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.

FOLLOW LIVE: Soccerly’s real-time match center

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.

Wenger: Timing of departure “not really my decision”

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Arsene Wenger has been speaking about his Arsenal departure and there are some intriguing details emerging.

Wenger, 68, announced last Friday that he would be leaving Arsenal at the end of the current 2017-18 campaign after almost 22 years in charge.

But when asked about the timing of his decision during his press conference ahead of the Europa League semifinal first leg against Atletico Madrid on Thursday, Wenger said it was taken out of his hands…

“The timing was not really my decision, the rest I have spoken about already,” Wenger said. “I focus on what I have to do every day. At the moment, I work like ever.”

Wenger added that he will “for sure” continue to work beyond this season but wasn’t giving anything away. The Arsenal boss also said he had a “high opinion of Luis Enrique” but that didn’t “want to influence the next manager.”

What do we make of all this?

Wenger still had one more year left on his current deal at Arsenal and it appears he was keen to be in charge next season. The growing notion that Wenger stepped down before he was sacked seems to be on point. After three Premier League titles and 10 major trophies in total in over two decades in charge, it appears Wenger didn’t get to decide when he called time on his Arsenal career.

The perfect end for Wenger at Arsenal would be to win the Europa League and then leave on a high, but these comments suggest the Frenchman may not be happy with some of the hierarchy at Arsenal.

These comments amid links to PSG and the French national team also suggest to rule out a role upstairs at Arsenal, at least for the foreseeable future, for Wenger.

Roma condemn violent scenes outside Anfield

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AS Roma have condemned an attack from some of its supporters on Liverpool’s fans before the game after a 53-year-old Liverpool supporter was injured outside Anfield before the UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg on Tuesday.

The Serie A side said that a “small minority of traveling fans brought shame on the club” as two men from Rome have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after the attack on the Liverpool fan who is in a critical condition after suffering head injuries.

Below is the statement in full from the Italian club.

AS Roma condemns in the strongest possible terms the abhorrent behavior of a small minority of traveling fans who brought shame on the club and the vast majority of Roma’s well-behaved supporters at Anfield after getting involved in clashes with Liverpool supporters before last night’s fixture.

There is no place for this type of vile behavior in football and the club is now cooperating with Liverpool Football Club, UEFA and the authorities. The club’s thoughts and prayers are with the 53-year-old Liverpool fan in hospital and his family at this time.

Salah’s sensational season in context

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Mohamed Salah is having a season on the same level as Lionel Messi.

Some* will even say it’s better.

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

There are few ways to overstate how well the Egyptian has performed for Liverpool this season, and few matches have been as strong as Tuesday’s destruction of AS Roma.

Make no mistake about it: Destruction is the right word. I Lupi isn’t dead thanks to the Reds right side of the defense and James Milner‘s arm, but it was fading out of consciousness when Salah departed the game.

It’s not crazy to draw the connection. Just ask Jurgen Klopp:

“If anyone wants to say it is my mistake that we concede the two goals because I change the striker, I have no problem with that,” he said. “Mo was running all the time and it would not have helped us if he gets an injury. What a player. If you think he is the best in the world, write it or say it. He is in outstandingly good shape, world-class shape, but to be the best in the world you need to do it over a longer period, I think. The other two are not bad.”

No, no they are not, but Salah is on their level.

The aesthetics of his first goal were first-class, dinging off the bottom of the cross bar like a vicious swish of a Steph Curry three. When the night ended, Salah had two more goals and two more assists to bring his total to 43 goals and 15 assists in 47 matches. In three more matches, the best player on the planet has 40 and 18 (Ronaldo has 42 and 7 in 39).

[ MORE: LFC supporter in critical condition after Roma attack ]

The reason not to overreact is Luis Suarez’s 2013-14, in which he posted posted 31 goals and 24 assists in 37 games and would’ve arguably made Salah’s season look just “pretty great” if the Reds were in European football (or, one could argue, Suarez wasn’t slowed by the demands of a more congested adventure).

And we also won’t know Salah’s path next season. Take Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2007-08 season, the closest thing we have to Suarez or Salah in this generation. The then-23-year-old posted 42+8 in 49, but took a step back the next season before exploding into space upon debut with Madrid the following season (His second Real campaign, 2010-11, was the first real otherworldly CR7 campaign, with 53+18 in 54).

Salah is the Premier League Player of the Year, and he’s the front-runner for the Ballon d’Or (which is likely to be determined by this summer’s World Cup in Russia, with Argentina and Portugal possibly on a quarterfinal collision course and Egypt in an very winnable Group A with Russia, Uruguay, and Saudi Arabia).

Jurgen Klopp deserves much credit for Salah’s explosion. Even if the Egyptian began his ascent in Italy, there’s been nothing like this. And if he can do it a few more years, he has the chance to land amongst the generational names in soccer (perhaps as the best African player in Premier League history with Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba).

He’ll almost certainly become the all-time single-season Liverpool league goal scorer this season barring rest for the UCL, and he’ll be their top all-time according to Opta if he nabs four or more goals across 4-5 matches (Roma again, Stoke, Chelsea, Brighton, and probably Real Madrid or Bayern Munich).

The Reds were unbelievably good for 80 minutes on Tuesday — 75 of which were Salah-led — and the praise would’ve been flowing like a waterfall had they not switched off for 10 (in which it must be said Liverpool was fortunate to only concede twice!).

*By the way, Messi fans, you’ll be relieved to count me as not one of those who’d say Salah is having a better season. It’s closer than you think. Messi is better than Salah in league play, while Salah is having a superior UCL campaign. Given the general consensus top-to-bottom on Premier League vs. La Liga and Barca’s UCL competition vs. Liverpool’s opponents — which is drawing level now — we’d say it’s even.

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Messi 0.4-0.31
Key passes: Messi, 2.16-1.63
Chances created: Messi, 2.56-1.94
Attack score: Messi, 73.04-54.5
Possession score: Messi, 5.6 to minus-5.12
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-77
Shot accuracy: Even (62%)
Tackles won: Salah, 0.24-0.2
Take-ons won (%): Messi, 69.47-64.96

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Salah, 0.45-0.23
Key passes: Salah, 2.13-1.72
Chances created: Salah, 2.58-1.95
Attack score: Salah, 70.89-55.69
Possession score: Messi, 2.71 to minus-3.34
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-73
Shot accuracy(%): Salah, 73-69
Tackles won: Messi, 0.69-.45
Take-ons won (%): Salah, 76.4-61.4

How long is Sebastian Giovinco for Toronto FC?

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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While Toronto FC’s CONCACAF Champions League success has largely been driven by Sebastian Giovinco — Wednesday’s final second leg not withstanding — perhaps the Reds’ brass isn’t convinced the diminutive 31-year-old can keep it up much longer (at least in terms of value).

[ MORE: Behind the scenes at NYCFC training ]

Toronto’s dynamic Designated Player says he wants to stay in Ontario, implying that he’d like to be there for the rest of his career, but TFC’s brass may not want to pony up DP dollars for the next stage of Giovinco’s career.

From The Toronto Sun’s Kurt Larson:

“I already talk, but they said it’s not the moment (for contract talks),” Giovinco told the Sun. “For them, that’s not a problem, for me it is a little bit. I want to know my future. I have family. I’m 31 years old. For what I do for the city, I think I deserve it, no? … For them it’s not a problem, for me it’s starting to be a problem … I already said I want to stay here forever … If not, I have to think about other options.”

Let’s look into Seba’s success. The Italian has three goals and four assists in seven CCL matches (though scoreless through three MLS matches).

2017: 32 games, 20 goals, seven assists (6W-3L-2T w/o him)
2016: 37 games, 22 goals, 16 assists (1W-1L-4T w/o him)
2015: 35 games, 23 goals, 14 assists (0W-2L w/o him)

The assist numbers took a hit with the emergence of Victor Vazquez, but the ex-Barcelona man is also 31 years old. Michael Bradley turns 31 this summer, and Jozy Altidore is 29 in November.

Who will stay long-term? Who could general manager Tim Bezbatchenko have in mind as replacements, upgrades, or buttressing? Inquiring minds are