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Barcelona jets in for a day to beat South African champs

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) Ousmane Dembele, Luis Suarez and Andre Gomes scored as Barcelona beat South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns 3-1 on Wednesday in a friendly marking 100 years since the birth of Nelson Mandela.

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Lionel Messi didn’t start the game at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg but drew a roar from the crowd as big as any other on the night when he got up off the bench and started to warm up 20 minutes into the second half. He came on for the last 15 minutes. Andres Iniesta did start in his return to the stadium where he won the World Cup for Spain in 2010.

Dembele, Suarez and Gomes all took advantage of defensive errors, with Dembele curling a left-foot shot into net in the third minute and Suarez doubling the lead in the 18th minute. Gomes added the third in the 66th.

Sibusiso Vilakazi scored Sundowns’ goal late on but the Spanish champions were in cruise control against the South African league winner. Barcelona returns home to play its last game of the Spanish season on Sunday against Real Sociedad, Iniesta’s farewell match after 22 years at Barcelona.

Europa League preview: Arsenal, Chelsea debut; Red Bull Derby (of sorts)

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The Europa League group stage begins Thursday, with two London giants taking part in a relatively unfamiliar competition.

[ MORE: Full Europa League schedule ]

Both Arsenal and Chelsea have played in the tournament finals in recent years, but for the most part are Champions League mainstays.

This season, however, it’s the UEL leading one to Greece and the other to a visit from a Ukrainian side.

Both are involved in our five matches to monitor amongst the 48-team field on Day 1.

5 (tie). Villarreal vs. Rangers / Celtic vs. Rosenborg

The Old Firm rivals with plenty to prove kick off their group stages on Wednesday, in turn saying something for Scottish football.

For Steven Gerrard‘s Rangers, that means the chance to make good on their first full European tournament since the 2010-11 Europa League. They took the long way, winning four qualifying rounds to earn these nights. Now what? Perhaps their toughest test yet in Villarreal.

For Brendan Rodgers‘ Celtic, it’s an opportunity to show that while the Champions League has been a bit too rich for their blood, a Europa League group stage with Austrian, German, and Norwegian competition isn’t a problem for the best team in Scotland.

4. Arsenal vs. Vorskla Poltava

Forget the opposition: Unai Emery sees the Europa League as the opportunity to put more silverware in the halls of Arsenal HQ. From Arsenal.com:

“Every title for us is very important. In 2000, Arsenal played the final against Galatasaray but didn’t win. And also, Arsenal played the final in 2006 in the Champions League and also didn’t win. In my career, the ambition is very important for continuing to improve and continuing to achieve the objectives in my career personally and with the team. I want to play for every title going forward.”

There’s no reason to expect anything but a win for the Gunners against a team in just its second European group stage.

3. Marseille vs. Eintracht Frankfurt

Frank McCourt’s Olympique Marseille still doesn’t sound quite right, so let’s go with the manager. Rudi Garcia’s Olympique Marseille has a lot of weapons, including a trio of World Cup winners in Steve Mandanda, Florian Thauvin, and Adil Rami. Their Bundesliga visitors feature a Mexican national teamer (Carlos Salcedo) and an American (Timothy Chandler), but eyes will be trained on a Frenchman: Sebastian Heller has three goals and an assist in three league appearances this season.

2. PAOK vs. Chelsea

With all respect to Vieirinha and Amr Warda, this shouldn’t be a major challenge for Maurizio Sarri‘s men. Yes, even with Eden Hazard, Mateo Kovacic, and David Luiz being rested in London.

But it gets our circle because Sarri has called it the most difficult challenge of their group stage. BATE Borisov and MOL Vidi (formerly Videoton) are the other members of Group L. From ChelseaFC.com:

“I have seen the four matches played by PAOK in the Champions League play-offs. My staff have seen the matches of the Greek championship. I think I know everything.

“We want to play with our characteristics, to control the match with our ball possession, but I know tomorrow will be difficult. They are a good team. They have won against Basel, Spartak Moscow, they drew against Benfica in Portugal. We have to do a very good match if we want to gain points.”

1. RB Leipzig vs. Red Bull Salzburg

UEFA would prefer to avoid matches like this, even presumably one-sided ones, as two clubs owned by Red Bull square off in a meaningful competition. The pair being in the same group will be even trickier when there are chances to affect the next round fate of their brother club (The clubs aren’t technically deemed to have the same ownership, but it’s difficult to conclude the relationship isn’t a healthy one).

Tigres cruises to Campeones Cup in Toronto

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What home field advantage?

Jesus Duenas scored twice to join a Toronto FC own goal on the score board as Tigres UANL beat the MLS side 3-1 at BMO Field in Toronto to win the the first ever Campeones Cup.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Lucas Janson scored late in the match for Toronto FC.

The new competition brings together the winners of MLS Cup and Liga MX’s Campeón de Campeones in a one-off trophy tilt.

The win was a small measure of revenge for Tigres, which was knocked out of the CONCACAF Champions League after a fierce quarterfinal against TFC.

The breakthrough came via Duenas, who beat TFC’s back line to a Juninho pass. Michael Bradley showed Duenas to the back post, but Alex Bono didn’t have his angle covered and Tigres had a 1-0 with 10 minutes to go before halftime.

To add insult to injury for Toronto, who saw Jay Chapman head off the cross bar, Sebastian Giovinco had to leave the match soon after Tigres’ opener due when he injured himself trying a shot from 45 yards.

Duenas made it 2-0 from distance in the 64th minute when he ripped a partially cleared corner kick just off the shin of Nick Hagglund and inside Bono’s far post.

An Eriq Zavaleta own goal made it 3-0 for Tigres, but Toronto received a fortunate penalty kick in the 86th minute to get on the scoreboard via Janson, on loan from Tigre (no s).

Allegri wants VAR, Bonucci doubts ref vision on Ronaldo red

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Sky Sports in Italy says its lip readers confirm that Cristiano Ronaldo’s sending off Wednesday was down to tugging the hair of Jeison Murillo while the Valencia man was on the turf.

Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci wasn’t too impressed, even after his club went on to win 2-0 in Spain.

[ UCL: Real rocks Roma, Man City falls ]

“As far as I could see, it was a pretty normal clash,” Bonucci said. “Murillo put his hands on Ronaldo first, he reacted, but these things can happen and we must be stronger than everyone and everything.

“Ronaldo was angry, of course. The referee saw what he saw – not very well – and we overcame the obstacles.”

Juventus boss Max Allegri wants to take it a step further.

Juve is no stranger to calling for VAR, and Allegri is upset that the Portuguese megastar will miss at least one more match due to the red card (and could miss his Manchester United reunion should his suspension go beyond one match). From Football-Italia.net:

“I can only say that VAR would’ve helped the referee in this decision,” Allegri said. “Going down to 10 men in the Champions League for an incident like that is disappointing. We risked losing tonight with this and we’ll miss him for the next games too.”

It all pales in comparison to the vitriol seething out of Ronaldo’s sister, who reportedly posted on Instagram that “there will be a high price” for his tears, adding that “God never sleeps.”

Arteta: Despite loss, Man City was “ready for the game”

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Mikel Arteta might have enjoyed the opportunity to sit in the hot seat for Manchester City when the Premier League champions opened their UEFA Champions League season at home to Lyon on Wednesday, but he sure didn’t like the result.

[ RECAP: Man City 1-2 Lyon ]

With suspended Pep Guardiola watching from the stands, Man City went behind 2-0 to the French visitors. The champs could muster one second half marker in a loss at the Etihad Stadium.

Arteta said he couldn’t say whether the game would be different with Guardiola on the touch line, but doesn’t think the loss comes down to his absence. From ManCity.com:

“We missed the right pass and didn’t find consistency,” he said. “We felt under threat every time we lost the ball, that can bring the confidence lower. We were ready for the game, keen to start to Champions League because the way we ended it last season really hurt.

“The players are not perfect, sometimes they have bad days, sometimes better. I can’t fault the effort. I won’t judge them because we lost.”

He’s finding more positives than his players when it comes to the day’s mettle.

“We started slowly, and we were inconsistent in the way we wanted to play,” Arteta said. “We lost too many duels. We gave the ball away in difficult circumstances and they scored twice, but after that, the reaction from the lads was superb. We tweaked a few things to control situations better and we created chances, but at this level, it wasn’t enough.”

John Stones was at the back for both of Lyon’s goals, and admitted that halftime hit the players hard.

“Really disappointing,” he said. “To concede two goals like we did is very frustrating,. We came in at half-time a bit deflated. We picked ourselves up and played a better second half but it was frustrating.”