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.

Three things we learned from Chelsea’s win vs. Spurs

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LONDON — Chelsea beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 on Sunday in the first-ever Premier League game at Wembley Stadium.

The reigning champs put all of their early season worries to one side to sneak out of Tottenham’s temporary home with a narrow win as Spurs squandered chances and Marcos Alonso scored twice, including a late winner.

Here’s what we learned from Wembley.


3-5-2 FOR NEW-LOOK CHELSEA?

When Chelsea’s teamsheet was passed around in the Wembley Stadium press box, there was much debate as to exactly how Antonio Conte would line his side up.

Given suspensions to Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard out injured and Diego Costa exiled in Brazil, Conte was forced into a reshuffle with David Luiz in midfield and youngster Andreas Christensen starting in a three-man defense alongside Cesar Azpilicueta and new signing Antonio Rudiger.

The 3-5-2 system worked to start with as Alvaro Morata squandered a glorious chance by heading wide, then Marcos Alonso curled home a superb free kick to give Chelsea the lead.

However Tottenham soon found space out wide with Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso asked to do more attacking than in the 3-4-3 formation and this system seemed to be more out of necessity to protect youngster Christensen and help ease in Tiemoue Bakayoko, than something which will stick around for the rest of the season. Bakayoko and Kante shut down Wanyama and Die from getting on the ball and Luiz shut down the space for Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli to work in.

Chelsea’s new signings settled in relatively well with Morata guilty of missing a gilt-edge chance early on and somewhat weak in the challenge, while Bakayoko roughed up Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele in midfield and Rudiger was solid. With Cahill, Fabregas and Hazard to return, it seems like many wrote off this Chelsea side too quickly this season following the shock defeat to Burnley on the opening weekend.

Yes, Conte will want reinforcements in the final weeks of the window, but things aren’t as bad as they seemed last week for the reigning champs.


WEMBLEY HOODOO CONTINUES FOR SPURS

Perhaps it was the confetti still on the floor from Arsenal’s Community Shield win over Chelsea two weeks ago. Perhaps it was the bigger pitch. Perhaps it was the increased expectation from a crowd of over 75,000. Perhaps it was Chelsea’s fine record against Spurs as they’ve now lost just twice in their last 18 encounters against Tottenham.

Whatever you put this defeat down to, this was the last thing Tottenham wanted to happen in their first-ever league game at Wembley Stadium.

The Wembley hoodoo remains as Harry Kane hit the post, Thibaut Courtois came up with a string of fine saves and there were some horror misses for Spurs. To top it all just when Spurs thought they had nicked a point for all of their endeavors, Alonso scored in the 88th minute after a horrible giveaway by Victor Wanyama.

Much has been made of the size of the pitch and how unfamiliar surroundings could cost Tottenham dear in 2017-18 during their one-year move as their new 61,000 capacity home at White Hart Lane is finished.

Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge home is closer to Wembley than Spurs’ White Hart Lane and the Blues looked more comfortable there from the start with Alonso’s late strike the difference.

Spurs have now won just two of their 11 games at the new Wembley, failing to win in nine of their last 10 trips to Wembley, and for five of those games they were “at home.”

Does it really make that much difference?

When it comes to the pitch size there isn’t much difference between White Hart Lane and Wembley. The pitch size at Wembley is listed as 105 x 75 yards. That makes it five yards longer and two yards wider than the pitch Spurs dominated teams on last season with Mauricio Pochetino’s high-pressing style seeing Tottenham unbeaten at home all season.

Before the season started Pochettino and Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen discussed how high Spurs push up the pitch and how the defense use Harry Kane as a reference point for the rest of their team. If Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld realize they’re too far away from Kane, they’ll push the entire team up. With an extra five yards to cover, time and time again, it makes a difference at the top. We saw that on Sunday with over half the pitch often separating Spurs’ defense with Kane, presumably because Pochettino was worried about Chelsea launching counters and his team being exposed.

With Spurs still getting used to new surroundings, their fans settling into their new matchday routine and a much different atmosphere generated compared to the cramped, hostile White Hart Lane, this will take time.

The main reason Spurs finished second last season was due to their home form. They will have to adapt to their new home quickly, amid an increased wave of negativity following this defeat, to try and remain not only as title contenders but top four challengers.

Tottenham dominated vast swathes of this game but the Wembley hoodoo remains.


DRY AUGUST FOR KANE

Harry Kane has now gone 12 Premier League games without scoring a goal in August.

Considering he is the top scorer in each of the PL’s past two seasons, that’s quite an achievement.

Kane, 24, hit the post, had shots saved and blocked on Sunday as he did everything but score. The curse of August continues for Kane.

But what can you attribute it to?

Kane is one of those strikers who has to feel the game, to feel the moment and then play on his instincts.

He has all of the raw ingredients — pace, power, aerial ability, vision — to dominate but he needs time to settle down on the pitch and get in the groove.

It is not easy to do that after getting 45 minutes here and 60 minutes there in preseason. Kane seemed a little hesitant when the ball dropped around the box to him on Sunday, waiting an extra split second or taking an extra touch.

In the 77th minute Mousa Dembele played him through after a mazy run but Kane slipped at the vital moment. Even if their stadium has changed, some things never do.

September to January is peak Kane time.

Spurs 1-2 Chelsea: Alonso leads Blues to win

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  • First PL match at Wembley
  • Bakayoko makes Chelsea debut
  • Alonso nets free kick
  • 81st min o.g. levels the score
  • Luiz, Pedro, Alonso team up for winner

Marcos Alonso scored a brace, the second snapping an 88th minute tie, as Chelsea bested Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Alonso scored a wonderful first half free kick, and David Luiz caused a turnover to help Pedro and Alonso produce an equalizer minutes after a Michy Batshuayi own goal helped Spurs to their lone goal.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Chelsea was lively out of the gate, and Alvaro Morata missed nodding a free header into the goal following Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross.

Harry Kane‘s low strike was fumbled by Thibaut Courtois in the 10th minute, as Spurs registered their first proper chance.

Morata nearly cause Hugo Lloris an embarrassing miscue but the Spurs keeper recovered to avoid the blushes.

Mousa Dembele‘s left-footed shot was flicked over the goal by Courtois for a corner, but int came to nothing as the match put 20 minutes in the books.

Alonso spun his free kick over the wall with vigor, missing a leaping Toby Alderweireld‘s head by inches before dipping hard to beat a flying Hugo Lloris.

Harry Kane then nearly bulled his way to a goal only to see his six-yard drive blocked by Courtois. The 39th minute saw Eriksen spin a perfect free kick toward the far post with not a single Spur finding its path.

Kane cranked a shot off the far post in the 42nd minute.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Kane’s backheeled pass met an outstanding run from Eriksen to start the second half, and Spurs were nearly level. Two corners were handled by Chelsea, and the score remained 1-0 to the visitors.

The match tightened up for a spell and Willian nearly broke it open with a long dribble and pass to Morata, whose shot was deflected out for a corner by Vertonghen. Victor Moses then tore a shot off the crossbar.

Willian then hit the near post moments later.

Spurs found their way level through the own goal, as Bakayoko gave away a dangerous free kick and Batshuayi headed Eriksen’s quality offering inside his own post.

That’s when Hugo Lloris’ quick throw was forced free by Luiz, and Pedro combined with Alonso to do the rest.

Report: Ibrahimovic to sign for Man Utd this week, posts teasing video

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Look, at some point we may have to face the idea that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not from this planet.

The Swedish legend, 35, has healed well ahead of schedule and will reportedly sign a new contract with Manchester United this week.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Ibrahimovic was one of the best finishers in the Premier League last season, and the idea of him spelling Romelu Lukaku or Jose Mourinho putting the two beasts on the pitch at the same time will only reinforce thoughts that United can chase hardware in any tournament it enters this season.

From ESPN.co.uk:

The new contract will be announced earlier than anticipated due to the former Sweden international’s quick recovery.

The reports comes on the same day the Swedish striker posted video his spin kicking a heavy bag with both legs and asking viewers which of his pegs boasted this summer’s surgically-repaired knee.

He’s probably an alien.

VIDEO: Alonso’s artful free kick a fitting goal for Chelsea at Wembley

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Marcos Alonso‘s left-footed free kick goal is a thing of beauty.

It’ll go down as the Premier League’s first goal at Wembley Stadium, and deservedly so.

[ STREAM: Spurs-Chelsea on NBCSN ]

Alonso spun his shot over the wall with vigor, missing a leaping Toby Alderweireld‘s head by inches before dipping hard to beat a flying Hugo Lloris.

The goal gave Chelsea a 1-0 lead over hosts Tottenham Hotspur, and came after Alvaro Morata missed the match’s first best chance with a free header wide of goal.

It’s Alonso’s seventh goal for Chelsea, and could spur them away from the gloom and doom of last week’s season-opening loss to Burnley.