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Short on goals, chances, Nigeria and Iran play to 2014 World Cup’s first draw

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The first draw of the World Cup is a scoreless one, with one of the least-anticipated matches of Brazil 2014 living up ito its almost non-existent expectations. After a game nearly as devoid of chances as goals, Iran and Nigeria finished as they started in Curitiba, with both teams earning a point in a 0-0 draw.

Nigeria’s closest opportunity came in the ninth minute when shots from Ahmed Musa and Ogneyi Onazi implied the Super Eagles were in for chance-filled evening. That implication proved false, with the match’s only other good change coming off an Iranian corner in the 39th minute.

After a tournament whose first nine games produced the highest goal rate since 1958, the meeting was a disappointment – a let down that’s reflected in the teams’ schedules. With Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina ahead for both, Iran and Nigeria ended their best chance for full points with feckless performance.

Both teams continue their World Cups on Saturday, with Iran facing group favorites Argentina in the day’s early game in Belo Horizonte. Nigeria faces Bosnia and Herzegonvina in Cuiabá in a match neither team can afford to lose.

[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

Nigeria controlled play from the opening whistle and looked set to go in front in the ninth minute when Emmanuel Emenike created a chance for Musa. The close range opportunity, saved by Alireza Haghighi, gave way to a second chance for Onazi, though the midfielder pulled his shot wide of Haghighi’s right post.

The rest of the half saw a reserved but stalwart Iran cede possession in favor of organization, a tactic that turned into a solution as the Super Eagles were held without a another chance before halftime. Iran, on the other half, nearly took a surprise lead when a 39th minute corner tested the reflexes of Vincent Enyeama after a headed shot from Reza Ghoochanneijad. The Iranians would go into halftime with only 29 percent possession, but they held the Nigerians to two shots on target.

The second half saw the Iranians flip the script, recording five shots over the period’s first 20 minutes as they pursued full points. Though Nigeria continued their monopoly of the ball, they rarely tested Haghighi. Despite a let push, Nigeria put only two shots on target over the final 45 minutes.

For all their renewed vigor, however, Iran couldn’t do better. Though Carlos Queiroz’s team ended the match with nearly as many shots (10-9, Nigeria), their second half ambition failed to produce breakthrough. Enyeama was not called on again after Ghoochanneijad’s corner.

As a result, both teams were left with a draw from a match they should have approached as a must-win. With Group F’s favorites coming up for each, neither Iran nor Nigeria are going to have a better chance at points than they had in Curitiba. Yet come full-time, both teams lacked the ingenuity to prevent the tournament’s first scoreless draw.

LINEUPS:

Iran: Haghighi, Heydari (Shojaei 89′), Haji Safi, Hosseini, Sadeghi, Nekounam, Timotian, Montazeri, Ghoochannejad, Dejagah (Jahanbakhsh 78′), Pooladi

Nigeria: Enyeama; Ambrose, Omeruo, Oboabona (Yobo 29′), Oshaniwa; Onazi, Mikel; Musa, Azeez (Odemwingie (69′), Moses (Ameobi 52′); Emenike

 

Klopp hopes for speedy solution in club, fans’ ticket-price dispute

Liverpool's fans wave flags during the English League Cup semifinal second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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From his time at Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp is used to a much more positive, family-like, everyone-pulling-in-the-same-direction atmosphere at his club of employment, so the present goings-on at Liverpool understandably have the Reds’ first-year manager feeling more than a little uneasy.

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Saturday’s late 2-2 draw with Sunderland wasn’t the first time Liverpool fans have headed for the exit before the final whistle, leaving Klopp feeling all alone, but it was the first time the fans have departed from Anfield early in a pre-planned, organized manner (Klopp missed the game himself with appendicitis). The Anfield faithful didn’t walk out on 77 minutes due to their team’s poor performance — Liverpool were 2-0 ahead at the time — but in protest of steadily rising ticket prices, which were unveiled at $111 per game to sit in the 132-year-old stadium’s new main stand next season.

Klopp, coming from the Bundesliga, where a season ticket at clubs the size of Bayern Munich and Dortmund doesn’t cost much more than a single-game ticket at many Premier League grounds, understands the fans’ frustration. At the end of the day, though, he works for the club, which is why he just wants the whole thing settled quickly, for the sake of his squad — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s not what we want. What I know is everyone in the club has a big interest in finding a solution for this. We don’t want people to leave the stadium before the game is finished.”

An LFC TV appearance by Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre, in which he was expected to answer fan-submitted questions, was consequently canceled on Monday due to the ongoing dispute.

West Ham want Payet to sign new contract for fear of losing him this summer

Dimitri Payet, West Ham United FC (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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Dimitri Payet is going to be a red-hot commodity during this summer’s transfer window, there’s no doubt about it.

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Given he’s currently contracted to one of the Premier League’s “smaller” clubs — in comparison to some of the giants which are bound to be interested — West Ham United, there’s a decent-to-good chance he could be wearing a different club’s shirt come August. Especially if the 28-year-old attacker shows up and shows out at this summer’s European Championship in his native France.

If I can foresee the interest in Payet, then so too can the executives at West Ham, which is why manager Slaven Bilic took to the press on Monday to convey his desire for Payet to consider signing a new, increased contract at his earliest convenience — quotes from the Guardian:

“We are moving, the club is moving, with the new stadium, with the revenue and everything. We have to move and the most important move is to keep your best players and to add some new players who are needed and Dimitri Payet is our best player — I have no problem whatsoever to say that. Of course, I would love to have him happy, long term, at the club.”

Of course West Ham want Payet to sign a new deal immediately — doing so would accomplish two things in the club’s eyes: 1) increase the likelihood he remains at the club next season, or 2) insure the club receives a higher transfer fee for the player if he leaves in the summer anyway. The more total money remaining on his West Ham contract, the more they can demand of a prospective buyer.

[ MORE: Ronaldo commits himself to Real Madrid through 2018 ]

From Payet’s side — unless he has absolutely zero desire to move to a club like Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester United, where he’d likely be paid close to $200,000 per week — he’d be crazy to sign a new contract at this point. Not only would it make a move this summer more difficult, but a strong showing at EURO 2016 could be worth another $15,000 or $20,000 per week on a new contract with West Ham (his current contract is rumored to be close to $100,000 per week).

With as many as five seasons still remaining on his current contract (a one-year club option can be exercised at any point), and his stock perhaps at an all-time high, the next six months could hold Payet’s last chance to get really, really paid before he hits the downside of his career.

USWNT players’ union responds in USSF lawsuit

FILE - In this Sunday, July 5, 2015 file photo, the United States Women's National Team celebrates with the trophy after they beat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The U.S. Soccer Federation’s original lawsuit against the union for its champion women’s national team has been sealed after the governing body realized it had disclosed the home addresses and email accounts of many players, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016.(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
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(AP) — The union that represents the Women’s World Cup-winning American national team opposed an expedited schedule in the lawsuit filed against it by the U.S. Soccer Federation last week, insisting no collective bargaining agreement exists.

The federation sued in an attempt to establish it has a contract with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association that runs through this year’s Olympics until Dec. 31. The union maintains the memorandum of understanding agreed to in March 2013 can be terminated at any time.

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The USSF filed a motion Friday in U.S. District Court in Chicago asking for an expedited schedule, and the submitted opposition papers Monday that claim “facts asserted in the motion are nowhere near accurate and are hotly disputed.”

The union also maintains the USSF knew about the disagreement since July but did nothing about it.

An initial status conference is set for April 4.

Lionel Messi to undergo tests for lingering kidney problems

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi holds the ball during a quarterfinal, second leg, Copa del Rey soccer match against Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi is to undergo medical tests to assess a recurrence of kidney problems.

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup | Barca win on Sunday

Messi missed the Club World Cup semifinal in December due to a renal colic, an abdominal ailment often related to the presence of kidney stones within renal ducts.

Barcelona says in a statement Monday that the tests to be conducted by Tuesday at the latest, are “to assess the evolution of the kidney problem he suffered last December.”

[ MORE: Champions League returns next week — KO round matchups ]

The statement says Messi will resume training with the squad on Wednesday, when Barcelona travels to Valencia for the return leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals in which it carries a 7-0 lead.