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.

FOLLOW LIVE: Soccerly’s real-time match center

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?

 

Mourinho tells players to be like Federer, don’t use turf as excuse

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When Manchester United take on BSC Young Boys in the two sides’ UEFA Champions League group stage opener on Wednesday, they’ll do so on an always derided artificial playing surface, in the Swiss capital city of Bern.

[ MORE: UCL preview: Real, Ronaldo debut apart; Man City, United, too ]

Speaking in Tuesday’s press conference, Man United manager Jose Mourinho was quick to insist he won’t be using the undesirable surface as an excuse should things go wrong at Stade de Suisse, nor will he allow his players to do so. He even evoked the name of the great Roger Federer, arguably the greatest tennis player of all time and a Swiss himself, as the model example of adaptability — quotes from Bleacher Report:

“I don’t want to use [the artificial turf].. as a possible excuse for a poor performance. Everybody knows it is different but we are in Switzerland, the home of one of the best ever tennis players, and I’m pretty sure the big man [Federer] sometimes is not happy to play on such a surface but he has to play and he has to win.

“Everybody knows he has a favorite surface, but he has also to win on other surfaces. So we have to do it.”

That’s easy for Mourinho to say, as he can easily and conveniently blame his players for not adapting or performing in the event of a draw or defeat.

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 5

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We’re a full month into the 2018-19 Premier League season, which means we can begin — yes, only just now — to make more definitive statements about where everyone is headed for the season.

Not much change at the top of the power rankings this week, but plenty of movement in the middle and bottom thirds…

[ MORE: UCL preview: Real, Ronaldo debut apart; Man City, United, too ]

20. Burnley — Bottom of the table after four straight losses, Sean Dyche worked an unthinkable miracle last season but he might not survive another month of results like the one just completed.
Last week: 16
Season high: 15
Season low: 20

19. Cardiff City — Nailed-on favorites to be relegated before the season started, the Bluebirds haven’t shown anything to suggest they’ve got a trick up their sleeves. Their stay in the PL will, however, be lucrative, if brief.
Last week: 19
Season high: 19
Season low: 20

18. Huddersfield Town — Teams wishing to avoid relegation must beat other sides in the relegation battle — Cardiff, for example. The Terriers couldn’t do it a couple weeks ago, followed by five more points dropped against Everton and Crystal Palace.
Last week: 18
Season high: 18
Season low: 20

17. Newcastle United — Three straight losses is better than four, but not by much. The Magpies get something of a free pass for facing Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal in consecutive games. The fact they lost each game by one goal (all 2-1)? Encouraging.
Last week: 17
Season high: 13
Season low: 18

16. West Ham United — The four teams below them in these rankings — and the real-life table — have been so bad that all the Hammers needed was one win to move from last place (with zero points) to outside the relegation zone.
Last week: 20
Season high: 16
Season low: 20

15. Fulham — Lost 3-0 to Man City this weekend. They’re supposed to lose 3-0 to Man City.
Last week: 14
Season high: 11
Season low: 17

14. Southampton — Only six goals conceded in five games is a top-six defensive record that could keep Saints up on its own. Only six goals scored, however, is firmly in the bottom half — dull and painful to watch, at best; a half-dozen defensive mistakes from relegation, at worst.
Last week: 13
Season high: 13
Season low: 17

13. Leicester City — Hammered by Bournemouth at the weekend, the Foxes undid any goodwill they might have accumulated in a narrow defeat to Liverpool pre-international break. Plus side: games against the Reds and Man United out of the way.
Last week: 10
Season high: 8
Season low: 13

12. Brighton and Hove Albion — Back-to-back draws, against Fulham and Southampton, in games Chris Hughton would have targeted as winnable fixtures.
Last week: 11
Season high: 9
Season low: 19

11. Crystal Palace — Snapped a three-game losing skid by beating Huddersfield, now the Eagles need to avoid being the lesser side against which Newcastle breaks out of its early-season slumber.
Last week: 15
Season high: 6
Season low: 13

10. Everton — Sure, half the team was out due to injuries or suspension, but losing 3-1 to the last remaining team without a point remains an unavoidably bad look.
Last week: 6
Season high: 5
Season low: 11

9. Wolves — After spending wildly in the summer, Wolves took just two points from their first two games in the PL. Back-to-back wins, against West Ham and Burnley, have shown they’re perhaps a cut above the relegation battle.
Last week: 8
Season high: 8
Season low: 13

8. Spurs — Back-to-back defeats, against Watford and Liverpool, and Mauricio Pochettino‘s side is outside the top-four (and -five) just like that. Harry Kane isn’t scoring (just two goals this season — zero in the defeats), and no one else has stepped up to fill the void.
Last week: 5
Season high: 3
Season low: 8

7. Manchester United — Wins over Burnley and Watford are nice, but let us know when they’re ready to handle a giant like Brighton.
Last week: 9
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

6. Bournemouth — Pop quiz: Who’s the fifth-place side in the PL table right now, ahead of both Spurs and Arsenal? ‘Tis the Cherries.
Last week: 12
Season high: 7
Season low: 12

5. Watford — No longer perfect, no longer unbeaten. The hard work begins now, with a winnable trip to Fulham. The fall from fourth — where the Hornets currently reside — could be quick.
Last week: 4
Season high: 4
Season low: 7

4. Arsenal — The only non-top-two team with three straight wins. The problem is, of course, the season-opening losses to Man City and Chelsea have them sitting seventh nonetheless.
Last week: 7
Season high: 4
Season low: 9

3. Chelsea — Pop quiz no. 2: Who’s the current PL leaders? ‘Tis the Blues, so why aren’t they no. 1 (or 2) on this list? Does Arsenal count as a signature win in their second week under a new manager? Probably not, so we are in a holding pattern until they take on Liverpool in 10 days.
Last week: 3
Season high: 3
Season low: 4

2. Man City — It still feels blasphemous to not have them no. 1, but Pep Guardiola knows it’s not necessary to blow the doors off everyone in August and September in order to win the title; that it’s more important to pace yourself for the whole of 10 months, if you want to win the Champions League.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 2

1. Liverpool — Speaking of signature wins, going away to Spurs and completely controlling and dominating the game was a surefire signal of intent from Jurgen Klopp‘s men. What they did against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday doesn’t necessarily count for these rankings, but it shows they’ve got staying power.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 2

Juve’s Douglas Costa banned 4 games for spitting

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus winger Douglas Costa has been banned for four Serie A matches after a spitting incident on Sunday.

[ MORE: UCL roundup: USMNT’s Pulisic, McKennie shine ]

The Brazil international was sent off near the end of Juventus’ 2-1 win over Sassuolo after he spat at midfielder Federico Di Francesco. Costa had also raised an elbow at the same player and attempted a head-butt.

The Italian soccer federation announced his ban Tuesday, with the winger set to miss matches against Frosinone, Bologna, Napoli and Udinese.

[ MORE: UCL preview: Real, Ronaldo debut apart; Man City, United, too ]

Costa has already apologized for the incident on social media — via Google Translate:

“I would like to apologize to all of Juventus fans for this misleading reaction in today’s game. I also apologize to my teammates, who are always with me in good times and bad. I was ugly, I am aware and I apologize to everyone for it. I make it clear that this isolated attitude does not match what I have always shown in my career.”

Zlatan gets Thor treatment for game day giveaway (video)

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There’s something about Zlatan Ibrahimovic saying, “This is the new Greek god. This is Zlatan,” that leads you to believe it’s not the first time he’s had this thought.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 3-2 PSG ]

Ibrahimovic is the subject of a classic Costacos Brothers poster to be given away at the LA Galaxy’s Sept. 29 match against Vancouver.

If you’re not familiar with the Costacos Brothers, well, your bedroom growing up really missed out.

From “Kelly’s Heroes” to “Czechmate,” the Costacos were trusted with plenty of creative license in a bygone era.

Bygone for everyone besides Zlatan. Bit jealous we can’t get our hands on one.