Sweden Portugal Wcup Soccer

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

3 Comments
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aj2cTazTgV8]

It was the type of shootout you’d see on a basketball course, not a soccer field: Two players, one-on-one, their teammates fading into insignificance as alpha tried to one-up alpha. You saw it in Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s determination, his second half brace temporarily leaving Sweden one goal away from the World Cup. and you saw it in Cristiano Ronaldo’s elation, the Real Madrid star’s stern “right here” declarations celebrating his tie-sealing goal.

For as tedious as the pre-match hype was — everybody trying to portray Portugal against Sweden as Cristiano Ronaldo versus Zlatan Ibrahimovic — that’s exactly what we got. It too three halves to surface, but by the end of Portugal and Sweden’s playoff, it was all about the two icons, stars trying to eclipse each other in front of a full house in Solna. After two legs and 180 minutes, two of the world’s top three players had combined for six goals.

But thanks to a Swedish defense that was beaten badly three times, four of those goals went to Ronaldo, whose Tuesday hat trick sent his hosts crashing. Despite a second half brace from Ibrahimovic, Sweden will miss their second straight World Cup, today’s 3-2 loss allowing Portugal to advance to Brazil 2014 (4-2, aggregate).

Portugal joined the day’s other six qualifiers to bring the World Cup field to 30, with France eliminating Ukraine shortly after the final whistle in Sweden. Ghana and Algeria won their African qualifying playoffs earlier today, while Greece and Croatia defeated Romania and Iceland in Europe.

[MORE: Historic comeback sees France into World Cup 2014, Ukraine denied place in Brazil]

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

[MORE: Ghana finish off Egypt to qualify for World Cup 2014 in Brazil; what now for Bob Bradley?]

Over the next two days, the final two World Cup 2014 spots will be decided. Uruguay carries a 5-0 lead over Jordan into the teams’ second leg in Montevideo (Wednesday), while Mexico is likely to advance past New Zealand on Tuesday night, having earned a 5-1 lead last week in Mexico City.

From the early moments today in at Friends Arena, it was clear that Ronaldo’s late goal in Lisbon would allow Portugal to play from their more comfortable, counterattacking posture. Conceding Sweden the ball and electing to stay organized rather than pursue, the Seleccao were able to rely on their transition to dominate the first half. Though Sweden held 56 percent of the ball, they were outshot 9-3 in the first half, a 40th minute header from Hugo Almeida nearly doubling Portugal’s 1-0 lead.

source: AP
Two goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic pulled Sweden even with Portugal, away goals the only thing separating the sides. Portugal went on to win on aggregate, 4-2. (Photo: AP Photo.)

Five minutes into the second half, Portugal had their two-goal advantage, a counter that left Ronaldo behind the Swedish defense ending with a left-footed shot from 12 yards out into the right of goal. Beating a high defensive line, Ronaldo cut across right back Martin Olsson to get onto an João Moutinho ball play through central defense. Moments later, alone on goal, the Real Madrid star’s second goal of the playoff had the visitors up two.

But in a playoff that was billed as Ronaldo versus Zlatan, it was time for Ibrahimovic to step up. In the 68th minute, a corner from Kim Källström saw the Paris Saint-Germain star out-muscle Bruno Alves at the edge of the six-yard box, his header into the left of Rui Patricio’s net cutting Portugal’s lead to one. Four minutes later, the Seleccao were left with only their tiebreaker edge, an Ibrahimovic free kick from just outside the penalty box pulling his team event.

But again, Sweden’s high line would be victimized. From the left this time, Ronaldo was left to go in alone on goal once more, sprinting past the Swedish defense at the center line for an eventual chance from the left of goal. Burying is shot in the far corner, the Portuguese captain made it 2-2 (3-2 on aggregate).

Their lessons unlearned, Sweden allowed themselves to be beaten again in two minutes later, a turnover in midfield quickly converted into an open chance when Moutinho found Ronaldo streaking across right back Mikarl Lustig. After drawing Isaksson out, Ronaldo put his right-footed shot into the top of the Swedish next, completing his hat trick.

With their 3-2 win in Solna, Portugal had navigated their third straight major tournament qualifying playoff, but after 180 minutes that produced six goals from Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic, few are likely to remember the matchup’s context. Instead, the same fascination that dominated the buildup with write the history of Portugal-Sweden. With four goals over two games, Ronaldo earned his spot in next year’s World Cup, but with two goals in five minutes of Tuesday’s second half, Ibrahimovic did his part to ensure the show delivered on its promise.

VIDEO: PL Download on Arsene Wenger’s 20-year anniversary at Arsenal

Leave a comment

This is a must-watch for any fan of the Premier League.

On Oct. 1 1996, Arsene Wenger arrived as Arsenal’s new manager as a virtual nobody. This Saturday he celebrates 20 years in charge of the Gunners and there is a special Premier League Download to celebrate his incredible longevity.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live on NBC Sports 

At 12:30 p.m. ET, this Saturday, Oct. 1, NBCSN presents a new Premier League Download: Inside the Mind of Arsene Wenger, hosted by The Men in Blazers’ Roger Bennett.

Watch the promo above to get a taste of what’s to come in the full episode, as Bennett traveled to London to interview Wenger on his legacy, philosophy as a manager, and more.

PL stars Rashford, Alli, Iheanacho on nominees list for 2016 Golden Boy award

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10:  Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates his goal during the Premier League match between Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur at Britannia Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The end of 2016 is quickly approaching, which means it’s nearly time to hand out a bunch of awards to players who performed exceptionally well over two halves of two completely different seasons during the calendar year.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

While we already know one of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will likely take home the Ballon d’Or for a ninth straight year, the field is much larger and wide open for the 2016 Golden Boy award, which goes to the best player under the age of 21 currently plying his trade in Europe.

Headlining the list of 40 nominees are 10 players currently contracted to Premier League clubs, including the likes of Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, Tottenham Hotspur’s Dele Alli, and Manchester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho.

The full list of nominees:

Dele Alli (Tottenham), Marco Asensio (Real Madrid), Leon Bailey (Genk), Riechedly Bazoer (Ajax), Gabriel Boschilia (Monaco), Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen), Carlos Fernandez (Sevilla), Andreas Christensen (Borussia Monchengladbach), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Ante Coric (Dinamo Zagreb), Amadou Diawara (Napoli), Mahmoud Dahoud (Borussia Monchengladbach), Danilo Barbosa (Benfica), Moussa Dembele (Celtic), Ousmane Dembele (Dortmund), Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan), Breel Embolo (Schalke), Gabriel Barbosa (Internazionale), Aleksandr Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Goncalo Guedes (Benfica), Demarai Gray (Leicester), Marko Grujic (Liverpool), Alen Halilovic (Hamburg), Kelechi Iheanacho (Manchester City), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Viktor Kovalenko (Shakhtar Donetsk), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), Lucas Hernandez (Atletico Madrid), Emanuel Mammana (Lyon), Nathan (Vitesse), Olivier Ntcham (Genoa), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Renato Sanches (Bayern Munich), Jairo Riedewald (Ajax), Ruben Neves (Porto), Tonny Sanabria (Real Betis), Leroy Sane (Manchester City), Jonathan Tah (Bayer Leverkusen), Youri Tielemans (Anderlecht), Almamy Toure (Monaco)

[ MORE: PL power rankings — Man United soar; City still the standard ]

The last five winners of the Golden Boy award reads as such: Anthony Martial, Raheem Sterling, Paul Pogba, Isco and Mario Gotze. While that’s a not-so-bad list to potentially join, the three winners before them: Mario Balotelli, Alexandre Pato and Anderson. So, it’s a less-than-perfect gauge for the trajectory of a player’s career. Although, some guys named Sergio Aguero, Cesc Fabregas, Messi, Wayne Rooney and Rafael van der Vaart took home the first five awards.

Howe calls England “the ultimate job,” says he’s “committed” to B’mouth

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 20: Eddie Howe, Manager of AFC Bournemouth looks on  during the EFL Cup Third Round match between AFC Bournemouth and Preston North End at Goldsands Stadium on September 20, 2016 in Bournemouth, England.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Eddie Howe makes no bones about the fact he aspires to one day manage the English national team — one day.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

That day is not today, however, according to the 38-year-old Bournemouth boss, whose name was one of the first, and most frequent, linked with the now-vacant England post after the abrupt dismissal of Sam Allardyce earlier this week.

Speaking Thursday, ahead of his side’s Premier League clash with Watford on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com), Howe all but excused himself from consideration for the job — this time around, at least. He said England is still “the ultimate job,” presumably for English managers, but reaffirmed his commitment and focus on the job at hand: his beloved Cherries — quotes from the Guardian:

“I’m absolutely committed here. Nothing has changed from the summer. They haven’t come to me and my message is very similar. I am committed here, I love the job. The England job is the ultimate job. I have signed players very recently and I am committed to them. I need to show them the same loyalty that they showed me. It’s all hypothetical. It’s not been a great week for football. It’s not ideal the England situation has come up again but I won’t get distracted.”

If we are to now cross Howe’s name off the listAlan Pardew made comments similar to those of Howe this week — that leaves the likes of Steve Bruce and Harry Redknapp as potential permanent replacements. Gareth Southgate has been handed the job on an interim basis, and will undoubtedly be auditioning for the full-time job when he leads the Three Lions into their final four games of 2016 in October and November.

[ MORE: PL power rankings — Man United soar; City still the standard ]

At this point, nearly two months into the European club season, it’s probably in England’s best interest to stick with Southgate for until next summer at the earliest. None of the currently available names inspire any level of confidence or excitement, which is fine, because you and/or I could steer England to a top-two finish in a 2018 World Cup qualifying group that also includes Scotland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania and Malta.

Steer clear, Eddie Howe. The England job will be open again in 20 months’ time, then again 24 or 48 months after that, and 24 or 48 months after that, and so on forever and ever.

Liverpool to postpone further Anfield expansion after fan protest

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: General view of the new stand during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Leicester City at Anfield on September 10, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Liverpool owner John Henry says fan protests against ticket prices are causing the club to reassess plans to further redevelop Anfield.

Henry’s Fenway Sports Group apologized to fans earlier this year and reversed planned rises in ticket prices after a walkout during a game.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But having funded the redevelopment of Liverpool’s main stand over the last year, the next phase of the expansion program might not make economic sense if the club can’t recoup the construction cost. The Anfield Road stand had been next in line for rebuilding at the 54,000-capacity Anfield.

“I don’t know if there is a next step because ticket prices are an issue in England,” Henry said. “That may foreclose further expansion. We’ll have to see.”

Henry was speaking Tuesday at Yankee Stadium where his baseball team, the Boston Red Sox, was playing the New York Yankees.

Liverpool has opened its first full season with Juergen Klopp in charge by winning four of its six Premier League games. The German signed a contract extension in July through 2022.

[ MORE: PL power rankings — Liverpool fall, through no fault of their own ]

“He was a perfect fit for Liverpool, for the culture of the club, for the supporters, for the kind of team that we were trying to build,” Henry said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better fit.”

With no European matches this season, Liverpool is chasing a top-four finish to return to the Champions League.

From the 2018-19 season, entry into the Champions League group stage is easier for English clubs with the Premier League’s fourth-place team no longer having to go through a playoff.

The “market pool” system, which steers UEFA prize money to clubs in England, Germany, and Italy, where the broadcasting deals are bigger, will be changed to reward better historical results in the competition. That should help Liverpool as a five-time European champion but see income drop for Manchester City, which has never won the continent’s top prize.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s Champions League roundup | Wednesday ]

The Champions League changes were agreed by a small number of club officials and UEFA, with the rest of Europe not knowing the outcome until the announcement in August.

Henry said he was aware of other teams in England “obviously not happy with the UEFA deal.”

“The changes weren’t really discussed with us, they were implemented essentially. They unilaterally made changes to the market pool and there should have been I think more discussion. But I can tell you that the (Premier League) owners were not happy … at least among the clubs that I speak with.”

AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.