based on previously performances in European and international competitions in a similar fashion to the Champions League, sees Y number of nations battling for the right to reach the second stage.

— The second stage sees a second group stage instead of one-off playoffs, with faltering top teams facing the best of a second tier.

Essentially, you’d have teams like France, Spain, and Italy fighting each other for an automatic spot and the chance to put their squads through less important matches before the big tournament. And you’d give Andorra, Belarus, Moldova, and the like an opportunity to claim more wins in front of home fans.

Based on the standings from this year’s qualifying, this is a much more attractive option for fans, the game, and the powers.

Klopp: Liverpool “not 500 miles away” from Man City’s standard

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Jurgen Klopp remains bullish on his Liverpool’s credentials as one of the Premier League’s top-four sides title challengers this season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

While everyone else might be writing off the Reds due to their propensity for defensive disasters on an every-game basis, Klopp refuses to concede that a gap of “500 miles” exists between his side and Manchester City, the early-days runaway leaders of the 2017-18 season — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t compare City with us, but I think everyone can see we are not 500 miles away. But they fly. It was a very decisive day when we lost 5-0. Dealing with a 5-0 defeat is not the easiest thing. We didn’t lose confidence but we were not that fluent afterwards and it was not like we could close our eyes and finish [thinking about it]. They did exactly the opposite. I saw the Stoke goals, you see the shot from Fernandinho and you think, ‘If it works, it works even like this.’ They are a fantastic team and we don’t have to compare, but it starts so early again with us having to apologize for the season so far because one team is flying.”

“Their way of football I would say is not something we are too far away from but to be as clinical as they have been so far? We weren’t.

“That’s the thing. We are still in the race, not with City in the moment because they have I don’t how many points, and I don’t say already that we should only fight for a top-four place. Performance-wise we are a team that should be there but now we have to get the results.”

[ TACTICS SESSION: Inside the brilliant mind of Kevin De Bruyne ]

All due respect to Klopp and Liverpool, the league table says City currently have 25 points (having played one game more), while Liverpool have 13. That’s not a difference of 500 points, but taking into account not only results but performances, it might as well be.

Ligue 1: Falcao, Balde score to keep Monaco close to PSG

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PARIS (AP) French champion Monaco got back to winning ways with a 2-0 home win against Caen on Saturday.

Monaco lost three and drew one of its previous four games in all competitions. But coach Leonardo Jardim’s side was largely in control against a Caen side that started brightly and faded after Keita Balde’s opening goal and first for Monaco.

“It was important to win, to get a bit of confidence back,” Jardim said. “We’ve been working hard and the players were very serious today.”

Captain Radamel Falcao scored his league-leading 13th from the penalty spot in the 59th, confidently sending goalkeeper Remy Vercoutre the wrong way.

The win moved second-place Monaco within three points of Paris Saint-Germain, having played one game more. Unbeaten PSG is away at bitter rival Marseille on Sunday.

Falcao’s partnership with teen star Kylian Mbappe was crucial to Monaco’s charge to the league title and the Champions League semifinals last season. Mbappe left to join PSG in a high-profile move — as did several other key players — but Falcao’s new partnership with the unselfish Balde looks a promising one.

“We’ve lost a few players and we need a bit of time, it’s been a bit difficult for us,” Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subasic said. “I hope we can stay at the top of the table and that the young players can shine. We have a lot of quality here.”

Balde has been sharp in his handful of appearances since joining from Lazio in the offseason, but mainly as a link player and a provider.

This time, the Senegal forward finished off the move as he ran onto Thomas Lemar’s perfectly weighted pass into his path, cut across a defender on the edge of the penalty area and slotted the ball into the bottom left corner.

Lemar almost created another goal when his corner was headed against the crossbar by Brazilian defender Jemerson late in the first half.

Falcao put the game beyond doubt from the spot after Slovenian midfielder Jan Repas fouled attacking midfielder Rony Lopes.


After a tricky start to his tenure at Nantes, Italian coach Claudio Ranieri has turned things around.

Nantes beat Guingamp 2-1 at home to move up to third place, extending Ranieri’s unbeaten run to eight matches after losing the first two.

Nantes, which scored through defender Chidozie Awaziem and midfielder Abdoulaye Toure, is just two points behind Monaco.

The 2 Robbies: Terriers Triumph And Chelsea Leave It Late

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe start today’s show off by discussing Huddersfield Town’s surprising win against Manchester United (00:20), Jose Mourinho’s measured post-match interview (03:50), praise Manchester City again (10:30), discuss Sean Dyche’s next move (16:10), analyze that exciting match between Chelsea and Watford (18:30) and finally, weigh in on Slaven Bilic’s future at West Ham United (27:30).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

La Liga: Barca win to maintain lead, but Valencia won’t go away

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona regained a four-point cushion atop the Spanish league with a ho-hum 2-0 win over visiting Malaga and surging Valencia dismissed Sevilla 4-0 at home on Saturday.

Barcelona faced last-placed Malaga in the closing match of the day, with added pressure from second-placed Valencia, which has won five in a row.

Barcelona is unbeaten after starting with seven straight wins and drawing with Atletico Madrid last week.

Seldom-used Gerard Deulofeu opened the scoring for Barcelona after just two minutes, and Andres Iniesta celebrated his first of the season in the second half thanks to a brilliant assist by Lionel Messi.

Defending champion Real Madrid hosts Eibar on Sunday.

Barcelona benefited from a flagrant referee misjudgment to get its go-ahead goal against Malaga. Left back Lucas Digne was allowed to center the ball after it clearly crossed the byline, and Deulofeu acrobatically back-footed it inside the net.

Despite the blow, the visitors got back up and managed to neutralize Barcelona for most of the first half, but lost striker Diego Rolan just before the second period. The Uruguayan import was forced off by injury.

Without Rolan, Malaga lacked bite in its pressure of the home backline, and Barcelona was able to polish ball circulation and find Messi with more frequency.

Messi received a clean pass from defender Javier Mascherano, drew the defense, and dropped a perfect pass for Iniesta, whose shot was deflected by defender Roberto Rosales on its way to the upper left corner.

Malaga surrendered and Barcelona dominated the rest of the way.


Gonzalo Guedes opened the scoring for Valencia near halftime with a majestic strike from outside the box after deftly outmaneuvering two defenders on the chase.

Simone Zaza added his eighth league goal after the break with a spin and low cross shot. Santi Mina came off the bench and scored the third with just five minutes to go, finishing off a speedy counterattack for the hosts.

But the show was all Guedes, and the Portuguese midfielder rounded off his great game with the closer, subtly poking the ball over goalkeeper Sergio Rico in added time.

Sevilla has lost three in a row in all competitions. Managed by Eduardo Berizzo, the team started off red-hot in La Liga but has floundered lately, ranking fifth.