Champions League place at stake for likes of Milan and Arsenal in Europa League

Arsenal's Manager Arsene Wenger attends a news conference in Ostersund, Sweden ahead of the two teams' Europa League clash. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 February 2018
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Champions League place at stake for likes of Milan and Arsenal in Europa League

LONDON: It’s the only European trophy AC Milan has not won, yet there is more at stake for the Italian powerhouse and some other big teams when the Europa League kicks off its knockout stage this week.
Once treated with contempt by heavyweights, Europe’s second tier competition carries more value since UEFA’s decision to award a Champions League qualifying place to the winner, which started with the 2015-16 season.
After a poor start to the season, heavy spending Milan are showing signs of improvement under new coach Gennaro Gattuso. But still seventh in Serie A, winning the Europa League might be the best option for the seven-time European champions to return to Europe’s top table.
Milan face Bulgaria’s Ludogorets Razgrad in the round of 32 on Thursday.
Milan’s situation might sound familiar to Arsene Wenger, whose Arsenal side are losing hope of making the top four in the Premier League. The London club is in sixth place, seven points from the Champions League places.
“I’m not a great fan of the Europa League being a qualifier of the Champions League,” Wenger said.
But Wenger might want to follow the example of his rival, Jose Mourinho, who changed his negative view of the Europa League after a 2-0 victory over Ajax in the final last year saved his first season at Manchester United.
Arsenal, the only English club remaining in the competition, open the second round against Sweden’s Ostersund.
“Looking at their results in Europe, they have done well so we have to prepare properly,” Wenger said about the club led by English manager Graham Potter, a former Football League defender.
It will be interesting to see if Wenger sticks to his habit of fielding a reserve team for the Europa League matches. What proved effective in the group stage might not be enough in the knockout rounds.
Wenger will have to make changes upfront after his two regular strikers in the group stage, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott, left the Emirates Stadium for Chelsea and Everton, respectively.

OTHER GAMES
The competition is spiced up with some big names that dropped down from the Champions League.
Two of them immediately face each other, Italy’s Serie A leaders Napoli and RB Leipzig, the second-placed team in the Bundesliga.
Atletico Madrid, the 2010 and 2012 Europa League winners, were drawn to face Copenhagen.
Borussia Dortmund, who are third in the Bundesliga after two straight wins, face Italy’s Atalanta.
Also, it’s Marseille vs. Braga; Celtic vs. Zenit St. Petersburg; and Lyon vs.Villarreal.
Fifteen of the 16 opening legs will be played on Thursday, with the return games on Feb. 22. In Tuesday’s only match, Red Star Belgrade play CSKA Moscow.


Floyd Mayweather rematch closer as Manny Pacquiao signs to face ‘top PBC fighters’

Updated 23 October 2018
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Floyd Mayweather rematch closer as Manny Pacquiao signs to face ‘top PBC fighters’

  • Pacquiao said that he was “90 percent” sure a bout with former four-division world champion Adrien Broner would happen in January
  • Unbeaten Mayweather said in September he would come out of retirement to face Pacquiao later this year

MANILA: A potential blockbuster rematch between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather moved a step closer as the Filipino icon confirmed he has signed with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions (PBC).
Eight-weight world champion Pacquiao said he would close out his storied career by facing “top PBC fighters” in announcing late Monday the tie-up with influential Mayweather adviser Haymon’s organization.
“My team will work closely with Al Haymon for the remainder of my career to deliver the most anticipated fights with the top PBC fighters,” Pacquiao said in a statement.
“Those are the fights the fans want to see and the ones I want to have to close out my career,” he added.
Pacquiao said last week that he was “90 percent” sure a bout with former four-division world champion Adrien Broner would happen in January, possibly in Las Vegas.
“Pacquiao’s first defense of the World Boxing Association welterweight world title will kick off the new partnership,” Haymon’s PBC said in a statement without giving further details.
“The new alliance will have team Pacquiao and Haymon work together to navigate the remainder of his illustrious career,” it added.
The deal could pave the way for a Pacquiao-Mayweather rematch of the 2015 megafight which generated a record 4.6 million pay-per-view buys earning $600 million and ended with the American winning on points.
Unbeaten Mayweather, who hasn’t fought since knocking out mixed martial artist Conor McGregor last year, said in September he would come out of retirement to face Pacquiao later this year.
The American, 41, has since hinted at taking a warm-up fight first, talking on social media of a “huge boxing event” in Tokyo and then last week said he would be willing to accept a challenge to fight against McGregor’s MMA conqueror Khabib Nurmagomedov.
The deal with Haymon represents a new chapter for the 39-year-old Pacquiao, who has been promoted for the majority of his 20-year professional career by Bob Arum’s Top Rank organization.
“I wish him the best of luck, a tremendous warrior, and whatever he’s doing in the future, he deserves,” Arum said of Pacquiao on Fighthub TV in Las Vegas at the weekend.
Pacquiao pumped new life into his storied career in July when he delivered his first knockout in nine years against Lucas Matthysse of Argentina.
Ahead of the fight against big-punching Matthysse, Pacquiao said he considered himself the “underdog,” but he rolled back the years to register a 60th win and take the Argentine’s WBA welterweight belt.