Southampton 2-2 Arsenal: Blistering open to second half sees Saints hold league leaders (video)

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An end-to-end match saw Southampton dominate the table-toppers in the first half, only to waste a lead before coming back to steal a point.

Southampton were incredibly bright as they owned the first half and went into the break 1-0 up. Aside from a near-deadly charge by Arsenal to start the second 45, the league leaders would have left St. Marys with nothing

However, three second-half goals by the 54th minute had the match at 2-2 and that’s where it would end. The Gunners would receive a scare with Mathieu Flamini sent off on 81 minutes, but they held on.

The home side dominated the first half, owning nearly 70% possession and a 1-0 halftime lead, but the fun part was yet to come.

Three goals in the first nine minutes after the break saw the game knotted at 2-2,

The Saints began looking to play on the counter, and they got a few early chances as Arsenal were sloppy in possession. In the eighth minute young Sam Gallagher won the ball in the box and stung the hands of Wojceich Szczesny who saved well.

That attempt to play on the counter though built into full-on possession, and by 20 minutes played, Southampton had maintained nearly 75% possession.

That ball-hawking paid off, and a rare moment of frailty by the Arsenal defense gave Southampton the lead. Luke Shaw launched in a pinpoint cross following a free kick, and Jose Fonte rose above Laurent Koscielny to thunder home a header by the near post.

Nothing changed following the goal with the rain pouring down, as Southampton continued to batter the attacking third with possession after possession.  Unfortunately they couldn’t capitalize on their next opportunity.

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Mathieu Flamini gave Gunner fans a scare in the 81st minute when he was sent off for a nasty challenge on Morgan Schneiderlin.

Gallagher was gifted a clear chance, as a clear by Nacho Monreal slammed into a Southampton player and fell directly into Gallagher’s lap, but with Szczesny bearing down on emergency duty, he stuck it wide.

Arsenal remained unable to get a shot off, running the clock down to halftime without an endeavor on goal. That wouldn’t last long.

Out of the halftime gates at St. Mary’s, Bacary Sagna found the ball on the edge of the Southampton penalty area, and he blasted a shot from a tight angle.  With Olivier Giroud on the ground after a tussle with goalkeeper Artur Boruc, he managed a tip of the shot to deflect it into the net.

It was just Arsenal’s second shot of the match for their first goal, and it wouldn’t take long for the visitors to find another.  With Mesut Ozil finding Santi Cazorla in some space behind the defense outside the penalty area, the Spaniard popped off a shot from range that slid past a surprised Boruc for a 2-1 lead.

But the lead wouldn’t last long as the second half continued to provide fireworks. Southampton went down and got themselves back into the match, as Jay Rodriguez collected a long ball on the left wing and he burst down the touchline. As the youngster sliced into the penalty area, he cut back for Adam Lallana trailing the play and he poked home to bring it back even at 2-2.

The match remained bright, and the two teams pressed each other with quality until a potential turning point occured with 10 minutes to go. Mathieu Flamini lunged into Morgan Schneiderlin, and referee Lee Mason sent him off directly. Replays showed the challenge was low, but the Frenchman went in two-footed with studs up.

Southampton jumped at the opportunity, and Szczesny did all he could to keep the home side out. He dove to keep out Fonte’s volley for a second with just four minutes to go.  Each team would have a final chance, but neither side could earn the three points.

Arsenal will now sweat on their table-topping position, with Chelsea and Manchester City both within striking distance and yet to play.  Southampton will be happy with the point, as they remain above the gap in ninth position, eight points above Swansea in 10th.

GOALS:

Southampton – Fonte 21′; Lallana 54′
Arsenal – Giroud 48′; Cazorla 52′

DISCIPLINE:

Arsenal – Flaimini (straight red) 81′

LINEUPS:

Southampton – Boruc, Chambers, Fonte, Yoshida, Shaw, Cork, Schneiderlin, S. Davis (Do Prado, 90′), Lallana, Rodriguez, Gallagher (Ward-Prowse 70′).

Arsenal – Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Arteta, Flamini, Ozil, Cazorla (Gibbs 86′), Gnabry (Oxlade-Chamberlain 70′), Giroud (Podolski 90′).

Panama boss blunt and honest before nation’s World Cup debut

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez isn’t in the business of sugarcoating the truth before his team makes history by playing in its first World Cup.

The Central American team has trouble scoring and his players will need to have a good day to have any chance against Belgium on Monday, he said.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Blunt and honest, Gomez didn’t even hide his starting lineup, the normal way of doing things for coaches these days. And when asked if Panama could repeat Iceland’s upset against Argentina — the teams drew 1-1 on Saturday — the Colombian didn’t bother picking the right words when downplaying the Argentine squad.

“Iceland sent Croatia to the playoffs (in European qualifying), and it did well in the European Championship as well,” Gomez said. “It played against an Argentina squad which isn’t at the same level as Belgium right now. I mean, the distance between Iceland and Argentina isn’t as significant as the distance between Belgium and Panama.”

Gomez didn’t completely dismiss Panama’s chances of a surprise result against the Belgians, saying “anything can happen in football,” but admitted it wouldn’t be normal.

“It’s very clear that they are the favorites,” the 62-year-old coach said. “But each game is different, and if we have a good day, maybe we can achieve something.”

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

If Panama does find a way to advance past the group stage, Gomez said he already knows how he will be celebrating.

“I’ll drink two bottles of vodka,” he said laughing, before taking it back. “No, no … we are professionals.”

Gomez didn’t bother keeping his lineup a secret for the match in Sochi, naming the 11 starters without hesitating when asked about it. He even frankly talked about the formation his team would be playing Monday.

Gomez said Panama won’t be trying anything but defending against the talented Belgians, and admitted that scoring goals has been a weakness of his team entering the tournament.

“We’ve become strong on defense. It’s Panama’s virtue,” he said. “Panama isn’t a team that will score a lot of goals. We may create good chances in some matches, but we aren’t able to score. We arrive at the World Cup with problems scoring the goals.”

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The 55th-ranked Panama drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland and lost 1-0 to Norway in its final warm-up matches before traveling to Russia.

It qualified for the tournament by finishing ahead of the United States in CONCACAF thanks to a last-minute victory over Costa Rica in qualifying.

Gomez said the team carries a big responsibility by representing the nation at a World Cup for the first time, and his biggest job is to get the players ready for the pressure they are about to face.

“The whole country is excited about this,” Gomez said. “I have to prepare the players mentally.”

Gomez has been coaching Panama since 2014. He was previously with Ecuador, Guatemala and Colombia.

Panama’s other Group G games will be against England on Sunday and Tunisia on June 28.

Maradona: Argentina drawing Iceland is “a disgrace”

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It’s been a pretty trying and criticism-filled 36 hours for Lionel Messi and Argentina, and that was already true before the World Cup hero that is Diego Maradona weighed in.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

No longer are La Albiceleste simply known as the side that drew tiny Iceland — the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup — but now their efforts on Saturday have been dubbed “a disgrace” by Maradona.

It’s not so much the players whom Maradona, manager of the national team for the 2010 World Cup (quarterfinals appearance, beaten 4-0 by Germany), has gone after, but current boss Jorge Sampaoli for his lack of a proper gameplan befitting the opponent. As for Messi, who failed to convert a critical penalty kick, Maradona has absolved the Barcelona superstar of much of the blame — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s a disgrace. Not having prepared for the match knowing that Iceland are all [6-foot-3] tall.”

“I get the feeling there’s an anger at the heart of the team.”

“I don’t blame the players. I could blame the lack of work rate. But I can’t blame the players, much less Messi, who gave it all he had,” said Maradona.

“I missed five penalties on the spin and I was still Diego Armando Maradona. I don’t think that they dropped two points because Messi missed a penalty.”

England squad reconnects with fans with image makeover

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VOLGOGRAD, England (AP) — Whatever happens to England at the World Cup, at least the reception facing the squad should be less brutal than it was in 2014 after its exit following the group stage.’

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

For once, the players can’t be accused of hiding away, retreating behind their headphones. The hallmark of England’s preparations for Russia has been shedding the past reticence to engage with the public, a calculated move by the team leadership to reconnect with a public disaffected by years of failure at tournaments and uninspiring performances.

“They appear more relaxed. They appear more normal,” supporter Gavin Hughes said, overlooking the Volgograd Arena where England opens its World Cup campaign against Tunisia on Monday. “They appear human. They are just lads playing football at the end of the day. That’s been the problem in the past. There’s more of a togetherness.”

A defining clip of the 2010 World Cup was Wayne Rooney bellowing down the barrel of a camera after a 0-0 draw with Algeria: “Nice to see your home fans booing you, that’s what loyal support is.”

That disconnect with the public has been bridged by the 23-man squad facing the media in a 45-minute, Super Bowl-style session before leaving for Russia. The English Football Association’s approach is in a marked contrast to club duty where they are largely closeted away, save for appearances with paying broadcasters or often in controlled appearances.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

“We’ve done a lot for the fans on social media so they can see what we are up to, which has not always been the case,” captain Harry Kane said Sunday. “It’s important while we have free time is to try to let the fans know what we are up to.”

The public is seeing a new side of the players. Not only are they more relatable but painted in a more sympathetic light, beyond the caricatures of millionaire mercenaries just chasing more money.

“That connection with the supporters is really important,” coach Gareth Southgate said. “There have been perceptions about our players for a long time … so it’s been really good for our public to see how much it means to the players to play, to see a different side of their personality.”

In a move unthinkable in years gone by, when a since-departed FA official blocked Rooney talking about his Christianity, defender Danny Rose recently opened up on his problems dealing with depression. Publicly praised by Prince William for raising awareness of health issues, Rose realizes how players can use their new platform to show their human side and inspire others.

“A lot of people messaged me to say thank you, that they know someone who is going through this or has been through that and that I’ve helped them and given them the confidence to express themselves,” Rose said. “We have a lot of down time and I’m going to think of something to help others when I get back. I’ve got time to think while I’m here and when I get back from the World Cup about how I can go forward and help people.”

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

It’s not just about the players feeding a voracious traveling media pack with material. Kieran Trippier, who is also Rose’s club teammate at Tottenham, told the left back he appeared no longer burdened by a private plight in England’s last World Cup warm-up game.

“I was playing with a bit of freedom,” Rose said of the victory against Costa Rica. “I think he’s got a point.”

Southgate is credited with encouraging the warmer environment, far removed from the controlling regimes under Fabio Capello and Gary Neville, who was Roy Hodgson’s assistant for the dismal 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship last-16 humbling to Iceland. A bemusing, running theme in the British papers at Euro 2016 in France was the players’ refusal to divulge any details of a darts tournament. The squad has been overhauled by Southgate and it has even been playing darts with the media at the World Cup base near St. Petersburg.

Southgate has been playing his part, going to fan forums in the buildup to the tournament to recognize the commitment and cost involved watching England abroad.

“Sometimes those really good people who follow us are overlooked at the expense of some who have caused problems in the past,” Southgate said.

Ultimately, results dictate the public mood and England hasn’t won a knockout game at any tournament since 2006.

“It’s about how we perform,” Southgate said, “but there’s a bigger picture.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 5 — England, Belgium enter the fray

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The weekend might be all but over, but that doesn’t mean that 2018 World Cup action is slowing down anytime soon.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Monday, in fact, will be quite the opposite, as Group G giants — and a pair of popular dark horse picks — Belgium and England make their debut in Russia, taking on Panama and Tunisia, respectively.

Following Germany’s 1-0 loss to Mexico on Sunday, Group F is currently turned upside down on its head. Sweden and South Korea, who’ll face off in the day’s opener, are even more hopeful now than prior to the start of the tournament.

Below is Monday’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 – Monday, June 18

Group F
Sweden vs. South Korea: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group G
Belgium vs. Panama: Sochi, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Tunisia vs. England: Volgograd, 2 p.m. ET –LIVE COVERAGE