Brazil slides into World Cup semifinals with 2-1 win over darlings Colombia

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The host nation soared early and locked down late, providing an exciting but nervy 2-1 victory against an in-form Colombian side.

Thiago Silva picked up a goal inside the opening 10 minutes, and David Luiz scored an absolute stunner off a second half free-kick to put Brazil through to the semifinals against Germany.

James Rodriguez stole fans hearts throughout the World Cup, but was silenced for much of the game by a Brazilian midfield doubling as a brick wall.

With Luiz Gustavo suspended on yellow card accumulation, Fernandinho and Paulinho held down the fort in the middle and destroyed plenty of Colombian build-up play.

The final minutes were nervy after Rodriguez converted a penalty, but as Colombia flooded men forward it wasn’t enough to draw level late.

The first real chance fell to the hosts, 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.

Silva wasn’t just a goal-scorer for his country. The captain was an iron-clad defender throughout the match, leading his team at the back with gobs of clearances, blocks, and distribution.

Colombia’s only good chance of the half came in the 11th minute when Juan Cuadrado picked up a loose ball in the box and rifled on goal, but it went just wide of the near post.

source: AP
James Rodriguez stole the hearts of fans around the world, and finished with six goals, scoring in every match.

It was all Brazil from then. Hulk picked up a few first-half chances from a tight angle, but none of them found the target. A shot of his in the 20th minute was saved by David Ospina and the rebound fell to Oscar.  The number-10 blasted on net, but Ospina dove and acrobatically grasped the attempt to end the chance.

The referee’s performance left much to be desired, with a pair of weird moments defining his first half. A group of opposing players got upset with each other, and as the referee went to break up the scuffle, Brazil took the quick kick, but the distracted ref somehow let play continue.

In the 38th minute, a Colombian free kick at the top of the box saw the ref use his temporary spray, but as James Rodriguez looked to take the kick, Neymar came charging out of the wall clearly in violation of the 10-yard rule, but the official again swallowed his whistle.

There were 25 first-half fouls, but not a single yellow card produced.

The second half saw Brazil lock down even harder defensively, but they had a few opportunities, and they grabbed one.

As the fouling continued, the referee continued to swallow not only his whistle but his yellow card as well. He finally produced one in the 64th minute to Thiago Silva for a silly challenge on Ospina as he attempted to complete a drop kick.

Rodriguez puzzlingly earned one as well – for his first foul – for a slide-tackle of Hulk on 68 minutes.  David Luiz took the free kick and produced an absolute goalazo, smashing the ball into the top corner past a diving Ospina for a 2-0 lead.

The goal actually energized the game again, after it had become more of a midfield battle than the attacking affair we saw in the first half.

Colombia poured men forward, and it earned them a penalty with 10 minutes to go. Rodriguez released substitute striker Carlos Bacca, and Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar scythed down the attacker, earning just a yellow card.  Rodriguez took the penalty, and wrong-footed Cesar for the score.

Having pulled one back, the entirety of the final 10 minutes was Colombian attack. Bacca nearly equalized on a header just two minutes after the goal, but it flashed across the face harmlessly.

Brazil has some questions going forward into their semifinal with Germany. Neymar was carried off on a stretcher in the dying minutes after taking a heavy knee into his back, and Thiago Silva is suspended after receiving the second yellow of his tournament.

LINEUPS:

Brazil – Julio Cesar, T. Silva, Luiz, Maicon, Marcelo; Fernandinho, Paulinho (Hernanes 86′), Oscar; Fred, Neymar (Henrique 88′), Hulk (Ramires 83′).

Goals: Silva 7′, Luiz 68′

Colombia – Ospina; Zuñiga, Zapata, Yepes, Armero; Sanchez, Rodriguez, Cuadrado (Quintero 80′), Guarin, Ibarbo (Ramos 46′); Gutierrez (Bacca 70′).

Goals: Rodriguez (pen) 80′

Griezmann’s advisor namechecks Man Utd, 4 others

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Antoine Griezmann has maintained a desire to stay at Atletico Madrid, but his advisor says the French striker has five realistic destinations for next season if he doesn’t stay at the Vicente Calderon.

Speaking on the French outlet Telefoot, advisor Eric Olhats says the 26-year-old Griezmann is limited by his $109 million release clause.

[ MORE: Zlatan’s comeback vow; Mata close ]

Griezmann has 25 goals and 11 assists this season, slightly lighter on the goals and a step up in helpers with Atleti alive in two competitions this season. He’s still played centrally and wide right, and Yannick Carrasco is starring on the left.

From Sky Sports:

“There is an unavoidable 100m clause so that restricts the number of candidates. You have United, City, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

“United were the first to come and see us and the most concrete in their wishes.”

Griezmann to the Premier League is a move many would love to see, or at least a new challenge for the fantastic attacker. With respect to Barcelona and Real Madrid, we’ve seen plenty of top La Liga talents move within the division.

Of course, there would be something special to both Diego Simeone and Griezmann winning the UEFA Champions League and defending it at Atleti. Something tells us their fate in this year’s semifinal against Real Madrid may tip the scales for both men, or at least Griezmann.

Zlatan posts comeback vow; Mata nears return

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One of the more unique personalities in the sports world, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has released comments and a leggy photo following news that he’ll need ACL and PCL surgery.

The Swedish star was injured in stoppage time of Manchester United’s UEFA Europa League quarterfinal win over Anderlecht, and tests revealed the injury was serious.

Ibrahimovic, 35, had not signed his contract extension with United, but it seemed more likely as time wore on. He finishes his first season with 28 goals and 10 assists, an unfettered success in his Premier League bow.

Despite the severe nature of his injury, Ibrahimovic vowed to return by posting a picture of his massive, uncovered legs in front of a fireplace (See full Instagram message at bottom).

“One thing is for sure, I decide when it’s time to stop and nothing else. Giving up is not an option. See you soon.”

One of United’s locker room leaders is backing him. Ander Herrera told a Swedish outlet that Ibrahimovic spoke to the team and wished them luck with the rest of the season.

“But he did not say much, really. He wished us only good luck with the rest of the season. He has an incredible mentality and a great physique, I have never seen such a good football body.”

I don’t think anyone doubts that Ibrahimovic will come back and play at a high level, but a starring role in the Premier League is a big ask. Because of that, will he be more motivated to reprove himself with United and less motivated to test out MLS or another league?

There is some good news for United, as Juan Mata says he hopes to be back with the team soon.

PL title & FA Cup in sight, Conte says Chelsea still rebuilding

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Antonio Conte might be just seven games away from guiding Chelsea to a Premier League and FA Cup double this season, but the Blues’ first-year Italian manager insists his squad is nowhere near being a finished product.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Speaking after Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal triumph over Tottenham Hotspur, Conte insisted that the team he inherited last summer, after a disastrous 10th-place finish in the PL, is “in a period of transition” and that “[they] need time” as the club moves on from an accomplished, foundational generation — quotes from Sky Sports:

“I think that now at Chelsea we are in a period of transition. In this season, we have lost (Branislav) Ivanovic, (John Obi) Mikel and next season we lose John Terry.

“We are talking about players who wrote the history of this club. They won a lot. Now we have to find the right substitutes for these players and then work to put these players at the same level.

“I think that in the period with Carlo (Ancelotti) — and Carlo is the best Italian coach, I have great respect for him — he arrived at Chelsea when they had a really strong squad. Now we are building. We are building something important. We need time.”

[ MORE: Kante takes home PFA Player of the Year | Dele wins Young Player ]

Conte is doing two things with the above comments: 1) he’s tempering expectations for next season, when Chelsea will be back in the UEFA Champions League and automatically expected to repeat as PL champions — not to mention, taking a bit of pressure off in these final two months of the 2016-17 season; and, 2) pointing out just how impressive his work to date has been, the fact he’s potentially seven games away from lifting two trophies in seven days’ time next month.

Ligue 1: Mbappe, Falcao fire Monaco top again

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PARIS (AP) Strikers Radamel Falcao and Kylian Mbappe continued their fine form with a goal each to help Monaco secure a 2-1 win at Lyon and reclaim top spot in the French league on Sunday.

Monaco moves above defending champion Paris Saint-Germain on goal difference, with Monaco having played a game less. PSG has four games left.

“It wasn’t easy and it was a big win for us tonight,” Monaco center half Andrea Raggi said. “We all play for each other and it’s now or never.”

It has been an astonishing season for Monaco, which has now scored 143 goals in all competitions and remains on course for the treble. Monaco faces PSG in the French Cup semifinals next Wednesday.

Falcao and Mbappe scored in midweek when Monaco beat German side Borussia Dortmund 3-1 in the return leg of their Champions League quarterfinal to reach the last four 6-3 on aggregate.

Lyon also did well in Europe, going through on penalty kicks away to Turkish club Besiktas to reach the last four in the Europa League.

Falcao and the 18-year-old Mbappe have combined for 51 goals.

Falcao put Monaco ahead in the 36th minute with a header from close range – his 28th goal of the season – and Mbappe made it 2-0 just before halftime with a trademark surging run and cool finish for his 23rd.

“I just try and give my best whenever I play,” said Mbappe, who has recently been called into the France team. “I wasn’t playing much at the start of the season, so I’m still quite fresh and I hope I can help us win the remaining games.”

PSG beat Montpellier 2-0 at home on Saturday with Edinson Cavani scoring his 31st league goal of the season and 44th overall.

Nice has already guaranteed third place and a spot in the qualifying round for next season’s Champions League.

But with four games remaining, it is six points behind Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain. Nice hosts PSG next Sunday.

Striker Corentin Jean gave mid-table Toulouse the lead in the 57th minute. Midfielder Valentin Eysseric continued his fine form with the equalizer three minutes later.

The game was briefly halted early in the first half after a group of Saint-Etienne supporters forced themselves into the stadium.

The match was supposed to be played behind closed doors as a punishment for unruly supporters during Saint-Etienne’s local derby against Lyon.

After a brief delay for police to remove the fans, Slovakia striker Robert Beric put the home side ahead in the 39th and center half Edson Mexer leveled just before the break.

Saint-Etienne is in seventh place, while Rennes is ninth.