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Late goals see France advance, beat stubborn Nigeria to reach quarters

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France scored twice late on through Paul Pogba and a Josehph Yobo own goal to make the World Cup quarterfinals after beating Nigeria 2-0 in a tense encounter in Brasilia on Monday.

Early on the African champions took the game to France and the game wad deadlocked at half time.

However as the game wore on, France looked more likely to grab a winner and only the heroics of Nigerian ‘keeper Vincent Enyeama kept Les Bleus at bay. Enyeama then turned from hero to villain with 10 minutes to go, as he inexplicably came for a corner, tipped the ball towards Pogba and the Juventus midfielder nodded France into the lead.

In stoppage time Yobo’s own goal compounded Nigeria’s misery, as France made it through to the quarterfinals for the first-time since 2006.

[ RELATED : Full bracket for the WC knockout stages ]

Early on the game ebbed and flowed, as France surged forward through Pogba but the Juventus man saw his pull back cleared for a corner as Benzema and Giroud both lurked in the box.

Nigeria didn’t sit back and launched plenty of their own attacks to put France on the back foot. In the 15th minute Benzema and Giroud linked up but the latter was off balance and sent a shot way over the bar as Les Bleus struggled to get a foothold in the game.

However just as France threatened to start clicking through the gears, Ahmed Musa whipped in a delightful cross from the left which Emenike stabbed home for Nigeria… but the offside flag was up as American referee Mark Geiger (the first to ref a World Cup knockout match) and his officials got the call spot on.

source: AP
Nigeria pinned France back, but Les Bleus were too good in the end.

France hit back in the 22nd minute as  Valbuena was released down the right and his perfect cross found Pogba on the penalty spot but the Frenchman’s flying volley was beaten away acrobatically by Enyeama. Nigeria continued to press and pin France back as the heavy favorites looked nervy in the opening half in Brasilia. Five minutes before the break Deschamps side had a glorious opportunity to take the lead as Valbuena was again the architect as his run and cut back opened up space for right back Matheiu Debuchy but he lashed his effort wide with the goal beckoning.

Before the break Nigeria came close again as Emenike picked up the ball on the right hand side of the box and crashed a thunderous effort towards goal that Hugo Lloris couldn’t hold but France ended up clearing the danger. In the second half the same pattern occurred as Nigeria pushed forward but there was then a large stoppage as Ogenyi Onazi was caught by Matuidi outstretched leg and the Nigerian midfielder was stretchered off the pitch. Nigeria then went close through Peter Odemwingie as he blasted a shot in on goal that Lloris saved smartly.

France finally woke up and then took the game to Nigeria as Benzema saw his shot cleared off the line after going one-on-one with Enyeama. The Lille ‘keeper stopped Benzema’s shot but the ball then trickled towards the line, only for Moses to hack it clear and keep the scores locked at 0-0. Soon after France continued to pile on the pressure and Benzema’s cross-shot was cleared off the line by Efe Ambrose, then Yohan Cabaye’s follow-up shot smashed the underside of the crossbar and bounced away.

Then it was Benzema again as Enyeama saved his header from point blank range and tipped it out for a corner. Form that set-piece Enyeama made his only mistake of the afternoon as he came for the corner and only tipped the ball into Pogba’s path, as the French youngster headed France ahead with just over 10 minutes to go.

Late on Nigeria pressed for the equalizer that would send the match into extra time but a superb ball into the box from Valbuena found substitute Antoine Griezmann, however he missed it and the ball nicked off Yobo’s leg and into the net to make it 2-0 to France.

France saw out the game to book a quarterfinal spot for the first-time since 2006 and the eighth-time in their history.

LINEUPS

France: Lloris; Debuchy, Varane, Koscielny, Evra; Pogba, Cabaye, Matuidi; Valbuena (Sissoko, 90′), Giroud (Griezmann, 62′), Benzema.

Goal: Pogba, 79′, Yobo – Own goal, 90′

Nigeria: Enyeama; Ambrose, Yobo, Oshaniwa, Omeru; Musa, Onazi (Gabriel, 59′), Mikel, Moses (Nwofor, 89′); Odemwingie, Emenike.

CONCACAF Champions League gets reboot; MLS benefits

Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey, right, clears the ball away from Club America midfielder Rubens Sambueza (14) during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League soccer quarterfinal, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Changes to the CONCACAF Champions League will benefit Major League Soccer in a big way.

Long requested by MLS, the North American league will only have to send its clubs to the CCL for the final four rounds, which will be home-and-away affairs.

Previously, clubs competed in a group stage from August to October, then joined the knockout rounds in February.

[ MORE: Transfer window names to watch ]

While MLS sides may still be just starting their seasons and have to contend with clubs who have been playing meaningful games, they will also be less likely to draw successful Liga MX sides in the Round of 16.

All of the details are here, but here’s a simplified takeaway:

— The 16 teams that qualify for the CCL, which will begin in February, will include four U.S. teams, one Canadian team, and four Mexican teams.

— The next six sides will be the Caribbean Club Championship winner and the champions of Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Panama.

— The remaining side will win its spot via a new tournament which includes 13 Central American teams and three from the Caribbean.

For those of us hoping to see an MLS side in the Club World Cup, the odds will become better come the 2018 CCL. As for this year, MLS will again have to deal with the split season.

Ten names to watch in Premier League transfer window

BERGAMO, ITALY - DECEMBER 11:  Franck Kessie of Atalanta BC in action during the Serie A match between Atalanta BC and Udinese Calcio at Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia on December 11, 2016 in Bergamo, Italy.  (Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images)
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National team veterans from France, England, and Spain are in a 10-man mix of players we think could have big impacts on the fortunes of teams in the Premier League this January transfer window.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

10) Lassana Diarra, Marseille — Twice in London, the French-born midfielder is said to be interesting Manchester United and Valencia amongst others.

9) Leonardo Ulloa, Leicester City — The pressure doesn’t get to the Foxes’ 30-year-old striker, who has scored plenty of big goals for Leicester City. Might he be the perfect bench piece to push a team into the second half of the season? Spanish side Alaves have reportedly had a $2 million bid rejected by Leicester.

8) Phil Jagielka, Everton — Older, yes, but the English national team veteran could be just what the doctor-ordered for relegation candidates and lower-half sides looking for a PL-experienced CB.

7) Victor Lindelof, Benfica — His arrival at Old Trafford went from Tomorrowland to Lost in recent weeks, but Jose Mourinho could still act to bring in the center back before the summer.

6) Scott Hogan, Brentford — The Championship striker isn’t quite as prominent in the rumor mill as Jordan Rhodes was last season, but the 24-year-old could be a promising buy for a PL side. West Ham is said to have the inside track.

5) Goncalo Guedes, Benfica — As for Lindelof’s teammate, Guedes was tipped to join Manchester United with his center back. Will another side jump into the fray before Guedes joins Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford? Paris Saint-Germain is said to be interested.

4) Franck Kessie, Atalanta — The defensive midfielder has chipped in six goals for his Serie A side, and has been the major reason for Atalanta’s run into the top half.

3) Robert Snodgrass, Hull City — The Scottish wizard has been a big part of what little success has come the Tigers way this season, but West Ham and several other Premier League sides are tempting Hull.

2) Alvaro Morata, Real Madrid — He starred for Juventus last season and triggered a Real Madrid return. Slowed by an Achilles injury for much of this season, he’s been tipped for a summer move to Chelsea. If it can happen then… why not now? The Blues could order the title confetti if they landed the Spanish striker.

1) Dimitri Payet, West Ham United — Yes, we’re tired of his act — and reading about it — but Payet is a game-changer who could inject excitement into any offense in the world. If Marseille wants him, it had better pay up.

Transfer rumor roundup: Man City after two backs; Zelalem to Holland?

NAPLES, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 17: Napolis player Faouzi Ghoulam vies with Bologna FC player Simone Verdi during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Bologna FC at Stadio San Paolo on September 17, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images)
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Here are your transfer rumor headlines on a day when Gerard Deulofeu moves to AC Milan and Lazar Markovic heads to Hull City on loan.

[ MORE: Three players leave USMNT camp ]

Two Premier Leaguers could be heading down to help the Championship leaders. Newcastle United is said to be close to bringing Andros Townsend back from Crystal Palace after just a half-season, while Swansea City’s Mo Barrow is also on Rafa Benitez‘s radar.

An Arsenal blog says USMNT prospect Gedion Zelalem may have found his loan destination. The 19-year-old could be leaving the Emirates Stadium for a loan stint at VVV Venlo, with the Dutch side sitting first in the second tier and in a promotion push.

The Manchester Evening News brings reports of two backs on the radar of Manchester City. Rai Sport is the source for Man City’s interest in Napoli left back Faouzi Ghoulam, who has six assists in 21 appearances for Partenopei between Serie A and the UEFA Champions League. Pep Guardiola may also want to be reunited with Juan Bernat, though that story comes from the wild swings of The Daily Mirror.

Sunderland is going to lose one of its two brightest lights in a dark, dismal season. The Black Cats have taken a lot of calls on Jermain Defoe, but it’s Patrick Van Aanholt who is on the move to rejoin Sam Allardyce at Crystal Palace. The Dutch standout is said to be purchased for $15 million, and would be the equivalent of a transfer six-pointer in the Premier League’s relegation race.

Report: West Ham turns down another Payet bid

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 14:  The Dimitri Payet of West Ham United sign is seen outside the stadium prior to the Premier League match between West Ham United and Crystal Palace at London Stadium on January 14, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
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West Ham United has rejected a third bid for wantaway midfielder Dimitri Payet, according to Sky Sports.

Marseille upped the ante to $28 million when it comes to the French midfielder, who has said he wants to go back to the club for “family reasons“.

[ MORE: Three players leave USMNT camp ]

Payet was given a $1.2 million loyalty bonus from West Ham earlier this season, but has continually tempted the rumor mill. He’s also winked at Arsenal.

He has 15 goals in parts of two seasons with the Irons, the same figure he boasted in two full years with Marseille. Payet has also played Lille, Saint-Etienne, Nantes, and AS Excelsior.

It’s been a rocky month for Payet, who could be doomed to purgatory at West Ham. Will any Premier League suitors come calling at the Irons’ $38 million asking price.