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At halftime: Dempsey’s early opener has U.S. in front of Ghana — FOLLOW LIVE

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Story of the half: The fifth-fastest goal in World Cup history puts the U.S. in front, allowing them to play the first 45 minutes on their terms. Ghana goes 24 minutes without a shot and reach intermission drawing only one save from Tim Howard, leaving head coach Kwesi Appiah in search of second half solutions. Performing exactly as they would have draw it up, the U.S. takes a 1-0 win into halftime in Natal, Brazil.

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Goals:

1′ – That Ghana defense that was supposed to be so mistake-prone? Twenty-nine seconds in, bingo. After a throw-in along the left, Clint Dempsey’s given a chance to go one-on-one against John Boye. After cutting inside of the Ghanaian central defender, Dempsey’s left-footed finish finds the lower right-hand corner, giving the U.S. its earliest goal in World Cup history.

Other key moments:

19′ – As Ghana gets too narrow, Fabian Johnson gets forward on the right, where he’s fed a ball just outside the Ghana penalty area. Hesitating so he can assess the play, the U.S. right back plays a ball behind the Ghana line, allowing Jozy Altidore to turn on a shot from nine yards out. Only a block in front of Adam Kwarasey keeps the U.S. from doubling its lead.

21′ – Altidore’s hamstring goes. Chasing a long ball down the left from Michael Bradley, the U.S. number nine pulls up, grabs his left hamstring, and falls to the ground. There’s no doubt about it – he’s done. Twenty-one minutes into the tournament, Altidore’s World Cup may be done.

30′ – Surging forward from his defensive midfield position, Mohammed Raibu gets his elbow high during an aerial challenge at the edge of the U.S. penalty area. As Kyle Beckerman recovers on the ground, Jonas Eriksson goes to his pocket. The yellow card means Ghana’s midfield stopper will have to be careful.

32′ – Ghana generates its first good chance. Cutting from left-to-right across the top of the penalty area, Asamoah Gyan gets around Bradley to nail a shot toward Tim Howard’s lower-left corner. A diving stop sees the U.S. number one steer the shot wide.

33′ – The last thing the U.S. needs after seeing Altidore go down? An injury to its other starting forward, but when Jonathan Mensah’s left leg gets high during an aerial challenge, Dempsey’s left with a bloodied nose. After two minutes on the ground, Dempsey leaves to get treatment on the sidelines, alleviating concerns the U.S. would have to burn another sub.

45+5′ – Ghana finally gets another chance, but a ball played in from the right by Christian Atsu sees André Ayew scuff a shot from 12 yards out. Geoff Cameron easily clears moments before the halftime whistle.

Also of note: Toward the end of the half, Matt Belser was shown periodically grabbing his right hamstring, leaving the U.S. with another major injury concern.

Lineups:

Ghana: Kwarasey; Opare, Mensah, Boye, Asamoah; Rabiu, Atsu, Muntari, J. Ayew; Gyan, A. Ayew

United States: Howard, Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Beasley, Beckerman, Jones, Bradley, Bedoya, Dempsey, Altidore (Johannsson 23′)

Key players:

  • Aron Johannsson, United States – Ghana’s going to keep controlling possession, meaning the U.S. needs somebody to run down those Bradley long balls. That wasn’t supposed to be the 23-year-old, but in place of Altidore, Johannsson will have to step up.
  • DaMarcus Beasley, United States – Leaning to the right when attacking, Ghana has been intent on testing Beasley’s flank. So far, so good, partially because Appiah has opted for speed (Christian Atsu) against the 32-year-old American. That’s a game Beasley can play. If Appiah moves Jordan Ayew to the right, Beasley may have a more difficult challenge.
  • Asamoah Gyan, Ghana – The U.S. has managed to stay very compact through the middle, with Geoff Cameron and Besler creating a consistent two-on-one for Gyan. With Jermaine Jones and Beckerman helping Beasley on the left, there isn’t much to be had if the Ghanaian captain goes wide. Whether he gets help (from André Ayew, perhaps) or not, Gyan may have to overcome the odds to pull his team even.
  • Mohammed Rabiu, Ghana – More and more, the United States is playing on the counter, something that’s likely to continue in the second half. As the first line of defense against the U.S.’s transition, can the yellow-carded anchor make it to 90 minutes without having to put his team down a man?

Questions for the second half:

  • Does Ghana have another idea? It’s not only that the Black Stars were second best in everything but ball retention. They were never dangerous. With the U.S. scoring early, the Americans were able to leverage their set up and force Ghana to do something special. With Tim Howard doing such a good job deciding when to bolt off his line, Kwesi Appiah needs to implement Plan B at halftime.
  • Will fitness matter? It’s not the temperature, which is only 79 degrees (Fahrenheit). It’s the humidity: 74 percent. Which team is in better shape? Which one expends less energy performing its regular tasks? Which one will adjust to a final 10, 15 minutes that will leave them empty at the final whistle?

Guradiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” as a club

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City reacts as Leonardo Jardim head coach of AS Monaco looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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In the past, when faced with adversity in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City could do little more than wilt and crumble as their European dreams when up in smoke year after year, typically in embarrassing and/or heartbreaking fashion.

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On Tuesday, when faced with 2-1 and 3-2 deficits late into the second half of their round-of-16 first leg against Monaco, deja vu was quickly setting in for anyone who’s followed Man City’s rise from middling afterthought to mega-rich conglomerate with aspirations of world domination. Then, something strange (based on years of recent history) happened: Sergio Aguero fired City back to level at 2-2 in the 58th minute. Sure, more shocking defending saw the deficit restored three minutes later, but again, Aguero dissented.

For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone considering the putrid defensively display over the course of 90 minutes, first-year City manager Pep Guardiola should be heartened by Tuesday’s events at the Etihad Stadium. In his mind, it was a massive step forward in the club’s psyche — quotes from the BBC:

“I am so happy for the result, we are still alive. These kind of things help this club to achieve another step. We attacked in small spaces. That’s why they wanted me to come here. Everybody has to be congratulated.

“We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. If we don’t score in Monaco we will be eliminated.”

UCL: Aguero, Falcao bag braces as Man City edge Monaco, 5-3

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City (C) celebrates with John Stones (L) and Leroy Sane of Manchester City (R) as he scores their third goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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  • Sterling gives Man City an early lead
  • Falcao hits back with a brace
  • Aguero’s brace breathes life back into City

Radamel Falcao and Sergio Aguero bagged dueling braces, while the defenders and/or goalkeepers from their respective sides engaged in dueling disasters, resulting in a bonkers UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg for the ages: Manchester City 5, Monaco 3.

Leroy Sane, David Silva and Raheem Sterling combined to put Man City in the lead after 28 minutes (WATCH HERE). Sane danced brilliantly and effortlessly past four defenders before playing Silva to the endline. The cross was simple for Silva, with Sterling arriving into acres of space in the goalmouth.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

That’s as good as the first half would get for City, though, as their annual Champions League meltdown commenced six short minutes thereafter (WATCH HERE). The Nicolas Otamendi-John Stones-Bacary Sanga triangle of deadly defending fell asleep in unison, which allowed Falcao all the time and space in the world to size up and head home his 23rd goal (in 29 games — all competitions) this season.

Eight minutes later, everyone else in sky blue joined the aforementioned trio for nap time. Fabinho, who also whipped in the cross for Falcao’s goal, dropped the most delicate of long balls onto the foot of Kylian Mbappe, and the 18-year-old fired his first-time shot past Willy Caballero without a single defender five yards from him in any direction.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

The second half began just as disastrously for City as the first ended. Otamendi tripped Falcao inside the penalty, and after discussing with his assistant on the endline, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz awarded Monaco a penalty kick — City felt hard done by after Aguero wasn’t awarded a clear-cut penalty in the first half — which Falcao then proceeded to hit weakly into the waiting arms of Caballero. The tide had turned back in City’s favor.

Ageuro fired City back onto level terms just short of the hour mark, with many thanks to the horrendous howler of Danijel Subasic. Aguero’s effort on goal was tame, and right at the Croatian international, but the ball went right through his hands and found the back of the net to make it 2-2, a scoreline which lasted all of three minutes.

Stones tried his very best Otamendi impression, which looked like halfhearted defending as Falcao left him for dead and chipped Caballero in the 61 minute. The renaissance of Falcao will almost certainly result in a summer full of transfer stories linking him with a move back to the Premier League.

Aguero brought City back to level terms again in the 71st minute, unleashing a stunning volley from David Silva’s corner kick. Stones tapped home at the back post six minutes later to put City 4-3 ahead, and Sane completed the epic comeback with an empty-net finish in the 82nd minute.

In the end, City still have plenty of work to do in the second leg, having conceded not one, not two, but three away goals. One thing is a near certainty: no extra time shall be needed.

UCL: Atletico Madrid blitz Bayer for 4 away goals, win 1st leg 4-2

Atletico's Antoine Griezmann, front, is congratulated by his teammate Saul Niguez after scoring their side's second goal during the Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid in Leverkusen, Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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  • Four away goals for Atleti
  • Niguez, Griezmann, Gamerio, Torres on the scoresheet
  • Bellarabi, Savic (OG) give Bayer a lifeline

If you spent your Tuesday glued to Manchester City’s thrilling 5-3 victory over Monaco in the UEFA Champions League, you may now direct your attention to the day’s other first-leg festival of goals: Bayer Leverkusen 2, Atletico Madrid 4.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Saul Niguez opened the scoring with a stunning curler after 17 minutes (WATCH HERE), and Antoine Griezmann doubled Los Rojiblancos‘ advantage eight minutes later to put Diego Simeone’s side in a commanding position with two early away goals.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

Karim Bellarabi pulled one back for Bayer just three minutes into the second half, but Kevin Gamerio converted from the penalty spot to restore Atleti’s two-goal lead just before the hour mark. Stefan Savic gave one back to Bayer in the form of an owl goal in the 68th minute, before Fernando Torres brought the visitors’ away-goals haul to four in the 86th minute.

AT THE HALF: Man City 1-2 Monaco; Atleti lead in UCL round of 16

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Radamel Falcao Garcia of AS Monaco celebrates as he scores their first and equalising goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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We’re only halfway through the first leg of Manchester City versus Monaco, and Bayer Leverkusen versus Atletico Madrid, in the UEFA Champions League round of 16, but the goals are coming fast and furious from England to Germany.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Man City found themselves 1-0 up at the Etihad Stadium, when Leroy Sane turned on video-game mode to set up Raheem Sterling for the opening goal in the 28th minute. But, as City have so typically done in the Champions League, they began self-destructing four minutes later. Radamel Falcao‘s diving header brought Monaco level in the 32nd minute, and Kylian Mbappe’s finish over the head of Willy Caballero put the visitors 2-1 up eight minutes later.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

As for Tuesday’s other round-of-16 tie, Saul Niguez simultaneously opened the scoring and snatched the soul of every Bayer defender who dared to contest him. Antoine Griezmann added a second for Atleti, who hold their 2-0 lead at halftime, seven minutes later.