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Europa League: Inter wins, Betis equalizes late, Benfica tops Galatasaray

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In the shadow of the start of Champions League knockout stage play, the Europa League has also begun the elimination stage of its competition, and it’s already provided plenty of fireworks.

In Round of 32 action, Premier League sides struggled on the road, as 10-man Arsenal fell 1-0 at BATE Borisov and Chelsea squeaked past Malmo despite being troubled at the back often.

[ RECAP: Arsenal fails to score in loss to BATE Borisov ]

[RECAP: Chelsea tops Malmo ]

Elsewhere, Inter clung to an early lead and topped Rapid Vienna 1-0 behind a 39th minute penalty from 21-year-old Lautaro Martínez. The Italian club was without main striker Mauro Icardi amid uncertainty surrounding the stripping of his captaincy. In his place, his fellow Argentinian was a problem for Vienna the whole match, earning four fouls, including the penalty that led to his goal.

Dynamo Kiev picked up a solid road result, earning a 2-2 draw with Olympiakos in Greece on a goal by Benjamin Verbic in the 89th minute to secure the level scoreline. Ahmed Hassan opened the scoring for the hosts inside the first 10 minutes with a left-footed strike after strong hold-up play from Konstantinos Fortounis, while Vitaliy Buyalskiy leveled for Dynamo before the half-hour mark on a sliding cross by Tomasz Kedziora. Before the halftime break, Gil Dias delivered maybe the goal of the day with an unbelievable volley from at least 27 yards out, chesting the ball down and letting it bounce once before unleashing an stunning left-footed blast. The home fans enjoyed that until the very end when Viktor Tsygankov headed down a lofted delivery to the middle of the box for Verbic to bounce into the back of the net.

Real Betis picked up a similar result, pulling out a late 3-3 draw at French club Stade Rennais that sets the La Liga side up well for the return leg in Spain. Stade Rennais scored twice inside the opening 10 minutes and were up 3-1 at the halftime break on a penalty from Hatem Ben Arfa just before the whistle, but the visitors fought back and in the 90th minute, 18-year-old Mexican international Diego Lainez somehow tucked a low strike inside the far post despite at a ridiculously awkward body angle.

Benfica picked up a 2-1 road victory at Turkish side Galatasaray on a beautiful 64th minute goal by Haris Seferovic. The Swiss international latched onto a brilliant long-ball by 21-year-old Ruben Dias and used his strength to beat the defender and bag a fabulous finish past Fernando Muslera.

Sevilla grabbed an early 1-0 lead on a flowing counter-attack finished off by Wissam Ben Yedder, and the Spanish side held on for a key road victory over Lazio in Italy. There were only three total shots on target between the two sides in the entire match, with Sevilla holding Lazio to just a single one.

Napoli eased past FC Zurich 3-1 in Switzerland behind early goals by Arkadiusz Milik Jose Callejon, with Pitor Zielinski finishing off the scoreline 13 minutes from time. The visitors could have had more as Kalidou Koulibaly and Zielinski both missed first-half chances, with Milik coming close after the break.

Celtic fell at home to Valencia 2-0, with Denis Cheryshev and Ruben Sobrino bracketing halftime with goals. Cheryshev has struggled in front of net for much of the season after his big World Cup, but his goalscoring form has picked up of late, with three goals in his last five matches across all competitions. Celtic brought USMNT youngster Timothy Weah on in the 59th minute, but the home side was unable to get on the scoresheet.

Shakhtar Donetsk held on for a 2-2 draw with Eintracht Frankfurt in the Ukraine despite falling a man down just 11 minutes into the match. Shakhtar took the lead nine minutes in as Marlos slotted home a penalty, but Taras Stepanenko picked up his second yellow card in the early going, leaving the home side with a man disadvantage.

A third-minute goal was all Villareal needed to skate by 10-man Sporting CP in Portugal. Alfonso Pedraza charged down a loose ball just outside the box and blasted it into the back of the net for the early lead, one which the home side could never chase down.

Club Brugge grabbed an important late 2-1 win over Red Bull Salzburg as 22-year-old Brazilian striker Wesley scored nine minutes from the final whistle. The Belgian side trailed 1-0 at home after a 17th minute away goal from Austrian international Zlatko Junuzovic, but charged back to slide into the advantage heading into the second leg in Salzburg.

All Europa League results:

BATE Borisov 1-0 Arsenal
Malmo 1-2 Chelsea
Lazio 0-1 Sevilla
Galatasaray 1-2 Benfica
Rapid Vienna 0-1 Internazionale
Stade Rennais 3-3 Real Betis
Shakhtar Donetsk 2-2 Eintracht Frankfurt
Sporting CP 0-1 Valencia
Olympiakos 2-2 Dynamo Kiev
Celtic 0-2 Valencia
FC Zurich 1-3 Napoli
Club Brugge 2-1 RB Salzburg
Viktoria Plzen 2-1 Dinamo Zagreb
Krasnodar 0-0 Bayer Leverkusen
Slavia Prague 0-0 Racing Genk

Tottenham holds advantage over Dortmund after first leg (video)

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Tottenham showed on Wednesday that against the top sides in Europe, they’re more than a two-trick pony.

Even without Harry Kane and Dele Alli, Tottenham surged to a confidence-boosting 3-0 win over Borussia Dortmund in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League tie. The match at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday began in a similar manner to Manchester United v. Paris Saint-Germain the night before, until a lapse of concentration led to Tottenham’s opener and game opened up from there.

[MORE: Champions League standings ]

Heung-Min Son, Jan Vertonghen and Fernando Llorente all scored for Spurs, who take a decisive three-goal advantage into the second leg in Germany on March 6. Meanwhile, it was the third-straight match for Dortmund where they had conceded three goals, and is another huge blow to the club that leads the Bundesliga by five points, with the margin slipping.

[READ: Declan Rice submits request to play for England]

After a back and forth first half, which featured Christian Pulisic taking a strike on goal from a narrow angle it only took 65 seconds or so for Tottenham to take the lead. Son found space behind the Dortmund defense and Vertonghen found him with a lofted cross, before Son scored with a right-footed volley.

Dortmund had to take a few risks to try and tie the match, though they also sat back at times, hoping to limit the damage. However, a mistake by Achraf Hakimi let Vertonghen burst into the box, and Serge Aurier found him with a beautiful cross to put Spurs up, 2-0 in the 83rd minute.

Three minutes later, substitute Llorente got his head on a corner kick that found the side netting, putting Tottenham in control of the tie.

Tottenham has to feel very confident of progressing to the quarterfinals at this stage, with a 3-0 lead. Dele Alli and Harry Kane could both return for the second leg, which could help Tottenham get a crucial away goal in Dortmund next month.

U.S. soccer world mourns Hall of Fame defender Clavijo

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USMNT World Cup defender and former MLS coach Fernando Clavijo passed away Friday at the age of 63, his family announced through U.S. Soccer on Saturday.

Clavijo battled multiple myeloma for a half-decade following a decorated playing and coaching career which saw him inducted into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame in 2005.

“It is with deep sadness that we share the news of Fernando Clavijo’s passing on February 8 after a courageous battle with cancer,” his family said in a release. “The support and encouragement he received from friends and the entire soccer community throughout his fight will always be appreciated. At this time the Clavjio family requests privacy as we mourn the loss of a great man and no additional statements will be made. Further details on remembrances and a celebration of his life will be shared in the near future.”

The Uruguay-born defender was capped 61 times by the USMNT, and played in the ASL, NASL, and MISL (indoor). He also played eight times for the U.S. futsal team.

Clavijo started two of the three USMNT matches in the 1994 World Cup: The 2-1 defeat of Colombia and 1-0 loss to Romania.

He went on to coach both club and international soccer, assisting Nigeria before running the Haitian national team from 2003-05. He was the head coach of the New England Revolution and Colorado Rapids before leading then-USL side Miami FC in 2009.

He was hired as FC Dallas’ technical director in 2012.

 

Spurs star Kane to return early from injury

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According to Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs striker Harry Kane is preparing to return from his ankle injury earlier than anticipated.

Kane has been out of action since damaging ankle ligaments against Manchester United in mid-January, and the club ruled him out until March in the initial injury release. Since, however, news has matriculated that Kane’s recovery has been quicker than anticipated, with Kane even saying he “feels great” last weekend.

Now, it’s possible that Kane returns before the end of February, with the Premier League match against Burnley on February 23 as a target. That would be an enormous boost for Tottenham, with league matches against Chelsea and Arsenal to follow plus the second leg of their Champions League Round of 16 matchup with Borussia Dortmund after that.

“He’s doing well. He’s doing fantastic,” Pochettino said in his pre-match press conference ahead of Tottenham’s match against Leicester City on Saturday. “We have to stop him every day, because he wants to be ahead of his recovery and he’s very optimistic and his determination to play as soon as possible is unbelievable.”

Tottenham has dealt with an injury-riddled roster over the last month or so, with Heung-Min Son only recently back from international duty and Dele Alli still out with a hamstring problem. Fernando Llorente has struggled in his understudy role up front, and Lucas Moura was ultimately forced into striker duty in Kane’s absence. Still, with Son back, at least Spurs has a solid backup striker able to take the lead at the head of the attack, and can bide time until Kane returns.

“If you see him [Kane], he’s nearly ready to play, but we need to be realistic too,” Pochettino said. “I think he’s so close to come back again, not for Sunday and not for Wednesday, but we’ll see after.”

Tottenham sits third in the Premier League table, a significant achievement to be in that position after grinding out three one-goal league victories despite the riddled roster. They were knocked out of both domestic cup competitions during that time, but those exits could prove no more than a bump in the road if Spurs can bridge the shortening gap to when Kane and Alli return and the club is nearer to full strength.

Kane says ankle ‘feels great’ as rehab looks on time

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Harry Kane has missed three Premier League matches so far as he looks to return from torn ankle ligaments, and while he was initially ruled out until March, there is good news with regards to his recovery.

‘It’s going well,” Kane told the media while in Atlanta for the Super Bowl. “I went away for some warm weather training and we’re stepping it up.

“We will see next week how we go, start to get the balls out and just see how the ankle reacts. It’s going well so far, but we have just got to take our time with it and make sure we get it right. I never put a time on any of my injuries. It is just about how it feels. The ankle feels great at the moment, so as long as the swelling stays away and we can keep progressing, that would be great.”

Tottenham has struggled without Kane, bounced from both domestic cup competitions and earning three narrow one-goal wins in league play. Spurs takes on Borussia Dortmund in Champions League knockout round play in 10 days, and will almost certainly be without Kane, but a March 5 second leg would be a match Kane could be targeting for a return, if not earlier if the rehab is ahead of schedule.

“I have been watching the last couple of games,” Kane said. “It’s been nerve-wracking watching them, but a couple of great wins. Obviously, I want to be there helping my team, but you have got to have a positive mindset. I am just trying to stay as positive as possible. Hopefully I will be back as soon as possible.”

Spurs have Premier League wins over Watford, Fulham, and Newcastle in Kane’s absence, plus an FA Cup defeat to Crystal Palace and a penalty defeat to Chelsea in the semifinals of the League Cup. With the first-choice striker down, and Heung-Min Son on international duty, Spurs have been forced to play Fernando Llorente up front, and the Spaniard struggled. Son has returned, however, and has added an extra element to the Tottenham attack.