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How to qualify for soccer’s EURO 2020

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GENEVA (AP) With the inaugural Nations League program ending Tuesday, the 2020 European Championship is up next for the continent’s national teams.

All 24 places at Euro 2020 are up for grabs when qualifying starts in March, although the Nations League helped shape the draw that will be held on Dec. 2 in Dublin.

Germany, for instance, won’t be among the top-seeded teams because of its poor results since September.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

For 16 teams, there already is a backup plan to reach Euro 2020. Those Nations League group winners are sure of a place in a playoff round held in March 2020 regardless of their finish in the traditional qualifying groups.

Another quirk of Euro 2020 is there are 12 host countries – from Ireland in the west to Azerbaijan in the east – and none gets an automatic entry.

Here is the Euro 2020 outlook:

EURO 2020 QUALIFYING DRAW

All 55 teams in the Dec. 2 draw are seeded according to Nations League results.

They will be drawn into five groups of five teams and five six-team groups, with games played from March to November next year.

The Nations League top-tier group winners – Switzerland, Portugal, Netherlands, England – must be in the smaller, five-team groups. They will play the Final Four tournament hosted by Portugal in June when others are playing Euro 2020 qualifiers.

The top two finishers in each group qualify automatically for Euro 2020.

Pot 1: Switzerland, Portugal, Netherlands, England, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Poland.

Pot 2: Germany, Iceland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Austria, Wales, Czech Republic.

Pot 3: Slovakia, Turkey, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Norway, Serbia, Finland, Bulgaria, Israel.

Pot 4: Hungary, Romania, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Cyprus, Estonia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Georgia.

Pot 5: Macedonia, Kosovo, Belarus, Luxembourg, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Gibraltar, Faeroe Islands.

Pot 6: Latvia, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Malta, San Marino.

EURO 2020 PLAYOFFS

The last four places at the tournament will be decided through a 16-team playoff, the format of which is completely new.

Four teams from each of four Nations League tiers will play in a mini-tournament featuring semifinals and a final next March 26-31. The four winners advance to complete the 24-team Euro 2020 lineup.

If one of the Nations League group winners have already secured a spot, the next-best team in that tier will make the playoffs.

It is a golden opportunity for fourth-tier League D teams which are unlikely to qualify automatically.

So, one of Georgia, Macedonia, Kosovo or Belarus will make its tournament debut at Euro 2020. For Kosovo, it’s a first entry in qualifying after gaining membership of UEFA and FIFA only in 2016.

Other potential playoff lineups:

League C: Scotland, Norway, Serbia, Finland.

League B: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine, Denmark, Sweden.

League A: Switzerland, Portugal, Netherlands, England.

12 HOST COUNTRIES

Euro 2020 will be hosted in 12 cities in 12 different countries, kicking off in Rome on June 12.

It was supposed to be 13 cities – each hosting three group-stage games plus a knockout game from the round of 16 or a quarterfinal – but Brussels dropped out when a new stadium project failed.

The semifinals and final were awarded to Wembley Stadium in London, which also stepped in to get the four Brussels games.

Host nation teams who qualify will have at least two home games in the group stage.

The host city pairings are:

Group A: Rome, Italy; Baku, Azerbaijan.

Group B: St. Petersburg, Russia; Copenhagen, Denmark.

Group C: Amsterdam, Netherlands; Bucharest, Romania.

Group D: London, England; Glasgow, Scotland.

Group E: Bilbao, Spain; Dublin, Ireland.

Group F: Munich, Germany; Budapest, Hungary.

Round of 16 games (June 27-30) will be in: London, Amsterdam, Bilbao, Budapest, Copenhagen, Bucharest, Glasgow, Dublin.

Quarterfinals (July 3-4) will be in St. Petersburg, Munich, Baku, Rome.

The semifinals will be July 7-8 in London, and the final on July 12.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Extra-time golazo lifts River over Boca in Copa Libertadores final

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For all of the negativity surrounding the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final between River Plate and Boca Juniors — from the bus attack, to postponing the game, to moving it to Madrid — the 90 120 minutes of actual soccer delivered on the pre-final hype of a first-ever Superclasico to crown a South American champion.

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Tied 2-2 after the first leg nearly a month ago now, Sunday’s second leg — played at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu — saw River Plate top their bitter Buenos Aires rivals 3-1 (5-3 on aggregate) in extra time.

Dario Benedetto put Boca ahead with the game’s opening goal just before halftime. While the finish was certainly clinical, it’s the through ball from Nahitan Nandez that stole the show, and rightly so. Nandez split two defenders with his inch-perfect pass into space, sending Benedetto in for a straightforward one-on-one chance which he slotted away with ease.

But River fought back with an exceptionally worked equalizer in the 68th minute. Ignacio Fernandez cut the ball back for Lucas Pratto who swept it home from near the penalty spot.

Juan Quintero hammered home the winning goal from outside the penalty area after 109 minutes. Quintero’s left-footed strike departed his foot like a missile and crashed off the underside of the crossbar.

River put the exclamation point on, and added insult to heartbreak, with a stoppage-time, empty-netter to make it 3-1. Gonzalo Martinez raced toward the end of the stadium full of blue and yellow-clad supporters and rolled the ball home with the last meaningful kick of the game.

 

La Liga: Bale scores as Real Madrid get by tiny Huesca

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MADRID (AP) Gareth Bale scored early in the first half and Real Madrid held on for a harder-than-expected 1-0 win at last-placed Huesca on Sunday to move closer to the top of the Spanish league.

Bale found the net in the eighth minute and Madrid withstood pressure from the league newcomer to move to fourth in the standings after 15 matches, behind Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and leader Barcelona.

Barcelona and Atletico Madrid won their games on Saturday, while Sevilla was held by Valencia to a draw.

The match in Huesca happened only a few hours before fierce Argentine rivals River Plate and Boca Juniors played in Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in the final of the Copa Libertadores, South America’s equivalent of the Champions League. The second leg of the final was moved to the Spanish capital after the match in Argentina was marred by fan violence.

Madrid struggled against a Huesca team that hasn’t won in 16 straight matches. Huesca has only won once in the league this season – in the first round at Eibar.

Huesca is making its first-division debut and had never played against Real Madrid.

Santiago Solari’s team needed a solid performance by goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to hold on to the win, the team’s fourth consecutive victory in all competitions after a humiliating 3-0 defeat at Eibar in the league.

“We couldn’t do much in the second half,” Courtois said. “We know we have to improve, but it’s difficult to play these types of matches.”

Courtois and other Madrid players said strong winds in the second half made it harder for the team to control the game.

Marco Asensio and Isco, who had led the team to a 6-1 rout of third-division club Melilla in the Copa del Rey on Thursday, entered Sunday’s match in the second half but made no significant contribution.

Bale scored with a neat volley from inside the area, side-footing a cross by Alvaro Odriozola.

The Wales forward, jeered by some fans in the team’s league win against Valencia last weekend, hadn’t scored in 10 league matches.

Real Madrid was ninth in the standings after losing 5-1 at Barcelona in a match that led to the firing of coach Julen Lopetegui.

Benitez crushes refs for Yedlin red after loss to Wolves

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DeAndre Yedlin‘s controversial red card near the hour mark of Newcastle’s eventual home loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers proved deadly, and left Magpies boss Rafa Benitez fuming.

Benitez was so mad, he let the officials hear it on the field, and then after the match didn’t hold back, calling for VAR to be instituted immediately.

[ RECAP: Late Doherty strike wins it for Wolves ]

“We need the VAR, now. I think we need the VAR,” Benitez told Sky Sports. “You can guarantee to me that the player in the corner of the box can score in the top corner every time? It cannot be a red card [on Yedlin]. We have lost three points today and we deserve to win.”

Yedlin was sent off for denying a goalscoring opportunity, but the controversial decision was made by referee Mike Dean despite the presence of a pair of Newcastle defenders in the area and charging, with Jamaal Lascelles the closest. “The ball was far away and he [Lascelles] was close, close enough at least to see that it was not a clear chance.”

Benitez was also furious about an incident where Ayoze Perez took an elbow from Willy Boly in the penalty area with 10 minutes to go. “It’s so obvious. You see the red card [on Yedlin] and you see the elbow in the face of Ayoze. We need the VAR, right now.”

“I think the team was doing well in the game, but it is very difficult in these situations,” Benitez said. “I don’t need to talk too much because you talk well about the referees, and their decisions that are wrong. Just watch the images, that’s it. It is so clear.”

VAR has recently been confirmed for use in the Premier League starting next season. The league voted this summer on instituting the technology for this season, but instead voted to postpone the system’s installment.

Watch Live: Boca Juniors and River Plate in Copa Libertadores final

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The match is finally here.

After many twists and turns that saw the final’s second leg postponed and scheduled two weeks later thousands of miles away, Boca Juniors and River Plate will meet with 90 minutes to decide the Copa Libertadores winner. The game kicks at 2:30 p.m. ET from the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, Spain.

WATCH COPA LIBERTADORES FINAL LIVE, ONLINE

With the fan violence aside, the focus can return to the match on the field. The aggregate is 2-2 after the first leg hosted by Boca Juniors, with the visitors fighting back from a goal deficit twice. The level aggregate score gives this match the feel of a one-off final rather than a second leg, punctuated even more by the delay between start and finish.

The delay also means Cristian Pavon is healthy and ready to go for Boca Juniors after leaving the first leg in tears after just 27 minutes. Carlos Tevez begins on the bench for Boca. River manager Marcello Gallardo is still suspended for the second leg as he was for the first, but this time he can at least be in attendance, unlike the first leg when he was not allowed in the stadium.

LINEUPS

River Plate: Armani, Montiel, Maidana, Pinola, Casco, Ponzio, Perez, Palacios, Fernandez, Martinez, Pratto.
Bench: Luz, Martinez Quarta, Mayada, Zuculini, Quintero, Alvarez, Mora.

Boca Juniors: Andrada, Buffarini, Magallan, Izquierdoz, Olaza, Nandez, Barrios, Perez, Pavon, Benedetto, Villa.
Bench: Rossi; Goltz, Jara, Gago, Tevez, Abila, Zarate.