Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba, right, and Yaya Toure, left, practices during a training session of Ivory Coast at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, Friday, June 13, 2014. Ivory Coast play in group C of the 2014 soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

Game on: Lineups, talking points as Ivory Coast starts Didier Drogba on the bench against Japan

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Overshadowed by the game that comes before it, Ivory Coast’s meeting with Asian champions Japan represents that day’s most interesting clash of styles. This isn’t attack versus defense, as we saw in the day’s opening match between Colombia and Greece. This is the playmaking talent of a technically and tactically adept Japan against the attacking threat and midfield power the star-studded Ivorians.

In the soccer world, those stars have ubiquitous names: Yaya Touré, one of the best players in the English league; Didier Drogba, one of the most famous African players of all time; and the likes of Salomon Kalou, Gervinho, and Wilfried Bony, less famous but well-respected attacking talents.

With a squad heavy in Japan-based talents, the Samurai Blue lacks the same type of fame, but there are two names who, both operating as attackers in midfield, present potential game-winner threats. Shinji Kagawa, who earned a move from Borussia Dortmund to English titans Manchester United two years ago, gives Japan the ability to strike quickly on any ball coming out of the back, while AC Milan’s Keisuke Honda has scored 22 times in 56 appearances for his national team.

Here’s how the teams will look at tonight’s 9:00 p.m Eastern kickoff:

[ MORE, Previews: Ivory Coast | Japan | Group C]
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Starting lineups

Ivory Coast: Barry; Aurier, Zokora, Bamba, Boka; Serey, Tioté, Touré; Kalou, Bony, Gervinho

Japan: Kawashima; Uchida, Yoshida, Morishige, Nagatomo; Yamaguchi, Hasebe; Osako, Honda, Kagawa; Okazaki

Talking points

1. Balancing attacking Elephants: Didier Drogba has the name, but Wilfried Bony may be the better player, right now. Regardless, Sabri Lamouchi‘s team will be best if a balance can be struck. Today, Bony gets the start, leaving Drogba to what’s probably his best role, at this point of his career: Impact sub.

2. Possession as defense: As the 2013 Confederations Cup showed up, Japan flaws at the back can outweigh its talent going forward, but with such an adept set of players in the middle, there’s an obvious solution: Don’t give up the ball. Against a team with the likes of Touré and Chieck Tioté in the middle, that’s easier said than done, but Japan has the quality to limit their defenses exposure by prioritizing ball retention.

3. This game? Kind of important: If Colombia really is the best team in Group C — a widely held but difficult to justify assumption — this all be the most important game in deciding second place. Unless there’s a draw, today’s loser may have to make up points against the group’s favorites in order to catch up.

Expectations: Most expert predictions have Ivory Coast getting out of this group with Colombia. Implicitly, that means they should be better than Japan, but soccer match ups being what they are, you can’t necessarily say a team that’s generally better will maintain that status in a head-to-head battle. The Ivorians are the favorites, but a Japan win would not shock the world.

One blogger’s prediction: With this match, I’m more clueless than normal, but I do think we’ll see goals. If one team happens to grab the first two, this match will play out more lopsided than it should. If that doesn’t happen, we could see a 2-2.

VIDEO: 70-yard volley from Chile is nearly impossible to believe

Alejandro Camargo, Universidad de Concepcion
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His name is Alejandro Camargo, and he scored what might just go down as the best goal of 2016 on Sunday: an impossibly perfect volley from well beyond the halfway line.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

Miguel Pinto is the opposing goalkeeper whose long-range clearance, which covered about 50 yards during the final seconds of Universidad de Concepcion’s clash with O’Higgins in the Chilean first division, was taken off the fly, first-time, by the Argentine midfielder to seal a 3-1 victory for the home side.

[ MORE: Serie A roundup — Roma, AC Milan win, still tied for 2nd ]

“The coach told us Pinto was always playing in advance of his goal, so I closed my eyes and hit it,” Camargo said after the game.

“Hit it and hope” has never looked so good.

Roma fans stay away from derby to protest new security barriers

A view of a huge section of empty seats as Roma fans desert derby in protest over security barriers, during a Serie A soccer match between Lazio and Roma, at the Rome Olympic stadium Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
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ROME (AP) Roma’s most ardent supporters stayed away from the derby match against Lazio in protest at barriers introduced at the start of last season in their area.

Normally filled with supporters waving huge banners, lighting flares and singing, half of the “curva sud” — southern end — of the Stadio Olimpico was left empty for Sunday’s match.

[ MORE: Serie A roundup — Roma, AC Milan win, still tied for 2nd ]

Three of Roma’s locally born standouts held a meeting with the “ultra” fans during the week. Captain Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Florenzi asked the supporters to return, and the club itself has also tried to resolve the matter.

But the appeals had no effect.

In contrast, Lazio fans filled the northern end of the stadium as usual.

The plexiglass barriers were put in place by city officials for security reasons.

VIDEO: “Behind The Badge: Watford FC” — Episode 2

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In Episode 2 of Behind the Badge: Watford FC, watch the players’ recovery after a win against Leicester, a look at the club’s one-of-a-kind internship program and a flashback to a memorable moment in Watford’s history.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

To watch past episodes of Behind The Badge, including last season’s edition featuring a look inside Crystal Palace, head over to the full archive by clicking here.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Above video
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Pardew saves his job, says Palace owners “don’t know a lot about football”

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03: Alan Pardew, Manager of Crystal Palace thumbs up prior to the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Southampton at Selhurst Park on December 3, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
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While some may advise that keeping a low profile would best suit Alan Pardew right now, Crystal Palace’s embattled manager is of a totally different mindset.

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Following Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Southampton, in which Pardew’s side saved his job (for the time being), the 55-year-old Eagles boss and former player chose the first bright moment, Palace’s first Premier League win since Sept. 24, to hit out at the club’s new American owners with a scathing assessment of the footballing prowess, or perhaps lack thereof — quotes from the Guardian:

“The chairman got a bit edgy this week, as you’d expect. We have a lot of serious investors at the club who perhaps don’t know a lot about football so the chairman has been defending me.

“I always think as a manager at any level, particularly in the modern era, expect the sack. Just expect it; it’s coming at some stage, so just do your job as best you can. Every week, that’s what I try to do.

“Sometimes it’s hard to dress up six defeats when you’re the owner of the club and you have investors. Obviously there are things he’s got no control over but he’s tried to offer me all the assistance that he could. He’s been brilliant for me and I just want to say thank you to him really.”

With various reports linking Sam Allardyce and Roberto Mancini to a job which he still holds, it’s understandable that Pardew would be slightly on edge, quick to thump his chest and restake his claim as the right man for the job, but perhaps alienating and borderline embarrassing the new investors, who are now responsible for signing your paychecks, wouldn’t have been my go-to move.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

On the other hand, as Pardew rightly stated in the above quotes, his day of reckoning will eventually arrive, so what’s he really got to lose?