Didier Drogba signs in Turkey, reinforces Galatasaray’s headlining January

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It’s not Chelsea or the much-rumored Juventus move that’s lingered over the last two months, but with his switch to Galatasaray, Didier Drogba is inching back onto our soccer radars. He’s also joining a huge club, will play in Champions League, and is likely set for another significant payday. Not a bad day for one of the world’s soccer icons.

That’s because a rumor that surfaced late last week, one that  linked Drogba with the Turkish leaders, has come to fruition. The Chelsea icon who scored the final penalty kick in May’s Champions League final will join the Istanbul giants on an 18-month deal, ending his sojourn in the Chinese Super League.

Drogba, who tallied 157 all-competition goals in his eight years at Stamford Bridge, moved to Shanhai Shenhua this summer. The deal make him one of the highest paid soccer players in the world, but disappointing results combined uncertainty at the club left Drogba and former Chelsea teammate Nicolas Anelka seeking offseason moves. Anelka has since confirmed a five-month Juventus loan that will see him miss the start of the Chinese Super League season. Drogba, after scoring eight goals in 11 games in China, is now set for a permanent move.

Drogba is currently with the Cote d’Ivoire national team participating in the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa. Les Elephants have won their first two matches of the tournament, though in their 3-0 win over Tunisia on Saturday, Drogba was relegated to the bench for the first time in his international career. Despite his still prodigious reputation, a 34-year-old Drogba playing on three days rest may have been too much to ask so early in the tournament.

Despite those new limitations, expect Drogba’s move to elicit echoes of the reaction that met Wesley Sneijder’s signing. Fans will question why he’s moving to Gala when he was linked with other clubs, but as the circumstances behind Sneijder’s move showed, the Istanbul giants are more than a consolation prize. For a soon to be 35-year-old who is two and a half years removed from his best days, it’s may be the perfect level.

The Turkish league may not be at the same level of England or Italy’s, but the city is an attractive landing spot for players who have spent their careers in London, Madrid, and Milan. The meeting point between west and east makes Turkey’s biggest city one of the jewels of Europe, with a move to Galatasaray or Fenerbahçe giving players a chance to play in one of the world’s great derbies. Playing in front of some of the best crowds in world soccer, players moving to Istanbul can justify leaving Europe’s more renown leagues.

MORE: Perceptions of Sneijder, Drogba lodged in 2010.

Player’s like Sneijder can look to Anelka’s lucrative Fenerbahçe move in 2005 as reason to think Turkey need not be more than a stopover. For players like Drogba, there are far worse places to play out the last chapters of their career’s story.

And come February 20, Drogba will be back in Champions League. That’s when Galatasaray, beneficiaries of a weak group, will face Schalke in the Round of 16, and while we’re sure to hear exaggerated projections of what Sneijder and Drogba mean to Gala’snc, they may be enough to edge Turkey’s champions past the enigmatic Miners.

Still, there is a question of relevance. Gala’s not going to win Champions League, and with a gap between them and second in Turkey, Drogba may not matter domestically. The team already has a wealth of attacking options, from Turkish internationals Umut Bulut and Burak Yilmaz (who have already combined for 20 league goals) to Sweden’s Johan Elmander. On the field, it’s possible Drogba won’t bring Gala anything they wouldn’t have otherwise won.

But there’s a reason we care about this signing. Even as he plays out the last act of his career, there’s only one Didier Drogba. We care about his final seasons the same way we care about David Beckham’s and Thierry Henry’s. And today, one of the world’s truly unique players landed in another exciting local, one that will reinforce the Galatasaray name to a series of soccer fans who’d never bothered to care about Turkish soccer.

Southgate: Kane, Sterling setting England example on, off the field

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Perhaps Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling aren’t leaders in the most traditional sense — grizzled veterans who have been around the block and seen everything there is to see — but nevertheless, they’re the ones setting the example for England’s next generation of young stars, many of whom aren’t so much younger than they are.

[ MORE: Eric Dier out of England squad, back at Spurs with another injury ]

It’s clear for all to see that Kane and Sterling are leading and inspiring the Three Lions with their on-field performances, for club and for country — they have 55 goals and 19 assists between them since August — but to hear Gareth Southgate speak of their leadership off the field, one can’t help but feel the England program has been entrusted to very safe hands — quotes from the Guardian:

“To have such a top striker, like Harry, who has such humility and such a low ego, has a huge impression on the whole group, because at the moment he is the star player. You wouldn’t know it from the way he conducts himself, you wouldn’t know it from his application to training and the way he is disciplined with his preparation and his focus.

“Equally, that’s the same for Raheem. You see his focus in training, his preparation for those things, so for young players coming on it’s an easy equation: if I do the things those two do, there’s a good chance that I’ll get the performances that they are putting in.”

It’s certainly a new concept that players could be the undisputed leaders of the England squad at 25 and 24 years old, respectively — particularly to Southgate, who came through the England setup in the 1990s — but it’s something he’s been quick to embrace.

“I think young people in all walks of society have a little bit more belief. I think bosses in all industries are less draconian in the way they work, and I think that helps youngsters to come in and be more creative and believe they can make a difference. They don’t baulk at anything. I just think, generally speaking, given an opportunity, they’ll go and surprise people.”

“(During Southgate’s career) You were told: ‘Don’t get carried away, you’ve got to earn your right to play, you’ve got to earn your right to do this. Did that get the most out of us? Probably not. There were some great qualities that gave us, and we’ve got to make sure we don’t lose that, because respect is important, as is appreciation of what you’ve got, but equally, we want to let talent have its head.”

In particular, 17-year-old Jadon Sancho already views Sterling as a hero, a mentor and a friend. Asked whether Sterling “was now one of the daddies of the team”:

“Yeah,” the 18-year-old replied, his face lighting up as he began his eulogy. “His numbers are crazy this year, and he’s showing all the youngsters what it’s about. I’m just happy that I’m sharing a pitch with him.”

Orlando City wins as Kljestan downs thin NY Red Bulls side

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Sacha Kljestan came back to bite his former club as his 72nd minute goal provided a 1-0 victory for an otherwise poor Orlando City side over a New York Red Bulls squad looking thin during the international break.

With Aaron Long and Michael Murillo away on international duty and Florian Valot to a recently torn ACL, the Red Bulls welcomed Orlando City to Red Bull Arena already struggling for depth. Then, just 20 minutes into the match, defender Connor Lade was forced off due to injury. He might have been given a bit longer to recover and return to the match, but New York came close to conceding while reduced to 10 men, so Omir Fernandez was summoned off the bench.

While the Red Bulls seemed to have control of the match, they weren’t exactly of high quality. The hosts managed just four shots on target through the match and completed just five passes in the penalty area all game. The left flank for New York was especially devoid of creativity as all four key passes came from the right. Marc Rzatkowski picked up three of those four key passes, while Daniel Royer, Alex Muyl, and Vincent Bezecourt failed to record any. Bezecourt had an extremely poor match, with just six completed passes in 60 minutes of play before he came off in favor of young Mathias Jorgensen.

As the second half dragged along, Orlando City surprisingly went in front as Kljestan reached a cross by Joao Moutinho at the far post that was likely meant for Dom Dwyer, but as it skittered behind the striker, Kljestan was there streaking in from midfield to meet the ball and strike it home.

New York began to feel a sense of urgency after the goal, and nearly equalized in the 82nd minute but Orlando City defender Carlos Ascues was on hand to clear the ball off the line. Things would get much worse on the injury front for New York, as Fernandez required a substitute himself in the 80th minute before Alex Muyl came off in stoppage time with the Red Bulls already out of subs. Muyl came back on the field, but he initially had signaled for a substitute before realizing they were out.

The loss leaves New York with just three points through the season’s first three matches and sees them fail to take hold of an opportunity against a poor opponent at home. Orlando City, meanwhile, earns its first win of the campaign and jumps above New York into fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Youthful FC Dallas side earns home win over Colorado

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The kids are alright in Dallas as a 2-1 win over Colorado pushed them into the mix near the top of the Western Conference standings four games into the 2019 season.

The Dallas starting 11 included five homegrown players and included 18-year-old Jesus Ferreira as well as 18-year-old Edwin Cerrillo and 19-year-old Paxton Pomykal. 20-year-old Reggie Cannon and 21-year-old Pablo Aranguiz also manned the midfield, making goalscorer Michael Barrios feel like an old man at 27.

And yet, it was Barrios who opened the scoring just past the half-hour mark. He received the ball near the top of the box and let rip a speculative effort, contorting his body awkwardly to get power on a near-post shot, and it was enough to slip by Tim Howard.

Colorado pulled level in the 69th minute as Tommy Smith chested the ball into the back of the net with Jesse Gonzalez on the ground. VAR gave it a look but determined Smith did not handle the ball as he was on his knees on the doorstep.

Sticking with the home side’s theme, FC Dallas brought 17-year-old academy product Thomas Roberts off the bench, and it was he who helped create the winner. His assist to fellow sub Zdenek Ondrasek fed the latter with a shot, and while that was saved, Ryan Hollingshead was on hand to slot the ball home.

Euro 2020 qualifiers: Italy, Spain, Switzerland all secure wins

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Sergio Ramos provided the winner from the spot as Spain took home a 2-1 win over Norway in Valencia. Rodrigo bagged the opener 16 minutes in, volleying home Jordi Alba’s floated baseline cross. Alvaro Morata nearly bagged a headed goal just past the half-hour mark as part of a ruthless first-half onslaught by the home side, but Rune Jarstein made a fabulous stop. Alba then nearly had his own, putting it into the back of the net but pulled back for the offside flag.

The hosts would rue not taking their first-half opportunities as Norway would pull level after the break as Inigo Martinez toppled over substitute Bjorn Johnsen in the box on a set-piece. Bournemouth attacker Joshua King slotted it home from the spot and evened the score. That wouldn’t last long though, as Spain moved back in front just six minutes later with Ramos from the spot as Jarstein came off his line on a Spain break and scythed Morata down, delivering a cheeky Panenka down the middle.

Italy went wire-to-wire to top Finland 2-0 in Udine. 22-year-old Cagliari midfielder Nicolo Barella opened things up in the seventh minute with a deflected volley that found its way past Lukas Hradecky. Finland could only manage a single shot on target the entire way through, with Teemu Pukki badly missing wide in the 65th minute with their best opportunity, and Italy secured the win with a second goal 10 minutes later. 19-year-old Moise Kean made a perfect run through the two center-backs and Ciro Immobile delivered an incredible ball to slice them up, with the teen needing just one touch to slot it home for his first international goal on his first start.

Edin Dzeko earned his 100th cap, but 24-year-old Deni Milosevic was the biggest winner as he provided the eventual winner for Bosnia & Herzegovina who picked up a 2-1 win over Armenia. Rade Krunic put the hosts 1-0 up past the half-hour mark in Sarajevo, and then Milosevic struck with 10 minutes to go, streaking down the middle to meet Edin Visca’s long cross from the right. Henrikh Mkhitaryan slotted home a penalty in the third minute of stoppage time but it was nothing more than a consolation.

Greece flew to a 2-0 win over Lichtenstein in Vaduz as Konstantinos Fortounis and Anastasios Donis delivered the strikes. The first came at the stroke of halftime, brilliantly volleying a laser beam delivery from Dimitrios Kourbelis. The second came with 10 minutes to go with Donis firing home sealing the victory. It was elementary for the visitors, holding 73% possession and holding Liechtenstein without a single shot on target on just three total efforts.

Ireland topped Gibraltar 1-0 in Mick McCarthy’s first game back as manager. On a windy day at Victoria Stadium in Gibraltar, Ireland held 63% possession but could only manage three shots on target, picking up a 49th minute winner off the foot of Jeff Hendrick who came streaking down the middle to meet David McGoldrick’s cross from the left.

Sweden held off a late comeback from Romania to win 2-1 in Stockholm. Mainz striker Robin Quaison bagged the opener just past the half-hour mark with a wonderful touch on the outside of his foot at the near post. They doubled the lead through Victor Claesson just seven minutes later as Quaison’s cross was deflected right to his feet near the top of the box and he fired past Ciprian Tatarusanu. Romania scored just before the hour mark but it proved just a consolation as they couldn’t find an equalizer.

It was an elementary day for Switzerland who topped Georgia 2-0 behind second-half goals from Steven Zuber and Denis Zakaria. Switzerland was dominant from start to finish, pumping off 25 shots with eight on target and holding the hosts to just a single shot on target among six total efforts.

RESULTS

Spain 2-1 Norway
Italy 2-0 Finland
Bosnia & Herzegovina 2-1 Armenia
Lichtenstein 0-2 Greece
Gibraltar 0-1 Republic of Ireland
Sweden 2-1 Romania
Georgia 0-2 Switzerland
Malta 2-1 Faroe Islands