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.

Wild day in American soccer: Crew relocation, NASL LOIs, USL reserves

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The top three soccer leagues in the United States of America are dealing with varying bits of turmoil this Tuesday in October.

It began late Monday with reports that Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt aims to take the MLS founding member to Texas, seemingly only paying lip service to the idea of investment keeping the team in Ohio.

[ MORE: Leicester sacks Shakespeare ]

Some have said Precourt’s goals have always been to find a way out of Ohio, and the Crew owner was asked what has changed in the four years he’s owned the club (From ColumbusCrewSC.com):

Q:When we read your story about your purchase of the team, this was back in 2013, part of that was that it was very important to the Hunt family that the Crew remained in Columbus and you said at the time that you were committed to that. So what’s changed?

AP: I was committed to that and I believe that I demonstrated my commitment through significant investment in infrastructure, in personnel, in the quality of our product on the field. What has changed? Our League has grown leaps and bounds, it’s been unprecedented the improvement we’ve seen year over year and new markets that have come in the League have shown dramatic attendance. Let’s look at Atlanta with over 70,000 fans over their last few games, with Orlando building a new facility and averaging over 30,000 fans a game, with New York City FC. The list goes on and on. Our peers get stronger and stronger, year in and year out and I have to get back to our ambition as a club. This is key: our ambition as a club is to be a standard bearer in Major League Soccer, to be respected on and off the field in terms of our soccer operations and our business operations and to operate world-class, soccer-specific infrastructure. We’re going through growing pains now. It’s time for us to explore building a world-class, soccer-specific stadium so that we can be celebrated and successful and sustainable.

So, yes, barring a king’s ransom — word use intended — from the Ohio business community, it’s not being cynical to read Precourt’s intention to leave Ohio as very strong. The idea is very sad for the league, and makes every pro/rel honk’s argument against the closed model.

Then there’s the NASL, where it’s almost head-spinning to keep abreast of the future of the league. New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso has taken the wheel in an attempt to not only see the NASL rise, but remove Sunil Gulati from power at the United States Soccer Federation in the hopes of a complete overhaul. In what should not be read as a footnote, the NASL is currently suing the USSF.

There are reports that the league could have as many as 17 teams next season in a bid to regain sanctioning from the Unites States Soccer Federation, including a series of teams from the fourth-tier National Premier Soccer League.

According to SocTakes.com, the NASL has letters of intent from NPSL clubs in Boca Raton, Boston, Detroit, Arizona, New Orleans, and Virginia Beach. Additionally, there’s interest in Hartford and it may not be the NPSL club.

Then came this Tweet:

Now here’s a league, the USL, whose only issues have been perception-related. Growing well and instituting a D-3 companion, the biggest concern has been the mentioned MLS Reserve sides creating a minor league feel for the league.

All of this is manageable, and you could argue that the disappearance or at least rebranding of most of these reserve sides would be a boon for the league.

Taken in a vacuum, any of these stories has the potential to carry a day’s news. Together, and in the wake of the United States men’s national team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, they give Tuesday one of those Soccer-USApocalyptic feelings.

UEFA Champions League Weds. preview: Chelsea, Man Utd look to break out

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Only one of 16 teams was held off the score sheet on Tuesday. Could the same level of entertainment reach the UEFA Champions League a day later?

Two more Premier League teams take the pitch on Wednesday, with Manchester United facing its stiffest test of the group stage and Chelsea with a tricky visit from AS Roma.

[ MORE: Champions League Tues. wrap ]

Manchester United has a significant challenge in Benfica, and may need a man familiar with the Estadio da Luz to help them out. Center back Eric Bailly remains out for United, which could bring Victor Lindelof into the fold to help stop Haris Seferovic, Gabriel Barbosa, Raul Jimenez, and especially Jonas.

Coming off a sleepy weekend draw versus Liverpool in an underwhelming derby, United will take on a desperate Benfica team which is traditionally strong but lost at home to CSKA Moscow and was crushed in Switzerland by Basel.

(AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Speaking of the need to rebound, Chelsea’s loss to Crystal Palace still has many scratching their heads. Fortunately, Roma is also in a mini-funk after a weekend loss to Napoli that ended a five-match winning streak.

There’s a reunion for Antonio Rudiger inside Stamford Bridge with Roma in town. I Lupi has been pretty one-dimensional in terms of offense, with ex-Man City man and reigning Serie A capocannoniere winner Edin Dzeko. He’s scored eight times in nine matches for Roma this season.

Full Wednesday UCL schedule
All kickoffs at 2:45 p.m. ET except where indicated

Qarabag vs. Atletico Madrid — Noon ET
Anderlecht vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Benfica vs. Manchester United
Juventus vs. Sporting Lisbon
Barcelona vs. Olympiacos
Chelsea vs. Roma
Bayern Munich vs. Celtic
CSKA Moscow vs. Basel

U-17 World Cup wrap: England advances to meet USA

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The United States now knows it’ll have to take down England’s best to get to the semifinals of the U-17 World Cup in India.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

England, don’t laugh, won in penalty kicks after a scoreless match with Japan, advancing to meet the Baby Yanks.


England 0-0 (5-3, PKs) Japan

There wasn’t a single miss amongst the England shooters, as Rhian Brewster (Liverpool), Callum Hudson-Odoi (Chelsea), Phil Foden (Man City), Nya Kirby (Crystal Palace), and Curtis Anderson (Man City) converted from the spot to set up a date against the U.S.

Mali 5-1 Iraq

Lassana Ndiaye scored twice to join France’s Amine Gouiri atop the goal scoring list for the tournament as Mali advances to face the winner of Ghana vs. Niger.

France 1-2 Spain

Barcelona prospects Juan Miranda and Abel Ruiz get the better of France to set up a date with high-flying Iran.

 

Iran 2-1 Mexico

Iran conceded for just the second time in the tournament, but not before Mohammad Sharifi and Allahyar Sayyad (both of Iranian club Saifa) made it 2-0 by the 11th minute.

UEFA Champions League wrap: Tables turned on wild day

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One clean sheet in eight Tuesday matches certainly helped the entertainment value of the UEFA Champions League, and the group ramifications follow suit.

Borussia Dortmund whiffed on a chance to take advantage of Real Madrid’s home draw versus Spurs, while Sevilla was waxed in Russia, and Besiktas continues to strut in UCL play.

Real Madrid 1-1 Tottenham HotspurRECAP, VIDEO

Raphael Varane’s plans to mark Harry Kane were subverted by the French defender’s unwitting legs, but Serge Aurier chopped down Toni Kroos in the 42nd minute for a yellow card and penalty that Cristiano Ronaldo sent beyond the reach of Spurs backstop Hugo Lloris.

It was Lloris’ outstanding day, along with a couple timely Keylor Navas saves, that kept the score line 1-1 after 90 minutes. The backstops will likely match wits again come Nov. 1 at Wembley Stadium.

Manchester City 2-1 NapoliRECAP

Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus scored in the ninth and 13th minutes as City has been an unwelcoming host for the Neapolitan side. Ederson stopped a Dries Mertens penalty, adding insult to Napoli’s twin concessions, but Napoli would get a second penalty kick and pulled back a goal courtesy of Amadou Diawara.

Monaco 1-2 Besiktas

Reported Newcastle United and Crystal Palace target Cenk Tosun scored a pair of goals as group-leading Besiktas came back to beat Monaco after Radamel Falcao made it 1-0 to the hosts.

Feyenoord 1-2 Shakhtar Donetsk

Similar story in the Netherlands, where Ex-Watford man Steven Berghuis gave the Eredivisie hosts a lead only to see a Bernard brace lead Shakhtar at De Kuip.

Spartak Moscow 5-1 Sevilla

Liverpool’s score line was a bit surprising, but this one raised eyebrows even given Sevilla’s long road (or flight path) to Russia. Quincy Promes scored twice to make Sevilla consider its Europa roots (though plenty of time remains in the group stage).

Spartak’s Luiz Adriano scores past Sevilla’s Sergio Rico (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Maribor 0-7 LiverpoolRECAP

Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds are sent their finishing demons off a cliff. It was 3-0 after 20 minutes, 4-0 at half, and when all was said and done there were braces for Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah to go with single markers from Philippe Coutinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

APOEL Nicosia 1-1 Borussia Dortmund

A significant step backward for BVB, who would’ve done well to take advantage of Real and Spurs drawing at the Bernabeu. The Germans even trailed for five second-half minutes before Sokratis Papastathopoulos provided the equalizing goal.

RB Leipzig 3-2 Porto

Five first half goals felt like the start of something special, but the upstart Germans held on through a scoreless second half to claim their first UCL win.