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Bale, Ramsey shine as Wales breeze past Russia to win Group B

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In their first-ever appearance at a European Championship, Wales have finished atop Group B thanks to a convincing 3-0 win over Russia.

The Welsh will now play a third-place side in the knockout round, while Russia are eliminated from the competition.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s EURO coverage ]

Chris Coleman’s side got off to a dream start, jumping out to a two-goal lead within the opening 20 minutes. Aaron Ramsey grabbed the first goal in the 11th minute, taking a through ball in from Joe Allen before hitting a clever little chip over the keeper.

Wales’ second tally came from an unlikely man in left-back Neil Taylor, who found himself wide open in front of goal after a Welsh counter-attack caught the Russians out of position. Taylor’s initial shot was stopped, but he had plenty of time to gather his own rebound and smash home the first goal of his international career. It was the Swansea man’s first goal since 2010, when he was playing non-league football with Wrexham.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan talks on legacy, broadcasting, and USMNT ]

Russia were extremely poor and continued to be exposed after the break, with Gareth Bale making it 3-0 to Wales in the 67th minute. Ramsey did well to dribble his way through a crowd, drawing three defenders before laying off to Bale. Bale was cool with his finish to grab his third goal of the tournament, sending Wales through to the knockout round.

Bale is now only the seventh player in history to score in all three group stage matches at a European Championship. He is the first player to do so since 2004, when Ruud van Nistelrooy and Milan Baros accomplished the feat for the Netherlands and Czech Republic, respectively.

Handicapping the Elite Eight of Premier League March Madness

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Everton, stand up.

The Toffees scored the major upset of the first round of our week of Premier League March Madness, eliminating Manchester United to advance to our Elite Eight.

Voting in the quarterfinal round begins Wednesday.

[ RESULTS: March Madness Round of 16 ]

Before we go any further, if you’re unfamiliar: To make sure you’re not missing out on either March Madness or the business end of the PL season, we’ve gone ahead and merged the two competitions. The March Madness Final Four and Championship game were due to take place this weekend in Atlanta but now you will be voting on Tottenham v. Arsenal instead of Duke v. Kansas.

Teams are seeded from 1-16 based on their current spot in the table, with Aston Villa winning the relegation playoffs on Monday to remain in the Premier League. Our editor JPW said “they have effectively won the NIT,” to which we add, “a very rich NIT!”

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ] 

Before we handicap the next four matches, let’s take a look at where the field sits after your Tuesday voting.

No. 1 Liverpool v. No. 9 Arsenal
No. 4 Chelsea v. No. 12 Everton
No. 3 Leicester City v. No. 6 Wolves
No. 2 Man City v. No. 7 Sheffield United

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

For what it’s worth, your noted handicapper only scored winning projections on four of the eight pre-quarterfinals.

There were only two significant upsets, which either show the respect voters gave this season’s on-field performance or a vast hatred of Manchester United and Spurs.

Maybe that’s true on the United front, but Arsenal’s power as a sort of sleeping giant bodes well for its match-up with Liverpool. That said, the Reds’ faithful is fired up for this online poll title before the much bigger title to come, and their season will make anyone but Arsenal fans think before voting against them.

Chelsea and Everton is a pretty tasty match-up, too, with both sides proving they can take down loyal and big fan bases. I like Everton to come up with the goods again, carrying a bit more momentum with voters than Chelsea’s easy-enough topping of Newcastle.

Wolves impressed in beating Palace, and a Twitter follower rightly mentioned that they have significant El Tri backing this side of the proverbial pond. Is that enough to knock out Leicester City? It’ll be tight, but we’ll say yes.

Man City should waltz past Sheffield United, but this is the sort of fixture in which both teams have surprised this season. Still, we’ll give it to Pep’s virtual men, just.

Spanish federation: La Liga will play at least every 72 hours upon restart

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When La Liga returns, get ready for it to return with a fury.

The Spanish Football Federation and Spanish Footballers’ Association agreed to a minimum 72-hour gap between matches after La Liga aimed for a minimum of only 48 hours (which, frankly, seems nuts).

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

La Liga president Javier Tebas gave three days between May 28 and June 28 for a possible restart earlier Tuesday, as the return of football in one Europe’s top leagues starts to take shape.

The league and its players reportedly came to terms on a 48-hour gap, but the federation would not stand for that. It seems the players want to get to transfer window quicker, and the league wants a new season worth of revenue to begin as quickly as possible.

There are other concerns for the players, too, given the time of year.

From Marca:

“The Federation thus puts the players’ health above the competition. In addition, during the months of May, June, July and August, it will pay special attention to the hosting of matches in severe heat, solar radiation and humidity which work against the health of the players,” it added.

The report also says that the SFA is unimpressed with FIFA’s idea that contracts will be expanded universally through the end of the season, quoting the players’ group as defending “the individual right of the worker.”

Players had previously rebelled against the idea of government furloughs after talks regarding pay cuts took longer than expected.

As with everything in this COVID-19 pandemic era, the restart is going to take complex navigation. We’re going to have some new temporary concerns as well as a whole lot of “new normals.”

Solskjaer hits out at criticism of players, leagues

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Man United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes the Premier League and soccer in general have become an easy target amid the coronavirus pandemic.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The Man United manager joined our partners at Sky Sports in the UK to discuss life during the nationwide lockdown in the UK and was asked about criticism of clubs and players as talks continue about wage cuts.

“For me football is an easy target sometimes,” Solskjaer said. “For me it’s unfair to call on any individual or footballers as a group because I already know players do a great amount of work in the community, and players are doing a lot to help this situation. Discussions are taking place between players and clubs, what kind of contribution they’ll make. It’s not easy for anyone, and to be called out is not fair for me.”

The English game, including Premier League clubs, have been criticized for applying for the UK government’s furlough scheme which will pay staff 80 percent of their current wages.

Liverpool issued an apology and reversed their decision to furlough 200 staff members and Tottenham and Newcastle have been criticized for using the scheme, while players have revealed various views on whether or not the 2019-20 season should be finished or deemed null and void.

Man United have said they will not use the furlough scheme to pay their staff and Solskjaer defended any mistakes that have been made by certain clubs or owners over the past few weeks.

“Mistakes are being made and have been made by loads of people and that’s how we learn as well. Now it’s about making better decisions, good decisions, I think we all want to help the NHS, the communities, and I think it’s important every single club do what they think is right. We’re all good people, and I’m sure we all want this to be over with as soon as possible. For me it’s about following the guidelines from the government as well,” Solskjaer added.

RESULTS: Premier League March Madness Sweet 16

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Our Premier League March Madness tournament had a thrilling Sweet 16 stage as there were shocks and drubbings aplenty.

With thousands of votes cast, the Elite Eight is set up perfectly as plenty of heavyweights collide on Wednesday.

The standout results in the Sweet 16 were #12 Everton just holding on to shock #5 Man United, while #9 Arsenal edged out their north London rivals #8 Tottenham with 54.86 percent of the vote.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ] 

#3 Leicester City hammered #14 Southampton in the biggest winning margin with a whopping 79.1 percent of the vote, while #1 Liverpool, #2 Man City and #6 Wolves all advanced with #4 Chelsea battling past a valiant effort by #13 Newcastle.

If you want to see the full game schedule, seedings and bracket, here is the post you need as the tournament will run all week long:

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
Tuesday: Sweet 16 results in full
Wednesday: Elite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

Plus, our own Nick Mendola handicapped the field and here is who he thinks will be the favorites to win it all and which teams you should look out for as dark horses over the next few days. His predictions are wild and Arsenal fans will want to prove he is correct and they pick up a first piece of silverware under Mikel Arteta.

Here are the full slate of results from our Sweet 16 matches as our Premier League March Madness tournament continues on Wednesday with the Elite Eight!