UEFA Champions League: Ibrahimovic brace helps PSG cruise 4-0 at Bayer Leverkusen

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One of the more lopsided match ups of UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 lived up to its muted expectations, with favorites Paris Saint-Germain offered no resistance during their knockout round’s first leg at Bayer Leverkusen. With the help of two goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the reigning French champions took a 4-0 lead on Germany’s second place side, quickly eliminating any doubt the ambitious Parisians will make another trip to the competition’s quarterfinals.

The teams will resume their matchup two weeks from now in Paris, with a Leverkusen side that’s suffered three big defeats in this year’s competition unlikely to threaten for that spot in the final eight. In group stage, Bayer lost 4-2 and 5-0 to Manchester United, and while a first leg at home gave Sami Hyypia’s team a chance to set the tone in this 180-minute match, PSG’s superiority was evident from the opening whistle.

[MORE: What we learned from Paris Saint-Germain’s demolition of Bayer Leverkusen]

It only took three minutes for that edge to put Laurent Blanc’s team in front, with one of Europe’s most overlooked midfielders taking a momentary step out of the shadows. Intercepting a Simon Rolfes pass at the edge of Bayer’s defensive third, Blaise Matuidi played wide to  Ibrahimovic before sprinting into the Leverkusen penalty area. When he was found moments later by Marco Verratti through ball, the French international had an easy left-footed finish for the game’s opening goal.

By the middle of the half, Leverkusen were seeing more of the ball and were finally able to mount their first real forays toward the PSG penalty area. Come the end of the half, however, that improvement had gone for naught, with two goals from Ibrahimovic just before intermission giving the visitors a commanding halftime lead.

[MORE: FC Barcelona seizes control of Champions League series with 2-0 win over Manchester City]

The first came after a disputable penalty that saw Leverkusen defender Emir Saphic yellow carded after Ezequiel Lavezzi went down at the edge of the six-yard box. Blasting his attempt into the goal’s lower left hand corner, Ibrahimovic beat a diving Leno to double PSG’s lead in the 39th minute.

Three minutes later, when a ball in from the left for Matuidi drew Leverkusen’s defense toward the spot, Ibrahimovic hammered his teammate’s layoff into top of goal from 20 yards out. As if placing his shot into a pneumatic tube, “Ibra” sent the ball on a line to the right of the Bernd Leno, the force of his strike giving the Bayer keeper little chance to react before PSG’s third goal flew just under the cross-bar.

A second half own goal that would have put PSG up four was waved off, leaving the match’s final 45 minutes to be defined by restraint instead of reward. Dominating both chances and the ball, Blanc’s team played with the comfort of a side at home, particularly after  Saphic saw a second yellow. With Ibrahimovic spending the match’s last half hour in midfield, helping his team control the ball, PSG appeared to have grown tired of pushing for goals.

[MORE: What we learned in Barcelona’s Champions League win over Manchester City]

In the 88th minute, however, a clearly fatigued Bayer couldn’t help but conceded the fourth. With PSG building down the left, Ibrahimovic put an overlapping Maxwell behind the Leverkusen defense, where the left back crossed for Lucas Moura at the far post just before the ball rolled out of play. Moura’s layoff for Yohan Cabaye gave the recently purchase midfielder an easy finish into the upper right hand corner from 15 yards out, giving PSG a lead that’s never been reversed in Champions League.

Japan upsets ten-man Colombia in Group H opener

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On paper, the 61st-ranked team in the world beating the 16th-ranked team in the world is a massive upset. But considering the circumstances within the game, perhaps this wasn’t an upset after all.

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Two set pieces were the difference as Japan defeated ten-man Colombia, 2-1 on Tuesday morning in Saransk. Colombia played with ten men for nearly the entire match, after Carlos Sanchez was sent off for a handball in the box and a denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

The game took a massive turn in the third minute, as Colombia centerback Davinson Sanchez failed to control a pass and Yuya Osako found himself free on goal. His shot was parried away by Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina but Kagawa’s rebound shot was clearly blocked by Sanchez’s right arm. The referee, Damir Skomina immediately pointed to the penalty spot and went to the back pocket, sending Sanchez to the showers.

Kagawa stepped up and cooly sent Ospina the wrong way to put Japan on top.

Late in the first half, after both teams had chances on target, Colombia came back and evened the scoreline.

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Juan Fernando Quintero, starting in place of the recovering James Rodriguez, smartly took a free kick and fired it low, under the wall as it jumped. Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima reacted late and although he arrived as the ball was crossing the line, he couldn’t keep it from going over, tying the game in the 39th minute.

Ultimately, despite its efforts, Colombia began to tire and on a corner kick, the Blue Samurai took back the lead and control of their destiny in Group H. A corner kick from Keisuke Honda was re-directed past Ospina by Osako, who jumped well over Santiago Arias, to give Japan a 2-1 lead in the 75th minute.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Rodriguez was introduced in the 57th minute but try as he did, Colombia was unable to find the final pass in the box, and Japan held on for the unexpected victory.

With the win, Japan top Group H ahead of a meeting with Senegal, while Colombia will have to regroup to face Poland.

In a World Cup full of unexpected results, Tuesday brought yet another memorable win for an underdog.

New Zealand women footballers rebel against national coach

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) Only weeks after New Zealand Football made headlines by signing a revolutionary equal pay deal with its female players, the organization is facing a mutiny by members of its women’s team against the national coach.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

New Zealand Football confirmed on Tuesday it had received a letter signed by a number of New Zealand players complaining about the methods and tactics employed by Austria-born coach Andreas Heraf.

The complaints follow the New Zealand team’s recent 3-1 loss at home to Japan. Heraf angered his players, and fans of the Football Ferns national team, by taking an entirely defensive game plan into the rare home international.

Heraf then further angered his players with comments defending his approach.

He said there was “a big difference in quality” between the New Zealand and Japanese players and that New Zealand “will never have that quality” to compete with top teams like Japan. He said the scoreline might have been 8-0 if New Zealand had not adopted a defensive approach.

One of New Zealand’s leading players, United States-based Abby Erceg, retired after playing 132 matches for New Zealand, citing Heraf’s approach in previous international matches.

She later told New Zealand media: “I couldn’t stand to wear that (national symbol) on my chest any more when his vision was to cower in a corner and not get beat by too much.”

New Zealand Football defended Heraf against the media and public criticism but admitted his comments were “strange” and “wrong” and did not accurately reflect his views. Heraf later apologized and said he had not expressed himself clearly.

But efforts to dampen the controversy have failed. New Zealand Football said in a statement it had “received a letter from the NZ Professional Footballers Association (NZPFA) last night with a number of complaints from the players of the Football Ferns.”

The mutiny comes only weeks after New Zealand gained international headlines for a deal which gives female pay parity with their male counterparts.

New Zealand Football signed the deal which provided female players with equal match payments, travel arrangements and prize money.

At the time, New Zealand women’s captain Ali Riley said the deal meant New Zealand would “be able to compete against the top teams, to be able to do well at a World Cup and the Olympics – this is what we needed.”

VIDEO: Colombia sees red, Japan takes early lead

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The first red card of the World Cup came just moments after fans took their seats in Saransk.

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After David Ospina blocked a breakaway opportunity from Yuya Osako in the third minute of the match, Japan star and former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa fired the rebound on goal. But his shot was blocked by the arm of Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez, which earned him a straight red card from referee Damir Skomina and an early trip to the locker room.

Kagawa then stepped up to the spot and calmly sent Ospina the wrong way to give Japan the shock early lead.

Colombia will play the rest of the match with ten men and no James Rodriguez, who was named to the bench for this match as he recovers from a reported calf injury.

Rodriguez out of Colombia starting XI

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Taking a page out of Egypt’s book, Colombia will be without its talismanic playmaker for its first match, Tuesday morning against Japan.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Juan Fernando Quintero replaced James Rodriguez in Colombia’s starting Xi to take on Japan in Saransk as Colombia coach Jose Pekerman clearly hopes a few extra days of recovery for the injured Rodriguez will help him return to 100 percent fitness. Rodriguez is battling a reported calf injury.

Rodriguez scored six goals and had two assists in five games at the last World Cup in Brazil, helping guide Los Cafeteros to their first World Cup quarterfinals appearance.