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from Reuters Soccer Blog:

No Great Escape for Liverpool

Liverpool hopes of one more great Champions League escape were dashed on Tuesday night, as Fiorentina sealed their place alongside Olympique Lyon with a 1-0 win over the French side, leaving the English team's 1-0 success against Debrecen irrelevant.

Liverpool, of course, only have themselves to blame for leaving their fate in the hands of a team that had already secured their own qualification.

There will doubtless be a lot more criticism of Rafa Benitez, his transfer dealings and the perceived failures of man management, but the analysis of exactly why Liverpool failed to progress can wait for another post.

For now, consider one question: Might this result actually work in Liverpool's long-term favour?

A Reuters Sportswrap of heroic proportions

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Sportswrap is back with a bang, as we take in Hideki Matsui’s heroic performance for the New York Yankees, Usain Bolt bottle-feeding a creature that will one day outrun him and Rafa Benitez trying to invoke the spirit of You’ll Never Walk Alone only to come a cropper in the Champions League.

Written by Kevin Fylan, presented by Owen Wyatt from our Canary Wharf studios and with a jaunty hat tip to Half Man Half Biscuit for the Liverpool joke.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

Arsenal emerge as shining light in Champions League

Out of eight Spanish and English teams playing in the Champions League this week, only Arsenal were victorious.

Was this a blip for the two powerhouses, or is it another indication that Europe's top club competition is becoming more balanced?

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

Barca blame bad luck but Rubin coach is wilier than most

Has Lady Luck deserted holders Barcelona as their players suggested or did Rubin Kazan coach Kurban Berdyev and his players pull off the tactical masterstroke that has eluded so many others since Pep Guardiola took over at the Nou Camp at the start of last season?******It was probably a bit of both that led to Barca’s 2-1 defeat on Tuesday, their first Champions League reverse in 10 matches and a first home defeat in any competition since they lost to Osasuna last May when they had already secured the La Liga title.******The match was reminiscent of last season’s semi-final first leg against Chelsea, when the visitors defended stoutly in numbers and several times came close to grabbing a goal on the break.******Rubin went one better than the London club, exploiting the indifferent form and lack of pace of Barca’s Mexican central defender Rafael Marquez for Gokdeniz Karadeniz’s excellent winner on the counter attack.******The wily Berdyev, an intensely private man, watched impassively from the sidelines fingering his prayer beads, and Barca’s rivals, both in Spain and beyond, will doubtless try to learn from his success.******Whatever the reasons for Barca’s shock defeat, the hacks at the Madrid-based sports sheets were rubbing their hands on Wednesday, gleefully pointing to last weekend’s goalless draw at Valencia in La Liga and proclaiming the demise of Guardiola’s record-breaking side.******“Russian revolution at the Nou Camp!” trumpeted Marca.******“The ‘Pep Team’ lost their identity and were unable to produce the rhythm the match required. This Barca is not the champion,” was the headline in As.******The Barcelona-based papers preferred to focus on the fact that the European champions remain top of Group F after three out of six matches and have their fate in their own hands ahead of the trips to Kazan and Dynamo Kiev and Inter Milan’s visit to the Nou Camp.******“Crisis? What crisis?” asked Gabriel Sans in El Mundo Deportivo. “Barca have lost some fluidity and tactical freshness but their fate still depends on their own results.******"The glass is half full and they’ll drain it in Russia and drink to the health of whoever wants it.”******“Damn woodwork!” wrote Sport, referring to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s acrobatic volley that shook the crossbar in the second half and Yaya Toure’s header at the death that crashed against a post.******Guardiola seemed to take the loss in his stride, although he had a minor altercation with a Russian journalist at the post-match news conference when he was bizarrely asked if he even knew Berdyev’s name.******“This is why football is special,” he said of the match. “In any other sport, with our statistics, we would have won.”******PHOTO: Barcelona's Zlatan Ibrahimovic reacts as Rubin Kazan's Vital Kaleshin (R) gestures during their Champions League soccer match at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, October 20, 2009. REUTERS/Albert Gea

As Milan go to extremes, what’s your favourite sports song?

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Italian soccer club AC Milan played the famous music from the Champions League in their dressing room on Sunday to try to motivate the players. The only thing was they weren’t playing in the Champions League — it was a domestic match at home to Bologna.

Milan have stuttered in Italy for a few years now but they won the Champions League, Europe’s top club trophy, in 2007 and had produced a good performance to beat Olympique Marseille in the same competition the previous week.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

Live blogging the Champions League

The Champions League is back and our reporters are currently wringing out their wet things (Mitch Phillips at Chelsea)/basking in the evening sunshine by the River Manzanares (Iain Rogers at Atletico) and undergoing all climactic variations in between.

Tonight's first tranche of eight matches includes a repeat of the very first Champions League final, with AC Milan visiting Marseille, plus the European debut of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka for Real Madrid, with the Spaniards visiting Zurich.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

Who will win the battle between Ibra and Eto’o?

Boy, the Champions League is back with a bang. How much juicier can you get than holders Barcelona at Inter Milan in their first game?  

If the Spanish champions against their Italian counterparts wasn't enough, we've got the added spice of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Samuel Eto'o playing against their former clubs at the first possible opportunity following their extraordinary close-season swap deal.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

United happy to be wearing white…just like 1991

New thread on this here...

Manchester United's Red Devils will be wearing angelic white in Wednesday's Champions League final, just how Alex Ferguson likes it.

Barcelona are the nominal home team for the 'dream final' in Rome and as their famous claret and blue tops clash with United's usual red and their first choice blue away kit, the holders will wander onto the pristine Stadio Olimpico pitch in white.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

Manchester United seal Premier League title – your views

Manchester United have captured their 18th English league title after securing the point they needed in a 0-0 draw at home to Arsenal.

It was a subdued display by United but the celebrations began when the final whistle sealed a hat-trick of titles and moved them alongside Liverpool as England's most crowned club.

One down, two more to come for Barcelona?

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barcelona

There were nervous moments for Barcelona in the first half of the King’s Cup final but a three-goal nine-minute burst from Lionel Messi, Bojan Krkic and Xavi helped them to a 4-1 win over Athletic Bilbao and the first leg of a possible treble.

The league title could be their this weekend, on Saturday if Real Madrid fail to win at Villarreal or failing that on Sunday if they can manage a point at Real Mallorca.

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