Mexico hands Brazil its first 2014 World Cup blemish, draws host nation, 0-0

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The favorites have been handed their first blemish, and in the process, a Mexico side that barely made Brazil 2014 assuaged doubts that their qualifying form were persist at the 2014 World Cup. After 90 minutes in Fortaleza, El Tri had earned a 0-0 draw against Brazil, leaving the North American powers even with the tournament hosts at the top of Group A.

Controlling the first half, Brazil nearly took the lead three times, though Fred, Neymar, and David Luiz each missed opportunities to open the scoring before intermission. After the break, a revitalized Mexico took more control, though the half’s best chance saw Thiago Silva nearly claim full points from Brazil in the 86th minute. A late chance for Raul Jimenez forced a diving punch by Júlio César, but come full-time, a game of two markedly different halves ended as it started. Brazil had dropped its first points of the tournament.

The teams will finish play in Group A on Monday when the hosts face Cameroon in Brasília while Mexico takes on Croatia in Recife. Both teams, sitting on four points after two games, can advance to the final 16 with victories in their final matches.

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Any expectations Mexico would settle into its underdog role were dispelled at the opening whistle, with a contentious Tricolor proving more energetic over the opening minutes. Once Brazil settled in, the match swung the way of the favorites, with the middle of the period defined by occasional Mexico possession breaking up Brazilian control.

That control produced the favorites’ first big chance in the 11th minute when a ball played from Oscar saw Fred shoot wide from close range. Two minutes later, a giveaway at the edge of Mexico’s defensive third led to a near-chance in transition, while a header from Neymar in the 26th minute forced a diving stop from Guillermo Ochoa. Come halftime, Brazil had registered four shots on target, with a late chance for David Luiz nearly giving the hosts a lead minutes before intermission.

Despite that advantage, Brazil changed at halftime, introducing Bernard at the expense of Ramires. The Chelsea midfielder had started in place of Hulk but to little effect, with Bernard eclipsing his contributions when a 48th minute cross nearly found Neymar at Ochoa’s right post. Francisco Rodriguez tracked the run and headed the ball out of play, thwarting the home side’s first chance of the half.

source: AP
Brazil’s Thiago Silva prevents Mexico’s Oribe Peralta from getting to the ball during the match between Brazil and Mexico. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Ten minutes into the half, however, the quality Mexico’s midfield lacked over the first half had begun to emerge, with Hector Herrera and the rest of El Tri’s three-man middle winning more 50-50 balls in the center of the park. As a result, José Juan Vazquez was able to tee-off from distance in the 55th minute, while a deflected shot from Giovani Dos Santos moments later represented Mexico’s second try in minutes. When, in the 57th minute, Herrera put a left-footed blast from 19 yards into the crowd, Mexico’s strong start to the second half had been confirmed.

Through the 69th minute, Mexico’s control continued, but when the Selecao was able to find Dani Alves at Ochoa’s left post, their progress was nearly rendered moot. Bringing a ball from wide down onto his left foot, Alves hit a hard half-volley just inside the upright. Ochoa, however, was there to make one of his six stops. When he claimed an ensuing cross, the out-of-contract keeper had defused another Brazil opportunity.

The chance signaled a turn in the game. Whereas Mexico had asserted itself over the half’s first 20 minutes, Brazil started to find opportunities as the game reached its final chapter. Suddenly an underdog that had opened up to chase an upset was forced to reassess. Forcing Mexico to make  a number of vital stops just outside its penalty area, Brazil was again dictating play.

In the 86th minute, the favorites had their last chance. After Luiz Gustavo drew a foul deep down Mexico’s right, a restart played to the edge of the six-yard box connected with an unmarked Thiago Silva, but the Brazilian captain’s header found Ochoa, who pushed the game’s chance out of goal.

The save not only kept Ochoa’s clean sheet but kept Mexico tied on top of Group A, with the team’s unlikely point from the tournament hosts meaning only goal difference separates two teams that have collected four points. Though one will celebrate while the other laments the result in Fortaleza, both teams will enter Monday’s final group games knowing a win books them a place in the second round.

Lineups

Brazil: Julio Cesar, Dani Alves, Thiago Silva (c), David Luiz, Marcelo, Paulinho, Fred (Jô 68′), Neymar, Oscar (William 84′), Ramires (Bernard 46′), Luiz Gustavo

Goals: None.

Mexico: Ochoa, Rodriguez, Marquez (c), Herrera (Fabian 76′), Layun, Dos Santos (Jimenez 84′), Moreno, Guardado, Peralta (Hernández 74′), Aguilar, Vazquez

Goals: None.

Day Four: All the action from the U20 World Cup

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South Korea and Venezuela clinched berths in the knockout rounds of the U-20 World Cup on Tuesday, while Germany and Argentina have surprising work to do after two matches in South Korea.

[ MORE: Allardyce steps down at Palace ]

South Korea 2-1 Argentina

Barcelona B man Lee Seung-woo helped South Korea take a 2-0 lead, then hold on for the win and group lead over England.

England 1-1 Guinea

Chelsea youngster Fikayo Tomori scored a wild long range own goal to cost England the three points, but the Blues are still well-positioned to advance out of the group stage. Bournemouth midfielder Lewis Cook scored for England, and it was a beaut.

Venezuela 7-0 Vanuatu

Seven different Venezuelans have scored through a pair of shutout wins, with Caracas’ Sergio Cordova the only one to bag a pair.

Mexico 0-0 Germany

Germany has just one point through two matches, thanks largely to Pachuca’s Abraham Romero’s seven saves. Mexico was outshot 12-6.

Porto, Watford, Hull? Marco Silva in demand

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Marco Silva is one of the hottest properties in management, months after eliciting cries of “Who?” following his appointment at Hull City.

While those cries may have been a tiny bit myopic given his time at Sporting CP and Olympiacos, the 39-year-old is now visible to the world despite Hull’s relegation.

[ MORE: Real Madrid nabs $50m teen ]

Silva will be back in England to meet with Hull on Wednesday, but a clause in his contract that said he could leave if the club was relegated gives the Tigers very little hope.

Rumors have him wanted at Watford, and he’s also been linked with a number of other jobs including Southampton (should the club part ways with Claude Puel).

However, the former right back is also reportedly a target of one of the biggest clubs in his home country: Champions League side Porto.

UEFA Europa League Final preview: Manchester United vs. Ajax

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Jose Mourinho’s big European gamble takes center stage on Wednesday in Sweden, when Manchester United attempts to topple young Ajax in the UEFA Europa League Final.

United’s chances for UEFA Champions League qualification, a magnificent opportunity, are overshadowed by the pall cast over Manchester by sinister terrorist attacks at a pop concert that killed and injured many on Monday night.

Alas, there’s soccer to be played, and Mourinho is looking to make it a trio of shiny items in his first year on the job. United beat Leicester City for the Community Shield, then topped Southampton in the EFL Cup Final en route to Sweden.

United’s well-documented dearth of healthy defenders will march out one more time on Wednesday, with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones tasked with manning the center of the back line. Expect Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian out wide.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

Despite the injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mourinho’s attack is going to give Ajax fits. Marcus Rashford has been next level for most of the second half of the season, and United will also likely feature Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba atop Ander Herrera.

If someone is going to break United down, it could be midfield wizards Davy Klaassen and Lasse Schone. The creative middle men have a variety of options to find with the ball, including on-loan Chelsea man Bertrand Traore and Danish teenager Kasper Dolberg.

But how will they deal with United’s attack? Sure Ajax has stopped Lyon, Schalke, Copenhagen, and Legia Warsaw, but United and Mourinho? That’s another challenge for Peter Bosz and his men.

Ajax won the 1992 UEFA Cup, and this is United’s first ever trip to this particular final. The Red Devils are heavy favorites, and we expect United to prevail. Don’t sleep on Juan Mata heroics. Call it 3-1.

Allardyce resigns, opening up intriguing vacancy at Palace

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Sam Allardyce is walking away on top outside the relegation zone.

The veteran Premier League manager, 62, resigned his post as Crystal Palace on Tuesday, weeks after leading another team to safety.

The move ends a tumultuous eight months for Allardyce, who was fired as England manager after an undercover sting exposed unethical dealings with agents.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

It also comes about an hour after somebody wrote that Crystal Palace should move on from Allardyce. What a jerk, that somebody.

Rarely at a loss for words, here’s Big Sam from cpfc.co.uk:

I want to be able to savour life while I’m still relatively young and when I’m still relatively healthy enough to do all the things I want to do, like travel, spend more time with my family and grandchildren without the huge pressure that comes with being a football manager.

This is the right time for me. I have no ambitions to take another job, I simply want to be able to enjoy all the things you cannot really enjoy with the 24/7 demands of managing any football club, let alone one in the Premier League.”

All kidding aside — and I’m far from a Big Sam fan — congrats to the man on walking away to enjoy the finer things in life. He had a heck of a run, and we’ll see how long he can resist being away from the fray. Cheers, Sam.