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Atalanta players celebrate their 2-1 win over Roma, at the end of a Serie A soccer match at the Olympic stadium in Rome, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018. (Angelo Carconi/ANSA via AP)(Photo: The Associated Press)

Soccer Roundup: Champions League ticket at stake for AC Milan, Arsenal / World Scores

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —   It’s the only European trophy AC Milan has not won, yet there’s 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 is 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 champion to return to the Champions League.

Milan faces Bulgaria’s Ludogorets Razgrad in the round of 32 on Thursday.

Milan’s situation might sound familiar to Arsene Wenger, whose Arsenal side is losing hopes 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, opens 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 leader Napoli and Leipzig, the second team in the Bundesliga.

Atletico Madrid, the 2010 and 2012 Europa League winner, was drawn to face Copenhagen.

Borussia Dortmund, which is third in the Bundesliga after two straight wins, faces 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 plays CSKA Moscow.

___

WORLD SCORES: COURTESY OF LIVESCORE.COM

February 12
FT
Chelsea
West Bromwich Albion
February 12
FT
Palermo
Foggia
February 12
FT
Robur Siena
00
Carrarese
February 12
FT
Deportivo La Coruna
Real Betis
February 12
FT
St. Pauli
Nuernberg
February 12
Postp.
Eintracht Braunschweig II
??
St.Pauli II
February 12
FT
Auxerre
Nimes
February 12
FT
Go Ahead Eagles
FC Emmen
FT
Jong AZ Alkmaar
Fortuna Sittard
February 12
FT
Moreirense
Estoril
February 12
FT
Budapest Honved
SKA-Khabarovsk
FT
FK Liepaja
12
Brommapojkarna
FT
Rosenborg
Stjoerdals Blink
February 12
FT
Hobro
AGF
February 12
FT
Schaffhausen
Servette
February 12
FT
PAOK Thessaloniki FC
AE Larissa
February 12
FT
Apollon Larissa
Kissamikos FC
February 12
FT
Galatasaray
Antalyaspor
February 12
FT
Adanaspor
Gazisehir Gaziantep FK
February 12
FT
Alki Oroklinis
AEL Limassol
February 12
FT
Piast Gliwice
Jagiellonia Bialystok
February 12
FT
CSMS Iasi
Botosani
FT
Concordia Chiajna
Dinamo Bucuresti
February 12
FT
Hapoel Beer Sheva
FC Ashdod
February 12
FT
Hapoel Kfar Saba
Hapoel Afula
FT
Hapoel Marmorek
Maccabi Herzliya
FT
Hapoel Ramat Gan
Hapoel Rishon LeZion
FT
Atletico Tucuman
San Martin San Juan
FT
Tigre
Argentinos Juniors
FT
Huracan
Rosario Central
February 12
FT
Deportivo Riestra
San Martin de Tucuman
FT
CA Defensores de Belgrano
CA Fenix
FT
CA San Miguel
Colegiales
FT
Sacachispas FC
Acassuso
FT
Tristan Suarez
Comunicaciones
FT
CA Talleres Remedios de Escalada
CD UAI Urquiza
February 12
FT
O’Higgins
Everton CD
FT
Olimpia
General Diaz
FT
Union Comercio
Binacional
AAW
El Tanque Sisley
00
Liverpool FC
FT
Trujillanos FC
00
Academia Puerto Cabello
FT
Al-Jazira
Al-Garrafa
FT
Tractor Sazi Tabriz
Al Ahli
FT
Lokomotiv Tashkent
Al-Wahda
FT
Al-Duhail SC
Zob Ahan
February 12
FT
Al Quwa Al Jawiya
22
Al-Jazeera
FT
Malkia
41
Al-Suwaiq
February 12
FT
Al-Ahed
11
Al Zawraa
FT
Al-Jaish
00
Manama
February 12
FT
Mohun Bagan
Gokulam FC
FT
Lae City Dwellers
10
Ba
February 12
FT
Tanta
El Geish
FT
Al Ahly
Al Mokawloon Al Arab
February 12
Postp.
Chabab Atlas Khenifra
??
Racing de Casablanca
Postp.
Difaa El Jadida
??
FAR Rabat
Postp.
FUS Rabat
??
RSB Berkane
Postp.
Hassania Agadir
??
Raja Casablanca
Postp.
Ittihad Tanger
??
KACM
Postp.
Olympic Club de Safi
??
OCK Khouribga
Postp.
Rapide Club Oued Zem
??
Chabab Rif Al Hoceima
Postp.
Wydad Casablanca
??
MAT Tetouan
FT
Wikki Tourist
Lobi Stars
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