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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Goals:

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.

LINEUPS:

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.

Chinese clubs to pay 100% tax on foreign transfers

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The days of Chinese Super League sides spending eye-popping figures on a handful of international superstars are over — either that, or those figures are about to double — for now, at least.

[ MORE: Oscar given 8-game ban for petulant display in China ]

China’s Football Association announced Thursday that, effective immediately, any foreign player signed for a fee exceeding $6.63 million would be subject to a 100-percent tax on top of the fee paid to acquire the player. The tax will remain in effect until the end of China’s ongoing transfer window, July 14. The tax will also apply to Chinese players signed for a fee exceeding $3 million.

It’s Chinese authorities’ latest attempt to prevent big spending by CSL clubs, which has in every instance been detrimental to the development of young Chinese players making their way through the academy system. The taxed money will then be reinvested in “youth training, construction of public sporting facilities and scientific progress in football development,” according to a statement by the CFA.

Just last week, China was eliminated from contention to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia. The only time China has ever qualified for the World Cup was in 2002.

Young Englishman Oxford goes abroad, to Gladbach, on loan

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MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) Borussia Moenchengladbach has signed English central defender Reece Oxford on loan for the season from Premier League club West Ham.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl says “Oxford has gone through all the England youth teams and is one of the biggest defensive talents in Britain.”

The 18-year-old Oxford, who spent the second half of last season on loan at second-division club Reading, is Gladbach’s fifth arrival of the off-season.

Qatar stadium safety concerns again raised by death investigation

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An investigation into why a British man fell to his death on a building site for the 2022 Qatar soccer World Cup has raised concerns about stadium roof safety.

World Cup organizers on Thursday released partial findings of an assessment of the accident at the Khalifa International Stadium, but said the full report cannot be released while local authorities continue their own investigation. It is one of two work-related deaths detailed in Qatar’s latest welfare report on preparations for the 2022 soccer tournament, which currently involves 12,367 workers on eight construction sites.

The 40-year-old British man fell 39 meters in January after one end of the roof catwalk he was installing dropped and a safety rope snapped.

“During the course of the investigation, the team had raised concerns with the method of installation of the raised catwalk system,” the welfare report from Qatar’s World Cup organizers stated. “This required further investigation regarding the method itself and the supervision skills of the specialist contractor staff.”

It has led to “corrective and preventative actions” being implemented by the contractor, a joint venture between Belgian and Qatari firms, along with safety checks across all stadium sites, the report said.

“These included a review of all working-at-height activities across all SC projects, an enhanced process when reviewing specialist activities within construction sites, and a detailed review of all roof and gantry designs,” the Supreme Committee overseeing stadium projects added.

The British man is the only European working on Qatar stadiums to have died in a country relying on a low-paid migrant workforce from south Asia to prepare for the first World Cup in the Middle East. Six non-work related deaths have been announced by organizers, with most suffering from heart or breathing problems.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the supreme committee’s secretary general, said medical staff are trying to raise awareness of the “importance of healthy lifestyles” by evaluating diets and identifying health issues, including hypertension and diabetes. Cooling helmets have also been developed in an attempt to make it safer for workers on outdoor sites during the searing summer heat.

World Cup preparations have been dogged by concerns about the welfare of workers since the natural gas-rich Gulf nation won the FIFA vote in 2010. Mounting international pressure led to Qatar raising living standards and worker rights. Inspections led to three contractors being blacklisted and 14 entities “demobilized” from projects for failing to tackle welfare issues, the World Cup report reveals.

“There is still work to be done to ensure our workers’ welfare standards continue to have a tangible impact on the ground and we are comprehensive in our attempts to tackle the myriad of issues facing migrant workers across the SC program,” Khalid Al-Kubaisi, who oversees worker welfare at the Supreme Committee, said in a statement.

The report has been released as Qatar is gripped by a diplomatic crisis that has seen it isolated in the region. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar earlier this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran. Qatar denies the charges and says the allegations are politically motivated.

Official (finally): Salah completes move from Roma to Liverpool

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It was the summer’s first transfer rumor-turned-real-story-turned-never-ending-saga that seemed to refuse to cross the finish line, but it’s finally come to pass: Mohamed Salah is a Liverpool player.

Salah’s move from Roma to Liverpool took so long to complete that the club’s poor social-media manager probably never wants to read the words “Announce Salah” for the rest of his/her life.

The deal will cost Liverpool something in the neighborhood of $50 million — a new Liverpool club record — and completes the utterly terrifying attacking quartet Jurgen Klopp can’t wait to unleash on the Premier League come August — Salah on one side, Sadio Mane opposite, Philippe Coutinho in the middle, and Roberto Firmino at striker. Salah, by the way, will take over Firmino’s no. 11 shirt, with the Brazilian switching to no. 9.