At halftime: France up 1 on Honduras as Benzema scores, Palacios sent off just before break – FOLLOW LIVE

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Story of the half: France was clearly on top the whole first half, but it took them 44 minutes to produce a goal, at great cost to Honduras.

Wilson Palacios shoved Paul Pogba in the back in the box, not only conceding a penalty but also earning himself his second yellow card in the process.

Karim Benzema blasted home the ensuing penalty for the 1-0 lead, and now Honduras has a massive task in front of them.

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45′ – Wilson Palacios, physical the entire first half, threw his body into the back of Paul Pogba.  It was a costly foul for Honduras, conceding a penalty just before halftime and seeing himself sent off.  Karim Benzema powerfully charged the ball into the top left on the finish.

Other key moments:

12′ – With France clearly on top early on, they had a pair of free kicks just outside the Honduran box. They botched the first with a weird attempt at a predetermined play, but came close with the second, only foiled by a strong Valladares punch.

15′ – Another dangerous French set piece saw the ball into the box sail just over 3 attacker’s heads, but fell to a wide-open Blaise Matuidi who struck powerfully.  The ball was touched by the fingertips of a diving Valladares and ricocheted onto the crossbar.  By far the closest chance yet.

23′ – France continued to pummel the Honduran third, and Patrice Evra’s cross into the box found the head of Antoine Griezmann, who clattered the ball against the crossbar.

25′ – All France but no goals. Mathieu Valbuena received the ball on the right edge of the box with no defenders in sight but a bad angle, so he cut back for Karim Benzema, who headed just over.

28′ – Double yellow for Paul Pogba and Wilson Palacios as the pair get into a midfield scuffle and trade kicks/steps. Tempers flare. The ref stands and watches before producing the cards.


France – Lloris; Debuchy, Varane, Sakho, Evra; Cabaye, Matuidi, Pogba; Valbuena, Benzema, Griezmann.

Goals – Benzema (pen) 45′

Honduras – Valladares; Figueroa, Bernardez, Izaguirre, Beckeles; Palacios, Espinoza, Najar, Garrido; Bengtson, Costly.

Key players:

  • Patrice Evra – A key component in France’s attack, they powered down the left side on multiple occasions, and the former Manchester United defender was right there to deliver.
  • Karim Benzema – Didier Deschamps left Olivier Giroud on the bench in favor of Benzema isolated at the front, and the French striker has had plenty of freedom to move across laterally.  He’s the man they’re looking for to score, but it remains to be seen if Deschamps will keep it that way.
  • Wilson Palacios – Honduras’s main man in the middle of the pitch, the hard-hitting Stoke player has tried to be a physical presence to hold France down, and it’s worked thus far. However, he has to be careful now that he’s been booked in the Pogba incident.

Numbers to know:

70.8% – Amount of possession France has had.
5 – Number of yellow cards handed out in the first half, one being Wilson Palacios’s second.
15 – Number of clearances Honduras has been forced to make, compared to just four by France.
0 – Number of losses France has in the World Cup when leading at the half. They have won 17 and drawn 3.

Questions for the second half:

  • Will Honduras go for the shock equalizer or play for goal differential? Down to 10 men, it remains to be seen if coach Luis Suarez will now look to close up shop and concede defeat as to not concede any more goals, or if he will leave things open to try and pick up a man-down goal.
  • Can France continue pedal to the metal?  If there’s one thing above all else that’s been France’s weakness the last decade of disappointment, it’s mental fortitude.  Up a man and in control of the match, sometimes those situations are the hardest to remain focused. It never hurts to have a good goal differential, and they’ll want to cash in on the mistake by Honduras.

FOLLOW LIVE: 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, center, is congratulated by teammates, including midfielder Roger Espinoza (27), following his goal during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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The knockout round of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs concludes on Thursday, as four teams vie for the final two places — one in the Eastern Conference, one in the Western Conference — in the conference semifinals, which begin on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round ]

Up first, the East’s fourth-seeded D.C. United welcome the five-seed Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium for the two sides’ third meeting of the 2016 season. Each of the year’s first two clashes finished a 1-1 draw, in July and August. Didier Drogba is expected to be unavailable for the win-or-go-home tie. United finished the regular season with four wins in the last five games, while the Impact won just two of their last eight.

[ MORE: Preivewing Thursday night’s knockout-round games ]

In the nightcap, the West’s fourth-seeded Seattle Sounders will take on the five-side, Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink Field. Sporting were victorious in both regular-season meetings this year — 1-0 on opening day, and 3-0 in late-July, the day the Sounders essentially quit on Sigi Schmid. Since that blistering hot day in KC, the Soudners have lost just twice in 14 games (eight wins, four draws).

Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs schedule

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET

Cristiano Ronaldo says Ashley Cole is the toughest player he faced

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Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.

He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.

According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.

[ MORE: VIDEO: Incredible Pelle goal in China ]

“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”

During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.

It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.

Phil Neville praises Juan Mata’s play to Manchester United

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Juan Mata has appeared in 116 matches for Manchester United since moving to Old Trafford in 2014. In that time, Mata has scored 29 goals and recorded 18 assists.

Despite his performance for the team, some thought Mata would be moved when Jose Mourinho came to town, including former United player and assistant coach Phil Neville.

Neville told Sky Sports, “I actually thought he would be the first out of the door when Jose came, but he’s actually becoming one of the most important players.”

Neville praised Mata’s contributions and versatility for United. “He is never injured, he provides a lot of assists, he plays in two or three different positions, and he scores important goals.”

Manchester United has lacked an identity under Mourinho and recently faltered in the Premier League as the team is winless in its last three matches.

[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]

Could Mata be the answer to some of United’s problems?

The Spaniard is a classic No. 10 with the ability to dictate his team’s attack and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Mata can also put the ball in the back of the net as evidenced by his winner against Manchester City in the EFL Cup.

Mourinho has options in the center midfield with the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in addition to Mata on the roster.

However, given the team’s Premier League struggles, it could be worth giving Mata a chance as the team’s No. 10.

David Moyes faces FA charges after being sent off during EFL Cup

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David Moyes and Sunderland have gotten off to one of the worst starts in Premier League history.

If they fail to earn a point against Arsenal this weekend, they will tie the 1995-96 Manchester City team for the worst start ever through 10 matches with two points.

It appears those frustrations carried over to the EFL Cup for Moyes. On Wednesday, the manager was forced to leave the dugout toward the end of Sunderland’s 1-0 loss to Southampton after he protested a no-call from referee Chris Kavanagh.

Moyes was charged by the FA for his protests, saying the manager “used abusive and/or insulting words towards a match official”.

It’s just another thing to add to Moyes’ plate as he looks to keep Sunderland’s hopes of safety alive in the Premier League.