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Historic comeback sees France into World Cup 2014, Ukraine denied place in Brazil

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If reaction to last week’s loss in Kiev seemed over-the-top to you, know that no team had ever come back from a 2-0, first leg loss in a UEFA playoff. So while the reaction to France’s two-goal loss last Friday may have carried a tinge apoplexy, it was justified. History told us France, one of handful of most talented teams in world soccer, was virtually done, set to be to 2012 what the Netherlands were to World Cup 2002.

Virtually, however, is the key word. France was not dead, a point Didier Deschamps hammered home post-match last Friday. Although the French public were dubious, figures like Zinedine Zidane picked up the flag, trying to rally the spirits of what was anticipated to be a circumspect Paris crowd. And after today’s performance at the Stade de France, they were vindicated for doing so.

With first half goals from Mamadou Sakho and Karim Benzema, Les Bleus had climbed out of their hole, and when the Liverpool defender completing his unlikely double in Tuesday’s second half, France’ re-wrote European qualifying history. Becoming the first team to overturn a two-goal, first leg deficit, France is into their fifth consecutive World Cup, sending Ukraine home after today’s 3-0 result in Paris.

Deschamps’ team, who held 68 percent possession and outshot Ukraine 24-9, joins Portugal, Croatia, and Greece as fellow playoff qualifiers from Europe. With Africa seeing Ghana and Algeria qualify earlier today, Brazil 2014 is up to 30 confirmed teams, with Mexico (up 5-1 over New Zealand) and Uruguay (up 5-0 on Jordan) likely to complete the field.

[MORE: Ronaldo topples Zlatan: Real Madrid star’s hat trick sends Portugal past Sweden, into the 2014 World Cup]

[MORE: Europe World Cup playoff roundup: Greece, Croatia complete UEFA’s field for Brazil 2014]

Coming off their first leg disappointment, France made five changes to their starting XI. Sahko and Raphael Varane came in for Eric Abidal and the suspended Laurent Koscielny in defense. Oliver Giroud and Samir Nasri gave way to Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena in attack, while Yohan Cabaye’s inclusion at Newcastle teammate Loic Remy’s expense completed Deschamp’s makeover, changing his formation from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3.

The new team was dominant from the opening moments, not unexpected considering the margin Ukraine had earned in Kiev. But with an early chance from Franck Ribéry and the constant, niggling tests of Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov, Les Bleus quickly showed their control would be about more than possession. Had the Shakhtar backstop not made some good early reads, Saint-Denis would have exploded early.

Instead it took 22 minutes for France to scratch the surface, Sahko’s first goal of the night capitalizing on a hard shot from Ribéry. Culminating play that began from a deep restart, Pyatov could do little but lay Ribéry’s shot out for Sahko, whose conversion brought France within one.

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Didier Deschamps (right) won a World Cup as a player in 1998. Now he’s set to return as manager of France, having guided his national team through its playoff with Ukraine. (Photo: Reuters.)

Eight minutes later, France had their equalizer. Moments after being erroneously ruled offside, Benzema benefitted from the linesman’s flag mistakenly staying down, his harnessing of some penalty box chaos from an offside position making it 2-2 (aggregate).

One minute into the second half, fortune found France again, this time through the boots of defender Yevhen Khacheridi. The Ukraine center back slid threw Ribéry just after the half’s opening whistle, earning his second yellow card of the night. Though the visitors nearly took a surprise lead moments later, the loss of a man doomed their World Cup hopes.

In 73rd minute, France finally punched their ticket. Sakho, again cleaning up close to goal, converted from five yards out, the former Paris Saint-German man’s second goal sending France back to the World Cup.

The match’s final chapter was one-way traffic, France constantly pushing Ukraine’s backs against their own goal. With the talent to hold the ball and the intent to put the playoff out of reach, Les Bleus were intent on grabbing a fourth. Though the insurance goal never came, France were still able to kill off the match’s final 20 minutes, allowing them to survive a second straight World Cup qualifying playoff.

Along the way, Les Bleus made history, becoming the first team to overcome that 0-2 opening leg deficit. They also grabbed something that’s been absent over the past four years: Some real positive momentum.

Though a run of good results under Laurent Blanc had allowed them to move on from their disaster at South Africa 2010, France still proved relatively meek at Euro 2012. Now, having faced this worst-case scenario and prevailed, a young, talented generation of club-level stars may be set to transfer their potential onto the international stage.

At a minimum, they have something positive, unifying to build on. It’s not every playoff that ends with this type of accomplishment.

VIDEO: David Beckham stars in new Sky Sports commercial

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 12:  UNICEF GWA Honoree David Beckham speaks onstage during the Sixth Biennial UNICEF Ball Honoring David Beckham and C. L. Max Nikias presented by Louis Vuitton at Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on January 12, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for U.S. Fund for UNICEF)
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David Beckham will forever be in the hearts and minds of soccer fans across the globe.

It’s just the way it works.

[ MORE: Mourinho wields the axe ]  

Ahead of the new 2016-17 Premier League season, Becks is front and center in Sky Sports’ commercial to promote the new season.

Take a look at the video below to see the former Manchester United, Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain star take a bizarre jog…

[ MORE: Zelalem in Arsenal squad for U.S. tour ]

You’ll see what I mean shortly.


Transfer Rumor Roundup: Stones to Man City, Chilwell to Liverpool

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 12: John Stones of Everton clears during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Chelsea at Goodison Park on September 12, 2015 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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Manchester City is continuing to push hard to seal a move for John Stones.

Stones, 22, is still said to be keen on a move away from Everton, despite new manager Ronald Koeman arriving at Goodison Park this summer.

[ MORE: Mourinho wields the axe

Stones wants to work with Pep Guardiola, according to a report from the Daily Mail, and he failed to play for Everton at Barnsley at the weekend after going down with a slight knock.

The same report states that the former Barnsley defender has made it known he wants to leave Everton and City will kick off the bidding at $65 million. Stones has been consistently linked with a move to Manchester United, Chelsea and Barcelona since bursting onto the scene during the 2013-14 season.

The England international defender had a down year last year as Roberto Martinez lost his job at Everton largely due to several inept defensive displays from his side. Stones made multiple individual errors and was said to have been upset that Martinez blocked a move to Chelsea last summer. He hasn’t been the same player since but with his silky skills on the ball and Guardiola’s penchant for having defenders carrying the ball out of defense, it is believed Stones could kick on under the Spanish coach.

Is it just me or does Stones remind you of a young Gerard Pique? He, of course, was nurtured by Guardiola at Barcelona.


Sunderland could make a move for winger Adnan Januzaj from Manchester United. Januzaj, 21, was a favorite of new Sunderland manager David Moyes while he was in charge of Manchester United and the Belgian youngster has struggled at Old Trafford since Moyes was fired in 2014.

[ MORE: Zelalem in Arsenal squad ]

With a report suggesting that Januzaj has been told he won’t be a regular under Jose Mourinho, the Daily Mail claims that Moyes and Sunderland want to take the talented winger on loan to the Stadium of Light. Januzaj spent the first half of last season on loan at Borussia Dortmund but was recalled in January after playing in just 12 games for the Bundesliga outfit. His skill and pace cause defenses problems but his lightweight frame has often led to him being overpowered in the Premier League.

The Black Cats haven’t made many moves this summer due to Sam Allardyce‘s departure for the English national team but they do have decent options out wide with Duncan Watmore, Jeremain Lens, Wahbi Khazri and Fabio Borini all able to play there.


Liverpool are making a final attempt to sign Leicester City’s talented youngster Ben Chilwell.

Chilwell, 19, made three appearances for Claudio Ranieri‘s side last season and the left back impressed with mature, attacking displays. Jurgen Klopp has earmarked Chilwell as his top target for the left back position as it is believed Liverpool’s manager in unsure about Alberto Moreno‘s defensive abilities.

The Sun claims that Liverpool has offered $11 million for Chilwell and to try and counter the offer, Leicester have offered the England U-21 international a new five-year deal. Liverpool is said to be willing to also offer the youngster a five-year contract with better wages and Klopp has heard good things about the left back who played for his old assistant at Borussia Dortmund, David Wagner, on loan at Huddersfield Town last season.

Chilwell played for Leicester in their International Champions Cup game at Celtic last weekend.

PHOTOS: Tottenham release new images of stadium development

Photo credit: TottenhamHotspur.com
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Tottenham Hotspur is cracking on with work at White Hart Lane.

Big time.

[ MORE: Mourinho wields the axe

Spurs have already demolished part of their current home as they continue to construct their new $570 million stadium next to the footings of the original stadium which has stood for nearly 117 years.

Check out the dramatic images below to see a large chunk of White Hart Lane missing as part of the redevelopment which will see a brand new 61,000 seater stadium built on land adjacent to the current White Hart Lane stadium, with the their old home to be demolished next summer.

[ MORE: Manchester derby cancelled ]

Next season Tottenham’s home will have a reduced capacity of just under 30,000 and they will have to move away to another stadium for at least the 2017-18 campaign as work to demolish the original WHL continues.

Wembley Stadium is said to be the favorite to house Spurs for at least a season with the English Football Association confirming talks had taken place between the two organizations.

All being well, Spurs plan to move into their new home for the start of the 2018-19 season with a whole new area created around the stadium with schools, housing, shops and more included in the Northumberland development project.

I know they won’t enjoy comparisons to Arsenal but their new digs — check them out in full here — looks very similar to the Emirates Stadium but, crucially, it will have an extra 740 seats to make it the biggest club stadium in London…


USMNT youngster Zelalem in Arsenal squad for US tour

Gedion Zelalem, USMNT U-23s
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Gedion Zelalem, 19, is heading to the United States of America with Arsenal.

[ MORE: Mourinho wields the axe ]

On Monday Arsene Wenger and his squad — he named 23 players to the roster which included teenager Zelalem — flew to the U.S. ahead of their game against the MLS All-Stars in San Jose, Calif. on Wednesday.

The Gunners will also play Chivas Guadalajara at StubHub Center, Carson, Calif. on Sunday to round off their two-game tour of the U.S.

[ MORE: Allardyce bullish on England ]

Wenger has named a strong squad for the tour, with the full list below.

The only major absentees are players who made a deep run in major tournaments with their countries this summer.

Arsenal’s French contingent who reached the final of EURO 2016 — Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud — aren’t in the squad, while Alexis Sanchez is omitted after winning Copa America Centenario with Chile and suffering an ankle injury plus Aaron Ramsey hasn’t been named in the squad after reaching the semifinals of the European Championships with Wales.

Mesut Ozil is also left out after reaching the final four of EURO 2016 with Germany but the likes of Jack Wilshere, Granit Xhaka, Santi Cazorla, Petr Cech, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla all make the trip.

As for Zelalem, Arsenal boss Wenger thinks highly of the youngster who was born in Germany but spent his formative years in Maryland, hence why he was able to obtain U.S. citizenship and play for the U.S. national team. The fluid two-way midfielder has silky skills on the ball but is still young and his body is yet to develop into a powerful unit.

That perhaps explains why Zelalem is yet to make his debut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s full national team but he did play a starring role in Tab Ramos’ U-20 side during the World Cup in 2015. His progress with the U-23 side has somewhat stalled in recent months after Zelalem was loaned out to Glasgow Rangers in the Scottish second-tier last season. After a good start to the campaign with Rangers he found minutes hard to come by in the second half of last season.

ProSoccerTalk spoke to Wenger about Zelalem in the summer of 2015 and he said he will always give him, and other youngsters, a chance to impress in preseason before either including him in the first team squad of loaning him out.

With Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny and Xhaka in front of him in the pecking order for a midfield spot, it seems likely that the young U.S. national team prospect will again spend time away from the Emirates Stadium in the upcoming season.

A few strong performances in preseason could change that though.