Offshore drilling, UEFA Champions League: at Galatasaray 1, Schalke 1

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It’s going to take more than two of the world’s biggest soccer stars to make Galatasaray a true threat in Champions League, with a Schalke 04 side that’s fallen flat in Germany showing the additions of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder may not be enough to get the Turkish champions out of UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16. Having opened with a 1-1 in their tie with Schalke, Gala faces the daunting task of winning or turning around the away goal in Gelsenkirchen to make their big January signings pay off.

Sneijder, a 2010 Champions League winner, moved to Istanbul from Inter Milan in the January window. Drogba, who won this competition last year with Chelsea, soon followed, ending his short stint with Chinese Super League club Shanghai Shenhua.

Combined with the relatively fortunate draw of Schalke in the knockout round, the signings had many speculating how fair the Super Lïg leaders could go in Europe. After a day where the duo were relatively quiet, Schalke (who sit ninth in the German Bundesliga) are a step closer to their second quarterfinal appearance in three years.

The match started as Gala would have liked, with quick transition from their defensive third offsetting Schalke’s control. Those transitions payed off in the 12th minute when Schalke defender Benedikt Höwedes failed to clear a speculative pass from midfielder Selcuk Inan. The ball came down to Burak Yilmaz, the competition’s leading scorer, who finished high into the left of net from 16 yards, giving Gala the early lead.

When Hamit Altintop rattled the post minutes later, Galatasaray seemed prime to build on their lead. Yilmaz would later push a shot wide after being put through on goal, another sign the Turks were likely to win the day.

But a misplay by central defender Dany Nounkeu on a ball launched out of Schalke’s third led to the visitors’ only goal. The Cameroonian’s failure to control the ball allowed Jermaine Jones to spring Jefferson Farfan on a counterattack. When the Farfan drew the defense before playing a ball back across the box for Jones, Schalke had their road goal.

It was another example of the often perverse importance of road goals. Given the de facto lead, Schalke used their huge possession advantage (57 percent) to control the second half. Galatasaray were still the more dangerous side, their direct play stressing Schalke’s shakey central defense, but they were never able to craft that vital go-ahead goal. Schalke, given the lead via the road goals tiebreaker, could be content waiting for the final whistle.

As a result, the team of Drogba and Sneijder inched closer to a Champions League exit, in the process answering the questions that underscored their stars’ January acquisitions. It’s going to take more than two big names to make Galatasaray a threat in Champions League.

source:  Man of the Match: This is what Jurgen Klinsmann sees in Jermaine Jones. The U.S. international was a beast in midfield for Schalke, providing the needed muscle at the back while still jumping forward to serve as the team’s connection to their attack. Finishing and creating his team’s only goal, Jones played the most important part in winning a lead ahead of the second leg.

Unfortunately, it’s a second leg he’ll miss. A first half yellow card means Jones sits the Germany match having accumulated too may cautions.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

The Türk Telecom pitch needs a lot of work – By the end of the day’s game, Gala’s field was as chewed up as an old MLS pitch after a college football game. Divits throughout led to a choppy, uneven finish, with neither team able to muster a cohesive attack around the field’s ruts.

Excuse me for being too obvious, but shouldn’t a team that can afford Drogba and Sneijder be able to maintain a better field? Granted, Istanbul averages about two-and-a-half inches of rain each February, but it’s not the only place in the world that has to deal with winter precipitation.

I’m sure there’s a good reason why the pitch was destroyed by the end of the night, but was still destroyed.

Gala didn’t set up to Wesley Sneijder’s strengths, either – During the half he was on the pitch, Wesley Sneijder spent part of his time out left, part of his time playing behind the strikers, with Galatasaray shifting formations. It was a curious deployment for a player who has never been able to display his talents when a team isn’t build around him.

That was one of the problems during his last days at Inter, but moving to Galatasaray, it was assumed Fatih Terim would play to Sneijder’s strengths. That’s not what happened on Wednesday.

You want these teams in the quarterfinals – Whichever team makes it through this tie, the other seven quarterfinalists will be hoping to draw them. Neither team performed like a side that could threaten in the Round of 8, and while you never know how teams might improve between now and the next round, the rest of the competition would gladly take their chances against Schalke and Gala.

Packaged for takeaway

  • Drogba enabled Terim’s formational flexibility. At the start of the match, the Ivorian played up top with Yilmaz in a 4-4-2, but when Terim brough Sneijder in, Drogba played wide in the defensive phase, with Gala assuming a 4-2-3-1.
  • For a convereted midfielder, Albert Reira held up reasonably well at left back for Gala. Granted, there were times when Jefferson Farfan made him look slow, but Jefferson Farfan does that to anybody. Against a Schalke team that tended to favor their right side, Reira didn’t cost his team anything.
  • Because of that right lean, you can see why Michel Bastos was a particularly good fit for Schalke. The former Lyon man, deployed on the left of the formation, has license to blindly attack when given the ball.

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina squad

Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.

Modric urges humility after big win, stunning goal (video)

AP Photo / Ricardo Mazalan
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There are few teams who’ve looked as strong as Croatia at the World Cup in Russia.

[ RECAP: Argentina 0-3 Croatia ]

Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.

The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.

Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”

Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”

That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni. 

Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.

“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”

Croatia smashes disheveled Argentina

AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan
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Ante Rebic, Luka Modric, and Ivan Rakitic have Croatia in the knockout rounds and Argentina on the verge of World Cup disaster.

Croatia scored a trio of second half goals, one aided by a Willy Caballero howler, in a 3-0 win in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday.

Argentina will enter its final match against Nigeria on the outskirts of the knockout rounds regardless of how Nigeria-Iceland ends on Friday.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Ivan Perisic forced a big save out of Wily Caballero for an early Croatia corner kick that came to nothing.

Messi had a chance stopped inside of 10 minutes, then started a play that Dejan Lovren blocked for a corner in the 13th.

Enzo Perez missed an open goal off a poor Croatia giveaway in the 30th minute.

There were a pair of fouls not out of place on a red card lowlight reel, one for each team, but neither resulting in a sending off.

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Croatia took the lead through Caballero’s gaffe and Rebic’s smash in the 54th.

Argentina nearly answered moments later. After a mazy Messi dribble, Argentina regained possession in the 64th minute, spearheaded by a Gonzalo Higuain run that led to a corner.

Croatia came close to making it 2-0, as Mario Mandzukic couldn’t turn a flick on frame and instead saw it glide into the outside of the goal.

Then Modric put the match to bed as the clock hit 80, an absolute beauty. Another huge defensive mistake allowed Mateo Kovacic to cue up Rakitic for the third.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

WATCH: Caballero blunder punished as Rebic rip puts Argentina on ropes

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Willy Caballero has made one of the bigger blunders in recent World Cup history.

His Argentina side needs at least a point from Thursday’s match-up with Croatia, and the match remained scoreless into halftime.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

But 10 minutes after the break, Caballero flubbed a clearance in a big way.

The Argentina goalkeeper then could only watch as Ante Rebic kept his composure to blast a side volley into the goal.

It was a fine finish, to be sure, but not possible without such a terrible gaffe.