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Celtic beats Hearts to secure Scottish league title

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A hat-trick by former Manchester City winger Scott Sinclair has given Celtic a 5-0 win over rivals Hearts, and in the process securing a sixth straight Scottish League title, one that was never truly in doubt.

Celtic’s win moved them a massive 22 points ahead of second-placed Aberdeen, meaning they are mathematically secure.

It has been, by all accounts, a successful season for the Scottish club. Brendan Rodgers‘ squad made the group stage of the Champions League, and although they finished winless in a very difficult group, they were pesky enough to earn three draws, including two against Manchester City. They have dropped just four points all season in league play and currently own a league goal differential of +58 with still eight matches to go. They plucked 20-year-old striker Moussa Dembele from Fulham for free, and pushed him to 17 league goals and 32 overall this season.

“My job when I came in was to win it in the best way we possibly could,” said Rodgers after the game. “We have had many outstanding performances but we have only just begun because there’s still an awful lot of development in this team. That’s the real exciting part.”

World Cup qualifiers: Wales in trouble; Buffon hits 1000

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Friday’s matches mark the midway point of the main round of qualifying in UEFA, and the tables remain tight near the top of Groups D and G.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Group I, however, is seeing some distance between first and second thanks to Croatia’s result versus Ukraine.

Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales

Neil Taylor was sent off in the 69th minute for Wales, whose World Cup hopes are in trouble.

Seamus Coleman was stretchered off after the tackle, with a scary-looking injury that will leave Everton fans sick in more ways than one. Coleman’s leg was broken, and left dangling by the challenge.

Ireland couldn’t take advantage of the sending off, and failed in a bid to overtake Serbia for first in Group D. The Irish trail on goal differential, and will host Serbia on Sept. 5.

But Wales will rue the result more, remaining four points back of second-place Ireland. Chris Coleman’s side drops a point behind Austria as well, and will not have Taylor or Gareth Bale (card accumulation) in its next match. That comes against leaders Serbia.

Italy 2-0 Albania

Daniele De Rossi scored a 12th minute penalty kick won by Andrea Belotti, and Ciro Immobile scored late to provided the goals in Gianluigi Buffon’s 1000th appearance for club and country. Fittingly, it ended in a clean sheet. The match was briefly delayed after flares were thrown onto the field.

Spain 4-1 Israel

David Silva, Vitolo, and Diego Costa stakes the Spaniards to a three-goal lead, with Lior Refaelov ruining David De Gea‘s clean sheet with 11 minutes to play. Isco scored the match’s final goal.

Spain remains atop Group G on goal differential, eight better than second place Italy. Israel is four points behind both.

Croatia 1-0 Ukraine

Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic’s 38th minute goal was enough for the hosts, and Croatia is now five points clear of Ukraine and three above Iceland midway through qualifying.

Elsewhere
Austria 2-0 Moldova — RB Leipzig’s Sabitzer nabs winner
Liechtenstein 0-3 Macedonia — Ilija Nestorovski bags brace
Kosovo 1-2 Iceland — Sigurdsson PK the match winner
Georgia 1-3 Serbia — Mitrovic, Tadic lead the way
Turkey 2-0 Finland — Brace for Cenk Tosun

Zlatan hat-trick sees Man United past St. Etienne 3-0

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It wasn’t exactly how Zlatan Ibrahimovic – he with a flair for the dramatic – drew it up, but he’ll take it.

Zlatan scored a hat trick as Manchester United snuck by St. Etienne 3-0 in the first leg of their Europa League matchup at Old Trafford. The French side had a number of good chances in the first half, but couldn’t capitalize to draw level, and they faded in the second half as the English club pushed them.

The star Manchester United striker delivered a close-range free-kick that clipped a defender on its way through the wall and trickled into the back of the net for the opener just 15 minutes in. The initial foul was contentious, as Zlatan looked to seek out contact to earn the set-piece.

Zlatan picked out the second as well, but he didn’t have to do any of the hard work. Marcus Rashford burst down the left past numerous green shirts, and delivered a pinpoint low ball across the face of goal to an unmarked Ibrahimovic who simply tapped home the ball.

Paul Pogba was bright throughout the match, and he nearly had United’s second on the hour mark when he undressed Jordan Veretout with a brilliant spin move and ripped a shot that beat goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier but beat the post. Pogba again came close (and probably should have scored) as Daley Blind delivered an exquisite free-kick right to the head of Pogba at the far post, but he couldn’t get the header down, instead clanging the crossbar.

St. Etienne had its best chance in the 73rd minute as substitute Nolan Roux chipped a one-on-one opportunity with United goalkeeper Sergio Romero over the crossbar with nobody else to challenge the shot. Zlatan scored his second goal shortly after.

The match pitted Paul Pogba against his brother Florentin, but it was the Manchester United star who had the better of his brother on the day as Florentin was substituted off with 12 minutes to go due to injury. Zlatan’s final came late on as he was bundled over in the box softly, and he buried the chance from the spot to put the Red Devils through without a doubt.

UEFA Europa League preview: Mourinho eyes more hardware, Spurs to Belgium

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The battle for Pogba family bragging rights just so happens to be Jose Mourinho’s next step in a quest for lots of laurels at Manchester United.

Sure Mourinho won the Charity Shield to start the season, but the Man Utd boss is within a win of the EFL Cup, and in the final 16 of both the FA Cup and Europa League competitions.

Yeah he’s won them all before, but Mourinho would love clinching an automatic Champions League berth for next size by winning the Europa League.

[ MORE: Bayern 5-1 Arsenal | 3 things ]

The next step to that is Saint-Etienne, who visits Old Trafford on Thursday. The Ligue 1 side is more than a story line involving Florentin Pogba going up against little brother Paul Pogba of the Red Devils; You’ll remember Jordan Veretout and Henri Saivet from brief Premier League stints.

But, yes, the focus is on the Pogba family, including the matriarch according to Mourinho:

“I think it’s a nice destiny. I think only Mum Pogba is in a little bit of trouble, which is normal. It’s difficult for the lady to choose. It’s not difficult, it’s impossible for her to choose. I know from Paul that the mum wants a draw but next week one son will be happy and another one will be sad.”

Still, United will be expected to advance to the next round, as will fellow Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur.

Spurs are coming off a disappointing performance at Liverpool last weekend, and now visit Belgium for a match-up with KAA Gent. Captained by Nana Asare and coached by Hein Vanhaezebrouck, Gent will hope to keep Spurs off the scoreboard at home before a trip to London.

Other highlights on the schedule include Roma’s trip to Villarreal and Fiorentina’s visit to USMNT wideman Fabian Johnson and Borussia Monchengladbach.

Full schedule of Thursday’s first legs

11 a.m. EDT
Krasnodar vs. Fenerbahce

1 p.m. EDT
Alkmaar vs. Lyon
Astra Giurgiu vs. Genk
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Fiorentina
Rostov vs. Sparta Prague
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Copenhagen
Celta Vigo vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Gent vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Olympiacos vs. Osmanlispor

3:05 p.m. EDT
Manchester United vs. Saint-Etienne
Anderlecht vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Villarreal vs. Roma
PAOK vs. Schalke
Hapoel Be’er Sheva vs. Besiktas
Athletic Bilbao vs. Apoel Nicosia
Legia Warsaw vs. Ajax

Swansea loses Dyer for season with Achilles injury

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It’s been mostly good news since Paul Clement took over at Swansea City, so this is a departure in tone for the Welsh side.

Nathan Dyer is out for the year.

Dyer tore his Achilles tendon seven minutes into Sunday’s win over Leicester City, a victory that boosted Swans into 15th place. Swansea is four points clear of the drop zone.

[ MORE: Conte v Mourinho brewing ]

Dyer joins Jefferson Montero as long-term injuries on the wing for Swansea, which has Luciano Narsingh and Jordan Ayew among its wing options.

Dyer won a PL title on loan at Leicester City last season, and missed eight matches with an ankle injury earlier this season.

From SwanseaCity.net:

A scan today revealed that the 29-year-old has ruptured the Achilles tendon in his left ankle.
It means Dyer, who won a Premier League medal on loan at Leicester last season, will have to undergo surgery in due course to cure the problem.
Dyer is 29, and returning from an achilles injury is no picnic, especially for a speed merchant. All our best to the Premier League vet.