Africa Cup of Nations: Final product fails scoreless Angola, Morocco

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The surface shows a match that looks similar to the Cup of Nations’ opener, but as opposed to the 0-0 South Africa played out with Cape Verde, Saturday’s second match continually teased goals. From Morocco’s strong start to the last chance generated by Angola, Group A’s second game could have had multiple goals. But with neither team able to convert, Angola and Morocco ended scoreless, both teams entering into the four-way tie at the top of their group.

It was the first time the Cup of Nations has opened with two scoreless draws, surprising consider the quality of play. This wasn’t the stodgy match many saw take place between South Africa and Cape Verde. A flowing game that saw each team able to take shots at the other’s defense never produced that final piece of execution needed to break through.

At the onset, the game looked set to play out like the opener, with Morocco’s early energy leading to a period of control. Dominant play using the Lions’ speed advantage on the flanks allowed Morocco to continuously get into the final third, with an early chance for Mounir El Hamdaoui nearly giving them an early lead.

But Morocco could never crafted a quality final ball, leading all their attacks to lose steam in front of goal. After their defense adjusted and Angola started winning more midfield battles, the Antelopes came into the match. By the end of the period, Angola was controlling the game, generating a number of set piece chances before the halftime whistle.

After Moroccan star Younès Belhanda came on in the second half (a lack of fitness confining the Montpellier midfielder to the bench at the opening kickoff), the Lions seemed to have the midfield maestro that could take utilized their attackers. But just as in the first half, the end product never arrived.

A late ball overhit for forward Youssef El-Arabi was emblematic Belhanda’s half. What could have been a chance that took three crucial points for Morocco turned into an easy scoop for Angolan keeper Lama, El-Arabi left to cut of his run as a through ball ends for naught.

The Antelopes had their own late chance when Mateus targeted Manucho with a near post cross from the byline. Or perhaps the ball was trying to find substitute Guilherme. Both made the same run, both arrived at the same time, and while the cross seemed destined for Manucho, Angola was left with nothing as the two attackers threw each other off.

While for much of the second half each side seemed capable of scoring, the final whistle left Morocco wondering how their effort never found a goal. From the opening whistle they outran the Antelopes, but their fluidity through the middle third became bogged down as they approached goal. Even after Angola came into the game, their speed out of their half meant they were one well-executed counter away from taking full points.

Perhaps that’s why Angola showed signs of relief after the match, their players quickly turning the to crowd to clap to their fans as multiple Moroccans sat on the field. For a team that has ambitions to go far in the tournament, the Angolans came precariously close to giving another team full points.

Because they had their own chances at the end, Gustavo Ferrin’s players may convince themselves they outplayed Morocco, but Angola should not feel comfortable with how close they came to letting Morocco control this match.

EARLIER: Cape Verda takes point from hosts South Africa

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

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According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.

Diego Costa injured, but will stay with Spain squad for friendly

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Chelsea striker Diego Costa pulled up in Spain training on Sunday, and with the Blues in first in the Premier League and Costa in great form, there were obvious concerns.

With Costa struggling with leg and ankle injuries, the RFEF informed Chelsea that there was an issue, and Costa was pulled from training and sent for tests. X-Rays at the local hospital in Madrid were negative, and he’s rejoined the squad.

According to the RFEF, doctors will continue to monitor the 28-year-old and he will continue with the national team for the rest of the international break. With a World Cup qualification win over Israel already in the books and just a friendly against France to go on Tuesday, it’s odd that Spain would risk Costa moving forward, but they will continue to keep him around.

Costa has scored 18 goals this season to lead the Blues, and he scored in the win over Israel. Spain takes on France in Saint-Denis on Tuesday, with both teams leading their World Cup qualification groups. Spain has a goal-differential lead on Italy with both teams miles above the rest of the Group G, and France is ahead of Sweden by three points in Group A, with the Netherlands back in fourth.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.