France goes coast-to-coast, smothering Switzerland in 5-2 rout

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The French controlled Switzerland through and through, and from the very start it was clear not “if” but “by how much” would be the appropriate question.

Les Bleus hit twice in the first 20 minutes, as Olivier Giroud powered in a header and Blaise Matuidi took advantage of a Swiss mistake, and they never looked back, putting themselves on the brink of a place in the final 16.

From the very start of the game it was clear who would be the most dangerous, and Giroud put them up in the 17th minute.  Off a corner kick, he powered in a header from a good distance out, and it split the difference between Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio and the near-post defender Ricardo Rodriguez.

Just a minute later, the restart saw a back pass from Valon Behrami go horribly wrong, and it was intercepted by Karim Benzema. The striker found Blaise Matuidi coming down the left flank, and the PSG midfielder struck home between Benaglio and the near post for a second goal just 67 seconds after the first.

From there the French never looked back, and Switzerland looked shell-shocked for the rest of the match.

Granit Xhaka thought he’d pulled one back after the initial shock, but his header off a 27th minute free kick was ruled out for offsides.

La Nati did have a few chances, but nothing came of them. Their best came in the 30th minute, when a straight-on Admir Mehmedi shot was kept out by Hugo Lloris.  The rebound fell to Xherdan Shaqiri who ripped a bouncer across the face of goal, but Lloris dove expertly and got a fingertip to the shot, which trickled just wide and out of the reach of Haris Seferovic streaking to the far post.

Despite the few moments of brightness, the Swiss didn’t look like they were going to make anything of the first half, and the French put them away with a third before the break.

source: AP
There was plenty of celebrating for the French after annihilating their second World Cup opponent.

They had one chance to do so which wasn’t taken, when Johan Djourou played a mind-boggling tackle on Benzema was the ball was trickling out of play, a clear penalty which the referee gave. Benzema’s spot-kick was saved, however, and Yohan Cabaye blasted the rebound off the crossbar.

Les Blues would find their triple, however, on a corner-kick counter. Switzerland’s try from the flag found only French feet, and Raphael Varane played Giroud in down the left touchline. Giroud, already with a goal to his name, shared the wealth to Mathieu Valbuena in the box, and he struck home the chance with ease.

The second half was just a formality at this point, and the French were happy to sit back and deny the Swiss any serious chances.  They shut up shop for good with a half-hour left as manager Didier Deschamps removed Giroud in favor of midfielder Paul Pogba.

Well…we thought they shut up shop. They added a fourth just for fun when Matuidi delivered a perfect ball into the box, and Benzema beat Philippe Senderos with a scissor kick through Benaglio’s legs.

And another, for Moussa Sissoko after Benzema found him in space on the right edge of the box and the Newcastle midfielder picked up his first international goal with a shot across the face inside the far post.

Switzerland got a pair of consolations to destroy France’s clean sheet, and they’ll feel a little better after taking advantage of France’s let off at the end. The first came on a free kick by substitute Blerim Dzemaili that trickled under the way and past a diving Lloris for a slow-rolling goal. With three minutes to go, Gokhan Inler poked a ball over the French defense for Granit Xhaka to finish with a quality volley.

France may have even had six, had the referee not blown

With a pair of dominating wins, the French look a lock to move into the knockout round, if not a mathematical guarantee.  They would go through with an Ecuador win or draw against Honduras this evening.

LINEUPS:

France – Lloris, Debuchy, Evra, Varane, Sakho (Koscielny 63′), Cabaye, Valbuena (Griezmann), Giroud (Pogba 63′), Benzema, Matuidi, Sissoko

Goals – Giroud 17′, Matuidi 18′, Valbuena 40′, Benzema 67′, Sissoko 73′

Switzerland – Benaglio, Lichtsteiner, Von Bergen (Senderos 9′), Inler, Seferovic (Drmic 69′), Xhaka, Behrami (Dzemaili 46′), Rodriguez, Mehmedi, Djourou, Shaqiri

Goals – Dzemaili 81′

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.