Aston Villa 1-1 Swansea: Hosts hang on for a point (video)

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A draw does little to help either side, but both Villa and Swansea will have to accept just a share of the spoils from this rather dreary match at Villa Park. Both clubs will go into 2014 in the top half of the bottom of the table, but both will want to start the year putting a bit more breathing room between themselves and the drop zone.

Aston Villa took a surprising early lead in the first half, but Swansea came back with an unsurprising equalizer to put the sides level before the interval.

It was the Villa captain that gave the hosts the early lead. Andi Weimann split open the Swansea defense with a lovely ball, allowing Gabby Agbonlahor to latch on to the end of it. The forward’s speed took him behind the Swans players, giving him plenty of time to slot past Gerhard Tremmel for the opening goal. The skipper, along with the rest of the Villa squad, then ran to the touchline to celebrate with Paul Lambert.

But after the first ten minutes, the Villa took their foot off the gas, losing their fluidity and resorting to the hoofed ball. Unsurprisingly, the visitors took advantage.

In the 35th minute, Villa were unable to clear a shot, with the ball falling to Jonathan De Guzmán. The Dutchman’s shot went just wide, but a minute later, the hosts were out of luck. Pablo Hernández put in an inviting cross that floated over to the far post, where Roland Lamah was waiting. Antonio Luna couldn’t get there in time to prevent Lamah from heading home.

Swansea spent the next ten minutes doing whatever they could to get the go ahead goal, and Villa were lucky to go into the break with the scoreline level. In fact, they were lucky to come out of the match with the scoreline level.

Throughout the entirety of the match, the hosts had just 27% of the possession, spending the majority of the time blocking Swansea’s 17 shots. It’s quite possible that, as Villa were coming off a run of four straight defeats, Paul Lambert was looking to simply find a point. He succeed, but will it be enough to pacify the home fans?

Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Clark, Baker, Luna, Westwood, Bacuna (El Ahmadi 70), Weimann (Albrighton 79), Delph, Agbonlahor, Tonev (Kozák 61)

Swansea: Tremmel, Tiendalli (Rangel 55), Williams, Chico, Davies, Canas, de Guzman, Shelvey, Hernandez, Lamah (Pozuelo 68), Bony (Álvaro 84)

VIDEO: de Bruyne delivers gorgeous assist on Lukaku goal

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It took a little bit of patience, but Romelu Lukaku finally got on the scoresheet at the 2018 World Cup, thanks to a delicious assist from crosstown club rival Kevin De Bruyne.

The Manchester City playmaker delivered a spectacular outside-of-the-boot cross into the box, where Lukaku’s head met it and guided it towards the far post for Belgium’s second goal of the day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Arsenal close in on Leno; Man City near Jorginho signing, and more

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Arsenal looks like it will have a new man between the pipes for next season.

According to a report from German publication SportBild, Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno will be introduced as an Arsenal player on Tuesday, after a reported $23-29 million transfer fee. The 26-year-old was on Germany’s 35-man pre-World Cup squad, but was one of the last cuts as Joachim Low went with Manuel Neuer, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Kevin Trapp in Russia.

Leno became the full-time starter for Leverkusen as a 20-year-old, and has held the position of the No. 1 for the last six seasons, earning plenty of Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League experience along the way.

It’s unclear what will happen to current Arsenal No. 1 Petr Cech. The 36-year-old Premier League legend experienced one of his worst seasons in net for Arsenal and he could begin the season as a backup, unless he moves to a new club. He reportedly has a contract through 2019.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from around the Premier League and Europe.

(more…)

VIDEO: Mertens scores wonderstrike for Belgium

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After a frustrating 45 minutes, it took only two minutes for Belgium to finally get on the board, even if it was a goal sprinkled with magic dust.

Off a partially cleared ball on the right side of the box, Belgium attacker Dries Mertens whalloped a shot that arced over Panama (and former LA Galaxy) goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, giving Belgium a 1-0 lead.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Croatia’s Kalinic sent home from World Cup

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It’s only been five days, and we have our first World Cup dismissal.

According to a bombshell report out of Croatia, Croatia National Team head coach Zlatko Dalic has sent home striker Nikola Kalinic from the team’s camp, after the AC Milan player reportedly refused to be a substitute during Croatia’s 2-0 win over Nigeria.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

[Update: The Croatia FA confirmed the decision, releasing this statement from Dalic. “During the Nigeria encounter, Kalinić was warming up and was supposed to come on in the second half. However, he then stated that he wasn’t ready to come on due to a back issue. The same thing happened during the Brazil friendly in England, as well as before the practice session on Sunday. I have calmly accepted that, and since I need my players fit and ready to play, I have made this decision.”]

The report states that Kalinic refused to come on due to an injury, but Dalic had said recently that his team had no injuries that would keep players out, potentially meaning that Kalinic used the injury claim as an excuse.

Croatia’s FA is expected to confirm the news on Monday.

After a rough season at AC Milan, with just six league goals in 31 Serie A appearances, Kalinic, at 30, is likely finished with the Vatreni. He scored three goals in World Cup qualifying but hasn’t started for Croatia since a 2-0 win over Peru in March. Kalinic did score against Spain in Croatia’s shock 2-1 win exactly two years prior to Saturday’s match.

He was deemed second choice to Mario Mandzukic as the center forward up top, but was reportedly asked to spell Mandzukic during Croatia’s match against Nigeria, and Kalinic reportedly refused.

If true, Croatia will continue with 22 players for the remainder of the tournament.