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Champions League wrap: PSG advances; USMNT stars shine

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Tottenham Hotspur, Paris Saint-Germain, and Liverpool clinched spots in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds with results on Tuesday.

For Liverpool and PSG, the spots came via away wins, while Spurs crafted an equalizer to earn a point in Barcelona.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

And two American players had good days, with Club Brugge goalkeeper Ethan Horvath keeping a clean sheet and Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic setting the table for a goal.


Club Brugge 0-0 Atletico Madrid

On the same day Zack Steffen was announced as a future goalkeeper for a Champions League club, fellow USMNT backstop Ethan Horvath produced a fine display in blanking Atletico Madrid.

Horvath, 23, made several key saves as Club Brugge finished third in its group and will play in the Europa League knockout rounds. Antoine Griezmann, Saul, Koke, and Thomas Lemar were among the top players in the XI for Atleti.

AS Monaco 0-2 Borussia Dortmund

Thierry Henry’s men are out of European competition thanks to a pair of goals from Raphael Guerreiro and no offensive answers of their own.

Paco Alcacer and Maximilian Philipp assisted the goals, and American winger Christian Pulisic went 90 minutes for the Bundesliga leaders.

He deserves the ol’ hockey assist on this one:


Barcelona 1-1 Tottenham HotspurRECAP

Lucas Moura‘s late goal was enough to get Spurs a draw at the Camp Nou, canceling out Ousmane Dembele’s terrific opening goal.

Inter Milan 1-1 PSV Eindhoven

Hirving Lozano’s early goal nearly stood up for the visitors, and Mauro Icardi’s late leveler wasn’t enough to push Inter beyond Spurs. That means Inter Milan is off to the Europa League.


Red Star Belgrade 1-4 Paris Saint-Germain

The stars were out for PSG, which knew it would move into the knockout rounds with a win and built a 2-0 lead through Edinson Cavani and Neymar before Marquinhos and Kylian Mbappe put it to bed late to win Group C.

Liverpool 1-0 NapoliRECAP

The chances were myriad for Liverpool, but only Mohamed Salah found the back of the net as the Reds earned a spot in the Round of 16.


Schalke 1-0 Lokomotiv Moscow

Alessandro Schopf scored the lone goal, and USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie was rested for already-advanced Schalke.

Galatasaray 2-3 Porto

Sergio Oliveira’s goal was decisive in a wild match with two penalties but no lead changes.

Mancini might hand debut to Italy’s “next Pirlo” vs. USMNT

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GENK, Belgium (AP) Italian teenager Sandro Tonali could become the first player born in the millennium to play for the Azzurri on Tuesday in a friendly against the United States.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT face Italy in 2018 finale | Should Pulisic move to PL? ]

The hype around Tonal has labeled the 18-year-old midfielder the next Andrea Pirlo.

Tonali has never played in the Italian top flight, and made his professional debut only 14 months ago for Serie B side Brescia, but has impressed sufficiently to be summoned by the national side.

He didn’t feature on Saturday in the 0-0 draw against Portugal in the UEFA Nations League but he and other young players will likely get their chance against the U.S.

“We’re here to look at players like Tonali,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said on Monday. “And I’m curious to see them, too.

“If the players from Saturday have recovered and are well they’ll play. But then of course there will be space for others since it’s a test. We’re curious to see Tonali at work, as well as the other youngsters.”

Five of the players who started at San Siro on Saturday are unavailable: Giorgio Chiellini, Alessandro Florenzi, Lorenzo Inisgne, Ciro Immobile and Jorginho have been allowed to return to their clubs, as well as Lorenzo Pellegrini.

[ UEFA Nations League: Germany end year with late collapse, relegation ]

Sassuolo midfielder Stefano Sensi and Hoffenheim forward Vincenzo Grifo could also be in line for their debuts.

Mancini will be hoping whoever he picks will find the back of the net against the U.S., and end Italy’s struggles.

Defender Chiellini, who made his 100th appearance for Italy on Saturday, was the top goalscorer among those called up for the two matches, having netted eight times for the team.

“It’s a problem because if you don’t score you don’t win,” Mancini said. “But in the matches against Ukraine, Poland, and Portugal we created more than 20 chances.

“It’s just a question of bad luck. Let’s hope the wheel will turn soon. What’s important is to continue creating chances and playing in attack.”

Preview: USMNT face Italy in 2018 finale

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The U.S. men’s national team end their 2018 campaign with a friendly against Italy in Genk, Belgium on Tuesday at 2:45 p.m. ET.

This is a clash between two teams who failed to reach the 2018 World Cup and have now turned to youth to try and turn their programs around.

[ MORE: How will USA line up v Italy? ]

It has been a strange year for everyone connected with the USMNT, as interim head coach Dave Sarachan has now been in charge for 13 months but still no new permanent coach had been announced and the U.S. were humbled 3-0 by a much-changed England at Wembley last Thursday.

[ MORE: Dortmund issue Pulisic update

Roberto Mancini and the Azzurri are the final test of a gruelling few months for the USMNT, as they’ve now faced Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and England in the fall, winning just one of those games as several youngsters have been given the chance to shine but there’s still no long-term plan.

Christian Pulisic is back in the U.S. setup and will be looking to lead a team which has an average age of just under 24 to an upset of No. 19 ranked Italy. Mancini has sent home several of his more experienced players ahead of this game and will give plenty of youngsters a chance, including teenager Sandro Tonali who Italy have high hopes for as a deep-lying playmaker.

[ MORE: VAR to be used for Italy-USA ]

In team news Weston McKennie, Kenny Saief and Luca De La Torre all left the USMNT squad over the past few days due to injury, but Josh Sargent is fit to play against Italy as the Werder Bremen forward didn’t feature against England due to a small knock. Sarachan has said there will be plenty of changes to his lineup, and it will be intriguing to see if the USMNT players who will be involved in the MLS Cup playoffs next week will feature.

Pro Soccer Talk will be at the Luminus Arena in Genk and you can follow live updates on Italy v. USA here.


What they’re saying…

Dave Sarachan on Italy and possible USMNT lineup: “We respect them. It will be an important test for our guys. We will have a number of changes in the lineup and it will be one of those tests that will go a long way down the road. We are excited about it and it should be a good night.”

Roberto Mancini on giving youngsters a chance: “We are working, trying to renovate the Nazionale with young players and a different tactical approach. We need to get to know them better, to see them in action. Hopefully, many young players will get a chance to feature, as that’ll mean we’ve got a bright future ahead of us. I think there are many talented players out there, they just need to gain some experience.”


Prediction

This is a very tough game to call. There’s no doubt that the USMNT youngsters will want to end a tough year on a high as they try to impress the incoming coach (expected to be Gregg Berhalter) but Italy’s youngsters will want to grab their chance to impress too. Pulisic could be the difference in this game and I’m going for a 1-1 draw in Genk as Sarachan will leave his time in charge of the USMNT with his head held high. A draw would be a very respectable end to a tough 12 months for the U.S. program. 2019 can’t come soon enough as they plan for the long road ahead and a shot at redemption.

Italy: No Chiellini, Insigne, Verratti vs. USMNT

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Like England,  against the U.S. Men’s National Team in Genk, Belgium.

The Italian National Team has released many of its veterans ahead of the match, including Giorgio Chiellini, Lorenzo Insigne, Marco Verrati and Ciro Immobile. In their place, a number of youngsters will be getting more action, and Sandro Tonalli is in line for his debut for the Azzurri.

Roma midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini was set to start but an injury has sent him back home to Rome.

Like against England, facing Italy will be a good test for the USMNT as a marker for how far along the young USA squad is. It could be another chance to defeat Italy for the second time this decade on European soil.

Mancini wants to ‘bring Italy back where it belongs’

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MILAN (AP) A year after its stunning elimination by Sweden in a World Cup playoff, Italy is back at the San Siro stadium for another potentially decisive match.

The Azzurri have to beat Cristiano Ronaldo-less Portugal on Saturday and then hope the European champion does not defeat Poland three days later in order to reach the UEFA Nations League finals.

[ MORE: Netherlands wins, Germany relegated ]

“We would like to advance, and we’ll try to, but the No. 1 objective remains qualifying for the European Championship,” coach Roberto Mancini said on Friday.

Portugal leads Group 4 with a perfect six points, Italy has four, and Poland one.

The group winner advances to the Final Four in June. Poland is already assured of finishing last in the group and will be relegated to League B.

Mancini was hired after previous coach Gian Piero Ventura was blamed for Italy’s failed World Cup qualification.

“I see a team that wants to roll its sleeves up and bring Italy back where it belongs,” Mancini said. “Let’s be clear, we still need some time, but we’re on the right path.”

Defender Giorgio Chiellini is slated to make his 100th appearance for Italy while wearing the captain’s armband.

“I want to celebrate the achievement only at the end of the match,” Chiellini said. “First let’s focus on Portugal, try to bring home three points and provide continuity to the good work done to this point.”

Chiellini retired from the national team in the aftermath of the loss to Sweden but then changed his mind.

“The real disappointment came in June when many of my club teammates left for Russia while I was preparing my suitcases for vacation,” Chiellini said.

Fellow defender Alessio Romagnoli left Italy’s squad on Friday with a muscular injury, and Italy is also without forward Federico Bernardeschi.

Bernardeschi was a key performer in the 1-0 win over Poland last month, lining up alongside Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Chiesa.

Unable to use the same lineup, Mancini announced that Ciro Immobile will likely start at center forward.

Italy has had trouble scoring.

The last time the Azzurri scored more than one goal was in May, a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia in a friendly , while the last time they accomplished the feat in a competitive match was in June 2017, a 5-0 victory over Liechtenstein in a World Cup qualifier.

Italy next plays the United States in a friendly in Genk, Belgium, on Tuesday.

Mancini announced Chiellini, Alessandro Florenzi, Jorginho and Insigne would be sent home after the Portugal game and Gianluca Mancini and Moise Kean would be called up from the under-21 side.

Mancini and Chiellini both expressed disappointment that Ronaldo, who is taking a break from the national team, isn’t with Portugal.

“It’s always great to face the best players,” Mancini said. “Anyhow, Portugal remains a great squad even without Cristiano.”

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