Offshore drilling, Spain: Real Madrid 2, at Barcelona 1

1 Comment

Man of the Match: A number of Real Madrid players could have earned this honor for efforts protecting goal, but the 73rd minute match winner from Cristiano Ronaldo guaranteed he’d get this recognition, playing a part in both goals, On the second, his contribution was obvious: Ronaldo making a great run to beat Javier Mascherano to a perfectly weighted ball from Mesut Özil before leaving Victor Valdés in no man’s land for an easy finish. What will be forgotten on the first goal, however, was Ronaldo’s speed forced Sergio Busquets to take him down along the left flank. Busquets was booked, the set piece was played out by Barça for a corner, and the ensuing kick got El Real the opener.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • As was the case on Wednesday, it took a highly cohesive team effort to beat Barcelona; however, there were four players who stood out:
    • Fabio Coentrão was amazing preventing crosses in from Dani Alves’s flank. I don’t know if it redeems the mistake he made in Munich, but oh does it make it seem like a one off. He’ll be many’s man of the match.
    • Alvaro Arbeloa also convinced at the opposite fullback position, winning a number of goal kicks.
    • Xabi Alonso was a pest sticking his leg out to abduct would be through balls.
    • And Sami Khedira was crucial tactically. With Cristian Tello starting wide left for Barca and Pepe still playing very narrow at the right center back position, the channel between them became a Amazon-sized river. Khedira was exceptional tracking runners into the space and covering for Pepe when the big defender followed Barça attackers into midfield.
  • And like Wednesday, Barcelona dominated possession (72-28), but unlike Chelsea, Real Madrid was not content to sit back and wait out their ball-hogging opponents. Real had more shots on goal (six to three) and forced seven corners to Barcelona’s four.
  • Proponents of Victor Valdés will deny it, but Iker Casillas likely prevents the winning goal. With Özil 35 yards from goal along the right flank, there was only one thing he was going to do: Play a ball into the right of the area for Ronaldo. In the sixth minute of the match, we saw Casillas successfully get off his line quickly to make a save at the edge of the area when Pepe gave the ball away in midfield. Valdés was not as quick reading this play and, pulling up rather than lay out to stop Ronaldo’s shot, allowed the winning goal.
  • I’m starting to suspect the rumors of an attitude adjustment happening with Gerard Piqué are true. Down a goal in this one, Piqué was seen warming up, but when it came time to use his last sub, Pep Guardiola chose to send on Cesc Fabregas for Cristian Tello, even though Real Madrid was going to bunker. A number of corner kicks forced at the end never threatened a Real side that only had to worry about Carles Puyol, and without another target on the field, Barcelona gave Real no disincentive to chopping them down every time they got 10 yards into the attacking half.
  • Woulda, coulda, shoulda; whatever, today should be about Real Madrid. If Barcelona wasn’t their best, give credit to Real Madrid, who now sit seven points clear in Spain with four matches to play. They’ve set a record for goals in a season (109) and could end the campaign with 100 points. This race is over, and whereas it previously looked like Real was going to carry the indignity of winning league without having taken points from Barcelona, instead they have their first win at the Nou Camp since 2007.
  • Suffice to say, this is the biggest win of José Mourinho’s time at Real Madrid. The Copa del Rey win over Barça won silverware, but it didn’t seal a league, and it wasn’t at Camp Nou. Plus, the way Real won vindicates the Special One against skeptics who insisted Real Madrid needed to change their approach. Mourinho has made incremental improvements over the last two years to where a result like today’s is more than a one-off, fanciful possibility. I would still content Barcelona’s more likely to win the next game they play (whenever that is), but Real Madrid winning these matches can no longer be considered surprising or an upset. That wasn’t the case a year-and-a-half ago, and it certainly wasn’t the case when Mourinho was brought in from Inter Milan.
  • For Barcelona, it’s the first time they’ve lost two in a row since May 2009 – two league matches conceded after they’d already locked up the title (and were resting ahead of their Champions League final in Rome). The last time there were two clearly meaningful matches Barcelona lost consecutively was February 2007, when Frank Rijkaard’s Barça side lost at the Mestalla to Valencia ahead of a 2-1, home loss in Champions League to Liverpool.
  • As it concerns mid-week, Real Madrid played the same team that lost in Munich. You’d think there’d be no changes for Wednesday’s match at the Bernabeu. José’s best XI will just have to find the energy. Barcelona made only two changes, but it wasn’t until they brought on Alexis (who had struggled so much at Stamford Bridge) that they were able to break down Real Madrid’s defense. Guardiola may elect to keep Alexis in his Champions League starting XI, but coming off consecutive losses, mentality will be a bigger issue than selection.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Fekir negotiations back on; Chelsea waiting on transfer targets; and more

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Could Liverpool get its star attacking midfield target after all?

That’s what seems to be the case, as the agent for Lyon and France midfielder Nabil Fekir told French TV channel LCI Monday evening that negotiations aren’t over between Liverpool and Lyon.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“He didn’t sign because um… it is not over! This is not the end of the story,” Fekir’s agent, Jean-Pierre Bernes reportedly said.

It was just two weeks ago when Lyon president Jean-Michael Aulas stated that Fekir, Lyon’s captain, would remain with the club for the upcoming season, after negotiations with Liverpool fell through. According to the Liverpool Echo, the Reds wanted a second opinion on a previous knee injury, and had balked at the $70 million price tag.

But now it appears Liverpool and Aulas could still be in conversations to try and find a mutually accepted fee.

At the same time, stirring up transfer drama is in Bernes interest, as it could drive other teams into the race to sign Fekir and raise his transfer fee, meaning more money to him, Fekir (if he gets a cut) and Lyon. Watch this space for more to come during and after the World Cup.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from across the Premier League and Europe:

(more…)

Japan upsets ten-man Colombia in Group H opener

Getty Images
Leave a comment

On paper, the 61st-ranked team in the world beating the 16th-ranked team in the world is a massive upset. But considering the circumstances within the game, perhaps this wasn’t an upset after all.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Two set pieces were the difference as Japan defeated ten-man Colombia, 2-1 on Tuesday morning in Saransk. Colombia played with ten men for nearly the entire match, after Carlos Sanchez was sent off for a handball in the box and a denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

The game took a massive turn in the third minute, as Colombia centerback Davinson Sanchez failed to control a pass and Yuya Osako found himself free on goal. His shot was parried away by Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina but Kagawa’s rebound shot was clearly blocked by Sanchez’s right arm. The referee, Damir Skomina immediately pointed to the penalty spot and went to the back pocket, sending Sanchez to the showers.

Kagawa stepped up and cooly sent Ospina the wrong way to put Japan on top.

Late in the first half, after both teams had chances on target, Colombia came back and evened the scoreline.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Juan Fernando Quintero, starting in place of the recovering James Rodriguez, smartly took a free kick and fired it low, under the wall as it jumped. Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima reacted late and although he arrived as the ball was crossing the line, he couldn’t keep it from going over, tying the game in the 39th minute.

Ultimately, despite its efforts, Colombia began to tire and on a corner kick, the Blue Samurai took back the lead and control of their destiny in Group H. A corner kick from Keisuke Honda was re-directed past Ospina by Osako, who jumped well over Santiago Arias, to give Japan a 2-1 lead in the 75th minute.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Rodriguez was introduced in the 57th minute but try as he did, Colombia was unable to find the final pass in the box, and Japan held on for the unexpected victory.

With the win, Japan top Group H ahead of a meeting with Senegal, while Colombia will have to regroup to face Poland.

In a World Cup full of unexpected results, Tuesday brought yet another memorable win for an underdog.

New Zealand women footballers rebel against national coach

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wellington, New Zealand (AP) Only weeks after New Zealand Football made headlines by signing a revolutionary equal pay deal with its female players, the organization is facing a mutiny by members of its women’s team against the national coach.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

New Zealand Football confirmed on Tuesday it had received a letter signed by a number of New Zealand players complaining about the methods and tactics employed by Austria-born coach Andreas Heraf.

The complaints follow the New Zealand team’s recent 3-1 loss at home to Japan. Heraf angered his players, and fans of the Football Ferns national team, by taking an entirely defensive game plan into the rare home international.

Heraf then further angered his players with comments defending his approach.

He said there was “a big difference in quality” between the New Zealand and Japanese players and that New Zealand “will never have that quality” to compete with top teams like Japan. He said the scoreline might have been 8-0 if New Zealand had not adopted a defensive approach.

One of New Zealand’s leading players, United States-based Abby Erceg, retired after playing 132 matches for New Zealand, citing Heraf’s approach in previous international matches.

She later told New Zealand media: “I couldn’t stand to wear that (national symbol) on my chest any more when his vision was to cower in a corner and not get beat by too much.”

New Zealand Football defended Heraf against the media and public criticism but admitted his comments were “strange” and “wrong” and did not accurately reflect his views. Heraf later apologized and said he had not expressed himself clearly.

But efforts to dampen the controversy have failed. New Zealand Football said in a statement it had “received a letter from the NZ Professional Footballers Association (NZPFA) last night with a number of complaints from the players of the Football Ferns.”

The mutiny comes only weeks after New Zealand gained international headlines for a deal which gives female pay parity with their male counterparts.

New Zealand Football signed the deal which provided female players with equal match payments, travel arrangements and prize money.

At the time, New Zealand women’s captain Ali Riley said the deal meant New Zealand would “be able to compete against the top teams, to be able to do well at a World Cup and the Olympics – this is what we needed.”

VIDEO: Colombia sees red, Japan takes early lead

Getty Images
1 Comment

The first red card of the World Cup came just moments after fans took their seats in Saransk.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

After David Ospina blocked a breakaway opportunity from Yuya Osako in the third minute of the match, Japan star and former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa fired the rebound on goal. But his shot was blocked by the arm of Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez, which earned him a straight red card from referee Damir Skomina and an early trip to the locker room.

Kagawa then stepped up to the spot and calmly sent Ospina the wrong way to give Japan the shock early lead.

Colombia will play the rest of the match with ten men and no James Rodriguez, who was named to the bench for this match as he recovers from a reported calf injury.