European qualifiers preview: Netherlands, Spain, Germany in unusual positions (full schedule)

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Four match days remain in the group stage of qualification for Euro 2016 in France.

That means several big name nations have to pick up big points beginning Thursday if they want to avoid the playoff stage, let alone miss the tournament completely.

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To refresh: the top two teams in each group go directly to Euro 2016. The top-ranked third-place side will go through, while the other eight will pair off in a two-legged home-road tie to advance to France. Only the host nation has clinched a spot already.

Take Group A, where powerful Netherlands could be outside the playoff picture after this week. The Dutch have to host first-place Iceland on Thursday before a Sunday trip to No. 4 Turkey, the former opponent with a five-point lead on its hosts and the latter just two points behind Holland.

Group C finds Spain and Slovakia in the driver’s seat, but also en route to a head-on collision for first place. The Slovak side is guaranteed at least third place, but can take a 6-point advantage on second-place Spain with a road win on Saturday. Meanwhile, third-place Ukraine has a pair of relative minnows in Belarus and Macedonia, and will hope to make up its three points on Spain (which holds a five-goal advantage in differential and a 1-0 home win).

Group D has an open-door policy, as Germany has slipped up a bit. The World Cup champions are a point behind group-leading Poland, and host the leaders on Friday before another tough match-up with Scotland on Monday. If the White Eagles can get a point from Die Mannschaft, they’ll have a great chance to clinch a spot with minnows Gibraltar next.

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Sweden has a tough pair of Group G match-ups with leaders Austria and third-place Russia, but its Leonid Slutsky under pressure. The longtime CSKA Moscow coach is taking over for Fabio Capello, and has to make up four points on the No.2 Swedes, making a home win on Saturday all-but-necessary.

In groups H and I, Italy and Portugal have found tougher sledding than usual. The Italians should have themselves sorted by the end of the week, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s side has to avenge its home loss to Albania. The good news? Albania has to play two matches in this window, while Portugal can focus its energy on the Red and Blacks.

FULL WEEK’S SCHEDULE

Thursday, Sept. 3
Kazakhstan at Czech Republic
Latvia at Turkey
Iceland at Netherlands
Wales at Cyprus
Bosnia & Herzegovina at Belgium
Andorra at Israel
Croatia at Azerbaijan
Norway at Bulgaria
Malta at Italy

Friday, Sept. 4
Northern Ireland at Faroe Islands
Romania at Hungary
Finland at Greece
Albania at Denmark
Ireland at Gibraltar
Armenia at Serbia

Saturday, Sept. 5
Lithuania at Estonia
England at San Marino
Slovenia at Switzerland
Sweden at Russia
Moldova at Austria
Liechtenstein at Montenegro

Sunday, Sept. 6
Czech Republic at Latvia
Netherlands at Turkey
Kazakhstan at Iceland
Israel at Wales
Belgium at Cyprus
Andorra at Bosnia & Herzegovina
Croatia at Norway
Azerbaijan at Malta
Bulgaria at Italy

Monday, Sept. 7
Georgia at Ireland
Germany at Scotland
Hungary at Northern Ireland
Faroe Islands at Finland
Greece at Romania
Denmark at Armenia
Portugal at Albania

Tuesday, Sept. 8
Spain at Macedonia
Ukraine at Slovakia
Luxembourg at Belarus
San Marino at Lithuania
Switzerland at England
Estonia at Slovenia
Montenegro at Moldova
Russia at Liechtenstein
Austria at Sweden

Sessegnon beats Neuer to score first Spurs, Champions League goal

Photo by Peter Kneffel/picture alliance via Getty Images)Photo by Peter Kneffel/picture alliance via Getty Images)
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Ryan Sessegnon has his first Spurs goal, which also happens to be his first UEFA Champions League goal, and he’ll love telling the tale of it.

The 19-year-old Englishman ripped a rocket past Manuel Neuer of all people, collecting a deflection to equalize early in Tottenham’s match against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Sessegnon entered the day with an assist in 30 minutes spread across three appearances for Spurs, and needed just 20 more minutes to find a goal.

He made a big money move from Fulham this summer, having made a remarkable 120 senior appearances. Almost all of those came before he turned 19, and he’s scored 25 times with 18 assists.

Kingsley Coman has Bayern’s goal as the teams remain locked at 1 after Bayern hung 7 on Spurs in England earlier in the group stage.

 

Jesus hat-trick downs Dinamo Zagreb, Atalanta qualifies for knockouts

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Manchester City looked sluggish again, but Gabriel Jesus made sure it didn’t matter.

The Brazilian cropped up at a critical juncture for Pep Guardiola, sending Manchester City through into the knockout stage on a winning note as his hat-trick sealed a 4-1 come-from-behind victory that knocked Dinamo Zagreb from European competition altogether.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

The first half was especially lackluster for the English visitors to Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb, with lots of possession but little to show for it. The hosts went in front early on, punishing Man City on the counter on a fabulous volleyed finish from former Barcelona youth product Dani Olmo.

That was the best goal of the day, but Man City picked itself up and pulled back level before the break, with Jesus grabbing his first via a header as Dinamo Zagreb shut off, screaming for Man City to put the ball out with a Zagreb player down. The visitors rightly did not, and Dinamo was punished by the equalizer.

After halftime, Man City was much better, hammering the left flank to take a commanding lead. The second came on excellent work by Jesus in the box to shake a defender and finish with his right, while the third flew in minutes later on a pinpoint Benjamin Mendy cross that Jesus met with a flying karate kick. Pep Guardiola had one eye on the festive fixtures, withdrawing Jesus soon after the hour mark, replaced by Oleksandr Zinchenko who curiously took Jesus’s place at the striker position.

Phil Foden was the best Manchester City player throughout, and finished off the scoreline with seven minutes to go. An excellent buildup down the right saw Bernardo Silva sprung through, and he cut back to Foden at the top of the six-yard box who slid to meet the ball with pace and poke home the cherry on top.

Elsewhere, Atalanta topped Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0 in the Ukraine on goals by Timothy Castagne, Mario Pasalic, and Robin Gosens, meaning the Italians secured the second spot in Group A, qualifying for the knockout stage. The Ukranians were left dead in the water after right-back Dodo was sent off 13 minutes from time, leading to the second goal to seal things up. Atalanta’s advancement marks a stunning comeback given the Italian side failed to secure points in any of their first three group stage matches.

That left Shakhtar in third, dropping to the Europa League, while Dinamo Zagreb was left at the bottom of the group, on the outside looking in.

Charlotte MLS club files trademarks for eight potential names

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It is being heavily reported that Charlotte is the next city to earn a club in the rapidly expanding Major League Soccer landscape, and Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper has taken the next step towards that possibility.

The new club needs a name, and they appear to be nearing a selection. Tepper filed for eight different name trademarks, according to multiple reports, including The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue who confirmed the filings were made under Tepper’s Panthers address.

Here is the list of names he filed copyright requests for:

“Charlotte FC” would be a bare-bones and generic name that follows in the footsteps of recent MLS expansion clubs such as Orlando City SC, NYCFC or LAFC. Others are a little more colorful, including “Carolina Gliders FC” or “Charlotte Monarchs FC,” while a few others like “Charlotte Town FC” or “Charlotte Athletic FC” clearly call forth thoughts of smaller English clubs.

Rodrigue speculated that the relative lack of “Carolina” encompassing names is potentially due to the possibility of an expansion bid from Raleigh down the road, and a Carolina team would potentially provide an unnecessary roadblock to that future prospect. There is a clear lack of region-encompassing names in Major League Soccer, with “New England Revolution” the only example, and there’s no real reason to break that mold with another potential bid city down the road.

Which name is your favorite? What would you have gone with if you could name the club?

LIVE, UCL: Two knockout spots remain; Man City, Tottenham in play

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Two more spots in the knockout round remain unclaimed as the final day of group stage play begins on Wednesday.

Groups C and D both require a second team to progress through to the Round of 16, with five teams still in the mix.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Manchester City has already won Group D, but the remaining three teams Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb, and Atalanta all remain in contention for the second spot. Shakhtar currently sits second and has a home match with Atalanta, while Dinamo Zagreb host Man City in Croatia. Both those games feature in the early 12:55 p.m. ET kickoffs.

Group D, meanwhile, has a pair of sides vying for the last spot. Atletico Madrid has a point advantage, currently sitting in second with a home match against already eliminated Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow. Bayer Leverkusen, meanwhile, hosts group winners Juventus in Germany.

Elsewhere, Tottenham Hotspur has already locked up a spot in the knockout stage, locked into the second spot in Group A, and they finish out the group stage with a visit to confirmed group winners Bayern Munich. Jose Mourinho told the press he forbid his players from watching any footage of the 7-2 defeat to Bayern to begin group stage play, and is resting “a few players” ahead of the festive Premier League fixtures.

Finally, Group A has already been decided with Real Madrid confirmed to finish second behind winners Paris Saint-Germain, but the two still have to complete the fixture list. Madrid heads to Belgium to take on Club Brugge, while PSG hosts Galatasaray. The Spanish side is most likely to rest players, with a weekend visit to Valencia coming up on Sunday followed by a midweek El Clasico that was rescheduled from earlier in the season.

Below is the full schedule for the last UCL games on Wednesday, with all games kicking off at 3 p.m. ET unless otherwise noted, and you can follow the action live by clicking on the link above.


Wednesday Champions League action

Group A

Club Brugge v. Real Madrid
Paris Saint-Germain v. Galatasaray

Group B

Bayern Munich v. Tottenham Hotspur
Olympiakos v. Red Star Belgrade

Group C

Dinamo Zagreb v. Manchester City (12:55 p.m. ET)
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Atalanta (12:55 p.m. ET)

Group D

Atletico Madrid v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen v. Juventus