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UCL: Wild matches see Benfica, Red Star Belgrade through

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PSV Eindhoven made quick work of BATE Borisov on Wednesday to ensure its place in the UEFA Champions League group stage, but the day’s two other fixtures provided great drama, including a stomping incident and a horrific goalkeeping error.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s Carabao Cup roundup ]

Benfica routed PAOK, 4-1, en route to the group stage with a trio of first-half goals and a fourth just after halftime to advance.

PAOK goalkeeper Alexandros Paschalakis had a match to forget though, handing Benfica its second goal with a horrible mistake by keeping the ball in play and then conceding a penalty kick (below)

Eduardo Salvio’s brace helped Benfica on to the 6-2 aggregate victory.

Meanwhile, Red Star Belgrade knocked off Red Bull Salzburg, 2-2, by virtue of El Fardou Ben’s two away goals on the day.

Marin Pongracic was the target of a contentious incident in the second half though, after jumping and stomping on a Red Star player that was down with after a collision (below).

Wednesday’s UCL results

PSV Eindhoven 3-0 (6-2 on agg.) BATE Borisov
PAOK 1-4 (2-5 on agg.) Benfica
Red Bull Salzburg 2-2 Red Star Belgrade

UCL playoff preview: Ajax, Benfica, PSV looking for group stage spot

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The Champions League is nearly back to the apex of its competition, as the final playoff round gets set for its finale and the group stage looks for its final participants. There are only six spaces left among the group stage participants, and some big-name clubs will take the field for their matchup’s second leg.

Dutch giants Ajax are in a solid position, up 3-1 over Dynamo Kiev after the home leg and now hit the road to Ukraine hoping to wrap things up on Tuesday. They have been scoring at will of late, coming off a 5-0 demolition of Eredivisie minnows FC Emmen. They have scored 20 goals over their last eight matches across all competitions, with 35-year-old Klass-Jan Huntelaar owning six of those and former Southampton man Dusan Tadic owning five.

[ MORE: 7 young players who could earn England debut ]

Kiev, meanwhile, has been quite the opposite. Through five matches in Ukranian Premier League play, Kiev has scored just five goals, but has conceded just one, sitting third in the league table with 13 points, although they have a game in hand on those above them and remain the only unbeaten team remaining in league play.

Croatian club Dinamo Zagreb and Swiss champs Young Boys are both level at 1-1 heading to the second leg in Zagreb. The home side will hope for a better start than in the first leg, when Young Boys grabbed the opener just two minutes into the match.

Also on Tuesday, Greek side AEK Athens takes a 2-1 lead back home over Hungarian club MOL Vidi.

On Wednesday, another Dutch club looks to seal up a lead, as PSV Eindhoven returns home with a 3-2 advantage over Belarusian club BATE Borisov in tow. They led 2-1 late in the first leg, and the game finished wildly as BATE equalized in the 88th minute before PSV retook the lead just a minute later. The three away goals are all massive, as is coming home with a lead of any kind. PSV has participated in the Champions League group stage in two of the last three seasons, reaching the knockout stage in 2015/16.

Portuguese giants Benfica sit in a precarious position, heading out on the road to visit Greek side PAOK with that matchup level at 1-1. Benfica held a lead on a goal just before halftime, but they conceded a scrappy away goal in the 76th minute on a set-piece.

Finally, Red Bull Salzburg hosts Red Star Belgrade after a 0-0 first leg in Serbia.

Champions League wrap: PAOK, PSV have big away days

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Liverpool still has hope of joining Pot 2 in this season’s UEFA Champions League, as big time underdogs PAOK Salonika picked up a valuable away goal and 1-1 draw at Benfica in the first leg of their UCL playoff round tie.

[ WATCH: Lichaj assists for Hull ]

The Reds will provide the possibility of a horror group if Benfica wins, which was widely expected, moving Liverpool from Pot 2 to 3 and leaving open the possibility of a group like Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool, and Inter Milan.

The second legs are Aug. 29, while three more ties begin Wednesday.

Here’s what happened Tuesday in Belarus, Portugal, and Serbia.

Benfica 1-1 PAOK Salonika

PAOK is the bookies’ biggest underdog in the round, and Pizzi’s first half stoppage time penalty had things looking like business as usual in Portugal.

But Egyptian winger Amr Warda found Sebastian Varela’s shot off the cross bar and deposited the rebound to give PAOK the upper hand heading back to Greece.

BATE Borisov 2-3 PSV Eindhoven

Goals for each side inside of the final three minutes at Borisov Arena in Belarus provided a thrilling ending, but may take a lot of the luster off the second leg in the Netherlands.

PSV led 2-1 on goals from Gaston Pereiro and El Tri star Hirving Lozano, when 37-year-old Alexander Hleb — yes, the former Arsenal and Barcelona man — scored an 88th minute equalizer. A minute later, Donyell Malin scored to put the Dutch side back on top.

Red Star Belgrade 0-0 Red Bull Salzburg

The Austrian visitors had a lot of the ball, but shots were even as the tie leaves Serbia without a goal.

El Tri star Lozano staying focused amid Barcelona rumors

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Hirving “Chucky” Lozano was a player everyone needed to pay attention to heading into the 2018 World Cup, and through two matches, the El Tri star has been every bit the price of admission for his country.

[ MORE: Group scenarios heading into the final group stage matches ]

Mexico sits atop Group F with six points at the moment, and much of the team’s success can be attributed to Lozano’s endless motor and creative attacking vision when he finds space down the wing.

The PSV Eindhoven attacker has been linked with various big clubs, including La Liga giants Barcelona, but that hasn’t halted Lozano’s pursuit of guiding Mexico to an unprecedented run at the World Cup.

“The important thing is to focus on the next [Mexico] game, do as well as possible and go step by step,” Lozano said.

Despite winning their first two games, El Tri needs at least a point in its final Group F match to ensure qualification without any complications.

Mexico will take on Sweden on Wednesday, as Juan Carlos Osorio’s side aims to remain perfect in the group stage.

Meanwhile, Andres Guardado — who has been a mainstay of the Mexican national team for years — only confirmed the work ethic of his teammate and hopes that a dream move becomes a reality for Lozano in the near future.

“It makes me very proud to say he is a kid that is very centered, despite everything he is going through,” said Guardado after Saturday’s 2-1 win over South Korea. “He is conscious that he has to continue like he’s not achieved anything.”

“He’s the same kid I met the first time he came with us,” continued Guardado. “Hopefully he stays like that and the rumors about a possible transfer to a big team become reality. It would be marvelous, he’s a great teammate.”

Lozano to Barcelona? Father says future decided after World Cup

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Mexican hero Hirving “Chucky” Lozano made the jump from Liga MX to European football last summer, and now may be set for an even bigger move.

We just won’t know until after the World Cup.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The goal scorer from Mexico’s 1-0 win over Germany will turn 23 in late July, and is coming off a 17-goal, 11-assist campaign with PSV Eindhoven.

He’s now being linked with Barcelona amongst other teams, and his father was asked about Lozano’s future. From ESPN:

“There have been approaches, but right now there’s nothing concrete,” Jesus Lozano said in an interview with ESPN when asked about reported interest from Barcelona and other teams.

“I think after the World Cup it will be clear if he stays at PSV or leaves for another team.”

So what do you think? Should the Mexican stay at PSV for playing time? I’m kidding… see how you sound, U.S. fans?