Portugal 1, Sweden 0: Cristiano Ronaldo wins battle of titans (that wasn’t)

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It was the clash of global titans that wasn’t, with both Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic held quiet for much of today’s match in Lisbon. Yet after an often tenacious, largely frustrating day, Ronaldo had the last and only laugh, his 82nd minute header giving Portugal a 1-0 lead after leg one of the teams’ World Cup 2014 qualifying playoff.

The two teams will meet again on Tuesday in Sweden, their playoffs’ second leg set to determine which nation claims one of Europe’s final four spots at Brazil 2014. The Swedes need only overturn a one-goal deficit to return to a tournament they missed in 2010, yet if Portugal scores in Solna, the Selecçao will hold an away goals tiebreaker that could prove crucial to qualifying for a fourth straight World Cup.

Coming into the match, all attention had been focused on the battle between Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic, perhaps leaving many shocked when 44 other players deigned to show up in Lisbon. Though many may have thought a game of one-on-one was schedule, 20 other starters were picked to join to two icons, forcing narratives to give way to an actual game of soccer. With a World Cup spot was on the line, its remarkable the actual teams didn’t get more coverage ahead of today’s match.

Either predictably (or, paradoxically, depending on your level of cynicism), the match never came close to matching the mano a mano, battle of the titans hype it generated before kickoff. Instead, a home team pressing to make the most of their home leg were almost contained by a well-organized, sometimes dangerous visitor, one who can take comfort in having kept the match within reach after leg one. Though Sweden never found the away goal they threatened to take in the first half, they leave Portugal was a manageable deficit, their adversary’s 1-0 home win akin to holding serve.

Portugal were the aggressors over the first 45 minutes, even if Sweden would end up with the first half’s best chances. The Seleccao’s control of possession only produced one shot on goal – a weak header from Helder Postiga shortly before halftime. Sweden, on the other hand, saw strong play down their flanks produce close calls from Ibrahimovic, Sebastian Larsson, and Kim Källström. The hosts’ best chance was a Joãõ Moutinho shot in the fourth minute that couldn’t manage a sharp angle into a vacated goal.

The second half started with another early chance for Portugal, though a chip over the Swedish defense saw another empty goal missed when Postiga’s shot was inadvertently blocked by Pepe. The Portuguese defender had come forward to knock down a ball vaulted over the Swedish defense, with Pepe heading down to the right of goal. Swedish goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson tried to pounce on the bouncing ball only to see Postiga poke it out of his reach. The Portugal striker then saw a hurried shot toward the open goal only hit his teammate, who was standing near the right post.

source: Getty Images
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (left) was held to one shot on target as Portugal held 68 percent of the ball in Friday’s first leg. (Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images.)

It was the beginning of a one-sided half, the early close call potentially convincing Sweden to hold out earlier than they may have liked. For the next half hour, Erik Hamrén’s team stay deep and compact, forcing Portugal to do something special to beat them.

That moment came in the 82nd minute, with Miguel Veloso’s run out of central midfield and beating Larsson to put in a far post cross. That’s where Ronaldo out-muscled left back Martin Olsson, giving Portugal the lead they needed ahead of Tuesday’s leg in Sweden.

Despite Ronaldo’s winner, the match was less about two titans than it was two teams. Portugal’s desire to leverage their home leg was evident from the opening moments, even if determined play from their visitors nearly keeping them off the scoreboard. And while Zlatan Ibrahimovic was influential in two of Sweden’s first half close calls, he was left out of the game by a team that only held 32 percent of the ball.

Perhaps leg two can be the showdown so many people want. More likely, it will be a battle between two teams, one of whom will miss next year’s World Cup.

Lineups

Portugal: Rui Patricio; João Pereira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrão; Raul Meireles, Miguel Veloso, João Moutinho; Nani, Héldeer Postiga, Cristiano Ronaldo

Sweden: Andreas Isaksson; Mikael Lustig, Per Nilsson, Mikael Antonsson, Martin Olsson; Sebastian Larsson, Rasmus Elm, Kim Källström, Alexander Kacaniklic; Johan Elmander, Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Chelsea’s Gilmour, Liverpool’s Henderson out for season

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Chelsea star Billy Gilmour and Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson have both been ruled out for lengthy periods due to serious knee injuries.

[ MORE: New PL TV schedule ]

Gilmour, 19, has undergone surgery after the right knee injury he suffered against Crystal Palace was much worse than previously feared.

Chelsea boss Frank Lampard confirmed that Gilmour could be out for up to four months.

“Billy had an operation on his knee [Friday] morning, we estimate he will be out for between three and four months unfortunately. I’m very disappointed, as we all are here,” Lampard said. “He’s a tough boy, it hit him hard especially as a young boy who has just made a breakthrough. I told him he should be very pleased with what he’s done and the impact he’s had this season anyway. His attitude will get him back as quickly as he can.”

Gilmour has slotted in superbly in his debut Premier League season as the “Irn-Bru Iniesta” looks a star in the making due to his composure and creativity on the ball in central midfield.

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As for a player at the opposite end of his career, Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson is also out for the rest of the season but he could be back for the start of the 2020-21 campaign.

Henderson, 30, suffered the injury in a tackle with Yves Bissouma in Liverpool’s 3-1 win at Brighton on Tuesday.

Jurgen Klopp confirmed that Liverpool feared the worst but Henderson doesn’t need surgery and although he will miss the rest of this season, he could be back for the start of the 2020-21 season.

“Hendo is actually really the best possible of all the bad news. It is a knee injury, but no surgery needed,” Klopp said. “He will not play anymore in the latter stage of this season but I am pretty positive he will start with us the new season. We were all concerned in the moment we saw him in going down and when he left the pitch and stuff like this. Yesterday when we got the news, it was a big relief for all of us. It is not cool, obviously, but it is the best we could get. Hendo will be back; he is a quick healer and he will be back soon.”

Liverpool also confirmed that Henderson will lift the Premier League trophy as planned as his imperious displays from central midfield have been a hallmark of their incredible season.

It is now time for Naby Keita, James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to get some extra minutes, with Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho mainstays in central midfield.

Champions League, Europa League draw: Schedule, how to watch

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The Champions League schedule is set as the draw for the UCL and Europa League has been made and below you will find all the details you need and how to watch in the USA.

 [ LIVE: Champions League scores

Draws for the quarterfinals and semifinals of both competitions were made in Switzerland by UEFA on Friday, as the 2019-20 season competitions will conclude with special mini-tournaments with one-legged games from this point.

Big boys are about to collide as the Champions League schedule is set.

Man City will face either Lyon or Juventus if they can maintain their first leg lead over Real Madrid, while Chelsea will face either Napoli or Barcelona if they overturn a 3-0 deficit against Bayern Munich.

Man United and Wolves will collide in the semifinals of the Europa League if they make it that far.

The Champions League quarterfinals, semifinals and final will all be played in Lisbon, Portugal. While the Europa League will be played in four venues across Germany.

Champions League draw

Dates: August 7-23
Location: Round of 16 at home venues; Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: Here at NBCSports.com

Round of 16
Friday, August 7: Manchester City v. Real Madrid (2-1)
Friday, August 7: Juventus v. Lyon (0-1)
Saturday, August 8: Barcelona v. Napoli (1-1)
Saturday, August 8: Bayern Munich v. Chelsea (3-0)

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)
1. Manchester City/Real Madrid v. Lyon/Juventus
2. RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid
3. Napoli/Barcelona v. Chelsea/Bayern Munich
4. Atalanta v. Paris Saint-Germain

Semifinals (August 18/19)
1. Winner quarterfinal 1 v. Winner quarterfinal 3
2. Winner quarterfinal 2 v. Winner quarterfinal 4

Final
Sunday, August 23: Winner semifinal 1 v. Winner semifinal 2

Europa League draw

Dates: August 5-21
Location: Round of 16 at home venues; Quarterfinals onwards in Duisburg, Fortuna Dusseldorf, Schalke and Cologne in Germany.
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: Here at NBCSports.com

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
Copenhagen v. Istanbul Basaksehir (0-1)
Wolves v. Olympiakos (1-1)
Bayer Leverkusen v. Rangers (3-1)
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Wolfsburg (2-1)
Basel v. Eintracht Frankfurt (0-3)
Manchester United v. LASK (5-0)
Inter Milan v. Getafe (first leg abandoned)
Sevilla v. Roma (first leg abandoned)

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
1. Wolfsburg/Shakhtar Donetsk v. Eintracht Frankfurt/Basel
2. LASK/Manchester United v. Istanbul Basaksehir/Copenhagen
3. Inter Milan/Getafe v. Rangers/Bayer Leverkusen
4. Olympiakos/Wolves v. Sevilla/Roma

Semifinals (August 16-17)
1. Winner of quarterfinal 4 v. Winner of quarterfinal 2
2. Winner of quarterfinal 3 v. Winner of quarterfinal 1

Final
Friday, August 21: Winner semifinal 1 v. Winner semifinal 2

Report: USMNT keeper Steffen to be Man City No. 2 next season

Zack Steffen Man City
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United States men’s national team starting goalkeeper Zack Steffen will not be loaned by Manchester City next season, according to ESPN.

Steffen, 25, is set to back up Ederson for Pep Guardiola’s side next season after a year on loan to Fortuna Dusseldorf in the Bundesliga.

Steffen needed the loan because he had not yet qualified for a work permit in the United Kingdom. Instead, he starred in plenty of games for promoted Fortuna before suffering a nagging knee injury. Fortuna was relegated to 2.Bundesliga on the final day of the season.

[ MORE: Man City sets a very Pep record ]

There were rumors earlier this year that Claudio Bravo might head for New York City FC in MLS in order to make way for Steffen.

The 17-times capped USMNT bolted for Freiburg in Germany after making his name at the University of Maryland. He returned to the U.S. and became a star with savvy penalty-stopping ability with now-USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter and the Columbus Crew.

Guardiola has usually given his No. 2 plenty of time to shines in cup matches, and City expects to compete for every trophy it can. If the club’s European ban is upheld, however, there will far fewer matches on the schedule for the serial Champions League qualifier.

Sheffield United – Chelsea preview: How to watch, start time, stream, prediction

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Sheffield United – Chelsea preview: Frank Lampard’s Chelsea begins life defending third place on the Premier League table when it visits Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Saturday (Watch Live at 12:30 pm ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues’ 60 points are one more than Leicester City and two clear of old rivals Manchester United.

Also of interest to Chelsea and USMNT fans: The Blues have posted a 20-minute video of every Christian Pulisic touch since Project Restart began earlier this Summer.

Sheffield United beat Wolves at midweek to pull within a point of sixth-place. If Blades stumble, there are three teams within a win of pushing them back beneath the Europa League places.

STREAM SHEFFIELD UNITED – CHELSEA LIVE


Team news

Billy Gilmour is a doubt for Chelsea while Mateo Kovacic is back in training and could be available to Frank Lampard. N’Golo Kante remains out and Jorginho may get a Starting XI recall on Saturday.

John Fleck, Luke Freeman, and John Lundstram are out for Sheffield United while David McGoldrick is a question mark.

What they’re saying

Blades boss Wilder to our own JPW after a 1-0 win over Wolves: “We like to think we’ve brought something in terms of our attitude and our performances to get the results that we’ve got. We had a stretched squad and really had to dig in to get a result. I don’t think you get the result and the performance tonight if you haven’t got something with the ball and I think we did have something with the ball and out of it everybody did a job and tried to stop a very, very talented side from gaining momentum and dominating us. Second half, especially, we looked and it felt like we were really desperate to go and get a winner. Regardless of how late its come, we’ve been rewarded for that attitude.”

Chelsea’s Frank Lampard on Christian Pulisic earning Eden Hazard comparisons: “Having played with Eden, he had special talent straight away and draws players towards him to open up space to others. Christian is more direct. He has the ability to break a line and run forward which is a great trait in the modern game. Why I shy away from it the other night is because Eden has been here and done it over a period of time to an incredible level. Christian has it in his hands to make a real impact over time. It’s great to see him [doing well] but there’s a lot of development to come. Christian is taking responsibility to change games.”

Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds here)

The Blades are +575 underdogs according to DraftKings, with Chelsea -167.

A two-goal game for Tammy Abraham was only enough for a Chelsea point at Stamford Bridge when the sides met in a 2-2 draw earlier this season.

Prediction

Chelsea’s had one more days’ rest than the Blades and that seems plenty given the congestion this time of year. Give the Blues a 2-1 win.

How to watch Sheffield United – Chelsea

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
TV Channel: NBC
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com