Who’s in across Europe? Glancing at the 2014/15 UEFA Champions League

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We’re down to the Final Four (don’t sue) in the 2013/14 UEFA Champions League, and by now we know plenty about Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Bayern Munich. So who will we see in next season’s edition?

Some slots are firm, while there’s plenty to be settled in the next few weeks in others. Let’s take a look at whose guaranteed to make the group stage:

Spain: Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Barcelona
England: Liverpool
Germany: Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund
Italy: Juventus, Roma
Portugal: Benfica, Sporting CP
France: Paris Saint-Germain
Greece: Olympiacos

As for the open spots in the group stage:

England (Second and third-place clubs still undecided): Right now, it’s Chelsea (75 points, 3 to play) and Manchester City (74 points, 4 to play) with a sizable advantage on fourth-place Arsenal (70 points, 3 to play) and fifth-place Everton (69 points, 3 to play). City’s pretty much a lock, and the Blues aren’t far behind despite recent injury troubles.

Germany (Third-place club still undecided): Schalke is in the driver’s seat, with 58 points and three matches left in the Bundesliga. Bayer Leverkusen is four back of Schalke while Wolfsburg is five back.

France (Second-place club still undecided): Monaco will be in the Champions League, but it’s group stage fate is uncertain until Lille fades a bit further back. There are four matches to be played, but any points lost by Lille will all but clinch the group stage spot for Monaco.

Ukraine (First-place club still undecided): This one could go right down to the final match day on May 17. Shakhtar Donetsk is currently in first by three points, but have played one more match than Dnipro. Shakhtar has the better goal differential as well.

Russia: (First-place club still undecided): Zenit St. Petersburg has the pole position by a single-point, but their upcoming match with second-spot Lokomotiv Moskva means CSKA Moskva has a shot despite being four points back.

Netherlands: (First-place club still undecided): Ajax is in the Champions League and their group stage fate with a single point in their remaining two matches, both against lower clubs. Feyenoord waits six points back with only the weakest hopes.

Turkey: (First-place club still undecided): Fenerbache would be in the competition, holders of a healthy 12-point lead on second-place Besiktas, but sanctions have the club barred from Europe. So it’ll be either Besiktas or third-place Galatasaray, the latter being two points back of second place.

Belgium: (First-place club still undecided): Still five rounds of playoffs to go, meaning Standard Liege, Club Brugge, Zulte Waregem, Anderlecht, Lokeren and Genk are all options. The first round mentioned are within four points of each other and have the best chance to advance.

And while there are plenty of clubs alive for berths, why don’t we take the chance to congratulate some of the other auto-qualifiers, regardless of whether their missions begin in July or December:

Gibraltar: Lincoln Red Imps
Estonia: Levadia Tallinn
Northern Ireland: Cliftonville
Faroe Islands: Havnar Boltfelag

Wales: The New Saints
Portugal: Porto
Austria: Red Bull Salzburg
Scotland: Celtic

Latvia: Ventspils
Belarus: BATE Borisov
Croatia: Dinamo Zagreb
Kazakhstan: Aktobe

Finland: Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi
Sweden: Malmo
Iceland: Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur
Norway: Stromsgodset

Ireland: St. Patrick’s Athletic
Lithuania: Zalgiris Vilnius

NFL’s 49ers purchase minority stake in Leeds United

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One of England’s most famous clubs is receiving investment and strategic business connections from one of the NFL’s most famous brands.

Leeds United and the San Francisco 49ers announced Thursday that 49ers Enterprises, an investment arm of the 49ers ownership, has purchased a minority stake in the Championship club. Multiple reports state that the 49ers now own 10-15 percent of the club, but current Leeds chairman Andrea Radrizzani remains the majority owner.

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As part of the deal, 49ers President Paraag Marathe gets a seat on the Leeds United board of directors. Per Leeds, the money invested will stay with the club and be used for the first team, as Leeds looks again to make its way back to the Premier League in next season’s campaign.

An American ownership group investing in England is nothing new, but to identify and purchase a stake in a club with history and a decent chance at making it to the Premier League is impressive. In addition, the York Family, who owns the 49ers, has a net worth in the billions, which could help fund Leeds’ push back into the Premier League.

For the 49ers, this is also a savvy business decision. By investing low in a club in the Championship, they hope that they can experience the financial windfall of playing in the Premier League. This season, clubs made a combined $3.2 billion (with a capital B) thanks to revenue sharing, international and domestic TV rights, and other sponsorship deals.

With even the relegated sides taking home nine figures in revenues from the league, who wouldn’t want to invest and take a cut of that?

Now, only time will tell how long it is before the 49ers influence helps – or hinders, based on the 49ers current state of affairs in the U.S. – Leeds reach the pinnacle of English football.

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.