UEFA Champions League

Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

UEFA Champions League: Celtic, Legia Warsaw advance

Leave a comment

We’re one round of matches away from finding out who will face Liverpool, Sevilla, Napoli, Hoffenheim, and Sporting CP in the playoff round of the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League.

The second qualifying round finished Wednesday, with Celtic among the sides advancing to the third round.

The unbeaten Scottish champions battered Linfield 4-0 to win 6-0 on aggregate, with Scott Sinclair scoring twice in the second leg.

[ MORE: Where does Morata rank in PL? ]

Joining Celtic in the second qualifying round is Legia Warsaw, who cruised 9-0 on aggregate over Finland’s IFK Mariehamm.

Familiar UCL names BATE Borisov, Copenhagen, and APOEL Nicosia also won, while Sweden’s Malmo was bounced by Macedonian side Vardar.

Third qualifying round
Nice vs. Ajax
Club Brugge vs. Istanbul Basaksehir
AEK Athens vs. CSKA Moscow
Dynamo Kyiv vs. Young Boys
Steaua Bucuresti vs. Viktoria Plzen
Slavia Parague vs. BATE Borisov
Astana vs. Legia Warsaw
Maribor vs. FH
Copenhagen vs. Vardar
Celtic vs. Rosenborg
Hapoel Be’er Sheva vs. Ludogorets Razgrad
Vittorul Costanta vs. APOEL Nicosia
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Rijeka
Qarabag vs. Sheriff Tiraspol
Partizan Belgrade vs. Olympiacos

UEFA Champions League qualifying draw

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The draw for the first two rounds of UEFA Champions League qualifying has been made in Nyon, Switzerland.

Scottish champions Celtic were among the seeds for the draw as Brendan Rodgers‘ men will arrive in the second qualifying round and face either Northern Irish champs Linfield or SP La Fiorita of San Marino.

Other seeded clubs in the draw include Malmo of Sweden, Rosenberg of Norway and Polish outfit Legia Warsaw.

Below is the draw for the first two rounds of qualifying in full.

The first round games will be played on 27/28 June and 4/5 July. The second round games will be played on 11/12 July and 18/19 July.

Champions League first qualifying round

Vikingur (Faroe Isles) v Trepca ’89 (Kosovo)

Hibernians (Malta) v Tallinn (Estonia)

Alashkert (Armenia) v Santa Coloma (Andorra)

The New Saints v Europa (Gibraltar)

Linfield v SP La Fiorita (San Marino)

Champions League second qualifying round

Group 1

Apoel (Cyprus) v Dudelange (Luxembourg)

Zalgiris (Lithuania) v Ludogorets Razgrad (Bulgaria)

Qarabag (Azerbaijan) v Samtredia (Georgia)

Partizan (Serbia) v Budućnost Podgorica (Montenegro)

Hibernians (Malta) or FCI Tallinn (Estonia) v Salzburg (Austria)

Group 2

Sheriff (Moldova) v Kukes (Albania)

Astana (Kazakhstan) v Spartaks Jurmala (Latvia)

BATE Borisov (Belarus) v Alashkert (Armenia) or FC Santa Coloma (Andorra)

Zilina (Slovakia) v Copenhagen (Denamrk)

Hapoel Beer-Sheva (Israel) v Budapest Honvéd (Hungary)

Rijeka (Croatia) v The New Saints or Europa (Gibraltar)

Group 3

Malmo (Sweden) v Vardar (Macedonia)

Zrinjski (Bosnia and Herzegovina) v Maribor (Slovenia)

Dundalk (Ireland) v Rosenborg (Norway)

FH Hafnarfjördur (Iceland) v Víkingur (Faroe Islands) or Trepça ’89 (Kosovo)

Linfield or SP La Fiorita (San Marino) v Celtic

IFK Mariehamn (Finland) v Legia Warszawa (Poland)

Pepe’s decade of titles and tantrums at Madrid is over

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Pepe’s title-laden decade as Real Madrid’s bruising enforcer is over.

The 34-year-old Portugal center back has been a key figure for Madrid, one of the most intimidating – and on occasion volatile – defenders in Europe. But he said late Monday that he won’t be around next season.

“It’s clear that I won’t continue at Real Madrid,” Pepe told Spanish radio COPE.

Pepe has won with 15 trophies with the club, including three Champions Leagues and three Spanish league titles. But he has fallen out of favor with coach Zinedine Zidane.

[ MORE: JPW talks with Pulisic ]

A regular starter for most of his career, injuries and Zidane’s preference for Raphael Varane and Nacho Fernandez meant Pepe made only 18 appearances in 2016-17.

“I took the decision in January, when things weren’t going well. I saw that the club’s treatment of me wasn’t ideal,” Pepe said. “The policy of the club is to not offer players over 33 two-year contracts. So they only offered me one. There are ways to negotiate, but that way wasn’t right.”

While Zidane is receiving praise for guiding Madrid to the Champions League-Spanish league double this season, Pepe said he preferred Zidane’s short-lived predecessor, Rafa Benitez.

“I liked Benitez’s sincerity. I identified with him because he is a very direct and honest person,” Pepe said. “What (Zidane) has done with Madrid has been spectacular, but there are things I don’t understand, that I can’t explain. I don’t know why I disappeared from the team.”

Despite losing his important role with Madrid, Pepe proved he was still among the very best defenders on the continent last year when he was Portugal’s most consistent player in its run to the European Championship title in France.

[ MORE: Lukaku knows his next stop ]

Pepe’s contract with Madrid expires on June 30. He has been linked to Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan, and said he had at least one suitor “from England.”

Wherever he goes, he will take his reputation with him.

Pepe almost sabotaged his career during a match in 2009 when he repeatedly kicked and stomped on Getafe midfielder Javier Casquero while he was on the ground. Pepe was given a 10-match ban for the rampage.

Pepe managed to control his emotions during his final seasons with Madrid, but the Casquero incident and several other sendings-off will continue to haunt him.

“When I arrived, I defended Real Madrid tooth and nail. It was a difficult position to play. We center backs had to cover a lot of ground, and we had to be very physical with the opposing strikers,” he said. “What happened against Getafe marked my career, it defined me in Spain. People were left with that image, and what I did was very ugly.”

Even so, Pepe said he will take the good with the bad when he leaves Madrid.

“I am very proud of my years spent at this club, giving it my heart and soul,” Pepe said. “I finished my time at Real Madrid giving it all I had.”

Zidane goes from rookie manager, to elite, in 17 months

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

CARDIFF, Wales (AP) Not a bad start for Zinedine Zidane.

Only 18 months into his first head coaching job, the France great is lifting his fifth trophy with Real Madrid.

Zidane managed the Spanish club to a second successive Champions League crown with a commanding 4-1 win over Juventus on Saturday, adding to triumphs in the Spanish league, the Club World Cup, and the European Super Cup.

He became the first coach to win back-to-back titles in the Champions League era.

“If you had told me that I would have won all of this as a coach, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Zidane said. “I’m happy, I’m incredibly satisfied.”

As a player, he was in two consecutive Champions League finals with Juventus, losing both times, including to Madrid in 1998. He finally won the Champions League as a Madrid player in 2002, scoring an amazing volley in the final against Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow, Scotland.

One of Madrid’s greatest players, Zidane was an assistant to Carlo Ancelotti when Madrid won the Champions League in 2014.

After a stint guiding Madrid B, Zidane replaced coach Rafa Benitez when the team was struggling in early 2016, and quickly got it back on track.

He used different formations and successfully resorted to rotating his players to keep them fresh at the important moments of the season, including Cristiano Ronaldo, who was rested like never before. Ronaldo scored twice in the final, finishing the season with 16 goals in his last 10 games.

Zidane has only one year left on his contract, but is widely expected to remain at the team’s helm.

“Now we have to enjoy all of this,” he said. “Then we will get some rest and later we will start thinking about next season.”

VIDEO: Real Madrid celebrates 12th European title back in Spain

Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) Real Madrid is celebrating its 12th European Cup with its fans back in the Spanish capital.

The team is being feted by Madrid’s regional government and town hall, before heading to meet thousands of fans gathered at a large square in the city center. The team will then return to its Santiago Bernabeu stadium for more festivities that should last well into the night.

Madrid beat Juventus 4-1 on Saturday in the final in Cardiff, Wales, becoming the first team to win back-to-back titles in the Champions League era.

Two weeks ago Madrid celebrated its first Spanish league title in five years.

With its third European title in four seasons, coach Zinedine Zidane has re-established Madrid as the premier team on the continent.