Soccer Watch

The Austin Posse arrives; friendly days in Europe

Austin's brand-new pro soccer team, the Austin Posse, kicks off its inaugural season Saturday evening against the Mexican first division Tigres – 7pm at House Park, 15th & Lamar. This promises to be the real thing, folks, with genuine top-flight players on both sides. Get in on the ground floor.

The Major League Soccer season kicks off Saturday as well, with a sold-out stadium expected in Washington as the much-heralded, 14-year-old Freddy Adu and DC United take on Landon Donovan and the defending champion San Jose Earthquake; it's live on ABC, 3pm.

Then, on Tuesday, April 6, comes the return leg of the all-London Chelsea vs. Arsenal European Champions League quarterfinal, being shown live on ESPN2 at 1:30pm. The first leg, played last Wednesday, was a hugely entertaining 1-1 draw; the return match is part of a huge three-game homestand for Arsenal this week: They face Manchester United this Saturday in an FA Cup semifinal, then host Liverpool in Premier League play on Friday, April 9. Meanwhile, Porto, Real Madrid, and AC Milan are all favored to advance in other Champs League action Tuesday and Wednesday.

There was a full slate of international friendlies on Wednesday, providing some of the final tune-ups for this summer's European championships and Olympics. Highlights: A 25th-minute goal from Chicago Fire winger DaMarcus Beasley gave U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena his first win ever in Europe, 1-0 over Poland, who lost for the first time in eight games. European champions France failed in their bid for a record 15th victory in a row, being held to a scoreless draw by Holland in Rotterdam. England kept a string of their own alive, bowing 1-0 to Sweden, whom they haven't beaten in an incredible 35 years. Italy came from behind to edge host Portugal 2-1; the Portuguese will also host the Euro championships in June, where Italy will be one of the favorites.

Africa has taken the last two men's Olympic gold medals, but neither winner will be in Athens this summer to defend the title; defending champs Cameroon and 1996 winners Nigeria were both eliminated in qualifying this week. Tunisia, Ghana, Morocco, and Mali will represent their continent.

World Cup qualifying is already going on, too, with a full schedule of games Wednesday in South America, Asia, and CONCACAF, the region we're in. The U.S. got a bye in the first round; they'll open qualifying in June against Grenada, who won that right by beating Guyana, 8-1 over two legs. The 16 games in Asia were highlighted by a 1-1 draw in Qatar between Palestine and Iraq, and South Korea being held to a scoreless draw by the Maldives. South American play is under way as we go to press; see "Soccer Watch Online" for full results and a recap.

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