Euro 2016 qualifier roundup: Montenegro-Russia match abandoned; Spain edges Ukraine

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With Premier League teams taking the weekend off, international competition, notably Euro 2016 qualifiers, have taken center stage for anyone wanting to catch a game or two over the next couple of days.

The biggest headlines from Saturday centered around Harry Kane’s debut goal for England, which was scored almost immediately following his 72nd-minute substitution en route to a 4-0 defeat of Lithuania.

[RELATED: Euro 2016 weekend preview]

After Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev was hit with a flare by fans and tensions had mounted to the point of brawl, the Montenegro-Russia fixture was stopped dead in its tracks and suspended.

Here are the results of Saturday’s action.

Spain 1-0 Ukraine: Spain is no longer the clear best international side in the world, and this slim win over Ukraine ultimately shows us, once again, that Vicente del Bosque’s side is very beatable. Goalkeeper Iker Casillas was forced into making multiple stops in the second half, and La Roja’s defense held on to seal the victory, putting them at second place in Group C’s table, three points ahead of their opponent. The lone goal of the match was netted by 22-year-old Juventus striker Alvaro Morata, one of the more dynamic up-and-coming Spaniards. It was Morata’s first start on his country’s first team.

Moldova 0-2 Sweden: If you were to pick a man on Sweden to convert his opportunities and lead his country to victory, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s name would surface right off the bat. And on the heels of the former Inter striker’s brace, the Swedes successfully battled Moldova to widen the gap between their second-place standing and Russia in third. One of his goals was strikingly odd, while the other was a penalty kick effort with five minutes left before stoppage time. The best chances Moldova could muster were a few initially promising counter-attacks, but Sweden had their opposition’s attack soundly under control for the game’s majority.

England 4-0 Lithuania: England flexed their muscles once again, awarded with their seventh-consecutive victory in a convincing game vs. Lithuania. Rooney begun the scoring with a header in the 6th minute in classic style, and seconds before the half, Danny Welbeck, who has enjoyed an exceptional Euro qualifying campaign so far, found the back of the net by heading in a deflected ball. Sterling added a third when England’s captain fed him with a cross, and Kane headed Sterling’s ball at the far post for the fourth tally of the contest. Roy Hodgson and Co. now have a six point advantage over Slovenia in Group E’s first place.

Switzerland 3-0 Estonia: Another game ended with a considerable range between both teams, as the star power of Xherdan Shaqiri, assisting every Swiss goal, was on full display. Estonia netminder Sergei Pareiko got a hand on Fabian Schar’s header in the 17th minute but couldn’t prevent it from counting as Switzerland’s first goal. Granit Xhaka struck a hard, low shot from outside the penalty area that created the 2-0 scoreline ten minutes later, and then in the 80th minute Haris Seferovic pounced on a loose ball in the box that the Blueshirts failed to clear away. Switzerland, sitting in Group E’s third place with nine points, is now tied with Slovenia.

Other results

Japan 2-0 Tunisia

Slovenia 6-0 San Marino

Slovakia 3-0 Luxembourg

Macedonia FYR 1-2 Belarus

Liechtenstein 0-5 Austria

Montenegro 0-0 Russia (suspended)

FA Cup: Leicester survive trip to Brentford, reach 5th round (video)

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Brendan Rodgers made nine changes, but Leicester City were simply too much for an equally rotated Brentford side in the fourth round of the FA Cup at Griffin Park on Saturday.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Leicester took an early lead through Kelechi Iheanacho with just four minutes on the clock, and that was all the Premier League’s third-place side needed to see off the EFL Championship’s third-place side. Dennis Praet gets no official credit for the goal, but it was the Belgian midfielder’s seeing-eye through ball that carved the Bees up and found James Justin for the routine cross followed by Iheanacho’s tap-in finish.

It was far from easy or straightforward for the Foxes, though, as Brentford turned things around following the first-half whistle an so nearly pulled level just past the hour mark. Emiliano Marcondes whipped in a curling, in-swinging cross that needed the slightest of redirects to find the back of the net, but Halil Dervisoglu couldn’t get a toe on the ball and watched helplessly as it hit the inside of the post and settled on the ground a yard or two off the goal line.

Bryan Mbeumo came off the bench and put the ball into the back of Leicester’s goal with his first touch, but the Frenchman was correctly ruled offside when Rico Henry looped the ball over the Foxes’ defense.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.

Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Eriksen

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After months of posturing and working the back channels, it would appear that Christian Eriksen is close to getting his transfer away from Tottenham Hotspur.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

After months of posturing and holding firm, it would appear that Tottenham are close to getting their desired transfer fee for Eriksen despite his contract having only six months remaining.

After months of posturing and unsettling the 27-year-old star, it would appear that Inter Milan are close to getting their Danish international playmaker.

In the end, it would appear that everyone is going to get what they want, only no one truly gets what they want. Spurs spent the last year trying to sign Eriksen to a new contract; Eriksen wanted to leave in the summer and will feel like they wasted six months of his career; much like Inter would have been desperate to bolster their squad in the summer.

[ MORE: Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong ]

$22 million — the amount Spurs will reportedly receive from Inter — will hardly be enough to replace such an influential player, therefore Spurs come out of this long-running saga the worst of the bunch.

As for Eriksen and Inter, it’ll be a challenge for the player to immediately find his footing and shine ever so brightly in the midst of a title race, especially after the side has already slumped to back-to-back draws and fallen four points back of Juventus. Though, reportedly tripling his wages from Spurs to Inter leaves Eriksen the biggest winner in a mostly no-win situation.

Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

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MADRID — This is uncharted territory for many Atletico Madrid fans.

Few other times in recent years have they seen their team struggle so much under Diego Simeone.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

Few other times have they seen their coach fail so often while trying to put the team back on track.

Atletico hit a new low under Simeone on Thursday when it was eliminated by third-division club Cultural Leonesa in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. The 2-1 loss in extra time was the team’s worst result in the cup competition since losing to third-tier club Albacete at the same stage in 2011-12.

Two days after that loss in 2011, Atletico hired the then-mostly unknown Simeone to replace Gregorio Manzano, a move that kick-started one of the club’s most successful eras and led to a Spanish league title, two Europa League trophies and two Champions League final appearances.

Atletico did go through difficult moments under Simeone, including when the team failed to advance past the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago.

“There were always complicated moments in past seasons, maybe after we didn’t make it in the Champions League, or when we lost in the Champions League finals,” Simeone said. “After being at the club for so long, things like this can happen, although they shouldn’t happen.”

There is a greater sense of urgency about the team’s struggles this time.

In addition to Wednesday’s embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination, Atletico lost the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid on Jan. 12, and already is eight points off the Spanish league lead after 20 matches.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

Before, there used to be a notion that Simeone would quickly turn things around and put the team back on track, but this time there aren’t many signs things will improve again soon.

Atletico has yet to impress since undergoing its biggest squad revamp under Simeone at the end of last season, when it lost Antoine Griezmann and other veteran players such as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin. Young Portugal forward Joao Felix, who arrived to replace Griezmann after a transfer from Benfica worth more than 120 million euros ($133 million), has yet to meet expectations.

More concerning, Atletico is not being nearly as effective as it used to be, when it always seemed to find a way to win matches despite not playing well.

The team remains solid defensively — it has the second-best defense in the Spanish league with 14 goals conceded — but it hasn’t been able to do much in attack recently.

“Everything is harder when you can’t score,” Simeone said.

Only seven teams have scored fewer goals than Atletico’s 22 in the 20-team standings.

Diego Costa has been mostly out injured, and Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Alvaro Morata haven’t done much in attack. Morata is the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, and no one else has more than five.

“We have to be humble enough to be self-critical,” Simeone said. “We need to keep working to try to be ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us. We have a very good squad and I’m sure that the results that we want will start arriving soon.”

Atletico biggest chance to rebound will come next month against European champion Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg will be on Feb. 18 in Spain.

Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong

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Jose Mourinho seems to be quite happy that the Premier League will implement its first-ever winter break next month, allowing players a bit of rest and recovery time during a marathon campaign, but says its timing makes the break almost worthless for clubs competing in European competitions.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

The next four weeks will play out as follows for Tottenham Hotspur: FA Cup against Southampton this weekend; PL fixture against Manchester City next weekend; the following weekend off which results in two weeks without a game; PL fixture against Aston Villa the following weekend; Champions League first leg against RB Leipzig three days later.

In Mourinho’s perfect world, that first round of PL fixtures following the break would be held a week earlier, leaving the seven English clubs competing in the Champions League and Europa League with a week and a half between games before setting out once again to chase European glory. Instead, Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea will all have a quick turnaround from PL action to UCL competition — quotes from the Guardian:

“It is what it is. I’m not happy that the break comes in the wrong moment. The break should be before the Champions League and, in the end, before the Champions League we don’t have the break. We have to play Aston Villa on the Sunday, playing [RB Leipzig three] days later. So we don’t really care about the break, honestly.”

Mourinho’s point is a solid one: if the winter break is going to exist — and it should — then why shouldn’t its benefits be maximized? Non-European sides — typically those with smaller squads — would still have the full two weeks between games, while those in Europe are able to better leverage their slightly larger squads with only 10 or 11 days between games — still a lengthy break relative to the rest of the season.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

It’s only the first year of the winter break in the PL, so perhaps hopefully they’ll receive Mourinho’s criticism — and that of any other managers — constructively.