UEFA rules set up Arsenal, Manchester City for tough Champions League Round of 16 draws

3 Comments

Wednesday’s results left 16 teams soaring, those clubs having confirmed their place in the knockout round of UEFA Champions League. Come Monday? A few will be rue their knockout round draws, with two English clubs destined for nightmare match ups in the Round of 16.

By virtue of tough groups (and finishing just behind last year’s finalists, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund), Manchester City and Arsenal are in the runners-up pot – the pot that will be drawn against the eight winners from Champions League’s group stage. Those teams that were just good enough to make the final 16 but not good enough to win their groups? Yeah, Manchester City and Arsenal can’t draw them. They’ll be matched up against the best teams in Europe.

There are, however, two caveats. First, teams can’t be drawn against clubs they faced in group play. Been there, done that, moving on. Second, teams can’t be drawn against clubs from their own federations. If we are going to see rematches of games we see domestically (at least) twice a year, it’s going to be in the later rounds. Champions League’s exotic that way.

Unfortunately, come Monday, those rules will work against Arsenal and City. While each will be able to avoid one German team (Dortmund and Munich, respectively), they won’t be able to draw Manchester United in the Round of 16. They also won’t be able to raw Chelsea. Mileage will vary, but for many, those are the two easiest teams in the group winners pool. Not being able to draw them increases the odds City and Arsenal will be draw against one of the tournament’s true favorites.

Those favorites (in group order): Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Atlético Madrid, Barcelona. Some may see PSG and Atlético as the lessors of that group, but results say otherwise. Between league and Champions League results, these are the six standout teams in Europe. The fact that Arsenal and City can only draw them (and not Manchester United or Chelsea) leaves UEFA’s rules are working against them.

Who would you rather get, if you’re Arsenal? Paris Saint-Germain? Or Manchester United? And if you’re City: Wouldn’t you take Chelsea over a draw that could land you Barcelona, Real Madrid, or Dortmund? The Blues are tough, but they’re not on that level.

For the rest of the group stage runners-up, life is only slightly easier. Though they could also draw Chelsea or Manchester United … well, they could draw Chelsea or Manchester United. Those clubs may not being performing to Bayern’s level, but they’re still likely favorites in the Round of 16. Especially of they can’t draw Arsenal or City.

Here are the eight group stage winners and who they could draw on Monday.*

Atlético Madrid (Group G) – Bayer Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Manchester City, Schalke, Arsenal, Milan
Barcelona (Group H) – Bayer Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Manchester City, Schalke, Arsenal, Zenit St. Petersburg
Bayern Munich (Group D) – Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Arsenal, Zenit St. Petersburg, Milan
Borussia Dortmund (Group F) – Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Manchester City, Zenit St. Petersburg, Milan
Chelsea (Group E) – Bayer Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Zenit St. Petersburg, Milan
Manchester United (Group A) – Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Schalke, Zenit St. Petersburg, Milan
Paris Saint-Germin (Group C) – Bayer Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Schalke, Arsenal, Zenit St. Peteresburg, Milan
Real Madrid (Group B) – Bayer Leverkusen, Olympiacos, Manchester City, Schalke, Arsenal, Zenit St. Petersburg, Milan

* – Technically, it will be the runners up “drawing” the group winners. On Monday, the runners-up will be drawn at random, one-by-one. Then, the teams eligible to be matched up with them will be put into a bowl, with one name being drawn.

Southgate hails “patient” England, young squad’s tactical nuance

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
Leave a comment

Inevitably, teams end up taking on the personality and temperament of a talented coach/manager, which in the case of the England squad competing at the 2018 World Cup, is a massive compliment to the Three Lions’ current boss, Gareth Southgate.

[ MORE: Kane “buzzing” after brace secures late win in World Cup debut ]

Southgate, who’s 47 and only four tournaments removed from his second and final World Cup appearance for England, has changed the outside world’s perception of an institution that once seemed arrogant, elitist and entitled, opting to take one of the youngest squads (average age: 25.6 years old) to Russia, and to turn them loose.

On Monday, it was 24-year-old Harry Kane who scored twice and bailed the feel-good favorites out of jail with a 91st-minute winner (WATCH HERE) to largely erase the frustrating hour which preceded it. These growing pains are, of course, to be expected with so little major tournament experience. Southgate, as expected, was pleased with how they responded — quotes from the BBC:

“I was happy with the way we kept playing even though the clock was running down. We stayed patient, we didn’t just throw the ball in the box. We deserved the win.

“We created so many clear-cut chances, especially in the first half, and were in total control in the second half. We were strong on set plays all night. Even if we’d drawn, we‘d have been proud of the performance.

“We’ll do well to make as many chances in a game again in this tournament. The movement, pace, control from the back with the ball was pleasing. We wore them down. Good teams score late goals — if you dominate the ball like that the opposition tire.

“As for Harry Kane the only thing he hasn’t done now is score in August — he’s moved every other barrier. He will feel pride of leading a country to a World Cup win is the most important thing.”

“The way we would change the game is to have different profiles of players that would provide a different threat. You can put attacking players in different positions but lose shape and be caught on the counter-attack.

“The guys that came on had a different threat. As a team you keep working and working. The best teams in the world keep the belief in what they’re doing and in the end break teams down.”

Kane “buzzing” after brace secures late win in World Cup debut

AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis
Leave a comment

Four years ago, Harry Kane watched the 2014 World Cup, alongside Tottenham Hotspur teammates, friends and family, while on vacation in Dubai and Portugal, and during the club’s preseason tour of the United States.

[ MORE: Kane scores early and late, England top Tunisia ]

Fast-forward 48 months, and Kane made his World Cup debut on Monday, scoring both goals, including the stoppage-time winner (WATCH HERE), in England’s Group G-opening 2-1 victory over Tunisia. It’s an outcome we should have seen coming, considering he’s racked up 105 goals (in the Premier League; 135 in all club competitions; another 13 for England prior to Monday) since the start of the 2014-15 season.

Kane continues to take his superstardom — no matter how unlikely or ill-fitting it looks on him — in stride, using obvious phrases like, “It’s the World Cup,” to which you might think, “Well, yes, Harry, it sure is,” and then you realize he sees himself as nothing more than a giddy child living out a lifelong dream — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s massive. I’m so proud of the lads. It’s tough. We played so well especially in the first half and we could have scored a few more. We kept going. It’s a World Cup, you go to the last second. I’m absolutely buzzing.

“We’ve done it for a while [had good resilience] since the gaffer has been here — he’s instilled it into us. We’ve got a great bond off the pitch so it’s great to see it on the pitch. We’ll get onto the plane happy tonight.

“We could have had a couple of penalties, especially when you look at theirs. A few corners, they were trying to grab, hold and stop us running. Maybe a bit of justice to score at the back post at the end. That’s football, that’s the ref. It showed good character to get on with it.

“We are proud of each other and in a World Cup you are not sure how it is going to go, but we have a great togetherness and are always proud to see it come off in the game. We never panicked, never looked like conceding another one and got what we deserved in the end.

“We got told there would be a lot of flies and when we went out for the match it was a lot more than we thought. We all had bug spray on and it was important as some of them went in your eyes, some in your mouth, but it is about dealing with what comes your way.”

Kane will be the first to tell you that he’s been handed nothing during his career. Early on, before breaking into Tottenham’s first team, he endured four largely unsuccessful loan spells over the course of three seasons, at which point his career path appeared destined for England’s lower leagues. Through his refuse-to-lose attitude, an insatiable appetite to continue improving, and eagerly stepping up to the moment every time a new, grander stage is laid in front of him, he’s now 24 years old and set to captain his national team for the next decade.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

It’s this kind of wide-eyed, relatable approach that endears this young Three Lions side (average age: 25.6 years old) to neutral viewers and made them a popular, if unlikely, feel-good favorite ahead of the tournament in Russia. Following Monday’s performance — no matter how belabored the result itself might have been — the bandwagon will continue to fill up, and Kane is reasons no. 1, 2, 3 and 4 for that fact.

Kane scores early and late, England narrowly top Tunisia

AP Photo/Sergei Grits
6 Comments

England’s 2018 World Cup debut began brilliantly, then appeared headed for a disappointingly familiar outcome, but was ultimately saved by Harry Kane who scored both goals in the Three Lions’ 2-1 victory over Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

England came sprinting out of the starting blocks — so quickly they nearly took flight — and taking an early lead through Harry Kane in the 11th minute (WATCH HERE). John Stones‘ header was spectacularly saved by Mouez Hassen, but Kane was in the right place at the right time and swept home the rebound for his first World Cup goal (on his World Cup debut).

The opening half-hour was all England, with the likes of Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling cutting through the Tunisian midfield and defense with very little resistance and creating a half-dozen golden scoring chances. Unfortunately for Gareth Southgate‘s side, they couldn’t capitalize, and they were made to pay for it.

Kyle Walker caught Fakhreddine Ben Youssef with a raised arm as an innocuous cross came into the box, prompting referee Wilmar Roldan to blow his whistle and point to the penalty spot immediately. Ferjani Sassi stepped up and converted, just out of reach of Jordan Pickford, who perhaps got a fingertip on the ball (WATCH HERE), to make it 1-1 and negate an otherwise dominant first-half performance by England. It would be Tunisia’s only shot on goal for the game.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

England’s best chance to re-establish a lead came during a six-yard-box scramble just seconds before halftime. Alli’s header hit the crossbar and Stones badly scuffed — nearly whiffed — on the follow-up. Kane was dragged to the ground during the rest of the commotion, to no interest of Roldan.

It took far longer than anyone back home in England would have liked, but Kane grabbed the winner in the 91st minute, heading home from acres of space at the back post. Jordan Henderson got the first crack at heading the corner kick, but it was blocked and bound high into the air. Somehow, some way, Kane was unmarked and snuck his redirect just inside the post.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Up next for England is a meeting with Panama on Sunday, a day after Tunisia take on Belgium, who thrashed the Panamanians, 3-0, on Monday.

VIDEO: Tunisia equalizes on controversial penalty kick

Leave a comment

England centerback Kyle Walker put his arm up to halt the forward progress of Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. Unfortunately for Walker, Ben Youssef was in the box and Walker’s elbow caught Ben Youssef’s face.

Referee Wilmar Roldan quickly whistled for a penalty kick and despite the protests from a half-dozen of England players and a check from the VAR, the called stood. Ferjani Sassi’stepped up to the spot and found the lower-left corner, just barely beating Jordan Pickford to tie the game in the 35th minute.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

How will England respond?