Belgium finds form late to avoid upset bid of stingy Algeria, wins 2-1

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Try as they might, the tournament’s dark horses couldn’t find the light of day against a stingy Algerian defense until Kevin De Bruyne and Marouane Fellaini came together.

Fellaini’s header of a beautiful De Bruyne cross restored a bit of order to Belgium’s match with Algeria, and Dries Mertens made it official with an 80th minute winner the game finished 2-1 to the Group H favorites in both teams’ opener of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Sofiane Feghouli drew and converted a penalty as the Desert Foxes took the lead on a 23rd minute penalty. Here’s how we were seeing it at the half.

But Belgium kept knocking, trying different keys and flat-out charging the door. De Bruyne was fantastic, and deserved to be rewarded by the time Fellaini gave the Red Devils their equalizer.

It’s also fitting that Belgium didn’t equalize until the departure of a disappointing Romelu Lukaku. This was his game map moments before he came off for Divock Origi:

And then came Martins, another substitute providing the end of a brilliant combination play to put Belgium up 2-1 with a laser into the back of the net.

From that point on, it was all Belgium. The threats on goal didn’t stop, but Adi Mbolhi made some brilliant saves (as he did for much of the day).

The substitutions from Belgian coach Marc Wilmots were spot on, as taking off Tottenham players Nacer Chadli and Mousa Dembele led to goals from replacements Mertens and Fellaini.

Algeria will be crushed after scoring their first World Cup goal since 1986, and coming so close to pulling off another major upset.

Belgium moves to the top of Group H, while Algeria slips to the bottom. South Korea and Russia will finish off day one of the group at 6pm ET tonight.

LINEUPS

Belgium: Courtois, Alderweireld, Van Buyten, Kompany, Vertonghen, Witsel, Dembele (Fellaini, 64′), De Bruyne, Hazard, Chadli (Mertens, 46′), Lukaku (Origi, 57′)

Goals: Fellaini (69′), Mertens (79′)

Algeria: Mbolhi, Bougherra, Ghoulam, Halliche, Feghouli, Medjani (Ghilas, 85′), Bentaleb, Soudani (Slimani, 65′), Taider, Mahrez (Lacen, 71′), Mostefa

Goals: Feghouli (PK, 23′)

Transfer rumors: De Gea out, Oblak in; Van Dijk to Liverpool

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We are edging towards May and that means two things: the Premier League season is almost over and the transfer rumor mill is about to switch back into overdrive.

[ MORE: Manchester derby team news ]

The latest reports from Spain state that Manchester United are willing to let David De Gea leave this summer if the right deal can be reached with Real Madrid.

Spanish radio station Onda Cero state that Jose Mourinho is ready to listen to offers for De Gea and Real Madrid are in pole position to sign the goalkeeper they came so close to acquiring in the summer 2015. I wonder if that fax machine has been replaced…

Anyway, with DDG reportedly on the move, who would United bring in? The Manchester Evening News states that Jan Oblak’s agent has flown into Manchester for meetings and although the Slovenian stopper (La Liga’s goalkeeper of the season in 2015-16) has a release clause of $109 million, it is reported that a deal can be struck for the 24-year-old who is close friends with Atletico teammate, and another United target, Antoine Griezmann.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Elsewhere in England’s north west, the Liverpool Echo state that Liverpool are willing to pay a club record $64.1 million for Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk.

VVD, 25, is among the best center backs in the Premier League and has been named Southampton’s team captain in just his second season at St Mary’s following his $18 million move from Celtic in September 2015.

Per the report, and pretty much common knowledge, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal are all said to be interested in signing Van Dijk this summer.

Van Dijk has been out with a foot injury since January but his impressive displays over the past two seasons mean he is a prime target for several of the PL’s top teams. With Liverpool’s woes clear and Jurgen Klopp‘s men aiming to hang on for a top four finish in the PL this season, securing UEFA Champions League action will surely be crucial in landing Van Dijk.

Saints have stated many times that Van Dijk is not for sale but every player has his price. If Chelsea and other get involved, the bidding war for Van Dijk could get out of hand very, very quickly.

Manchester derby: Pogba out, Gabriel ready, Zlatan update

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Ahead of the massive Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday between Manchester City and Manchester United (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) there has been some significant team news.

[ MORE: PW’s PL picks

Jose Mourinho has confirmed that midfielder Paul Pogba will not play for United after hobbling off late on against Burnley on Sunday, while Pep Guardiola has confirmed that star midfield David Silva is a serious doubt.

Speaking in their respective press conferences ahead of the massive clash between the bitter rivals both managers played down the importance of the match despite their being just one point and one place between the teams with City sitting in fourth place, the final UEFA Champions League spot.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Mourinho simply confirmed that Pogba would not be fit but also stated that Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia would be available while Chris Smalling and Phil Jones remain out. Mourinho also gave an update on Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s future at Manchester United as the 35-year-old has flown to the USA to undergo knee surgery to try and salvage his career.

Zlatan only had a contract until this summer at United and has been linked with signing another deal, moving to China or heading to Major League Soccer. Mourinho said he wasn’t sure if Ibrahimovic would be at United next season and instead praised his fighting spirit.

“The future is big surgery and a long period of recovering,” Mourinho said. “But the future is also in the hands of a guy who is mentally very strong, who wrote immediately on social media that he will stop when he wants, not when people think. It looks for me that he is not going to give up and he is going to fight. I am really pleased with that because that is the Zlatan I know.”

Guardiola stated that Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus is ready to be in the matchday squad after recovering from a broken metatarsal but he said it would be tough for Silva to play but did confirm Sergio Aguero is fit.

“David Silva real, real doubt – I don’t know if he will be ready to play after what happened in the first minutes in the semi-final,” Guardiola said. “Gabriel has no pain at all so is ready but [after] three months out his physical condition is not optimal. Sergio is much better. Today he make a part of the training session. Tomorrow he will be ready.”

At this hectic time of the season both City and United have struggled with injuries to key players throughout the campaign and it is perhaps United who have dealt better with those absences. There’s no doubt that losing top scorer Ibrahimovic for the rest of the season was a huge blow but Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney and Marcus Rashford are ready to step up in his absence with Martial and Rooney scoring in the 2-0 victory at Burnley last time out.

Who will come in for Pogba? Expect Herrera and Michael Carrick to start in central midfield in perhaps a 4-2-3-1 formation with Lingard, Rooney and Mkhitaryan ahead of them and Rashford up top.

For City, they will likely start Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne and Fabian Delph in central midfield in Silva’s absence but Guardiola must be worried about losing Silva as the Spaniard has made City tick all season long. Coupled with the long-term absence of Ilkay Gundogan and Vincent Kompany (who returned to action recently) City’s midfield and defensive unit has struggled to cope with injuries all season long.

Expect this Manchester derby to be a slugfest between two ailing teams.

David Moyes charged by FA for “slap” comments

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Sunderland manager David Moyes has been charged by the English Football Association after he was filmed telling a female BBC reporter “you still might get a slap even though you’re a woman,” and warned her to “be careful” the next time she came to their Stadium of Light home.

[ MORE: Barton banned 18 months ]

Moyes, 53, has since apologized for the outburst which occurred after a post-match interview following Sunderland’s 0-0 draw with Burnley. He believed the cameras had stopped rolling but his comments were filmed on a cell phone.

The Sunderland manager has his team rooted to the foot of the Premier League table, 12 points off safety with six games remaining.

Below is the statement in full from The FA:

David Moyes has been charged in relation to comments made after the game against Burnley on 18 March 2017.

It is alleged the Sunderland manager’s remarks were improper and/or threatening and/or brought the game into disrepute, contrary to FA Rule E3(1).  He has until 6pm on 3 May 2017 to reply to the charge.

Joey Barton banned for 18 months amid betting scandal

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Burnley midfielder Joey Barton has been banned for 18 months from all soccer related activity with immediate effect.

The English Football Association have issued the ban after Barton, 34, accepted the charge but requested a personal hearing. Barton admitted to placing 1,260 bets on soccer games over a 10-year period.

Here is the statement in full from the FA about the charge.

Joey Barton has been suspended from football and all football activity for 18 months with immediate effect after he admitted an FA misconduct charge in relation to betting.

It was alleged that between 26 March 2006 and 13 May 2016, he placed 1,260 bets on the result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of, or occurrence in, football matches or competitions in breach of FA Rule E8.

Following the Independent Regulatory Commission hearing, the Burnley midfielder was also fined £30,000 and warned as to his future conduct. Written Reasons will follow in due course.

Burnley released a short statement saying that “Joey Barton plans to appeal the length of this suspension” and the former Manchester City, Newcastle and Rangers midfielder issued a lengthy statement stating just that.

He also offered plenty of context into his hearing as he believes he was treated harshly by the FA.

“I am very disappointed at the harshness of the sanction. The decision effectively forces me into an early retirement from playing football. To be clear from the outset here this is not match fixing and at no point in any of this is my integrity in question. I accept that I broke the rules governing professional footballers, but I do feel the penalty is heavier than it might be for other less controversial players. I have fought addiction to gambling and provided the FA with a medical report about my problem.

“I’m disappointed it wasn’t taken into proper consideration. I think if the FA is truly serious about tackling the culture of gambling in football, it needs to look at its own dependence on the gambling companies, their role in football and in sports broadcasting, rather than just blaming the players who place a bet.

“Having consulted with my friends and lawyers, I have decided I will be appealing against the length of the ban. I hope that I shall be afforded a fair hearing by an independent Appeal Panel. If I am, we are confident that the sanction will be reduced to a fair one that both reflects the offences as well as the mitigating factors and the fact that there was nothing untoward or suspicious about the bets I made.

Barton also admitted that between 2004 and 2011 he placed “a handful of bets on my own team to lose matches” and tried to defend his actions, saying he had no way of influencing the outcome of those matches. The Liverpudlian also stated that he grew up in a culture of gambling and wants the FA to do more to help players from similar backgrounds.

At the bottom of his statement he also listed 30 of the “most pertinent bets” for the FA as he tries to be as transparent as possible.

Barton last played in midfield for Burnley — he re-signed for the Clarets in January after leaving Glasgow Rangers following a disastrous six-month spell in Scotland — last Sunday against Manchester United and that could well have been his final game as a professional if he does not get the length of this ban cut down.

The controversial midfielder has previously been banned three times by the FA for violent conduct, while he also spent time in prison in 2008 for an assault on a night out in Liverpool and was also handed a four-month suspended sentence after assaulting Man City teammate Ousmane Dabo on the training ground.