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)

Salah returns to Egypt starting lineup

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A familiar name returned to the starting lineup for Egypt on Tuesday afternoon.

Egypt named star Mohamed Salah in its starting XI, after resting Salah in Egypt’s 1-0 defeat to Uguruay on June 15. Salah has been recovering from an injured shoulder that he suffered during the UEFA Champions League final in late May.

Salah makes his World Cup debut now against the host nation, Russia, at 2:00 p.m.

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Senegal hold off late charge, defeat Poland on controversial goal

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Two matches, two upsets.

For the second time on Tuesday, an underdog took down a favorite as Senegal defeated Poland, 2-1, with the game-winning goal decided in controversial fashion.

In the 60th minute, M’baye Niang was waved onto the field by the referee while the ball was still in play in the middle of the field, and Niang raced on to the end of a Gregorz Krychowiak backpass that stunned the Poland defense. Niang arrived at the pass a second quicker than goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, allowing the Senegal winger to score into an empty net.

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The VAR checked the goal but it was allowed, as it was a subjective decision of the referee to allow Niang back on the field following an injury, and not a clear and obvious error.

Senegal took the lead in the first half on the counter attack. With Poland slow in transition, Sadio Mane found Idrissa Gueye in space at the top of the box. After two touches, Gueye fired a strike to the far post in the 37th minute that took a wicked deflection off Poland defender Thiago Cionek and left Szczesny helpless.

Poland struggled all game against the pace and physicality of Senegal and the Lions of Teranga were very smart in controlling possession and switching the field, forcing the Poland squad to tire quickly.

Krychowiak did breathe some life into the game with a header goal off a free kick in the 86th minute, but despite some poor clock management from Senegal, its defense was able to hold off Poland’s last-ditch chance to tie the game, going level with Japan on three points at the top of Group H.

Report: Blatter to attend Portugal vs. Morocco as guest of Putin

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Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter is still in the middle of an eight-year ban from the organization he once ran.

But that doesn’t mean he’s going to miss out on some of the World Cup action, live in Russia.

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BBC journalist Richard Conway reported early Tuesday that Blatter is set to watch Portugal vs. Morocco in Moscow as a guest of Russian president Vladimir Putin. The 82-year-old would normally not be able to sit in the presidential box due to his FIFA ban, though he likely could attend matches with a regular ticket like the vast majority of soccer fans.

Just four years ago, Blatter was president during the 2014 World Cup, one that was marred by corruption scandals in addition to the corruption scandals surrounding the World Cup bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

His reign of power at FIFA finally came to an end on June 2, 2015, when he resigned following an embarrassing month for FIFA in which many of its members were arrested in a joint-raid between the Swiss authorities and the FBI.

Blatter was eventually handed an eight-year ban from FIFA’s ethics committee for an “unauthorized payment” of $2 million from Blatter to Michel Platini, the former France star and FIFA vice president who was also handed an eight-year suspension.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Fekir negotiations back on; Chelsea waiting on transfer targets; and more

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Could Liverpool get its star attacking midfield target after all?

That’s what seems to be the case, as the agent for Lyon and France midfielder Nabil Fekir told French TV channel LCI Monday evening that negotiations aren’t over between Liverpool and Lyon.

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“He didn’t sign because um… it is not over! This is not the end of the story,” Fekir’s agent, Jean-Pierre Bernes reportedly said.

It was just two weeks ago when Lyon president Jean-Michael Aulas stated that Fekir, Lyon’s captain, would remain with the club for the upcoming season, after negotiations with Liverpool fell through. According to the Liverpool Echo, the Reds wanted a second opinion on a previous knee injury, and had balked at the $70 million price tag.

But now it appears Liverpool and Aulas could still be in conversations to try and find a mutually accepted fee.

At the same time, stirring up transfer drama is in Bernes interest, as it could drive other teams into the race to sign Fekir and raise his transfer fee, meaning more money to him, Fekir (if he gets a cut) and Lyon. Watch this space for more to come during and after the World Cup.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from across the Premier League and Europe:

(more…)