Samaras’s stoppage time conversion sends Greece into nation’s first World Cup knockout round

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For Greece, it was history the hard way, but thanks to a stoppage time penalty converted by Georgios Samaras, the former European champions are into their first World Cup knockout round. Beating Boubacar Barry into the right of goal in the 93rd minute, the veteran attacker gave the Greeks a 2-1 win over the Ivory Coast, clinching second place in Group C and a spot in the 2014 World Cup’s second round.

Andreas Samaris’s 42nd minute goal allowed Greece to open the scoring after a turnover deep in the Ivorian half saw the Africans pay for a lackluster opening period. Though a more intense Ivory Coast side initially struggled in the second, Wilfried Bony’s 72nd minute equalizer appeared to put the Ivorians into the knockout round.

With a late penalty called on Giovanni Sio, however, Greece was given their chance to make history. With a confident strike past the diving Barry, Samaras booked the nation’s first spot in the final 16, securing the 2-1 win they needed to take second place.

The result sets up Greece for a Sunday meeting against Group D-winning Costa Rica. For the Ivory Coast, the 2014 World Cup ends with three points and a third place finish, marking the third time in as many finals the Western African nation leaves the World Cup after the opening round.

[ RESULTS: Rodriguez carries Colombia | Costa Rica clinches Group D | Uruguay eliminates Italy ]
[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

An initial 25 minutes with little action was defined my Greek misfortune, with injuries to midfielder Patagionis Kone and goalkeeper Orestis Karnezi forcing head coach Fernando Santos to use his first two substitutions. Despite those changes, the Ivorians were unable to make any progress breaking through the Greek defense, with the first chance of the match coming for José Holebas, who put a 19-yard shot off Barry’s crossbar.

Just before intermission, another transition opportunity allowed the underdogs to take a 1-0 lead. Fed into the right of the Ivory Coast’s penalty area, Samaris, who came on after Kone’s injury, allowed Barry to commit low before chipping the keeper from just inside the box. Taking advantage of a Chieck Tioté turnover, Greece quickly produced the game’s opening goal.

At halftime, the Ivorians found the intensity they lacked over the first 45 minutes, but by the hour mark, les Elephants had only generated one shot on target. Bringing Bony for Tioté just past the hour mark, the Ivorians stepped up their pursuit of an equalizer, but with Greece’s counter forcing desperation fouls from Salomon Kalou (62′) and Serey Die (69′), the favorites looked more likely to concede consolation.

In the 74th minute, the inclusion of Bony came good. After a ball played into the left of Greece’s area found Gervinho behind the defense, a pass cut back for the Swansea striker ended up in the back of Patagionis Glykos’s net, the one-timed shot beating the substitute keeper inside the left post to put the Ivornians back on track for the knockout round.

In the third minute of stoppage time, however, les Elephants were knocked off course. After Sio was whistled for taking down Samaras in the penalty area, the veteran forward converted from the spot, beating Barry to put Greece into its first knockout round.

With that one whistle, Ivorian dreams had turned to tragedy, denying the Africans their own piece of World Cup history. With only their second win at a World Cup, the former European Champions have added another big tournament disappointment to the nations’ soccer history.

In the process, Fernando Santos’s team claimed second in Group C, securing an unlikely spot in the tournament’s final 16.

Lineups

Greece: Karnezi (Glykos 24′); Torosidis, Manolas, Papastathopolous, Holebas; Maniatis, Christodoulopoulos, Karagounis (Gekas 78′), Kone (Samaris 12′), Salpingidis; Samaras

Goals: Samaris 42′, Samaras 93′

Ivory Coast: Barry; Aurier, K. Touré, Bamba, Boka; Tioté (Bony 61′), Die, Y. Touré; Kalou, Drogba (Diomande 78′), Gervinho (Sio 83′)

Goals: Bony 74′

Who are the favorites to take over at Arsenal?

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With Arsene Wenger announcing he will leave Arsenal at the end of the current season, the immediate focus switches to who will take charge of the Gunners beyond this season after almost 22 years of Wenger.

The bookmakers are having a field day slashing the odds of several managers previously linked with the job with nobody really knowing what direction Arsenal’s board will go with their next appointment.

Will they appoint an experienced manager? Or will it be a young coach with a fresh outlook a la Wenger back in 1996?

Here’s a look at the main contenders, according to Oddschecker.


Patrick Vieira (4/1) – Wenger spoke on Thursday about how Vieira has the potential to manage Arsenal but did mention now may be too early. The NYCFC manager has done a fine job in MLS but will Arsenal really hand the reins to their former captain and midfield general? Vieira’s appointment would be welcomed by fans who idolized him but maybe he is the man who should follow the man who replaces Wenger. That said, he is the early favorite to take charge of Arsenal.

Thomas Tuchel (5/1) – Out of work for 12 months, it was heavily reported that Tuchel had agreed to take charge of Arsenal a few months ago. The German coach did well at Borussia Dortmund as they won the German Cup and got the latter stages of the Champions League and he is known for giving youngsters a chance to shine. This would make a lot of sense given Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, his former players at Dortmund, arriving at Arsenal in January and the likes of Mesut Ozil around.

Joachim Loew (7/1) – Although the German national team manager has a contract through the 2020 European Championships, later this summer, after the 2018 World Cup, could be the time when Loew steps down from the German national team. He has built a World Cup-winning squad and may feel like he has done everything he can with Die Mannschaft. Loew hasn’t had experience of coaching a club on a day-to-day basis and that may be something which will concern Arsenal’s board.

Brendan Rodgers (7/1) – The odds have been slashed on Celtic’s manager taking charge of Arsenal. The former Liverpool manager (who came so close to winning the Premier League title in 2013/14) has certainly rebuilt his reputation at Celtic and we all know that Rodgers loves to play an attacking style. That fits in seamlessly with what Wenger has built at Arsenal, but would Rodgers’ appointment excite the Arsenal fans? Probably not. Also, with Rodgers known for his teams struggling defensively, there’s a sense that he will just be another Wenger and little progress will be made.

Massimiliano Allegri (10/1) – The Juventus manager is being linked with Chelsea and Arsenal this summer and it is easy to understand why. Allegri has led Juve to three-straight Italian doubles with a solid defensive approach, something Arsenal need more emphasis on if they’re going to make it back to the top four. Allegri has also reached the UEFA Champions League final in two of the three seasons. Seems like it would be a good appointment to improve Arsenal’s defensive unit and play.

Carlo Ancelotti (10/1) – The veteran Italian manager has won everything and he has won it everywhere but he usually takes over established teams with stars delivering. That’s not the case at Arsenal right now. Ancelotti has delivered success at AC Milan, PSG, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, but he will have to be trusted with a lot of cash to rebuild this Arsenal squad. The former Chelsea manager certainly knows the Premier League well after winning the title and the FA Cup in 2010, so there are no problems there.

Arsene Wenger to leave Arsenal

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After almost 22 years in charge, Arsene Wenger has called time on his Arsenal reign.

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Wenger, 68, announced on Friday that he will be leaving the Gunners at the end of the current 2017/18 campaign despite having one year remaining on his contract.

Here is the statement from Wenger in full which was posted on Arsenal’s website with the heading “Merci Arsene” taking center stage.

“After careful consideration and following discussions with the club, I feel it is the right time for me to step down at the end of the season,” Wenger said. “I am grateful for having had the privilege to serve the club for so many memorable years. I managed the club with full commitment and integrity. I want to thank the staff, the players, the Directors and the fans who make this club so special. I urge our fans to stand behind the team to finish on a high. To all the Arsenal lovers take care of the values of the club. My love and support for ever.”

The Frenchman is a man who revolutionized the Premier League when he arrived in 1996 and he will be remembered as a bastion of attractive, possession based soccer as his Arsenal team of the 2003/04 season, dubbed the “Invincibles,” will always be remembered for going through an entire PL season unbeaten en route to winning the title.

Wenger has won three Premier League titles, seven FA Cups and seven community shield trophies during his time in charge of Arsenal, as well as leading them to 20-straight seasons finishing in the top four of the Premier League and qualifying for the UEFA Champions League.

That run ended last season as they finished in fifth and in the past few seasons there have been fan protests with “Wenger Out” or “Wenger In” dividing the fanbase.

However, Wenger’s tenure can end on a high in the Europa League as Arsenal face Atletico Madrid in the semifinals and he is essentially three wins away from returning Arsenal to the Champions League.

Wenger has so far managed Arsenal for 1,228 games with 704 wins in all competitions. His final game in charge will be the Europa League final in Lyon, if Arsenal get there. But his final Premier League game in charge of Arsenal will be away at Huddersfield Town on May 13.

The focus will now switch to who will take over from Wenger this summer with the likes of Diego Simeone, Carlo Ancelotti, Brendan Rodgers and Thomas Tuchel all linked with the job.

But in the more immediate future the final few weeks of the 2017/18 campaign in England will turn into an appreciation of Wenger and all he has achieved over the last two decades in charge of Arsenal.

France veteran Malouda loses appeal in Gold Cup case

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Former France winger Florent Malouda has lost his appeal against being ruled ineligible to play for French Guiana at the 2017 Gold Cup.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport says its judges dismissed Malouda’s appeal against North American soccer body CONCACAF.

French Guiana fielded Malouda in a 0-0 draw against Honduras last July despite being told he was not eligible. CONCACAF awarded a 3-0 win to Honduras and suspended Malouda.

The Gold Cup uses FIFA eligibility rules which bar players from transferring allegiance after playing a competitive game for one country.

Malouda played 80 times for France including a 2006 World Cup final loss against Italy.

The French Guiana soccer federation hoped Malouda, now aged 37, could play in the Gold Cup because it is not a FIFA member.

Report: Bobby Wood unlikely to come to MLS this summer

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A U.S. Men’s National Team forward will probably have to wait a bit longer to come to Major League Soccer if that is the path that he chooses.

Reports have recently surfaced linking Bobby Wood to MLS at the conclusion of the Bundesliga season, however, MLSSoccer.com is reporting that a move for the American likely won’t come in 2018.

Wood, who remains under contract for three more seasons at Hamburg, is currently fighting relegation in Germany with his club side.

Hamburg currently sits 17th in the German top flight, eight points buried in the relegation zone with four matches remaining.

The MLSSoccer.com report suggests that MLS clubs aren’t willing to compensate Wood at the current rate of his contract in Germany.

Currently, Wood is making “several million dollars” per season, and even if Hamburg is relegated in 2017/18 Wood’s contract wouldn’t decrease to a number that clubs are comfortable paying.

If Wood was to join MLS, he would be considered a Discovery signing as he is not currently on the MLS player allocation list. The Washington Post previously reported that an MLS club has Wood included on their Discovery list, although the team’s identity isn’t known.