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UEFA to introduce VAR in Champions League knockout stage

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Following a successful run at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, UEFA is finally getting on board with adopting video assistant refereeing.

VAR will be in use during the Champions League’s knockout stage in 2019, according to a report from the Times of London, which states that UEFA’s executive committee is expected to approve VAR for this season at an upcoming meeting on Dec. 3 in Dublin. Video review was reportedly not supposed to be approved until the 2019-2020 Champions League campaign but recent refereeing errors in the face of successful trials of VAR changed UEFA’s mind.

[READ: Ibrahimovic back to AC Milan?]

Video review at the World Cup proved that VAR could be conducted in a speedy and accurate manner, ensuring the integrity of the game while adding some new drama to the game. Raheem Sterling‘s penalty kick in Man City’s match against Shakhtar Donetsk, when video replay showed he tripped over his own feet, only renewed calls from fans and the media for video assistant referees to be used in these big-time events.

Technology has improved to the point where it is imperative that referees are given all the help they can receive. Players are moving quicker than ever, and the human eye can only watch so much. The fact that referees get nearly every decision correct is in it of itself, an impressive feat. Hopefully, with VAR coming to the Champions League and the Premier League, referees can return to getting game-changing decisions correct.

UEFA: FFP rules must be “strong and clear”

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Current UEFA general secretary Aleksander Ceferin is making a robust statement about his intentions to hold teams accountable under Financial Fair Play.

In the wake of reports from Football Leaks, published through Der Spiegel, alleging that both Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain had overvalued sponsorships to get around FFP rules, Ceferin told the BBC that the same type of corporate actions may not continue under his watch.

[READ: Ceferin says European Super League is “fiction”]

“I don’t want to speak about Man City or PSG but for any club the rules have to be strong and clear,” Ceferin said. “We will act by the book, by the regulations. We know that we have to modernize. We know we have to check the rules and regulations all the time. We know that the situation in the football market is changing all the time. So that’s also part of our thinking for the future – do we have to do something about the regulations to be more robust? Yes.”

The new Football Leaks allegations aren’t exactly breaking news. UEFA ruled in 2014 that Man City had broken FFP rules, eventually settling with the club for around $63 million in today’s dollars, the same price Man City soon paid Liverpool for Raheem Sterling. The settlement helped Man City avoid being barred from the UEFA Champions League as well as help avoid UEFA losing key sponsorships and advertising revenue with one of the big clubs out of the spotlight.

FFP is a double-edged sword for UEFA. It was instituted by former UEFA president Michel Platini as a way to curb overspending and keep clubs from spending so much they became insolvent – look at Rangers or Valencia, for example. However, the way the rules were implemented, it almost forced the status quo to remain the same, just as billionaires from the Middle East and Asia were prepared to pump billions into their clubs, without having to worry about debts.

In order for PSG and Man City to become giants, the clubs needed to invest massively, and while both teams may have broken FFP rules, if they’re operating within their means, it should be allowed. Ceferin’s statement is bold, but it’s one that he’ll have to back up with action if a big club breaks FFP rules again. Is UEFA willing to jeopardize advertising revenue to keep the likes of Man City, or Barcelona or PSG out? We’ll see.

Southgate: ‘Hungry’ Harry Kane ‘best goalscorer in the world’

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There’s no better goalscorer in the world than Harry Kane, according to England boss Gareth Southgate.

[ MORE: UEFA Nations League: England reach finals; Belgium capitulate ]

Whether or not he’s bagging a goal every game, every other game or once every eight games — as was the case coming into Sunday’s pivotal UEFA Nations League finale against Croatia — Southgate backs a “hungry” Kane over any other forward in the world. It’s not just the goals that Kane scores, but his all-around game that allows him to impact the Three Lions in so many different ways — quotes from the Guardian:

“Harry is the best goalscorer in the world. You’re always loth to take a player off of his ability. I know people have questioned some of those decisions over the summer but he’s our main penalty-taker, our leader. In 98% of the games, his hold-up play and goalscoring is critical. He played a fantastic pass for Raheem Sterling after dropping off deep and turning in the first half. We have huge belief in him. He is so hungry to lead the team on.”

Never mind the fact that England don’t have another forward with a comparable set of skills which would allow them to play in a similar way, should Kane be dropped from the lineup for a meaningful game.

[ MORE: Lingard: Making it to Nations League finals is “what we want” ]

Kane only turned 25 this summer, and has already amassed 20 international goals in just 35 appearances (in four years since making his England debut). If he remains the first-choice no. 9 until he’s 30 — let alone a year or two beyond that — he’ll get dangerously close to breaking Wayne Rooney‘s record of 53 England goals and going down as the best the Three Lions have ever had. Prior to his recent goal-less skid, which would have reached a full eight games had he not grabbed the late winner on Sunday, those numbers stood at 19 goals in 27 appearances — clearly an unsustainable, but otherworldly goal-scoring pace.

Kane’s rise to prominence — and ultimately, superstardom — came so abruptly and unexpectedly that so many fans and pundits appear to be still waiting for the other shoe to drop on the impostor who could never actually be as good as everyone else thinks he is. After five full years of prolific goal-scoring for club and country, it’s probably time we start giving Kane a bit more benefit of the doubt.

Captain Kane: England completes incredible comeback over Croatia, tops group

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With a goal and an assist, England captain Harry Kane led the England National Team to a second half comeback in a 2-1 win over Croatia on Sunday morning at Wembley Stadium.

By winning, England advanced to the UEFA Nations League finals, where they’ll meet the other group winners from League A. England finished with seven points in League A Group 4. Spain had six points while Croatia, which could have topped the group, finished with four points and will be relegated to League B.

England had the lion’s share of chances in a nearly must-win game, with only a scoreless draw keeping England alive and staving off relegation. But Croatia looked put one foot in the UEFA Nations League finals when former Leicester City forward Andrej Kramarić scored in the 57th minute. Croatia’s stalwart defense frustrated England but a pair of substitutions changed the pace and tempo of the game.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

Jesse Lingard, moments after coming on, slid home a shot that was saved off the line by Dejan Lovren, tieing the score in the 78th minute and giving England real hope of securing a victory. The game-winning-goal came eight minutes later, as Kane stabbed home a goal off a free kick from left back Ben Chillwell. Jadon Sancho, another substitute, played a role late in pushing England forward down the right flank.

After just a few minutes of action, it looked as if England wound run away as easy winners, with Kane and Raheem Sterling linking together beautifully to get behind Croatia’s defense. But both Sterling and Kane were wasteful with their chances, and by the end of the first half, Croatia’s Ivan Peresic nearly gave England a shock with a decent chance to score.

Croatia, buoyed by its defensive display in the first half, came out with more energy in the second, eventually catching England on the counter as Kramaric scored off a deflection, the ball looping over England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. As things stood, England would be relegated while Croatia would continue their incredible 2018 calendar year.

England looked to get back into the game, but the pace and tempo was missing until coach Gareth Southgate brought on Sancho and Lingard in place of Fabian Delph and Marcus Rashford, who was lively down the left but limped off the field. It was Lingard who’d get the game-tying goal in dramatic fashion, slipping a ball across the line after a shot from Kane had been saved on the goalline.

The Three Lions continued to push and finally were rewarded with Kane’s winner in the 85th minute, holding on to secure the victory.

The game showcased all that was hoped for when UEFA came up with the Nations League concept, turning boring, friendly matches into exciting, meaningful tournament games. The experience gained by England’s players could be crucial as the side looks to prove it was no one-hit wonder from the 2018 World Cup, while Croatia may have to find some quicker defenders to deal with teams such as England, with speedy young attackers.

If this is how the Nations League continues to be in the future, then the more the merrier.

Rooney, “a fan now,” derides negativity of ex-England players

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Wayne Rooney is no longer a playing member of the England national team — officially and forever, now — instead, the 33-year-old superstar now sees himself as “a fan,” but realizes he still has a responsibility to foster a positive atmosphere in which the current Three Lions can thrive.

[ MORE: Report: Chelsea interested in Christian Pulisic move ]

Speaking after his ceremonial send-off this week, Rooney took the opportunity to call out a number of former England players who, he believes, “can’t come to terms with England doing well” in the years since their own England careers ended — quotes from the Guardian:

“I know there are some ex-players who I’ve spoken to who can’t come to terms with England doing well. That is wrong. I’m not like that. I’m a fan now. I want England to do well. I am proud to have played for England so many times and I always have been. I’ve had my time. I am happy with what I’ve contributed to the national team and I look forward now to the next few years and watching this team progress.”

“The team I played in had superstars, but this team has also got superstars. Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, John Stones – one of the best centre-backs in world football. England have got great players and they’ve also got young players.

“I think this is a great squad, with other players who can come in if there are injuries. I have also seen first-hand that they are getting coached right, with good ideas, and the players are responding well to that. Hopefully this team can be the one to bring a trophy home.

“Everyone can see the potential in the team is huge. They have come off the back of a hugely successful World Cup, but in a strange way I think the game against Spain will give them even more confidence than what they did in the summer. That was a massive result, to win away in Spain. To be around the squad, to see how Gareth is coaching, was great.”

It’s an opinion that’s as selfless and team-first as everything we’ve ever come to expect from Rooney, a true lead-by-example captain. While it must be difficult for so many to see their national team have more success now that they’re out of the picture, Rooney sees himself as a custodian for the program and hopes others will join him in taking on that same altruistic mindset.