International friendly roundup: Italy, France ride impressive results into next week’s Euro 2016 qualifiers

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Italy 2, Netherlands 0 – Guus Hiddink’s return to the Netherlands’ traditional 4-3-3 setup saw terrible early returns, with a third minute goal from Ciro Immobile and a ninth minute red card to Bruno Martins Indi ending the Oranje’s chances early. When Daniele De Rossi converted from the spot (after Martins Indi’s foul), the game was practically decided, with Antonio Conte cruising in his Azzurri coaching debut.

Italy opens Euro 2016 qualifying on Tuesday against Norway, while the Netherlands visits the Czech Republic.

France 1, Spain 0 – A Spain side that saw David de Gea, Daniel Carvajal, Mikel San Jose, and Raul Garcia get starts was held without a shot on target, with Loic Remy’s 73rd goal giving Les Bleus a 1-0 win at Stade de France. Valencia’s Paco Alcaácer came on in the 67th minute for his international debut.

Spain opens its qualifying campaign on Monday against Macedonia. France plays a friendly in Serbia.

Belgium 2, Australia 0 – Tim Cahill started up top for a Socceroos side that went behind early in Liège, giving up an 18th minute goal to Napoli’s Dries Mertens. Thirteen minutes from time, a long distance shot from Axel Witsel doubled the Red Devils’ lead, capping a strong showing for a team missing Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku.

Australia faces Saudi Arablia in a friendly on Monday, while Belgium’s Euro qualifier in Israel has been postponed.

Bosnia and Herzegovina 3, Liechtenstein 0  – Returning to the field after a disappointing exit in Brazil, the home side went up in the first minute through Vedad Ibisevic. The Hoffenheim striker added his second in the 14th minute, with Edin Dzeko ending the game’s scoring 10 minutes later.

Bosnia and Herzegovina begins Euro 2016 qualifying Tuesday against Cyprus, while Liechtenstein does the same on Monday in Russia.

Croatia 2, Cyprus 0 – New Atlético striker Mario Mandzukic scored early in each half during a dominant performance by Croatia, even if that dominance failed to make its way onto the scoresheet.

Croatia starts its qualification tournament on Tuesday against Malta, while Cyprus will be in Zenica to face Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Other scores

Iraq 0, Peru 2
Slovakia 1, Malta 0
Sweden 2, Estonia 0
China 3, Kuwait 1
Belarus 6, Tajikistan 1

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.