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′

John Cena makes entertaining Premier League predictions

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We do not recommend putting any money on John Cena’s Premier League predictions for this weekend.

The actor and WWE star was the guest picker on the BBC site on Friday, and admitted his soccer knowledge doesn’t extend much further than Cristiano Ronaldo and a tour of Tottenham (he has a fondness for Spurs, it seems).

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

But his actual selections are quite amusing. From picking matches based on species to trying to anger his fiancee’s Arsenal supporting brother, Cena brought the goods.

Our favorites:

Why West Ham will win at Stoke: “Who doesn’t love a good ham? It provides you with nourishment, happiness and a sense of community. It is always served at a big family function gathering. I like West Ham. 0-1.”

Why Southampton will win at Chelsea: “From where I am from, in Massachusetts, Southampton is a pretty cool place, so I am going to have to pick them, only because of how it relates to the States.”

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Southampton

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  • Chelsea leads all-time 41W-28D-28L
  • Saints have points in 3 of 5 at Stamford Bridge
  • Southampton winless in four straight league games

Chelsea returns home following an emphatic away win to meet a Southampton side fresh off embarrassment at home (Watch live Saturday at 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Saints were battered 4-1 at St. Mary’s by former coach Claude Puel, while Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea rebounded from a loss at West Ham by battering Huddersfield Town 4-1 at the John Smith’s Stadium.

Conte was asked to compare Alvaro Morata to club legend Didier Drogba, as the Spanish striker has reportedly been studying footage of the big Ivorian.

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“They are two different players with different characteristics,” he said. “Didier Drogba brought history to this club and he’s a wonderful player, a wonderful striker because he continues to play. He’s a great striker, more powerful than Alvaro but Alvaro, don’t forget, has a lot of space for improvement. He’s strong physically, he’s a technical player and I see a great future for Alvaro.”

Chelsea still won’t have David Luiz available, while Southampton has no new injury concerns despite the recent schedule congestion.

What they’re saying

Antonio Conte on Southampton premonitions“‘My expectation is for us to suffer, I have this sensation, so we must pay great attention. When you play after a bad defeat, especially at home, there is great attention of the coach and the club because they don’t want to continue a bad run. They want to give a good answer against a strong team like Chelsea.”

Saints’ Mauricio Pellegrino on facing Chelsea: “We want to show our best version. Chelsea is a really difficult side but maybe we can find more space.  We have to do a really good game to have a possibility of winning, but hopefully after a difficult moment we can bounce back. In this club, we want to show we are committed to trying to be competitive, our energy and commitment to the club.”

Prediction

Saints are wounded, but Chelsea has the better depth and form. Charlie Austin or Sofiane Boufal may force a goal past Thibaut Courtois, but look for the Blues to pull out a 2-1 win.

FIFA suspends Brazilian soccer president Marco Polo del Nero

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has suspended Brazilian soccer federation president Marco Polo del Nero for 90 days while he is under an ethics investigation.

Del Nero has remained in power in Brazil despite being charged by American authorities with racketeering and money laundering in 2015.

FIFA says Del Nero has been provisionally banned from all soccer activities as formal ethics investigation proceedings are conducted.

Del Nero fled Zurich in May 2015 when FIFA colleagues were arrested, quit the executive committee of soccer’s governing body after missing meetings and was then indicted in the United States in December 2015. He has not been extradited from Brazil to face the charges.

Preview: How can Tottenham stop Man City?

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Can anyone stop Manchester City? Tottenham Hotspur will try this Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) with Mauricio Pochettino‘s men aiming to give the chasing pack some hope that City can be caught.

[ LIVE: Stream Man City v. Spurs

Pep Guardiola‘s men have won 15 consecutive Premier League games to stretch their lead atop the PL to 11 points heading into the busy festive season, but a visit from Spurs represents one of their toughest tests of the season so far.

Spurs currently sit in fourth place in the table but are 18 points behind City.

In team news Man City have no fresh injury concerns as Vincent Kompany could return after missing out at Swansea City in midweek, but John Stones remains out injured.

Tottenham will be missing Victor Wanyama and Toby Alderweireld through injury, while Davinson Sanchez serves the final game of his three-match ban.


What they’re saying

Guardiola on Man City going the entire season unbeaten: “It is not going to happen. We are going to lose games, it belongs to Arsene Wenger. Now what happens is an exception, it’s not normal what we’ve done. We’ll try to maintain it but we are going to lose games. It is important is to play better, that’s important. Records are OK but they stay there and one day they will be broken. We focus on the pitch and try to be better, make chances, concede few. I’m happy with the way we play – although I feel we can do much, much better.”

Pochettino on Man City’s incredible run: “They [Manchester City] are showing that they are not only the best in England but in Europe too with the Champions League. They are playing so well and deserve all the praise. It will be so tough. I think Manchester City deserve all the credit with what they are doing.”

Prediction

Spurs will prove a tough test for a rampant Man City squad and I expect Dele Alli and Harry Kane to cause plenty of problems for a threadbare City defense. 2-2.