European World Cup playoff roundup: France on the brink of first failed qualifying campaign since 1994

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France is on the brink of missing their first World Cup in 20 years, with today’s disappointment in Kiev the headline result after the opening legs of Europe’s four World Cup 2014 playoffs.

Thanks to goals by Roman Zozulyn and Andriy Yarmolenko, Les Bleus will need to turn around a two-goal deficit next week in France. Compounding their problems. France will need to do so without one of their best defenders, with Laurent Koscielny’s stoppage time antics earning the center half a straight red card.

Elsewhere, Greece gave themselves a buffer ahead of their trip to Bucharest, Croatia missed an opportunity to put away their tie in Iceland, and Cristiano Ronaldo came up big against Sweden.

Here’s what happened around Europe on Friday:

UKRAINE 2-0 FRANCE
61′ Roman Zozulyna, 82′ Andriy Yarmolenko (p.k.)

After an hour of even play where the visitors may have been the slightly better side, Ukraine broke through. Carrying a ball in from their left flank, the hosts found veteran Edmar just inside the France penalty area, the naturalized Brazilian then one-touching a ball to the other side of the box for Roman Zozulya. Shrugging off right back Mathieu Debuchy, the Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk attacker beat Hugo Lloris for the match’s opening goal.

Had the score stayed 1-0, France could have consoled themselves with the slight reprimand. Instead, an 82nd minute penalty conceded by Koscielny allowed Yarmolenko to double Ukraine’s edge, the attacker banging his conversion off the woodwork and good in front of his home crowd.

In the 91st minute, things got worse for Koscielny, who was shown straight red after shoving Olexandr Kucher to the ground while taking exception with a studs-up challenge on Debuchy. After seeing yellow for the play, Kucher would earn a second booking five minutes later. Both players will miss the second leg in Paris.

PORTUGAL 1-0 SWEDEN
82′ Cristiano Ronaldo

From our previous post:

It was the beginning of a one-sided half, the early close call potentially convincing Sweden to hold out earlier than they may have liked. For the next half hour, Erik Hamrén’s team stay deep and compact, forcing Portugal to do something special to beat them.

That moment came in the 82nd minute, with Miguel Veloso’s run out of central midfield and beating Larsson to put in a far post cross. That’s where Ronaldo out-muscled left back Martin Olsson, giving Portugal the lead they needed ahead of Tuesday’s leg in Sweden.

[MORE: Portugal 1, Sweden 0: Cristiano Ronaldo wins battle of titans (that wasn’t)]

ICELAND 0-0 CROATIA

Croats may be disappointed with today’s result, particularly considering a straight red card to Iceland right back Olafur Skulason left the home side playing the last 40 minutes with 10 men. Croatia’s best chance in the time came from Ivan Perisic, who’s first-timer of a Mario Mandukic knockdown left Hannes Thór Halldórsson flat footed as the ball flew just wide of his left post.

Yet despite a 14-4 edge in shots and a 6-0 advantage in shots on target, the favorits never broke through, even if the 0-0 result leaves them in good shape ahead of Tuesday’s decider in Zagreb.

GREECE 3-1 ROMANIA
14′, 66′ – Konstantinos Mitroglu, 19′ Bogdan Stancu, 21′ Dimitrios Salpingidis

The Greeks used some free kick trickery to get on the board in the 14th minute, a feigned run onto onto a restart seeing the defensive line retreat ahead of a actual cross, one that was played short of the line. After that ball was sent out of the box for Dimitrios Salpingidis, the Greek attacker was able to chip the advancing defense, Konstantinos Mitroglou eventually redirecting the lob into the right side of goal.

Five minutes later, Romania returned the favor, a more traditionally executed free kick seeing an in-swinger from Gabriel Torje heading home by Bogdan Stancu just before the cross curved out of play. When, two minutes later, Salpingidis redirected a Vasilis Torosidis shot into the Romanian net, the match had all the makings of a shootout.

For nearly an hour, however, the match stayed 2-1, a result the Romanians would have been content to take into next week’s reverse in Bucharest. But in the 68th minute, more set meet magic gave Greece their final goal, with a restart flicked on by Konstantinos Katsouranis put home by Mitroglou at the far post, the striker’s ninth international goal giving Fernando Santos’s team a two-goal lead after 90 minutes.

Off-kilter Kane saves sloppy Spurs at Palace

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  • Tottenham goes fourth
  • Spurs with 76 percent possession
  • Kane scores late

Harry Kane made amends for an atypical day of sloppy finishing with an 89th minute winner as Tottenham Hotspur persisted to beat Crystal Palace 1-0 at Selhurst Park on Sunday.

The win gives Spurs 55 points, good for fourth in the Premier League before Chelsea faces Manchester United.

Palace remains 17th, behind Saints but ahead of Swans on goal differential. The Eagles are sorely missing Wilfried Zaha.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Ben Davies was fouled in a bid to meet a back post free kick in the eighth minute, but no penalty was given and Palace cleared the corner as Spurs provided the first true scoring chance of the match.

Palace keeper Wayne Hennessey was at his left post for a fine save on Harry Kane in the 10th, as Patrick Van Aanholt lost the English superstar.

At the other end, Luka Milivojevic‘s free kick was headed into the arms of Hugo Lloris by James Tomkins. Lloris would deprive Christian Benteke of a finishing bid in the 16th minute, too.

A penalty was coming for Kane before the referee noticed the linesman’s raised flag and saved Timothy Fosu-Mensah from conceded the opportunity.

Palace made it to the locker room at 0-0, with Townsend hitting a low ball to Lloris before the break.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The second half began, and Spurs worked some chances to score that were lacking the appropriate finish. Both Kane and Christian Eriksen shanked attempts in the first five minutes.

A pair of gorgeous flicks from Serge Aurier and Eriksen met Kane near the back post, but the striker atypically missed what should’ve been an easy opener.

Palace thought Alexander Sorloth might’ve earned a penalty from Davinson Sanchez, but Spurs escaped punishment in the 63rd minute.

Hennessey continued to play his role, stopping from Aurier before extending fully to palm away Davies’ offering in the 73rd.

Dele Alli dove in a bid to win a penalty soon after the Davies denial, but had no success.

Kane found a moment of brilliance in the 83rd minute, but Benteke of all players slid to block the shot and Hennessey collected the ball.

Davies should’ve had an assist moments later, but Aurier tripped on the ball.

Kane dragged an 86th minute shot inches wide of the goal, and it just seemed unlikely to be Spurs day despite dominance on the ball.

Of course, that meant an off-balance Hennessey couldn’t get a hold of Kane’s header off an Eriksen free kick with 90 seconds remaining before stoppage time.

Watch Live: Manchester United vs. Chelsea

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It’s a big one, you know: Manchester United hosts Chelsea in a battle for table positioning on Sunday at Old Trafford (Watch live at 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Scrutinized summer signings Romelu Lukaku and Alvaro Morata start at center forward for their respective sides.

Morata scored the lone goal when Chelsea beat United 1-0 in November.

Jose Mourinho has opted for Scott McTominay over Michael Carrick and Juan Mata in the midfield, while Anthony Martial gets the call over Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard.

Chelsea will have Pedro and Olivier Giroud on the bench.

LINEUPS

Manchester United: De Gea, Valencia, Lindelof, Smalling, Young, McTominay, Matic, Pogba, Alexis, Lukaku, Martial. Subs: Pereira, Bailly, Shaw, Carrick, Mata, Lingard, Rashford.

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Moses, Drinkwater, Kante, Alonso; Willian, Morata, Hazard. Subs: Caballero, Cahill, Zappacosta, Emerson, Fabregas, Pedro, Giroud.

Aubameyang says off-field criticism “goes over my head”

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The Daily Mirror posted a profile on Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang late Saturday, speaking with the Gabonese striker as well as a number of people in his life.

[ MORE: PL Saturday roundup ]

Most of the talk dealt with his obsession with soccer, which started as an admirer of his internationally-capped father, but the quotes getting attention come from Aubameyang and deal with his comfort as a flashy personality.

So for those wondering whether the 27-year-old is going to tame his off-field activities now that he’s moved to London, well, it’s unlikely.

Aubameyang has a bit of David Beckham in him, cognizant of his background and relishing his place in life.

“The clothes, the cars and all that are a bonus. I enjoy living this way. I like who I am and it doesn’t matter if other people can’t ­accept that – it goes over my head.

“As they say ‘you only live once’. It’s important to know where you come from and where your roots are – the rest is a big bonus.”

Any number of players, from Andy Carroll to Cristiano Ronaldo, have appreciated the very same things.

It’s not a big deal.

As long as on-field performances accompany them, any criticism is driven by envy or a need to attract a similar form of attention as the player himself.

Watch Live: Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur

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Crystal Palace could find itself back in the relegation zone with a heavy home defeat Saturday, and Tottenham Hotspur is certainly capable of providing such misery (Watch live at 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

LINEUPS

Crystal Palace: Hennessey, Wan-Bissaka, Fosu-Mensah, Tomkins, Van Aanholt, Milivojevic, Riedewald, McArthur, Townsend, Sorloth, Benteke. Subs: Henry, Souare, Delaney, Rakip, Lokilo, Kirby, Lee.

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris (C), Aurier, Sanchez, Dier, Davies, Wanyama, Dembele, Lamela, Eriksen, Dele, Kane. Subs: Vorm, Foyth, Trippier, Rose, Sissoko, Lucas, Son.