At halftime: Chances scarce as Iran, Nigeria reach intermission scoreless — FOLLOW LIVE

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Story of the half: One-way traffic saw Nigeria shake off the sluggish form of their final warmup match to control play against Asia’s surprise qualifiers. With only one good, early chance, however, the Super Eagles didn’t give Carlos Queiroz’s man any reason to change-up. At halftime, the teams are still level, even if the Iranians have scarcely seen the ball.

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Goals: Yeah, right.

Other key moments:

9′ – Controlling play from the opening kickoff, the Nigerians looked good for a quick opener in the thanks to Emmanuel Emenike. Going wide into the left in Iran’s penalty area, the Super Eagles’ number nine stretched his opponents’ defense before firing a ball just above the six-yard box. Ahmed Musa, coming in from the right, couldn’t get there in time to beat Alireza Haghighi, with the followup from Ogenyi Onazi pulled wide of the left post.

34′ – Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama gets awoken from his slumber with the best chance of the match, a header from Reza Ghoochanneijhad that almost converted Iran’s first corner. Hit to the near post, the restart saw the Charlton striker redirect his shot down toward the middle of goal. Unfortunately, the ball was also pushed straight at Enyeama, whose right hand kept two zeros on the scoreboard.

LINEUPS:

Iran: Haghighi, Heydari, Haji Safi, Hosseini, Sadeghi, Nekounam, Timotian, Montazeri, Ghoochannejad, Dejagah, Pooladi

Nigeria: Enyeama; Ambrose, Omeruo, Oboabona (Yobo 29′), Oshaniwa; Onazi, Mikel; Musa, Azeez, Moses; Emenike

Numbers to know:

69% – Nigeria’s possession over the first 45 minutes.
6 – Number of Iran fouls. Nigeria had seven. Though they’ve dominated the ball, the Super Eagles have been unable to inspire any urgency from their opponents.
19 – The number of passes Iranian defender Andranik Teymourian made in the first half, leading his team. Six Nigerians bested that mark.
0 – Accurate crosses Nigeria completed before halftime.

Questions for the second half:

  • Will Iran find their moment? Except for a nervous moment in the ninth minute, the match has gone as Iran may have imagined. They don’t have the ball, and Nigeria’s been able to generate more shots, but Iran’s been relatively comfortable while waiting for their moment. The question is whether that moment will come.
  • Is one enough (for either team)? With Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina ahead for each team, this is Iran and Nigeria’s easiest game of the tournament, making it difficult to reconcile a draw with hopes of advancing past the group stage. Will either of these teams press for full points, knowing this is their best chance to claim them? Or will they be conservative and hope fortune favors them when they’re asked to be braver?

 

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

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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

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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

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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