UEFA World Cup Qualification roundup – England get the help they need

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There were some decisive matches today as Europe’s qualifying for Brazil 2014 is nearing a close.  Many groups have just one or two rounds left, so the races are shaping up.

If you’re unaware of how UEFA’s World Cup qualifying works, there are nine groups of 6 teams each (except one which has 5).  The top team in each group qualifies automatically, and the next highest eight teams then play a two-leg playoff round for four spots.  Thus a total of 13 teams make it to Brazil.

For an up-to-date look at the groups, here’s FIFA’s site.

Portugal 1-0 Russia

Helder Postiga scored early and Portugal withstood a vicious Russia assault down the stretch to take over control of Group F.  The result is massive for Portugal, who were propelled from third to first in the table.  Cristiano Ronaldo and company have 14 points which leads Russia by 2 and Israel by 3.

Montenegro 0-4 Ukraine

A match with huge reverberations for England, the Group H leaders fell when 10-men Ukraine scored a goal against the run of play, and then Montenegro themselves were reduced a man down when Vladimir Vokov received his second yellow in the 74th minute, and then dropped to nine men Savo Pavocevic befell the same fate.  Ukraine doubled their lead through Dnipro Dnipropetrivsk’s Yevhen Konoplyanka to sink the Falcons, and defender Artem Fedetskyy added a third.

England still trails Montenegro by 2 points in the group, but now they will have a game in hand to make up the ground.  Ukraine is one point back of England in third.

Moldova 1-1 Poland

Also helping the Three Lions in Group H, Poland were held to just a point, keeping them 3 back of England.  Borussia Dortmund’s Jakub Blaszczykowski put Poland up early, set up by Robert Lewandowski, but Moldova’s Eugen Sidorenco drew level before the break and they held tight from there.

Austria 2-1 Sweden

In a massive result for Austria, they stayed tight on second place in Group C after defeating Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden.  David Alaba converted a penalty in the 26th minute and Marc Janko doubled the lead just 6 minutes later.  Johan Elmander gave Sweden a lifeline eight minutes before the death but it wasn’t enough.

Germany has a firm grip on Group C with 16 points, but that second spot will be crucial for the team that wants to have a chance in a playoff.  Coming into the match, three teams (Austria, Sweden, and Ireland) were all tied for second with 8 points, but now it’s just Austria and Ireland with 11.

Ireland 3-0 Faroe Islands

A hat trick from LA Galaxy’s very own Robbie Keane also kept Ireland in the hunt for that second spot.  Keane became Ireland’s most capped player in the process. Their goal differential is way less than Austria’s though so they’ll need some outside help to make the playoff round in Group C.

Albania 1-1 Norway

The Norwegians fought from a goal down to grab a valuable point, but still have work to do for a playoff spot in Group E.  The draw gives Norway a 2-point deficit for second place held by Albania, with Iceland sandwiched in between.  Switzerland remain in first place 3 points ahead of Norway.

Iceland 2-4 Slovenia

A heartbreaking result for Iceland, they fell from 2-1 up and could not capitalize on Albania’s misstep, and instead find themselves in a dire position a point down of Albania for second place instead of two up in Group E.  The game started at a blistering pace, with the scoreline 2-2 by the 30th minute before things shut down.  Bostjan Cesar of Serie A’s Chievo Verona was the hero for Slovenia, scoring in the 60th minute to secure the victory, and Rene Krhin gave Slovenia a 2-goal advantage late.

The group is still wide open, with just three points separating the top 4 spots (Switzerland, Albania, Iceland, Norway in that order).

Liechtenstein 1-1 Slovakia

Slovakia rescued a valuable point to keep pressure on Greece for second place in Group G. Jan Durica leveled the match in the 73rd minute to make sure not all was lost.  A loss for Slovakia would have surely ended their hopes for the second spot.

Lithuania 0-1 Greece

A goal from Bologna’s Lazaros Christodoulopoulos allowed Greece to pull away from Slovakia for second place in Group G.  All three points put them three up in second place with a game in hand.  They’re still 3 points behind Bosnia-Herzegovina for first.

Latvia 0-5 Bosnia-Herzegovina

Nothing really to see here. The Group G leaders grabbed an easy 3 points after Latvia’s Aleksandrs Fertovs was sent off in the 10th minute.  Five different goalscorers bagged goals for B-H, including Edin Dzeko who scored the fifth and final goal in the 82nd minute.  They’re now 3 points ahead of Greece.

Belgium 2-1 Serbia

Belgium capitalized on a slipup by Croatia to take sole possession of first place in Group A as they beat third-place Serbia on goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Marouane Fellaini.  De Bruyne’s goal is his third international goal for the Belgians, all coming in qualification for Brazil. For Fellaini it’s his seventh, with the previous one coming against the Americans this week in a friendly.

Croatia 0-1 Scotland

Group A bottomfeeders Scotland are unable to qualify, but they did their best to play the part of spoiler.  Ranked #4 in the world, Croatia were unable to keep pace with Belgium for first place in Group A after Norwich’s Robert Snodgrass scored midway through the first half to lead Scotland to victory.

Czech Republic 0-0 Italy

In a disappointing result for both countries, the Czechs and Petr Cech are all but eliminated now, and Italy have lost their game advantage over second-place Bulgaria in Group B.  Italy do move to 4 points ahead in first, but a win would have wrapped up the group’s top spot.  Already struggling to find a goal, Mario Balotelli was sent off in the 72nd minute after his second yellow. He wasn’t too happy about it.

Finland 1-0 Belarus

Group I, the only 5-team group in the qualification, is pretty much over for the lower teams as Spain and France battle for first and second.  Finland’s win keeps them in the hunt with 8 points, 2 behind France and 3 back of Spain.

UEFA Champions League Wednesday preview: Man City, Spurs debut

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Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur begin their UEFA Champions League campaigns on very different results and with very different vibes.

City is coming off a stunning 3-2 loss to injury-hit Norwich City, and is set up in Ukraine to face Shakhtar Donetsk for the third-straight season, a side which beat Pep Guardiola once in four tries between 2017/18 and 2018/19 in the UCL.

[ MORE: UCL Tues. wrap ]

But on Wednesday, Guardiola’s men are going to carry a similar feel to one of his old Barcelona teams, as Pep seemingly will have Fernandinho pull a Javier Mascherano and drop into the back line.

Yes, Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi are Manchester City’s hopes at center back, now that John Stones has joined Aymeric Laporte on the shelf.

“For me as a manager it’s an incredible challenge,” said Pep Guardiola. “But I believe a lot, people don’t know the spirit and resolve to solve this problem. The players going to come back with Dinho, Eric Garcia, Taylor Harwood-Bellis. … It’s happened, but what we are not going to do is complain. We have to have 11 players on the pitch and I like it, to find a solution. For the players as well to find an incredible step forward.”

Spurs, meanwhile, will simply be trying to build on any momentum gained by a 4-0 demolition of Crystal Palace at the weekend, a win which came after manager Mauricio Pochettino begged his side to “re-focus” after a relatively poor start to the season.

Now a bit more relaxed, Spurs head to Greece as the clear favorites against stingy Olympiacos. These are, after all, the finalists of last season’s tournament.

Pochettino won’t be sleeping on the challenge, from The London Evening Standard:

“They have good players and if we are not focused and don’t take our best game we are going to suffer. But last season we played in the final of Champions League, so it’s normal people think before the game, Tottenham is one step above Olympiacos but in the end you need to show it on the pitch.”

Spurs are one of two early kickoffs on Tuesday.

Full UCL Wednesday schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Galatasaray
Olympiacos v. Tottenham Hotspur

3 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Paris Saint-Germain v. Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid v. Juventus
Dinamo Zagreb v. Atalanta
Bayern Munich v. Red Star Belgrade
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Manchester City

American coach Marsch speaks after landmark Champions League day

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Jesse Marsch made his UEFA Champions League debut on Tuesday, a historic first for not just the Wisconsin native but also his country.

Marsch, 45, oversaw Red Bull Salzburg’s 6-2 demolition of Genk, becoming the first American to win a UCL match as manager.

[ MORE: Champions League Tues. wrap ]

“We knew we were going into the match full of confidence,” he said, via the Salzburg site. “We knew too that we could put in a performance of this quality. I wasn’t pleased with a few situations, such as conceding for 3-1. That shows our incredible mentality though as it prompted us to give a few more percent and immediately score two goals.”

The ex-New York Red Bulls manager and RB Leipzig assistant manager got another three goals from incredible 19-year-old striker Erling Braut Haland, who nows has 17 goals in nine matches this season.

“It is an absolute joy to work with this team. We have a lot of players who just know how to battle, and that rubs off on the others. You can see that on the pitch on nights like tonight.”

There will be tougher nights ahead for Marsch, who is in a group with Liverpool and Napoli, but Tuesday was a fine start for the tactician. And it was a banner moment for American coaches abroad, who’ve been led by past and present USMNT coaches Bob Bradley and Gregg Berhalter.

Maybe one day that’ll be Marsch’s title… but it seems like he may have some loftier ground to cover on his path through world soccer.

Klopp: Liverpool made wrong decisions; Penalty also incorrect

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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is going to bat for his left back after Andrew Robertson gave away what became the decisive penalty in a 2-0 loss to Napoli in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday.

“I don’t think it’s a penalty,” Klopp said. “What can I say, for me, it is clear and obvious no penalty. He jumps before any contact, we can’t change that.”

[ RECAP: Napoli 2-0 Liverpool ]

For what it’s worth: It sure seemed like both a foul on Robertson and a comical embellishment from Callejon, but we digress.

Liverpool just didn’t have it on the day, like when Sadio Mane played a terrible pass to Mohamed Salah on what could’ve been an easy 1-0 lead.

In the moments they did have it, there was Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret making a splendid save.

“We played a lot of good football but didn’t finish it off. We controlled moments but had not enough chances in the end. We made decisions that were not right and have to accept the result. It was very often the final ball that was not right.”

Also, forgive Klopp if he has stopped enjoying the beautiful country of Italy.

Lampard, Azpilicueta back Barkley after penalty drama

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Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta claims that Willian was encouraging Ross Barkley in the run-up to the latter’s ill-fated penalty attempt in a 1-0 loss to Valencia at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League.

“Ross  is one of the best penalty takers in the team and one who takes them. He had the confidence and he was unlucky hitting the bar. They were encouraging him to have the confidence to score. There was high expectation. They were trying to get him into the best condition. Hopefully next time it goes in.”

[ MORE: Recap, 3 things ]

That is genuinely amusing from cheeky and likable “Dave.” Let’s take a look at the encouragement, shall we?

Barkley is literally, repeatedly motioning and even saying, “Nah, I got this. I’ll be fine.”

Chelsea boss Frank Lampard says Barkley was the penalty taker for the game, and doesn’t see the drama in it.

“Ross is a penalty taker and is when he starts games. He took it and missed it. It is a great story to say there is contention between players. If he scores it is not a story. But he took it and missed. That is it. The disappointment to all of us is that we didn’t get chance to win the game. There is no issue in the dressing room.”

Chelsea was the superior team over 90 minutes, but that can mean so little in a tournament where winning at home can be vital to the chances of advancement.