At halftime: Dempsey’s early opener has U.S. in front of Ghana — FOLLOW LIVE

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Story of the half: The fifth-fastest goal in World Cup history puts the U.S. in front, allowing them to play the first 45 minutes on their terms. Ghana goes 24 minutes without a shot and reach intermission drawing only one save from Tim Howard, leaving head coach Kwesi Appiah in search of second half solutions. Performing exactly as they would have draw it up, the U.S. takes a 1-0 win into halftime in Natal, Brazil.

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Goals:

1′ – That Ghana defense that was supposed to be so mistake-prone? Twenty-nine seconds in, bingo. After a throw-in along the left, Clint Dempsey’s given a chance to go one-on-one against John Boye. After cutting inside of the Ghanaian central defender, Dempsey’s left-footed finish finds the lower right-hand corner, giving the U.S. its earliest goal in World Cup history.

Other key moments:

19′ – As Ghana gets too narrow, Fabian Johnson gets forward on the right, where he’s fed a ball just outside the Ghana penalty area. Hesitating so he can assess the play, the U.S. right back plays a ball behind the Ghana line, allowing Jozy Altidore to turn on a shot from nine yards out. Only a block in front of Adam Kwarasey keeps the U.S. from doubling its lead.

21′ – Altidore’s hamstring goes. Chasing a long ball down the left from Michael Bradley, the U.S. number nine pulls up, grabs his left hamstring, and falls to the ground. There’s no doubt about it – he’s done. Twenty-one minutes into the tournament, Altidore’s World Cup may be done.

30′ – Surging forward from his defensive midfield position, Mohammed Raibu gets his elbow high during an aerial challenge at the edge of the U.S. penalty area. As Kyle Beckerman recovers on the ground, Jonas Eriksson goes to his pocket. The yellow card means Ghana’s midfield stopper will have to be careful.

32′ – Ghana generates its first good chance. Cutting from left-to-right across the top of the penalty area, Asamoah Gyan gets around Bradley to nail a shot toward Tim Howard’s lower-left corner. A diving stop sees the U.S. number one steer the shot wide.

33′ – The last thing the U.S. needs after seeing Altidore go down? An injury to its other starting forward, but when Jonathan Mensah’s left leg gets high during an aerial challenge, Dempsey’s left with a bloodied nose. After two minutes on the ground, Dempsey leaves to get treatment on the sidelines, alleviating concerns the U.S. would have to burn another sub.

45+5′ – Ghana finally gets another chance, but a ball played in from the right by Christian Atsu sees André Ayew scuff a shot from 12 yards out. Geoff Cameron easily clears moments before the halftime whistle.

Also of note: Toward the end of the half, Matt Belser was shown periodically grabbing his right hamstring, leaving the U.S. with another major injury concern.

Lineups:

Ghana: Kwarasey; Opare, Mensah, Boye, Asamoah; Rabiu, Atsu, Muntari, J. Ayew; Gyan, A. Ayew

United States: Howard, Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Beasley, Beckerman, Jones, Bradley, Bedoya, Dempsey, Altidore (Johannsson 23′)

Key players:

  • Aron Johannsson, United States – Ghana’s going to keep controlling possession, meaning the U.S. needs somebody to run down those Bradley long balls. That wasn’t supposed to be the 23-year-old, but in place of Altidore, Johannsson will have to step up.
  • DaMarcus Beasley, United States – Leaning to the right when attacking, Ghana has been intent on testing Beasley’s flank. So far, so good, partially because Appiah has opted for speed (Christian Atsu) against the 32-year-old American. That’s a game Beasley can play. If Appiah moves Jordan Ayew to the right, Beasley may have a more difficult challenge.
  • Asamoah Gyan, Ghana – The U.S. has managed to stay very compact through the middle, with Geoff Cameron and Besler creating a consistent two-on-one for Gyan. With Jermaine Jones and Beckerman helping Beasley on the left, there isn’t much to be had if the Ghanaian captain goes wide. Whether he gets help (from André Ayew, perhaps) or not, Gyan may have to overcome the odds to pull his team even.
  • Mohammed Rabiu, Ghana – More and more, the United States is playing on the counter, something that’s likely to continue in the second half. As the first line of defense against the U.S.’s transition, can the yellow-carded anchor make it to 90 minutes without having to put his team down a man?

Questions for the second half:

  • Does Ghana have another idea? It’s not only that the Black Stars were second best in everything but ball retention. They were never dangerous. With the U.S. scoring early, the Americans were able to leverage their set up and force Ghana to do something special. With Tim Howard doing such a good job deciding when to bolt off his line, Kwesi Appiah needs to implement Plan B at halftime.
  • Will fitness matter? It’s not the temperature, which is only 79 degrees (Fahrenheit). It’s the humidity: 74 percent. Which team is in better shape? Which one expends less energy performing its regular tasks? Which one will adjust to a final 10, 15 minutes that will leave them empty at the final whistle?

Champions League permutations: Who needs what?

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Here’s a quick reminder of how many teams from each group have already reached the last 16:

Group A: Paris St-Germain (winners), Real Madrid (runners up)
Group B: Bayern Munich (winners), Tottenham (runners up)
Group C: Manchester City (winners)
Group D: Juventus (winners)
Group E: None
Group F: Barcelona (winners)
Group G: RB Leipzig
Group H: None

And here’s what teams in each group need to do to advance:

Group C
Shakhtar Donetsk will reach the last 16 if they win at home against Atalanta, while both Atalanta and Dinamo Zagreb can still reach the last 16 with wins.

Group D
Atletico Madrid will secure their spot in the last 16 if they beat Lokomotiv Moscow at home, but if they draw or lose and Bayer Leverkusen win at home against group winners Juventus, the German side will go through.

Group E
Red Bull Salzburg will reach the last 16 if they beat Liverpool at home, while the reigning UCL champions need just a point to make it to the knockout rounds. However,  if Liverpool lose they will be out unless Napoli lose at home to Genk too or if Liverpool score four away goals or more and only lose by one goal (eg a 5-4 loss) combined with a Napoli defeat they will go through. Napoli need a point in their final game at home against Genk to reach the last 16.

Group F
Inter Milan will make the last 16 if they beat Barcelona at home but if they don’t win then Borussia Dortmund will go through by bettering Inter’s result. Dortmund host Slavia Prague at home.

Group G
Leipzig have already qualified and will finish top of the group with a win. Zenit will reach the last 16 if they win away at already eliminated Benfica, while Lyon can qualify if they better Zenit’s result from the final game.

Group H
Chelsea know they will reach the last 16 with a win at home to already eliminated Lille. Ajax only need a draw to make the last 16, while Valencia need a win at Ajax to advance. Chelsea will also reach the last if they draw against Lille and Ajax beat Valencia.

Champions League score predictions: Matchweek 6

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The sixth and final matchday of the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League group stage is here, and two of the four Premier League clubs needing to avoid defeat to go through.

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Fans of Liverpool and Chelsea will both be sweating ahead of their group stage finales.

Below we predict the scores for all 16 UCL games taking place over the next two days, with Tottenham heading to Bayern Munich able to rest players,  while reigning champions Liverpool head to Jesse March’s Salzburg needing a draw to advance but the hosts will go through with a win.

As for Chelsea, they host Lille needing a win to secure their route to the last 16 and a draw could be enough if Valencia lose to Ajax, while Man City travel to Dinamo Zagreb already confirmed as group winners.

Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below, too.


Tuesday

Group E
Red Bull Salzburg 3-5 Liverpool
Napoli 3-1 Genk

Group F
Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Slavia Prague
Inter Milan 2-2 Barcelona

Group G
Lyon 2-1 Leipzig
Benfica 0-2 Zenit

Group H
Chelsea 1-1 Lille
Ajax 2-2 Valencia


Wednesday

Group A
PSG 3-0 Galatasaray
Club Brugge 1-2 Real Madrid

Group B
Bayern Munich 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Olympiacos 3-1 Red Star Belgrade

Group C
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 Atalanta
Dinamo Zagreb 1-3 Man City

Group D
Bayer Leverkusen 2-2 Juventus
Atletico Madrid 2-1 Lokomotiv Moscow

MLS teams learn opponents for CCL last 16

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The draw for the last 16 of the CONCACAF Champions League took place late Monday and some intriguing clashes have been set up to kick off the knockout rounds.

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2019 Supporters’ Shield champs LAFC face Liga MX’s Club Leon, while NYCFC fave San Carlos from Costa Rica, 2019 MLS Cup champs Seattle Sounders square off with Honduran side Olimpia, the Montreal Impact face Costa Rica’s Saprissa and Atlanta United also have Honduran opponents in Motagua.

Fans of MLS teams will not need reminding that Liga MX have dominated this competition, with a team from Mexico winning this competition each season since 2006.

Below is the schedule in full for the knockout rounds of the tournament, which begin in mid-February.


2020 CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 schedule

Leg 1: Feb. 18-20; Leg 2: Feb. 25-27. First team listed hosts Leg 2.

  1. Atlanta United (USA) vs. Motagua (HON)
  2. Club America (MEX) vs. Comunicaciones (GUA)
  3. Cruz Azul (MEX) vs. Portmore United (JAM)
  4. LAFC (USA) vs. Club Leon (MEX)
  5. Tigres UANL (MEX) vs. Alianza (SLV)
  6. NYCFC (USA) vs. San Carlos (CRC)
  7. Seattle Sounders (USA) vs. Olimpia (HON)
  8. Montreal Impact (CAN) vs. Saprissa (CRC)

Quarterfinals

Leg 1: March 10-12; Leg 2: March 17-19. Winner of odd-numbered Round of 16 game hosts Leg 2.

  • Winner 1 vs. Winner 2
  • Winner 3 vs. Winner 4
  • Winner 5 vs. Winner 6
  • Winner 7 vs. Winner 8

Semifinals

Leg 1: Apr. 7-9; Leg 2: Apr. 14-16. Hosting determined by performance in prior rounds.

  • Winner 1/2 vs. Winner 3/4
  • Winner 5/6 vs. Winner 7/8

Final

Leg 1: April 28-30; Leg 2: May 5-7. Hosting determined by performance in prior rounds.

  • Winner SF1 vs. Winner SF2

Arsenal issue injury update

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Arsenal have issued an injury update on several players after their win at West Ham on Monday.

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Interim head coach Freddie Ljungberg will have an injury headache to sort out, especially at full back, as Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney were both injured before and during the 3-1 win at the London Stadium.

Bellerin felt his hamstring go in the warm up and the Spaniard was replaced by Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who performed well.

“Hector had a feeling in his hamstring during the warm-up and we took the decision. Not going to force anyone to play if they don’t feel 100%,” Ljungberg said. “It was a straight swap on that with Ainsley. Ainsley has been out in the cold a little bit but came in and did really well. I’m really proud of him.”

As for Tierney, who suffered a shoulder injury during the game, the prognosis on the Scottish left back doesn’t appear as positive as Bellerin.

“It’s something with his shoulder but I don’t know exactly what that is. We obviously had to take him off. He’s going to hospital to get it checked,” Ljungberg added.

The Gunners have enough defensive issues as it is without throwing a few injuries to arguably their best right and left backs.

Arsenal have plenty of walking wounded right now, as Rob Holding wasn’t in the squad to face West Ham due to a knee injury flaring up, while Dani Ceballos and Emile Smith-Rowe are still working their way back to full fitness.

Remarkably, Arsenal are just seven points off the top four given the firing of Unai Emery, their woeful defensive displays and their worst-ever start to a season.

Ljungberg’s boys host Man City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) which looks like being a straight shootout between two teams who can score at will but can’t keep them out at the other end.

The Gunners are great to watch for the neutrals, but these defensive injuries continue to hamper any recovery post-Emery.