While European league seasons are now getting under way, the continent's showpiece tournament, the Champions League, kicked off months ago: in fact, two days after Spain beat Italy in the Euro 2012 final. The big winners in the first qualifying round were Luxembourg's Dudelange (7-0 winners over Tre Penne) and Malta's Valletta (8-0 against Lusitans). Both have since been eliminated and this week sees some fascinating match-ups in the play-off round, with the winners reaching the holy grail -- and cash cow -- of the group stage. Here are five matches worth keeping an eye on:
With Chelsea's victory over Bayern Munich still fresh, here are five UEFA Champions League-inspired thoughts and observations from another MLS Saturday:
Three thoughts after Chelsea won the Champions League title on Saturday over Bayern Munich in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 tie:
CNN's Pedro Pinto and Alex Thomas set the scene for the UEFA Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea.
Heading into Saturday's Champions League final against Bayern Munich, here are five storylines to watch for Chelsea.
Manchester City won their first league title in 44 years to deny rivals Manchester United a 20th league championship in a gripping conclusion to the English Premier League season.
Who will win the FA Cup? Ian Rush and Marcel Desailly give us their predictions.
What started out as Chelsea's worst season since owner Roman Abramovich arrived in 2003 is now on the verge of becoming one of the English club's best.
A Karim Benzema brace helped Real Madrid to a 3-0 win over Sevilla on Sunday to edge Jose Mourinho's side one step closer to a first La Liga title in four seasons.
Pedro Pinto catches up with Barcelona president Sandro Rosell after his squad won Best Team of the Year.
Smarting from their first back-to-back defeats in nearly three years, Barcelona are on the defensive for a change as they approach Tuesday's Champions League semifinal second leg against Chelsea.
Some quick thoughts on this weekend's FA Cup semifinal contestants:
Manchester United restored their five-point advantage in the English Premier League with a 4-0 win over Aston Villla at Old Trafford Sunday.
Let's come right out and say it: Clint Dempsey is having the best season ever by a U.S. international in Europe. With his late equalizer against Chelsea on Monday, the Fulham sniper now has 16 Premier League goals this season. The only Premier League players who have more goals in all competitions than Dempsey's 22 are Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Sergio Aguero.
Football's version of the fabled David vs. Goliath battle will begin on Tuesday as Europe's top club competition kicks off its quarterfinal stage.
Lionel Messi scored five goals in a single game last week, becoming the first player in the Champions League ever to do so. Most were impressed; some were not. Against Bayer Leverkusen, they said: So what? It is a familiar argument -- and one that Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in particular have been forced to confront time and time again. Between them, they have racked up astonishing goal scoring figures, breaking records at every turn -- Messi has scored 50 goals already this season, Ronaldo 40 -- but the nagging doubt lingers. Yeah, they say, but against who?
Chelsea sacked manager Andre Villas-Boas Sunday, citing poor results which threaten their participation in next season's Champions League.
Capped! - Viv Anderson becomes the first black player to represent England
1. Germany could be the new Spain. The average age of the Germany team that started in a 3-0 win over Holland last month, playing a fast-paced and flexible style more reminiscent of the Dutch team of the 1970s, was 24.5. By the time the game ended, it was down to 23.4. Forward Miroslav Klose is the only player over 30 in the squad and there is young talent waiting in the wings wherever you look. Two from Mesut Ozil (23), Toni Kroos (21), and Mario Goetze (19) make up the creative fulcrum that supplies a three-pronged attack with Lukas Podolski (26) and Thomas Muller (22) either side of Mario Gomez (26), whose 22 goals in 22 games this season (at time of writing) puts him in the company of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Robin van Persie.
It's that time of year again where we look back on a selection from the standout soccer stories in the year just passed. Here's the best of 2011:
Lyon's remarkable 7-1 Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb was the subject of a probe by France's online gambling regulator.
LONDON -- Roman Weidenfeller raised his hand one final time, to acknowledge the friendly applause from the Arsenal supporters. The Dortmund keeper and his teammates were politely clapped off the Emirates pitch after Arsenal's 2-1 win. Maybe the crowd sensed that Jürgen Klopp's young team had tried its best out there, that it had indeed "given all" as the 44-year-old manager put it. The Gunners supporters clearly enjoyed seeing such a young, committed side, eager to run and toil even when the game was long lost.
Manchester City may have announced losses of more than $300 million for last season, but the English club's massive investment in players is paying off on the pitch.
Premier League CEO Richard Scudamore discusses eradicating racism in football.
English Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has told CNN Sport that there is no chance of the top European clubs forming a breakaway league to rival the Champions League.
One third into the new season, it's a good time to look at who's who, who dunnit and who didn't. Here's this fall's list of Bundesliga movers and shakers.
Josh Gatt wasn't on the field as his team cemented a monumental achievement, but that doesn't mean he won't be able to reap the benefits of his club's first league championship.
With two minutes remaining of Wednesday's Champions League game between Shakhtar Donetsk and Zenit St Petersburg, Razvan Rat, the Shakhtar left back, sprayed a cross field ball to the right back, Dario Srna. Nothing too extraordinary about that, except that both were 20-30 yards inside the Zenit half. That's how attacking the game was, that's how much Shakhtar chased a late winner its performance wouldn't have merited.
Manchester United secured their first victory in this season's UEFA Champions League with an unconvincing 2-0 victory against Romanian side Otelul Galati at The National Stadium in Bucharest.
Lionel Messi scored twice for Barcelona as the European champions crushed BATE Borisov 5-0 to claim their first Group H win in this season's Champions League.
Manchester United opened their Champions League campaign with a hard-fought draw against Portugal's Benfica in Group C, whilst their city rivals also earned a point as they made their debut in the competition.
Sports journalists Julien Laurens and Rafael Honigstein discuss the groups for the 2011 UEFA Champions League.
Champions League holders Barcelona will face seven-time winners AC Milan in their group when Europe's money-spinning competition begins in September.
Bayern Munich are through to the group stages of the Champions League after a 1-0 win at Swiss side FC Zurich gave them a 3-0 aggregate success in their play-off second leg.
Bayern Munich took a step closer towards the UEFA Champions League group stages after a comfortable victory against Swiss champions FC Zurich at the Allianz Arena.
English Premier League side Arsenal and Italian Serie A Udinese have been drawn together in the final qualifying round for the European Champions League.
The Bundesliga's 49th season kicks off on Friday night, when defending champion Borussia Dortmund hosts a completely re-engineered Hamburger SV. Last season's intoxicating randomness proved how difficult it is to predict Europe's most open league but here's a moderately educated guess as to how the 18 teams might finish -- subject to some last-minute wheeling and dealing, naturally.
Scottish champions Glasgow Rangers are out of the Champions League at the third qualifying round stage after a 1-1 draw at Malmo saw them beaten 2-1 on aggregate on Wednesday.
European champions Barcelona claim they will sever ties with Real Madrid if their fierce Spanish rivals continue to push the "bounds of sportsmanship."
Barcelona striker Lionel Messi has hailed the performance of his teammates after the Spanish giants beat Manchester United 3-1 at Wembley on Saturday to lift their third Champions League trophy in six seasons.
Three thoughts after Barcelona defeated Manchester United 3-1 to win the UEFA Champions League title:
CNN's Alex Thomas talks to former Manchester United and Barcelona players ahead of the Champions League Final.
It's here: the biggest game of the year in world club soccer. Five things to watch for in Saturday's UEFA Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United (2 p.m. ET, Fox):
In the world of football, Wembley is more than a stadium. It's a shrine.
CNN's Pedro Pinto visits Wembley Stadium and looks at its history ahead of the 2011 Champions League final.
Udinese claimed the fourth and final Champions League spot in Italy as a 0-0 draw at home to champions AC Milan kept them ahead of Lazio on goal difference.
The tradition of French players at Barcelona is not a strong one. Ludovic Giuly (2006) and Thierry Henry (2009) may have won the Champions League with the club, but more often the story is one of high hopes and failed expectations: Richard Dutruel, Philippe Christanval, Christophe Dugarry and Emmanuel Petit.
Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo equaled the Spanish league scoring record with two more goals in Sunday's 3-1 victory at Villarreal.
Arsenal's hopes of automatic Champions League qualification suffered another blow on Sunday, while London rivals West Ham dropped out of England's top division.
Manchester United clinched a record 19th English league title on Saturday, while local rivals City ended a 35-year wait to win a football trophy.
With most soccer leagues in Europe either finished or within a few games of finishing, the future is becoming even more clear for the contingent of Americans playing overseas.
Barcelona need just one point to win Spain's La Liga for the third straight year after a 2-0 win over neighbors Espanyol Sunday night.
Bayern Munich secured qualification for next season's Champions League on Saturday with a thumping 8-1 away win at St Pauli.
Pep Guardiola said it; everyone else just thought it. On the eve of the final chapter in the four-game, 18-day clásico saga, one comment hit home more than any other. "It is," Guardiola said, "nearly over." A kind of tired, collective sigh of relief escaped. Had it not been for the fact that no one had the energy or enthusiasm, you might have expected the place to turn into an evangelical church, shouts of Amen! and Hallelujah! ringing round. One more night and we're free. They were wrong -- the fallout is nuclear, its devastating effects set to linger -- but the promise of liberation hung in the air.
Barcelona eliminate rivals Real Madrid to reach the Champions League final. CNN's Al Goodman reports.
Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho has stood by his post-match tirade against officialdom after his side lost 2-0 to bitter rivals Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal tie Wednesday.
Real Madrid and Barcelona face disciplinary action from European football's governing body following Wednesday's fiery Champions League semifinal between the two Spanish clubs.
A Real Madrid fan tells CNN his thoughts on the semifinal clash.
As the calendar gets set to turn to May, there's no better time to assess the promotion and European competition hopes and relegation fears among the Americans playing abroad.
Bayern Munich sacked coach Louis van Gaal Sunday after poor results threatened their participation in next season's Champions League.
Real Madrid's hopes of European success were boosted on Monday with the news that Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka have been passed fit for Tuesday's first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal against English club Tottenham.
Manchester United moved five points clear in the English Premier League after snatching a 1-0 win against Bolton on Saturday despite having a player sent off.
After 188 minutes of wildly entertaining, at times outrageously open football Tuesday, it all came down to Bastian Schweinsteiger's tired legs. The Bayern Munich midfielder failed to keep up when Goran Pandev started running from the halfway line and could only watch in horror as the Macedonian smashed in the epic winner that sent Internazionale into the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Even just 10 years ago, a game like the Bayern vs. Inter clash on Tuesday night would have been, generally, unthinkable. Why? Because it was a German team versus an Italian team. In other words, discipline versus defensive nous. Lazy stereotyping was probably off the mark even back at the turn of the millennium, but at least it was grounded in some kind of reality, some kind of expression of national characteristics. Today they're simply way off base. Bayern and Inter provided plenty of evidence of this.
Real Madrid moved to within four points of Barcelona at the top of La Liga with a 2-0 win over lowly Hercules Saturday in the Bernabeu.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has launched an attack on European football's governing body UEFA after being charged with improper conduct for his behavior during Tuesday's Champions League defeat by Barcelona.
A late goal from Peter Crouch stunned seven-time European champions AC Milan as Tottenham Hotspur secured a 1-0 win in the San Siro on Tuesday night.
If you're a Liverpool fan, you're probably pretty angry right now. You've won one game since September (albeit a pretty important one, against Manchester United), qualification to the knockout stage of the Champions League seems extremely improbable right now and you're sixth in the English Premier League, after finishing second last year.
And so, after the Barcelona and Real Madrid Teams of the Decade, here's La Liga's finest XI from 2000-2010. First, though, a few things worth noting about all three teams:
Rightly or wrongly, Roy Hodgson's time at Liverpool seems to be coming to an end. Some will argue that he should be given time, and it is of course true that various managerial greats -- Herbert Chapman, Don Revie, Brian Clough, Sir Alex Ferguson -- struggled in their first seasons at clubs with whom they later achieved significant success. But it is also true that Hodgson, much like Sam Allardyce in his brief stint at Newcastle United, seems to have lost the confidence of just about everybody, with even those fans who urge patience unsettled by the functionality of much of Liverpool's football, even against mediocre opposition.
1. Lionel Messi will break more records and persuade Pep to stay. Messi may not win the FIFA Ballon D'Or for the world's best player -- if only because FIFA's new involvement in the award will ensure it goes to a World Cup winner -- but with 60 goals in 57 Barcelona appearances in 2010, he surely deserves it. He also sets up goals as readily as he scores them. While Barcelona is favored to retain its La Liga title and win the Champions League, Messi's form might have more far-reaching consequences. Coach Pep Guardiola's contract expires at the end of this season, and there have been reports of interest from Inter Milan and Chelsea. Talks with new president Sandro Rosell are scheduled for early 2011, and a five-year deal will be put on the table. Rosell need only say one thing to get his man: "There is only one Lionel Messi in football today. He needs you and you need him."
MADRID -- The phone lines opened at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. At the same time, ATMs all over Spain were activated. Tickets were on sale for Atlético Madrid's Copa del Rey match against Universidad de Las Palmas at the Vicente Calderón -- the ground where the fans are proud of their loyalty and where season-ticket sales actually increased in the summer in which Atlético was relegated. When the lines closed that evening, 12 long hours later, 24 tickets had been sold.
"F------ anxiety!" Cristiano Ronaldo was walking through the mixed zone at l'Abbé Deschamps stadium in Auxerre, France, on Sept. 28 when he uttered those words in Spanish. On one side of the barrier, the media were gathered, packed in, waiting. On the other, Ronaldo walked straight past, refusing to stop, refusing to talk. As he went by, slipping behind the board splashed with sponsors' names, he did spit out two words by way of justification, vindication or retaliation.
Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson has hailed the Champions League as the best football tournament on the planet, describing the World Cup as worse than a trip to the dentist.
Bayer Leverkusen claimed third place in the German Bundesliga with a 1-0 victory over Schalke on Saturday night that left last season's runners-up deep in relegation trouble.
Glasgow Rangers and U.S. midfielder Maurice Edu experienced most of the peaks and valleys a professional soccer player in Europe can in a span of five days.
Some goals Werder Bremen conceded in the 4-0 drubbing at Internazionale last month were so soft that Italian football paper Gazzetta dello Sport rechristened the team "Werder Crema." It was a charitable assessment; Gazzetta easily could have reached for a stronger Italian word.
Real Madrid took a big step toward reaching the second round of the Champions League with a 2-0 home win over Group G rivals AC Milan on Tuesday night, while Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Arsenal also maintained their perfect start to Europe's premier club competition.
Wayne Rooney will be sidelined for up to three weeks, missing crucial games for club side Manchester United and England.
It's still something of a surprise that only one French side has ever won the European Cup or, as it has been known since 1992, the Champions League -- especially since a Frenchman, L'Equipe newspaper editor Gabriel Hanot, helped set up the competition's first edition in 1955, the final of which Stade de Reims lost 4-3 to Real Madrid.
Who should win the 2010 FIFA Ballon d'Or for the best player of the year in world soccer?
With the qualifying rounds and draws of the major European competitions in the rear-view mirror, a number of Americans learned their UEFA Champions League or Europa League fates this past week.
Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp was asked how he would celebrate after his team's victory against BSC Young Boys on Wednesday ensured qualification for the Champions League group stage.
The new Italian Serie A season kicks off this weekend -- Fanzone details what to expect from the forthcoming campaign where reigning Italian and European champions Inter Milan will be gunning for their sixth consecutive title:
Together they form the world's greatest team -- but now with the start of the La Liga season it's time for Spain to split into it's two bitter factions as Real Madrid and Barcelona once again fight for supremacy. With the self-proclaimed "Special One," Jose Mourinho, now at the helm for Madrid and football's deadliest striker David Villa signing for Barca, it's going to be an explosive season in La Liga. Fanzone reveals what to expect...
French champions Marseille have moved quickly to boost their forward options by winning the race to sign highly-rated striker Loic Remy from Nice.
UEFA have rejected Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp's call for artificial pitches to be banned after his side lost 3-2 to Young Boys in the Champions League playoffs.
Nicknamed "Saddam" and "The Torturer" due to his rigorous training regimes, Schalke coach Felix Magath is promising a more aesthetically-pleasing approach in the upcoming German football season.
The draw was relatively kind to UEFA Champions League debutants Tottenham Hotspur Friday, after they were drawn to play Swiss club Young Boys for a place in the coveted group stage of Europe's top club competition.
Manchester City FC midfielder Patrick Vieira tells CNN's Patrick Snell he is happy at the high quality of the squad.
Four-time European champions Ajax scraped into Friday's Champions League draw after edging their third qualifying round tie on away goals.
The experiment of extra match officials will be extended to Europe's top club competition and several other tournaments around the world.
For half an hour on Tuesday in the Champions League qualifiers, Dinamo Zagreb was worried. Davor Bubanja had given Koper the lead, and the specter of yet more European failure was raised. But then the excellent Milan Mandzukic equalized, and Miroslav Slepicka had the Croatian champion ahead. Second-half goals from Mandzukic and the two Brazilians, Sammir and Etto, gave Dinamo a 5-1 win and should have put the tie to bed.
UEFA president Michel Platini says he is disappointed that the buildup to Saturday's Champions League final between Inter Milan and Bayern Munich has been dominated by the coaches, and not the players.
After just one season in charge at Bayern Munich, coach Louis Van Gaal has led the German side to the verge of European supremacy with a place in the Champions League final.
Desperation makes for strange bedfellows. And no, we're not talking about David Cameron and Nick Clegg coming together to find the keys for No. 10 Downing Street after a British general election that left a hung parliament and no outright winner -- although there is certainly plenty of politics involved.
Peter Crouch netted a late winner as Tottenham defeated Manchester City 1-0 on Wednesday night to claim England's fourth Champions League place -- a result which could be worth $75 million to the London club.
Bayern Munich playmaker Franck Ribery will miss the Champions League final against Inter Milan this month after failing in his appeal against suspension on Wednesday.
CNN's Ben Wyatt asks viewers who will win this year's Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.
Inter Milan stayed on course for the treble after beating Lazio 2-0 on Sunday to open up a two-point gap over Roma in the Serie A title race.
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