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EURO 2016 preview, Group A: France, Switzerland, Romania, Albania

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France

Thrice the tournament has been held in France, and Les Bleus won it on two of those occasions (1984 and 2000). Semifinalists in 1996, France will be favored to win its group and make a deep run as hosts.

Game schedule:

June 10 — vs. Romania at Stade de France in Saint-Denis
June 15 — vs. Albania at Stade Velodrome in Marseille
June 19 — vs. Switzerland at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille

Star player: Paul Pogba (Juventus) — the in-demand Juventus star and Manchester United cast-off is a wizard with the ball at his feet, and capable of striking from anywhere.

Why France can thrive from being host nation: As stated above, they’ve won the tournament twice on home soil, and have lost just once since mid-June 2015. This is a team so deep its B-side would be expected to make the knockout rounds.

But most likely Deschamps youngsters will crumbled under pressure: It’s not that France can’t cope with the pressure, but their mettle as a unit is almost completely unknown given their automatic qualification. France hasn’t played in a meaningful match since the 2014 World Cup.


Switzerland

Just their fourth tournament after failing to qualify in 2012. Has not advanced past the group stage.

Granit Xhaka of Switzerland (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)

Game schedule:

June 11 — vs. Albania at Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens
June 15 — vs. Romania at Parc des Princes in Paris
June 19 — vs. France, Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille

Star player: Granit Xhaka (Arsenal) — We’ll give the nod to the Premier League new boy, as ex-Borussia Monchengladbach standout Xhaka enters the tournament with 42 caps and six goals at the age of 23.

Why Switzerland can make a sneaky run: The Swiss have close to a golden generation of talent that may just be entering its prime. Watch for youngster Breel Embolo to ignite his star, and for Ricardo Rodriguez and a loaded defense to prove stingy.

But where’s the end product? Switzerland has a lot of players who can tempt the goal, but only Xherdan Shaqiri has a goal production rate of better than one in four matches. The lack of a “talisman” will cost the Swiss.


Romania

Romania has been three-and-out in all but one of their four tournaments, the outlier a quarterfinal appearance after both England and Germany flunked Group A in 2000. First Euro since 2008.

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA - OCTOBER 08: Razvan Rat of Romania in action during the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifier between Romania and Finland on October 8, 2015 in Bucharest, Romania. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
Razvan Rat of Romania (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)

Game schedule:

June 10 — vs. France at Stade de France in Saint-Denis
June 15 — vs. Switzerland at Parc des Princes in Paris
June 19 — vs. Albania at Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon

Star player: Vlad Chiriches (Napoli) — The central defender and captain will be the main man holding everything together. Failed to shine at Spurs but has never let Romania down.

With experience in the back and in goal, Romania could just ride captain Chiriches and 111-cap man Razvan Rat into another unlikely knockout round appearance.

The schedule will cost them, though, as opening with the host nation before facing Switzerland should make the Albania match academic.


Albania

Have neither made a World Cup nor a Euro until this tournament.

ZURICH,SWITZERLAND - APRIL 26: Armando Sadiku of FC Zurich runs during the Swiss Super League football match between FC Zurich and FC Luzern held on April 26, 2014 at the Letzigrund Stadion in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Michael Buholzer/EuroFootball/Getty Images)
Armando Sadiku (Photo by Michael Buholzer/EuroFootball/Getty Images)

Game schedule:

June 11 — vs. Switzerland at Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens
June 15 — vs. France at Stade Velodrome in Marseille
June 19 — vs. Romania at Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon

Star player: Armando Sadiku (FC Lugano) — On loan to Vaduz in Liechtenstein, the Zurich striker has scored in each of Albania’s last three matches.

Shock the world? Albania gets Switzerland first, and might be able to hold down the fort and then hope France doesn’t find chemistry in match two before beating Romania.

Probably not, though. Everyone loves an underdog. Everyone should love Albania a ton.


Who’s going through, who’s going home: France and Switzerland advance, with Romania and Albania battling for third.

Marquee match: The finale between Switzerland and France should have the group “title” in the balance.

Top players to watch: 

  1. Paul Pogba, France
  2. Antoine Griezmann, France
  3. Dimitri Payet, France
  4. N'Golo Kante, France
  5. Granit Xhaka, Switzerland

CCL wrap: Atlanta United, Cruz Azul advance

CONCACAF Champions League
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The underdogs did not have their days on Tuesday in the CONCACAF Champions League.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

MLS side Atlanta United and Liga MX mainstays Cruz Azul cruised to second legs win at home to clinch places in the quarterfinals.

Cruz Azul 4-0 (6-1 agg.) Portmore United

Bringing a pair of away goals from Jamaica, the Liga MX hosts just needed to put this one on ice early.

Orbelin Pineda did that in the 22nd minute, and Cruz Azul struck thrice in the second half to win in a landslide.

Atlanta United 3-0 (4-1 agg.) Montagua

It was all about the Martinezes in Georgia, as Pity sandwiched a pair of goals around Josef’s 61st minute tally to send the Five Stripes into the next stage.

All the goals showed calm under pressure, but Pity’s first was gorgeous football. He also assisted Josef’s goal in Honduras during the first leg.

Remaining Round of 16 second legs

NYCFC v. San Carlos (5-3) — 6 p.m. Wednesday
Montreal Impact v. Deportivo Saprissa (2-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tigres UANL v. Alianza (1-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Club America v. Comunicaciones (1-1) — 10 p.m. Wednesday
Seattle Sounders v. Olimpia (2-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday
LAFC v Leon (0-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday

Coronavirus: Italy may lift ban on sporting events by Monday

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MILAN (AP) The Italian government could lift its ban on sporting events by Monday in areas affected by the coronavirus if the number of cases stabilizes.

The outbreak forced a number of sporting events to be called off throughout the country this past weekend, including four Serie A matches in the north of Italy.

This week, the ban on sporting events was extended from Lombardy, Veneto and Piedmont – the areas hardest hit by the outbreak – to also include the regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Emilia Romagna and Liguria, until March 1.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

“If, as I hope, the statistics don’t give us different signs then maybe already by Monday these measures won’t be continued,” Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said. “But it’s only Tuesday today and we have to wait and see what happens over the next few days. The health of the Italian citizens is the most important thing.”

Italy reported a 45% increase in the number of coronavirus cases Tuesday, from 222 to 300. Ten people have died, all of them elderly or suffering from other ailments.

“Obviously, I can’t say I’m not worried because I don’t want anyone to think we’re underestimating this emergency,” Premier Giuseppe Conte said before meeting with visiting World Health Organization representatives. “But we trust that with the measures we have implemented, there will be a containing effect in the coming days.”

Italy has closed schools, museums and theaters in the two regions where clusters have formed and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicenter of the Veneto cluster, Vo’Euganeo.

Serie A matches this weekend are set to be played behind closed doors, including Juventus’ key match against Inter Milan. That game is not only potentially crucial to the title race but also sees the return of former Juventus coach Antonio Conte.

Inter’s Europa League match at home to Ludogorets on Thursday will also take place without any fans allowed in.

Serie C canceled all games in two leagues which have teams in the north. Volleyball and rugby games were also suspended nationwide through next weekend.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation suspended all of its events throughout the country for an entire week, although it said that “for now” next weekend’s World Cup ski races in La Thuile in the Valle d’Aosta region were still set to go ahead. Those races are operated by the International Ski Federation, which has already canceled races this season in China that were slated to test the course for the 2022 Beijing Games.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

El Tri winger Jurgen Damm headed for MLS this summer

Jurgen Damm
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This season’s Liga MX invasion of MLS continues with Jurgen Damm announcing that he’ll leave UANL Tigres this summer after five years with the club.

TUDN has the destination as Atlanta, though previous reports have linked Damm to the LA Galaxy is the spot.

And MLSSoccer.com scribe Tom Bogert says the Houston Dynamo have his “discovery rights” (which remains the worst concept in the entire league).

Reports emerged over the past 48 hours that the El Tri man was headed for an MLS club.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 12-times capped winger has one goal for Mexico, but has not been capped since Oct. 2018. He has spent his entire career in Liga MX.

Damm spent the early part of his career with Tecos and Pachuca, but has been with UANL Tigres since 2015.

He won four league titles with UANL, as well as the 2018 Campeones Cup.

Ex-Arsenal man Gnabry: “London’s still red” after Bayern beats Chelsea

Serge Gnabry
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Ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry still has love for the club.

Gnabry tweeted that “London is still red” after he scored twice for Bayern Munich in a 3-0 beating of Chelsea on Tuesday in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

This after scoring four times against Spurs in a previous Champions League group stage match and Tweeting that “North London is Red.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

So what’s with the London form?

“I’ve got a lot of friends here,” Gnabry said after the game. “A lot of them were in the stands tonight, and it seems they give me a lot of good power.”

Gnabry only scored once during his time in England with Arsenal and West Brom but is a bona fide star in the Bundesliga.

With a three-goal advantage over Chelsea heading to Munich for a second leg, however, he’s not got his head in the clouds.

“Three goals ahead gives us a little bit of confidence, but we need to be prepared for the second leg. We can’t take it not seriously enough. … We’ve seen it last year with Liverpool beating Barcelona, so we have to be careful. We have to go into the second leg with all of our focus.”

Gnabry now has 51 goals and 29 assists in four seasons since returning to Germany from Arsenal. Not terrible production for a player the Gunners offloaded to Werder Bremen for under $6 million in 2016.

What color will London be when Chelsea buys him next year? We kid, we kid…