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Championship playoff matchups are set

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With the final day of the Championship regular season complete, all eyes are now on the playoff as four teams vie for the final spot in next season’s Premier League action.

Brighton Hove & Albion and Newcastle are both in automatically, and now we look for a third team to join them. The teams to participate were all but set before the day, but the playoff positions were clogged, so determining the matchups was down to the results on the final day.

Reading took down Burton Albion 4-2 on the final day, leaving them in third position. They will take on Fulham, who finished 6th after one of the best second halves of any team in the Championship. The Whites were in 10th in early January, but stormed through the Championship with 11 wins and five draws over their final 20 matches, keeping pace with Newcastle at the top.

Sheffield Wednesday fell to Fulham at Hillsborough on the final day, but it doesn’t affect their matchup as they take on Huddersfield Town, who also lost at home. Wednesday also had a fantastic second half of the season, playing 1-2 with Fulham at the top of the form table the entire way.

Here’s a closer look at each of the four teams in the playoff:

READING

Reading’s Yann Kermorgant celebrates with Tyler Blackett (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images).

One of the most baffling table positions of the entire season, Reading is considered by many to be the weakest team in the playoff despite finishing third. Their +4 goal differential gives a peek into how confusing it is to see them finish so high, but a closer inspection produces even more head-scratching. They conceded 62 goals this league season, far more than anyone else in the top 7, and at times look like a bottom-half team before peeking at the scoreboard and realizing they’ve won again. A perfect microcosm of this is their final-day result, a wild 4-2 win over struggling Burton Albion, a game which they were out-possessed and out-shot.

So where did they win their points? A scrappy team, Reading ground out 18 wins in one-goal games, while only losing five and drawing seven. They play their attack through French striker Yann Kermorgant, who has 17 goals on the season for sixth-highest in the Championship this year. They can also get goals from Jamacian international Garath McCleary on the wing or Chelsea youth product John Swift. Their weekly starting 11 features Premier League experience in goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi, and their squad features USMNT midfielder Danny Williams. Another recognizable name is former Manchester United central defender Tyler Blackett.

Reading was last in the Premier League for one season in 2012/13, seeing their way up after winning the league before immediately dropping back down. They also reached the semifinals of the 2014/15 FA Cup as a Championship side, losing to Arsenal.

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY

With Fulham receiving the bulk of the attention for their attractive style of play, Sheffield Wednesday fans felt slightly aggrieved as their side has been just as good in 2017, topping the form table over the final few weeks with six straight wins until defeat on the final day. They are the opposite of Reading in every way, a defensively stout club that can still move forward and put on a show. This team is a serious contender for promotion, and can shut down teams on their best day.

Their leading scorer for the second straight year is former Watford striker Fernando Forestieri. The Argentinian never saw the Premier League with the Hornets after they were promoted, but he moved to Hillsborough and bagged 12 goals for the Owls this campaign after hitting 15 last season. They have a pair of former Sunderland players with Premier League experience in goalkeeper Kieran Westwood and striker Steven Fletcher, with the latter bagging four goals amid the late-season winning streak. January signing Jordan Rhodes has been a relative disappointment, coming over from Middlesbrough and only bagging three goals in 17 appearances. Captain Glen Loovens is an experienced central defender who spent four seasons at Celtic plus a year in Spain before coming to Wednesday four years ago.

Sheffield Wednesday was a founding member of the Premier League in 1992 and has spent much of its history in the top flight, but they have not been there since relegation in 2000, and have even fallen into League One twice since then amid financial trouble.

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN

Huddersfield celebrates a goal by Manchester City loanee Aaron Mooy (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images).

Another team with an ugly goal differential that somehow ended up in the playoffs, Huddersfield Town is a club that has not seen top flight action since relegation in 1972. The Terriers have come a long way since their 19th place finish last season, thanks in large part to manager David Wagner, a former United States international who has impressed as the first non-British manager in the club’s history.

Like Reading, at times this season Huddersfield has looked completely off the pace, and they’ll be happy not to have drawn Fulham in the semifinals, who beat them a combined 9-1 in their pair of regular season meetings. However, again like Reading, an ability to grind out wins and avoid disappointing draws, they collected their points throughout the year. They had a fabulous turn of the calendar year, with a 14-match run between December and February that featured 12 wins and a draw, but they enter the playoffs having come back down to earth. Their -2 goal differential speaks for itself, as the next team down the table with a negative goal differential is Aston Villa who finished 12th. Huddersfield finished the season with three straight losses and just one goal in those games, a bad omen for the postseason.

Leading scorer Elias Kachunga spent his entire career in Germany before moving to Huddersfield last summer, but the 25-year-old has struggled with calf problems of late, and his playoff status is unclear after missing the last four games. Fellow striker Nahki Wells has seen his goals dry up, with just one score in his last 13 appearances.

FULHAM

The Whites have gathered the most publicity between these four teams throughout the last few months, and are considered by many as the favorites to win at Wembley. Manager Slavisa Jokanovic has the team playing free-flowing, possession-heavy football that looks absolutely gorgeous. Their Achilles heel this season has been finishing, a big reason why they are only sixth in the table. They also have been awful from the penalty spot, dropping a healthy amount of points on the year thanks to missed penalties that would otherwise have earned a higher league position. The defense is leaky, but U.S. international Tim Ream has improved greatly as the season has progressed alongside Chelsea loanee Tomas Kalas.

Fulham is a completely overhauled squad over the past few years, completely unrecognizable from the team that was relegated from the Premier League in 2014 or even the one that battled relegation to League One last year. American owner Shad Khan has given his son Tony a large say in transfer dealings, and it paid off in a huge way this past summer. At its best, Fulham is fabulous to watch. Tom Cairney pulls the strings in the attacking midfield, and there is no focal point up front, with anyone from Sone Aluko, Neeskens Kebano, Floyd Ayite, Chris Martin, or Lucas Piazon can deliver a stunning finishing touch. In fact, they played a number of games without a true striker while Martin was either suspended or tapped up by his parent club Derby County. Their leading scorer is somehow midfielder Stefan Johanson, who has partnered with Kevin McDonald to produce one of the best central midfield partnerships in the Championship. 16-year-old Ryan Sessegnon has an attacking flair that has reportedly caught the attention top Premier League clubs.

What has baffled Fulham this season are sides that bunker in and defend. They have often performed better against the top sides in the Championship, as shown by their pair of wins over Newcastle. However, against teams that close down the lanes and put defense first, the Whites at times have looked lost. Their matchup with Reading is fascinating in that regard, having obliterated Reading 5-0 on one occasion this year before losing 1-0 the next time around.

On This Day: Bornstein becomes national hero – in Honduras

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You know what today is? It’s Jonathan Bornstein day in Honduras.

Ten years ago today at RFK Stadium in our nations capital, a young, hot-shot kid with plenty of hair named Michael Bradley and Bornstein helped the U.S. Men’s National Team come back to draw Costa Rica, 2-2, in World Cup qualifying. In fact, it’s eerie watching Bornstein’s celebration, running to the corner flag and diving headfirst as he’s mobbed moments after by his teammates. It’s a bit similar to what Lanson Donovan did about nine months later.

[READ: USMNT looks to build in match v. Canada]

To add some context, it was the final day of qualifications matches in the Hex. Three days earlier, the U.S. had already secured a place in the World Cup with a wild 3-2 win at Honduras, meaning Los Catrachos needed to win over El Salvador on the final night and hope that the U.S. would keep Costa Rica from winning in the final match.

Who else, but Carlos Pavon gave Honduras a 1-0 win over El Salvador that night. Then, it was Bornsteins goal later that night that put Los Catrachos into the World Cup for the first time since 1982, and left Costa Rica to battle for the shared spot between CONCACAF and CONMEBOL.

In honor of the big day, hundreds of Honduras fans had been mentioning Bornstein on social media, and the veteran defender – currently of the Chicago Fire – retweeted quite a few of the thankful messages to him. Below, here’s video of the call from Honduras TV, as well as from Ian Darke and the ESPN crew.

Unfortunately for Bornstein, this may be the highlight of his national team career. He did make the 2010 World Cup squad and started twice, including the matches against Algeria and Ghana, but he never truly took the next step in his career to become a star left back.

After a calamitous performance against Mexico in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, which also Bob Bradley his USMNT job, Bornstein was dropped and hasn’t been seen from again on the national team stage.

However, even though he’s only a club player these days, he’ll never have to buy a drink in Honduras, that’s for sure.

Euro 2020 qualifying: France settles for draw with Turkey

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Euro 2020 qualifying continued on Monday and included a top-of-the-group clash in Group H.

[READ: England rout Bulgaria in game marred by racist chants]

France 1-1 Turkey

France spoiled a chance at home to put one foot in Euro 2020 after conceding late in the match and settling for a draw with Turkey.

Despite playing without a lot of starters – Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, and Hugo Lloris are all out injured – France still was strong in the first half and peppered Turkey with 12 shots. Goalkeeper Mert Gunok made an outstanding double-save in the first half and Leicester City’s Çağlar Söyüncü did his best to keep Antoine Griezmann in front of him.

In the 72nd minute, Olivier Giroud came on the field as a substitute and four minutes later, he put France in front to the delight of the home crowd at the Stade de France. What else, but a header off a corner. However, the lead didn’t last long. Off a free kick in the 82nd minute, Hakan Calhanoglu’s delivery was nodded home by Kaan Ayhan. The 1-1 draw leaves both France and Turkey tied with 19 points from eight qualifying matches. It also means that Turkey hasn’t lost to France over two games in this qualifying cycle.

Here’s a look at the rest of Monday’s scores:

Monday’s Euro 2020 qualifying scores

Group A

Bulgaria 0-6 England

Kosovo 2-0 Montenegro

Group B

Lithuania 1-2 Serbia

Ukraine 2-1 Portugal

Group H

Iceland 2-0 Andorra

Moldova 0-4 Albania

Ronaldo scores 700th goal for club and country

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Cristiano Ronaldo achieved yet another personal milestone in his star-studded career on Monday evening with a simple penalty kick goal.

With his 72nd minute strike, Ronaldo tallied his 700th goal for club and country in his career. It’s an incredible achievement, and one indicative of his incredible goal-scoring exploits and his long career.

Ronaldo was already leading all active players globally in terms of goals scored, so his 700th is only adding to the list. His former club nemesis, Lionel Messi, still sits a reported 28 goals behind him, according to Soccerway. After them, LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the closest, and he has “only” 542 goals.

The Portuguese icon becomes the sixth male player to score 700 goals in his career. The others include Pele, Romaro, Josef Bican, Ferenc Puskás, and Gerd Muller.

Ronaldo made his debut for Sporting Lisbon in the 2002-2003 season as a 17-year-old and quickly was snapped up by Man United and Sir Alex Ferguson, where he transitioned from a tricky winger to a clinical striker who couldn’t stop scoring.

The 34-year-old has scored 40-or-more goals on three occasions in his career and he scored 25-or-more goals in all nine years he was at Real Madrid. For Portugal, he’s now scored an incredible 95 goals in all competitions. He had 15 goals in World Cup qualifying alone for the 2018 campaign.

Watch the video of Ronaldo’s breaking goal below. Unfortunately for him, Portugal fell, 2-1 to Ukraine.

Southgate, England players sound off on racist abuse

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England took care of business in Monday’s 6-0 thrashing of Bulgaria, but the Three Lions had to endure some horrendous racist abuse from the crowd during the game.

The match was paused on two occasions I’m the first half by the match officials after racist chanting could be heard from a section of supporters, and a large group of Bulgarian fans were ejected towards the end of the half. However, racist abuse continued during the match from small pockets of fans in the stadium.

[READ: England v. Bulgaria delayed after racist abuse from stands]

“I have to say that the officials were on to everything very quickly,” England manager Gareth Southgate told ITV after the match. “We reported everything immediately when we heard things, we had constant communication with the fourth official and the referee. I was in contact with the players, all the way through the first half in particular, and then again at halftime.

”We know it’s an unacceptable situation, and I think we’ve managed to make two statements. By winning the game, but also we’re raised the awareness of everybody to the situation. The game was stopped twice, I know for some people that won’t be enough, but we as a group were on board with that process.”

Raheem Sterling, who scored a brace in the win, also sounded off on social media, as did former England and Arsenal star Ian Wright.

Ultimately, UEFA and the match officials followed the protocol, but the sad part about this is that England and the officials had a plan for racist abuse, and it was predictable that it would happen.

In a statement after the game, the FA confirmed they would be asking UEFA to investigate what happened. However, any punishment is too little, too late for the players who endured the abuse.