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

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.

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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.

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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.

Serie A: AC Milan extends unbeaten run since Zlatan’s arrival

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BRESCIA, Italy (AP) Ante Rebic scored his third goal in two matches, goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was superb and AC Milan won 1-0 at relegation-threatened Brescia on Friday to climb into the Europa League places in Serie A.

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

Rebic, who scored twice in a win over Udinese last weekend, pounced on a loose ball directly in front of the goal following a cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 71st minute.

Since Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan over the holiday break, Milan is unbeaten with four wins and a draw across all competitions.

Donnarumma produced several difficult saves to deny Dimitri Bisoli and Ernesto Torregrossa.

Also, Milan fullback Theo Hernandez hit the crossbar in the closing minutes.

The Rossoneri moved up to sixth place, four points behind fifth-place Atalanta.

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“Our goal is to qualify for Europe,” Donnarumma said. “We’ve got to continue like this and not rest for a moment. There’s another big Italian Cup match coming up with Torino midweek and we want to reach the semifinals.

“We’ll take it one game at a time and try to keep this momentum going.”

Brescia was without Mario Balotelli, who was suspended for two matches after protesting a booking last weekend that ended up with the striker being sent off.

Brescia remained one point above last-place Genoa.