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.

Wenger believes Ozil, Sanchez will stay at Arsenal

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LONDON — Fresh from Arsenal’s first Premier League victory over North London rivals Tottenham since 2014, there was a spring in Arsene Wenger‘s step as he strode into his post-match press conference.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Arsenal’s boss saw his attack-minded lineup dominate Tottenham at home  as the Gunners secured an 11th-straight home win and sixth-straight of the 2017-18 season to breath new life into their season.

With a dangerous three-pronged attack of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette destroying Spurs’ usually rock-solid defense on numerous occasion, Arsenal gave a taste of what can be achieved this season.

Consistency is key for Arsenal but keeping Sanchez and Ozil is more important. Their futures at Arsenal remain uncertain with the duo free to talk to non-English teams in  January about a free transfer on July 1, with both likely to see what other clubs can offer them outside of the Premier League.

Speaking to the media afterwards, Wenger reaffirmed his belief that Sanchez and Ozil want to stay at Arsenal beyond the end of their contracts next summer despite the situation being totally out of his hands.

“The quality of the contract of the contract has to be good and enough for them as well, you know. I am convinced they love the club, they love the team but all the rest will be decided, when? I don’t really know,” Wenger said. “I’m not alone to master that. [Quality of the contract] is part of it. The whole thing has to be right, they have to be happy. I believe they love the club and they want to stay but there are other top clubs out there who offer good contracts as well.”

So, Wenger is bracing himself for Sanchez and Ozil to be offered big contracts from European giants as soon as Jan. 1 rolls around, then a barrage of transfer offers from other PL giants as they believe the duo will be available in cut-price deals. At this point, the Gunners must keep hold of the duo until the end of the season, even if it means they leave on a free.

With Sanchez scoring a cheeky goal, racing free on numerous occasions and forcing Hugo Lloris into numerous saves, his signature on a new deal is essential for Arsenal to haul themselves back into the top four on a consistent basis.

His desire and hunger was evident and he even had time to joke around in the second half, diving on his stomach to the delight of the home fans as he tried to slide towards a loose ball in the pouring rain in north London.

You can never question the Chilean’s desire but his displays have become more erratic over the past 12 months with this contract saga hanging over his head. Sanchez’s goal against Spurs was his first in 12 games against the so-called “big six” in the Premier League.

Ozil’s display yielded an assist and numerous eye-catching balls as Lacazette’s runs allowed Arsenal’s two contract rebels to have plenty of space in front of Spurs’ back three.

Wenger pointed to the fact that he has never once questioned their commitment and although Ozil and Sanchez’s futures remain uncertain, he believes they will continue to put their bodies on the line for the Arsenal cause.

“I know them well and I know when it is their turn to go on the football pitch they want to win a football game. They’ve shown their commitment again today. I’ve never questioned their commitment,” Wenger said. “They can have bad games but the problem is, but the problem is that when a player goes to the end of a contract and has a bad game everybody says ‘of course, because he goes.’ Their interest is to play anyway.”

Man City: John Stones limps off with leg injury

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One Man City center back took a yellow card in the third minute, while another is in even more trouble on Saturday at King Power Stadium.

John Stones pulled up with an apparent hamstring injury in the 28th minute of Man City’s visit to Leicester City.

[ MORE: Arsenal 2-0 Spurs | 3 things ]

Running stride for stride for Demarai Gray, Stones grabbed at his upper left leg and crumpled to the pitch.

Eliaquim Mangala replaced the improving English big back, and City will hope Stones’ absence isn’t as long as some hamstring ailments.

Defiant Pochettino: “Football was fantastic” in loss

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Mauricio Pochettino is defiant following Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-0 loss at Arsenal in the North London Derby on Saturday.

The Spurs manager thinks his team was pretty good in the loss, and it’s true that both Petr Cech and Shkrodan Mustafi intervened critically for the victors.

[ MORE: Recap | 3 things ]

But overall Arsenal was better on the day, which makes Pochettino’s almost buoyant post-match interview a bit awkward.

“It was an even game in terms of shooting, on target, possession,” Pochettino said.

“I’m disappointed for the rest of my team. You saw what happened. I’m disappointed because the small details went against us. … It’s true that they scored and we didn’t but I’m very proud cause the football was fantastic.”

We won’t go as far as to say we watched different games — Pochettino knows a bit more about the game than us — but that’s quite a spin we doubt his players will buy. Back to work for Spurs with a visit to Dortmund before West Brom visits next weekend.

Watch Live: Six Premier League games at 10am ET

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Six Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday and you can watch them all live online.

The PL returns with a bang after the two week international break.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

West Brom host Chelsea, Bournemouth welcome Huddersfield, Man City head to Leicester City, while Liverpool host Southampton and Burnley welcome Swansea City.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for all six games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Manchester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Bromwich Albion vs. Chelsea – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Swansea City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Huddersfield – NBC Sports Gold  [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Everton – NBC Sports Gold  [STREAM]