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Isn’t there a better way for UEFA to sort out its World Cup berths?

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There’s euphoria in Portugal and frustration in Switzerland after goal differential propelled Cristiano Ronaldo’s men into the World Cup after the Group B teams finished with twin 9W-1L marks.

There’s bitterness in Italy and relief in Spain after the two recent World Cup winners did battle in Group G, almost inexplicably allowed to be drawn together.

[ UEFA: Who’s qualified, and who’s in the playoffs? ]

And how about Slovakia, who was punished for finishing second to England and ahead of Slovenia and Scotland in a very tricky group?

Then there’s Group I, with Iceland snaring the only automatic spot in what was probably the deepest group in UEFA. Croatia gets to contend a playoff, but Ukraine and Turkey are left on the outside looking into Russia.

At the risk of being labeled reactive, UEFA needs to sort itself out when it comes to World Cup qualifying.

Already handed the most spots in the world, deservedly you must admit, the methodology of European qualifying is never going to satisfy everyone. But surely there’s a way to narrow the minnows a bit faster.

France had to go to the playoffs in 2014 qualifying because, like Italy, it had the misfortune of drawing Spain.

Meanwhile, the world is treated to score lines like this:

Sweden 8-0 Luxembourg (2018)
San Marino 0-8 Germany (2018)
Belgium 9-0 Gibraltar (2018)
Ukraine 9-0 San Marino (2014)
England 6-0 Andorra (2010)
Liechtenstein 0-6 Germany (2010)

Those score lines don’t happen in Asia, where there were only two 4-goal wins in the final round of qualifiers (60). Africa has one 6-goal blowout and three 4-goal wins so far. CONCACAF has USMNT 6-0 Honduras and two 4-goal wins (including a U.S. win and loss). CONMEBOL has no worse than a pair of 5-0 away Bolivia losses. Even Oceania isn’t a total cakewalk for New Zealand.

How to remedy? Some of this in moot if the World Cup field is expanded again. But, in 2006 the top two second placed teams automatically went to the World Cup, which would put Switzerland and Italy into the fray this time around (and that seems fair).

Or maybe this idea would pop, and follow me here:

— UEFA has 52 teams fighting for 13 places in the 2018 World Cup. It gets 14 matches this cycle because a European team is hosting (Russia), so normally it’s 53 teams going for 13.

— Right now each team plays a minimum of 10 matches plus a potential two playoff legs.

— I propose that the top teams are separated from the bottom teams for an initial group stage. X numbers of nations, say 8 of the 13 berths, earn a spot from competing with only the best of the best.

— The bottom group, based on previously performances in European and international competitions in a similar fashion to the Champions League, sees Y number of nations battling for the right to reach the second stage.

— The second stage sees a second group stage instead of one-off playoffs, with faltering top teams facing the best of a second tier.

Essentially, you’d have teams like France, Spain, and Italy fighting each other for an automatic spot and the chance to put their squads through less important matches before the big tournament. And you’d give Andorra, Belarus, Moldova, and the like an opportunity to claim more wins in front of home fans.

Based on the standings from this year’s qualifying, this is a much more attractive option for fans, the game, and the powers.

MLS Saturday wrap: Quakes keep firing; Toronto, SKC falter

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MLS doesn’t have too many days like Saturday, with four away teams collecting wins on a seven-match docket.

The surprise is lessened a bit by the identity of the losing hosts: struggling Vancouver, Colorado, and Sporting KC: Wow, that last one is taking some getting used to, isn’t it?).

[ MORE: Where will Bale go? ]

In a league where only two of 24 teams are above .500 on the road (DC United and LAFC), it’s still saying something about a hot weekend in these United States of America (and Canada).

Columbus Crew 2-1 Montreal Impact

The Crew’s early advantage looked like business as usual by halftime, as Caleb Porter’s struggling men conceded in stoppage time, but David Accam netted right after the break to give Columbus a much-needed three points.

Toronto FC 1-3 Houston Dynamo

TFC opened the door for New England or Orlando City to climb into the top seven by going into an early hole and failing to rally. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore came off the bench, the latter scoring, but the Reds did little on Alejandro Pozuelo’s day off and the Dynamo get a big road win to move without touching distance of a playoff position.

This is not adequate defense.

Philadelphia Union 2-0 Chicago Fire

Marco Fabian scored a beauty and Anthony Fontana also netted as the Union assured themselves another week atop the Eastern Conference. Chicago remains winless away from home.

Sporting KC 0-2 FC Dallas

What in the world is going on? SKC could not find the net with more than one of their 17 shot attempts, and fell five points back of a playoff spot. Worse, the hosts allowed sixth-place Dallas to move five points clear of them.

Colorado Rapids 1-2 New York City FC

It didn’t take long for youngster Sebastian Anderson to go from hero to goat, as the soon-to-be 17-year-old gave the Rapids a sixth minute lead before taking a red card 27 minutes later. Heber and Alexandru Mitrita scored late in each half to drive NYCFC’s dreams of the top spot in the East. The visitors are now seven points back of first, but have four matches-in-hand on Philadelphia.

Real Salt Lake 1-1 Minnesota United

Darwin Quintero and Marcelo Silva traded goals in a fair result.

Vancouver Whitecaps 1-3 San Jose Earthquakes

Make it three-straight wins for the Quakes, who rode Cali Clasico momentum and overcame an early Doneil Henry goal through Vako, Chris Wondolowski, and the in-form Magnus Eriksson.

Kane scores from midfield to beat Juve

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Harry Kane lobbed Wojciech Szczesny from nearly 50 yards to send Tottenham Hotspur past Juventus early Sunday morning.

Maybe he wanted to embarrass a former North London Derby rival, or perhaps he just wanted to avoid penalties.

The goal was made more remarkable by Kane’s blast radius including two men marking him near the Juve part of the center circle.

[ MORE: Where will Bale go? ]

It was an entertaining International Champions Cup match on Sunday morning, with goalkeepers Hugo Lloris and Gianluigi Buffon plenty busy.

Tanguy Ndombele came off the bench to assist and impress for Spurs and Matthijs de Ligt making his Juve debut as a sub.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain scored for Juve, and the latter probably should’ve won it with a dragged shot in the 83rd minute.

Spurs goals came courtesy of Erik Lamela, who tapped in a rebound of a bullet shot from 17-year-old Ryan Parrott, and Moura.

The Brazilian was fed into the box by a sweet Ndombele pass moments after the new Spurs midfielder subbed into the match.

Here is Ronaldo’s goal.

Bale leaving Real Madrid; Where to?

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Gareth Bale is not going to play for Real Madrid this season. The jersey he will pull onto his body remains a mystery.

Real manager Zinedine Zidane said that “it’d be better” for the club and player if he was sold tomorrow, claiming it’s nothing personal but that Bale is simply not in his plans.

[ MORE: Watford chasing Sarr ]

Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett poured gasoline on those comments by blasting the French legend as “a disgrace,” saying the player and agent are “working on” an exit.

From Marca.com:

“Zidane is a disgrace,” Barnett told AFP. “He shows no respect for a player that has done so much for Real Madrid.”

Obviously it’s far from disgraceful for Zidane to publicly admit that a massive player and personality may no longer fit the bill, and Barnett’s harsh words are more than agent talk: He wants a higher fee than will come from Real saying, “He’s 10000000000% available.”

Barnett does represent Jesse Lingard and Luke Shaw, and there are so many reasons to think the Welshman could move to Manchester United. A return to Spurs is obviously romantic, but the club’s wage structure would be a concern to deeming this a fit.

Bale wasn’t fantastic last season, posting eight goals and three assists in under 1800 La Liga minutes and adding three goals and two assists in under 500 Champions League minutes (In fact, he was the 14th ranked player in UCL advanced stats according to Who Scored).

He is not far removed from monster campaigns with Real, and it’s no surprise that his production would drop off in a world without Cristiano Ronaldo around him (and vice versa, to a lesser degree).

There are a lot of reasons to wonder whether Mauricio Pochettino and Daniel Levy would consider what it takes to bring Bale to town. It would instantly and realistically elevate the discussion about whether Spurs could seriously rival Liverpool and Man City for a Premier League title while adding Champions League mettle as well.

The idea of Bale playing with Harry Kane the way he worked with Ronaldo and Karim Benzema is electric, though the prospective move took a hit by Zidane’s lack of love for Christian Eriksen.

Bayern Munich is another potential avenue for Bale, as is the Chinese Super League.

But we wonder if the 30-year-old would sign up for massive David Beckham wages at Inter Miami with a loan to a Champions League side for a season ahead of the Super Becks’ opening campaign in MLS. What better way to engender some fan interest amongst Floridians and Manchester United fans than a nice loan? We’re sure Zlatan brought some Red Devils’ eyes to LA, for what it’s worth. Spurs would work here, too, as would any side hopeful of expanding their American imprint.

Maybe Bale isn’t ready for that step. He’d surely prefer adding to his four Champions League titles and probably likes the idea of doing some bigger things for Wales, but there’s a lot of dough in America and really it’s not going to cost him his place with the Welsh side (though concerns about competition would be legit).

Russian fans clash with baton-wielding police at stadium

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MOSCOW (AP) Russian soccer fans have criticized what they consider heavy-handed policing after clashes at a league game.

Video footage posted online shows police in riot gear beating Spartak Moscow fans on the stadium concourse after a game Saturday with FC Rostov, including two who have fallen to the ground. Fans have alleged they were kept tightly packed in the corridor after the game and then attacked by police with batons.

[ VIDEO: Nketiah leads Arsenal win ]

The Russian Football Union has told the Sport-Express newspaper that it is calling for an investigation and that “this kind of situation should not be repeated at stadiums.”

The Russian Premier League says in a statement that it is satisfied police acted correctly and accused Spartak fans of trying to free fellow supporters arrested earlier over allegations of throwing pyrotechnics.

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