Africa Cup of Nations: Cape Verde takes point from first match, draws hosts South Africa

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It wasn’t the glamorous opening for which most tournaments hope, but early response labeling the match dour or poor are exaggerations. At least, they lack some crucial context. We’ve seen the four-team, three-match group format play out often enough to know opening games can be excessively cagey. Most teams end up happy with a point and something to build on, and to a certain extent, both South Africa and Cape Verde can take that view after Saturday’s 0-0 final.

For South Africa, it would be a generous description. Though they are ranked lower than Cape Verde, they were the favorites going into the match. The disappointments on fan faces after the final whistle spoke to those expectations. While the team struggled coming into the tournament, they were still the hosts, and against a team lacking big names and was making their Cup of Nations debut, the vuvuzela-playing supporters at Johannesburg’s half-full FNB Stadium expected a win.

There were points in the second half then it looked like they could get it. Wide attacker Thuso Phala was consistently able to get behind the defense from the right, his speed creating a series of half chances in the second period. Bernard Parker was unable to find a goal.

LATER: Angola, Morocco end where they start

Head coach Gordon Ingesund tried to push his team for full points. He brought on Lerato Chabangu for defensive midfielder Kagiso Dikagcoi at half time. Thulani Serero for Siphiwe Tshabalala should have meant more creativity, while Katlego Mphela for Lehlohonolo Majoro up top gave South Africa a more proven goal scorer.

Though the midfield changes helped the Bafana Bafana maintain more possession, their threat was never truly manifested. South Africa didn’t deserve more than the 0-0 result.

“My players didn’t come to the party,” Ingesund said of his team’s first 45 minutes. “The first half was a complete waste.”

Instead, Cape Verde was the team closer to goals, with Ryan Mendes nearly breaking through multiple times in the first half. Streaking through a South Africa defense that often looked slow and slightly disorganized, Mendes and partner Heldón saw multiple opportunities to make something happen in the home side’s penalty box. But the final ball just never came, and the debutants were left with a series of near chances from sharp angles which never truly tested Itumeleng Khune.

But unlike South Africa, the Verdeans have legitimate reason to be happy after the match. While it wouldn’t have been too much to expect them to win today, it was their first Cup of Nations game, a test that can prove distracting for an inexperienced side. Add in the element of playing the home team in the tournament’s opening match and there were a number of factors that made this anything an atypical contest. Going forward, Cape Verde will be able to draw on this experience.

“I am happy, the players are happy and the technical staff are happy.” head coach Lucio Antunes said post-game.

“Today we [dignified] Cape Verde and left with [our heads] held high.”

Through much of the second half, it looked like Cape Verde could concede and become that wide-eyed team that starts strong but ultimately’s left with nothing to show for it. That didn’t happen, and with their point, the Sharks are a win away from being competitive for a knockout round spot.

A win and a draw would likely send Cinderella through. With Angola and Morocco ahead, it’s not an impossible scenario.

Sweden announces Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not return for World Cup

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s public flirtation and seeming committal to returning to the Swedish national team for the World Cup was a big tease.

Whether it’s his call or not is up for debate.

The Swedish Football Association reports that it’s spoken with Ibrahimovic and the 35-year-old LA Galaxy striker has declined the chance to return to the fold.

[ MORE: Fulham, NFL owner to buy Wembley? ]

Sweden’s sporting director Lars Richt says Ibrahimovic has not changed his mind on international retirement despite his own words.

Sweden’s current team may have a role in that.

We imagine Richt and Sweden may be cushioning the blow for Ibrahimovic, especially if national team goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson is speaking on behalf of a team vibe when he speaks of Zlatan being “an individualist” who could ruin Sweden’s team-first concept.

Report: Fulham, NFL owner Khan agrees $700m price for Wembley

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Fulham owner Shad Khan also owns a National Football League team, and could have two top-flight teams from different nations playing in England soon.

For Fulham, the Cottagers are currently very much in the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League and at the least will have a chance at qualifying through the playoffs.

[ MORE: TFC loses CCL Final in PKs ]

For the Jaguars, who have rarely needed all the seats in their stadium, it could mean a move to London if Khan goes through with what’s being reported as an accepted $700 million bid to buy Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium was also built with the design to host NFL games.

Here’s how ProFootballTalk’s Michael David Smith puts a bow on it (on one of the biggest days of the NFL calendar, nonetheless):

So it’s possible that there could soon be two iconic soccer stadiums in London with strong NFL ties, one which was built with NFL games in mind, and another that is owned by an NFL owner. The league is pouring serious resources into London.

It seems unlikely Khan would move Fulham from Craven Cottage, but there are other repercussions of this move for soccer in England.

There’s the potential for the England national team to no longer utlizie a permanent home, and the FA Cup and League Cup both potentially requiring new or rotating venues for their final rounds.

A lot to monitor here, and we’ll surely have all the details as they emerge from Khan’s crew.

TFC on CCL loss: “Feels the heart has been ripped from the chest”

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Michael Bradley went 90 minutes at center back, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco scored, and Toronto FC nearly, oh-so-nearly, became the first Major League Soccer side to win a continental title in the CONCACAF Champions League era.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

“We wanted to be the first (MLS side) to lift the CONCACAF Champions League trophy,” said goalkeeper Alex Bono, according to MLSSoccer.com. “We failed in that goal; that’s massively disappointing. … This is the way the game goes, it’s unjust; it feels the heart has been ripped from the chest sometimes.”

Bono made some big saves in regulation as TFC flipped its 2-1 first leg loss on its ear over 90 minutes, but Chivas Guadalajara scored all four of their penalty kick attempts as Jonathan Osorio hit the bar and Bradley set his effort on a path to the moon.

That part was possibly academic, as Chivas could’ve sealed it with their fifth penalty, but Marky Delgado’s miss of a perfect Sebastian Giovinco stoppage time cross is what sent the match into kicks.

Here’s how The Toronto Sun’s Kurt Larson framed his post-match interview with Delgado, described as one of the few players not to walk past the media after the loss:

“That’s football sometimes,” Delgado searched for words. “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes it goes in. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s heartbreaking.”

It felt cruel to keep him standing there any longer.

“Wherever we are, we want to win,” the soft-spoken American said. “Unfortunately today we didn’t, but we know we dominated the game.”

And Bradley, in the season after Toronto won a trouble but also 18 months removed from missing a PK in the MLS Cup Final — not to mention marshaling the USMNT midfield in its monumental failure to qualify for the World Cup was mostly good in playing out-of-position.

“In the biggest moments, we threw caution to the wind and played with balls, bravery, and pride in ourselves, in each other, in our club and our city,” Bradley said on Canadian television outlet TSN.

They did, and now they must hope to win the Canadian Championship, MLS Supporters’ Shield, or MLS Cup to get another shot at qualifying for the Club World Cup.

Toronto loses CONCACAF Champions League in PKs

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Chivas Guadalajara scored on all of its penalty kicks to clinch a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League Final, breaking the hearts of Toronto FC in Mexico on Wednesday and earning a berth in the 2018 Club World Cup.

Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore scored in regulation as Toronto FC picked up a 2-1 win to reverse their first leg loss and push it to kicks.

Orbelin Pineda scored Chivas’ goal.

Hometown kid Jonathan Osorio hit the cross bar on Toronto’s second PK and Michael Bradley sent the fifth offering into outer space.

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Toronto flew out of the gates, and Rodolfo Cota came flying off his line to deny Altidore a 10th minute chance.

Alex Bono collected a header off a Chivas corner kick earned by a counterattack.

Pineda then made Toronto’s task even harder with a 19th minute goal, cooking Auro’s mark to reach a through ball and dancing around Bono for 1-0.

But Altidore was somehow unmarked for Nic Hasler’s pass despite five Chivas defenders and Cota inside the six-yard box, and TFC leveled the second leg at 1.

And TFC got the next goal through Giovinco, slipped through by Marky Delgado and taking advantage of a yard of space and a second to shoot with his fourth goal of the CCL knockout rounds.

The Reds kept coming in the second half, with Delgado winning a big 50-50 ball deep in Chivas territory and Victor Vasquez ripping a shot that Cota dove to smother.

Chivas found its footing in 58th minute, sending a shot over the bar before Jesus Godinez hit the post in the 61st (though his dive seemingly had the near post covered). Bono the next knocked a free kick over the bar from a similar position as the ball that beat him in the first leg.

Javier Lopez curled a vicious attempt just over the goal in the 72nd. He’d have the next best chances moments after Altidore subbed off with an apparent hamstring injury, but dribbled onto Bono’s lap and fired off the keeper.

Giovinco worked a 1-2 with Osorio and cruised a shot just wide of the far post in the 87th minute. Delgado then mailed a sitter over the bar in the first minute of stoppage time.