Like Liverpool, Tottenham a nice, mixed bag after two rounds

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Liverpool’s duel 1-0 wins to start the season have inspired some confusion. Yes, it’s a perfect start, for which Brendan Rodgers and his team deserve credit, but what have we learned about the Reds? After a late penalty kick save salvaged a result against Stoke City and more Simon Mignolet heroics preserved a result against Villa, there’s enough for both skeptics and believers. Perfect records are better than perfect performances, one camp would hold, while their adversaries can point to the underlying form and level of competition.

The same can be said for Tottenham, who (like Liverpool) have been the best side in each of their 1-0 wins. But they are still just one-goal results over teams they were expected to beat, and where Liverpool doubters can point to the Reds’ dependence on Mignolet to preserve results, Spurs have yet to score from open play. Second half penalty kicks from Roberto Soldado have been the difference against both Crystal Palace and Swansea City.

The encouraging part for Spurs: A relatively new group improved week-over-week. None of Soldado, Nacer Chadli, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue, Andros Townsend, or Danny Rose (all starters on Sunday) were regulars with Spurs last season. Obviously, this is going to take some time, and with Spurs having acquired an enviable amount of talent, opponents are more likely to stand back, let them figure it out, and not risk gifting them chances. The extent to which Spurs can navigate this coming up period while still collecting points could decide their Champions League-qualifying fate.

Last week, Spurs scarcely created anything on their own. They dictated play, dominating possession to the tune of 61 percent, but the cohesion in the final third just wasn’t there. If they didn’t get their penalty at Selhurst Park, their match with Crystal Palace could have ended deadlocked.

Today was different. Spurs were creating chances early. If it wasn’t for Michel Vorm, Tottenham would have opened their account in the first half, though with both Paulinho’s 21st minute blast from 14 yards out (blocked then covered by Vorm) and Mousa Dembele’s attempted curler near the half-hour mark (tipped over), Spurs’ players could have been more clinical. Still, with Kyle Walker breaking down Swansea’s left side, Tottenham had established a reliable route toward goal. One way or another, they looked destined to break through.

It was telling, however, that it was the raw athleticism of Walker that generated Spurs’ best chances. His ability to blow by a defense, get to the byline, and cut the ball back presented the kind of direct threat Spurs seem to be missing from their attacking three. Chadli’s generated chances, Soldado’s presented a consistent danger, while both Townsend (drawing the penalty) and Gylfi Sigurdsson (maintaining possession) have done their parts. But in order to maximize those parts, Spurs need somebody like a Walker or an Aaron Lennon (injured on Sunday) — or potentially more consistently aggressive Chadli or Townsend — to crack a defense.

Put another way, they missed Gareth Bale. They missed that consistent out he provides – the ability to provide that direct option that can cut through not only an opponent’s setup but any kind of tendency his teammates may have to equate control with results. They missed his ability to get a ball and take on a man or shun the simple pass to provide the little something extra it takes to make a chance dangerous. They missed his willingness to try.

Obviously, replacing the to-be-Madridista is impossible, but Spurs don’t need to. They need to replace the type of player he is, something that may make acquiring Roma’s Erik Lamela even more important. Tellingly, the young Argentine wasn’t in Rudi Garcia’s XI when Roma travelled to Livorno, hinting a move may be imminent. Be it him, an increased dependency on the likes of Walker, Lennon or perhaps Chadli, or buying another player, Spurs need to replace Bale’s tendencies.

There’s plenty of time to do so, and the good news: While they’re working out their kinks, they’ve taken six points. But particularly with Paulinho’s early chance, you can see the danger a different threat would pose. With Soldado occupying a defense, there should be room for somebody like Paulinho — somebody who can trail and convert more efficiently than Spurs’ other midfielders — to pile on the goals.

World Cup’s only black coach says there should be more

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MOSCOW (AP) — The only black coach at this year’s World Cup says there is a need for more in soccer.

“In European countries, in major clubs, you see lots of African players. Now we need African coaches for our continent to go ahead,” Senegal’s Aliou Cisse said through a translator on Monday, a day ahead of his nation’s World Cup opener against Poland.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The percentage of black players at this year’s tournament and with clubs in the world’s top leagues is far higher.

Cisse was captain of Senegal when it reached the 2002 quarterfinals in the nation’s only previous World Cup appearance.

“I am the only black coach in this World Cup. That is true,” Cisse said. “But really these are debates that disturb me. I think that football is a universal sport and that the color of your skin is of very little importance.”

[ MORE: Harry Kane “buzzing” after two goals | Southgate encouraged ]

FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cisse cited Florent Ibenge, the coach of Congo’s national team, as a sign of progress.

“I think we have a new generation that is working, that is doing its utmost, and beyond being good players with a past of professional footballers,” Cisse said. “We are very good in our tactics, and we have the right to be part of the top international coaches.”

Africa’s best performance at the World Cup has been to reach the quarterfinals, accomplished by Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“I have the certainty that one day an African team, an African country, will win the World Cup,” Cisse said. “It’s a bit more complicated in our countries. We have realities that are not there in other continents, but I think that the African continent is full of qualities. We are on the way, and I’m sure that Senegal, Nigeria or other African countries will be able win, just like Brazil, Germany or other European countries.”

A lack of minority managers also has been documented at the club level. The Sports People’s Think Tank said in November there were just three minority managers among the 92 English professional clubs as of Sept. 1.

World Cup: Saudi team safe after plane caught fire mid-flight

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The Saudi Arabian national team arrived alive and well in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Monday after a terrifying incident that saw their plane catch fire in the air.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The blaze was caused by “a technical failure in one of the airplane engines,” which the airline, Rossiya, claims was caused by a bird flying into the engine. Each of the planes engines were reportedly in operation upon landing at its final destination.

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation posted a message on Twitter later on Monday, saying they “would like to reassure everyone that all the Saudi national team players are safe, after a technical failure in one of the airplane engines that has just landed in Rostov-on-Don airport, and now they’re heading to their residence safely.”

The Green Falcons will face Uruguay in Rostov, hoping to rebound from their tournament-opening 5-0 loss to Russia on Thursday, in each side’s second game of Group A action on Wednesday (11 a.m. ET).

Seismologists clarify Mexico fans didn’t cause earthquake

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s National Seismological Service says there was seismic activity around the country’s capital Sunday, but it wasn’t linked to soccer fans celebrating their country’s game-winning goal vs. Germany at the World Cup.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The service says in a report that there were two small earthquakes at 10:24 a.m. and 12:01 p.m. The goal came around 11:35 a.m. local time.

A geological institute reported Sunday that seismic detectors had registered a false earthquake that may have been generated by “massive jumps” by fans.

[ MORE: Harry Kane “buzzing” after two goals | Southgate encouraged ]

Mexico’s Seismological Service explained Monday that the city’s normal bustle of traffic and other movement causes vibrations that are detected by sensitive instruments.

It says those vibrations notably quieted during the match as people gathered in front of TVs to watch, and rose after the goal.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 6 — Colombia vs. Japan; Salah’s debut?

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Day 6 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Tuesday — and would you believe it? — there’s another three games on the schedule. This whole “back-to-back-to-back games of soccer” thing isn’t so bad.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Up first, it’s the 2018 debut of Colombia, winners of tens hundreds of millions of hearts in 2014, as they take on Japan. In the day’s other Group H fixture, it’ll be Robert Lewandowski and Poland facing Sadio Mane and Senegal. Star power aplenty.

Then, we swing things back around to Group A, where the hosts Russia will look to continue their hot start against Egypt with Mohamed Salah expected to make his World Cup debut.

Below is Tuesday’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 – Tuesday, June 19

Group H
Colombia vs. Japan: Saransk, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Senegal: Moscow, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group A
Russia vs. Egypt: St. Petersburg, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE