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Kramaric hat-trick puts Hoffenheim in Champions League spot

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Hoffenheim has found itself in a Champions League position after topping Hannover 96 at home 3-1 behind a hat-trick by Andrej Kramaric.

The first of the game came 16 minutes in as a terrible back-pass by defender Salif Sane failed to reach the goalkeeper and instead fell straight into the path of Serge Gnabry who eluded a charging Philipp Tschauner and touched to Kramaric for the tap-in. Gnabry was actually hurt on the play and had to be removed minutes later.

Hannover leveled things up after just eight minutes, but Kramaric was there to give Hoffenheim the lead back five minutes after the halftime break. On a corner, the outswinger evaded the pack but fell to 26-year-old Croatian who produced a fabulous volley to send a rocket into the back of the net.

And yet somehow, his third was even better. A long ball forward saw Kramaric go up against two defenders, and instead of taking them head-on, seeing Tschauner cheating forward, he dinked the ball past the two defenders, over the goalkeeper’s head, and into the back of the net. A wonderful goal that sealed the deal in the 86th minute and put Hoffenheim into fourth place in the Bundesliga table, a Champions League position.

Just a point behind them is Bayer Leverkusen who will play on Saturday against Stuttgart at home hoping to regain that position. Should Hoffenheim gain control, they would be gunning for the club’s second Champions League place in club history, with the first coming this season as they finished fourth the previous year as well. They were eliminated from the Champions League playoff round by Liverpool before finishing last in their Europa League group of SC Braga, Ludogorets, and Istanbul Başakşehir.

Oxlade-Chamberlain back in Liverpool training

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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is back in Liverpool training, nine months after a horrible injury cost him the chance to appear in the UEFA Champions League Final.

Initially ruled out for the duration of the 2018-19 season following an ACL year, “The Ox” is giving the Reds a boost in Dubai.

[ MORE: Latest on Emiliano Sala ]

The 25-year-old Oxlade-Chamberlain posted five goals and seven assists in his first season at Liverpool.

Oxlade-Chamberlain has 32 England caps and 283 senior appearances between Southampton, Arsenal, and Liverpool. He left the Gunners in part because of a desire to play a more central role in the midfield.

Oxlade-Chamberlain detailed his recovery late last year. There’s yet to be discussion of when he might be fit to return to match play, but Liverpool will be careful with its industrious playmaker.

Montreal owner Saputo hands presidency duties to Gilmore

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Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo is giving the reigns of his club to a new president.

Saputo announced Tuesday that he’s handing over presidency duties to Kevin Gilmore, the former chief operating officer of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens.

[ MORE: Latest on Emiliano Sala ]

The Saputo family founded the Impact in 1992, and Joey Saputo shepherded the club into Major League Soccer.

The Impact is coached by Remi Garde, the former Aston Villa boss, and has Designated Players in Ignacio Piatti and Saphir Taidir. The Bleu-blanc-noir just started training camp.

Cardiff “very distressed,” “praying for positive news” regarding Sala

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Cardiff City executive director Ken Choo has released a statement on the missing flight from France to Wales which carried new signing Emiliano Sala.

Crews in Wales continue to search for the plane, which disappeared from radar late Monday night.

Fans have flocked to Cardiff City Stadium and Nantes town square to lay flowers in hopes of a miraculous recovery for Sala and his pilot.

From Cardiff City’s official site:

“We were very shocked upon hearing the news that the plane had gone missing. We expected Emiliano to arrive last night into Cardiff and today was due to be his first day with the team.

“Our owner, Tan Sri Vincent Tan, and chairman, Mehmet Dalman, are all very distressed about the situation.

“We made the decision first thing this morning to call off training with the thoughts of the squad, management staff and the entire Club with Emiliano and the pilot.

“All of us at Cardiff City FC would like to thank our fans, and the entire footballing family for their support at this difficult time.

“We continue to pray for positive news.”

Ronaldo pleads guilty to tax fraud at Madrid court

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MADRID (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo has pleaded guilty to tax fraud and received a two-year suspended sentence.

The Juventus forward, who was facing charges stemming from his days at Real Madrid, was in court for about 45 minutes and signed an agreement which will cost him nearly 19 million euros ($21.6 million) in fines.

[ MORE: Latest on Emiliano Sala ]

Ronaldo arrived at court in a black van and was wearing a black sports coat and black pants. He walked up some stairs leading to the court house and even stopped to sign an autograph.

Ronaldo made the deal to plead guilty with Spain’s state prosecutor and tax authorities last year.

In Spain, a judge can suspend sentences for two years or less for first-time offenders.

In 2017, a state prosecutor accused Ronaldo of four counts of tax fraud from 2011-14 worth 14.7 million euros ($16.7 million). Ronaldo was accused of having used shell companies outside Spain to hide income made from image rights.

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