Can the Ivory Coast seal their first every berth in the knockout stages?

Bony, Gervinho goals see Ivory Coast come back to down Japan, 2-1

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Two goals in 100 seconds during Saturday’s second half saw the Ivory Coast overcome its slow start to claim what could prove a crucial result. Reversing a deficit Japan handed them after 15 minutes, les Elephants earned a 2-1 win at Recife’s Arena Pernambuco, defeating the team that’s expected to be their main competition for a knockout round spot. In the process, the Ivorians joined Colombia at the top of Group C, taking a huge step toward progressing for the first time at a World Cup.

Keisuke Honda gave the Japanese an early lead after he finished from 12 yards out inside Boubacar Barry’s right post. For the next 58 minutes, a Japanese defense that easily receded into its own half tempted the Ivory Coast to break them own. Just after star striker Didier Drogba was introduced, the Ivorians made them pay, with crosses from Serge Aurier in the 64th and 66th minutes allowing Wilfried Bony and Gervinho to claim full points for their star-studed squad.

Group C continues on Tuesday when the Ivory Coast travel to Brasília to face Colombia, who sit alongside the Ivorians atop the group. Later that day, Japan will face Greece in Natal, with each team seeking their first points of the competition.

At the match’s onset, Japan elected to ceded possession to the Ivorians, daring Les Elephants to break down a defense that only engaged once the ball was in the attacking half. Through most of the first half, that approach resulted in a series of turnovers, with poor execution from the Ivorians rewarding Albert Zaccheroni’s conservative approach. It would be 35 minutes before the Ivory Coast put a shot on goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima.

In the interim, Japan struck first. After a quick throw-in deep on the left flank the Ivorians off-balance, left back Yuto Nagatomo was able to roll a ball into the area for Keisuke Honda, who had pulled away from the Ivorian defense. Taking a touch to evade Yaya Touré, Honda blasted a shot inside Boubacar Barry’s right post, giving the Ivorian keeper little time to react to the 15th minute opening goal.

As the half progressed, the Ivorians began penetrating Japan’s defense, proving more patient in their buildup as they pushed their opponents deep into the final third. In the 35th minute, that resulted in a long shot from Arthur Boka the Kawashima was forced to parry away – the Ivorians’ first ball on target. Four minutes later, Touré created a chance through the left of the area only to see Gervinho’s shot blocked. Les Elephants would go into halftime scoreless.

The second half initially saw a more aggression from Japan, taking advantage of careless play in the Ivory Coast’s half to generate shots for Makoto Hasebe and Hotaru Yamaguchi. By the hour mark, however, the game resumed its original pose. Though Japan enjoyed spells of position that exposed problems in the Ivorian defense, the team proved willing to regress into two banks of four, showing little urgency to win the ball.

In the 62nd minute, that forced the Ivory Coast to change approach, with Sabri Lamouchi turning to his team’s most famous star. Joining Wilfried Bony up top, Didier Drogba’s inclusion saw the Ivorians leverage the full force of their attacking talents, something that immediately produced a close-range chance in the right of the box.

Two minutes later, the Ivorians had more than a mere chance. They had their equalizer. On a Aurier cross from the right, Bony was able to isolate center back Masato Morishige. Cutting in front of his mark, the Swansea City striker redirected his header past Kawashima, drawing les Elephants even at one.

That scoreline lasted all of two minutes. Off another cross from Aurier, Gervinho headed home from just outside the six yard box, his redirection of a near-post ball bouncing through Kawashima’s hands as the keeper drove to his left post.

Over the match’s final 28 minutes, Japan’s response never came. The Samurai Blue would go the final 70 minutes without a shot on target, with the Ivorians continuing to control possession even after taking the lead.

Though Zaccheroni’s initial plan looked prudent as the Ivorians struggled, his team failed to adjust its opposition was awaken. The Japan we saw at 0-0 and up 1-0 failed to change when they went down 2-1.

The Ivorians, on the other hand, saw their adjustments pay off. Once their famous extra attacker came on, Japan immediately looked light in defense – unable to find the bodies to make all of les Elephants’ stars. Drogba didn’t play a direct part in either goal, but the presence of a second striker helped the Ivory Coast finally get at a suspect Japanese defense.

As a result, a team that reached the final 16 in South Africa lost what could prove their most important match in Brazil. The Ivory Coast, on the other hand, is one step closer to its first knockout round.

Lineups

Ivory Coast: Barry; Aurier, Zokora, Bamba, Boka (Djakpa 75′); Serey (Drogba 62′), Tioté, Touré; Kalou, Bony (Ya Konan 78′), Gervinho

Goals: Bony 64′, Gervinho 66′

Japan: Kawashima; Uchida, Yoshida, Morishige, Nagatomo; Yamaguchi, Hasebe (Endo 54′); Osako (Okubo), Honda, Kagawa (Kakitani 86′); Okazaki

Goals: Honda 15′

Argentine star Messi leaves Honduras match with back injury

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 08:  (L-R) Jose Juan Vazquez #23 of Mexico and Lionel Messi #10 of Argentina during a international friendly at AT&T Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) Argentine soccer superstar Lionel Messi left the field with a back injury in the second half of a 1-0 victory over Honduras in a friendly Friday night.

The Argentine team captain and Barcelona star was hit on an apparently inconsequential play and immediately went to the locker room. He was replaced at the 62-minute mark by Sevilla midfielder Ever Banega and never returned to the field.

“Messi suffered a trauma to the left side of his lower back and rib cage,” the Argentine Football (Soccer) Association said in a statement, adding that doctors were looking at the injury.

[ MORE: Hull City snares last PL spot for 2016-17 ]

Messi is not a player who leaves the field with minor injuries like he did Friday at San Juan’s Bicentenario stadium.

“I would not dare to venture a diagnosis,” said a concerned Argentine manager, Gerardo Martino.

Gonzalo Higuain, who scored for Argentina, said it “was an important win and here’s hoping that what happened to Leo is nothing.”

Messi was scheduled to fly to Spain to resolve a tax issue and then rejoin the team in Santa Clara, California.

Hull City secures PL position next season

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28: Ross Wallace of Sheffield Wednesday make a break during Sky Bet Championship Play Off Final match between Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley Stadium on May 28, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Mohamed Diame was the hero on the day for Hull City, as the Tigers gain promotion to the Premier League next season.

The Senegalese attacker sent Sheffield Wednesday packing on Saturday afternoon at Wembley Stadium after hitting a scorching long-distance effort past goalkeeper Kieren Westwood in the second half.

After an initial back-and-forth spell of chances over the opening half hour-plus, Sheffield was drastically taken out of the match as Hull began to gain their composure on the ball.

Hull City will join Championship winners Burnley and Middlesbrough in the Premier League in 2016-17 after being promoted. Relegated clubs Newcastle, Norwich City and Aston Villa will take their place in England’s second flight.

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UCL FOLLOW LIVE: Lineups as Atleti, Real duel in finale

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, fights for the ball with Atletico Madrid's Tiago Mendes during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The match ended in a 1-1 draw. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
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After their devastating defeat two seasons ago, Atletico Madrid looks for revenge and their first UEFA Champions League title on Saturday against Real Madrid.

Milan will be the site for the action, as Zinedine Zidane and Real are seeking their 11th title in the competition and have the opportunity to knock Atleti out in the title match for the second time in three seasons.

To follow live, click here.

LINEUPS

Real Madrid: Navas, Marcelo, Ramos, Pepe, Carvajal, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Ronaldo, Bale, Benzema Subs: Casilla, James, Nacho, Lucas Vasquez, Jese, Isco, Danilo

Atletico Madrid: Oblak; Filipe Luis, Godin, Savic, Juanfran; Gabi, Fernandez, Koke, Saul Niguez; Griezmann, Torres. Subs: Moya, Tiago, Correa, Hernandez, Thomas, Ferreira-Carrasco, Gimenez.

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Atlanta United actively pursuing Mexican duo Guardado, Vela

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 07:  (L-R) Former professional soccer player Carlos Bocanegra, MLS Atlanta owner Arthur Blank, rapper Ludacris, Commissioner of MLS Don Garber, and former professional soccer player Darren Eales attend the MLS Atlanta Launch Event at SOHO on July 7, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for MLS Atlanta)
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With Atlanta United FC set to make their MLS debut in 2017, the club is reportedly set to make a major splash with one or possibly two Mexican stars.

[ MORE: Agent: Zlatan Ibrahimovic may not join Man United ]

ESPN FC‘s John Sutcliffe reported from the team’s future home, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, on Friday, saying that the team is targeting both Andres Guardado and Carlos Vela.

[ MORE: Edgar Castillo to replace Timmy Chandler for USMNT ]

Guardado, who currently plays for PSV Eindhoven, has long been a staple of the El Tri midfield, making 124 appearances for the Mexican national team.

While Vela wasn’t included in Mexico’s Copa America Centenario roster, the Real Sociedad striker has every bit of talent you’d want from a future Designated Player, which is likely what either Guardado or Vela would be.

Atlanta currently has three players on their roster. Greek goalkeeper Alexandros Tabakis, Junior Burgos and Jeffery Otoo currently round out the squad.

The potential addition(s) of an Andres Guardado or Carlos Vela would prove to be not only big for Atlanta but for MLS as a whole, more so with Vela though. MLS’ growth over recent years has brought young DPs like Sebastian Giovinco and Giovani Dos Santos to Toronto FC and the LA Galaxy, respectively.

Another league addition who is in the prime of their career will only continue to build the league’s reputation, and immediately put Atlanta on the map next season.

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