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.


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

Wenger ready for Black Friday? “I love a bargain!”

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal FC
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Following a bit of banter in midweek about Arsene Wenger‘s frugality in the transfer market, ahead of Arsenal’s clash at Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET online via Live Extra) their manager was asked about the Black Friday sales.

Turns out, Wenger loves a bargain.

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The Frenchman, 66, has helped Arsenal finance the move to the Emirates Stadium and still keep the club among the top four in Premier League for 19-straight seasons but has often been criticized for not splashing more cash in the transfer market in recent seasons with the Gunners reportedly having a healthy transfer budget.

Asked about Black Friday, here’s what he had to say.

“I love a bargain. Who doesn’t love a bargain?” Wenger laughed. “I don’t meet many people who don’t like a bargain.”

[ MORE: 10 PL players on World Best XI shortlist

More specifically surrounding transfers, Wenger has been linked with moves for Lars Bender and Alexandre Pato on Thanksgiving as the Gunners start to look a little light in midfield with injuries mounting up. A reporter asked Wenger if people should go out and by two TV’s on Black Friday, even if they didn’t need one, because they were cheap. Translation: “Arsene, will you buy anyone in January?”

“If they need two TVs then yes… but if they don’t need a TV then why should they buy two? That is where you come back to bargains. What is a bargain for us? It is to buy players of top quality. Only top quality strengthens our squad,” Wenger said. “I can tell you I bought Patrick Vieira for $3.7 million. It was a top bargain but first of all it was a top bargain because it was a top quality player. We spent nearly $60 million for [Mesut] Ozil in that deal. I still consider that a bargain because the player is top quality, so that has to be the priority, the quality of the player.”

With Arsenal’s only true holding midfielder, Francis Coquelin, out injured for at least three months, Wenger confirmed that he will do business in January if a player of the required quality comes along.

So, Wenger’s a bargain hunter. Who’d have thought it…

Drogba wants to return to Chelsea… as manager

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Didier Drogba, Chelsea manager.” How does that sound, Blues fans?

[ MORE: Bender, Pato to Arsenal? ]

Current Montreal Impact forward Drogba still has another year to run on his contract in Major League Soccer but he’s already thinking about going into management after hanging up his boots for the final time.

Speaking to BBC Africa the 37-year-old Ivory Coast legend revealed he will return to Chelsea in some capacity once he’s finished playing, and doesn’t see why he can’t manage the Blues.

“I want to give back to the club which has given so much to me. I have agreed that with the club directors,” Drogba said.”Why not manager? Why not sporting director, trainer at the academy or maybe an advising role for strikers?”

So, there you have it. Drogba is hunting down Mourinho…

Not quite, but it’s classy to see that Chelsea will bring back the man who score the goals to help them win four Premier League titles, a UEFA Champions League crown, four FA Cups, three League Cups and was one of the stars during the most successful spell in club history. Bravo.

[ MORE: 10 PL players make FIFPro World Best XI shortlist ]

As for Mourinho and the current woes Chelsea’s boss is facing following a nightmare start to the 2015-16 campaign, Drogba believes he has the support of the players and the owner and can turn things around.

“If the club has kept him that means owner Roman Abramovich thinks that he is the right man,” Drogba said. “I think the players trust him and he is giving his best to change the situation.”

And if he doesn’t, well, you have Drogba’s cell number, right Mr. Abramovich?

LIVE – Europa League: Tottenham, Liverpool look to clinch last 32 spot

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Both Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool can clinch a spot in the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday, with the Premier League dup doing their best to boost England’s UEFA coefficient.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Tottenham are in Azerbaijan as they sit top of Group J and a win against Qarabag (kick off, 1 p.m. ET) would secure qualification to the Europa League knockout stages for the fourth-straight season. Three points could also seal top spot if Monaco lose to Anderlecht, Mauricio Pochettino is set to rotate his squad with teenage American defender Cameron Carter-Vickers traveling with the first team.

As for Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp (fresh from practicing his scouse accent) will send his team out against Bordeaux hoping to clinch a spot in the last 32. With a win Liverpool would qualify and set up a winner-takes-top-spot clash with FC Sion in Switzerland on Dec. 10.

Other big games taking place in the penultimate round of Europa League group games include Celtic hosting Ajax knowing only a win will keep alive their hopes of making the knockout stage, Slovan Liberec and Marseille clash with serious Group F implications and plenty of groups hang in the balance with all four teams still capable of qualifying.

Click on the link above to keep up to date with all the scores from around the Europa League on Thursday.

10 Premier League players on FIFPro World XI shortlist

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10 Premier League stars have been selected among the best 55 players in the world.

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Manchester City lead the way in PL nominations with four. City’s David Silva, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany were shortlisted, while Chelsea has three players shortlisted with John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and Eden Hazard making it. Manchester United’s David De Gea and Wayne Rooney were also nominated and Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez completes the 10 PL players included in the list.

Real Madrid have the most nominations with 12 players, while Bayern Munich is next with 11 and Barcelona have nine players selected. Major League Soccer has one rep with New York City FC’s Andrea Pirlo included.

The shortlist was revealed after almost 25,000 professional players across the world voted. The final XI for 2015 will be announced at the Ballon d’Or ceremony on Jan. 11, 2016.

Via FIFPro, below is a full list of the 55 players on the shortlist.


Gianluigi Buffon (Italy, Juventus)
Iker Casillas (Spain, FC Porto)
David De Gea (Spain, Manchester United)
Keylor Navas (Costa Rica, Real Madrid CF)
Manuel Neuer (Germany, FC Bayern Munich)


David Alaba (Austria, FC Bayern Munich)
Jordi Alba (Spain, FC Barcelona)
Daniel Alves (Brazil, FC Barcelona)
Jerome Boateng (Germany, FC Bayern Munich)
Daniel Carvajal (Spain, Real Madrid CF)
Giorgio Chiellini (Italy, Juventus)
David Luiz (Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain)
Diego Godin (Uruguay, Atlético Madrid)
Mats Hummels (Germany, Borussia Dortmund)
Branislav Ivanovic (Serbia, Chelsea)
Vincent Kompany (Belgium, Manchester City)
Philipp Lahm (Germany, FC Bayern Munich)
Marcelo (Brazil, Real Madrid CF)
Javier Mascherano (Argentina, FC Barcelona)
Pepe (Portugal, Real Madrid CF)
Gerard Pique (Spain, FC Barcelona)
Sergio Ramos (Spain, Real Madrid CF)
Thiago Silva (Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain)
John Terry (England, Chelsea)
Raphael Varane (France, Real Madrid CF)


Thiago Alcantara (Spain, FC Bayern Munich)
Xabi Alonso (Spain, FC Bayern Munich)
Sergio Busquets (Spain, FC Barcelona)
Eden Hazard (Belgium, Chelsea FC)
Andres Iniesta (Spain, FC Barcelona)
Toni Kroos (Germany, Real Madrid CF)
Luka Modric (Croatia, Real Madrid CF)
Andrea Pirlo (Italy, New York City FC)
Paul Pogba (France, Juventus)
Ivan Rakitic (Croatia, FC Barcelona)
James Rodriguez (Colombia, Real Madrid CF)
David Silva (Spain, Manchester City)
Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast, Manchester City FC)
Marco Verratti (Italy, Paris Saint-Germain)
Arturo Vidal (Chile, FC Bayern Munich)


Sergio Aguero (Argentina, Manchester City FC)
Gareth Bale (Wales, Real Madrid CF)
Karim Benzema (France, Real Madrid CF)
Douglas Costa (Brazil, FC Bayern Munich)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden, Paris Saint-Germain FC)
Robert Lewandowski (Poland, FC Bayern Munich)
Lionel Messi (Argentina, FC Barcelona)
Thomas Muller (Germany, FC Bayern Munich)
Neymar Jr. (Brazil, FC Barcelona)
Arjen Robben (The Netherlands, FC Bayern Munich)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, Real Madrid CF)
Wayne Rooney (England, Manchester United FC)
Alexis Sanchez (Chile, Arsenal)
Luis Suarez (Uruguay, FC Barcelona)
Carlos Tevez (Argentina, Boca Juniors)