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UCL Tuesday preview: Man City, Spurs, Real Madrid can all clinch knockout place

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A number of teams have an opportunity to snag a spot in the Champions League knockout phase as the group stage begins the home stretch on Tuesday.

Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid highlight the list of teams that would see their way into the next round with victory tomorrow.

Gabriel Jesus gets the opportunity of his Man City career as the club begins a three-week stretch without injured striker Sergio Aguero. Jesus has often spoken about his lack of playing time at the Etihad and now his time comes to prove he can lead the lines. As City welcomes Shakhtar Donetsk to Manchester, the hosts can seal qualification to the knockout stage with a win, while a draw and a Dinamo Zagreb loss or draw would also do the trick with their magic number at just two. Shakhtar is a familiar opponent for City, drawn with the Ukranian club into each of the last three Champions League groups, with a comprehensive result in four of the five matches in that span, earning a clean sheet in all four wins.

Jose Mourinho gets his first taste of European football inside the beautiful Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which he dubbed the best ground in the world upon his hire. Spurs host Greek side Olympiakos, and while outside results could see them through despite dropped points at home, a win would do the trick on its own. Spurs will be up for the match knowing that with the Premier League outlook still questionable with regards to their initial goals, the European journey is still very much a theater of opportunity.

Real Madrid can secure passage to the knockout stage with victory against group leaders Paris Saint-Germain at the Bernabeu. Angel Di Maria was Real Madrid’s worst nightmare when these two teams met in the French capital back in mid-September, but the Spanish side is in much better form of late. While all the focus seems to be on Gareth Bale, Madrid has quietly gone unbeaten across its last six matches in all competitions, outscoring opponents 19-1. Madrid could still go through with a less successful result, so long as Club Brugge does not beat Galatasaray in Turkey.

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A slumping Atletico Madrid side has the tough task of a trip to Turin to face Serie A leaders Juventus, but will be boosted by the knowledge that a win could see them through. Any less, however, and things become quite dicey, especially should either Bayer Leverkusen or Lokomotiv Moscow win in Russia. A draw for Atleti would see them through to the knockout stage if Bayer and Lokomotiv draw, but otherwise the final place in Group D remains up for grabs. Diego Simeone’s side has won just three of its last nine matches across all competitions, with just three clean sheets across that span. Cristiano Ronaldo was rested by Maurizio Sarri over the weekend as he looks to manage a knee problem, but is likely available for the match at home.

Bayern Munich has already secured passage to the knockout round, but could again put Robert Lewandowski on display as they travel to Serbia to take on Red Star Belgrade. The Ballon d’Or candidate failed to score for the first time in 12 Bundesliga matches this season over the weekend, but still remains in white-hot form. He has also found the back of the net in each of Bayern’s four Champions League games to date, but could potentially be rested with the German side already confirmed through and the top of the Bundesliga table clogged with challengers to the throne. They could do Spurs a favor by winning and confirming Tottenham’s place in the later stages no matter their result against Olympiakos.

Atalanta’s Champions League journey has not gone to plan, but the surprise Serie A contenders last season still have a chance to save face as they host Dinamo Zagreb before finishing out the European campaign with a visit to Shakhtar later on. The Italians have just one point through four group stage matches thus far, and they have not won any of their last five matches across all competitions, falling 3-1 to Juventus over the weekend in league play. However, a 1-1 draw with 10-man Manchester City last time out in Europe will give them hope that a challenge can be mounted. They are not eliminated yet, given they are just four points behind both Shakhtar and Dinamo in the group, but the opportunity is a longshot that would require victory in both their final matches.

Finally, both Galatasaray and Club Brugge look to mount a last-gasp challenge to a Group A that seems destined to see PSG and Real Madrid through to the knockout stage. The Belgian club sits on just two points while Galatasaray welcomes them to Istanbul with just one of their own. Two victories down the stretch are required by either side to stay alive, and even then Real Madrid could end the battle with a win over PSG who has already clinched a spot. The road gets even tougher for the home side who will see Radamel Falcao, Florin Andone, and Ryan Babel all out with injuries, leaving the Turkish side aching for attacking players.

EURO 2020 qualifying: Germany, Netherlands seize control of Group C

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A roundup of all of Monday’s action in qualification for the 2020 European Championship…

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up against Uruguay? ]

Northern Ireland 0-2 Germany

Germany bounced back from its home defeat to the Netherlands on Friday and now sits atop Group C. Northern Ireland held the top spot in the group from the outset of qualifying, but the Germans finally drew level on games played (5) on Monday and subsequently leapfrogged them to reach the summit (12 points each).

Marcel Halstenberg (RB Leipzig) put Germany ahead in the 48th minute with a stunning side-volley from a seemingly impossible angle, followed by Serge Gnabry‘s deft five-hole finish to beat Bailey Peacock-Farrell in the 92nd.

Estonia 0-4 Netherlands

The Ryan Babel Renaissance rumbles on, with the 32-year-old bagging a brace in the Netherland’s 4-0 thrashing of Estonia. Since returning to the Dutch side in 2017, Babel has scored five goals after going nearly a decade without an international goal (May 2008 to November 2017).

The former Liverpool (now Galatasaray) winger got the first two goals on Monday, in the 17th and 48th minutes. Memphis Depay put the game to bed in the 76th, followed by the exclamation point from Georginio Wijnaldum in the 87th.

The Dutch (9 points) sit third in Group C three points back of both Germany and Northern Ireland (with a game in hand on each) after winning twice during this international window. Prior to this round of games, they were one or two bad results from failing to qualify for a third straight major tournament.

Scotland 0-4 Belgium

Belgium (18 points) now sits just one win from booking its place at EURO 2020, thanks to a 4-0 rout in Scotland. Having conceded just one goal (to second-place Russia) in their six games thus far, Roberto Martinez’s side has asserted itself as the class of Group I.

Romelu Lukaku made it 1-0 in the 9th minute, followed by defenders Thomas Vermaelen in the 24th and Toby Aldeweireld in the 32nd, and Kevin De Bruyne in the 82nd.

Eden Hazard missed out on this round of international fixtures due to the thigh injury which has prevented him from making his Real Madrid debut.

Elsewhere in EURO 2020 qualifying

Group E

Hungary 1-2 Slovakia
Azerbaijan 1-1 Croatia

Group G

Poland 0-0 Austria
Slovenia 3-2 Israel
Latvia 0-2 North Macedonia

Group I

Russia ____ Kazakhstan
San Marino ___ Cyprus

EURO 2020 qualifying: Netherlands rallies in Germany, Bale saves Wales

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Late heroics helped desperate Netherlands and Wales to big wins in their quests for a place at EURO 2020.

[ MORE: USMNT strengths and weaknesses ]


Germany 2-4 Netherlands

The Dutch sure can rally.

In a EURO qualifier which could almost be described as must-win, Ronald Koeman‘s Netherlands erased a 1-0 lead and overcame a late equalizer to beat Joachim Low’s Germany 4-2 in Hamburg on Friday.

Serge Gnabry‘s ninth minute goal gave Germany a lead it would take into the break, but Frenkie de Jong scored in the 59th before Ryan Babel helped force an own goal out of Jonathan Tah.

Donyell Malen blasted a close range shot home six minutes after Toni Kroos scored a penalty to restore the deadlock. Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool) put the match to bed in stoppage time.

The Netherlands entered the match with three points from two matches, but had already lost to Germany in its home fixture and was staring up at a Northern Ireland team which is 4-0 to start qualifying. Germany entered the day 3-0.

Wales 2-1 Azerbaijan

However tumultuous his past few seasons have been, Gareth Bale remains an absolute baller.

Bale scored in the 84th minute against stingy Azerbaijan to boost the Welsh to three points and a spot in crazy deep Group E. Croatia and Hungary have nine points, while Slovakia and Wales now have six. A draw would’ve been good for Azerbaijan’s first point of qualifying

Elsewhere

Estonia 1-2 Belarus
Cyprus 1-1 Kazakhstan
Slovakia 0-4 Croatia
Austria 6-0 Latvia
Scotland 1-2 Russia
Slovenia 2-0 Poland
San Marino 0-4 Belgium

Refugee-friendly German club forgoes sponsor for cause

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BERLIN (AP) German soccer club Babelsberg is mixing sport with politics again.

The fourth-tier club is forgoing a main jersey sponsor for the coming season to carry the logo of Seebrucke (Sea-bridge), a group campaigning for safe routes for refugees to reach Europe.

[ MORE: Arsenal sign winger Nicolas Pepe for $87 million ]

Babelsberg, which previously generated headlines for its refugee-friendly stance and an ongoing campaign against Nazis, is donating 5 euros ($5.60) from every jersey sold to the organization.

“The club wants to support Seebrucke’s political engagement for the right to flee and against the criminalization of civilian sea rescues. We opted for Seebrucke because it is a Europe-wide movement that is not only committed to the rescue of refugees, but also to a fundamental rethink in the areas of flight and migration with the focus on the rights of refugees,” the club says on its website.

“With this step, Babelsberg 03 commits itself to the basic principals of humanity and a solidarity-based welcome culture, and sends a signal against the deter-and-repel politics of the European Union.”

Babelsberg was in a position to support Seebrucke after the end of its previous sponsorship agreement with Lonsdale. Main sponsors Oatly, an oat-milk manufacturer, and EWP, a local energy company, both said they were happy just to support the club and leave the jersey free for another sponsor or political message.

“For us, only Seebrucke came into question. We were always engaged in favor of humanitarian issues so it was a natural fit,” Babelsberg spokesman Thoralf Hontze told The Associated Press on Thursday.

[ MORE: Christian Pulisic at Chelsea: “I’m really happy” ]

The new jerseys have been selling well with fans eager to support the cause. The club’s first batch was sold out within 24 hours. The club is also offering fans a “solidarity membership” with 50% of the proceeds going to Seebrucke.

Babelsberg is the biggest soccer club in Potsdam, just to the southwest of Berlin and capital of the state of Brandenburg. The team lost its first game of the new season in Germany’s northeastern league at rival Dynamo Berlin 3-1 on Sunday, but the club’s sporting achievements have long been eclipsed by its political activity.

In 2014, Babelsberg formed Germany’s first team of refugees, Welcome United 03, which entered the country’s lowest league the following year, while last year it refused to pay a heavy fine from the Northeast German Soccer Federation after its fans chanted “Nazi pigs out” at Energie Cottbus supporters in response to right-wing chants and Nazi salutes.

Babelsberg eventually paid the fine after a compromise was reached where half went toward its measures against racism and the other half was to be used by the federation for similar measures.

The affair prompted Babelsberg to step up its “Nazis out of the stadiums” campaign, since joined by many other high-profile clubs including Borussia Dortmund, Werder Bremen and St. Pauli.

Babelsberg’s next game is at Chemie Leipzig on Saturday, when the team will wear the Seebrucke jerseys for the first time.

Jean-Michael Seri joins Galatasaray on loan from Fulham

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One of the most lauded transfers one year ago turned into one of the most disappointing failures in recent Premier League memory as Fulham flop Jean-Michael Seri leaves the relegated Whites to join Galatasaray on loan.

Tracked by the likes of Barcelona and Arsenal, it seemed a coup when Fulham announced the midfielder’s capture from French side Nice for around $32 million. He started Premier League play in excellent form, hitting the ground running with smooth passing, solid link-up play, and what turned out to be Fulham’s goal of the season against Burnley early on.

That goal turned out to be his high-water mark, as the Ivorian’s form dipped sharply with Fulham’s loss total rising higher and higher. Eventually, Seri found himself on the bench behind the likes of Kevin McDonald and Calum Chambers as the season dragged on.

Seri’s loan to Galatasaray reportedly comes with a meager $1.6 million loan fee with an unreported option to buy tacked on. He will link back up with Ryan Babel who joined Fulham on a short-term contract in January and looked bright on the wing before his deal ran out and he moved to the Turkish club as a free agent.

Fulham is making wholesale changes this summer, with the departure of Babel and Seri offset by the arrival of Ivan Cavaliero and Martell Taylor-Crosswell, with more moves rumored. The Whites have been linked with Anthony Knockaert of Brighton.