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Colombia downs Argentina 2-0 after big Messi miss

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A miserable opening 45 minutes gave way to a more exciting second half, and Roger Martinez came off the bench to win the day with a 71st minute stunner to give Colombia all three points in Bahia, supported by a late cherry on top from Duvan Zapata.

The goal came just minutes after Lionel Messi missed a golden opportunity to give Argentina the lead during a spell of serious possessional domination midway through the second half. Once again, the Argentinian collection of star forwards came up empty, a drought that continues to plague the side in big matches.

The first half, largely, was a physical mess with very few real chances on net. The possession was nearly even between the two sides, neither team registered a shot on target, and there were just five shots overall in the first half, including just one for Argentina.

Early on, Lionel Messi was at the heart of Argentina’s best chance as he delivered a stunning long ball forward for Sergio Aguero, but with David Ospina coming acres out of his net to challenge with a flying karate kick, the offside flag went up to end the chance. Colombia was dealt an early blow as Luis Muriel was forced off with an early thigh injury, replaced by Martinez in a move that would eventually prove critical.

Argentina suffered a near-disaster when Nicolas Otamendi delivered a dangerous back-pass to goalkeeper Franco Armani who sent it right back to his defender with both under heavy pressure, but they escaped just conceding a corner and it came to nothing for Colombia.

After the break, the game opened up a bit but there were still few chances on net. Messi nearly weaved his way through the entire Colombian defense, nutmegging Davinson Sanchez before Wilmar Barrios came in to cut the ball off, but the referee made a controversial decision not to award an illegal back-pass as Barrios then touched back to Ospina who collected in his arms. Instead, he showed a yellow card to Leandro Paredes for dissent after the action arguing his case.

The two teams burst into a scuffle when Messi was hacked down by Juan Cuadrado past the hour mark as Argentina began to grab hold of the game. Cuadrado received a yellow of his own and was withdrawn shortly thereafter. On the hour mark, Messi had a golden opportunity to give Argentina the lead, but as Paredes saw his effort saved, the rebound came to Messi but he headed wide right from point-blank range despite the goal gaping.

Minutes later Colombia took the lead through a simple yet stunning move as Martinez burst down the left and cut inside just outside the top of the penalty area, unleashing a fabulous strike that left a diving Armani with no chance as it buried into the side netting inside the far post.

Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni somehow decided that 31-year-old Matias Suarez was the choice for a last throw of the dice off the bench, choosing the man with two prior international caps over the likes of Paulo Dybala and Lautaro Martinez. Instead, Colombia went down the other end and eviscerated the Argentina defense with a vicious counter down the left as Roger Martinez combined with Jefferson Lerma. The latter crossed to the doorstep and Zapata – who came on just five minutes earlier for Radamel Falcao – somehow beat the napping center-back pairing of German Pezzella and Otamendi.

The win for Colombia gives them an early advantage in Group B, while Argentina can still rescue its situation with matches remaining against Paraguay and Qatar. The loss marks the third in Argentina’s last four competitive matches, with losses to France and Croatia in World Cup play prior to this defeat.

Miami FC makes surprise move to United Soccer League

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The United Soccer League scored an eyebrow raiser on Wednesday when it announced the addition of Miami FC.

Miami purchased the franchise rights of the disbanded Ottawa Fury, and joins the USL Championship for the 2020 season.

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Miami FC owner Riccardo Silva had been an outspoken proponent of promotion and relegation, reportedly offering a $4 billion TV deal to MLS to become an open system. He’s also one of the men who filed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in a bid to force U.S. Soccer to adopt the system.

USL president Jake Edwards has spoken about bringing pro/rel into the league, between the Championship and League One. Adding the club owned by Silva, a powerful voice, begs the idea that there are some big things in the oven.

With the move, Miami FC will have to compete with a Major League Soccer team down the street in Inter Miami. They’ll play in the FIU stadium named after Silva.

Here’s what Miami FC president Paul Dalglish said via a team release:

“The decision to join USL gives us two key things.  First, it gives us a stable platform to further expand our academy program and community work, meaning accessible, inclusive and fun family events that bring all of Miami’s soccer communities together.

“Second, it means we’ll be playing 17 home games at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, providing a fantastic experience for the army of loyal fans that have stood by us. We can’t wait to get started and begin the campaign to our add to our trophy haul.”

It’s a far cry from its roots in the NASL as a buccaneer of professional soccer, but provides stability for a team which has finished first in its last five campaigns spread across three leagues: the NASL, NPSL, and the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA).

Some see pro/rel as an inevitability given FIFA’s rules and a MLS landscape which is now producing an uneven schedule and a number of markets which seek top-tier teams and have the money and audience to support higher tiers.

And at some point, it must be acknowledged that the USL has a number of markets blocked in their pathway to MLS and could emerge as a righteous competitor or fold into a gigantic tiered system. The addition of Miami in a year Major League Soccer is launching Inter Miami is unlikely to be welcomed by MLS commissioner Don Garber.

Meanwhile, Miami FC’s departure means U.S. soccer landscape will certainly turn an eye toward NISA. The nascent league features Atlanta SC, California United, Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC, Los Angeles Force, Michigan Stars, Oakland Roots, San Diego 1904 FC, Stumptown Athletic, the New York Cosmos, and unnamed teams in Connecticut and Providence.

NISA announced that U.S. Soccer’s Board of Directors formally approved Detroit City, Chattanooga, Oakland and Michigan on Wednesday. Detroit and Chattanooga are the two highest-profile grass roots clubs outside the USL and MLS, and widely viewed as bellwethers for independent clubs.

Report: Salzburg star Haland meets with Borussia Dortmund

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Erling Braut Haland is one of the most promising young names in European football, his career trajectory shooting up, up, up after several dynamite performances in the UEFA Champions League.

The Red Bull Salzburg striker, 19, wasn’t in full fitness when his side was bounced from the UCL by Liverpool on Tuesday, but he’d made his presence felt earlier in the competition.

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Haland bagged eight of his 28 season goals in the UCL, including three against Napoli and one against the reigning champion Reds.

Now the Leeds-born Norwegian is eyeing up his next step. Having been linked with Manchester United and his dad’s club Leeds, Haland reportedly flew into Dortmund for a Wednesday meeting with Borussia Dortmund.

Dad, Alf-Inge Haland, played 22 years between Bryne, Nottingham Forest, Leeds United, Manchester City, and Rosseland.

Now should Haland find a new home, it seems awfully likely it would work similar to Christian Pulisic‘s move to Chelsea from Dortmund last season; The twice-capped Norway international could sign for BVB (or another club) and head back to Salzburg to star in the Europa League (he’s cup-tied in the UCL).

Plus, Salzburg would love to give coach Jesse Marsch a full year with the star. They’re unbeaten in league play.

Europa League preview: Injured Arsenal still seeking knockout round berth

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The Europa League got a lot trickier on Wednesday, as it tends to do when UEFA Champions League outcasts transfer to the competition.

Inter Milan, Benfica, Ajax, Club Brugge, Olympiacos, Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, and Red Bull Salzburg will join the competition for knockout stage.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Two of three Premier League sides have already laid claim to places in the next round, Wolves and Manchester United handling their business while Arsenal left its fate in the balance for Thursday’s final group stage match day.

Joining Man United and Wolves as already through to said Round of 32 are Sevilla, APOEL Nicosia, Basel, Sporting Lisbon, LASK, Celtic, Espanyol, Gent, Wolfsburg, Braga, and AZ Alkmaar.

So what hasn’t been decided? Let’s begin with the Gunners.

Arsenal needs just a point from Standard Liege in Belgium on Thursday to advance, although an unlikely Eintracht Frankfurt home loss to Vitoria SC would send a defeated Gunners onto the Round of 32.

Freddie Ljungberg is missing a lot of firepower. Nicolas Pepe is now dinged up, joining Hector Bellerin, Granit Xhaka, Rob Holding, and Dani Ceballos as unavailable.

“But we’ve brought a lot of firepower here, we have younger players here who have played earlier in the group stages, not just now. They’ve been playing the whole time. So it’s a big game and we’re here to get a result. We have a lot of respect for the opponents.”

While Ljungberg’s status as Arsenal boss feels likely to be short-term, another club whose UEL status is up in the air sees its manager looking long-term.

Rangers boss Steven Gerrard is coming off the disappointment of what would’ve been a deserved silverware triumph off an age-old rival, and now immediately has to get his team to bounce back and earn a spot in the next round.

[ MORE: Five UCL match-ups we’d love to see ]

Celtic saved a penalty and scored an offside goal — no VAR — in lifting the Scottish League Cup this weekend in a 1-0 win over Rangers, but the defeated Glaswegians will be buoyed by the news that Gerrard is making progress on an improved deal.

“(Only being here for a couple of years) wasn’t in my thinking, it has been in the thinking of the majority of everyone else – ‘Oh, Rangers is a stepping stone’ or ‘He’s just going there to rehearse for something else.’ It’s a load of nonsense – I’ve come here as this is a big opportunity for me and I have no plans of going anywhere else.”

Rangers (eight points) simply need a point at home against Swiss powers Young Boys, who enter the game one point back of Glasgow’s blue side. Porto is also a point back of Rangers, and they’ll meet last place Feyenoord (five points).

Full Thursday slate

12:55 p.m. ET
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Vitoria
CFR Cluj v. Celtic
LASK v. Sporting Lisbon
Copenhagen v. Malmo
PSV Eindhoven v. Rosenborg
Qarabag v. Dudelange
Standard Liege v. Arsenal
Basel v. Trabzonspor
Dynamo Kiev v. Lugano
APOEL Nicosia v. Sevilla
Rennes v. Lazio
Getafe v. Krasnodar

3 p.m. ET
Rangers v. Young Boys
Wolves v. Besiktas
Espanyol v. CSKA Moscow
Gent v. Oleksandriya
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Porto v. Feyenoord
Ludogorets Razgrad v. Ferencvaros
Slovan Bratislava v. Braga
Roma v. Wolfsberg
Manchester United v. AZ Alkmaar
Wolfsburg v. Saint-Etienne
Partizan Belgrade v. Astana

Five match-ups we’d love to see in the UCL Round of 16

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We know who each UEFA Champions League knockout round contestant can draw in the Round of 16, but some would be juicier than others.

From an American angle, we’ve been deprived of a Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund reunion for now, though we could see a CONCACAF young star duel if Pulisic’s Chelsea draws Alphonso Davies’ Bayern Munich.

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But let’s be honest: That’s simply a subplot for our North American audience. The big intrigue lies elsewhere.

Alas, most of Jose Mourinho’s old employers Chelsea and Real Madrid are unseeded like current club Spurs. Barcelona cannot draw Man City, another beauty.

5. Tottenham Hotspur v. Barcelona — Jose Mourinho and Barcelona have a history, while Spurs are winless in four outings against La Liga’s storied club.

4. Juventus v. Real Madrid — Wouldn’t it be something if Cristiano Ronaldo and his longtime buddies met up in the Round of 16.

3. Manchester City v. Real Madrid — Guardiola v. Zidane, with a heaping helping of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. Pep might not be able to draw Bayern Munich nor Barcelona, but he sure wouldn’t mind tangling with a side who was involved in a number of incredible Clasicos as a player and manager.

2. Liverpool v. Borussia Dortmund — We got Jurgen Klopp against his old Der Klassiker rivals Bayern Munich last season, and it’s only natural that the Reds could match up against Klopp’s former club and maybe future star in Jadon Sancho. The two sides met in the 2015/16 Europa League quarterfinals, but this stage — with Klopp as a UCL reigning champ — would be extra delightful.

1. Juventus v. ChelseaMaurizio Sarri went to Chelsea for one season, won the Europa League over a crosstown rival and came within penalty kicks of upending Man City for the League Cup. The Blues are doing well under Frank Lampard, but an “our guy versus the guy we didn’t like” would be a cigarette-chewing wonder, wouldn’t it?