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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

USMNT Pulisic on assist vs. Real Madrid: “There’s no better feeling”

Real Madrid's Luka Modric, left, and Dortmund's Christian Pulisic challenge for the ball during the Champions League group F soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid in Dortmund, Germany, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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Christian Pulisic continued his fairytale rise up through the ranks of the soccer world on Tuesday as the 18-year-old jumped off the bench and notched a crucial assist as Borussia Dortmund scored a late equalizer in the UEFA Champions League against Real Madrid.

[ MORE: UCL  roundup ]

Trailing the reigning European champions heading into the final few minutes at home in their Group F game, Pulisic picked up the ball on the right flank (see video below) and drove towards Real’s defense. He then clipped a dangerous ball to the back post which eventually found Andre Schurrle who rifled home. Dortmund’s fans went nuts and so did Pulisic.

The U.S. national team attacker has now made five appearances in all competitions for Dortmund this season, scoring once, and the Hershey, Pennsylvania native revealed what it felt like to play against Real in a huge UCL game at the Westfalenstadion.

Speaking to TV cameras after the game, Pulisic was still on a high from his game-changing assist in just his second Champions League appearance.

“It was an amazing game to come into, especially because the level was so high. It was an intense game, so I was just excited to get in there and show what I could do and try to help the team,” Pulisic. “Yeah [the goal] was amazing, I mean what a goal to score in that moment in that in front of the home fans. It was amazing for both of us, for everyone.”

Pulisic also revealed his pride as his stellar start to the new season continues.

“There’s no better feeling. Playing in the Champions League is a whole other sense of pride and it is amazing,” Pulisic said. “You always watch it as a kid and coming on in such a big game, it is incredible. I can’t describe it.”

The rising star of U.S. Soccer did describe what it was like to be playing and making an impact at the elite level in Europe and he hopes to stay there for a very long time.

“That’s the goal when you want to play professional soccer, you want to get to the highest level you can and that’s how you get better,” Pulisic said. “At such a young age I want to keep playing at the highest level so I can improve more and more and become the best player I can be.”

Ahead of the USA’s friendlies against Cuba and New Zealand coming up, Pulisic’s star continues to rise and there’s no doubt that when the Hexagonal round of 2018 World Cup qualifying kicks off in November that he’ll be a crucial part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans.

Safe to say that will likely be the case for many years to come as we simply have never seen a young U.S. player making such a significant impact on such a big stage at such a tender age.

Allardyce on losing England job: “Entrapment has won”

BOLTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Former England manager Sam Allardyce leaves his family home on September 28, 2016 in Bolton, England. Allardyce left his position as the national football manager after only one match in charge following allegations made by a national newspaper. (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
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The fallout from Sam Allardyce‘s shocking departure as England’s manager continues.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Allardyce ]

After being caught in a “sting” operation by undercover journalists discussing how to get around FA rules regarding third-party ownership of players, plus criticizing his employers, former England manager Roy Hodgson and his assistant Gary Neville.

Following lengthy meetings on Tuesday at Wembley Stadium, Allardyce, 61, agreed to leave his “dream job” as England’s manager after just 67 days and one game in charge.

Speaking to Sky Sports news he said the meeting where undercover footage of him discussing how to circumvent FA rules was filmed, was a favor to a close friend, agent Scott McGarvey.

Allardyce spoke to a large group of journalists on Wednesday morning outside his him before flying out of the county to “chill out and reflect” on a hugely damaging 24 hours for the veteran coach.

“On reflection it was a silly thing to do. I was trying to help out someone I’d known for 30 years. Unfortunately it was an error of judgement on my behalf, I’ve paid the consequences. Entrapment has won on this occasion and I have to accept that. The agreement was done very amicably with The FA and I apologize to those and all concerned in the unfortunate situation I’ve put myself in.”

Asked if this would be the end of his managerial career in the game, Allardyce didn’t seem too hopeful. “Who knows. We will wait and see,” Allardyce said.

The former Sunderland, West Ham, Newcastle, Blackburn and Bolton manager lives in hope and he previously told Sky Sports he is “not a quitter” and hopes to get another job, but it is tough to see Allardyce returning to the game as a manager at the elite level in England ever again.

There is also the threat that Allardyce could face further action over his comments, with the FA waiting on the full transcripts from The Telegraph to decide if the matter will be taken further and if he broke any rules.

Yes, Allardyce only suggested he knew ways around transfer rules via agents and he wasn’t paid by the fictitious businessmen played by undercover journalists, despite agreeing  fee of over $518,000, but the fact of the matter is he obviously knows people who are up to no good in the game and the FA may well use his information to try and stamp out any kind of corruption.

It’s been a sad few days for Allardyce and for English soccer as the national team is without a manager after a shocking and quite unbelievable demise for Big Sam.

Qatar to set up desert tent camp to house World Cup fans

Sepp Blatter, FIFA
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) The committee organizing the 2022 World Cup in Qatar plans to try out a “fan village” that could house up to 2,000 soccer spectators in Arabian desert tents.

The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy said Tuesday it is seeking bids to develop a pilot project near the Sealine Beach resort south of the capital, Doha.

[ MORE: NCAA star’s fastest hat trick ]

It will offer different types of accommodation in 350 temporary tents and 300 permanent tents, along with big viewing screens and other entertainment options. A total of five fan villages could eventually be built.

Qatar is racing to build hotels and other infrastructure needed to host the games. Visitor accommodation in Qatar is currently dominated by higher-end hotels in Doha.

Once more, with feeling: Who could be the next England manager?

MANSFIELD, ENGLAND - JULY 19:  Steve Bruce manager of Hull City during the pre-season friendly match between Mansfield Town and Hull City at the One Call Stadium on July 19, 2016 in Mansfield, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)"n
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It seems like mere months ago we were discussing who would take over for Roy Hodgson as the next manager of England.

That’s obviously because it was just 67 days ago that Sam Allardyce was hired as the next manager of the Three Lions, and 22 days since he oversaw what would be his only match in charge: a 1-0 win in Slovakia.

[ MORE: Ranieri laughs off England speculation ]

Now Allardyce’s mouth has engineered his exit from the job. How much has the landscape changed for managerial candidates?

Not too much. In no particular order, let’s look through some of the same names we studied this summer:

Steve Bruce — The ex-Hull City boss interviewed for the gig before Allardyce was hired. Is it as simple as going with choice No. 2?

Jurgen Klinsmann — The USMNT coach is again being listed by the oddsmakers despite the fact that England didn’t contact U.S. Soccer regarding an interview last time around. Has anything changed?

Gareth Southgate — The caretaker boss has worked with several of these players when they were U-20 and U-21 players, with his only other managerial experience coming with Middlesbrough between 2006-09.

Alan Pardew — The Palace man fancies himself for the job, that’s for sure. Would England really hire a ‘look at me’ man for such a high-profile position?

Eddie Howe — Bournemouth, and maybe Arsenal, fans won’t want to hear it, but the young manager would be a terrific choice for the job. But would he like running a team that doesn’t entail weekly game prep?

Harry Redknapp — If you’re looking for Pardew, only older and somehow even more sure of himself.

[ MORE: Dempsey out for 2016 ]

Other names on the oddmakers’ books are ex-Spain boss Vicente del Bosque, current Arsenal man Arsene Wenger, and Manuel Pellegrini (who is with Chinese club Hebei China Fortune). Leicester’s Claudio Ranieri has also been mentioned.

Allardyce’s issues really did no favors to club football in England, let alone country. The 61-year-old was hired in July, when clubs could’ve addressed their manager leaving better. Now in late September, the next England coach could wreak havoc on a PL team.

England hosts Malta on Oct. 8 in its second World Cup qualifier, before visiting Slovenia three days later.