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Aston Villa beat West Brom in shootout to reach Wembley final

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Aston Villa moved one giant step closer to a return to the Premier League by topping local rivals West Bromwich Albion 4-3 on penalties in the EFL Championship promotion playoffs on Tuesday.

[ SEASON REVIEW: Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal ]

West Brom erased what was a 2-1 deficit to begin the semifinal second leg. Away goals are not used as a tiebreaker in the Football League’s promotion playoffs, thus the two Birmingham sides were forced into a penalty shootout, where Jed Steer would atone for a nearly calamitous error early in the game and season full of similar blunders.

Villa were in England’s top tier from 1975 until suffering relegation in 2016; they fell to Fulham in last season’s promotion final at Wembley Stadium. West Brom, on the other hand, saw their eight-year run in the PL end this time last year.

Leeds United hold a 1-0 advantage over Derby County, heading home for Wednesday’s other semifinal second leg.

Craig Dawson scored the second leg’s only goal, a towering header from Mason Holgate‘s long throw-in, in the 29th minute.

Villa’s Tyrone Mings made a goal- and potentially season-saving block in the 53rd minute, after Steer gave the ball directly to West Brom’s Jacob Murphy, who took a touch toward goal and fired for the bottom corner, the ball destined for the inside netting. Mings recovered from out of nowhere — wide left, where he was an option for Steer to play the ball out — to get a foot in front of the ball and boot it away.

[ SEASON REVIEW: Man United, Wolves, Everton, Leicester, West Ham ]

Steer started the shootout by denying Holgate with ease, diving to his left and getting both hands behind the ball to keep it out. Conor Hourihane took the opportunity to put Villa ahead seconds later. Steer came up big once again, denying Ahmed Hegazi on West Brom’s second effort. Mile Jedinak‘s first touch after coming on late in extra time came at the penalty spot, and the Australian dispatched his effort as coolly as could be done.

Tosin Adarabioyo got West Brom on the board in round 3, but Jack Grealish restored the two-make advantage by sending Sam Johnstone the wrong way for the third straight penalty attempt. Kieran Gibbs nicked the inside Steer’s right-hand post in round 4, but by the grace of luck the ball found its way into the corner. Albert Adomah put Villa’s fourth attempt over the bar.

James Morrison hammered West Brom’s fifth past Steer, setting up on-loan Chelsea forward Tammy Abraham for the decisive penalty. It wasn’t the best penalty ever hit, as Johnstone got a trailing foot on the ball, but it had enough power behind it to sneak over the line and send Villa to Wembley.

Arsenal has doubts over Mkhitaryan’s availability for Europa League final

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Arsenal attacker Henrikh Mkhitaryan could miss the Europa League final over concerns for his safety at the event’s location in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, according to the club.

Arsenal confirmed to the English media via a spokesperson that the club is not satisfied with the assurances they have received from UEFA regarding Mkhitaryan’s safety on the trip. “We are seeking guarantees from UEFA that it will be safe for Henrikh Mkhitaryan to travel to Baku for the Europa League final, which both Arsenal and Micki require for him to be included within our squad,” the statement said. “Acceptable guarantees have not been received yet, and we hope that UEFA will be able to supply these promptly. We are of course hugely concerned that the location of the final could lead to Micki not being able to play in a European final.”

According to a report by the BBC, UEFA has said the situation is still “a work in progress.”

However, despite Arsenal’s publicized concerns, the Associated Press reports that Azerbaijan has indicated that there will be no problems for Mkhitaryan entering the country. “Many major sports events have been hosted in Azerbaijan, and Armenian athletes have taken part in them. Sports and politics are separate,” said ministry spokeswoman Leyla Abdullayeva as quoted by the AP.

In addition, the AP received a statement from UEFA that seemed to indicate they had received assurances of Mkhitaryan’s safety, but did not mention a relationship with the Azerbaijani government. “Assurances were sought on this matter by UEFA and Arsenal FC, with the Azerbaijan Football Association confirming that there would be no problem for the player in question to enter and stay in Azerbaijan and that all necessary security measures would be in place,” UEFA told the Associated Press via email.

The Armenian international missed Borussia Dortmund’s Europa League trip to Azerbaijani club Gabala in 2015, and he missed Arsenal’s trip to Azerbaijani club Qarabag in Europa League group stage play back in October, with tensions between the two countries high. However, Qarabag head coach Gurban Gurbanov said back in October before the match that there should be no problems with Mkhitaryan’s travel to and from the country, and that Arsenal may have simply left him off the roster to avoid the problem altogether.

“If Henrikh Mkhitaryan would come to Azerbaijan it is not the first time,” Gurbanov said. “A lot of Armenian sportsmen came to Azerbaijan but it is the choice of Arsenal that they didn’t send him. Arsenal may be afraid that in front of 60,000 Azerbaijani fans, Mkhitaryan has some pressure and that is why they didn’t send Mkhitaryan.”

Relations between the two countries have been excessively strained since the late 80’s and early 90’s when Armenian-backed forces took control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region from Azerbaijan. The conflict was somewhat resolved in 1994 with a cease-fire but it has escalated in the past few years, including a brief clash in 2016 and subsequent reverberations.

Arsenal is set to play fellow Premier League side Chelsea in the Europa League final on May 29.

U.S. Soccer files response to lawsuit filed by women’s team

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The U.S. Soccer Federation has formally denied allegations of gender discrimination made by players of the U.S. women’s national team.

Twenty-eight members of the current women’s player pool filed the lawsuit March 8 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, alleging “institutionalized gender discrimination” that includes unequal pay with their counterparts on the men’s national team.

The USSF filed its answer on Monday, about one month before the Women’s World Cup. The USSF claims every decision made “with respect to the conduct alleged in the complaint was for legitimate business reasons and not for any discriminatory or other unlawful purpose.”

The federation has maintained the differences in pay are the result of different collective bargaining agreements that establish distinct pay structures for the two teams. Those agreements are not public.

U.S. Soccer also maintained in the response that any alleged differences in pay between the men’s and women’s national teams were not based on gender, but “differences in the aggregate revenue generated by the different teams and/or any other factor other than sex.”

“There is no legal basis for USSF’s claim that it is anything other than a single employer operating both the men’s and women’s teams – who face drastically unequal conditions and pay under their shared employer, said Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for the national team players who filed the lawsuit. “The USSF cannot justify its violation of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII by pointing to the teams’ separate collective bargaining agreements or any factor other than sex. Even as the most decorated American soccer team in history, USSF treats the women’s team as `less-than’ equal compared to their male colleagues. We look forward to a trial next year after the World Cup.”

The USSF and the women’s team agreed in April 2017 to a collective bargaining agreement through 2021 that gave the players higher pay and better benefits.

The federation claims the allegations do not rise to the level required for punitive damages because there is no evidence of malicious, reckless or fraudulent intent to deny the players their rights.

The lawsuit brought by current national team players is an escalation of a long-simmering dispute over pay and treatment. Five players filed a complaint in 2016 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that alleged wage discrimination by the federation. The lawsuit effectively ended that EEOC complaint.

Milan defender Calabria to miss rest of season with injury

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MILAN (AP) AC Milan defender Davide Calabria will miss the rest of the season because of a fractured bone in his left leg.

Calabria had to be substituted shortly before halftime in Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Lazio in the Italian Cup semifinals.

[READ: Top Premier League Storylines]

Milan says tests “have revealed a compound fracture of the left fibula.” The club adds that “a new scan is scheduled to take place in about a month.”

Milan has five matches left this season.

Calabria is also likely to miss the European under-21 championship, which takes place from June 16-30. He has made 15 appearances for Italy’s under-21 team.

Serie A: SPAL shock Juve, Milan hold onto fourth place

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Here’s a roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[READ: Sloppy Man United beat West Ham thanks to Paul Pogba]

SPAL 2-1 Juventus

Juventus will have to wait at least another week to celebrate another Scudetto after a historic SPAL win on Saturday. The club based in the famous region Emilia-Romagna came back to beat Juventus, 2-1. Budding Juventus star Moise Kean scored for the fourth time in five games but two second half goals from Kevin Bonifazi and Sergio Floccari gave SPAL the win.

Juventus, ahead of its second leg match with Ajax in the UEFA Champions League, rested many of its veteran starters including Cristiano Ronaldo and Giorgio Chiellini. 17-year-old Paolo Guzzi made his debut for Juventus with all the changes.

AC Milan 1-0 Lazio

Franck Kessie’s penalty kick goal gave AC Milan its tenth home win of the year and kept the Italian giant in the run for a place in next year’s UEFA Champions League.

Just three points separated Lazio and Milan before the match but despite Lazio reportedly having the advantage, Milan came away with all three points. Ciro Immobile had chances to score for Lazio at either end of the first half, but Pepe Reina came up with big saves to keep the clean sheet. At the other end, Davide Calabria crossed to Krzysztof Piatek but he couldn’t put a strike on target.

In the second half, Riza Durmisi fouled Mateo Musacchio in the box, leading to Kessie scoring to secure the victory.

Elsewhere, Edin Dzeko‘s goal led Roma to a 1-0 victory over Udinese at the Estadio Olimpico.