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?

 

CCL: Toronto FC embarrassed in 4-0 defeat in Panama

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As far as Toronto FC are concerned, 2018 never actually ended and appears set to continue for the rest of eternity.

[ MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann received $3.35M settlement from U.S. Soccer ]

After losing the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League final to Chivas de Guadalajara on penalty kicks, the then-defending MLS Cup champions proceeded to ninth in the Eastern Conference and miss the playoffs by 14 — fourteen — points.

Fear not, though, for the most recent offseason would be a time for rebuilding to make one final push for trophies during the Sebastian Giovinco/Michael Bradley/Jozy Altidore era. Except, the exact opposite of that occurred: Giovinco left for Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilali; Victor Vazquez departed for Kuwaiti side Al-Arabi; Laurent Ciman and Terrence Boyd were the big arrivals this winter. A net-negative, to state the painfully obvious.

[ MORE: Liverpool draw Bayern Munich | Barcelona held by Lyon ]

Then, on Tuesday, things got worse — so, so much worse. Playing away to Panamanian side Independiente in the CCL round of 16, Greg Vanney’s side conceded four (quite spectacularly) poorly defended goals en route to a 4-0 defeat that has them all but eliminated before even stepping foot on their home field next Tuesday.

If you’re into watching that sort of thing, have a quick look below…

Boyd sent a penalty kick into orbit, just before halftime when the score was still just 1-0, thus setting in motion the Reds’ total collapse over the final 45 minutes.

There have been some embarrassing showings by MLS sides in CCL over the years, but what TFC did on Tuesday ranks right down near the bottom of anything we’ve ever seen.

Champions League preview: Man City visit Schalke; Atleti v. Juve

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Manchester City’s quest for European glory resumes on Wednesday, when the reigning Premier League champions travel to Gelsenkirchen, Germany, to take on a struggling Schalke side in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

[ MORE: Liverpool blunted by Bayern, and vice versa, in first-leg draw ]

Schalke sit 14th in the Bundesliga with barely a point per game (23 from 22 games) nearly two-thirds of the way through a disastrous league season. Manager Domenico Tedesco’s position will surely come under consideration this summer, though he could do himself a massive favor by knocking off a heavy favorite to reach the Champions League quarterfinals.

Man City come into the first leg in fine form, having won 12 of their last 13 games (all competitions) after their season nearly went up in smoke back in December. Sergio Aguero’s red-hot finishing touch has been at the center of recent successes, with the Argentine scoring in five of his last six appearances (nine games during that time, including a pair of hat tricks). City will, however, be without the services of three key figures: left back Benjamin Mendy (knee), forward Gabriel Jesus (hamstring) and center back John Stones (groin); meanwhile, Vincent Kompany (muscular strain) has been passed fit and made the trip to Germany.

[ MORE: Lyon strong at home, hold Barcelona to 0-0 draw (video) ]

All Atletico Madrid have to do to compete in this season’s final at their brand new Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in the Spanish capital is run through three home-and-away ties over the next three months, beginning with seven-time reigning Serie A champions Juventus. To further complicate matters, the Bianconeri are now led by Atleti’s old nemesis, Cristiano Ronaldo, from his days at Real Madrid. On the plus side, Atleti haven’t lost a home knockout game in 22 years, so they’ll almost certainly head to Turin with a puncher’s chance of sneaking through.

Massimiliano Allegri and Juve, on the other hand, intend to leave little to chance in the second leg on March 12.

Our team is growing physically, mentally and technically and we have to keep going as we enter the most important stage of the season,” the Juve boss said this week. “We have to be focused, knowing that we face a compact team that make the most of set pieces, and who in recent years have achieved a lot of good results in Europe. I wouldn’t take a draw now — I said to the lads that it’s important to score goals.”

Sarri an isolated manager after Chelsea fans turn on him

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LONDON (AP) The volley of abusive chants from Chelsea supporters were aimed in a different direction this time. Toward the sideline at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: Liverpool blunted by Bayern, and vice versa, in first-leg draw ]

Players were spared on Monday, there was no need to dig out the “rats” banners from 2015, and supporters seem just fine with Eden Hazard and Co.

Typically loyal to their managers — and there have been a dozen alone this century — many Chelsea fans instead seem to be done with Maurizio Sarri even before the end of his first season in charge.

Losing in the FA Cup to Manchester United was the breaking point, even if it wasn’t a complete rout. The cup competition is low on Chelsea’s priority list — winning it wasn’t enough to save Antonio Conte last season — but the end of that quest only adds to the despair.

In this rebuilding season, winning the Premier League — as Conte did in 2017 before finishing fifth the next year — couldn’t have been expected given the strength of Manchester City. But neither was a slide to sixth in the standings and a scramble for one of the four Champions League places.

“I am worried about the results,” Sarri said after Monday’s 2-0 loss to United. “Not about the fans.”

But the mutinous atmosphere won’t be lost on owner Roman Abramovich, who has spent the year watching from afar because the British government stymied the Russian billionaire’s visa renewal. That offshoot of the London-Moscow diplomatic dispute feeds the uncertainty at Chelsea.

[ MORE: Lyon strong at home, hold Barcelona to 0-0 draw (video) ]

Without fan backing, the 60-year-old Sarri — without a trophy in his career — looks isolated and exposed. The much-vaunted “Sarriball” is now part of the vocabulary of vitriol in chants — with added expletive.

It’s reminiscent of Rafa Benitez‘s interim title being used against the caretaker coach five years ago. Even in the darkest days of Jose Mourinho’s second spell in charge — as Benitez’s successor — it was the players who were blamed. Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and Hazard were branded “rats.”

Hazard is the only one of the trio still on the team — not that he gives the impression of wanting to stick around. The Belgium winger has avoided committing his future to Chelsea and has openly stoked talk of a transfer to Real Madrid.

Much like Madrid, Chelsea oscillates from glory to gloom under a conveyor belt of managers.

There’s also a regular flow of trophies, albeit only potentially secondary ones this season. Chelsea can still win the League Cup by beating Manchester City on Sunday and remains in contention in the Europa League.

While Madrid dropped to sixth place at one point this season in the Spanish league, the team hauled itself back up to third. Chelsea, which has won the Premier League five times since 2005, hasn’t been as successful. In the last month, the London club has lost to Arsenal, Manchester City — a 6-0 humiliation — and even to an ostensibly inferior Bournemouth.

For the stubborn Sarri, there seems to be no alternative to the “Sarriball” pressing tactics that helped his Napoli team push Juventus hard for the Italian title. Just a repetitive sequence of decisions.

– a reluctance to trust young players like Callum Hudson-Odoi.

– a determination to shoehorn Jorginho into defensive midfield, forcing N'Golo Kante out of position in favor of the recruit from Napoli.

– persisting with a back four after a three-man defense proved so effective for Conte.

– substitutions repeated in like-for-like changes. If it’s not Ross Barkley replacing Mateo Kovacic in central midfield, then they are interchanging the other way – 20 times this season. Pedro Rodriguez and Willian have swapped places 14 times.

For all the problems, it’s easy to forget that it took Chelsea three months to lose a game as Sarri started on an 18-match unbeaten run. Losing to Tottenham in November now seems to be a significant turning point.

Before that 13th game, Chelsea was in third place and had scored 27 and conceded only eight times in the league. Since then, Chelsea had netted 18 and conceded 21.

The cups will now define Sarri’s future, and it’s one down and two to go this week.

Chelsea holds a 2-1 lead over Malmo in the Europa League heading into the second leg of the round of 32 on Thursday before the League Cup final against City at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

“The most important thing now is to stay calm, train really hard and recover our best football and our best feeling,” Pedro said, “because if not, we are in trouble.”

More specifically, Sarri will be.

First-leg draw “not the worst, not a dream result” for Liverpool

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If indifference — and its inherent lack of feeling — could be classified a feeling, it’s the one most Liverpool players, and manager Jurgen Klopp, would use to describe their collective mood following Tuesday’s 0-0 home draw with Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

[ MORE: Liverpool blunted by Bayern, and vice versa, in first-leg draw ]

While the high-quality chances weren’t quite there for a meeting of two sides the magnitude of Liverpool and Bayern, the frenetic pace and end-to-end nature was still on display, which did plenty to keep a scoreless draw plenty entertaining for the neutral observers.

Speaking after the game, Klopp said it “wasn’t a dream result,” but also called it “a good one.” Wishy-washy — quotes from the BBC:

“From a result point of view, it’s OK. It’s not a dream result, but it’s a good one.”

“We made life more difficult with the last pass today – about 10 or 12 times a promising situation [fizzled out]. We can play better. We should play better.

“In the first half we had the bigger chances. I can’t remember any chances for either side in the second half. It wasn’t a Champions League night from that point of view.”

Midfielder and captain Jordan Henderson, who, it must be said, was a titan for the Reds on Tuesday, called it “not the worst result in the world.” Noncommittal.

“It’s not the worst result in the world. The performance level was good but we lacked that bit in the final third.”

“We’re disappointed not to score. But we kept a clean sheet and defended well. We had enough chances, especially in the first half.

“They’re a good team, they’re going to keep the ball. At times we found it frustrating. We were a bit unlucky in front of goal.

“It’s still alive. We’ve got games before the second leg. We’ve got to be confident still. It’ll be difficult but we have experience in the Champions League. We can go there and hurt them.”

In fairness, all of the above is true. The feeling of Liverpool having left so much on the table stems from how effervescent they were en route to reaching last season’s Champions League final. To see them struggle so early in the knockout rounds was, even after just one deep run a year ago, a bit jarring and unsettling.

[ MORE: Lyon strong at home, hold Barcelona to 0-0 draw (video) ]

Take into consideration the 10 days they had to prepare between games, and you get the feeling that Klopp and Co., know they needed to do so much more to give themselves a better chance of advancing to the quarterfinals.

The second leg is set for the Allianz Arena on March 13.