At halftime: Early goal has Brazil in charge of Colombia in chaotic match – FOLLOW LIVE

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Story of the half: Brazil had struggled coming into this match, failing to live up to their designation as tournament favorites.

That didn’t apply today. On the heels of a chill-inducing a cappella national anthem, the hosts burst out of the gates into a blistering start.  They pressured the Colombian defense plenty, and earned a goal inside the opening 10 minutes.

Thiago Silva bagged his first international goal on home soil by scoring a sixth-minute tap-in on a corner, and a sloppy Colombia had little response.

Brazil used a hard, physical strategy to keep Colombian superstar James Rodriguez down, and with much of the possession the hosts had most of the chances on goal.

Tactics then went out the window around the 20th minute, as players just flew forward and back without any direction or instruction, the game exploding open on both ends and providing confusing yet entertaining play. Defenders took goal kicks, referees let everything go, players shot from every place on the pitch, and pigs flew over the stadium…you get the picture.

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Goals:

7′ – The first real chance fell to Brazil, who started bright, and they cashed in. Fernandinho released Neymar with a great through ball, and it earned Brazil a corner. Neymar’s ball flew in long to the back post over everyone jumping to connect, but Thiago Silva made a run to the back post, beating  converted an easy tap-in.

Other key moments:

11′ – Colombia nearly had their response to the early goal.  Brazil failed to clear an attack, and Juan Cuadrado picked up a loose ball at the top of the box. He dribbled into space and lashed a shot to the near post, but it went just wide of the post.

17′ – A defensive mistake leads to a chance for Hulk, but he was marshalled wide enough that his shot had no angle on goal and it ended up cleared without harm.

20′ – Again Brazil pummeled Colombia’s goal. A one-two between Neymar and Hulk released the striker, but again his shot came from a tight angle. The rebound fell to Oscar outside the box and he sent home a piledriver destined for the top corner, but a diving save from David Ospina ended the threat.

25′ – A weird moment saw James Rodriguez called for a foul, and the players got into it a bit. While the referee tried to break up the kerfuffle, Brazil decided to take the quick free kick, and the referee somehow allowed it, leading to numbers for Brazil, but it came to nothing.

38′ – The referee came into question again when a Colombian free kick at the edge of the box resulted in nothing because Neymar and Thiago Silva quite clearly broke the wall and charged the ball before it was kicked, but the referee let it go.

LINEUPS:

Brazil – Julio Cesar, T. Silva, Luiz, Maicon, Marcelo; Fernandinho, Paulinho, Oscar; Fred, Neymar, Hulk.

Goals: Silva 7′

Colombia – Ospina; Zuñiga, Zapata, Yepes, Armero; Sanchez, Rodriguez, Cuadrado, Guarin, Ibarbo; Gutierrez.

Key players:

Thiago Silva – Not only did he score Brazil’s goal, but he was a rock at the back, locking down Colombia’s attack in the few moments they had opportunities. He had seven clearances, five more than any other Brazilian, a pair of blocks, and distributed 16 passes out of the back, failing with just two.

Pablo Armero – Colombia tried hard to thread the ball down the left flank, with little success. Armero was the main component in that attempt, but struggled mightily. He gave away three of his 10 pass attempts, threw four of nine throw-ins away, and completed just one of his three crosses.

Fernandinho – The lock to Brazil’s defensive door, Fernandinho served his purpose well. Moving back into Luiz Gustavo’s normal holding midfielder role with the starter’s yellow card suspension, Fernandinho was superb at halting Colombia’s attempts forward and instantly converting them into Brazilian counter-attacks.

Numbers to know:

6 – players for Brazil with at least 15 completed passes. Colombia has one.

2 – blocks for Thiago Silva. All other 21 outfield players have two combined (one by Neymar on that ridiculous 38th-minute free kick).

38% – The amount of possession Colombia had in the first half, completing just 75% of their passes.

Questions for the second half:

Can Colombia defend with offense? Pinned back and forced to defend much of the first half, the Colombians had precious few chances on the attack despite their usual attacking flair.

Will Brazil continue to push forward or sit back? We’ve seen plenty of teams take a one-goal lead and shut up shop this World Cup, with mixed results. It would behoove Luis Felipe Scolari to continue his assault on the Colombian goal, but it will be very tempting to pull off one of his strikers for another midfielder.  It could come back to haunt him if he does allow Colombia more chances on net.

FC Barcelona releases statement after terror attack

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FC Barcelona found tragedy at home on Thursday when a terrorist plot unfolded in Las Ramblas, killing 13 and injuring more than 100.

Las Ramblas is just a 20-minute ride from the Camp Nou, and the Catalan club hosts Real Betis on Sunday.

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A terrorist-driven rental van was driven at 50 mph through a crowded plaza. As of post time, two men had been arrested but the driver remained on the loose.

Saying it was sickened by the attack, FCB announced it will fly flags at half-mast, wear black arm bands during the match and hold a minute’s silence.

Here’s the full statement:

FC Barcelona wants to express its profound sorrow and utter disgust at the terrorist attack that has hit the heart of our city, la Rambla de Barcelona. The Club wishes to send our support and thoughts to the victims, their families and friends as well as the people of Barcelona and its visitors.

As a mark of respect, the flags will fly at half-mast at the Club’s facilities and the players from both teams will wear black armbands in all the Club’s matches this weekend.

On Sunday, before the 2017/18 La Liga opener against Betis, the Camp Nou will hold a minutes silence in recognition and memory of the victims.

AC Milan and Napoli likeliest challengers to Juve’s crown

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MILAN (AP) Juventus’ six-year Serie A domination could end this year.

AC Milan has reinforced its squad, Inter Milan has had some much-needed stability after four managerial changes last season, while Napoli looks set to mount an even stronger challenge this time around.

Lazio could also be surprise contenders after Simone Inzaghi’s side withstood a late comeback to beat Juventus 3-2 and win the Italian Super Cup on Wednesday.

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However, Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri has warned the rest of Serie A that it will be a very different performance from his team in Saturday’s season opener at home to Cagliari.

“We cannot and must not play like that in the league,” he said. “This defeat brings us back to earth. Some of the players aren’t fully fit yet, so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy … but starting on Saturday you’ll see a different Juve.”

Allegri also took encouragement from the last time Juventus played Lazio in the Super Cup, in 2015.

“We beat Lazio in Beijing for the Super Cup two years ago and then had a bad start to the Serie A season, so hopefully we’ll do it the other way round this time,” he said.

Juventus has dominated Italian soccer for nearly a decade, winning three successive league and cup doubles and it will be tricky for anyone to prevent the Bianconeri from extending their league record to seven straight Serie A titles.

Milan was the last team other than Juventus to win the title and, despite having last finished in the top three in 2013, it looks the likeliest to depose the Turin-based club.

The Chinese-led consortium that purchased Milan from Silvio Berlusconi for $800 million in April has infused the club with cash and splashed out more than 200 million euros ($234 million) in the offseason.

[ VIDEO: Giovanni Reyna’s MOTM job for USYNT ]

As well as signing Italy’s top defender Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus, Milan also brought in forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

Fourth place in Serie A now guarantees qualification to the Champions League and that will be the minimum requirement for Vincenzo Montella’s team. But, if the new team gels quickly, there is the feeling that Milan could make a strong challenge for the title.

Bonucci was playing down his new side’s chances.

“Juve remains favorite and Napoli has a great chance of fighting for the title,” Bonucci said in interview with Gazzetta dello Sport. “As we are now we’re still a step below both, but we shouldn’t put limits on ourselves. After those two, I see Milan, Inter and Roma as equal.”

Napoli has finished in the top three in four of the past five seasons but even a record number of points last campaign still left it third, five points behind Juventus.

However, talk of the `scudetto’ is no longer a taboo for Napoli, which hasn’t won the title since 1990.

But, while it didn’t make any big signings in the transfer window, its biggest success of the offseason has been in keeping its band of talented players together.

It sold Ezequiel Lavezzi in 2012 and Edinson Cavani the following year – both to Paris Saint-Germain – while Gonzalo Higuain moved to Juventus in 2016.

This year Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne have signed new contracts, while Marek Hamsik is just three goals away from breaking Diego Maradona’s scoring record for the club.

Mertens was reportedly pursued by a number of clubs – both in Italy and abroad – but the Belgium international, who scored more than 30 goals for Napoli last campaign, opted to extend his stay with the southern side.

“I stayed here because the team plays very beautiful football and doing that we can get a lot of joy,” said Mertens, who scored again as Napoli beat Nice 2-0 in the first leg of its Champions League playoff on Wednesday.

Napoli played arguably the best soccer in Italy last season and its attacking flair saw it score 94 goals, but it faltered against teams in the lower half of the table and coach Maurizio Sarri is hoping to have corrected that by the time it kicks of its Serie campaign at Hellas Verona on Saturday.

More AP Italian soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Top Premier League story lines – Week 2

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The Premier League hits its second match day on Saturday, beginning with Manchester United’s trip to the Liberty Stadium to face Swansea City.

That match isn’t even in our top five as a pair of Top Four battles await Sunday and Monday.

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Can heated rivalry help Chelsea find its form?
Tottenham – Chelsea (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) [ STREAM ] 

The Blues took a long time to recover from Gary Cahill‘s early red card as Chelsea lost 3-2 to Burnley on Opening Day, and know they could find themselves six points behind Tottenham after just two weeks of the Premier League season. The rivalry between Spurs and Chelsea has risen several notches in the past couple years, and Chelsea will also be hampered by suspensions to Cahill and Cesc Fabregas.

Everton starts murderer’s row of fixtures at the Etihad
Manchester City – Everton (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) STREAM ] 

Man City, Chelsea, Spurs, Manchester United: Those are Everton’s next three matches following a win over Stoke and Thursday’s Europa League win over Hajduk Split (The Toffees head to Croatia on Aug. 24). The good news, if there is any, is that Man City didn’t look terrific in its win over Brighton and Hove Albion. The bad news? Everton’s top men, aside from new boy Gylfi Sigurdsson, almost all played in the win over Hajduk.

Arsenal’s beleaguered defense heads to the road
Stoke City – Arsenal (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

The Gunners may boast wins over Chelsea and Leicester City this month, but Arsenal conceded thrice to the Foxes and needed drama to boost three points from Opening Day. Stoke fell 1-0 at Everton but was far from a pushover.

Can Town make it 2-for-2 versus the Toon?
Huddersfield Town vs. Newcastle United (Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – STREAM ]

Rafa Benitez’s Opening Day plans were shuttered by Jonjo Shelvey‘s poor red card, and the Spaniard won’t have his best midfielder at The John Smith’s Stadium when Newcastle faces a Town team that won 3-0 at Crystal Palace. The road sides won when these two met in the Championship last season.

Liverpool’s stumbling defense meets old pal Benteke
Liverpool vs. Crystal Palace (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – STREAM ] 

Jurgen Klopp‘s men stumbled out of the gates, even if their last minute concession against Watford in a 3-3 draw arguably shouldn’t have stood up to the linesman’s view. Benteke scored twice as the Eagles won at Anfield last season, and will certainly be up for irking his old boss once more.

VIDEO: Giovanni Reyna stars for USYNT with goal, assists

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Seldom is a U-15 match truly worth national attention, but it certainly deserves eyes when the player who stars in the Stars and Stripes happens to be the son of USMNT royalty.

Giovanni Reyna is going to be known as Claudio Reyna’s son for some time, but if he keeps up starring roles like his goal and two assist performance against Panama in the CONCACAF U-15 Championship, Claudio will move into “Giovanni Reyna’s dad” status at some point.

[ MORE: Another American teen making Bundesliga name ]

That’s way down the line considering “Dad” is an American pioneer with 112 caps, eight goals and a career with Manchester City, Rangers, Sunderland, Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, and New York Red Bulls, but worth noting nonetheless.

Reyna’s goal was an absolute stunner:

And here are his two assists, putting Mexico on notice for Saturday morning’s final.