Spain v France - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier

World Cup Qualifying, Europe: Duopoly collapses in Berlin, Madrid

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Three days after providing evidence of a bipolar European soccer world, Germany and Spain were part of Tuesday’s most shocking results. Granted, home draws against good teams aren’t shocking in and of themselves. It’s the context of the results that make you appreciate what happened in Madrid and Berlin.

Let’s start in Iberia, where the world champions were in the process of another ho-hum, dominant in realtime if not the scoresheet-victory. An early goal from Sergio Ramos had given the Spaniards a 1-0 lead on France, and while Cesc Fábregas failed to double that lead when his spot kick was blocked by Hugo Lloris, this match had the same sense of redundant inevitability that accompanies all of Spain’s redundant and inevitable results.

The last time Spain was drawn at home in an official game was September 2005. They had gone 24 straight qualifiers (World Cup and European Championships) without a draw, let alone a loss. If waiting out a Spain win over France seemed like a waste of time, it’s because we had little reason to think otherwise.

But then, as Spain was trying to kill the clock, there was a  turnover. For some reason or another, France to fight what we all saw coming: Another Spain win. Collecting the ball, Les Bleus quickly moved into the counter, finding a huge, open, unmanned field in front of them. Moussa Sissoko brought the ball forward onto an inexplicably outnumbered Spanish defense.

How could this be happening? How did Spain, up 1-0 in the 94th minute, put themselves in a situation to be outmanned on a counterattack?

The ball went left to Franck Ríbery, his first touch a bullet cross to Olivier Giroud near the spot. Defying his teammates’ attempt to behead him, the Arsenal striker got his head around the ball, redirecting the equalizer just inside Iker Casillas’s right post, somehow giving France a point at the Vicente Calderón.

It’s exactly the outcome you always suspect Spain’s in danger of allowing, yet in 24 previous qualifiers, it hadn’t happened. No team had taken a point in Spain since Serbia seven years ago. Why France, and why now?

While Spain could have played better, it’s difficult to take anything away from a France squad that looked good for an equalizer long before Giroud leveled the score. Fighting through the surroundings, history, and inevitability, Les Bleus exhibited a tenacity for which their new coach is known. Though it’s debatable how often Didier Deschamps’ teams live up to that convenient reputation, tonight France were relentless. Their point in Madrid is an early tent pole for Deschamps’ reign.

MORE: Looking at the rest of Europe’s Tuesday results

At the other end of Tuesday’s spectrum is Germany, who played to some of the negative perceptions of the Joachim Löw era. Up 4-0 after 56 minutes against Sweden (in theory, the second best team of their group), the Germans seemed en route to a second consecutive statement game. At full time, they certainly sent a message, though one entirely different from the 6-1 pasting they gave Ireland on Friday. Instead, Germany gave up four goals in the last half hour and were drawn, 4-4.

The result was far more indicting than Spain’s, and while most of that is due to allowing four goals (instead of one), narrative plays a big part. In the wake of Germany’s disappointment at Euro 2012, it’s become more common to question the team’s mental stength. Call it character, resolve, toughness – whatever adjective you’d like. The complaints seek to explain why a team with so much talent can give performances like Tuesday’s.

With those critiques already in the public domain, there’ll be a temptation to make too much out of this admittedly shocking result. However, this match needs to be looked at for what it was: a shock. Löw and his staff need to determine why it happened and eliminate it, but given the sustained success die Nationalmannschaft have had under Löw, it would be a mistake to assume there are systemic problems in the team. At least, in lieu of further disappointments, “one off” is the far more reasonable conclusion.

With the possible exception to the loss in Ukraine to Italy, there hasn’t been a major setback in German soccer since 2004, tonight included.

 

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.

Gary Neville under pressure as Valencia without a win in nine

EIBAR, SPAIN - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Gary Neville of Valencia CF reacts during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and Valencia CF at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
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Gary Neville was appointed manager at Valencia on December 2. He is still yet to win a La Liga match.

After falling 1-0 to Real Betis on Sunday, Neville is now winless in nine league matches at Valencia as pressure grows on the new boss.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Some have called for Neville to step down from his position, as the club has fallen from 8th to 13th and now sit just four points clear of the drop.

However, the former Manchester United legend has said he has been judged too quickly and will work hard to turn things around.

I said before I came that I would be judged in five months. I have been judged in six weeks.

There’s no doubt that at times like this everyone needs to stay together.

Everyone suffers. It’s just not going for us at the moment. I continue to work, I continue to have belief.

Conversations with the owners are between me and the owners. We have to turn it round quickly, I understand that. It is hard to explain the defeat. It will turn.

Not only has Neville struggled in La Liga play, but he has also seen Valencia bounced from the Champions League and saw his side smashed 7-0 by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinal.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

Valencia’s next league match is on Saturday against Espanyol, who sit three points below Valencia and haven’t won a match since December. If Neville fails to win again, there could be some real trouble at the Mestalla.

PSG down Marseille 2-1 for ninth-straight Le Classique win

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 21:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic #10 of Paris Saint-Germain is congratulated by teamamte Maxwell #17 after Ibrahimovic scored a goal in the second half against AFC Fiorentina during the International Champions Cup at Red Bull Arena on July 21, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.Paris Saint-Germain defeated ACF Fiorentina 4-2.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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France’s biggest rivalry has been quite one-sided, as Paris Saint-Germain defeated Marseille 2-1 on Sunday to take their ninth-straight Le Classique.

Marseille’s last win over PSG in Ligue 1 play was in November of 2011.

[ MORE: Juve win 14th straight ]

PSG got off to a dream start in Sunday’s Classique as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the opening two minutes to give the Le Parisiens an early lead. It was Zlatan’s league-leading 21st goal of the season.

On loan from Newcastle, Remy Cabella equalized for Marseille in the 25th minute. Cabella scored on a brilliant individual effort, taking the ball from his own half on a solo run to the PSG box before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.

[ RELATED: Lewandowski’s agent confirms contract talks with Bayern Munich ]

However, PSG pushed on and claimed the win thanks to a 71st minute goal from Angel di Maria, who has been impressing in his first season in Paris. With eight goals and ten assists in Ligue 1 play, only Zlatan has been involved in more goals than di Maria.

Through 25 matches, PSG hold a ridiculous 24-point lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table.