CUIABA, BRAZIL - JUNE 17: Igor Akinfeev of Russia lies in the net after failing to save a shot by Lee Keun-Ho of South Korea (not pictured) for South Korea's first goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group H match between Russia and South Korea at Arena Pantanal on June 17, 2014 in Cuiaba, Brazil.

Russia overcomes Akinfeev howler to earn 1-1 draw with South Korea

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A nightmarish error from goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev nearly sent his team to defeat in the opening match of Russia’s World Cup, but thanks to a quick response from substitute striker Aleksandr Kerzakhov, a team widely expected to advance out of Group G was able to salvage a result in Cuiabá, Brazil. Overcoming Lee Keun-Ho’s opening goal, Russia came back to draw with South Korea, the 1-1 result leaving both sides second in their World Cup group.

After a scoreless first half, Lee got his side on the board with a long-range shot that went through Akinfeev’s hands before inching over the goal line, giving the Koreans a 1-0 lead. Six minutes later, Kerzhakov capitalized when the Koreans were unable to clear a rebound after an Alan Dazgoev shot. The veteran striker’s close-range finish left each side with one point after their first match at Brazil 2014.

Belgium’s 2-1 victory over Algeria earlier on Tuesday leaves the Red Devils at the top of Group G, with the packet’s second matches set to take place on Sunday.  In Rio de Janeiro, Russia will try to ruin the Belgians’ perfect start, while South Korea heads south to face the Desert Foxes.

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The threat of the South Koreans’ speed and ball movement was evident early on, with the team’s occasional control in Russia’s defensive end giving Hong Myung-bo’s side chances to beat a stoic Russian defense. Unable to connect, Korea soon lost control of the game, with Russia’s response seeing Fabio Capello’s team control the middle part of the period. Though Korea reestablished itself by the end of the half, an initial 45 minutes that saw only one shot on target (a long range try from Sergei Ignashevich) ended as it started.

The momentum Korea regained at the end of the period resurfaced at the second half’s kickoff, with an early surge culminating when a hard Ki Sung-Yeung shot forced Afinkeev to spill his save in front of goal. Park Chu-Young was unable to get to the ball in time, but building on another try moments earlier, Korea had its first shots on target. Just as in the first half, Hong’s team had started strong.

In the 57th minute, Akinfeev had troubling handling another shot, but it wasn’t until the middle of the half that the keeper’s woes translated onto the scoresheet. On a speculative try from 20 yards out by Lee Keun-Ho went through the Russian’s gloves, crossing the goal line just inside the left post. In the 68th minute, Akinfeev’s nightmare was complete, allowing South Korea to go up, 1-0.

Six minutes later, his teammates responded. After breaking through the left side of the Korean defense, a shot on Jung Sung-Ryong led to a moment of chaos, with a failed clearance keeping play alive at the edge of the six-yard box. That’s where Kerzhakov, a surprise omission from the starting lineup, pulled Russia even. Turning on a ball near the right post, the veteran striker blasted home his team’s equalizer, leaving it 1-1 with 16 minutes left.

The time passed with a air of resignation, though a 94th minute chance for the Russians nearly saw the favorites steal full points. At full-time, however, both teams were left relieved. South Korea had taken a point from one of its main competitors for a second round spot, while Russia recovered from its goalkeeper’s howler.

Lineups

Russia: Akinfeev, Ignashevich, Glushakov (Denisov 72′), Kokorin, Berezutskiy, Shatov (Dzagoev 59′), Zhirkov (Kerzhakov 71′), Samedov, Fayzulin, Eshchenko, Kombarov

Goals: Kerzhakov 72′.

South Korea: Jung, Yun, Y. Kim, Son (B. Kim 84′), Park (K. Lee 56′), Y. Lee, Koo, Han, Ki, C. Lee, Hong (Hwang 72′)

Goals: K. Lee 68′

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.