Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid: a thrilling Clasico lifts Barcelona higher

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Real Madrid’s trip to Barcelona on Saturday evening was the year’s first El Clásico, and it certainly provided plenty of drama: delicious goals, controversial refereeing decisions, and a few physical battles from the Spanish rivals. But in the end it was Barcelona that came out on top, giving themselves a six-point cushion over Madrid.

Barcelona were certainly dominant in the first half. The hosts controlled the match right from the start, despite a little heated physicality that saw both sides awarded yellow cards before the 15th minute. But Barcelona’s composure paid off in the 19th minute, when Neymar opened the scoring in his first El Clásico. The majority of the magic came from Andrés Iniesta, however, who had a fabulous game. It was he who got the ball up through the area, drawing in the Madrid defense as Neymar took up a position on the edge of the area. A perfectly threaded past set up the Brazilian, whose low shot flew past Diego Lopéz to settle at the far post.

Just a minute later, Lionel Messi very nearly doubled Barcelona’s lead. But the Argentine’s shot went just wide, settling on the wrong side of the far post (or, perhaps, the right side, if you’re a Madridista).

Despite Barcelona being on top for much of the first 45, Real Madrid very nearly snagged an equalizer just before the whistle. Cristiano Ronaldo sent an absolutely delicious cross into the area, with a sliding Sami Khedira able to get a touch. But Victor Valdés was right there to prevent the ball from slipping into goal. Real Madrid players surrounded the referee, appealing for a handball, but none was given. The replay showed that, although Javier Mascherano did make contact, it was the ball that rolled on to his hand, not the other way around.

Whatever Carlo Ancelotti said in the Camp Nou dressing room seemed to have some affect on the visitors, who looked much more lively after the restart. Luka Modric took greater control in the area, picking out passes and finding his teammates in space. It was his ball that set up Ronaldo in the 58th minute, but Valdés managed a terrific one-armed save. Seconds later, Angel di Maria forced the Barcelona keeper into another great rescue.

In the 71st minute, the visitors had a legitimate penalty call waved away. Javier Mascherano slammed into Ronaldo, putting his shoulder into the Madrid man’s back. Ronaldo went down but the referee failed to bat an eye. Just after, Karim Benzema, on for Gareth Bale at the hour mark, managed to get his shot on target. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, the ball smashed against the crossbar and landed on the wrong side of the goaline.

After all the hard work put in by Madrid, it was almost sad when Barcelona doubled their lead — or, it would’ve been sad, had the goal not been so spectacular. Alexis Sánchez, who’d replaced Cesc Fábregas less than ten minutes before, practically did all the dirty work himself. A through ball from Neymar set him free, but it was Alexis that went left, then right, to shake off Raphael Varane. Once he’d rid himself of the defender, the Chilean chipped the ball over the head of Diego Lopéz and into the back of the net.

Real Madrid did manage to pull one back in the dying minutes of the match. The young Jesé, on in place of the unimpressive Angel di Maria, got on the end of a lovely ball from Ronaldo. He sent the shot straight at Valdés, who managed to fumble it completely, with the ball going through the goalkeeper to end up in the back of the net. In the end, though, it was nothing but a consolation for los galacticos. 

Barcelona: Valdes; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta (Song 77); Messi, Fábregas (Sánchez 70), Neymar (Pedro 84)

Subs not used: Puyol, Montoya, Pinto, Roberto

Goals: Neymar 19′, Sánchez 78′

Real Madrid: Diego López; Carvajal, Varane, Pepe, Marcelo; Ramos (Illarramendi 56), Khedira, Modric; Bale (Benzema 61), Di María (Jesé 76) Ronaldo

Subs not used: Coentrão, Casillas, Isco, Arbeloa

Goals: Jesé 90′

Fortunes up or down? 32 thoughts after first 17 World Cup games

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All it took was one round of games for some favorites to be doubted, others to verify their status, and some underdogs to earn dark horse status.

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While there are valid reasons to make early judgments, it’s important to note that some perceived setbacks don’t change much while others put a serious crimp in tournament hopes.

Group A

Russia (2 games played) — Fortunes way up — Two resounding wins combined with early tumult in Group B could help Russia consider a quarterfinal spot.

Uruguay — Fortunes level — Jose Gimenez’s 89th minute winner may allow the CONMEBOL side to render its group finale moot by hammering Saudi Arabia.

Egypt (2 games played) — Fortunes way down — Could be out of the tournament should Uruguay get a point against lowly Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia — Fortunes down — Unsure anyone figured the Green Falcons as anything other than an obstacle, but their performance against host Russia was miserable.

Group B

Iran — Fortunes up — Carlos Queiroz would’ve circled the Morocco opener as a must-win. Mission accomplished, however it was done.

Portugal — Fortunes level — Needed a PK, goalie error, and wonder free kick to get a point from Spain. Still, got the point.

Spain — Fortunes down — Still look capable of imposing themselves on the tournament, but too many errors in their first outing.

Morocco — Fortunes down — Probably should’ve had a point against Iran, but would’ve wanted three anyway. Very disappointing and now a mountain ahead.

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – JUNE 15: Karim Ansarifard of Iran is challenged by Noureddine Amrabat of Morocco (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Group C

France — Fortunes level — Clearly the better side against Australia, didn’t inspire title confidence but could’ve easily nabbed a three- or four-goal win.

Denmark — Fortunes up — Despite being the second-best side against Peru, now can expect the knockout rounds by beating the Socceroos.

Australia — Fortunes down — France first was always going to be a struggle, but to fight so valiantly and fall to an own goal will be a mental hurdle ahead of Peru.

Peru — Fortunes down — Terrific energy and performance would’ve led to a win with any finishing luck, but getting a result from Denmark was very important. A loss presents a major challenge.

Group D

Croatia — Fortunes up — Its tactical options for the second match against Argentina are wide open after securing three points against Nigeria.

Argentina — Fortunes down — Forget control of the game and Lionel Messi’s 11 shots on target; Not getting full points against Iceland is a significant setback. A group stage without Messi is possible.

Iceland — Fortunes up — It remains hard to picture Iceland getting out of the group, but the UEFA side has now flummoxed Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in successive tournaments. Can they find a win against Nigeria to set up a wild final day?

Nigeria — Fortunes down — Group D was always going to be tough, but a 2-0 loss to Croatia means the margin of error is almost zero.

Group E

Serbia — Fortunes up — Forget how Serbia won, their fortunes have leapt due to Brazil drawing Switzerland.

Brazil — Fortunes down — Drawing their second-trickiest game could see Neymar and Co. in position to finish second in the group instead of first. The only silver lining is that Germany may also fail to claim its group and make runner-up a good thing for the Round of 16.

Switzerland — Fortunes up — Maybe Swiss supporters were expecting it, but a result against Brazil is a positive step for a team that took Argentina to extra time at the 2014 tournament but underwhelmed at EURO 2016.

Costa Rica — Fortunes down — Now needs to beat Brazil to have much hope of anything going into the final group match vs. Switzerland.

Group F

Sweden  — Fortunes level — Beating South Korea was nice and we understand the chemistry argument, but a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic would’ve feasted on the spoils offered in the opener.

Mexico  — Fortunes way up — El Tri is a very good tournament team, but if you had them beating Germany 1-0 in the opener you’re a better prognosticator than me.

Germany  — Fortunes down — Still favored to come out of the group and deep enough to repeat as champions, being unable to get a result from Mexico will only raise more questions about leaving Leroy Sane home (fair or not).

South Korea — Fortunes down — Would’ve wanted no less than four points from the Sweden and Mexico encounters, and has zero heading into the second against El Tri.

NIZHNIY NOVGOROD, RUSSIA – JUNE 18: Andreas Granqvist of Sweden. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Group G

Belgium  — Fortunes up — Delivered expected dominance against Panama and could have a spot in the knockout rounds sewn up by the end of Day Two versus Tunisia.

England  — Fortunes up — There will not be Wayne Rooney questions about this tournament’s captain, as Harry Kane scored twice on a day he perhaps wasn’t at his best. Will clinch a berth in the knockout rounds by beating Panama next, you’d have to think.

Tunisia  — Fortunes slightly down — Needed to surprise England or Belgium to get out of the group, and still has a second opportunity after losing late to the Three Lions.

Panama  — Fortunes slightly down — Not sure anyone was expecting a Cinderella story, but even those will feel it more unlikely after a big loss to Belgium.

Group H

Japan  — Fortunes up — Not a bad team at all, but prospects were dim given the talent of the group. After beating Colombia in match one, there’s a house money feel to this one.

Senegal  — Fortunes up — Controversy aside, the Lions of Teranga deserved all three points against Poland and are in pole position to win the group.

Poland  — Fortunes down — Disappointing is an understatement leading into a match versus Colombia which could leave both on the outskirts with a match to go.

Colombia  — Fortunes down — Carlos Sanchez’s third minute red card didn’t ultimately doom them, but the task is tall with equally desperate Poland up next.

Arsenal seals transfer of German goalkeeper Leno

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Arsenal unveiled German goalkeeper Bernd Leno on Tuesday as the latest member of Unai Emery’s unit.

The longtime Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper, 26, has six caps for Germany but is not on the World Cup roster.

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Leno had appeared in 304 matches for Bayer before the move, which will reportedly cost the Gunners approximately $25 million.

Head coach Unai Emery said: “We are very pleased that Bernd Leno will be joining us. Bernd is a goalkeeper of high quality and experience. He has been a top performer and regular number one goalkeeper with Leverkusen in the Bundesliga for the past seven years. We are all excited that Bernd has chosen Arsenal Football Club and look forward to start working with him in pre-season.”

The Gunners have Petr Cech and David Ospina at goalkeeper, but it’s reasonable to expect at least one to leave town. Emery has already added Stephan Lichtsteiner from Juventus to help shore up his defense.

Clinical Russia tops Egypt to (pretty much) reach knockout rounds

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
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  • Russia goals: Fathy o.g. (48′), Cheryshev (59′), Dzyuba (62′)
  • Egypt: Salah (PK, 73′)
  • Next: Russia-Uruguay, Egypt-Saudi Arabia

Hosts Russia scored a trio of second half goals to all but seal the first spot in the 2018 World Cup’s Round of 16 with a 3-1 win over Egypt on Tuesday in Saint Petersburg.

The loss means Egypt is 0-2, the Pharoahs unable to find momentum despite the return of Mohamed Salah. Egypt needs a wild combination of factors to stay alive for the knockout rounds, and is likely heading home.

Salah won and converted a penalty for Egypt, while Denis Cheryshev, Artem Dzyuba, and an Egyptian own goal accounted for Russia’s goals.

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Some sloppy play out of the back allowed Golovin a shot from outside the 18 but he hit his effort wide of the frame.

Egypt stayed in the mix though, and a Russian mistake  deep in its own end forced Zhirkov to concede a corner with a desperation intervention that stopped Mo Salah from a doorstep opportunity.

Salah then won a yard of space but fired wide in the 42nd minute after Zhirkov stopped him from going to his right peg.

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Russia went ahead through an Egypt own goal from Fathy, who was jostling for position with Artem Dzyuba and turned Roman Zobnin’s mishit inside his net.

After Cheryshev made it 2-0, Dzyuba took an Ilya Kutepov long ball out of the air with his chest before turning past Ahmed Hegazy and blasting Russia’s third goal home.

Salah won a penalty in the 73rd minute, one initially ruled a free kick, and the Liverpool man blasted his shot home.

Neymar limps out of Brazil training

AP Photo/Andre Penner
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Having drawn against Switzerland in its opener, Brazil now faces renewed concerns over the health of its megastar forward.

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Neymar’s right foot was “still not 100 percent” when he took the field for the 1-1 draw on Sunday, and the 26-year-old left practice early two days later.

He missed nearly three months after fracturing his foot for PSG under pressure by Marseille’s Dimitri Payet, but returned to score for Brazil in friendly defeats of Croatia and Austria. Neymar has 55 goals in 85 caps.

Neymar was favoring his right foot as he limped off the pitch, two days after being fouled 10 times against Switzerland. Fox reports that Neymar will be fine to practice on Wednesday, but the situation bears close observation.

Neymar was injured in the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals when Juan Zuniga kneed him in the back.