Mathieu Valbuena

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Spurs blow 2-goal lead in draw at Olympiacos

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Tottenham Hotspur wasted a 2-0 lead on the road in Athens as another Premier League club came up short in its Champions League opener, drawing 2-2 with Olympiacos.

Harry Kane bagged a 26th minute penalty and Lucas Moura doubled the lead on the half-hour mark, but Daniel Podence and Mathieu Valbuena – by far the Greeks’ two most incisive players throughout the match – were on hand to erase the lead and rescue a point for the hosts.

Kane’s opening goal made him the third-fastest player to reach 15 Champions League goals, needing just 20 matches to reach the mark. He profited with a penalty blasted straight down the middle, sending a helpless Jose Sa the wrong way. Moura, last season’s Champions League hero, again came up big in European play with a right-footed rocket from just outside the top of the penalty area.

Unfortunately, it all broke down from there. Podence, who was an absolute menace down the right for Olympiacos, clawed one back just before halftime on a brilliant counter. Valbuena delivered a wonderful through-ball for a full-speed Podence and Portuguese winger’s exceptional first touch got him away from chasing defenders for a far-post finish.

Valbuena was also excellent on the ball, overloading the right flank often. He was on hand to deliver an equalizing penalty in the 54th minute after a foul by Jan Vertonghen. It is Valbuena’s first goal in Champions League play since he stunned Borussia Dortmund with an 87th minute winner that sent Lyon through to the knockout round. Questions will be asked of Olympiacos manager Pedro Martins who withdrew Valbuena with 20 minutes to go, which baffled many and left the hosts with little attacking mentality down the stretch.

Dele Alli had a chance to give Spurs the lead again past the hour mark, but his low shot from distance was fabulously saved by Sa who got big and stuck out his right boot to clip the effort wide. As Spurs poured on the pressure late, Erik Lamela forced another save by Sa with a tight-angled shot to the near post. After Chelsea and Liverpool both fell on the road in Champions League play on Tuesday, the draw felt like a defeat for the Londoners.

French court says investigation of Benzema was unfair

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PARIS (AP) France’s highest court has ruled that an investigation of Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema in a blackmail case, linked to a sex tape involving his France teammate Mathieu Valbuena, was carried out unfairly by prosecutors.

Benzema is facing preliminary charges of conspiracy and complicity in an attempted blackmail scheme intended to extort money from Valbuena in exchange for the sex tape. Benzema denies any wrongdoing.

The Cour de Cassation didn’t clear Benzema, but it ruled that investigators had broken rules and used unfair methods to try and prove the existence of a blackmail scam.

It noted that, acting on the instructions of the prosecutor, an investigator had posed as a representative of Valbuena and that, using a pseudonym, he had prompted the holders of the sex tape to try and claim money from the player.

As a result of the ruling, the whole investigation against Benzema could be annulled. The court ordered that the case be referred to a different, lower court which will now have to rule on the case, in accordance with its decision.

Benzema’s lawyer, Patrice Spinosi, welcomed the ruling.

“The case is not over, but the new appeals court should logically rule that the whole proceedings were unfair and bring down almost all the case, at least certainly for Karim Benzema,” Spinosi told FranceInfo web channel.

The investigators who charged Benzema believe he was approached by a childhood friend in 2015 to act as an intermediary and convince Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers. Instead, Valbuena informed the police. After he refused to conduct the negotiations himself, investigators had the idea of setting a trap for the sex tape holders.

The filing of preliminary charges against Benzema led French soccer officials to leave him out of their squad for last year’s European Championship – which was staged in France – in the interests of team harmony and avoiding media intrusion.

Chelsea loanee Traore leads Ajax to 4-1 UEL semi lead vs. Lyon

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Bertrand Traore struck twice to send Ajax to a 4-1 home win in the first leg of Ajax’s UEFA Europa League semifinal tie with Lyon at Amsterdam Arena on Wednesday.

Ajax led 3-0 on goals by Traore, Kasper Dolberg, and Amin Younes. Mathieu Valbuena did secure an away goal for Lyon, but Traore completed his brace in the 71st minute to provide the final score line.

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The winner gets the victor of the other semifinal between Celta Vigo and Manchester United. The UEL Final will be held May 24 in Solna, Sweden.

Ajax is four points back of Feyenoord in the Eredivisie table, while Lyon is fourth in Ligue 1.

Traore is on his second Dutch loan from Chelsea, spending two loan seasons at Vitesse before scoring four times for the Blues last season (two of those goals coming in the Premier League).

Mathieu Valbuena injures shoulder but won’t need surgery

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French midfielder Mathieu Valbuena will miss a month with a dislocated shoulder, but while initially it was feared he would need surgery, that is no longer an option, and four weeks should be an adequate recovery time according to reports in France.

The 32-year-old has struggled with injuries this year, missing a pair of matches with a hip problem, and now will be sidelined much longer after a hard landing in the 75th minute on Saturday in a loss to Guingamp.

After the match, president Jean-Michel Aulas told TV channel Canal+ that Valbuena would likely need surgery, but after further testing they will look to get him back by the start of December.

Lyon is struggling mightily, having lost three of four in Ligue 1 play and falling to 10th in the table.

Valbuena has been a regular for the French national team, missing just two matches since late 2012. With this injury, he will most certainly miss France’s World Cup qualifier against Sweden in early November, plus the following friendly against the Ivory Coast.

EURO 2016: Benzema won’t play for France over sex tape blackmail

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Karim Benzema will not be selected by France for the upcoming 2016 European Championships.

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He has been suspended indefinitely since December when he was charged with conspiracy to blackmail regarding an extortion scam over an alleged sex tape involving his fellow French national team mate Mathieu Valbuena.

The Real Madrid forward, 28, took to Twitter to announce the news on Wednesday, with the French Football Federation (FFF) confirming the news shortly after.

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It is believed the manager of the French national team, Didier Deschamps, called Benzema directly to tell him the news. Benzema hasn’t played for the national team since last November and now Les Bleus will be without their main striker for the tournament on home soil this summer.

In truth, we could see this coming but Benzema confirmed the news after Deschamps and the president of the FFF, Noel Le Graet, were due to met to discuss the matter on Wednesday.

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“Unfortunately for me and for all of those who have always supported me, I am not selected for our Euro in France…” Benzema wrote.

FFF released the following statement shortly after.

“The President of the Federation and the coach would recall that athletic performance is an important but not exclusive criterion for deciding the selection in the France team football. The ability of players to work towards unity, in and around the group, and exemplary preservation group are also taken into account by all the Federation.

“As a result, Noel Le Graet and Didier Deschamps decided that Karim Benzema will not participate in Euro 2016.”

Why has this decision arrived now?

The judge investigating the case had lifted a legal restriction which prevented Benzema from contacting Lyon’s Valbuena. With that lifted Benzema could, in theory, have been called up France, but Deschamps and the FFF have decided the must go on without Benzema.

This has to be one of the most bizarre situations for a manager to have dealt with ever.