10-man Costa Rica advances on penalties, eliminates Greece after 1-1 draw

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34-year-old Theofanis Gekas has been a true goalscorer wherever he’s gone, but Keylor Navas kept him out at the end of the penalty shootout and sent Costa Rica through to its first-ever World Cup quarterfinals berth.

In a game short on quality but high on drama, Greece equalized in injury time to extend the game, but could not find the winner in added time and they paid in the penalty shootout.

Bryan Ruiz unlocked the stout Greek defense just after halftime, but Oscar Duarte was sent off with a second yellow-card offense 15 minutes later, and they looked to hold on for dear life.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos leveled in added time, but the Greeks could not make the most of their opportunities in the extra half-hour.  Navas, who had been stellar all match, made a number of key saves to keep the score level and made a spectacular save in the shootout to allow the CONCACAF side to advance.

Costa Rica, the first CONCACAF side to make the quarterfinals this World Cup, will take on the Netherlands in the quarterfinals round.

The first half was listless, as Greece covered the passing lanes in their defense half superbly, and as a result Costa Rica found absolutely nothing going forward.

Altogether in the first half, Costa Rica mustered just three meager shots on goal, none of which found the target, and they failed to build any legitimate chances, botching a pair of breakaways for their only opportunities.

On the other side, the Greeks were patient in front of goal, not creating much but not wasting anything either.  They found their best opportunity in the 36th minute, when a cross from Jose Cholevas found a streaking Dimitris Salpigidis, and the 32-year-old winger slid in to connect. The great ball was only bested by a fantastic reflex save by Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas to keep the score level.

It took a little while for Costa Rica to find their legs in the second half, managing just 11 passes in the first five minutes, but they finally got a chance six minutes after the break, and Bryan Ruiz stunned the Greeks.

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Sokratis Papastathopoulos scored the equalizer in second-half injury time, but it wasn’t enough for Greece.

Christian Bolaños worked the ball on the left of the penalty area, and crossed along the ground to Ruiz at the top of the box.  Ruiz hit a slow-roller along the ground, but with Orestis Karnezis on the wrong foot, he could only watch as the ball slid into the far corner for the Costa Rican lead.

The Greeks got a break when, just a minute after the goal, they should have conceded a penalty had the referee not missed a handball in the box.  A Costa Rican cross targeting a sliding Bolaños was headed away valiantly by Vasileios Torosidis – or so it appeared at first. Replays showed Torosidis handed the ball in the box.

The Costa Rican bench was incensed at the miss, and the referee was forced to yellow card a substitute Oscar Granados on the bench for dissent.

Greece looked to get back into the game with lots of possession and an extra striker in Kostas Mitroglou, but it looked tough for Greece until the game changed.

In the 66th minute, Oscar Duarte scythed down Jose Holebas and duly earned his second yellow card for a reactive foul.  Things immediately changed, and it looked that Greece may take advantage of a Costa Rican side about to lose their heads.

The Greeks – not entirely known for their creative ability – began to make some moves. They got a major opportunity in the 71st minute when Giorgis Samaras looked to pick out one of three open attackers in the box, but Giancarlo Gonzalez was there to slam on the breaks by cutting out the cross. It would come right back at them as Samaras cut back in a lofted cross that looked destined for the head of substitute Theofanis Gekas, but Navas got there first to scramble the ball to safety.

They would press and press, and finally earn the equalizer a minute into added time. Samaras lumped a ball into the box, and as it ping-ponged between blue shirts, it fell to Gekas who ripped a howitzer at Navas. The Costa Rican stopper kept it out, but the rebound fell right to defender Papastathopoulos, and he slammed his shot into the ground, causing it to jump over a sprawled-out Navas and in.

The Greeks nearly had a winner as Mitroglou headed one destined for the underside of the bar but Navas leaped to tip it over, coming down hard on his right shoulder.

As the game went into extra time, the Costa Ricans looked to be struggling. Greece pummeled the attacking third in the opening half of extra time, pumping balls into the box and causing the Costa Ricans to defend heroically.  Tired legs coursed through the pitch, and the second half of extra time proved the same as the first.

Greece botched a massive 5-on-2 break in the 113th minute, as Mitroglou found Christodoulopoulos, but his powerful shot went right at Navas who kept it out.  Mitroglou then had his own chance in added time of the second period, but with the goal gaping, he scuffed the shot at Navas who saved.

The Greeks were hoping to advance to the quarterfinals having scored only three regulation goals, but instead Costa Rica will take on the Netherlands in the first set matchup of the next round.

LINEUPS:

Costa Rica: Navas; Gonzalez, Duarte, Gamboa (Acosta 77′), Umaña, Diaz; Borges, Bolanos (Brenes 83′), Tejeda (Cubera 66′); Ruiz; Campbell.

Goals – Ruiz 51′
Discipline – Duarte (second yellow) 66′

Greece: Karnezis, Maniatis (Katsouranis 78′), Manolas, Samaras, Karagounis, Salpingidis (Gekas 69′), Torosidis, Lazaros, Sokratis, Cholevas, Samaris (Mitroglou 58′).

Goals – Papastathopoulos 90+1′

SHOOTOUT:

Costa Rica: Borges, make; Ruiz, make; Gonzalez, make; Campbell, make; Umana, make.

Greece: Mitroglou, make; Christodoulopoulos, make; Holebas, make; Gekas, saved.

Totti out to ‘destroy’ Lazio in what could be his last derby

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MILAN (AP) Roma great Francesco Totti is out to “destroy” Lazio in what could be his last derby.

Totti’s contract runs out at the end of the season and the 40-year-old forward is likely to retire and move upstairs into a director’s role at the club where he has spent his entire career.

“It’s a different match to all the others,” Totti said. “It’s a team you always try to destroy on the field but with the maximum respect.

“For the city, for the curva, for the fans, you always try to give 101 percent. It’s a match you always want to win.”

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

Roma won the last derby 3-2 last month but still lost to Lazio in the two-legged Italian Cup semifinals. Totti played less than 10 minutes in each match.

That semifinal defeat still hurts Roma and its fans, which are likely to fill the Stadio Olimpico again after ending a 14-month protest following the removal of deeply unpopular security barriers.

“It will be like all the other derbies, a must-win match,” Totti said. “It’s important because we all remember how the last one finished. We have to get our revenge.”

Sunday’s match is also crucial for the battle for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the group stage of the Champions League.

Roma is currently second, four points ahead of Napoli, which visits Inter Milan on Sunday. The team which finishes third has to go into a playoff for Europe’s premier club competition.

Roma has a more difficult run-in than Napoli. After the derby, it next faces AC Milan and Juventus before ending its season against Chievo Verona and Genoa. Napoli plays Cagliari, Torino, Fiorentina and Sampdoria.

[ MORE: Henry, Aguero on playing for Pep ]

“It will be a very important derby for the standings and we will try everything to have a great game to bring home the three points,” Totti said. “We are going through this battle for second serenely and calmly, also because now we have a four-point advantage on them.

“There are only a few matches left until the end of the season, even if three out of five are very difficult on paper. We will try everything to finish second.”

Lazio is fourth, seven points behind Napoli.

Totti has been playing for Roma for 25 years – remarkably more than 28 percent of the club’s existence – since making his debut in the final stages of a 2-0 win at Brescia on March 28, 1993.

Totti, who also won the World Cup with Italy in 2006, could have won more than the solitary Serie A title, two Italian Cups and two national Super Cups he claimed with Roma, but he rejected offers of more money and glory to remain with his childhood club.

His face adorns murals and posters across Italy’s capital, where he is loved by Roma fans and respected by supporters of Lazio, despite his antics against them.

Totti has scored 11 times against Lazio and often celebrates these extra-special goals with T-shirts made for the occasion. One famously said, “I have purged you again,” while he revealed another reading simply “Game Over” after a victory in May 2015.

He hit the headlines in January of that year when he scored the second of two goals against Lazio and, in a pre-planned celebration for becoming the all-time leading scorer in the derby, grabbed his phone off Roma’s goalkeeping coach and took a selfie under the Curva Sud with thousands of adoring fans in the background.

In the Eternal City, Totti is Roma’s eternal leader – first made captain in 1998 when he was only 22.

Nike alluded to his “King of Rome” nickname at a promotional event on Wednesday to unveil new gold-colored boots to mark the Roma captain’s 25 years at the club.

Totti, who was greeted by about 200 chanting fans, was instructed to sit on a throne with the steps leading up to it bearing the names of the seven kings of ancient Rome, with his name placed on the final step.

“I have nothing to do with these kings,” Totti said. “I prefer to be judged than to judge.”

Bayern Munich activates clause to make Coman permanent

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Bayern Munich has announced its decision to make Kingsley Coman’s loan from Juventus a permanent move.

Coman, 20, operates as a right wing and striker, and can also play on the left. He’s made 40 Bundesliga appearances with six goals and six assists over two seasons for Bayern.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

It’s a $24 million option, and will bind Coman to Bayern through the 2019-20 season.

From FCBayern.com:

“Kingsley Coman is a crucial player for the future of our team, so we’ve decided to exercise the option,” commented Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge: “Kingsley is a promising player with great potential. We’re convinced he’ll help us in the coming years.”

Coman, Renato Sanches, and Joshua Kimmich are all under the age of 22.

Mourinho has chance to make major statement in Manchester Derby

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The betting market says Man City is more than even money to beat Manchester United, and wagering on the latter to win Thursday’s derby match is a longer shot than the Red Devils finishing in the Top Four (an achievement to be sure).

The worth of those metrics is debatable, but allows a sincere thought: Given their thin depth and the road challenge, a win for Jose Mourinho would be as impressive as almost anything Manchester United has accomplished this season.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

Maybe that’s obvious to many of us, but a twirl through the spheres of United supporter social media shows something different. Many Red Devils are confident of their teams’ fortunes in Thursday’s Manchester Derby, with one even predicting a 3-1 win in a comment on the NBC Sports Soccer Facebook page.

That could be an outlier, sure, but shows the demands Manchester United supporters place on their big spending club. United won’t have Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, two of the best players in the world, and it’s not as if the club has had time to adjust to their absences. No one has played more minutes for United than Pogba and Ibrahimovic this season.

United is also without Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, and Phil Jones at the heart of their defense as it attempts to shut down Sergio Aguero and/or Gabriel JesusDavid Silva is a doubt for City, who also may not have John Stones, but Guardiola has options.

How Mourinho attacks — or doesn’t attack — City, and how Guardiola sets up his XI, will be interesting leading into the match, because parking the bus lacks its usual luster given the center back carnage. Will Mourinho trot out Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera in a bid to clog the midfield? Will he run Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford as a strike pair?

The answers to these questions and the unlikely event of a United road win may end up shining all over Thursday. And while that win would wind up being overshadowed by United’s finish on the Premier League table and UEFA Europa League, there’s little doubt it would stake a serious claim for Mourinho’s time at United being on the rise.

Henry, Aguero discuss playing up top under Pep

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One great striker got another one to open up on an up-and-down year at Manchester City.

Thierry Henry — one of the greatest of all-time, it must be said — sat down with Sergio Aguero ahead of Thursday’s Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium, and asked the Argentine about Pep Guardiola, Gabriel Jesus, and more.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

At times, it’s a fascinating discussion on playing lone striker. Even apart from the obligatory questions regarding Jesus’ arrival at City, Henry and Aguero speak their craft in a manner you don’t see too often.

That’s helped by the fact that Henry played for Guardiola at Barcelona, and can relate to the positional demands of Man City’s boss. Consider this exchange, from Sky Sports:

HENRY: When I was at Arsenal, I played up front and if I wanted to drift out to the left, I could. But when I got to Barca, I had to stay out wide and press. Sometimes doing that can be hard.

AGUERO: The thing I’ve found the hardest has been getting into my head the fact that I have to press the centre-back and the goalkeeper in matches. That’s what Pep asks me to do. It may not be a big deal, but in terms of processing it, the two of us speak a lot. He knows what I’m like.

I’ve been gradually learning and adapting to that style of pressing over the last few months. The first thing he taught me was how to press and how to do it well. Obviously there are times when I might drift out of position or I might press in an area where I’m not supposed to be, which might make it hard for the wingers or midfielders.

In the game itself, I may not realise because I’m so immersed and you can’t stop yourself. I’ve learnt a lot from him in terms of zones. He asks me to play as a No 9 and to stay in that position. I often drift out wide during matches and he looks at me and says, “If there’s a player out wide who wants to cross it in, who’s in there? Nobody.”

HENRY: I know all about that, believe you me.

I love this, because it shows how difficult it is for an elite striker to adapt his mentality. Both Henry and Aguero found world-celebrated success by playing in a certain fashion, and Guardiola understood that and still demanded a change. Earlier this season, the manager somewhat famously spoke of improving Aguero.

Aguero has been linked with Real Madrid given the tumult at City.