EURO 2016 qualifying roundup: Faroe Islands upset Greece (again), plus a Ronaldo hat trick

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The sixth round of 2016 European Championship qualification continued on Saturday, as groups take shape and next summer’s field begins to become just a bit clearer.

Faroe Islands 2-1 Greece

Remember when Greece won EURO 2004? It seems like ages ago, but in reality it was just 11 short years ago. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. On Saturday, Greece fell to the Faroe Islands — again — a tiny archipelago nation with a population of roughly 50,000.

Hallur Hansson scored the game’s opening goal in the 32nd minute and Brandur Olsen doubled the lead in the 70th minute, before Sokratis pulled back a mere consolation goal for the Greeks in the 85th minute.

Greece currently sit bottom of Group F with just two points from six games, a total that almost certainly means there’s little or no chance of qualifying for next summer’s EURO tournament. Faroe Islands have six point and sit in fourth, five points behind Hungary for third.

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Armenia 2-3 Portugal

A hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo led Portugal to a comeback over Armenia, but they sweated it out late. The hosts snatched a shock 14th minute lead when Marcos Pizzelli ripped home a free kick past Rui Patricio. Ronaldo leveled with his first 12 minutes later on a penalty as the game went into halftime 1-1. A mistake at the back led to his second, as neither goalkeeper Roman Berezovsky or defender Robert Arzumanyan dealt with a ball in the box, and the Real Madrid star picked their pocket for a second. But his third was the best, an absolute stunner from 25 yards out that roared into the top corner.

Portugal midfielder Tiago found himself with an early shower for a deserved second yellow after the hour mark, and it let Armenia back in. They pulled one back when Hrayr Mkoyan put home a shot from distance that Patricio fumbled. Armenia pummeled forward the rest of the way, but couldn’t find the last one. Portugal exhaled and earned the three points, keeping their two-point lead in the five-team Group I.

Republic of Ireland 1-1 Scotland

A huge Group D matchup with two teams trying to keep pace with Poland and Germany at the top, the hosts took the lead just before halftime through Stoke City midfielder Jonathan Walters, but Scotland pulled level just a minute after halftime as Chicago Fire designated player Shaun Maloney deflected an effort from the top of the box off John O’Shea and into the back of the net.

The second half proved entertaining, but neither side was able to break the deadlock, and each side earned a point. The draw favors Scotland, who remain in a potential qualifying position three points back of Poland and two behind Germany. Meanwhile, Ireland fails to make a move into the top half of the group, sitting in fourth just two points back of Ireland.

[ MORE: Worry starts to build for France as EURO 2016 hosts lose again ]

Gibraltar 0-7 Germany

Andre Schurrle netted a hat trick, while Max Kruse scored twice, and Ilkay Gundogan and Karim Bellarabi added one a piece for the defending world champions, who take over second place in Group D, a single point off the pace of leaders Poland.

Poland 4-0 Georgia

The Polish squad maintained its lead over Group D by breezing by Georgia. It took an hour to get going but Arkadiusz Milik finished off a fantastic big of passing in the 61st minute with a curling shot from distance. Then, as Poland pushed to put the game away, and they did more than that. Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski burst open the game as time ran down with a hat-trick in under four minutes to roar across the finish line. The win keeps Poland at the top of Group D with 14 points.

Elsewhere in EURO 2016 qualifying

Finland 0-1 Hungary
Denmark 2-0 Serbia
Northern Ireland 0-0 Romania

Rodgers excuses Maddison’s behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison’s decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

“The kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,” Rodgers said, via the Guardian. “He wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff – which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn’t want that to spread to his teammates – decided it’s best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

“He watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time – probably he’ll make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that’s totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he’s made a mistake.”

Considering all that went on during England’s international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there’s no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn’t know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we’ve all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley’s performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There’s only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.

 

Tierney, Lacazette available for Arsenal

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Arsenal are edging closer to finally having a full-strength squad.

Ahead of Monday’s prime-time matchup with Sheffield United, Arsenal manager Unai Emery confirmed that Kieran Tierney was in line to make his Premier League debut, while Alexandre Lacazette was back in full training and should be in the gameday squad.

“Today is Lacazette’s first training back with us,” Emery said in a press conference on Thursday. “He finished it well and he’s feeling well with his injuries. Tomorrow we will be training again and he will be with us. We will decide.

“The most important thing is that first he is training, then secondly it’s whether he can be with us and it depends how he can feel in the next days training with us, whether his ankle is not giving him any more problems.”

This is a huge boost to Arsenal, which has had to rely on some youngsters and have made some lineup changes to accommodate not having Lacazette on the field. Tierney meanwhile could step into a position where there’s already a decent starter, Sead Kolasinac.

Lacazette’s return also couldn’t have come at a better time. In Premier League action, Arsenal’s high-powered offense has been stymied, scoring just two goals in the last two league games. Meanwhile, against weaker defenses in the UEFA Europa League and the Carabao Cup, Arsenal has bagged a total of 12 goals.

The veteran Frenchman has scored two goals in three appearances so far this season, including a big goal just before halftime in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham. However, he suffered a long-term ankle injury in that match that has kept him on the sidelines for more than a month.

“[Tierney is] ready to play,” Emery later said. Now we have two options in that left-back role with Sead Kolasinac and him. We’re going to play a lot of matches after Monday. We will need every player. It depends how he comes into the first training with us, Sead, after his international matches. We now have two players in that position and we can use one on Monday, it depends how they are, one or the other.”

Tierney, the 22-year-old Scottish left back, has made two appearances for the Arsenal first team since recovering from a double hernia operation over the summer. Signed from Celtic for around $32 million, Tierney adds a skill that Kolasinac has struggled with – expert crosser of the ball into the box, where the likes of Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can score when given a decent chance.

USWNT star Rapinoe, boxer Shields win sportswomen of year

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Soccer star Megan Rapinoe and boxer Claressa Shields have been honored as Sportswomen of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

They won in the team and individual categories, the awards coming at the foundation’s 40th annual Salute to Women in Sports.

Rapinoe led the U.S. to victory at the World Cup in France and earned the FIFA Player of the Year award. Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and middleweight champion.

Sheila Johnson, part-owner of the Washington Wizards, Capitals and recent WNBA champion Mystics, won the Billie Jean King Leadership Award. Marta Vieira da Silva, star of the Brazilian national soccer team, won the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award.

Rapinoe thanked her teammates Wednesday night and lauded Marta, a six-time FIFA Player of the Year, calling the Brazilian the greatest of all time and an “absolute hero in our sport.”

John Burke, president of the Trek Bicycle company, received the inaugural Champion for Equality Award.

MNUFC’s Opara wins MLS Defender of the Year

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For the second time in three seasons, Ike Opara has been named MLS Defender of the Year, this time as the foundational piece of Minnesota United’s much-improved defense.

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Opara becomes just the fourth player to win multiple Defender of the Year awards, joining Carlos Bocanegra (2002, 2003), Robin Fraser (1999, 2004) and Chad Marshall, the only three-time winner (2008, 2009, 2014) in MLS history. Opara won the award going away, nearly doubling the percentage of votes received by second-place Walker Zimmerman.

Defender of the Year Player % Club % Media % Final %
Ike Opara  25.75% 27.27% 44.88% 32.64%
Walker Zimmerman 20.40% 17.17% 12.20% 16.59%
Miles Robinson 19.40% 13.13% 15.75% 16.09%
Maxime Chanot 1.67% 16.16% 4.33% 7.39%
Eddie Segura 4.35% 9.09% 5.91% 6.45%
Aaron Long 2.34% 5.05% 1.97% 3.12%

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This time last year, the 30-year-old was a member of one of the league’s stingiest defensive units as a member of Sporting Kansas City. Following a contract dispute with Sporting, Opara was traded to Minnesota in exchange for $900,000 of targeted allocation money, plus an additional $100,000 after Minnesota qualified for the playoffs for the first time since joining MLS.