Marquinhos, Lavezzi goals see PSG cruise into Champions League quarterfinals

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A mostly perfunctory match at the the Parc de Princes played out with the intensity of an early round cup match, something that didn’t prevent a Paris Saint-Germain team in cruise control producing its expected result. Entering today’s match with a 4-0 lead earned three weeks ago, Laurent Blanc’s team saw goals from Marquinhos and Ezequiel Lavezzi earn a 2-1 win, capping the French champions’ 6-1 aggregate victory over a hapless Bayer Leverkusen.

Six minutes into Wednesday’s second leg, Bayer looked anything but hapless, with Sidney Sam pulling back a goal early. It wasn’t long, though, until a corner kick was hammered home by Marquinhos, with the Brazilian defender restoring the Parisians’ four-goal advantage. In the second half, a ball from left back Lucas Digne allowed Lavezzi to score his first goal of the tie, giving PSG its final margin of victory.

The lopsided result moves Blanc’s team into their second straight quarterfinal, with the team setting its sites on avoiding last year’s narrow disappointment. Last spring, PSG was eliminated by Barcelona, who needed the away goals tiebreaker to reach the semifinals.

Despite hints he would rest many of this best players, Blanc started star forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic in what was expected to be a relatively meaningless game. Midfielder Blaise Matuidi, holder Marco Verratti and right back Gregory van der Weil were not in the team, however, with fitness concerns vaulting Yohan Cabaye, Adrien Rabiot and Christophe Jallet into the starting lineup.

In the sixth minute, those changes looked capable of bringing Bayer back into the match, with a cross from right back Giolio Donati setting up Sam for the Germans’ first goal of the tie. Blasting his shot into the lower left hand corner, Sam pulled Bayer within three, giving the visitors to quick goal they needed to spark faint hopes.

Those hopes were dashed in the 13th minute thanks to Marquinhos. Off a corner from Cabaye,  the PSG defender headed into the right of goal, quickly restoring the hosts’ lead.

In the 28th minute, however, Bayer were on the cusp of a second score, with a shirt-pull from Jallet on Eren Derdiyok giving Simon Rolfes a chance from the spot. A poor attempt left the ball waist-high from Salvatore Sirigu, who needed only to jump slightly to his left to keep it 1-1.

Eight minutes into the second half, PSG claimed their first lead of the day, with Digne finding Lavezzi in the center of the area before the Argentine beat Bernd Leno to make is 2-1. Midway through the half, a second yellow card to midfielder Emre Can saw Bayer reduced to 10, allowing both sides to cruise through the match’s final 22 minutes.

For Bayer, the result represented progress on three weeks ago, though it continues a slide that’s put next year’s Champions League in doubt. Ahead of a visit to Bayern Munich on Saturday, Leverkusen’s slump leaves them only five points ahead of fifth place Wolfsburg. Though their trip to Paris could have build momentum for a league revival, the lack of intensity at the Parc de Princes renders Wednesday’s performance irrelevant.

If Laurent Blanc wishes to ascribe some meaning to the match — if he wants to make his team care about a game that saw him withdraw Ibrahimovic shortly after Can’s red card — he can point to a lackluster effort and admonish his team ahead of the quarterfinal round. Realistically, though, today’s 2-1 win was just as meaningless for the victors as it was for the vanquished.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.