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?

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

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MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

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Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly until recently, saying

“Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?” Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United.

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

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  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.

Heynckes squashes Lewandowski rumors after Premier League rumors

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The English media – mainly the tabloids – has had a field day over the last 24 hours with rumors of a Robert Lewandowski move to the Premier League claiming, but the Bayern Munich manager is having none of it.

Jupp Heynckes told the German press during his pre-match press conference on Friday ahead of the club’s Saturday match against Hertha Berlin, “I can’t imagine there is a chance [the club executives] will sell Lewandowski.”

“Bayern is not a selling club,” Heynckes went on to proclaim. “They want to, and always will want to, keep their top players.”

The reports stated that Lewandowski was “flirting” with a move to the Premier League, and that while Manchester City and Chelsea were the more logical destination, Liverpool was actually the preferred landing spot as the Polish international was open to a reunification with former boss Jurgen Klopp, whom he worked with at Borussia Dortmund before his switch to Allianz Arena. Lewandowski’s contract at Bayern Munich currently runs through 2021, leaving the player with little say over his future.

While the rumors seem like a long shot, what does make sense is that, at 29 years old, Lewandowski doesn’t a ton of time left to convince a Premier League club he’s worth a heavy investment for the next couple of years. Many top teams – most notably Arsenal – are hesitant to sign players over 30 years old, and would be even less inclined to pay a hefty transfer fee for a player without a long future ahead of them. Manchester United just paid a cut-rate price for Alexis Sanchez, and while that was largely due to Arsenal’s position of weakness regarding the expiry of Sanchez’s contract, Sanchez’s age also partially contributed to that knocked down transfer rate.

Nonetheless, Bayern’s sale history is minimal, having only offloaded surplus players, such as defender Medhi Benatia this past summer, Mario Gotze back to Borussia Dortmund the summer before, and Xherdan Shaqiri to Stoke City in 2015.