Category Archives: UEFA Champions League

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Napoli knocks out Nice with distracted Balotelli arguing on touchline

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Napoli entered the Champions League group stage easily thanks to two 2-0 wins over two legs against Nice, and a distracted Mario Balotelli.

Italian forward Balotelli, who also missed the the first leg through injury, was sluggish, off the pace and never threatened Napoli.

However, several minutes after the interval following a goalless first half, the player went to the touchline and argued with the fourth official over the case of a bracelet that had to be covered with a bandage.

Napoli took full advantage of the player’s absence on the pitch to grab their opening goal; whilst Balotelli was arguing, Marek Hamsik crossed from the left and Jose Callejon, unmarked at the far post, scored easily.

Lorenzo Insigne then wrapped things up in the 89th minute for a 4-0 aggregate score, collecting Faouzi Ghoulam’s pass and firing into the corner.

Lucian Favre, the coach for Nice, reacted furiously to the opening goal while Balotelli continued his discussion with officials, before eventually opting to substitute the player — who was jeered by home fans as he left the pitch.

“I don’t want to comment on Balotelli,” Favre said after the game. “It wasn’t very satisfactory, it was not good enough.” He also complained that Balotelli was too slow in leaving the field when he was substituted.

As for Napoli, their win ended a dismal run for Italy in the final play-off round where Serie A teams have lost at the same stage of the competition in the last three seasons, and it will be the first time since 2013-14 that Italy have had three teams in the group stage.

Coutinho to miss Champions League game amidst heavy Barca interest

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Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho will be absent from the second leg of Liverpool’s Champions League play-off against Hoffenheim on Wednesday with illness.

While Reds manager Jurgen Klopp said Liverpool’s stance to not sell Coutinho had not changed, he had “no idea” when Coutinho will return.

Barca officials are reportedly contemplating a fourth bid for Coutinho, who made it clear that he would like to leave Anfield when he submitted a transfer request.

Their third offer had been worth a guaranteed €90m (£82.3m), plus a staggering €40m in add-ons, representing an increase of €5m and €25m respectively on their previous bids but it remains to be seen whether Liverpool would seriously entertain any further improvements.

Meanwhile, the Reds hold a 2-1 lead into the match at Anfield, and Hoffenheim have never reached the Champions League group stage, while no German side have won a European tie at Anfield. However, the stakes are heavy and odds could play little role as the winners will progress to the Champions League group stage.

“The main difference between last week and this is everyone knows the quality of Hoffenheim,” Klopp said. “I knew before but a lot of people in England didn’t expect the quality of Hoffenheim. Anfield is a main factor. We all know it is a very special place. The crowd are ready to fight and we are ready to fight too.”

“It is half-time,” Klopp added. “That is how I see it. It is half-time and we are in the break. We spoke after the game last week, yesterday, today and tomorrow about Hoffenheim. We want to learn from our mistakes and what we did over there.”

Champions League: Liverpool wins away qualifier against Hoffenheim

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Liverpool has an away goal advantage going into the second leg of their qualifier against Hoffenheim after a 2-1 win over the Bundesliga team.

However, the Reds suffered a scare early at the 11th minute after Dejan Lovren had upended Serge Gnabry in the box, although Simon Mignolet then prevented European debutants Hoffenheim from taking the lead with a neat save to push away Andrej Kramaric’s poor penalty

18-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold then scored on his debut with a free-kick to score Liverpool’s first, while James Milner knocked a significant deflection from the chest of Havard Nordtveit just 10 minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute to put Liverpool firmly in control of the tie.

But once again defensive frailties were exposed as Hoffenheim substitute Mark Uth set up a tense second leg at Anfield next Wednesday with by firing in largely unchallenged after being found by a long ball into the box with three minutes to go.

While Liverpool is yet to seal a return to the Champions League group stages for the first time since 2014, manager Jurgen Klopp hailed his team and singled out Trent Alexander-Arnold’s courage and revealed he told the teenager to take the free-kick.

“I have to say for an 18-year-old to have the balls to kick a free-kick like that is more interesting and exciting for me than a little mistake he made,” said Klopp.

“It was an intensive game for him. He has still some things to learn. He thought it was offside but it was obviously not offside, unfortunately. Trent is a great player and I have to say I would rather have 2-1 than 1-0.”

Alexander-Arnold, who joined the club’s academy aged six, said: “It is a thing of dreams to make your European debut for your boyhood club and to make it with a goal was very special for me. I got egged-on to take the free-kick, to be honest. I never put my hand up first but I had the confidence to take it and it paid off.”

RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg cleared to play in Champions League

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The Bundesliga club RB Leipzig and Austrian club Red Bull Salzburg have both been cleared by UEFA to play in the Champions League.

UEFA does not allow any two clubs competing in European competition to share the same owner, and have a rule in place that prohibits clubs with strong links from playing in Europe in the same season, and both Leipzig and Salzburg are associated with the energy-drink maker Red Bull.

In a scenario where a violation of the rule happens, priority is given to the team who are champions of their country, meaning that RB Leipzig would have missed out.

However, the European football governing body ruled that both clubs, which secured qualification for the 2017-18 edition of the Champions League through their respective leagues, had “no individual or legal entity had a decisive influence over more than one club”.

UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) elaborated that they have found no breach of Article 5 concerning the integrity of the competition, although the decision may be appealed against to the Court of Arbitration for Sport within 10 days.

Red Bull had purchased Austria Salzburg back in 2005 and had rebranded it into Red Bull Salzburg, but following a restructuring it no longer has a controlling stake and merely sponsors the club.

The same company also founded RB Leipzig, and, with backing from the company won four promotions in seven seasons, before finishing second in their first ever Bundesliga season.