European World Cup qualifying playoff round: Excellent matchups across the board

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The playoff round in Europe’s World Cup qualifying procedure are a fantastic reminder that not only does Europe have just an unbelievably strong lineup of teams, but also how difficult it truly is to make the World Cup.

The following have already qualified: Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Russia, Netherlands, Bosnia, and England.

However, that leaves four more spots for European teams to snatch, and the matches to take place Friday are a treat.

First up is Iceland at Croatia at 2pm ET.  The Croatians are the favorites in the tie, but the team is in a state of flux and with the first leg in Reykjavik, it’s a chance for Iceland to not only make a statement but put themselves in an envious position.

With Croatia losing their last two matches in the group stage of qualifying to Belgium and Scotland, manager Igor Stimac decided to resign after a tumultuous one year in charge. Niko Kovac has taken over, and the Blazers will look to follow the Berlin-born man’s half-German, half-Croatian playing mentality.

At 2:45 the other three matches get under way.  These will no doubt be headlined by the matchup between Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden in Lisbon.

Both teams are coming off vastly different stories in their group stage travels.  Portugal got what appeared to be a cake walk of a draw, but could not overcome a surprisingly strong Russia side and finished in second place by 1 point.  Their 21 points was the second-most of any group-stage runners up.

Sweden, on the other hand, faced a very difficult draw with Germany, Austria, and Republic of Ireland all in the mix and surprised a few by qualifying for the playoff round, even coming back from 3 goals down to draw 4-4 with Germany in Berlin.

The Swedes have come out swinging in the press before the match, with Ibrahimovic saying that “we deserve to go to Brazil more” despite the Portugese being the favorites.

source: AP
Ballon d’Or favorite Franck Ribery will look to help France overtake Ukraine en route to Brazil.

France hosts Ukraine in another exciting draw.

Les Bleus had a horrendous draw in the group stage, with the presence of defending champoins Spain in the five-team group making automatic qualification almost impossible.

However, their trek to the 2014 World Cup won’t be a guarantee either against a Ukrainian side that has kept seven clean sheets in a row. Seven!

France, despite boasting big attacking names like Karim Benzema, Paul Pogba, and Ballon d’Or favorite Franck Ribery, have also held a strong defensive unit, allowing just two goals to Belarus in their last six matches dating back to June.

Finally, Greece has Romania in their path to Brazil as the Greeks only missed out on automatic qualification on goal differential having finished level on points with Bosnia.

The Greeks come into the match in Athens having kept a whopping 11 clean sheets in their last 12 matches, a 3-1 loss to Bosnia the only exception.  Their outstanding defensive form is being led by Borussia Dortmund’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who has taken the defensive leadership all on his own in the long-term injury absence of young star Kyriakos Papadopoulos.

The Romanians are no slouch, however, having pipped Turkey and Hungary for their spot in the playoff round.

10-man Real Madrid comes back to draw 10-man Arsenal

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Maybe Zinedine Zidane ought to rethink his stance on Gareth Bale?

Of course it’s just preseason, but the on-the-market Real Match forward subbed into Tuesday’s match in Maryland on Tuesday and spearheaded a comeback 2-2 draw against Arsenal.

Real won in penalties, as all International Champions Cup matches must have a winner.

[ MORE: Rich new deal for Hudson-Odoi ]

Real was down a man after 10 minutes when Nacho Fernandez handled a ball on the goal line, and Arsenal also went down a man when Sokratis Papastathopoulos saw his second yellow of the contest in the 40th minute.

Alexandre Lacazette converted a penalty, then set-up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for a goal 14 minutes later as the Gunners handled their business early.

The chemistry between two remains very real.

Real started new boys Eden Hazard, Ferland Mendy, and Luka Jovic in addition to Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Karim Benzema, and Sergio Ramos.

Bale came in for Hazard at halftime and poked a 57th minute rebound home and Marcelo set up Marco Asensio two minutes later to complete the comeback.

Asensio, sadly, would only last a few more minutes, needing to be stretchered off with injury.

Champions League wrap: PSV strikes late to win thriller (video)

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Five first legs of the UEFA Champions League’s second qualifying round are in the books, including a thrilling back-and-forth with a show-stopping stoppage time winner.

[ MORE: Rodgers talks down Maguire sale ]


PSV Eindhoven 3-2 FC Basel

Bruma scored a debut opener for the Dutch hosts, who fell behind 2-1 in the 79th minute before Sam Lammers and Donyell Malen struck in the 89th minute and second minute of stoppage, respectively, to put PSV ahead.

Basel will be okay taken two away goals home via Albian Aljeti and Omar Alderete.

Lammers came in for Mexican star Hirving Lozano in the 79th minute to score the leveler within 10 minutes before Malen, who went the full 90, kept his focus to deliver this clever winner.

The New Saints 0-2 Copenhagen

Pieros Sotiriou and Robert Skov scored on either side of halftime to give the Danish powers a healthy advantage heading into the second leg.

Elsewhere
FK Sutjeska 0-1 APOEL Nicosia
Saburtalo 0-2 Dinamo Zagreb
Viktoria Plzen 0-0 Olympiacos

Wednesday
BATE Borisov v. Rosenborg — 1 p.m. ET
Ferencvaros v. Valletta — 2 p.m. ET
CFR Cluj v. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2 p.m. ET
Maribor v. AIK — 2:15 p.m. ET
Red Star Belgrade v. HJK Helsinki — 2:45 p.m. ET
Dundalk v. Qarabag — 2:45 p.m. ET
Celtic v. Nomme Kalju — 2:45 p.m. ET

Rodgers says no close bids for Maguire

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Those tired of seeing Harry Maguire‘s name in the headlines, hoping his transfer saga had concluded with weekend reports that Manchester United agreed to a fee with Leicester City, well, they are going to be sorely disappointed.

[ MORE: Who is Newcastle’s new $50M forward? ]

Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers credited Maguire for his professionalism — the center back scored in a friendly win on Tuesday — and said that the club’s vice chairman Aiyawatt “Top” Srivaddhanaprabha has not received a fitting bid for the 26 year old’s services.

From The Leicester Mercury:

“There’s no big pressure to sell any player. If a player does leave Leicester City, then the player would need to be met because we have a top-level player, coveted by top-level clubs and I respect that,” Rodgers said. “Harry is on a long contract here and there’s been no valuation or near to that which would make Top have a look.”

Nooooooooooo.

Look, we’ve still got a few weeks until the close of the window, and every supporter has a target they want their club to acquire and some have some assets they hope stay in the same shirt at the deadline.

The Maguire story is getting a bit tedious now. He wants to go to Manchester United, but Rodgers is happy to keep him at Leicester. Maguire’s not the player who will quit on the club if he’s not sold, and Leicester’s hope of landing a replacement will dip as the deadline draws nearer and clubs like Burnley (James Tarkowski) realize their replacements options have been lessened by the wait.

Janssen leaves Spurs for Liga MX in $8M deal

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Vincent Janssen‘s less-than-ideal tenure with Tottenham Hotspur has come to its end, and he’s moving his way to this side of the Atlantic.

Liga MX side Monterrey has agreed to buy Janssen, Spurs announced Tuesday. The deal is for a reported $8 million.

[ MORE: Rich new deal for Hudson-Odoi ]

The Dutchman turned 25 this summer. He played just 42 times for Spurs after arriving from AZ Alkmaar for around $25 million in 2016, scoring six times, but did manage five goals and four assists in a half-year loan to Fenerbahce in 2017-18.

Janssen saw his time with the Netherlands national team peter out during his tenure at Spurs. After a red-hot start, he has not been capped since 2017. Janssen has seven goals in 17 caps.

His time at Spurs cannot be labeled as anything but a gigantic bust, but Janssen is still pretty young and has a chance to recapture his career momentum.

And he looks pretty happy about it.