Álvaro Negredo hat trick helps Manchester City claim first Champions League knockout round spot

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Nothing symbolized the status of Manchester City’s climb into Europe’s elite like their Champions League record, but after Tuesday’s result at the Etihad Stadium, the ignominious distinction of having never made the knockout stage is gone. Thanks to five goals from their forward tandem, the Sky Blues have clinched a place in final 16, their 5-2 win over visiting CSKA Moscow giving Manuel Pellegrini’s team a six-point edge on the Russian champions. The head-to-head tiebreaker gives City the spot with two group stage matches left.

As opposed to the teams’ contest two weeks ago, one which saw a resourceful City take an invaluable 2-1 win out of Khimki Arena, Tuesday’s game was never close. Zoran Tosic’s third minute take down of David Silva in the left side of the area allowed Sergio Agüero to open the scoring from the spot.  At the 20-minute mark, the Argentine international scored his second, his movement along CSKA’s defense utilizing a weapon that would prove unstoppable throughout the night. The right-footed finish into Igor Akinfeev’s lower-left hand corner giving City a 2-0 lead.

It’s been a persistent problem for both CSKA and the Russian national team: The lack of foot speed in central defense. Unfortunately for Leonid Slutsky’s side, Sergio Agüero is one of the worst matchups in the world for a team with that deficiency. From the get-go on Tuesday, center halfs Sergei Ignashevitch and Alexei Berezoutski were out-matched, left chasing a dynamo Khimki’s poor pitch slowed down two weeks ago.

But come the half hour, Agüero took a back seat to Álvaro Negredo, who started and finished the movement on City’s 30th minute goal. A perfect cross from Agüero set up the Spaniard for a tap-in far post, leaving the home side up three.

Seydou Doumbia pulled CSKA within two just before halftime, but after another open net finish from Negredo in the 51st minute, City had restored their lead. The Spanish international completed his hat trick just before the final whistle, by which time Doumbia had scored again, this time from the spot.

Coming off a 7-0 win in Premier League, Tuesday represented City’s second offensive explosion in four days, one which earned the club a bit of history. Though they remain three points behind Bayern Munich for first in Group D, their six-point edge on third-place CSKA ensures the team will be in Champions League come February. For the first time in club history, the team will take part in the competition’s knockout rounds, and while that’s a misleading factoid given City have only made three appearances in the competition, third and fourth place group stage finishes the last two years were seen as bitter disappointments – part of the season Manuel Pellegrini was brought in to replace Roberto Mancini.

After four rounds, Pellegrini has already put that history behind them, and although the first three months of the season have not been perfect, the Chilean has City playing as well as they have all season. With relative ease, the Citizens are into the final 16, looking capable of not only debuting but doing damage come February.

Goals

Manchester City: 3′, 20′ Sergio Agüero, 30′, 51′, 90′ Álvaro Negredo

CSKA Moscow: 45′, 71′ Seydou Doumbia

Lineups

Manchester City: Costel Pantilimon; Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Demichelis, Matija Nastasic, Gael Clichy; Samir Nasri (77′ Jesus Navas), Fernandinho (45′ James Milner), Yaya Touré, David Silva (66′ Aleksandar Kolarov); Sergio Agüero, Álvaro Negredo

Unused Subs: Edin Dzeko, Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott, Joe Hart

CSKA: Igor Akinfeev; Georgy Schennikov, Segei Ignashevich, Alexei Berezoutski, Kiril Nabakin; Pontus Wernbloom, Georgi Milanov (45′ Rasmus Elm); ZoranTosic, Keisuke Honda (78′ Vitinho), Ahmed Musa (45′ Steven Zuber); Seydou Doumbia

Iniesta joins Japanese club Vissel Kobe

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TOKYO (AP) Former Barcelona playmaker Andres Iniesta was introduced as the newest member of Japanese club Vissel Kobe on Thursday, a poorly kept secret that’s been rumored for weeks.

Iniesta appeared before a packed news conference at a central Tokyo hotel on Thursday along with Kobe’s billionaire owner, Hiroshi Mikitani.

[READ: Earnie Stewart being considered for U.S. Soccer post]

“I’m pleased to announce,” Mikitani said, “that Andres Iniesta will be signing up play with Vissel Kobe after his historic career at Barcelona.”

Iniesta signed his contract as Mikitani watched, and then spoke through an interpreter.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but Japanese media are reporting he will earn $30 million annually on a three-year deal.

“For me this is a very special day,” the Spaniard said. “This is an important challenge for me. My family is excited to come to Japan and we are very pleased. There were many offers. Other clubs showed interest. But I decided to sign with Vissel Kobe because the project presented to me was impressive.”

Mikitani is also the CEO of Barcelona sponsor Rakuten, a Japanese online retailer.

Iniesta held up the team’s red shirt with his famous No. 8 on the back, and his name written across the bottom.

Iniesta previously had said he would probably retire from international soccer after Spain plays at this year’s World Cup in Russia.

The 34-year-old Iniesta scored the winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final. He also was a key part of Spain’s two European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

He announced last month he would leave Barcelona after 16 seasons. His last match for the Spanish club was on Sunday against Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

Vissel Kobe is in sixth place after 15 games in the J-League. It signed Lukas Podolski last year, but the German striker is out until the end of June with an injured calf.

Yaya Toure talks future, wants to play with Paul Pogba

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There is very little debate: Yaya Toure is his own special case.

The longtime Manchester City midfielder does what he wants, flies his own flag, has the worst agent in the game, and is pleased or dismayed in unusual ways.

[ UCL: What would Real 3-peat mean? ]

Toure, 35, has been linked with a move to NYCFC now that he’s leaving Man City, but the Ivorian still wants to play two more seasons for a Champions League or Europa League club.

And he wants to get together with Paul Pogba. You can see where this is going… (from The Manchester Evening News):

“Pogba is the same size, power – but different in the way he wants to go. Technically as well, the ability to score goals as well. It is a player I want to play with, to be honest, just to teach him some things.”

That must mean both are going to Paris Saint-Germain because… Yaya at Manchester United? No way, right? Right? Even with last year’s reports from his — again — terrible agent that it was an option, that still seems too villainous.

“I don’t rule big teams out. The big teams are very important for me. What they want to achieve, the way they want to go, for me is very important. … I want to go somewhere I can win and achieve. It’s going to be hard one day to play against City, but I have to do that. It is part of my job.”

Toure later said he was “no good in an office,” which had us thinking, well, what if they properly celebrated your birthday, Yaya?

WATCH: Miami United midfielder unleashes Open Cup laser

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Tomas Granitto, have yourself an extra plate at the postgame buffet.

The Miami United midfielder scored a gorgeous goal in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over fellow NPSL side Jacksonville Armada in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup’s third round.

[ MORE: 3 Key Battles for UCL Final ]

Complete with aesthetically-pleasing post-ping, the former El Salvador U-20 player laid into a 25-yard shot to open the scoring in Florida.

Granitto, 24, has played for Timbers 2, Swope Park Rangers, FC Edmonton, since leaving NCAA side Florida Gulf Coast.

Rondon wanted by Atleti, Inter Milan, and West Ham

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The big boys are looking to Salomon Rondon as a bargain striker.

Yes, $22 million is a bargain in the striker market these days.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

West Brom’s Venezuelan international, 28, stands 6’2″ and has a relegation release clause that is reportedly interesting Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid, and West Ham United.

Atleti and Inter are in the Champions League next season, but Rondon played for new West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini at Malaga, posting 25 league goals in two seasons.

He’s scored 24 goals in three Premier League seasons at West Brom, almost a quarter of the 104 produced by the Baggies.

He also picked up three assists this season as the target man for Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew, and Darren Moore (and was fouled more often than any other Baggie (Baggy?)).

Rondon and Marko Arnautovic next to each other would be a real handful for PL defenses. Then again, maybe he’ll stay loyal to West Brom and set the Championship scoring record next season.