Bayern Munich brilliance, Joe Hart follies see Manchester City fall, 3-1

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We’ve seen Joe Hart make mistakes before. Of late, it’s happened so many times, people are starting to ask what has to happen for him to lose his job.

That sentiment may seem like hyperbole, but in terms of today’s match, it’s hard to imagine a more impactful, more preventable mistake. That it happened early against a team capable of keeping over 70 percent of the ball may have doomed whatever hopes Manchester City had of knocking off Bayern Munich. The holders would go on to win at the Etihad, cruising to a 3-1. And unfortunately for Hart, that seventh minute mistake wasn’t his only blunder.

Allowing Franck Ribéry’s opener was inexcusable, with a strong blast from well beyond the penalty area hopping over Hart’s outstretched arm to beat him near-post. Seven minutes in, Hart had already given a Pep Guardiola team license to hog the ball without pushing for goals. Though no Ribéry shot can be taken lightly, this was a stop you see average goalkeepers regularly parry with ease. On Tuesday, however, it became the latest example in a disturbing list of mistakes from the England No. 1.

Though Hart wasn’t as embarrassed on Bayern’s last two, they were stops other keepers would have made. In the 56th minute, after left back Gaël Clichy was badly beaten on a run from the right wing, Joe Hart had a chance to claim a ball that Thomas Müller’s attempted trap had put within reach. But Hart hesitated, allowed Müller to retain possession, and was helpless to stop a ball that was eventually put into an empty net.

The final goal gave Hart the rare indignity of having allowed a goal from an Arjen Robben right-footed shot. And given the way the play developed, he should have been in better positioned to stop it. In the 59th minute, Toni Kroos  stripped Fernandinho at the center line before feeding right to Robben. The Dutch international bore down on left-center half Matija Nastasic, with the Serbian international steering him to the right of goal (onto his weaker right foot). Robben’s one chance was near post, but Hart failed to get in position to protect his goal. The right-footed punch, flying well inside Hart’s post, went off the keeper, off the woodwork and in – Bayern’s third preventable goal.

A stellar finish from Álvaro Negredo would ruin Bayern’s cleansheet, the Spaniards left-footed curler eluding Jerome Boateng at the edge of the area – an unstoppable shot that moved outside then in off Manuel Neuer’s right post. But 11 minutes from time, the goal was pure consolation, even if Boateng would see a straight red in the 86th minute after Yaya Touré raced passed Dante to a ball put behind the defense.

source: AP
Bayern Munich, pictured here celebrating Thomas Müller’s goal, are perfect through two rounds of Champions League group play, posting a +5 goal difference in wins over CSKA Moscow and Manchester City. (Photo: AP Photo.)

Hart’s troubles shouldn’t overshadow the fact that City were decidedly second best, almost entirely through Bayern’s doing. Even in the few minutes before Ribéry’s opener, the holders looked set to make this into a typical München performance. Although the presence of central defender Vincent Kompany, coming into midfield to challenge early, and surprising right back selection Micah Richards provided a physical dimension that forced Bayern to adjust, that adjustment period didn’t take long. Were it not for the competition name and the expensive collection of talent in Sky Blue kits, you’d swear this we just another one-sided, controlling league affair from the best team in the world.

Per Opta, Bayern held 66 percent of the ball. For most of the game, it was above 70. They outshot their hosts 20-9, getting eight shots on target to City’s two. They hit the woodwork once (as did City) and forced the Sky Blues into six blocked shots. They had 719 passes to City’s 370, with nine of Bayern starters eclipsing Yaya Touré’s City-leading mark (43 passes).

And just like last round’s 3-0 win over CSKA, today’s win provided another illustration of what Guardiola’s tweaks are capable of producing. As great as last season was — so great that nobody dared imagine how it could be better — Bayern didn’t show this kind of strangling control. They were dominant, as their semifinal demolition of Barcelona showed, and they were successful, as any European Cup would affirm. But this type of start-to-finish, whistle-to-whistle suffocation wasn’t there.

Their style was marauding. The waves of their constant attacks were oppressive. The pressure Mario Mandzukic, Robben, Ribèry and Müller exerted prevented lesser competition from collecting hope. Their results (+80 goal difference in league) became embarrassing.

For some reason, Guardiola has decided to change that, and only against competition like CSKA or Manchester City have we seen the end game. Sacrificing the second deep midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation for another player higher in a 4-1-4-1, Guardiola has dared to fuse the best of Bayern and Barcelona. He has the audacity to imagine Bayern’s oppression combined with Barcelona’s control.

Manchester City became the first team to see the dream. If Bayern can do this on a week-in, week-out basis, they have a chance to improve on last year’s squad, even if the stats will never reflect it.

Regardless, the defending champions have moved clear in Group D, having taken three points at the home of their stiffest competition.

Panama boss blunt and honest before nation’s World Cup debut

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez isn’t in the business of sugarcoating the truth before his team makes history by playing in its first World Cup.

The Central American team has trouble scoring and his players will need to have a good day to have any chance against Belgium on Monday, he said.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Blunt and honest, Gomez didn’t even hide his starting lineup, the normal way of doing things for coaches these days. And when asked if Panama could repeat Iceland’s upset against Argentina — the teams drew 1-1 on Saturday — the Colombian didn’t bother picking the right words when downplaying the Argentine squad.

“Iceland sent Croatia to the playoffs (in European qualifying), and it did well in the European Championship as well,” Gomez said. “It played against an Argentina squad which isn’t at the same level as Belgium right now. I mean, the distance between Iceland and Argentina isn’t as significant as the distance between Belgium and Panama.”

Gomez didn’t completely dismiss Panama’s chances of a surprise result against the Belgians, saying “anything can happen in football,” but admitted it wouldn’t be normal.

“It’s very clear that they are the favorites,” the 62-year-old coach said. “But each game is different, and if we have a good day, maybe we can achieve something.”

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

If Panama does find a way to advance past the group stage, Gomez said he already knows how he will be celebrating.

“I’ll drink two bottles of vodka,” he said laughing, before taking it back. “No, no … we are professionals.”

Gomez didn’t bother keeping his lineup a secret for the match in Sochi, naming the 11 starters without hesitating when asked about it. He even frankly talked about the formation his team would be playing Monday.

Gomez said Panama won’t be trying anything but defending against the talented Belgians, and admitted that scoring goals has been a weakness of his team entering the tournament.

“We’ve become strong on defense. It’s Panama’s virtue,” he said. “Panama isn’t a team that will score a lot of goals. We may create good chances in some matches, but we aren’t able to score. We arrive at the World Cup with problems scoring the goals.”

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The 55th-ranked Panama drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland and lost 1-0 to Norway in its final warm-up matches before traveling to Russia.

It qualified for the tournament by finishing ahead of the United States in CONCACAF thanks to a last-minute victory over Costa Rica in qualifying.

Gomez said the team carries a big responsibility by representing the nation at a World Cup for the first time, and his biggest job is to get the players ready for the pressure they are about to face.

“The whole country is excited about this,” Gomez said. “I have to prepare the players mentally.”

Gomez has been coaching Panama since 2014. He was previously with Ecuador, Guatemala and Colombia.

Panama’s other Group G games will be against England on Sunday and Tunisia on June 28.

Maradona: Argentina drawing Iceland is “a disgrace”

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It’s been a pretty trying and criticism-filled 36 hours for Lionel Messi and Argentina, and that was already true before the World Cup hero that is Diego Maradona weighed in.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

No longer are La Albiceleste simply known as the side that drew tiny Iceland — the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup — but now their efforts on Saturday have been dubbed “a disgrace” by Maradona.

It’s not so much the players whom Maradona, manager of the national team for the 2010 World Cup (quarterfinals appearance, beaten 4-0 by Germany), has gone after, but current boss Jorge Sampaoli for his lack of a proper gameplan befitting the opponent. As for Messi, who failed to convert a critical penalty kick, Maradona has absolved the Barcelona superstar of much of the blame — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s a disgrace. Not having prepared for the match knowing that Iceland are all [6-foot-3] tall.”

“I get the feeling there’s an anger at the heart of the team.”

“I don’t blame the players. I could blame the lack of work rate. But I can’t blame the players, much less Messi, who gave it all he had,” said Maradona.

“I missed five penalties on the spin and I was still Diego Armando Maradona. I don’t think that they dropped two points because Messi missed a penalty.”

England squad reconnects with fans with image makeover

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VOLGOGRAD, England (AP) — Whatever happens to England at the World Cup, at least the reception facing the squad should be less brutal than it was in 2014 after its exit following the group stage.’

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

For once, the players can’t be accused of hiding away, retreating behind their headphones. The hallmark of England’s preparations for Russia has been shedding the past reticence to engage with the public, a calculated move by the team leadership to reconnect with a public disaffected by years of failure at tournaments and uninspiring performances.

“They appear more relaxed. They appear more normal,” supporter Gavin Hughes said, overlooking the Volgograd Arena where England opens its World Cup campaign against Tunisia on Monday. “They appear human. They are just lads playing football at the end of the day. That’s been the problem in the past. There’s more of a togetherness.”

A defining clip of the 2010 World Cup was Wayne Rooney bellowing down the barrel of a camera after a 0-0 draw with Algeria: “Nice to see your home fans booing you, that’s what loyal support is.”

That disconnect with the public has been bridged by the 23-man squad facing the media in a 45-minute, Super Bowl-style session before leaving for Russia. The English Football Association’s approach is in a marked contrast to club duty where they are largely closeted away, save for appearances with paying broadcasters or often in controlled appearances.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

“We’ve done a lot for the fans on social media so they can see what we are up to, which has not always been the case,” captain Harry Kane said Sunday. “It’s important while we have free time is to try to let the fans know what we are up to.”

The public is seeing a new side of the players. Not only are they more relatable but painted in a more sympathetic light, beyond the caricatures of millionaire mercenaries just chasing more money.

“That connection with the supporters is really important,” coach Gareth Southgate said. “There have been perceptions about our players for a long time … so it’s been really good for our public to see how much it means to the players to play, to see a different side of their personality.”

In a move unthinkable in years gone by, when a since-departed FA official blocked Rooney talking about his Christianity, defender Danny Rose recently opened up on his problems dealing with depression. Publicly praised by Prince William for raising awareness of health issues, Rose realizes how players can use their new platform to show their human side and inspire others.

“A lot of people messaged me to say thank you, that they know someone who is going through this or has been through that and that I’ve helped them and given them the confidence to express themselves,” Rose said. “We have a lot of down time and I’m going to think of something to help others when I get back. I’ve got time to think while I’m here and when I get back from the World Cup about how I can go forward and help people.”

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It’s not just about the players feeding a voracious traveling media pack with material. Kieran Trippier, who is also Rose’s club teammate at Tottenham, told the left back he appeared no longer burdened by a private plight in England’s last World Cup warm-up game.

“I was playing with a bit of freedom,” Rose said of the victory against Costa Rica. “I think he’s got a point.”

Southgate is credited with encouraging the warmer environment, far removed from the controlling regimes under Fabio Capello and Gary Neville, who was Roy Hodgson’s assistant for the dismal 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship last-16 humbling to Iceland. A bemusing, running theme in the British papers at Euro 2016 in France was the players’ refusal to divulge any details of a darts tournament. The squad has been overhauled by Southgate and it has even been playing darts with the media at the World Cup base near St. Petersburg.

Southgate has been playing his part, going to fan forums in the buildup to the tournament to recognize the commitment and cost involved watching England abroad.

“Sometimes those really good people who follow us are overlooked at the expense of some who have caused problems in the past,” Southgate said.

Ultimately, results dictate the public mood and England hasn’t won a knockout game at any tournament since 2006.

“It’s about how we perform,” Southgate said, “but there’s a bigger picture.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 5 — England, Belgium enter the fray

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The weekend might be all but over, but that doesn’t mean that 2018 World Cup action is slowing down anytime soon.

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Monday, in fact, will be quite the opposite, as Group G giants — and a pair of popular dark horse picks — Belgium and England make their debut in Russia, taking on Panama and Tunisia, respectively.

Following Germany’s 1-0 loss to Mexico on Sunday, Group F is currently turned upside down on its head. Sweden and South Korea, who’ll face off in the day’s opener, are even more hopeful now than prior to the start of the tournament.

Below is Monday’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 – Monday, June 18

Group F
Sweden vs. South Korea: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group G
Belgium vs. Panama: Sochi, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Tunisia vs. England: Volgograd, 2 p.m. ET –LIVE COVERAGE