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UEFA Europa League wrap: Arsenal knock off Cologne, Milan thrash Wien

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Arsenal overcame a first half deficit as it defeated FC Cologne in the UEFA Europa League’s first matchday of the season on a wild night inside and outside of the Emirates Stadium.

New Gunners signing Sead Kolašinac cancelled out Jhon Cordoba’s opener with a blast on the volley from the left side of the box three minutes into the second half. Alexis Sanchez put Arsenal up for good after a mazy run in and out of the box in the 67th minute and then Hector Bellerin put the game away in the 81st minute with a goal off a rebound to bring some more positive energy to Arsenal crowd.

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The game was delayed for an hour before the start due to crowd safety, with hoards of Cologne fans trying to push their way into the stadium. Only 2,900 tickets had been allocated to Cologne for fans in the away section, but Cologne fans also purchased tickets and were seen throughout the rest of the stadium.

Here’s a look at more Europa League scores from matchday one:

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UEFA Champions League Group G preview

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FC Porto has both of the past titles in Group G of the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League. The other three teams have been in the competition before, and a couple of times have come close, but have never managed to hoist the trophy.

source:  FC Porto

How they qualified: Primeira Liga champion, directly into group stage

Best finish: Winner (1987, 2004)

Home stadium: Estádio do Dragão / Porto, Portugal

Coach: Paulo Fonseca

Outlook: FC Porto benefited from José Mourinho’s coming-out party in Europe when it won the UEFA Cup and Champions League in back-to-back years just after the new millennium. Recently, it hasn’t been quite the same on the European stage, but Porto always offers a bit of flair that makes it a tough team to beat.

source:  Atlético Madrid

How they qualified: La Liga third place, directly into group stage

Best finish: Finalist (1974)

Home stadium: Estadio Vicente Calderón / Madrid, Spain

Coach: Diego Simeone

Outlook: Having just gone toe to toe with FC Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup without looking out of place, Atlético could be a force to be reckoned with this year. The team combines a technical ability and tactical awareness of classic Spanish teams with the physical play generally more characteristic of English and German teams.

source:  Zenit St. Petersburg

How they qualified: Russian Premier League second place, defeated Nordsjælland in third qualifying round, Paços de Ferreira in playoff round

Best finish: Round of 16 (2012)

Home stadium: Petrovsky Stadium / St. Petersburg, Russia

Coach: Luciano Spalletti

Outlook: Zenit always finds its way into Europe, earning some results along the way without ever seeming to do much. With Anzhi Makhachkala giving up the ghost as the latest Russian superclub, Zenit has picked off a couple of its best players to reload for an assault on both the Russian Premier League and the Champions League. As always, Zenit will be difficult to beat.

source:  Austria Wien

How they qualified: Austrian Bundesliga champion, defeated FH in third qualifying round, Dinamo Zagreb in playoff round

Best finish: Semifinals (1979)

Home stadium: Franz Horr Stadium / Vienna, Austria

Coach: Thomas Parits

Outlook: The weakest team in this group, Vienna survived a late scare in the playoff round to defeat Dinamo Zagreb and make it into the group stage. Don’t expect too much out of the Austrian champion, far removed from its European glory days, but Vienna will provide much the same as all smaller fish in the massive sea of the Champions League: plenty of heart and determination.

Group outlook

This group is Atlético’s ticket to convincing the world that Spain has more than just two good teams. The “other” Madrid team, Diego Simeone’s group could turn some heads with dominant performances in this group. Expect tough challenges from Zenit and FC Porto, who will likely be left to fight over the second-place spot and further European qualification, while Vienna goes along for the ride and takes some lumps along the way.

UEFA Champions League roundup: Arsenal, Wien, Basel, Steaua, Schalke advance

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In the final hurdle before the UEFA Champions League group stage, five teams from across Europe advanced on Tuesday to the main stage of the continent’s premier club competition. Three out of five matches on the day finished with one goal deciding the outcome, including Steaua Bucharest defeating Legia Warsaw on away goals to make the group stage for the first time in five years.

Schalke also left it late, qualifying despite going down to 10 men, and Dinamo Zagreb nearly defeated Austria Wien in miraculous fashion, only for a goal in the last 10 minutes to break the Croatians’ hearts.

The final five participants in the group stage will be decided Wednesday, after a final batch of qualifiers.

Arsenal 2-0 (5-0 aggregate) Fenerbahçe

Already with one foot in the group stage thanks to a resounding 3-0 win in Istanbul, Arsenal strolled to a 2-0 win over Fenerbahçe at the Emirates Stadium. Aaron Ramsey scored the game’s only goals in the 25th and 72nd minutes.

Austria Wien 2-3 (4-3 aggregate) Dinamo Zagreb

Dinamo Zagreb needed a quick start against Austria Wien to have any hope of reversing a two-goal deficit in the second leg. Instead, Florian Mader put the home side up in the first five minutes, but Marcelo Brozović and Junior Fernándes pulled two back for Dinamo before halftime. Fatos Bećiraj completed an improbable comeback in the 70th minute, but the Croatians’ joy would turn to despair after Roman Kienast came off the bench and scored for the home side in the 82nd.

FC Basel 2-0 (6-2 aggregate) Ludogorets Razgrad

In a similar position as Arsenal, FC Basel found a similar result over Ludogorets Razgrad. Fabian Frei scored in the 11th minute, and the Bulgarian side never seriously threatened to mount a comeback, managing just one shot on target throughout the second 90 minutes of this tie. Substitute Philipp Degen added the final nail in Ludogorets’ coffin in the 79th minute.

Legia Warsaw 2-2 (3-3 aggregate) Steaua Bucharest

After a 1-1 tie in Romania last week, both Legia Warsaw and Steaua Bucharest had all to play for on Tuesday. Steaua got off to the best possible start, scoring twice in the first 10 minutes through Nicolae Stanciu and Federico Piovaccari, ensuring Legia would need three goals on the night to advance. The Polish champion pulled one back through Miroslav Radović in the 27th minute, but Steaua’s staunch defense withstood a second-half barrage to send the team into the group stage. Jakub Rzeźniczak’s stoppage-time goal was too little, too late, ensuring only that Steaua would advance on away goals instead of with an outright win in the Polish capital.

PAOK 2-3 (3-4 aggregate) Schalke

In the most closely contested tie of the day, PAOK hosted Schalke with a great chance to advance. Those chances were dented when Hungarian international Ádám Szalai put the German team up 1-0 just before halftime. The tables seemed to turn midway through the second half after Stefanos Athanasiadis equalized, and U.S. midfielder Jermaine Jones saw a red card for his second cautionable offense.

However, just three minutes after the red card, Julian Draxler scored for Schalke, his team’s second away goal, ensuring there would be no extra time. His team down a goal but up a man, Kostas Katsouranis tied the match with 79th-minute strike, but PAOK could not break through one more time in the final 10 minutes. Szalai scored in the 90th minute, giving Schalke an outright win over two legs.

Wednesday’s games (2:45 p.m. ET unless otherwise noted): Zenit St. Petersburg vs. Paços de Ferreira (noon, 1-4 first leg), NK Maribor vs. Viktoria Plzeň (1-3 first leg), Real Sociedad vs. Olympique Lyonnais (2-0 first leg), AC Milan vs. PSV Eindhoven (1-1 first leg), Celtic vs. Shakhter Karagandy (0-2 first leg)

European weekend: Five (random) matches to watch

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Last time we did this, it was easy – not that it’s difficult when you have one of the world’s great intra-city derbies, a cup final, and a one versus two battle in one of Europe’s best leagues. It’s just that in our last edition of five to watch, we had Barcelona. We had Juventus. We had big, glamorous, self-explanatory names.

This week, the matches are no less interesting, but things being a little less self-explanatory, I have to do a little bit more writing, starting with the rivalry:

5. Austria Wien vs. Rapid Wien, Austrian Bunesliga, 10:00 a.m. ET, Sunday

Austria’s two most successful, most popular clubs saw their rivalry get some unfortunate international attention last year when pitch invaders caused a May meeting to be abandoned. If you look at the numbers and organization of police in this video, you can’t help but think these type of incidents (or the potential for them) is pervasive in this derby:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2YHd-df-Ss%5D

Let me be clear: That kind of nonsense is no reason to watch. It’s reason to be thankful that this part of the world has a soccer culture that precludes idiots forcing matches to be called off. Knock on wood.

Since last May, three Wien derbies have been waged, making Saturday’s the 300th meeting between the clubs. Rapid will be looking for the 125th win, while Austria sits on 109.

More important: Both clubs are chasing Red Bull Salzburg for the Bundesliga’s title. Rapid are only one point back with seven matches left, and with Salzburg facing a tough Saturday visit to Sturm Graz (fifth place), the Green-Whites could find themselves first at day’s end.

For Austria, it’s a must win match. Five points back of first, the Violets can’t afford to lose any more ground on the leaders.

Player to watch: Last season with Sturm Graz, Roman Kienast finished second in goals to Austria’s Ronald Linz (19 to 21). He moved to Austria in the winter window but has been unable to replace the goal output of the departed Nacer Barazite (who moved to Monaco in January). With only one score in 10 league appearances, Kienast has been an early bust.

4. Zenit vs. CSKA Moscow, Russian Premier League, 11:00 a.m. ET, Saturday

This match is difficult to resist, even if Zenit has put the RPL to bed. In this transition season that’s been played over 18 months (as Russia moves to a fall-spring schedule), Zenit has pulled away from their Muscovite adversaries, sitting 11 points clear with six matches remaining.

Unfortunately, the achievements of Luciano Spalletti’s side are being overshadowed by a story that has become ridiculously common to Russian soccer. Earlier this week, Zenit was fined after fans directed monkey noises at Lokomotiv Moscow’s black players.

On the field, it’s a potential great news, bad news scenario for CSKA. The bad news: Captain and best defender Sergei Ignashevich will miss the match with a broken toe. The potentially great news: One of the world’s best goalkeepers, Igor Akinfeev, could return after a long-term injury absence stemming from a controversial fall collision with Spartak attacker Welliton. The 26-year-old’s return from major knee surgery could be a huge boost to Russia’s Euro 2012 hopes.

Player to watch: Sergei Semak could also be in frame for Euro 2012, if Russia head coach Dick Advocaat sees things like Aleksandr Kerzhakov. The Zenit attacker claims his 36-year-old teammate could help the national team this summer, and looking around at Advocaat’s other deep-lying midfield options, you can see the logic. The former national team captain has three goals in his last eight appearances, and against his former club on Saturday, Semak could continue making his case.

3. PSV vs. AZ, Netherlands’ Eredivisie, 12:45 p.m. ET, Saturday

Possibly the most interesting title race in Europe was dealt a blow mid-week when AZ was drawn at home by Twente. The result meant the league’s second and third place teams lost ground on pace-setting Ajax, who’ve rode the crest of an up-and-down year to a three-point lead.

The circuit’s other traditional power, PSV, has also been on a roller coaster. At one point, the club was storming through Europa while sitting in control of league. Since the calendar turned, however, things have fallen apart. Valencia rolled them out of Europa while the club fell to fifth in the table, leading to Phillip Cocu to replace Fred Rutten as head coach. Since, PSV has claimed the Dutch Cup, though nobody will be satisfied finishing so low in league.

AZ, however, has been the Netherlands’ most consistent team (on Thursday, Johan Cruyff went as far as to call them the best in Holland), and on Saturday, they’ll take the league’s best defense to Philips Stadion. In August’s reverse fixture, goals from Maarten Martins, Nick Viergever and Jozy Altidore led AZ to a 3-1 victory, and while the bookmakers have PSV big favorites ahead of Saturday’s rematch, don’t be surprised if Gertjan Verbeek’s side creates another dip in PSV’s rollercoaster.

Player to watch: If you’re going to watch this one, you’ll likely tune in to see Altidore. I can’t blame you, but if you have time for one more player, keep an eye on PSV’s 22-year-old midfielder Kevin Strootman. Already in the plans of the national team, Strootman gives Bert van Marwijk a decidedly less violent, more creative option in the pivot.

2. Udinese vs. Internazionale, Italian Serie A, 2:45 p.m. ET, Saturday

This is really happening. This Inter Milan zombie may really get back into Europe.

The Nerazzurri sit in seventh, their 48 points only two back of Roma in fifth (otherwise known as a Europa League spot). Their seven points in three matches have converted a fews believers to the Andrea Stramaccioni movement. Now, the six-point gap to third doesn’t look so big, particularly with a season-closing match at Lazio. With six matches left, maybe Champions League isn’t out of the question after all.

Udinese’s won once in their last seven matches, and while they’re only three points out of that Champions League spot, the parade of big names behind them force the Bianconeri to be mindful of a fall. If Inter hand Udinese their second home loss of the season, Udinese could be in seventh come Sunday night.

Player to watch: With Walter Samuel suspended, it will be up to Lucio to handle Udinese’s Toto Di Natale, Italy’s second leading goal-scorer. Having conceded seven times since Stramaccioni took over, Inter desperately needs somebody at the back to assert themselves.

1. Olympique Lyon vs. Olympique Marseille, France’s Coupe de la Ligue final, 3:00 p.m. ET, Saturday

In addition to being ninth-place Marseille’s last chance for Europe, Saturday’s final is a snapshot of the changing face of Ligue 1. Well, perhaps describing it as the “face” is wrong. With former perennial titlists Lyon fighting for their Champions League lives while a club as big as Marseille regresses to mediocrity, this match is more France’s disappearing jawline than its face.

The game also see rivals at different ends of the form table. After being eliminated from Champions League by APOEL, Lyon has won six, drawn one in seven games, registering victories over Rennes, PSG, Lille as well as winning their derby at Saint-Étienne. Marseille, one the other hand, has not won a lead match since Jan. 29 and have lost 11 of 12.

Form aside, this is still two of the biggest clubs in France, and they’re playing for silverware. Given it’s the last chance for Didier Deschamps’ side to salvage anything from a horrible season, expect the best l’OM has to offer.

Player to watch: Lisandro Lopez is always worth watching, but during Lyon’s resurgence, the talisman has six goals in seven. Having struggled through injuries all year, the Argentine attacker appears to have hit a run of form that could carry OL into Champions League.

Also worth following: Schalke 04 vs. Borussia Dortmund, Germany, 9:30 a.m. ET, Saturday; Benfica vs. Gil Vicente, League Cup Portugal, 3:45 p.m. ET, Saturday