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

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It was the clash of global titans that wasn’t, with both Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic held quiet for much of today’s match in Lisbon. Yet after an often tenacious, largely frustrating day, Ronaldo had the last and only laugh, his 82nd minute header giving Portugal a 1-0 lead after leg one of the teams’ World Cup 2014 qualifying playoff.

The two teams will meet again on Tuesday in Sweden, their playoffs’ second leg set to determine which nation claims one of Europe’s final four spots at Brazil 2014. The Swedes need only overturn a one-goal deficit to return to a tournament they missed in 2010, yet if Portugal scores in Solna, the Selecçao will hold an away goals tiebreaker that could prove crucial to qualifying for a fourth straight World Cup.

Coming into the match, all attention had been focused on the battle between Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic, perhaps leaving many shocked when 44 other players deigned to show up in Lisbon. Though many may have thought a game of one-on-one was schedule, 20 other starters were picked to join to two icons, forcing narratives to give way to an actual game of soccer. With a World Cup spot was on the line, its remarkable the actual teams didn’t get more coverage ahead of today’s match.

Either predictably (or, paradoxically, depending on your level of cynicism), the match never came close to matching the mano a mano, battle of the titans hype it generated before kickoff. Instead, a home team pressing to make the most of their home leg were almost contained by a well-organized, sometimes dangerous visitor, one who can take comfort in having kept the match within reach after leg one. Though Sweden never found the away goal they threatened to take in the first half, they leave Portugal was a manageable deficit, their adversary’s 1-0 home win akin to holding serve.

Portugal were the aggressors over the first 45 minutes, even if Sweden would end up with the first half’s best chances. The Seleccao’s control of possession only produced one shot on goal – a weak header from Helder Postiga shortly before halftime. Sweden, on the other hand, saw strong play down their flanks produce close calls from Ibrahimovic, Sebastian Larsson, and Kim Källström. The hosts’ best chance was a Joãõ Moutinho shot in the fourth minute that couldn’t manage a sharp angle into a vacated goal.

The second half started with another early chance for Portugal, though a chip over the Swedish defense saw another empty goal missed when Postiga’s shot was inadvertently blocked by Pepe. The Portuguese defender had come forward to knock down a ball vaulted over the Swedish defense, with Pepe heading down to the right of goal. Swedish goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson tried to pounce on the bouncing ball only to see Postiga poke it out of his reach. The Portugal striker then saw a hurried shot toward the open goal only hit his teammate, who was standing near the right post.

source: Getty Images
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (left) was held to one shot on target as Portugal held 68 percent of the ball in Friday’s first leg. (Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images.)

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.

Despite Ronaldo’s winner, the match was less about two titans than it was two teams. Portugal’s desire to leverage their home leg was evident from the opening moments, even if determined play from their visitors nearly keeping them off the scoreboard. And while Zlatan Ibrahimovic was influential in two of Sweden’s first half close calls, he was left out of the game by a team that only held 32 percent of the ball.

Perhaps leg two can be the showdown so many people want. More likely, it will be a battle between two teams, one of whom will miss next year’s World Cup.

Lineups

Portugal: Rui Patricio; João Pereira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrão; Raul Meireles, Miguel Veloso, João Moutinho; Nani, Héldeer Postiga, Cristiano Ronaldo

Sweden: Andreas Isaksson; Mikael Lustig, Per Nilsson, Mikael Antonsson, Martin Olsson; Sebastian Larsson, Rasmus Elm, Kim Källström, Alexander Kacaniklic; Johan Elmander, Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Wagner on shock upset: “Small Huddersfield have beaten Man Utd”

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While Jose Mourinho was lamenting his team’s poor performance at the John Smith’s Stadium, his counterpart was thrilled with the latest step in its amazing journey.

Huddersfield Town boss David Wagner, the ex-USMNT player, watched his team top Manchester United 2-1 on Saturday for its first win over the Red Devils in 65 years.

[ MORE: Recap | Mourinho reacts ]

As proud as he’s ever been, the Town manager spoke after the win. From the BBC:

“If this is our moment, we have to grab it, which is what the players did. Small Huddersfield have beaten Man Utd and it one of the proudest moments in my managerial career.

“It’s another chapter in the fairytale we started nearly two years ago. It has shown everything is possible in football.”

The win probably felt extra nice for goal scorer Aaron Mooy, who rose to prominence on loan from Man City.

Liverpool’s Brewster sends U.S. out of U-17 World Cup

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The attempts were nearly even. The finishing was anything but.

The United States fell 4-1 to England on Saturday at the U-17 World Cup quarterfinals in India.

[ MORE: Mourinho reacts to 1st loss ]

Captain Josh Sargent scored the lone United States goal at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, pulling the Baby Yanks within two goals before Liverpool man Rhian Brewster completed his hat trick with a stoppage time penalty.

Here’s Sargent’s goal:

Morgan Gibbs-White of Wolverhampton scored England’s other goal.

Ajax defender Sergio Dest took a red card in that added time, ensuing the U.S. would finish its World Cup with 10 men.

The U.S. took 20 of the matches 39 shot attempts, but England put 12 on target compared to the Americans’ four.

Mourinho: “We deserved the punishment of defeat”

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We haven’t heard a lot of scornful Jose Mourinho this season, and that changed Saturday.

Manchester United could not recover from a lackluster first half at the John Smith’s Stadium, only getting a Marcus Rashford goal in a failed comeback bid and 2-1 loss to Huddersfield Town.

[ RECAP: Town 2-1 Man Utd ]

It was the first time United has lost this season, and it’s first loss to Town since 1952. To say Mourinho was displeased would be an understatement, as United dipped five points behind leaders Man City.

“I was surprised by our performance, I was not expecting that. The team that started with emotion, aggression, intensity and desire, the team that played the game of their lives was the team that won,” Mourinho said. “Maybe in the second half we wanted it a little more and maybe we could get a draw, but I honestly think we deserved the punishment of the defeat.”

After first saying he wanted to evaluate the players, and shy away from criticizing them in the media, Mourinho had a nugget to share which really bothered him. From the BBC:

“I heard Ander Herrera in the flash interviews said the attitude and desire was poor, oh my God. When a player thinks that then I think all players should go to the press conference and explain why because I can’t explain.”

The man was seething, and United was honestly second best on the day. That must drive Mourinho nuts, as Aaron Mooy and Co. drove hard all day and United looked like a team expecting an easy win.

Newcastle United 1-0 Crystal Palace: Magpies leave it late

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  • No shots on target for Palace
  • Out attempts NUFC
  • Merino nabs winner off corner

Mikel Merino scored his first goal since 2015, leading Newcastle United to another win.

The Magpies have lost just once since dropping their first two matches of the season, and now sit sixth after a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace at St. James’ Park on Saturday.

Stoke and West Ham losses keep Palace five points shy of safety, their three points coming last week versus Chelsea.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

There was pace but sloppiness to the opening 20 minutes, with a card handed out to Florian Lejeune for a step on the heel of ex-Newcastle star Andros Townsend.

Rob Elliot rescued a ball through the six as Wilfried Zaha and Jeffrey Schlupp combined in the 24th minute.

Matt Ritchie earned the Magpies a corner kick with a shot partially blocked by Mamadou Sakho.

Ex-Magpie midfielder Yohan Cabaye looked to have given his former team a man advantage with a scissor tackle on DeAndre Yedlin, but there was only a yellow to be found.

Christian Atsu dizzied Joel Ward to tempt the net, but fired his shot off the outside of the goal.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

A very haphazard second half for Newcastle allowed Palace to adventure a bit, and Andros Townsend very nearly scored with a left-footed shot in the 65th minute.

Mohamed Diame subbed into the game and made room to zip a shot that Julian Speroni dove to catch. It was the first shot on target of the match.

Then Shelvey forced Speroni into a parried save in the 74th minute.

Newcastle kept piling on the pressure, but it was Patrick Van Aanholt who couldn’t get on the end of sub Ruben Loftus-Cheek‘s invitation to the back post.

That’s when the 21-year-old Merino, recently made permanent from Borussia Dortmund, out-leapt James MacArthur to nod Matt Ritchie’s corner kick beyond Speroni. 1-0, 86′.