Where They Stand: Groups E through H after three rounds of Champions League

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After three rounds of UEFA Champions League, every team has faced their group opponents once, giving us a good idea of the teams’ relative quality. We can see Atlético’s the best in their group. Chelsea’s overcome their early misstep. Barcelona’s going to take top spot in Group H. These things are pretty clear.

Other, closer races force you to remember: Teams have yet to face each other home-and-road, and no team has played an equal number of games away as they have in front of their own fans. If you’ve played two of your three on the road, you may have had a more difficult start than a team above you in the standings, something that needs to be remembered when you’re assessing your (and other teams’) chances of moving on.

Take Arsenal, for example. They’re at the top of their group, albeit in a three-way tie with Borussia Dortmund and Napoli. But they’ve also had two home games, whereas both their competitors have played twice on the road. The Gunners’ road trip was also their easiest one. Things are about to get much more difficult for Arsène Wenger’s troop, while their opponents’ slates get easier.

Then think about Atlético Madrid. They’re perfect through three rounds, but they’ve also played two games on the road, having won at the Estadio do Dragão – what was supposed to be their toughest game. They’re not only off to a flying start. They’ve done so without the help of their schedule.

Here’s where Groups E through H stand after Tuesday’s Champions League action:

* – To each of these standings we’ve added a column labeled +/-: a crude attempt to track how many points a team has dropped at home (minus) or picked up on the road (plus). It’s a very crude attempt to gauge the extent to which teams are holding serve.

Group E
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Chelsea 3 2 0 1 8 2 +6 0-1-0 2-0-0 6 +3
Schalke 3 2 0 1 4 3 +1 1-1-0 1-0-0 6 +0
Basel 3 1 1 1 3 3 +0 0-1-0 1-0-1 4 +1
Steaua Bucharest 3 0 1 2 1 8 -7 0-1-1 0-1-0 1 -5

In Groups E, F, and G, one team has been picked out as the weakest link, giving us something else to keep in mind beyond that +/- column. Dropping points to that last place team could be decisive. If the group’s other teams claim six from the also ran, you need to do that same; else, the points you drop could be the difference between moving on and going to Europa League.

Today, Basel essentially dropped points. Both Chelsea and Schalke had already defeated Steaua, but Basel couldn’t do the same, and while it’s perfectly understandable why Murat Yakin’s team would “stumble” in Bucharest, they need to make up those points. Schalke’s trip to Romania now becomes more important to Basel’s knockout round hopes, because although the Swiss champions will likely pass the Miners next round (Schalke visiting Chelsea while Basel host Steaua), they still have to make a trip to Gelsenkirchen.

Group F
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Arsenal 3 2 0 1 5 3 +2 1-1-0 1-0-0 6 +0
Borussia Dortmund 3 2 0 1 6 3 +3 1-0-0 1-1-0 6 +3
Napoli 3 2 0 1 4 4 +0 1-0-0 1-1-0 6 +3
Marseille 3 0 0 3 2 7 -5 0-2-0 0-1-0 0 -6

Three teams with six points, and only one’s truly ahead of the game, though you wouldn’t know if from the right column. With their win in Marseille, Napoli have picked up points on the road, but they’re points Arsenal have also claimed. Winning at the Velodrome has become obligatory, not progressing.

Dortmund, on the other hand, picked up three points at Arsenal,  a place where Napoli’s already lost. They also have yet to visit France while still having home games against their two co-leaders. They’re in good shape.

Arsenal, though, may have created trouble for themselves with today’s loss. They still have to go to Germany, which they’ll do next round, and they still have to visit Naples. The only reprieve in their group stage run-in is a visit from Marseille, but again: Beating l’OM has become obligatory, in this group.

If everybody wins at home and losses on the road (with the exception of games at Marseille), Dortmund and Napoli are through. Arsenal’s in Europa League.

Group G
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Atlético Madrid 3 3 0 0 8 2 +6 1-0-0 2-0-0 9 +6
Zenit St. Petersburg 3 1 1 1 2 3 -1 0-0-1 1-1-0 4 +1
Porto 3 1 0 2 2 3 -1 0-2-0 1-0-0 3 -3
Austria Wien 3 0 1 2 0 4 -4 0-2-0 0-0-1 1 -5

A five-point lead after three of six rounds is huge, but it looks even bigger when you see Atlético’s played two games on the road. They’ve also already hosted and beaten the group’s second place team and have taken three points from what was supposed to have been their most difficult road opponent (Porto). A win next round clinches a knockout round spot, while a draw in St. Petersburg between Zenit and Porto allows that same win to give Atlético the group’s top seed. They’re winning this group.

Zenit’s got the inside track on the second seed considering the back half of their schedule gives them both tough games at home. That increases the importance of Porto’s trip to Zenit – the teams’ next match. Zenit can take a commanding lead with a win, but even a draw will keep the Russians in control. Whereas Porto still has to go to the Vicente Calderon, Zenit gets Atlético at home.

Group H
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Barcelona 3 2 1 0 6 1 5 1-0-0 1-0-1 7 +4
Milan 3 1 2 0 4 2 2 1-0-1 0-1-0 5 -1
Celtic 3 1 0 2 2 4 -2 1-1-0 0-1-0 3 -3
Ajax 3 0 1 2 2 7 -5 0-0-1 0-2-0 1 -2

This group’s sorting itself out as expected, with Barcelona and Milan drifting toward the group’s top  seeds. The big danger for Milan will be a Celtic win over Ajax next round. If that happens, Milan may need a result in Glasgow to go through.

That sounds more ominous that it is. The scenario would require Celtic to win in Amsterdam before defeating Milan, and while each result in isolation is certainly possible, both results together becomes much more unlikely. Not to get all high school math on you, but if Celtic have a 60 percent change of winning their home game and a 40 percent chance of winning on the road (numbers I’ve made up out of thin air), they’re going to do both fewer than one time in four. Milan’s still in good shape.

Croatia fears World Cup chance may never come again

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MOSCOW (AP) The rain hid Croatia’s tears.

After Luka Modric collected his Golden Ball award in a downpour, he shared an emotional embrace with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, both wearing the country’s red-and-white checkered uniform.

Croatia knows Sunday’s 4-2 loss to France in the World Cup final was a chance that may not come again anytime soon.

“We were so close and we played the best soccer. We deserved more,” said Modric, who at 32 may have played in his last World Cup match.

Croatia’s first golden generation lost to France in the 1998 World Cup semifinals, and its second went one better. Besides Modric, goalkeeper Danijel Subasic will be 38 at the next World Cup in Qatar, midfielder Ivan Rakitic will be 34 and forward Mario Mandzukic will be 36.

“I wish we are now 24, everyone and Luka especially,” Croatia defender Dejan Lovren said. “There is a time when something needs to end.”

Among a crowd of men in dark suits on the World Cup podium, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, Grabar-Kitarovic’s team shirt showed her passion for Croatia, a country of barely 4 million people.

While some of the players shed tears on the field, fans at home celebrated in the thousands despite the loss.

“Overall, we’ve been better,” Lovren said, critical of the way France played. “They did it the other way. They didn’t play football. They waited for their chances and they scored. They had their own tactic and you need to respect that. They played the tournament like that every game.”

Croatia went down with the same grit that had taken it through three extra-time matches, all won after conceding the opening goal. When Ivan Perisic scored in the 28th minute after Mario Mandzukic’s own-goal had given France the lead, Croatia looked ready to do it again.

Then came a penalty, called after a video review, which Antoine Griezmann converted.

Trailing 2-1, Croatia conceded two more goals but kept fighting. Mandzukic then took advantage of a goalkeeping error to make it 4-2, becoming the first player to score for both teams in a World Cup final.

“When you want to be the best then you need to win, simple as that,” said Lovren, who lost the Champions League final with Liverpool in May. “It’s not easy to accept that. It’s something that I will carry for my life.”

James Ellingworth is at https://twitter.com/jellingworth

More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

VIDEO: Juventus unveil Cristiano Ronaldo

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Things are pretty crazy in Turin right now.

Cristiano Ronaldo has been unveiled as a Juventus player after his record $120 million transfer from Real Madrid, the largest few ever paid by Juve or any Italian club in history.

[ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule

The five-time World Player of the Year causes  a stir wherever he goes but this was something else.

Ronaldo, 33, signed autographs and posed for photos with fans as thousands turned out to see him arrive in Italy.

The Portuguese star last played on June 30 against Uruguay, as Portugal lost 2-1 and crashed out of the World Cup at the last 16 stage.

Juve are heading on a U.S. tour this summer and their first game is on July 25 against Bayern Munich in Philadelphia, before they play Benfica, the MLS All-Stars and his former club, Real Madrid.

Take a look below at some of the scenes from Ronaldo’s unveiling at the fourth club of his career after his spells at Sporting Lisbon, Manchester United and Real Madrid.


With flags, song, pride, French celebrate unifying victory

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PARIS (AP) It was a victory for all of France and the home crowd did it justice, pouring into Paris’ Champs-Elysees Avenue by the tens of thousands to celebrate in an explosion of joy.

France’s 4-2 win over Croatia in the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday marked the second time in 20 years that France has won the World Cup, and came at a time when the people feel needy.

“It represents enormous things,” said Goffrey Hamsik, dressed in a hat resembling a rooster – the French national symbol – and a shirt with the No. 10 for Kylian Mpappe, the 19-year-old breakout star who hails from the Paris suburb of Bondy.

“We’ve had lots of problems in France these past years,” he said, recalling deadly terror attacks. “This is good for the morale … Here, we are all united. We mix. There is no religion, there is nothing, and that’s what feels good.”

Troublemakers marred some of the festivities at the top of the Champs-Elysees, breaking the window of a major store, throwing bottles, temporary barriers and even a bicycle at riot police as the celebrations wound down close to midnight. Police responded with water cannon and tear gas. BFM-TV reported that the store was pillaged.

Earlier, people wrapped in flags and dressed in crazy hats, and one man spotted totally nude except for the Tricolor, marched down the avenue where France displayed its military might a day earlier for Bastille Day.

Revelers set off smoke bombs in the national colors – blue, white and red – obscuring Napoleon’s triumphal arch. People climbed atop every newspaper kiosk and bus stop in the area to wave flags and lead the crowds below in cheers. The national anthem, the Marseillaise, rang out, cars honked horns and cherry bombs cracks.

A young man sprayed a fire extinguisher on the crowd on a late hot afternoon.

Hundreds of police in riot gear were discretely lined up on side streets to monitor revelers. Typically, celebrations in France end up with some broken shop windows and other destruction, and Sunday was no exception. Tear gas was lobbed at one point on the Champs-Elysees. About 4,000 police watched over the fan zone – packed to its 90,000 capacity – during the match, then moved to the Champs-Elysees and neighboring streets.

As night fell, The Eiffel Tower flashed 1998-2018 to mark France’s two World Cup titles.

The Arc de Triomphe was awash in the national colors, lit with the rooster, the faces of the winning team and the words “Proud to be Blue,” or French.

The celebrations were spread across the nation.

For all the crazy antics – and some revelers who got out of control – a sense of patriotism and unity was almost visceral.

Antoine Griezmann, the France striker who scored one of the goal’s Sunday, told a news conference two days before the final, televised on BFM TV, that pride in country is in short supply.

“We say it so little … We should be proud to be French,” Griezmann said.

Mahmoud Bourassi was among those taking a longer-term view and he had some sobering thoughts about France’s run to the title and the festivities it has sparked.

Bourassi runs a youth center in Bondy – Mbappe’s home that was among those scarred by riots in 2005 that exposed the fissures of France that have yet to heal – and he knows the teenage star of the tournament.

“All this euphoria and effervescence, it’s positive but it’s emotional and ephemeral,” he said ahead of France’s win. Bourassi said sports is a “catalyst to bring people and nations together.”

But, he added, it must be built on.

“What we’re seeing is magic, exceptional. But what are we going to do with it tomorrow?”

That is a question for President Emmanuel Macron, who was in Moscow celebrating with the team on victory night, and will receive the squad more formally on Monday at the presidential Elysee Palace.

Revelers celebrated the moment.

“We’re happy. It took 20 years … It’s the pride of the nation. It unites everyone. It federates,” Frederique Pourquet said as she and her friend left the Champs-Elysees.

The win “shows that the French people are consolidated and the work of all France,” said Omar Bzi.

Hajar Maghnaoui, of Asnieres, north of Paris, said “It’s a way to bring the French people together, and also the world.”

John Leicester in Moscow contributed to this report.

Sunday league in New York rallies around assaulted referee

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I had to share a nice, feel-good moment from my neck of the soccer woods on this fine Sunday in July.

It starts with something heinous, though.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Let’s begin here: The Buffalo District Soccer League (BDSL) is an 81-team men’s league in Western New York. It also conducts the Tehel Cup, the oldest amateur cup tournament in the United States.

Unfortunately, this post is about neither of the positives associated with those facts, as last weekend saw a player lose control after receiving a red card. The player in question hit referee Mike Crane, leaving the official with a head injury.

It’s not the first time we’ve written about referee assault; Unfortunately, typing the phrase “referee dies” in the PST search tool brings up multiple entries.

Yet the incident understandably caused a stir in the Buffalo soccer community, as the BDSL rallied around Crane and its officials.

Clubs assembled before their matches to take photos with the referee units, tagging each on Twitter with the hashtag #UnitedForCrane.

Let’s hope this post serves as a reminder to all weekend warriors and professional players alike: It’s still just a game.