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UEFA Nations League wrap: Germany facing relegation; Gibraltar red hot

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Germany’s slump continued Tuesday in Saint-Denis, as Joachim Loew’s men guaranteed they’d finish 2018 with a losing record in a 2-1 loss to France.

[ MORE: Brazil wins at the death ]

The Germans led through a 14th minute Toni Kroos penalty, but fell victim a second half brace from Antoine Griezmann.

The Atletico Madrid superstar continued his claims for the Ballon d’Or with a headed finish of a Lucas Hernandez cross before converting a Blaise Matuidi-won penalty.The Atletico Madrid superstar continued his claims for the Ballon d’Or with a headed finish of a Lucas Hernandez cross before converting a Blaise Matuidi-won penalty.

Germany is now poised for relegation to League B, as its lone point is two behind Netherlands. The Germans need to hope the Netherlands loses to France on Nov. 16, or that the Dutch draw France. Both scenarios will require Germany beating the Dutch in Gelsenkirchen on Nov. 19.

Gibraltar 2-1 Liechtenstein

Gibraltar’s on fire, your defense is terrified.

Three days after Gibraltar stunned Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Armenia to record its first competitive win in national team history, it beat Liechtenstein at Victoria Stadium to make it 2-0.

Joseph Chipolina scored for the second-straight match, as Gibraltar sits second in League D’s Group 4.

American fun fact: Chipolina once played in the United States’ fourth-tier PDL for the Real Colorado Foxes (as opposed to those deplorable non-regal foxes).

Elsewhere
Armenia 4-0 Macedonia
Kazakhstan 4-0 Andorra
Republic of Ireland 0-1 Wales
Ukraine 1-0 Czech Republic
Latvia 0-3 Georgia
Slovenia 1-1 Cyprus
Norway 1-0 Bulgaria

Ballon d’Or: The Case for Messi

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The Ballon d’Or… could it really not wind up in the hands of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi?

Mohamed Salah is polling very well in the fan vote.

Paul Pogba says he’s not deserving, but give it to N'Golo Kante, Raphael Varane, Kylian Mbappe or Antoine Griezmann.

And Griezmann thinks it has to be a Frenchman, saying, “In this best team in the World, there must be the best player in the world, right? … But I think that a Frenchman must be Ballon d’Or.”

Then there’s Luka Modric, who won FIFA’s Best Player award.

[ PL ROUNDTABLE: The story so far ]

This year has seen more talk of a winner not named Messi or Ronaldo since 2010, when Messi pipped Andres Iniesta to the honor, or 2007 when Kaka finished ahead of the pair.

In fact, those are the only two years since 2007 that Messi and Ronaldo didn’t finish 1-2 in some order, with each claiming five Ballons d’Or.

Our esteemed editor, Joe Prince-Wright, has Ronaldo three and Messi four this year, behind World Cup winner Mbappe and World Cup finalist Modric.

And I get that, really I do. But is there any doubt that Messi and Ronaldo remain the two best players in the world? And is there a really an argument that any player had a better season that either one?

Let’s go strictly cosmetic stats to start to separate the goal producers, which leaves Kante, Modric, and others for another discussion.

Outstanding seasons, no doubt. Ronaldo still managed better than a goal-per-game while helping Real Madrid the first Champions League threepeat since the 1970s. Salah was the best part of the most scintillating non-possession based attack in the world. Griezmann and Messi’s numbers speak for themselves, while Mbappe — sorry Joe — for me sits a clear fifth.

For me, it’s 1) Messi, 2) Griezmann, 3) Ronaldo, 4) Salah, 5) Mbappe

For non-scorers, it’s 1) Kante, 2) Modric, 3) Kevin De Bruyne

Yes, we made it this far without mentioning KDB, or Eden Hazard, or Harry Kane!

This is most certainly the dawn of the post-Messi/Ronaldo era, but I don’t see the 10-year run atop the list ending this season.

Why? Because I cannot fathom a world in which the majority of voters don’t eyeball the game, take the smell test, and say two words.

Lionel Messi.

Spending some time comparing my Top Four attackers on advanced stats site Squawka buttresses the gut feeling. While Salah was better than Messi in the Champions League — the road perhaps a bit easier — Messi was far superior to the field in league play.

Messi rates better in possession and defensive statistics, but here’s what I’d ask you to consider in assessing last season. Your favorite club earns a massive win against Barcelona, Liverpool, Real, Atleti, or PSG. Insert each players’ name, and which one feels more of an indictment on your win:

“Yeah, but (insert player here) didn’t play.”

EPILOGUE: For what it’s worth, there’s a huge sentimental part of me that says Griezmann’s continued stardom on an understated Atleti or Kante’s game-changing performance in three different champion midfields (Chelsea, Leicester City, France) should lift the trophy. But it’s going to go to one of the more prolific scorers… and that means Messi.

Diego Costa’s Atleti woes continue with hamstring injury

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Diego Costa hasn’t scored a La Liga goal since February. That drought is set to remain unbroken for a significant amount of time.

The Spanish international has suffered a hamstring injury that will keep him out for an unspecified amount of time, leaving Atletico Madrid without its top target man. The team confirmed the injury on its official website, but did not give a timetable for his return, only that he is “pending further evaluation.” Local media has reported a potential three-week layoff for Costa, which is normal for hamstring injuries. Should it linger, which hamstring problems have the potential to do, it could potentially leave him sidelined for around four to six weeks.

Costa was hauled off after 69 minutes of Atletico’s 3-1 win over Club Brugge in the Champions League, replaced by 22-year-old midfielder Rodri. It’s unclear who will take over for Costa up front, but it’s possible that 30-year-old Nikola Kalinic – who has just 79 total minutes played so far this season after signing from AC Milan this past summer – could be the man to enter the fray. Star attacker Antoine Grizemann could also move forward to center forward, as he normally sits behind Costa in a second-striker role.

The 29-year-old has three goals on the season, but none have come in league play. He scored a pair in the UEFA Super Cup against Real Madrid way back on August 15, followed by Atletico’s equalizer in an eventual 2-1 come-from-behind win over Monaco in the Champions League group stage opener. Still, he is goalless in La Liga play despite playing 584 out of a possible 630 minutes.

With Costa out of goalscoring form, Atletico has struggled mightily as a whole to score goals. They have only lost one match this season in league play, but have three draws where they’ve scored a combined total of two goals.

Griezmann up for MLS adventure with LA or Beckham’s Miami

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Antoine Griezmann could be handing out L’s on either coast of the United States.

The Atletico Madrid and France superstar, 27, said he’d play for Inter Miami “if he wants me,” referring to Inter owner David Beckham.

[ USMNT-BRAZIL: Full recap | Player ratings ]

Inter revealed its name and logo earlier this week.

Griezmann signed a new contract with Atleti through 2023.

“If Beckham wants me in his club, then I’ll go. I want to finish my career in the US. I don’t know yet if it’s going to be in Miami or Los Angeles. They are two great cities. I like the mentality and the show culture of the U.S.”

The show culture!

If Beckham wants to make a splash, though, shattering the MLS transfer record to bring Griezmann to the United States sure would do the trick.

Griezmann has not failed to score more than 20 goals in his last five seasons, the first at Real Sociedad and the last four at Atleti. He’s added 24 in 61 caps for France.

Atletico Madrid and Valencia draw in Spanish league debut

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid and Valencia couldn’t manage more than a 1-1 draw in the opening match of the season for potential contenders for the Spanish league title on Monday.

Both teams debuted new signings and came boosted by great seasons a year ago, but it was an even match from the start at Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium, with neither finding an edge to earn the victory.

[ RECAP: Palace 0-2 Liverpool ]

The hosts came closer to winning and squandered a few great chances in the final minutes.

Angel Correa gave Atletico the lead in the 25th minute with a shot from close range after a great set up by Antoine Griezmann, who cleared a few defenders before sending a perfect ball to the forward behind the defense. Correa had only goalkeeper Neto to beat and easily found the corner.

Atletico held on for the rest of the first half but Valencia equalized shortly after halftime with a great goal by striker Rodrigo, who controlled the ball with his chest after a cross into the area and fired a left-footed shot into the top of the net.

“We can’t say it was unfair, but if we had won the match it wouldn’t be a crazy result,” Rodrigo said. “We faced a great rival and showed that we are playing on a high level. That’s what we want to keep doing the whole season.”

Gabriel Paulista nearly scored again for Valencia less than 10 minutes after Rodrigo’s goal, but his header off a corner struck the post. Daniel Wass had a chance on a breakaway with a few minutes left, but his shot was saved by Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak. Kevin Gameiro also missed a clear opportunity just before the final whistle.

“We lacked organization in the end and I didn’t like that,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “But I’ll stick to what we did well. These teams are very similar and we had our chances to win the match.”

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

Atletico finished runner-up to Barcelona in the league last season, while Valencia was fourth and secured a Champions League berth. Atletico was coming off a victory over city rival Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup.

Simeone started Monday’s match with one of the team’s top signings in the offseason, France forward Thomas Lemar, playing up front with Griezmann and Diego Costa. Other recently arrived players began on the bench, including Gelson Martins, Nikola Kalinic and Rodri. Martins came in as a substitute in the second half, replacing Griezmann.

Wass, one of Valencia’s new signings, was in the starting lineup, while Gameiro, Denis Cheryshev and Michy Batshuayi began on the bench. Gameiro and Batshuayi entered in the second half.

Defending champion Barcelona made its league debut on Saturday with a 3-0 win against Alaves with a pair of goals by Lionel Messi at Camp Nou Stadium.

Real Madrid opened with a 2-0 win over Getafe with Gareth Bale scoring and setting up Dani Carvajal’s goal at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

Athletic Bilbao hosts Leganes later Monday to close out the first round.

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