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International friendlies: Isco tortures Argentina; VAR at Wembley

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There were some high-profile friendlies across Europe on Tuesday, with a major Messi-less blowout of Argentina and a VAR-inspired controversy at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Pogba stars for France ]

England 1-1 Italy

VAR is in focus after Italy grabbed a late equalizer from the spot following an incident between Burnley’s James Tarkowski and Fiorentina’s Federico Chiesa.

Tarkowski landed on Chiesa’s foot, and the Italian hit the deck. It was a penalty but made far worse by the fact that VAR is what gave the kick and that Chiesa rolled around a bit. Lorenzo Insigne finished his chance.

To be fair, England had gone ahead on a bit of legal trickery, using a quick restart to send Jamie Vardy in on Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Spain 6-1 Argentina

Lionel Messi gets unfair grief from some for his record with Argentina — Messi has played 27 games for Argentina since the start of 2015. They’ve lost three of those, and two were in PKs — and the Atomic Flea’s absence in Spain was glaring for the visitors.

Isco had a hat trick, while Diego Costa, Thiago Alcantara, and Iago Aspas also scored as Spain flummoxed La Albiceleste with the exception of Nicolas Otamendi’s 39th minute goal.

Germany 0-1 Brazil

It’s only a small measure of revenge from 7-0, but Gabriel Jesus‘ goal ended the Germans’ long unbeaten run. Jesus scored a diving header to hand Joachim Low’s side its first loss in 23 matches.

Elsewhere
Russia 1-3 France — RECAP
Switzerland 6-0 Panama
Hungary 0-1 Scotland
Japan 1-2 Ukraine — RECAP
Armenia 0-1 Lithuania

Alonso, Pedro have Morata’s back despite Spain omission

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Alvaro Morata having his troubles keeping his spot in the Chelsea lineup, and his omission from the Spain squad has a couple of his teammates speaking up on his behalf.

Marcos Alonso, himself called up to Spain, and Pedro (not called up) have Morata’s back after the big striker scored at the weekend in FA Cup action.

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Alonso admitted that Morata was less than pleased to miss the call-up so close to the World Cup.

“Alvaro wasn’t happy,” Alonso said. “He has gone through a difficult few months with a back injury. He is now 100 per cent and the other day he scored.He is a very important player for us. I hope he will do well from here until the end of the season and he gets to go to the World Cup.”

It’s not like Morata hasn’t performed for Spain; The 25-year-old has 13 goals in 23 caps for La Furia Roja.

But Spain coach Julen Lopetegui has opted for just four traditional strikers, with Chelsea outcast Diego Costa leading the way in caps (16) and goals (6). Also in the squad: Celta Vigo’s Iago Aspas (7 and 3), Valencia’s Rodrigo (3 and 1), and Real Madrid’s Lucas Vasquez (3 and 0).

Pedro pointed to Morata’s goal against Leicester City as a milemarker, via ChelseaFC.com.

“I’m very happy for Alvaro to score again and hopefully that will give him the confidence to score more. Alvaro is a very good player and an important part of our team. It’s important for him to score and to help the side and hopefully he can continue to do that until the end of the season.He had a back injury but now he’s in a very good condition and it’s a good time for him. I think his back is perfect now and hopefully he can keep scoring, because we all know just how good he is.’

Morata has been on the rise for several seasons, but hasn’t performed at a consistent level in his last three seasons at Juventus, Real Madrid, and Chelsea.

He had more of a playmaking streak at Juve, but has been a straight-up target man for both Real and Chelsea. His 13 goals and five assists certainly aren’t poor, but Antonio Conte clearly expected more from the Spaniard. Will his confidence be boosted before the end of the season?

Dembele returns for Barcelona in 1-1 draw at Celta in Copa

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Ousmane Dembele made his return from a long injury layoff as a second-half substitute in Barcelona’s 1-1 draw at Celta Vigo in the Copa del Rey on Thursday.

The 20-year-old France forward ruptured a thigh tendon in his left leg on Sept. 16 in his third appearance with the team after his transfer set a record for the Spanish club.

His move from Borussia Dortmund in the summer could potentially cost nearly 150 million euros ($180 million) as Barcelona seeks to fill the void in its attack left by Neymar after he forced his exit to Paris Saint-Germain.

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Dembele went on in the 72nd minute for reserve team striker Jose Arnaiz, who opened the scoring. Dembele took over as Barcelona’s center forward, but offered little more than a shot that drew a save from goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez in the 78th.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde fielded a starting 11 with few regular starters, allowing Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta to have extra rest, tacked onto the end of the short winter break.

Arnaiz struck for Barcelona in the 15th minute when he drilled in a low cross from Andre Gomes, who started the counterattack by recovering possession. It was the 22-year-old Arnaiz’s third goal in three cup matches this season for Barcelona.

Celta forward Pione Sisto leveled in the 31st after a long team buildup that appeared to have finished in a shot by Iago Aspas that hit the post. But the ball ricocheted off the woodwork and the leg of goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen before falling to Sisto, who fired it over the goalkeeper from a tight angle.

Denis Suarez missed a great chance for Barcelona in the 58th when Nelson Semedo found him arriving all alone at the far post, and Sergio Busquets hit the crossbar with a shot from distance moments later.

Barcelona’s unbeaten streak reached 26 straight matches.

Celta also held Barcelona to a 2-2 draw at Camp Nou in the Spanish league last month.

UEFA World Cup qualifying: Gylfi stars for Iceland; Kolarov leads Serbia (video)

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Spain and Serbia moved to almost assure places in the 2018 World Cup, while Group I remains as tight as ever.

[ WATCH: Honduras vs. USMNT on Telemundo ]

Here’s where three European groups stand after the final day of qualifying for this international break.

Liechtenstein 0-8 Spain

Spain finishes the break three points ahead of second-place Italy, with a mere 17 goals of differential advantage thanks to braces from Iago Aspas and Alvaro Morata. Sergio Ramos, Isco, David Silva, and an own goal completed the scoring in Vaduz.

Republic of Ireland 0-1 Serbia

Aleksandar Kolarov‘s 55th minute goal means Serbia will finish no lower than the playoffs, and Orlovi would need to really fall apart to miss out on Russia.

 

Iceland 2-0 Ukraine

The darlings of the EURO have joined Croatia on the most points in Group I following a brace from Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Turkey 1-0 Croatia

Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun has Group I quite congested after scoring the lone goal in this one. Turkey and Ukraine have 14 points, two points behind Croatia and Iceland.

Opponents remaining:
Croatia – vs. Finland, at Ukraine
Iceland – at Turkey, vs. Kosovo
Turkey – vs. Iceland, at Finland
Ukraine – at Kosovo, vs. Croatia

Elsewhere
Austria 1-1 Georgia
Moldova 0-2 Wales
Italy 1-0 Israel
Macedonia 1-1 Albania
Kosovo 0-1 Finland

UEL PREVIEW: Manchester United heads to Celta Vigo

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Balaidos is the scene for Thursday’s UEFA Europa League semifinal first leg between Celta Vigo and Manchester United, and the visitors received welcome injury news this week.

It’s expected the headline would be Paul Pogba any time the influential midfielder is part of the returning group, but given United’s bare bones center back corps it’s just as notable that Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones trained ahead of Thursday’s match.

Celta’s attack is led by a pair of Premier League outcasts in Iago Aspas (24 goals) and John Guidetti (8), and manager Eduardo Berizzo rested both this weekend in a 3-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao.

While the home fans wouldn’t have enjoyed that, Aspas and Guidetti will be fresh to tangle with, presumably, Smalling and Bailly at the back.

Celta won’t be heading back to Europe next season unless it wins the UEL, with the club sitting 11th in La Liga’s table. And form isn’t exactly good for Celta, winless in four overall and on a three-match losing streak (albeit at less than full strength this weekend, as stated).

United won’t be pleased at having dropped points against Swansea City this weekend, but the draw did stretch its club record unbeaten run to 25 matches.

But will they be too tired?

“We had too many problems, to many players absent – because of that, we had players that had to play 750 or 800 minutes of football and we paid the price. We played against fresh teams and were in accumulation. At this moment, the perspective is different, because the Europa League becomes even more important for us. It’s good to have three players back that give us more options.”

Celta also played nine matches in April, so don’t expect any tears of pity coming from the home dugout.