Colombia defender Carlos Valdes, battles Japan forward Shinji Okazaki for the ball during the first half of a group C World Cup soccer match at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba, Brazil, Tuesday, June 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

At halftime: Colombia even with Japan, Ivory Coast falls behind Greece — FOLLOW LIVE

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Colombia is one step closer to securing first place in Group C, while a goal just before halftime Fortaleza has Greece on the verge of its first World Cup knockout round. Thanks to substitute Andreas Samaris, the former European champions take a 1-0 lead into intermission against the Ivory Coast, while an early penalty conversion by the group leaders was pulled back by Japan, leaving it 1-1 in Cuiabá.

There’s your halftime update on Group C’s final matches:

[ MORE Soccerly: Follow Japan-Colombia | Greece-Ivory Coast ]

Japan 0-1 Colombia

Goals:

17′ – On a ball sent into Japan’s right channel, Yasuyuki Konno takes out Adrián Ramos just inside the penalty box. After the official points to the spot, Juan Cuadrado blasts the opener into the middle of goal, giving the group leaders a 1-0 lead.

45+1′ – After a half spent in control of the ball, Japan finally breaks through. Seconds before the whistle, Shinji Okazaki heads a cross inside David Opina’s left post, revitalizing his team’s chances of reaching the knockout round.

Other moments:

10′ – This is as lively as Japan’s been all tournament, with the running of Yoshita Okubo testing José Pekerman’s changed back line. Off a long ball played over the back line, that defense is left chasing as Okubo weaves around the penalty area. The striker’s shot is scuffed wide, but Japan’s direct play’s making early process after initial pressure from Colombia.

26′ – Japan’s continues to dominate the ball, but Ospina’s been relatively untested. In the middle of the half, that changes when a right-footed shot by Shinji Kagawa from just beyond the arc forces a dive to the lower-left corner. Pushing the try out for a corner, Ospina responds to the Samurai Blue’s second shot on target, but Japan are out-shooting the favorites 8-1.

42′ – Colombia’s best open play chance sees Ramos break into the right of the area alone, though his pass back to the middle of the box is shanked wide by Jason Martínez.

Question for the second half:

  • Will Pekerman rue his changes? – Probably not, given first place is likely theirs, but a Colombia team that made eight changes to its starting XI is leaving its defense to do all the work. Will the Cafeteros take more control in the second half, or will Pekerman’s bench given Japan a path to the second round?

Greece 1-0 Ivory Coast

Goals: 

42′ – Greece’s second chance brings the upset into view. Off an errant pass from Chieck Tioté, Greece creates a turnover in the Ivorian half, one that eventually sends Samaris in on Barry. Coming out to close down the angles, the Ivorian keeper goes to ground too soon, allowing the Greek substitute to chip into the empty net for the opening goal.

Other moments:

12′ – Panagiotis Kone’s day is done. Aftergoing to down in the 10th minute, the Greece midfielder gingerly walks to the sidelines, where Andreas Samaris is ready to come on. Fernando Santos’s first substitution is an unexpected one.

20′ – Could another Greek player go down? Limping around the penalty area, goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis gets all the time he needs to shake off his knock. Four minutes later, Panagiotis Glykos is on. As the Ivory Coast slowly start to figure out the Greek defense, Santos is forced to use his second sub.

33′ – Off an Ivorian corner, Greece breaks on the counter, eventually generating a chance for José Holebas at the edge of the area. His blast goes off Barry’s crossbar, denying the game’s first good chance. Just past the half-hour mark, the teams have combined for three goals, only one of which has gone on target.

 

Question(s) for the second half:

  • Can the Ivorians break them down? – Moments before Greece’s goal, Salomon Kalou was able to get some space to create in the left of the penalty area. It was one of the few times in the half the Ivorians actually threatened. Though they controlled play, les Elephants weren’t able to threaten either of Greece’s keepers. Does 45 minutes give them enough time to restore their second round hopes?

Watch: Scott Sinclair nets stunning curler in Celtic victory

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Celtic is enjoying another fine campaign in Scotland, and much of the team’s success can be attributed to the play of Scott Sinclair.

[ MORE: Burkina Faso, Cameroon progress at AFCON 2017 ]

The Englishman was at it again on Sunday during Celtic’s 3-0 Scottish Cup win over Albion Rovers when the 27-year-old curled an absolutely sublime effort into the top corner for the game’s opening goal.

The finish, Sinclair’s 13th of the season in all competitions, came after the winger picked up the ball on the left side of the Albion penalty area. Sinclair then proceeded to slot his dipping shot just under the bar and into the far post.

Celtic now moves on to the fifth round of this season’s tournament, joining the likes of Rangers and Aberdeen. In addition to the team’s success in the competition, the Bhoys have yet to lose a match in the Scottish Premier League this campaign (19 W, 1 D).

La Liga & Serie A: Sevilla avoids Osasuna upset, Barcelona cruises

EIBAR, SPAIN - JANUARY 22:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona competes for the ball with Ander Capa (L) and Dani Garcia of SD Eibar during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and FC Barcelona at Ipurua stadium on January 22, 2017 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Eibar 0-4 Barcelona 

Four different goalscorers and three points has put Barcelona inches closer to Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, and it certainly was a complete effort for the Blaugrana. Denis Suarez gave Barca the lead ahead of halftime before Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar each netted in the second stanza to give Luis Enrique’s side a strangle hold on the match. Barca now sits just two points behind Real as the season nears its halfway point.

Meanwhile, Barca suffered a major loss during the match when Sergio Busquets was carted off the pitch after sustaining an ankle injury. Busquets left the game after receiving the brunt of a Gonzalo Escalante tackle in the eighth minute.

Osasuna 3-4 Sevilla

There were goals galore at the Estadio El Sadar, however, Osasuna remains at the bottom of La Liga despite their best efforts. The last place side led on two occasions against Sevilla, but a strong second half from the visitors allowed Los Rojiblancos to remain within a point of league leaders Real Madrid. Vicente Iborra recorded a brace for Sevilla, with goals on both sides of halftime, while Franco Vázquez and Pablo Sarabia also inked their names on the score sheet.

Athletic Bilbao 2-2 Atletico Madrid

Atleti went ahead early on against Bilbao, but Diego Simeone’s men needed a late Antoine Griezmann finish to earn a point on Sunday. Koke struck inside of three minutes to give Madrid the early advantage before goals from Íñigo Lekue and Oscar de Marcos gave Bilbao the lead. Atletico has now fallen eight points behind Real Madrid, while Bilbao sits seventh on 29 points.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Betis 0-0 Sporting Gijon
Real Sociedad 1-0 Celta Vigo


Juventus 2-0 Lazio

Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain each found the back of the net early on for Juventus and Massimiliano Allegri’s side never looked back from there. After scoring in the fifth and 16th minutes, respectively, the Bianconeri remain atop of Serie A after picking up the team’s 16th win on the season. Lazio remains fourth following the defeat, now sitting eight points behind the league leaders.

Roma 1-0 Cagliari

Edin Dzeko netted his 14th league goal of season for Roma on Sunday en route to the team’s fifth consecutive victory in all competitions. The win sees Roma move to within a point of Juventus at the top of Italy’s top flight, however, the Bianconeri currently hold a game in hand. Meanwhile, Cagliari sits 11th in Serie A on 26 points.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Bologna 2-0 Torino
Empoli 1-0 Udinese
Genoa 2-2 Crotone
Palermo 0-1 Inter Milan
Pescara 1-3 Sassuolo
Atalanta 1-0 Sampdoria

AFCON wrap: Burkina Faso tops Group A, Cameroon also through

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - SEPTEMBER 29:  Bertrand Traore of Ajax is chalenged by Darwin Andrade of Standard Liege during the UEFA Europa League group G match between AFC Ajax and  R. Standard de Liege at the Amsterdam Arena on September 29, 2016 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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One down, three to go.

Two nations advanced out of Group A on Sunday, and neither of the spots were held by the tournament’s hosts.

[ MORE: All AFCON 2017 coverage ]

Cameroon 0-0 Gabon

Hosts Gabon needed a victory to reach the final eight, however, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and co. struggled mightily to break down the Cameroonian backline.

The Panthers failed to manage a shot on target on Sunday, while Cameroon — who finishes second in Group A — recorded a shot goalward just once.

Cameroon will likely face Senegal in the knockout phase after the Lions of Teranga locked up a spot in the next round.

Guinea-Bissau 0-2 Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso topped the group based on goal differential after an early own goal and Bertrand Traore added a second after halftime.

Rudinilson Silva was caught in an uncomfortable position after 11 minutes when the Guinea-Bissau defender put the ball into his own net. From there, Traore doubled the advantage for Burkina Faso after finishing off a Prejuce Nakoulma pass.

The Stallions will face the runner up of Group B, currently Tunisia, in the quarterfinals.

Group A table (* indicates teams that advanced)

*Burkina Faso (5 points, +2 GD)
*Cameroon (5 pts., +1 GD)
Gabon (3 pts., 0 GD)
Guinea-Bissau (1 pt., -3 GD)

Monday’s AFCON schedule

Senegal vs. Algeria — 11 a.m. ET
Zimbabwe vs. Tunisia — 2 p.m. ET

Henry bashes Arsenal’s Xhaka after second red card of season

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Granit Xhaka (2nd R) of Arsenal talks to Steven Defour (1st R) of Burnley before shown a red card during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Burnley at the Emirates Stadium on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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It’s become a trend, albeit one that the Gunners certainly aren’t too fond of. Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka was sent off for the second time this season and while his side did manage to hold on to three points, the Swiss international has quickly made a name for himself in England for all the wrong reasons.

[ MORE: Arsene Wenger apologizes for sending off ]

Xhaka, 24, was dismissed in the second half of Sunday’s 2-1 win over Burnley after making a rash challenge on Clarets midfielder Steven Defour in the 65th minute.

[ MORE: Gunners up to second place after handling Burnley ]

Former Arsenal legend Thierry Henry sounded off on Xhaka’s latest dismissal following the match, calling out the midfielder for his lack of discipline.

“It’s not the first time. He did the same thing against Swansea,” Henry told Sky Sports. “This one I just don’t get it. Against Swansea it was a counter. Here, he gives the ball cheaply away.

“Why are you doing that 60 yards away from your goal, 25 minutes to go, you’re in control of the game? You misplace a pass. So what? Stay on your feet.

“As soon as you do that, the rules say it’s a red. Is it worse than [Marcos] Rojo who didn’t get a red? No. But the rule says both feet off the ground, it’s a red.”

Since the beginning of 2015, Xhaka has been shown red cards on six occasions dating back to the midfielder’s time with German club Borussia Monchengladbach, and including appearances for both club and country.

Xhaka’s suspension will keep him out of Arsenal’s next three matches, including home fixtures with Watford and Hull and a difficult road visit to Chelsea.