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World Soccer views and news

Soccer Break Friday – Champions League draw special

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SOCCER-EUROPA/Well well well. Now the Champions League really is wide open..

So here’s that quarter-final draw again:

Real Madrid v Tottenham Hotspur

Chelsea v Manchester United

Barcelona v Shakhtar Donetsk

Inter Milan v Schalke 04

As Gary Lineker put it, there will be an English team in the semi-finals, but could Tottenham make it two sides? Real are certainly not invincible.

Now, before taking a look at all the domestic leagues over the weekend, a recap of Thursday’s highlights from the Europa League. Quite a night of upsets.

Portuguese clubs lead the way in the second-tier European club competition with three representatives; the Netherlands have two sides in the last eight while Spain, Ukraine and Russia all have one.

What are your feelings on the Europa League? Prestigious cup worth winning, or would you rather your team wasn’t in it at all like Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben?

Soccer Break Thursday

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/So Real Madrid finally broke their last 16 jinx and made the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2004 with a solid home performance against Olympique Lyon. Can’t imagine anyone left in the draw would like to face Jose Mourinho’s men when the last eight and semi-final draws are announced on Friday.

Which team would you want? Managerless Schalke 04? Real are divided on that given they would then face former striker Raul. Or Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk? Tottenham Hotspur would appear to be another one of the weaker teams left but at this stage of the competition any side is a threat.

Five other NFL players who could make it in soccer

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LEWIS

With the NFL entering a lockout due to a dispute between players and owners over a new collective contract, Cincinnati Bengals wide-receiver Chad Ochocinco is to join Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City on a four day trial next week.

With that news in mind, here are five other NFL players who could have the attributes to switch codes and some light-hearted suggestions on where in MLS they might play:

Soccer Break Wednesday

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/That Champions League and drama undoubtedly go hand in hand was again in evidence after another tense night in Europe, with one blog even describing Inter Milan’s comeback victory over Bayern Munich as one of the best Champions League matches of all time.

As if that’s not enough, a “Little Pea” was scoring a double for Manchester United to send them through to their 11th quarter-final in just 19 years of the competition. No club has reached the last eight on more occasions.

Ten things to watch for in the new MLS season

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BECKHAM DONOVAN

YOUNG AMERICANS
MLS’s foreign imports have grabbed most of the headlines over the past few years, understandably given the name recognition of players such as David Beckham and Thierry Henry, but one of the most fascinating aspects of this season will be the progress of a new generation of American players on the fringe of the national team. Sporting KC striker Teal Bunbury and New York Red Bulls forward Juan Agudelo are fancied by many as a future pairing for Bob Bradley’s team but they will need to deliver week-in-week-out in MLS. Red Bulls defender Tim Ream had an excellent first year and will likely be scouted heavily by European clubs this season. Portland Timbers attacker Darlington Nagbe was born in Liberia but is seeking naturalization and there is a lot of buzz about his potential.

DIG THE NEW BREED
The Pacific North-West should provide plenty of lively derby action this year with the Seattle Sounders, the best-supported team in the league, joined by two new teams — local rivals Portland Timbers and Northern neighbours Vancouver Whitecaps. Both clubs are technically ‘expansion franchises’ but don’t confuse them with recent creations such as the Philadelphia Union and Real Salt Lake who started from scratch. Both the Timbers and the Whitecaps existed in the old NASL and continued in second tier soccer up until last season. Both have good fan-bases who expect an instant impact. Both were able to build upon their backroom and on-field staff from the second tier. In short – both are more like typical promoted teams in European leagues – they have to step up to a new level on the field and can expect some fresh impetus off the field. It should be fascinating to watch how they fare in their first season with the big boys. Who will make the bigger impact?

SHINY, HAPPY PEOPLE?

The Kansas City Wizards were not one of MLS’s big success stories having averaged crowds of around 10,000 for most of their existence – initially playing at the 80,000 capacity Arrowhead Stadium, home to the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs and then at a cozier but not-very soccer friendly minor-league baseball park. This season all that changes. The rather silly-sounding Wizards name has been dropped in favour of Sporting Kansas City – mocked by some as being a pretentious Euro-wannabe name (Sporting Club being a historic team in Lisbon, Portugal) but surely an upgrade on the Wizards? This season the team also move into their own, shiny new, purpose built 18,500 venue – Livestrong Sporting Park. The venue isn’t quite ready so the first eight games of the season for Sporting will be on the road but it will be interesting to see if the rebrand and the new home manage to attract more fans. That certainly helped New York Red Bulls last year – when they moved into Red Bull Arena their average home gate rose from 12,229 to 18,441.

Scotland on their way back to London, but England match must wait a while

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tartanScotland’s soccer team return to London for the first time since 1999 at the end of this month — but they won’t be playing England at Wembley.

Instead they will face five-times world champions Brazil in a high profile friendly at the Emirates Stadium which should be filled close to its 60,000 capacity.

Soccer Break Tuesday

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SOCCER-ENGLAND/CUPThe pain for Arsenal fans just rolls on it would seem, as a trip to my office’s kitchen confirmed on Monday when I heard two voices grumbling about “Van Persie” and “not enough shots”.

The North London club’s woes of the last two weeks or so have been much publicised, but perhaps at last there is some news to cheer Gunners fans up in the return of former keeper Jens Lehmann? Who would you prefer in goal? Lehmann, or Arsenal’s only currently available goalie Manuel Almunia, in good form in the last two matches against Barcelona and Manchester United?

Is a Riquelme or a Moreno essential to win the Argentine title?

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SOCCER-LATAM/Losing the player voted best of the Apertura championship in the first half of the season to an injury that will keep him out for the whole of the Clausura seemed to dash any hopes Racing Club had of the Argentine title.

As with Boca Juniors’ loss of Juan Roman Riquelme to injury in the Apertura, so Racing feared the worst when Colombian Giovanni Moreno damaged knee ligaments in their opening match.

Soccer Break Monday

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SOCCER-SPAIN/Good day everyone and welcome to a new week. Following a great weekend of footballing action and with so much at stake over the next few days in Europe, there is plenty to discuss.

Let’s begin with a look at the FA Cup quarter-finals, and please add the weekend of April 16/17 to your diaries as the Manchester derby will make its way to Wembley for the semi-finals while Stoke face Bolton.

Soccer Break Friday

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SOCCER-EUROPA/Friday. That means almost weekend. Which means yet more football. When does it ever stop? We don’t want it to though, especially with some cracking FA Cup games in store as well as Europe’s top sides slugging it out in their respective leagues.

First however, here’s our take on the Europa League action on Thursday. Some nicely poised ties, though it was not a good night for Liverpool or Manchester City, or Mario Balotelli for that matter.

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