Asian Cup roundup: UAE upsets defending champs, Iraq into semis

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United Arab Emirates and Iraq both advanced to the semifinals on penalties, with the former providing the first true shocking result of the tournament thus far.

Japan was on the receiving end of the upset after Shinji Kagawa blasted the left upright with his penalty, allowing defender Ismail Ahmed to power home his penalty and send UAE to its first semifinal appearance since 1996.

The upset nearly happened in regulation as Al Jazira striker Ali Ahmed Mabkhout scored his fourth goal of the tournament inside 10 minutes – the first goal Japan has conceded all tournament – and it took Japan all the way until the 81st minute before they produced a deserved equalizer from substitute Gaku Shibasaki to reward a better second half and send things into extra time.

Kagawa nearly had a winner late on in regulation, but he put one wide at the stroke of the final whistle, minutes after hitting over the bar on a Keisuke Honda free-kick. After a listless extra 30 minutes, it went to penalties, where each team collected four of its first five, with Honda and Khamis Esmaeel each lifting their strikes above the crossbar. Then Kagawa missed in the first of sudden death, allowing UAE to score the clincher. Yes, that means the two missed Japanese penalties came from the country’s most well-known stars, Kagawa and Honda – puzzling to say the least.

source: Getty Images
Iraq defender Salam Shakir was the hero after scoring the winning penalty in the extra-time shootout.

Iraq also earned a surprising spot in the semifinals, topping Iran on penalties as well by a 7-6 score. The Lions are just one of two former champions remaining, alongside South Korea who won back in 1960.

Iran was down a man after they lost Mehrdad Pooladi when referee Ben Williams harshly sent him off. The referee had initially booked Pooladi for a theatrical dive after being shoved by Iraq goalkeeper Halal Hassan Hachim, before a host of Iraqi players reminded him that he had previously booked Pooladi for an earlier challenge in the first half. The referee then was forced to produce the red, sending Pooladi off for his second yellow.

But that would not stop Iran from making the game a memorable one. Into extra time with a 1-1 score after 90 minutes, Iraq twice took the lead, but Iran twice equalized, forcing penalties. Iraq captain Younis Mahmoud, who missed a Panenka penalty just days ago, did it again in the shootout when a miss would have eliminated his side, and scored it to add to the game’s already ballooning highlight reel. Iraq defender Salam Shakir later would bag the winner, and send the 2007 champions into the semifinals once again.

Report: Salzburg star Haland meets with Borussia Dortmund

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Erling Braut Haland is one of the most promising young names in European football, his career trajectory shooting up, up, up after several dynamite performances in the UEFA Champions League.

The Red Bull Salzburg striker, 19, wasn’t in full fitness when his side was bounced from the UCL by Liverpool on Tuesday, but he’d made his presence felt earlier in the competition.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Haland bagged eight of his 28 season goals in the UCL, including three against Napoli and one against the reigning champion Reds.

Now the Leeds-born Norwegian is eyeing up his next step. Having been linked with Manchester United and his dad’s club Leeds, Haland reportedly flew into Dortmund for a Wednesday meeting with Borussia Dortmund.

Dad, Alf-Inge Haland, played 22 years between Bryne, Nottingham Forest, Leeds United, Manchester City, and Rosseland.

Now should Haland find a new home, it seems awfully likely it would work similar to Christian Pulisic‘s move to Chelsea from Dortmund last season; The twice-capped Norway international could sign for BVB (or another club) and head back to Salzburg to star in the Europa League (he’s cup-tied in the UCL).

Plus, Salzburg would love to give coach Jesse Marsch a full year with the star. They’re unbeaten in league play.

Europa League preview: Injured Arsenal still seeking knockout round berth

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The Europa League got a lot trickier on Wednesday, as it tends to do when UEFA Champions League outcasts transfer to the competition.

Inter Milan, Benfica, Ajax, Club Brugge, Olympiacos, Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, and Red Bull Salzburg will join the competition for knockout stage.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Two of three Premier League sides have already laid claim to places in the next round, Wolves and Manchester United handling their business while Arsenal left its fate in the balance for Thursday’s final group stage match day.

Joining Man United and Wolves as already through to said Round of 32 are Sevilla, APOEL Nicosia, Basel, Sporting Lisbon, LASK, Celtic, Espanyol, Gent, Wolfsburg, Braga, and AZ Alkmaar.

So what hasn’t been decided? Let’s begin with the Gunners.

Arsenal needs just a point from Standard Liege in Belgium on Thursday to advance, although an unlikely Eintracht Frankfurt home loss to Vitoria SC would send a defeated Gunners onto the Round of 32.

Freddie Ljungberg is missing a lot of firepower. Nicolas Pepe is now dinged up, joining Hector Bellerin, Granit Xhaka, Rob Holding, and Dani Ceballos as unavailable.

“But we’ve brought a lot of firepower here, we have younger players here who have played earlier in the group stages, not just now. They’ve been playing the whole time. So it’s a big game and we’re here to get a result. We have a lot of respect for the opponents.”

While Ljungberg’s status as Arsenal boss feels likely to be short-term, another club whose UEL status is up in the air sees its manager looking long-term.

Rangers boss Steven Gerrard is coming off the disappointment of what would’ve been a deserved silverware triumph off an age-old rival, and now immediately has to get his team to bounce back and earn a spot in the next round.

[ MORE: Five UCL match-ups we’d love to see ]

Celtic saved a penalty and scored an offside goal — no VAR — in lifting the Scottish League Cup this weekend in a 1-0 win over Rangers, but the defeated Glaswegians will be buoyed by the news that Gerrard is making progress on an improved deal.

“(Only being here for a couple of years) wasn’t in my thinking, it has been in the thinking of the majority of everyone else – ‘Oh, Rangers is a stepping stone’ or ‘He’s just going there to rehearse for something else.’ It’s a load of nonsense – I’ve come here as this is a big opportunity for me and I have no plans of going anywhere else.”

Rangers (eight points) simply need a point at home against Swiss powers Young Boys, who enter the game one point back of Glasgow’s blue side. Porto is also a point back of Rangers, and they’ll meet last place Feyenoord (five points).

Full Thursday slate

12:55 p.m. ET
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Vitoria
CFR Cluj v. Celtic
LASK v. Sporting Lisbon
Copenhagen v. Malmo
PSV Eindhoven v. Rosenborg
Qarabag v. Dudelange
Standard Liege v. Arsenal
Basel v. Trabzonspor
Dynamo Kiev v. Lugano
APOEL Nicosia v. Sevilla
Rennes v. Lazio
Getafe v. Krasnodar

3 p.m. ET
Rangers v. Young Boys
Wolves v. Besiktas
Espanyol v. CSKA Moscow
Gent v. Oleksandriya
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Porto v. Feyenoord
Ludogorets Razgrad v. Ferencvaros
Slovan Bratislava v. Braga
Roma v. Wolfsberg
Manchester United v. AZ Alkmaar
Wolfsburg v. Saint-Etienne
Partizan Belgrade v. Astana

Five match-ups we’d love to see in the UCL Round of 16

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We know who each UEFA Champions League knockout round contestant can draw in the Round of 16, but some would be juicier than others.

From an American angle, we’ve been deprived of a Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund reunion for now, though we could see a CONCACAF young star duel if Pulisic’s Chelsea draws Alphonso Davies’ Bayern Munich.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

But let’s be honest: That’s simply a subplot for our North American audience. The big intrigue lies elsewhere.

Alas, most of Jose Mourinho’s old employers Chelsea and Real Madrid are unseeded like current club Spurs. Barcelona cannot draw Man City, another beauty.

5. Tottenham Hotspur v. Barcelona — Jose Mourinho and Barcelona have a history, while Spurs are winless in four outings against La Liga’s storied club.

4. Juventus v. Real Madrid — Wouldn’t it be something if Cristiano Ronaldo and his longtime buddies met up in the Round of 16.

3. Manchester City v. Real Madrid — Guardiola v. Zidane, with a heaping helping of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. Pep might not be able to draw Bayern Munich nor Barcelona, but he sure wouldn’t mind tangling with a side who was involved in a number of incredible Clasicos as a player and manager.

2. Liverpool v. Borussia Dortmund — We got Jurgen Klopp against his old Der Klassiker rivals Bayern Munich last season, and it’s only natural that the Reds could match up against Klopp’s former club and maybe future star in Jadon Sancho. The two sides met in the 2015/16 Europa League quarterfinals, but this stage — with Klopp as a UCL reigning champ — would be extra delightful.

1. Juventus v. ChelseaMaurizio Sarri went to Chelsea for one season, won the Europa League over a crosstown rival and came within penalty kicks of upending Man City for the League Cup. The Blues are doing well under Frank Lampard, but an “our guy versus the guy we didn’t like” would be a cigarette-chewing wonder, wouldn’t it?

Champions League wrap: Mbappe, Neymar on fire; Atleti, Atalanta advance

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The UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 contestants are confirmed after Atletico Madrid and Atalanta made sure only teams from the top five leagues in Europe made the jump.

[ RECAPS: D. Zagreb 1-4 Man City | Bayern 3-1 Spurs ]

What does that mean for the four Premier League sides? Here’s who they can draw.

As for a recap of Wednesday’s action and some fun highlights, read on…

Club Brugge 1-3 Real Madrid

All the goals came in the second half here, as Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior scored before Luka Modric rounded out the markers in stoppage time. Hans Vanaken scored for the Belgian set, which again used Simon Mignolet between the sticks knowing Galatasaray could’ve passed them with a win.

Olympiacos 1-0 Red Star Belgrade

Longtime Moroccan striker Youssef El-Arabi scored the lone goal as the Greeks moved into third place and a Europa League spot.

Shakhtar Donetsk 0-3 Atalanta

The Serie A side surged past their Ukrainian hosts, who saw star right back Dodo sent off. Three different players scored for the visitors, with Mario Pasalic and Robin Gosens leading the way. Timothy Castagne scored Atalanta’s first goal.

Paris Saint-Germain 5-0 Galatasaray

Kylian Mbappe and Neymar each had a goal and two assists, while Mauro Icardi, Edinson Cavani, and Pablo Sarabia also scored for the hosts.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Lokomotiv Moscow

Lokomotiv keeper Anton Kochenkov pushed a Kieran Trippier penalty off the post in the first few minutes of the contest, but Joao Felix converted Atleti’s second chance from the spot as Diego Simeone’s team handled its business to reach the Round of 16. Felipe scored the side’s other goal via a Koke assist.

Bayer Leverkusen 0-2 Juventus

Atleti would’ve made it through anyway, as Bayer couldn’t spring an upset on group winners Juve. Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain scored the goals in Germany.