UEFA Champions League roundup: Arsenal eases worries; Schalke drawn at home

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Fenerbahçe certainly didn’t live up to expectations today in Istanbul, the cauldron that is the Şükrü Saracoğlu going untended as Arsenal walked through the first leg of their UEFA Champions League playoff. After going into half time drawn 0-0, the Gunners got second half goals from Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey, and Olivier Giroud en route to a huge, 3-0 lead over Turkey’s runners-up.

The second leg of the teams’ playoff takes place next Tuesday at The Emirates, with the winner qualifying for Champions League’s group stage.

Arsenal dictated play throughout in the first half, particularly over the match’s first 20 minutes, yet they had nothing to show for it at halftime. In the second period, Theo Walcott took advantage of his mismatch with Fenerbahçe left back Michal Kaldec, with Ramsey’s stellar night in midfield helping the Gunners translate control into production.

The first instance came in the 51st minute as a Ramsey ball threaded through the Fener defense allowed Walcott to pick out Gibbs for an easy opener. In the 64th minute, Ramsey doubled Arsenal’s lead with a shot from outside the box. Giroud completed the scoring in the 77th  after a call against Kadlec gave the Arsenal striker a chance from the spot.

Up three goals halfway through their playoff, Arsenal helped assuage doubts festering from Saturday’s upset loss to Aston Villa. An early injury to Laurent Koscielny, kicked in the face by Pierre Webo, was the only negative Arsenal will take out of Istanbul, with Arsène Wenger telling Sky Sports after the match that his central defender was taking to a local hospital for further evaluation.

Fenerbahçe, on the other hand, will need one of (if not the) most famous wins in club history to avoid relegation to Europa League.

Elsewhere in Champions League

Schalke (Germany) 1, PAOK (Greece) 1 – A disappointing start to the 2013-14 season continued for Schalke despite going up early through Jefferson Farfan. In the second half, however, Miroslav Stoch gave PAOK a valuable road goal, assuring a clean sheet next week in Thessaloniki will put them into the next round.

Steaua Bucharest (Romania) 1, Legia Warsaw (Poland) 1 – Federico Piovaccari opened the scoring after 33 minutes, lifting his shot over Legia keeper Dusan Kuciak to give the hosts a halftime lead. Eight minutes into the second half, a defensive breakdown left 22-year-old Jakub Kosecki open on the other end of a Miroslav Radovic cross, allowing Legia to get out of Romania with a road goal.

Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) 0, Austria Wien 2 – Dinamo had more of the ball and the advantage in total shots but find themselves on the wrong end of a crushing result. Conceding twice within a seven-minute span in the second half (to Marin Leovac, Marko Stankovic), Dinamo allowed the Austrian champions to leave Zagreb with a commanding lead.

Ludogorets (Bulgaria) 2, Basel (Switzerland) 4 – Underdogs going into the tie, the Bulgarians had a 2-1 lead after 50 minutes, Ivan Stoyanov putting Ludogorets ahead after the teams traded first half goals. But tallies Mohamed Salah, Giovanni Sio, and Fabian Schär give the Swiss champions a decisive lead and a likely return to Champions League’s group stage.

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

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


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE