France wins Group E after goalless draw with Ecuador

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France clinched the top spot in Group E with a goalless draw against 10-man Ecuador at the Maracana stadium in Rio.

It was a match full of chances with no one to convert and with the draw, Ecuador becomes the first South American side to exit the tournament. Going against a high-flying France squad it was always going to be a difficult game for La Tri but the pressure ramped up ten-fold when captain Antonio Valencia was shown a straight red card for a daft second-half challenge on Lucas Digne. The Ecuadorians continued to fight but the chances simply wouldn’t fall and with Switzerland cooly handling Honduras, Reinaldo Rueda’s team was left in the dark.

The action began in the 15th minute when Moussa Sissoko unleashed a left-footed rocket from the right side of the box that Ecuadorian goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez did well to save. Five minutes later, it was La Tri’s turn with speedster Jefferson Montero flying down the left side but his shot was snuffed out by France keeper Hugo Lloris.

In the 38th minute it was Dominguez to the rescue again, this time tipping a Paul Pogba header over the bar, a shot the France midfielder should have done better with.

Here’s what we were saying at halftime.

The teams entered the dressing room on even ground but things were made extra difficult for Ecuador when Valencia’s increasingly poor discipline got the best of him as came in later and dragged his boot over the shin of Digne. Down a man, Ecuador showed courage through the press, enjoying flashes of brilliance with Enner Valenica finding Christian Noboa on a 54th minute counter-attack. Noboa found himself wide-open and inside the box but shower poor composure as he nervously sprayed his shot wide of the mark.

France then regained control and for the next twenty minutes produced multiple threats on goal only for Karim Benzema, Morgan Schneiderlin and Pogba to all blast over the bar. In the 81st minute Ecuador was at it again with Michael Arroyo streaking down the left side and into the box unmarked but he too lacked poise, sending his shot wide of the mark. A minute later and third golden opportunity was presented when substitute Alex Ibarra broke Raphael Varane off the dribble and unleashed a left-footed crack that Hugo Lloris batted away.

With the clock winding down it was back to France to blow chances as Benzema and Olivier Giroud interchanged only for the former to rip his shot directly into the arms of Dominguez. Then it was Loic Remy, on for Moussa Sissoko and eager to make an impression, snapping his left-footed shot towards the corner only for a sprawling Dominguez to tip the effort wide.

Finally, one minute into injury time and for good measure it was Giroud putting a wide-open header directly into the hands of Dominguez sealing a horrific finishing display that saw 31 chances on goal and nothing to show for it.

As winners of Group E, France now move on to the Round of 16 where they’ll face Group F runner-up Nigeria on July 30th.

Lineups

Ecuador: Dominguez, Guagua, Erazo, Paredes, Noboa, Montero (Alex Ibarra 67′), W. Ayovi, E. Valencia, Minda, Arroyo (c), A. Valencia

France: Lloris (c), Sakho (Raphael Varane 61′), Benzema, Griezmann, Matuidi (Olivier Giroud 67′), Sagna, Digne Sissoko, Pogba, Koscielny, Schneiderlin

Discipline: E. Valencia (Red Card 50′)

Watch Live: Swansea host Manchester United

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Swansea City welcome Manchester United to the Liberty Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Jose Mourinho’s side aiming to stay top of the Premier League table.

[ STREAM: Swansea v. Man United ]

Yes, it’s early days, but the Red Devils were imperious in their thumping 4-0 win against West Ham United to open their season. Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic dominated and Mourinho’s men are now a powerful, well-oiled machine.

As for Swansea, they struggled at Southampton but came away with a draw, however the main storyline surrounding the South Wales side this week has been losing Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton for over $60 million. Paul Clement will have to act fast to spend that cash wisely, but there is no doubt the Swans will miss their Icelandic playmaker.

In team news Swansea bring in Kyle Bartley and Roque Mesa as they line up in a 3-5-2 formation with Jordan Ayew and Tammy Abraham up top.

Man United are, unsurprisingly, unchanged.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski; Fernandez, Bartley, Mawson; Naughton, Mesa, Fer, Carroll, Olsson; Ayew, Abraham. Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, van der Hoorn, Fulton, Narsingh, Routledge, McBurnie.

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Jones, Blind; Matic, Pogba; Mkhitaryan, Mata, Rashford; Lukaku. Subs: Romero, Lindelof, Smalling, Fellaini, Herrera, Lingard, Martial

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.