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VAR problems causing major headache for Bundesliga

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BERLIN (AP) Accusations of manipulation and incompetence have dogged the Bundesliga’s trial of the video assistant referee this season, forcing the German soccer federation to act quickly to pacify angry team officials.

The DFB dismissed Hellmut Krug as head of its VAR project this week after tabloid claims he influenced two key decisions in a game between Schalke, his hometown club, and visiting Wolfsburg on Oct. 28.

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Lutz Michael Froehlich, the head of the federation’s refereeing department, will take over.

Krug and Marco Fritz, the video assistant operating in Cologne that day last month, denied the allegations, and the DFB said it was impossible for supervisors to intervene during games. But the federation evidently felt a fresh start was needed after weeks of controversy since VAR started this season.

“The pilot phase of the video assistant has relentlessly exposed problems that have long existed in some areas and must now be finally resolved,” league president Reinhard Rauball said on Tuesday.

VAR was supposed to help referees avoid mistakes and ensure fairness in games, but even at the start there were technical problems that hindered video assistants’ ability to make the right calls in Cologne, where they sit for games.

Video assistants were forced to make offside decisions without the aid of computer-generated lines because of a flaw in the technology.

Not all video-assisted decisions have been clear-cut and there have been other controversies, too. Cologne felt particularly aggrieved over a goal scored by Borussia Dortmund in their game in September, awarded after video consultation despite referee Felix Brych blowing his whistle before the ball crossed the line – signaling a break in play.

Not using VAR has also led to anger and frustration. Stuttgart was the victim last Saturday, when Dzenis Burnic was sent off early in its 3-1 loss in Hamburg with his second yellow card. Referee Guido Winkmann acknowledged after the game that it was unjust decision.

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“It’s a game-deciding decision after 12 minutes that’s totally false,” said Stuttgart coach Hannes Wolf, who blasted the video assistant’s inability to get involved. “The person in Cologne can’t say anything. I find that ridiculous, that there’s someone there professionally who’s not allowed say anything. It doesn’t make any sense.”

At the start of the season, the DFB said the technology was only to be used “when the referee on the pitch has made a clear wrong decision or missed a decisive incident” around goals scored, penalties or free kicks, or during substitutions.

Kicker magazine, however, reported that the federation wrote on Oct. 25 to the clubs saying VAR had also been used in other instances since the fifth round of games, a so-called “corrective course” over which the clubs had not been informed.

“The whole communication from the DFB is catastrophic at the moment,” Borussia Moenchengladbach sporting director Max Eberl said. “If you have a test phase and want to change the whole system, then that’s fair enough. But everyone should also know about it.”

Fans are also upset, frustrated by the breaks in games while referees consult monitors on the sidelines, then by goals reversed after celebrations, or other decisions going against their teams – even when the decisions are technically correct.

The DFB has had other problems with its referees, too. Manuel Graefe was reprimanded last week for making allegations of nepotism and a lack of transparency against Krug and Herbert Fandel, the chairman of the referees committee, when it came to selection for games.

“The two of them threw together the referee list how they wanted it,” Graefe told Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper in August.

Graefe stuck to his position last month, saying in a personal statement that he wanted more “justice and transparency” and that “the influence of Herbert Fandel and Hellmut Krug unfortunately still means the opposite.”

Now that Krug has been removed, the DFB hopes the attention will return to the soccer, though it will need to sort out the problems affecting VAR before that happens.

“Every product is only as good as how it is processed and communicated,” former referee Markus Merk said.

Wigan player races off for son’s birth after scoring 2 goals

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WIGAN, England (AP) It was better than a hat trick.

A player for English soccer team Wigan had a night to remember when he scored his second goal before dashing off the field and to the local hospital, where his girlfriend was in labor.

[ MORE: Chelsea advances to UCL Round of 16 after win over Qarabag ]

A picture of Ryan Colclough holding his new-born baby, Harley, while still in his soccer uniform was shared on social media by Wigan chairman David Sharpe.

Colclough said his father, sitting in the stands on Tuesday for Wigan’s 3-0 win over Doncaster in the second division, “gave me the action that the waters had broken,” but he didn’t want to come off until the ball was out of play.

“My head was a little bit battered, but I went and scored, looked at the manager and he said we’ll bring you off now,” Colclough said Wednesday of his 58th-minute goal, which he celebrated by pretending to rock a baby. “I came off and was straight down the tunnel, grabbed my keys and my phone, and went to hospital.”

Colclough had visited the midwife that day, and was told the baby was unlikely to arrive for “another couple of days.”

Lille suspends coach Marcelo Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) French club Lille has provisionally suspended coach Marcelo Bielsa following a string of poor results in the top tier.

[ MORE: Basel stuns Man United late to keep UCL hopes alive ]

The northern side said in a statement that Bielsa has been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club.” Lille did not elaborate.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but has failed to make the club competitive again, with the team second to last after 13 matches.

The 2 Robbies podcast: PL sides in the UCL, Pulis sacking and more

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In today’s Euro Pod Edition, the Robbies breakdown the latest Champions League action. Man United lose at Basel, Chelsea cruise at Qarabag, Spurs impress against Dortmund, Man City continue to win, Liverpool surrender a 3-goal lead against Sevilla. Plus, the guys weigh in on the Oumar Niasse ban for diving and the Tony Pulis sacking.

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:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Europa League preview: Arsenal looks to wrap up Group H and more

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While several teams have already booked their place in the knockout phase, the Europa League reaches its penultimate round on Thursday with many big matches in hand.

[ MORE: Yannick Bolasie finally returns to Everton training ]

Of the two Premier League sides in the competition, only one will advance to the Round of 32, as Arsenal have all but assured themselves of the top spot in Group H. The Gunners can do so tomorrow with a win over Koln or a Red Star Belgrade defeat.

The other end of the spectrum features Everton, who has already been eliminated from reaching the next round after acquiring just one point in its first four matches.

European giants AC Milan can lock up a spot in the knockout phase on Thursday despite the club’s ongoing struggles in Serie A, while fellow Italian side Atalanta can move a step closer to the Round of 32 in Group E along with Lyon.

Here’s the full rundown of Thursday’s UEL matches.

Astana vs. Villareal — 11 a.m. ET
Konyaspor vs. Marseille — 1 p.m. ET
Rosenborg vs. Real Sociedad — 1 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. Vitesse — 1 p.m. ET
Viktoria Plzen vs. Steaua Bucuresti — 1 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv vs. Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit vs. Vardar — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Vitoria — 1 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao vs. Hertha Berlin — 1 p.m. ET
BATE vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Ostersund vs. Zorya — 1 p.m. ET
Koln vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET
Nice vs. Zulte Waregem — 1 p.m. ET
Lugano vs. Beer-Sheva — 1 p.m. ET
Ludogorets vs. Istanbul — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga vs. Hoffenheim — 3:05 p.m. ET
AEK vs. Rijeka — 3:05 p.m. ET
AC Milan vs. Austria Wien — 3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. Apollon — 3:05 p.m. ET
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Slavia Praha — 3:05 p.m. ET
Sheriff vs. Zlin — 3:05 p.m. ET
Partizan vs. Young Boys — 3:05 p.m. ET
Skenderbeu vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:05 p.m. ET
Everton vs. Atalanta — 3:05 p.m. ET