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Axel Witsel becomes China’s latest big-money signing

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BEIJING (AP) Belgium midfielder Axel Witsel has become the latest Europe-based player to move to the Chinese Super League.

Zenit St. Petersburg said Wednesday in a statement that the 27-year-old Witsel will join Tianjin Quanjian, a club recently promoted to China’s top league and coached by former Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro.

[ MORE: All the latest transfer rumors and news ]

Italian media quoted Witsel this week saying that he had turned down a chance to join Juventus after receiving “a crucial offer for my family that I couldn’t turn down” from Tianjin.

The transfer fee was not disclosed (reported at $52 million; nearly $21 million salary).

The cash-rich Super League has spent enormous sums luring stars to China. Recent transfers include Argentine striker Carlos Tevez, who joined Shanghai Shenhua, and Brazilian midfielder Oscar, who signed with crosstown rivals Shanghai SIPG.

Top coaches have also made the switch, with former Manchester City and Real Madrid coach Manual Pellegrini now at Hebei China Fortune and Luiz Felipe Scolari, the former Brazil coach, leading Guangzhou Evergrande. China’s national team recently hired Italian World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi to a hefty contract, signaling its desire to become a regional superpower.

[ MORE: Chelsea go for PL-record 14th straight win, vs. Tottenham ]

Witsel joined Zenit from Benfica in 2012 and made 180 appearances for the Russian side. The central midfielder also played for Belgium at the European Championship.

Witsel’s transfer is not the first big-money transfer from Zenit to a Chinese club. Zenit sold Brazilian striker Hulk in June to Shanghai SIPG for $58 million, breaking the Asian transfer record.

Axel Witsel confirms he will join Juventus, either in January or next summer

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Veteran midfielder Axel Witsel nearly joined Juventus this past summer, but the deal fell through when his current club Zenit St. Petersburg yanked the deal at the last moment.

Now, the Belgian confirmed he will indeed make the move, although he is unsure whether a January switch will materialize, or if he will be forced to wait until the summer.

When asked if he will be joining Juventus, Witsel answered affirmatively, saying, “This will be the case now, but I do not know when.”

“It’s always nice to hear that a club like Juventus is interested in me,” Witsel told Belgian radio network RTBF. “Now I do not wonder whether this will be in January or June. I play my games and then we’ll see what will happen to me.”

A Standard Liege youth product, Witsel moved to Benfica in 2011 before finally settling at Zenit the next summer. The 27-year-old has made 174 appearances for the Russian club across all competitions, including 24 Champions League appearances where he’s bagged two goals and an assist.

This season, Witsel has been a workhorse for Zenit, making an appearance in all 13 league matches thus far, staying the full 90 for 10 of them. The club suffered its first loss of the Russian Premier League season on Sunday, falling 2-1 on the road at Terek Grozny. However, despite this solid record, a host of draws leaves them in second place in the table, three points adrift of Spartak Moscow.

For Juventus, with Sami Khedira often injured and Claudio Marchisio now over the 30 mark, it makes sense for them to chase a seasoned international midfielder such as Witsel. The Old Lady sits in first place in the Serie A table, four points above Roma.

Transfer rumor roundup: Mahrez “seduced” by Arsenal, Witsel pursued

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The transfer mill has been churning out big names moves a-plenty this week as teams gear up for their seasons.

Rumors are coming fast and furious still, and Saturday is no exception.

[ MORE: Kolo to Celtic ]

Iceland’s run to the EURO quarterfinals may’ve opened a lot of eyes, but many already knew about Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Swansea man left for and returned from Spurs, but now could be on the move again.

The Express says Everton are willing to spend close to $33 million to lure Sigurdsson to Goodison Park. How wild have transfer fees gone in recent years? Brexit deflation aside, Sigurdsson’s moves to Swansea and Spurs cost between $9-12 million.


Eurosport reports that Arsenal is ready to go big in pursuit of Leicester City maestro Riyad Mahrez.

The Algerian international is said to have been “seduced” by the Gunners and wants to make a move to North London. The fee would be approximately $55 million, and take another instrumental part of the Foxes’ PL title run from the East Midlands.


The Sun claims that four omissions from Tottenham’s recent travel list mean all are destined to be sold by Mauricio Pochettino. Clinton N'Jie, Alex Pritchard, Nabil Bentaleb and Federico Fazio are ready for your club’s bid.

Tottenham Hotspur v Newcastle United - Capital One Cup Quarter-Final


Zenit Saint Petersburg coach Mircea Lucescu told Calciomercato that there are three offers in for Belgium midfielder Axel Witsel, one in the Premier League and two in Serie A. Witsel has been linked with Everton, Liverpool and Roma this summer.

Big second half helps Belgium break down, blow out Ireland

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Romelu Lukaku needed two touches to change Belgium’s course for EURO 2016.

The big Everton striker picked up a cross from an electric Kevin De Bruyne and hammered a left-footed shot past Darren Randolph to awake the Red Devils, later adding a second goal in a 3-0 win Saturday in Bordeaux.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Copa America coverage ]

Axel Witsel added a goal in the 61st minute, powering a header through Randolph. Thomas Meunier of Club Brugge unleashed the cross, and was one of the day’s stars.

The win moves Belgium second in the group, and grants Italy the title of Group B winner. Belgium gets Sweden in the group finale, and will go through with a draw or better. Ireland needs to beat Italy and hope for the table to break its way.

Belgium’s advantage in team speed was apparent from the get-go, as was De Bruyne’s dynamic agility during a dribble into the box that forced a low collection from Randolph.

Ireland kept high pressure on Belgium’s back line, with Jan Vertonghen making some crucial interceptions. A lively Eden Hazard blazed an arrow over the bar on 20 minutes.

[ MORE: Table tumult to continue as MLS returns ]

Once Belgium found control in the match, Ireland’s defensive set-up proved adept at closing shooting lanes quickly. When it couldn’t, like on a De Bruyne set piece before halftime, backs were on hands to clear the ball off the line.

Lukaku’s second goal was fairly simple for the big man, as Hazard found him near the penalty spot on a 3v1.

UCL roundup: Arsenal, Barca start slow; Chelsea win

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Just like that, Matchday 1 of the 2015-16 UEFA Champions League group stage is done and dusted. For the four sides representing the Premier League, it wasn’t the best 24 hours England’s top flight has ever had — one win and three defeats in four games played.

Dinamo Zagreb 2-1 Arsenal MORE

Olivier Giroud had a really, really bad night out in Croatia. The French striker had a pair of close-range chances saved in before the hour mark and was eventually sent off shortly before halftime. With just 10 men on the field, Arsenal shipped a second goal to the reigning Croatian champions and currently find themselves third in Group F.

Chelsea 4-0 Maccabi Tel Aviv MORE

Back in London, Chelsea made fairly easy work of Maccabi Tel Aviv, despite a stumble out of the blocks that included a skied penalty attempt from Eden Hazard. Willian, Oscar (penalty), Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas provided the Blues’ haul of goals on the evening, sending the reigning Premier League champions top of Group G.

Roma 1-1 Barcelona

Roma midfielder Alessandro Florenzi did this, which was pretty memorable. On second thought, it was an all-time great Champions League goal. Luis Suarez scored Barcelona’s only goal of the game off a header from close range. Lionel Messi appeared in the 100th Champions League of his career, and for what seems like the first time ever, failed to mark the occasion with a goal.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Olympiakos 0-3 Bayern Munich

Not wanting to feel left out in the wake of Florenzi’s stunner, Thomas Mueller scored a cheeky chip of his own, though it felt more like a wayward cross that crept inside the far post. That made it 1-0 in the 52nd minute. Mueller completed his brace in the 89th minute, two minutes after Mario Goetze had made it 2-0 to the Bavarian giants. The reigning Bundesliga champions are top of Group F.

Bayer Leverkusen 4-1 BATE Borisov

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez scored his first goal for Leverkusen (WATCH HERE), which made the score 3-1 in the 58th minute. Hakan Calhanoglu, who is widely recognized as “the free kick master,” bagged a brace as Leverkusen rolled to a 4-1 victory and the top spot in Group E.

Valencia 2-3 Zenit St. Petersburg

Hulk bagged a brace, including one particularly notable laser beam from 25 yards out — typical Hulk stuff, you know — to cancel out a goal scored by Andre Gomes and an own goal pushed over the line by Zenit midfielder Axel Witsel. It was Witsel, though, who scored the eventual winner in the 76th minute to put the reigning Russian champions top of Group H.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

Dynamo Kyiv 2-2 Porto

Porto’s Vincent Aboubakar bagged a brace of his own, but goals scored by Oleg Gusev and Vitaliy Buyalsky — the latter coming not until the 89th minute — meant the points were to be split between the reigning Ukrainian champions and Portuguese league runners-up.

Gent 1-1 Lyon

Christophe Jallet gave Lyon a 1-0 lead int he 58th minute, but Danijel Milicevic equalized 10 minutes later for the reigning Belgian champions to rescue a point at home.