Slimani header gives Algeria draw with Russia, country’s first place in knockout round

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For the first time in the country’s history, Algeria has advanced into the knockout round, but having given up a goal within six minutes today in Curitiba, Brazil, the Fennec Foxes were forced to do it the hard way. At the hour-mark, however, a converted set piece allowed the North Africans to turn around Russia’s early opener, giving them the 1-1 draw they needed to clinch Group H’s second place at the 2014 World Cup.

Russian attacker Aleksandr Kokorin converted the first chance of the match in the sixth minute, heading home from the middle of Algeria’s penalty area off Dmitri Kombarov’s cross, making it 1-0. Fifteen minutes into the second half, the Algerians had their own headed goal when Islam Slimani beat Kombarov at the far post on a Yacine Brahimi restart. When Vahid Halilhodzic’s team made that goal stand up, Algeria had reached its first knockout round in four World Cups.

The means Algeria will face Group G-winning Germany on Monday in Porto Alegre, the countries’ first competitive meeting since the teams were grouped together in 1982. The year, Germany colluded with Austria in the stage’s final match to keep the Fennec Foxes out of the second round, a scandal that led FIFA to schedule final group matches with simultaneous kickoffs.

For Russia, the countdown to 2018 begins, but after failing to get out of Group H, the federation will likely take a new look at the program’s direction under Fabio Capello.

[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

The match’s settling-in period was cut short when Russia struck for its early opener. After getting forward down the left flank, Russian fullback Kombarov fired a cross toward the penalty spot, where Kokorin was able to run onto the ball at 12 yards out. Redirecting his shot inside Raïs M’Bolhi’s right post, the young Russia attacker gave his team its first lead of the tournament, a 1-0 advantage in the match’s sixth minute.

An Algerian corner in the 29th minute nearly pulled the Fennec Foxes even, but despite seeing Igor Akinfeev tested three times in the half, the Russians were able to take their one-goal lead into intermission, leaving them 45 minutes from a place in the knockout round.

Fifteen minutes later, Algeria had finally beaten Akinfeev. Off a restart from Brahimi from deep down the left flank, Slimani was left one-on-one against Kombarov at the far post. Beating the Russian defender to a ball Akinfeev failed to punch, the Algerian striker headed his equalizer into the empty net to make it 1-1.

Though Russia’s intensity increased in the wake of Slimani’s goal, the team’s next real chance didn’t come until the 70th minute, when an Aleksandr Kerzhakov shot from the right of goal was smothered by M’Bolhi. Four minutes later, Sophiane Feghouli was testing Akinfeev at the other end of the field, with Russia’s desperation unable to claim control of the game.

By full-time, that desperation had failed to make its mark. Russia finished the game with fewer shots on target (4-6), with only a 90th minute corner headed wide of M’Bolhi’s right post giving the 2018 hosts a chance of reclaiming their lead. When the final whistle was blown, Russia left Brazil 2014 with two points, two goals, and two losses.

Algeria, on the other hand, will play on. Finishing their group stage with four points, the Foxes get their first taste of knockout round soccer. Germany will be a huge obstacle, but it will be one that’s embraced by a team few picked to escape their group. Algeria gets its chance at revenge.

Lineups

Algeria: M’Bohli; Mandi, Belkalem, Halliche, Mesbah, Bentaleb, Medjani; Feghouli, Brahimi (Yebda 71′), Djabou (Ghilas 77′); Slimani (Soudani 86′)

Goals: Slimani 60′

Russia: Akinfeev; Kozlov, Berezutski, Ignashevich, Kombarov; Glushakov (Denisov 46′), Fayzulin; Samedov, Shatov (Dzagoev 67′), Kokorin; Kerzhakov (Kanunnikov 81′)

Goals: Kokorin 6′

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday