Champions dropouts shocking

Dec 12 2011 - 7:15pm

The biggest soccer buzz around the world this past week was in anticipation of Saturday's El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid, which lost 3-1. Coming in a very close second was the shocking news that not one but both teams from Manchester had crashed out of the Champions League before the knockout round.

Hard to believe, but the Champions League will go on without Manchester United and Manchester City. (Take a moment to digest that information.)

Three-time European champion Man U needed only a tie against Swiss club FC Basel to advance, and wound up losing 2-1. For just the second time in 16 years, the Red Devils will be relegated to the Europa League, where they will play among the likes of Slovan Bratislova, Rapid Bucureste and the Shamrock Rovers.

"It's incredible," Basel goalkeeper Yann Sommer said. "A Swiss team, a little country, against Manchester United, one of the biggest teams in the world ... it's crazy. Manchester is a good team, they had a lot of pressure, and sometimes we were a bit lucky not to concede, and this is a crazy night. We are through and Manchester are out ... it's super."

City, the English Premier League leader, also dropped to the second-tier tournament despite beating Bayern Munich 2-0. Napoli advanced instead with a 2-0 win at Villarreal.

Man U won the Champions League in 2008 and was runner-up in 2009 and 2011. The team was favored to move on to the next round along with London clubs Chelsea and Arsenal. But the game against Basel turned out disastrous. Teammates Chris Smalling and Nemanja Vidic had a nasty collision, and Vidic later was carried off on a stretcher with a knee injury that will keep him out the rest of the season.

"It feels like a dream," United defender Patrice Evra said. "I feel I will wake up tomorrow, and we will have qualified. But it is not a dream; it is the reality. We should have woken up earlier in this competition. We deserve to be out.

"Even if it is a friendly, when I pull on a United shirt I do my best to win that trophy. But it is embarrassing to be in the Europa League. I play for Manchester United to play in the Champions League, but some players dream of playing for United in any competition, and you have to respect that."

The eight group winners that advanced to the Champions League knockout stage are Bayern Munich (Germany); Inter Milan (Italy); Benfica (Portugal); Real Madrid (Spain); Chelsea (England); Arsenal (England); APOEL (Cyprus); and Barcelona (Spain). The second-place teams that compete the 16-team field are Napoli (Italy); CSKA Moscow (Russia); Basel (Switzerland); Lyon (France); Bayer Leverkusen (Germany); Marseille (France); Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia); and AC Milan (Italy).

The draw is Dec. 16, and the next round of matches is in February.

ELSEWHERE

Mexico-Colombia in Miami: The full Mexican national team is expected at Miami's Sun Life Stadium on Feb. 29 for a friendly against the full Colombian squad.

Colombia is a contender in South American World Cup qualifiers, currently in sixth place out of the 10 teams with a game in hand. Led by captain Mario Yepes (AC Milan/Italy) and star Radamel Falcao (Atletico Madrid/Spain), Colombia is coached by former MLS star Leonel Alvarez .

Mexico, a powerhouse in the CONCACAF region, will begin its run for World Cup qualification June 8 against Guyana and June 12 against El Salvador. Under the direction of Jose Manuel de la Torre , the team includes Manchester United striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez , New York Red Bulls defender Rafa Marquez and Tottenham midfielder Giovani Dos Santos.

Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Monday through Ticketmaster.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000.

United States-Cuba: The U.S. Under-23 men's team will play Cuba, Canada and El Salvador in the qualifying tournament for the 2012 London Olympics. The matches will be played March 22, 24 and 26 in Nashville.

Mexico, Honduras, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago are in the other group, which will play in Carson, Calif. The Olympic teams must be comprised of Under-23 players, but three over-age wild-card players are permitted on each roster.

Dempsey makes history: U.S. forward Clint Dempsey became the highest-scoring American in English Premier League history last week when he scored for Fulham against Liverpool. It was his 37th EPL goal, surpassing Brian McBride's 36, also with Fulham. The only other American to reach double digits was Roy Wegerle, who scored 13 from 1992 through '94 for Blackburn and Coventry City. Carlos Bocanegra scored eight for Fulham. Of the 128 American goals in the league, 77 have been scored for Fulham, which explains one of the team's nicknames: Fulhamerica.

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