Nicklas Bendtner

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Javier Mascherano thanks Nicklas Bendtner for changing his career

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Javier Mascherano has won 13 trophies at Barcelona and is highly regarded as one of the most talented and well-respected footballers in the world.

One man Mascherano thanks for his success is…Nicklas Bendtner?

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In an interview with The GuardianMascherano looked back on one tackle he made on Bendtner in 2011, and how it changed his career.

At the time, Bendter was playing for Arsenal. Barcelona held a 4-3 aggregate lead over the Gunners in the last 16 of Champions League play, when Bendtner moved in on goal in stoppage time with a chance to advance.

Mascherano, who at the time was a midfielder, made a crucial sliding tackle to block Bendtner’s shot, and Barcelona won the match. They would go on to win the Champions League title that season.

[ MORE: John Terry to miss Chelsea’s FA Cup match vs. Man City through injury ]

After that challenge, Mascherano transitioned from midfield to defense and has been a first-choice center-back at Barca ever since.

That tackle marked a before and after.

Honestly, after five, six months I thought it was unlikely I’d be here long: my characteristics seemed to go against everything Barcelona stood for. That moment marked me.

If Bendtner had controlled the ball and gone the other way, he’d have got away from me and … uffff! … I don’t know what would’ve happened. But it happened the way it happened and we ended up winning that Champions League. Things worked out well.

Mascherano has developed into a top defender for Barcelona, continuously making timely tackles and using vision from his midfield days to spread the ball around the pitch. He is also extremely versatile, one of the standout players for Argentina in the 2014 World Cup as a midfielder.

Thanks, Nicklas.

Wolfsburg, PSG knock off Bayern Munich, Lyon in German, French Super Cups (video)

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A roundup of Saturday’s Super Cup action in Germany and France:

Wolfsburg 1-1 (5-4 PKs) Bayern Munich

The German domestic season is off and running after last year’s runaway Bundesliga champions, Bayern Munich, and German Cup winners, Wolfsburg, faced off in the German Super Cup at the Volkswagen Arena in Wolfsburg.

Arjen Robben opened the scoring for the three-time defending league champions, when he hammered home a loose ball from close range in the 49th minute. Douglas Costa broke down the left wing and whipped in a cross to the near post, where goalkeeper Koen Casteels couldn’t hold the ball and spilled it inside his six-yard box. Robben and Robert Lewandowski both pounced quickly, but the Dutchman was first to the ball and rifled his left-footed shot inside the near post.

With little more than a minute left in regular time, Wolfsburg pulled level through Nicklas Bendtner’s delicate finish of Kevin De Bruyne’s cross. The Belgian playmaker surged down the right wing and sent his cross to the near post, where Bendtner did well to lift his first-time effort over a sprawling Manuel Neuer.

Tied after 90 minutes, the game went to a penalty kick shootout where the defending Cup champions went a perfect five-for-five and capitalized on Bayern’s second spot kick, taken by Xabi Alsono, which was saved by Casteels’ trailing foot.

Last year’s one-two finishers in the Bundesliga next meet, in league play, on Sept. 22.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Bundesliga coverage | Ligue 1 | Premier League season previews ]

Paris Saint-German 2-0 Lyon

Elsewhere, at Stade Saputo in Montreal, last year’s Ligue 1 champions, Paris Saint-Germain, continued their domestic domination with a 2-0 victory over last year’s second-place finishers in Ligue 1 (PSG won the league, French Cup and French League Cup), Lyon.

Ivorian right back Serge Aurier opened the scoring with a header from close range in the 11th minute. Following a free kick in the attacking third, David Luiz remained forward and recovered the loose ball inside Lyon’s penalty area. Luiz crossed from the endline and Aurier took it from there.

Edinson Cavani tacked on the insurance six minutes later when he hammered home the rebound from Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s initial shot. Ibrahimovic got behind the Lyon defense down the right, fired a powerful effort on Anthony Lopes’s goal. Lopes made the save but watched helplessly as it bounced to Cavani eight yards from goal. The Uruguayan roofed his first-time blast and the scoring was complete.

Europa League roundup: Napoli, Sevilla, Dynamo Kiev hold QF leads after Leg 1

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We’ve spent the last two days watching the brilliance that is the Champions League quarterfinals, and while the Europa League’s round of eight perhaps offers slightly less intrigue — OK, it’s a lot less — the soccer being played in Europe’s second-tier club competition is still equally brilliant.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s EL coverage | UCL ]

Wolfsburg 1-4 Napoli

Wolfsburg, perhaps the darlings of this year’s Europa League thanks to Kevin De Bruyne’s standout performances since leaving Chelsea, but goodness did Napoli put a hurting on them at the Volkswagen Arena in Wolfsburg.

The Neopaltians jumped all over Die Wolfe early on and never looked back. Gonazlo Higuain opened the scoring with 15 minutes on the clock, a quick-reflex finish past Diego Benaglio after chesting the ball down with a defender draped all over his back. Marek Hamsik doubled the lead eight minutes later when Higuain’s through ball cut the Wolfsburg defense in half and put the Slovak playmaker in on goal.

[ UCL RECAPS: PSG 1-3 Barca | Porto 3-1 Bayern | Atletico 0-0 Real | Juve 1-0 Monaco ]

Jose Callejon pounced on a poor pass inside Wolfsburg’s defensive third and crossed for Hamsik at the top of the six-yard box, where he netted his second goal of the game with 25 minutes left in the game. It got even worse for Wolfsburg in the 76th minute, when Manolo Gabbiadini headed home from six yards out, making Napoli’s lead 4-0 on four away goals.

Nicklas Bendtner, who apparently “plays” for Wolfsburg now, grabbed a simple consolation goal when he turned home Ivan Perisic’s cross in the 80th minute, but with a three-goal deficit to erase in the away leg, Dieter Hecking’s side need at least four goals (and a clean sheet) to advance.

Sevilla 2-1 Zenit St. Petersburg

Aleksandr Ryazantsev gave the visitors the lead in the 29th minute when he slammed home Sergio Rico’s strong save of his first effort, but Ryazantsev’s powerful shot over the top of Rico was unstoppable from five yards away.

Carlos Bacca scored his 22nd goal of the season (all competitions), equalizing for Sevilla in the 73rd minute with a powerful header from three yards out, and Denis Suarez gave the Spanish side a narrow advantage ahead of the second leg when he hit a stunning volley (below video) from the edge of the penalty area, through traffic and just inside the far post, in the 87th minute.

Dynamo Kyiv 1-1 Fiorentina

Dynamo Kyiv’s Jeremain Lens gave the home side a first-half lead (39th minute) when his right-footed effort from just outside the penalty area took a heavy deflection off the leg of a defender, sending the ball skyward over the head of Fiorentina ‘keeper Neto and quickly back down to find the back of the net.

Dynamo looked destined to carry a one-goal lead into the second leg having not conceded an away goal to Fiorentina, but Khouma Babacar scored with an opportunistic overhead kick (below video) two minutes into second-half stoppage time, grabbing the vital away goal for La Viola and making them the favorites heading into next Thursday’s return leg.

Elsewhere in Europa League

Club Brugge 0-0 Dnipro

Klinsmann’s USMNT struggles, experimentation in friendlies: Does it really matter?

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Here are some educated opinions I think most would agree with:

– The United States men’s national team as constructed is neither a favorite nor a significant threat to win a major tournament with the world’s best teams.

– The United States has not had answers in defense against top-end FIFA competition for a long time.

– The international soccer calendar and community puts an undue emphasis on friendlies regardless of who comprises each team’s roster.

– FIFA rankings are largely for the birds.

So as much as I’ve rolled my eyes as the USMNT’s back line has been foraged for snacks by the likes of Nicklas Bendtner, Robbie Brady and Mark Gonzalez, none of whom will be mistaken for the ghost of Josef Bican, I have to wonder if these losses — 3-2 to Denmark, 3-2 to Chile, 4-1 to Ireland (yuck) — should represent anything other than a concern at the lack of US youth readiness for the big stage.

[ MORE: Klinsmann explains roster, lineup strategy ]

This is not to excuse Jurgen Klinsmann, whose job it is to get the players ready for the big stage, but rather a brief pause from the “We look terrible! We’re slipping down the FIFA board again!” talk that’s filled comment boards and media spaces across the nation.

The fact of the matter is that as much as Jesse Marsch calls for “an identity” and others tear into Klinsmann, we are learning just how unfit or fit some players are for true and important competition headed its way this summer. If Timmy Chandler, John Anthony Brooks or Alfredo Morales look awful in a friendly against Denmark or Switzerland, then they certainly shouldn’t be given the chance to help the States defend its Gold Cup title this summer.

Does any player who played significant minutes as a fixture in a World Cup that Klinsmann is proud of need to prove themselves by leaving their club for this break? Does Mix Diskerud or any other player whose shone for the States recently need to leave their club in speculative friendlies? Chris Wondolowski shared the lead for goals at the 2013 Gold Cup. Does he need to be taken from San Jose to prove he can probably score a goal this summer by working Denmark’s backline for 15 minutes?

Klinsmann has looked largely calm during these matches, if not happy, and while it’s easy to use his quotes in vacuum to lambaste his logic — whatever he says, his team wasn’t close to being good against Denmark — if he’s told his superiors that these matches aren’t about results rather experience, doesn’t that make a bit of sense?

[ MORE: US U-23s thump BNH, 5-2 ]

I’m not saying I have faith in Klinsmann. That’s another story altogether. Nor am I saying you need to enjoy watching young defenders look like Sunderland vs. Southampton late last year. But if the path the side is taking during this and previous breaks is to see whether their young players are ready to play significant roles, I understand that philosophy. I don’t need to see Geoff Cameron, Graham Zusi, Kyle Beckerman or Matt Besler every international break. I do, however, need to know if Alfredo Morales (nope), Ventura Alvarado (too soon to tell) or Greg Garza (maybe) is ready to compete with them for meaningful playing time in a legit competition.

And the fact remains that this was a European-based break during the early stages of the MLS season in a window where Klinsmann has already criticized MLS offseason fitness. Come April and the U.S. hosted ame against Mexico, if Klinsmann is calling in loads of European players like Morales, Tim Ream and Ale Bedoya at a critical juncture in their seasons over Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Perry Kitchen (DC United) and Lee Nguyen (New England), then we’re going to have words.

Of course, all of this feels good on the Saturday between matches. If Morales gets walked around and destroyed by Xherdan Shaqiri come Wednesday because Klinsmann thinks he should get another chance, then maybe we have things to discuss. I kid… mostly.

UEFA fines Malmo $110,000 for “poor pitch” in Champions League, but racism still only worth $11,000

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Swedish club Malmo has been fined $110,000 (100,000 euros) for “poor pitch conditions” during their recent participation in the 2014-15 UEFA Champions League group stage.

[ PREVIEW: EURO 2016 qualifying, this weekend ]

Malmo, who finished fourth in Group A after the double round-robin slate of games against Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Olympiacos, were deemed to have provided a sub-standard playing surface during the club’s three home games at Swedbank Stadium.

$110,000 for some bad grass seems like a ridiculously high number, especially when you consider that UEFA routinely fines clubs amounts closer to $11,000 — one-tenth of Malmo’s fine for a poor playing surface — for instances of in-stadium racism by fans, as they most recently did to Atletico Madrid following a UEFA Youth League game against Manchester City last month.

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Meanwhile, Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner flashes a betting company’s name on his underpants at EURO 2012, and he’s slapped with a $120,000 fine.

The previous facts and numbers are presented without further comment or moral lecture of the obvious, except, Really, UEFA?