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?

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.