Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast triumph in first leg of African World Cup qualifying

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On Saturday, Africa kicked off its third and final round of World Cup qualifying. Ten countries remain in the running, playing two-legged, home and away ties. The five teams that come out on top book their spots in Brazil.

(MORE: A closer look at Africa’s third round of World Cup qualifiers)

Tonight, it’s Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast that hold the advantage. The first match was a thriller, with the hosts taking it right down to the wire in Ouagadougou against Algeria. The visitors were slight favorites, as Burkina Faso have never qualified for a World Cup, but the Stallions were out to prove that their impressive finish in January’s Africa Cup of Nations was not a fluke. Jonathan Pitroipa opened the scoring just before the halftime whistle, but Algeria came back with an equalizer from Sofiane Feghouli just after the restart. Djakaridja Kone put Burkina Faso back ahead in the 65th minute, but it took less than five minutes for Carl Medjani to put the visitors on equal footing once more. In the end it was an 86th minute penalty, converted by Aristide Bance, that gave Burkina Faso the win.

Things went a bit smoother for Ivory Coast, who’d had their win wrapped up by the 50th minute. Senegal, the clear underdogs against a team that included Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Gervinho, conceded a penalty before five minutes were up. It was Drogba that stepped up to bury the shot. Things went from bad to worse for the Lions of Teranga when, just ten minutes later, defender Lamine Sané put the ball into the back of his own net. All hopes of a comeback were squished early in the second half, when Salomon Kalou put in the third for Ivory Coast. The three goal deficit will certainly be difficult for Senegal to overcome when the two sides meet again in November.

On Sunday, Ethiopia host Nigeria before Cameroon visit Tunisia. Monday’s football free, but Africa swings back into action on Tuesday when Ghana play Egypt.

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

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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