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EURO 2020: Switzerland, Denmark qualify; Ireland into playoffs

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Denmark, Switzerland and Ireland, the top three teams in Group D, could have finished 2020 European Championship qualification in any one of six permuted orders following Monday’s final round of fixtures, with the top two sides heading straight through to this summer’s tournament and third-place nation going the dreaded playoffs route.

[ MORE: Van Dijk leaves Netherlands squad for “personal reasons” ]

Everything was all set up for a dramatic final day, for prayers to be answered and heartbreak to occur. First-place Denmark visiting third-place Ireland facing one another head-to-head added an even greater level of intrigue of potential for a massive swing in the final standings.

In the end, Ireland came ever so close to causing colossal chaos. Everything finished effective just as it began, with Switzerland and Denmark securing automatic qualification after swapping places and Ireland heading down the road less desired.

Denmark got there by way of a 1-1 draw with Ireland at the Aviva Stadium. The Danes took the lead through Martin Braithwaite in the 73rd minute and appeared destined to finish top of the group after missing the competition in 2016, but Wolverhampton Wanderers defender Matt Doherty headed home to equalize in the 85th. Ireland had a pair of chances after that, but Kasper Schmeichel held firm and saw Denmark over the line.

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Season so far ]

Switzerland took care of business with hardly a worry in the world, as the hammered Gibraltar to the tune of 6-1. Cedric Itten put the Swiss ahead after 10 minutes, though the game remained 1-0 early into the second half. Ruben Vargas made it 2-0 in the 50th minute, followed by a goal from Christian Fassnacht in the 57th. Gibraltar got one back in the 74th, before Loris Benito, Itten and Granit Xhaka each added another in the final 15 minutes.

As things stand, Switzerland will be placed into Pot 2 for the group stage draw, while Denmark would go into Pot 3.

Van Dijk: Liverpool proved ‘everyone is ready’ for decisive December, January

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Liverpool will play as many as 13 more games between now and the end of January — a period which is sure to go a long way toward deciding the fate of their season, including the Premier League title — and superstar defender Virgil Van Dijk insists that Wednesday’s 5-2 thrashing of rivals Everton proved “everyone is ready” to step up and do their part.

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

Manager Jurgen Klopp made five changes to the team that faced Everton, matching the number of goals his side scored. According to Van Dijk, that level of squad rotation was only a preview of what’s the come over the next eight weeks — quotes from the Guardian:

“The players who came into the team don’t play regularly at all. Look at Divock [Origi], [Xherdan] Shaqiri, they did fantastic. We played Adam [Lallana], Milly [James Milner]; everyone is contributing and we need everyone. That is the key message and it is good. The season is very long. This month is very long — January as well — so we need everyone to be ready.

“We have a big squad and everyone is part of what is going on at the moment. Everyone is happy with the situation we are in. And everyone is also feeling responsible as well, ready to play or if you are on the bench. Everyone is part of the success we have and that is the message to everyone and so far, so good.”

Liverpool’s schedule for December and January breaks down as follows: eight games in the PL, one each in the UEFA Champions League, FA Cup and EFL Cup, and up to two in the FIFA Club World Cup. The Reds’ PL fixture against West Ham United was also rescheduled due to their participation in the Club World Cup.

Through 15 games in the PL, Liverpool hold an eight-point lead on second-place Leicester City and an 11-point advantage on third-place and two-time defending champions Manchester City.

Italian newspaper condemned for “Black Friday” headline featuring Lukaku, Smalling

Photo credit: Corriere dello Sport
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Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport has been widely condemned after printing the headline “Black Friday” on top of photos of Inter Milan forward Romelu Lukaku and Roma defender Chris Smalling, former Manchester United teammates set to face one another in Serie A action on Friday.

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

The sub-headline went on to read: “Lukaku and Smalling, former teammates at Manchester United and today idols at Inter and Roma, this is the battle within the battle tomorrow with the scudetto and a Champions League place at stake.”

Both clubs were quick to put out statements condemning the newspaper’s coverage.

[ MORE: Ole gushes over “the best performance Rashford has had under me” ]

Per the Guardian, an excerpt of the article which appeared to attempt to highlight Serie A’s problem with racism, saying, “We are all trying to tackle the issue of racism in Italian football,” before making a racially insensitive statement of its own:

“In the faces of those idiots who boo, tomorrow everyone must instead go ‘oooh’ like children. It will be a Black Friday, but this is not an end-of-season sale.” It went on to describe Lukaku and Smalling as “two giants of color.”

This comes less than a week after Serie A’s 20 clubs put out a joint statement “acknowledging a serious problem with racism” in the Italian game, while providing little or no concrete plan for action to rid the game of the very racism they acknowledged.

Lukaku has scored 10 goals in 14 league games since joining Inter this summer and Smalling has become a mainstay for Roma in recent months, scoring twice and leading the defense to a much improved record of goals conceded and five victories in six games.

Orlando City tabs Pareja as new coach

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Oscar Pareja is returning to Major League Soccer for a third stint.

The former Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas coach will now be plying his trade for Orlando City SC, leading Nani and Dom Dwyer as the fourth full-time coach in six MLS seasons.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

A longtime Dallas player and assistant, Pareja led the Rapids to the playoffs in 2013 before leaving for the head job at his former club.

FCD won the Supporters’ Shield and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup under his watch before he left for Club Tijuana in 2018, where he went 23W-4D-21L.

Here’s Pareja, via OrlandoCitySC.com:

“The future of this Club is extremely bright, with so many opportunities to grow and succeed at all levels of the Club – from the new training facility to the world-class stadium and from the Development Academy all the way to the MLS side. Orlando is an incredible soccer city, with an especially passionate and dedicated fan base. I can’t wait to get started.”

Pareja should be a huge asset in developing the club’s top young talents into professionals, but he’s got a lot of work to do in building a competitive roster. Orlando finished eight points out of the playoffs in a league in which making the playoffs isn’t that difficult of a proposition.

PL preview: Arsenal-Brighton; Blades-Newcastle

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The Premier League’s midweek fixture list has two more on the docket, with mid-table positioning at play in South Yorkshire and London.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Both host sides can advance into sixth with wins, while the visitors will also be dreaming of the top half of the table.

Arsenal v. Brighton and Hove Albion — 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Freddie Ljungberg will have his hands full at home, as Graham Potter‘s Seagulls have been anything but a walkover even in a three-match losing skid versus Manchester United, Leicester City, and Liverpool.

Arsenal, meanwhile, saw its winless run reach eight matches in all competitions with a weekend draw at Norwich City. The Gunners only outshot the Canaries by a 16-15 margin, something that will have Potter daydreaming of ways to break down the sloppy Arsenal defense.

Will Ljungberg finally start Nicolas Pepe?

“Nico is someone who is a very, very good player but sometimes when you come from a different league it takes time to adapt; off the pitch and on the pitch. But Nico is someone I plan on talking to. I’m going to have a little chat with him about what I expect and how I want to play.”

Sounds like no, which is good news for Brighton. #FreeNicolasPepe.

Sheffield United v. Newcastle United — 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold

Chris Wilder‘s remarkable Blades haven’t lost since September, and will like their chances against a Newcastle side which likes to cede possession.

The Magpies are coming off a remarkable 2-2 draw against Man City, though don’t expect Steve Bruce to keep things the same. He has hinted he’ll ring in the changes and trust his squad depth, with Florian Lejeune, Emil Krafth, and Yoshinori Muto among those tipped for opportunity.

“We are going to have to,” Bruce said. “When you look at the games it is a ridiculous schedule. We will have to adapt and need a bit of freshness.”

Newcastle can join its hosts on 19 points with a win, but would likely accept a draw to take them three points clear of 18th place Everton.