By DAN KARELL
Starting next season, the UEFA Europa League champions will have a protected place in the Champions League the following season.
UEFA confirmed the news on Friday, hoping to give teams more motivation to play stronger sides in the competition. The decision would also ensure the winner of the Europa League a place in the Champions League despite where they finish in the league. Chelsea qualified for this season’s Champions League through last year’s dramatic penalty kick win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final, despite finishing fifth in the English Premier League.
Prior attempts to raise the level of the competition included placing the third-place team from the Champions League group stages into the knockout rounds of the Europa League. Both Chelsea and Benfica, this year’s finalists, entered the competition in this fashion.
UEFA also chose Berlin’s Olympic Stadium to host the 2015 Champions League final.
Here are some more stories to lead off your Friday:
XOLOS BLOW TWO GOAL LEAD, DRAW MINEIRO
Club Tijuana squandered a two-goal advantage by conceding twice in the second half, drawing Brazilian side Atletico Mineiro, 2-2, in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals.
Tijuana opened the game’s scoring with a 32nd minute finish into the near post by winger Duvier Riascos. Forward Fidel Martinez, with his Neymar-like hairstyle, missed an open header just five minutes into the second half, but couldn’t miss from close range again, finishing into an open net in the 53rd minute to give his side a shock 2-0 lead.
In the 66th minute, Mineiro pegged one back as forward Diego Tardelli knocked a deflected corner kick just over the line, despite a desperate attempt to stop the ball by Xolos goalkeeper Cirilo Saucedo. In the second minute of stoppage time, Mineiro completed the comeback, as Xolos defender Javier Gandolfi whiffed on a clearance attempt, allowing Mineiro substitute forward Luan to finish through Saucedo’s legs and into the back of the net.
The stage shifts to Belo Horizonte in Brazil, where the two squads will face off once more in the second-leg. Also in action on Thursday night in the Copa Libertadores, Boca Juniors drew Newell’s Old Boys, 0-0, in a battle of Argentine clubs. It’s the first of three meetings between the clubs in a week, two in the Copa Libertadores and one in the Argentine Primera Division.
CRUZ AZUL DEFEAT AMERICA IN CLASSIC BATTLE
Cruz Azul defeated Club America, 1-0, in the first leg of the Liga MX Clausura playoffs final on Thursday night.
Midfielder Christian Gimenez header into the far post off a corner kick in the 20th minute proved to be the only goal of the match, as Cruz Azul takes the advantage heading into the second leg in the Estadio Azteca on Sunday.
America’s forward pair of Christian Benitez and Raul Jimenez never got going in the Estadio Azul as Cruz Azul defenders Julio Dominguez and Gerardo Flores combined to keep the dangerous strikers off the score sheet.
The match was a physical battle, marked by two yellow cards to each side and nearly a sending off for Gimenez, whose theatrics after the slightest touch from America defender Aquivaldo Mosquera earned the big Colombian a yellow, but not Gimenez.
RAPINOE, LYON FALL IN WOMEN’S UCL FINAL
In her final game for French club Lyon before jetting back to America, Megan Rapinoe only made it through halftime before being substituted, watching her team fall to German side Wolfsburg, 1-0, in the Women’s UEFA Champions League Final.
Martina Muller of Wolfsburg scored the only goal of the match from the penalty spot in the 73rd minute, taking advantage after Lyon defender Laura Georges handled the ball in the box.
Lyon was considered a juggernaut as they won the last two Champions League finals, going undefeated in the competition with a 24-0-2 record in the last three years, but like in 2010, they weren’t able to win in the final match.
Gibraltar have been given UEFA full membership, becoming the organization’s 54th member. (REPORT)
Inter Milan have sacked manager Andrea Stramaccioni after a poor season, leaving Inter out of European competition. (REPORT)
Real Madrid have offered $26 million plus Jose Callejon to Malaga for young starlet Isco. (REPORT)
Stoke City have contacted Mark Hughes to take over for Tony Pulis as club manager. (REPORT)
Manchester United have refinanced £178 million of their debt, which should save them on average £10 million per year. (REPORT)
What do you make of these reports? Do you believe UEFA is making the right decision on the Europa League winners? Do you see Xolos scoring in Brazil? Do you see America winning at home?
Share your thoughts below.