Aston Villa 3-1 Hull City: Villa have likely saved themselves (video)

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Had Hull won at Villa Park on Saturday, they’d have been safe – and Aston Villa would’ve been in serious trouble. Instead the hosts put in one of their most impressive home performances this season and, although they’re yet to be mathematically deemed safe, they almost certainly saved their season.

The game got off to a fantastic start for the hosts, who scored with less than a minute played. Despite what appeared to be a defensive setup from Paul Lambert, Villa were off and running from the start. Gabby Agbonlahor burst down the left, putting in a cross that fell perfectly to Marc Albrighton. The wideman wiffed it, but Ashley Westwood was there to put in the goal.

Injury struck Agbonlahor once again, before thirty minutes were up. Lambert put on Jordan Bowery in his place, perhaps thinking him more experienced than U21 star Callum Robinson. Andi Weimann very nearly created a goal for Bowery minutes after his introduction, but the Austrian failed to get in the pass.

Villa were left ruing the missed opportunity when Hull equalized shortly thereafter. Ron Vlaar’s foul on Shane Long gave the visitors a free kick, which Tom Huddlestone took short. Liam Rosenior’s shot took a deflection off Bowery and landed in the back of the net.

The Tigers, knowing that a win would ensure their own safety, pressed on to find another goal. Brad Guzan did well to ensure his side stayed level, flying to his right to keep out a long-range effort from Huddlestone.

It took the hosts some time to regain their footing, but in the 39th minute, it was Steve Harper’s turn to take center stage. The Hull keeper made two fine saves in quick succession, first denying a shot from Weimann, then keeping out a strike from Bowery.

Villa continued to press forward. A series of corners saw two headers from Nathan Baker, the first blocked, the second saved by Harper. The third try was the charm: Weimann managed to put in his header, nudged in from close range.

The Austrian was determined to silence those who’d critiqued his performances this season, calling for him to be benched. In injury time, Weimann put in another, a sharp header into the bottom corner. Credit to Bowery, too, as his work down the left ensured Villa went into the break up 3-1.

Villa looked determined to close out their home games on a good note. Rather than allow Hull City back into the game, the hosts kept pressing, with Bowery making a convincing argument for more playing time. The forward, once again combining with Weimann, nearly added a fourth for Villa, but Harper managed to push his shot over the bar.

While Steve Bruce made an attempt to change up the visitors’ attack, replacing Nikica Jelavić with Yannick Sagbo, the Villa defense, surprisingly, held firm. Huddlestone forced a save from Guzan in the 75th minute, but that was about the last action seen in this one.

LINEUPS

Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Baker, Bertrand, Westwood, Delph, Albrighton (El Ahmadi 76), Agbonlahor (Bowery 24), Weimann (Bacuna 82)

Goals: Westwood 1′; Weimann 41; 45+3′

Hull City: Rosenior, Figueroa, Chester (Bruce 43), Davies, Meyler (Quinn 45), Huddlestone, Livermore, Jelavic (Sagbo 69), Long, Elmohamady

Goals: Bowery o.g. 28′

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

Adam Davy/PA via AP
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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images
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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’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 – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE