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Newcastle makes pivotal goalkeeper’s loan move permanent

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Newcastle United manager Rafa Benitez was reportedly chasing a new goalkeeper all last summer, finally getting a starting caliber backstop on loan in January.

That keeper was 29-year-old Martin Dubravka, and that loan from Sparta Prague had an option to buy.

[ MORE: Lewandowski wants to leave Bayern ]

Newcastle has purchased Dubravka and signed him through 2021-22 after an outstanding 12-match stint between the sticks.

Dubravka kept three clean sheets and allowed just one total goal in a trio of wins over Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea.

Here’s Benitez, from

“Ever since he arrived with us on loan he has shown a fantastic attitude and great work ethic, and of course we have been very impressed with his performances for us on the pitch last season.

“This was one of the key positions we had identified we needed to strengthen and had been concerned about, so it is excellent news that we are able now to sign him on a permanent basis.”

That one fix was as important as any in Newcastle’s second half revival, with Kenedy‘s loan from Chelsea another revelation. A clinical striker, something they’ve lacked in Premier League play dating back to Demba Ba, Loic Remy, and Papiss Cisse‘s early days, would catapult them into a higher table discussion.

Sparta Prague signs France midfielder Rio Mavuba

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PRAGUE (AP) Sparta Prague says it has signed France midfielder Rio Mavuba to a three-year contract.

The 33-year-old Mavuba comes from French club Lille, which he joined in 2008. Before that, he played for Bordeaux and Spanish club Villarreal.

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Mavuba was on the France team at the 2014 World Cup.

He is the 10th player signed by Sparta after Italian coach Andrea Stramaccioni took charge in May.

Europa League preview: Saints face tough test in Prague

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While the midweek slate of European action has already provided plenty of drama in the Champions League, it’s the UEFA Europa League’s turn to steal the show on Thursday.

[ MORE: Follow all of PST’s Europa League coverage ]

Manchester United and Southampton will both be in action as the two Premier League sides look to take a step closer to the knockout phase.

United will host Feyenoord in Group A action, as Jose Mourinho and the Red Devils search for a crucial victory. The Red Devils currently sit third in the group, trailing first-place Fenerbahce and Feyenoord.

Meanwhile, the Saints will travel to the Czech Republic on Thursday to take on Group K leaders Sparta Prague in a match that could reserve the two sides’ positions by the end of the day. Southampton enters the game in second place, just two points off the pace set by the Czechs.

Elsewhere, Celta Vigo and Standard Liege meet in a Group G matchup that could decide second place in the group. Both sides currently sit on five points, while group leaders Ajax have a comfortable five-point lead at the top.

Full schedule

11 a.m. ET

Gabala FC vs. Anderlecht
Fenerbahce vs. Zorya
Astana vs. Apoel Nicosia
Zenit vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv

1 p.m. ET

Gent vs. Braga
Schalke vs. Nice
FC Zurich vs. Villareal
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Konyaspor
FC Krasnodar vs. Red Bull Salzburg
Hapoel Be’er vs. Inter Milan
Steaua Bucuresti vs. Osmanlıspor
Sparta Prague vs. Southampton
Liberec vs. Qarabag FK
Ajax vs. Panathinaikos
Fiorentina vs. PAOK
Celta Vigo vs. Standard Liege

3:05 p.m. ET

Roma vs. Viktoria Plzen
ASSE vs. Mainz 05
Olympiacos vs. Young Boys
Austria Wien vs. Astra Giurgiu
Manchester United vs. Feyenoord
Athletic Bilbao vs. Sassuolo
Genk vs. Rapid Wien
Dundalk vs. AZ Alkmaar

Sparta players fined for sexist comments over offside

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PRAGUE (AP) Sparta Prague goalkeeper Tomas Koubek and midfielder Lukas Vacha have been fined by the Czech soccer federation for their emotional outburst against women after a female assistant referee failed to spot an offside in a league game.

Brno midfielder Alois Hycka was several meters offside at the decisive moment before he equalized in stoppage time and salvaged a 3-3 draw for Brno against Sparta on Sunday.

[ MORE: A better way to expand World Cup]

In their comments, the players said women’s place is in the kitchen, for which they later apologized.

The federation’s disciplinary committee on Thursday fined both men 40,000 koruna ($1,656) and they were also ordered to lead the training of a youth team.

Sparta had already ordered them to take part in several training sessions of women’s teams.

The assistant referee, Lucie Ratajova, was banned from four games for her mistake.

Southampton 3-0 Sparta Prague: Saints shine in Europa League

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SOUTHAMPTON — Claude Puel finally has his first win as Southampton’s manager at the fifth attempt as his side beat Sparta Prague 3-0 at St Mary’s Stadium on Thursday in their Europa League Group K opener.

[ MORE: Saints’ incredible rise ]

Charlie Austin scored twice in the first half, his first goals since his debut at Manchester United on Jan. 23, to set Saints on their way in their first-ever game in the Europa League group stage.

Puel made seven changes to the side which lost at Arsenal last weekend but Saints looked composed and dominated from start to finish despite a few breaks from Sparta in the second half which they dealt with easily. Late on substitute Jay Rodriguez slotted home to put some extra gloss on the scoreline as Saints went top of their group.

Next up in the Europa League for Southampton is a trip to face Israeli champions Hapoel Be’er Sheva — who beat Inter Milan 2-0 in their Group K opener — on Sept. 29.

[ MORE: Europa League scores ] 

Southampton got off to the perfect start as Austin was played in down the right and his cross was cleared by Costa for a corner but after appearing to talk with the fifth official behind the goal, a penalty kick was awarded for handball by the Prague defender.

Austin and Dusan Tadic, Southampton’s regular penalty kick taker, then tussled over the ball briefly in a rather uncomfortable moment but Austin won the battle and then slammed the penalty home. 1-0 to Southampton.

Saints were buoyed by that early goal as Austin — making his debut in European play — again raced into the box and his pull back was cleared for a corner and from that set piece Virgil Van Dijk somehow headed over from six-yards out.

[ MORE: Man United lose Europa League opener ]

Sparta Prague threatened on the break on a few occasions but that was mainly due to Southampton mistakes and in the 25th minute the home side thought they’d gone 2-0 up but Austin’s diving header from Cuco Martina‘s superb cross was from an offside position. Not to worry. Moments later it was 2-0 and the same duo combined with Martina prodding a cross to the back post and Austin heading home across the goal. 2-0.

Shane Long almost got on the end of another teasing ball forward from Martina but the Republic of Ireland international couldn’t quite get a touch on it with the goalkeeper rushing out.

In the second half Tadic had a shot from distance which was easily saved and Sparta began to look more dangerous as they forced the issue and veteran striker David Lafata came on. Saints coped well with plenty of set pieces swung into their box but Lafata came close after a mistake from Matt Targett allowed Sparta to pour forward and Fraster Forster denied Lafata’s effort from distance.

Saints eased to victory in the end with Rodriguez jumping off the bench and slotting home a swift counter attack, and for most of the second half the PL club had one eye on Sunday’s game against Swansea City (Watch live, 9:15 a.m. ET online via NBC Sports) as Puel is off and running and so is Southampton’s European adventure.