Draw with Paris Saint-Germain leaves Monaco five points back in France

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Radamel Falcao’s knee injury was seen as a huge blow to Colombia’s chances at the World Cup, but it also had the potential to end whatever thin chance Monaco had to catch Paris Saint-Germain at the top of Ligue 1. But with the league-leading Parisians also missing one of the main scoring threats, today’s match at Stade Louis II gave Claudio Ranieri’s team an opening. With a win, Monaco would  claw within two points of the defending champions.

Unfortunately for Monaco, it was Edinson Cavani (not leading scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic) that was sitting out. Equally unfortunate for Monaco, it’s situations like these where PSG’s prodigious spending really pays off. Instead of having to take on a Dimitar Berbatov-esque reclamation project (as Monaco did at the end of the transfer window), Laurent Blanc can turn to his bench and have his choice of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Jeremy Menez.

Surprisingly, the PSG boss chose neither for Sunday’s showdown. Instead, Blanc moved Javier Pastore into attack and started Italian midfielder Marco Verratti, a move that paid off when the Argentine midfielder put PSG in front in the eighth minute. Converting Alex’s flick on an early Thiago Motta corner, the former Palermo star registered his first goal of the season.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has two good chances to double PSG’s lead, while James Rodriguez and Emmanuel Riviere each threatened to equalize before intermission. Yet despite those chances, the eventual inclusion of Berbatov, and a handful of close calls for the Parisians, Pastore’s opener held up until the 74th minute.

That’s when Thiago Silva, attempting to play a cross from Monaco fullback Fabinho, equalized for the home side. Putting his countryman’s ball past his own goalkeeper, the Brazilian international allowed the home team to salvage a point with a 1-1 draw.

For some, the final will be seen as a sign Monaco can compete with the Parisians – the holders being within reach of the league’s next power. But if Monaco really harbor ambitions of claiming an unlikely title, today’s result did them no good. With their best chance to close the gap between themselves and the leaders, last season’s Ligue 2 champions couldn’t narrow their five-point gap. At home against the team that sits between them and a title, Monaco couldn’t muster more than a draw.

In that way, Sunday’s result served as a reminder of how far they have to go. With both teams missing world class strikers, Paris Saint-Germain had a slew of alternatives. Monaco started Riveire and Valere Germain. While PSG claimed an early league and were able to preserve a draw, Monaco needed an own goal to claim a point for the team they’re trying to track down.

Of course, it was always too much to expect Monaco to rival PSG in year one of their first division return, but with so many on the periphery of French soccer seeing Monaco the league’s PSG counterpoint, Sunday was a reminder that we’re at least one year away from PSG’s real challenge.

Brazil to play Austria in final warmup game for World Cup

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VIENNA (AP) The Austrian soccer federation says Brazil will play its final warmup game for the World Cup against Austria on June 10, a week before the five-time world champions take on Switzerland in their Group E opener.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Kekuta Manneh to roster ahead of friendly ]

The match will be played in Vienna at Ernst Happel Stadium, the same venue where both teams last met in a 2014 friendly, which Brazil won 2-1.

Brazil has further build-up games against World Cup host Russia (March 23), world champion Germany (March 27) and Croatia (June 3) ahead of the June 14-July 15 tournament, where it also meets Costa Rica and Serbia in the group stage.

Austria failed to qualify for the World Cup but will also play friendlies against Russia on May 30 and Germany on June 2.

Fiorentina renames training ground for Davide Astori

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Fiorentina’s training ground has been renamed “Centro Sportivo Davide Astori” in honor of the club’s deceased captain.

[ MORE: Manneh added to USMNT squad ]

Davide Astori died in his team hotel room on March 4, shocking the Italian soccer world and triggering tributes around the world of soccer.

The respected Italian national team center back has had number retired by both Fiorentina and former club Cagliari.

Thousands packed a Florence piazza to salute the player en route to his funeral, and the club won its first match after his passing following vivid pre- and in-match tributes.

Kekuta Manneh added to USMNT roster for Paraguay game

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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CHICAGO (AP) Mexican league midfielder Kekuta Manneh was added to the U.S. roster Monday for a March 27 exhibition against Paraguay at Cary, North Carolina.

The 27-year-old was born in Ghana and became a U.S. citizen two years ago while playing with Vancouver. He was traded to Columbus in March 2017 and signed with Pachuca in December.

[ MORE: Southampton momentum? ]

He is among eight players on the 23-man roster who could make their national team debuts. The others are goalkeeper Alex Bono; defenders Shaq Moore, Erik Palmer-Brown and Antonee Robinson; midfielders Marky Delgado and Tim Weah; and forward Andrija Novakovich

Four others have played just once: goalkeeper Zack Steffen, defender Cameron Carter-Vickers and midfielders Weston McKennie and Kenny Saief.

After failing to qualify for the World Cup, the U.S. will not play a competitive match until this summer.

The revised roster:

Goalkeepers: Alex Bono (Toronto), Bill Hamid (Midtjylland, Denmark), Zack Steffen (Columbus).

Defenders: Cameron Carter-Vickers (Ipswich Town, England), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest, England), Matt Miazga (Vitesse, Netherlands), Shaq Moore (Levante, Spain), Erik Palmer-Brown (Kortrijk, Belgium), Antonee Robinson (Bolton, England), Jorge Villafana (Santos Laguna, Mexico), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle, England).

Midfielders: Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls), Marky Delgado (Toronto), Kekuta Manneh (Pachuca, Mexico), Weston McKennie (Schalke, Germany), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta), Cristian Roldan (Seattle), Kenny Saief (Anderlecht, Belgium), Wil Trapp (Columbus), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain, France).

Forwards: Andrija Novakovich (Telstar, Netherlands), Rubio Rubin (Tijuana, Mexico), Bobby Wood (Hamburg, Germany).

Further crowd trouble could see Lyon’s European ban made active

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Lyon has not enjoyed sportsmanship on and off the pitch this season.

You’ll remember an ugly incident between its players and Everton fans this season, but it’s been Lyon’s support which has had the Ligue 1 club under the microscope for some time.

[ MORE: (Very) Fresh faces for USMNT ]

Lyon had a two-year ban suspended in April, and antics before Thursday’s Europa League match versus CSKA Moscow could see the French side’s suspension from European competition put into action. From the BBC:

Lyon have been charged with racist behaviour, crowd disturbances, throwing objects and setting off fireworks and blocking stairways.

Police say up to 150 ultras attacked officers outside Lyon’s stadium on Thursday.