Belgium leaves it late, eventually take all three points from Russia

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Did you make it through Belgium vs. Russia without falling asleep? It was a tough one, a tactical battle that even the biggest tactics nerds would’ve found difficult to describe as “interesting”. In the end, though, Belgium squeaked out a 1-0 win, putting them through to the Round of 16.

Just like in yesterday’s opening match, the first half of Belgium vs. Russia was rather quiet. Fabio Capello had, as expected, instructed his team to sit back and defend, only venturing forward on rare counterattacks. Caution won out and the staunch Russia defense was able to keep Belgium’s potent attack rather quiet, although Dries Mertens proved to be quite a handful down the right.

With over 30 minutes left to play, Marc Wilmots made the decision to once again replace Romelu Lukaku. The forward had been disappointing once more, seeing barely any of the ball and failing to put himself into decent positions to receive it. 19-year-old Divock Origi took his place, and almost immediately pushed forward into the area.

The best that could be said for the second half is that Russia came out of their shell a bit more, getting forward with more regularity. However, they were still unable to do much with the ball once they were there. In fact, with both teams employing more caution than attacking intent, it came as little surprise that neutral fans could be spotted sleeping in the stands.

The crowd managed to rouse itself in the 81st minute, when a break left substitute Andrey Eshchenko unmarked. He dragged his shot wide, however, and the murmurs of interest quickly turned to boos around the Maracanã. The crowd was enlivened once more when Kevin Mirallas hit the post.

Belgium were finally waking up, and that proved fatal to Russia. The goal finally came through a fast counter attack. Eden Hazard sprinted to the byline before cutting back, slipping the ball to Origi. The young striker slotted home from close range, giving Belgium their second consecutive win.

LINEUPS

Belgium: Courtois, Alderweireld, Van Buyten, Kompany, Vermaelen (Vertonghen 31); Witsel, Fellaini; Mertens (Mirallas 75), De Bruyne, Hazard; Lukaku (Origi 57)

Russia: Akinfeev, Kozlov (Eshchenko 62), Ignashevich, Kanunnikov, Glushakov, Kokorin, Berezutskiy, Shatov (Dzagoev 83), Samedov (Kerzhakov 90), Fayzulin, Kombarov

Sprawling translated Emery interview talks PSG, Guardiola, more

AP Photo/Thibault Camus
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Arsenal manager Unai Emery has given a sprawling interview, translated by France Football News, in which he discusses his history and his philosophies.

The interview was conducted after Emery was dismissed by Paris Saint-Germain but before he was hired by the Gunners.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

It’s a fascinating read, with Emery going deep into his relationship with Neymar, the need for PSG to get an “A-ha” goal for its history books, and much, much more.

The interview is with Marti Perarnau, the author of “Pep Confidential,” and there are plenty of good nuggets regarding the Manchester City boss, as well as Rafa Benitez, Zinedine Zidane, PSG, Real Madrid, and Barcelona.

It’s fairly clear that Emery figured he’d be going to a new league, and he certainly seems like a guy fit for a project like succeeding Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. For one thing, he’s proud of his team’s style.

That’s something valued by the North London set, and Emery pointed out that Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid and Pep Guardiola at Man City had to fail before they succeeded.

Let me say this: PSG played well and won. Many people don’t value that enough and believe that it is easy. But what happened to us? We lacked competitiveness in important moments. Why? Because this team is not confronted with enough moments of adversity in the league. Being competitive also means being faced with adversity. One has to suffer like Simeone’s team to win. One has to suffer like Pep’s team to win in England.

My team had two basic principles: having possession and pressing. That was the basis. Having the ball, and winning it back as fast as possible. I should add a little nuance. I’m talking about having possession and not positioning because there are moments where you can win the ball through positioning, and others where moving out of position can surprise the opponent. And like Guardiola says, if you have to win with a long ball from the goalkeeper towards the striker and that the forward scores with his ass, then so be it! We work like that as well.

And here’s just a quick nugget on the importance of playmaking, and how good players make a coach look better.

During his first match against Toulouse at the Parc des Princes, we get corner. Neymar takes it quickly and Kurzawa scores. We hadn’t worked that at all with him. Afterwards, I told Neymar, “My work is limited to your strokes of genius.”

Love it. Arsenal seems like it’s in good hands. Read the full interview here.

Khedira laughs off Swedish reporter’s offer of tickets home

AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
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Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira brushed off a gesture from a Swedish reporter, trading a bit of banter ahead of Germany’s big World Cup match against Sweden on Saturday.

Germany fell 1-0 to Mexico in its opener while Sweden beat South Korea, leading a playful Swede to hand Khedira boarding passes for a flight home to Germany.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Khedira’s reply? He joked that Sweden won’t be a problem and he’ll use the tickets after the World Cup Final.

From Goal.com:

“After this bad start, we know that it’s super difficult, but we know that we are a strong team. We analysed the game, we saw Sweden play and we are sure that we are winning this game.

“I think we’ll need them [plane tickets] on the 16th of July.”

Report: Newcastle’s Clark knocked out on Spanish dance floor

Scott Heavey/PA via AP
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A wild story out of Spain says an Englishman knocked Newcastle United defender Ciaran Clark unconscious at a night club.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

Clark was on vacation in Spain, where he was spending time at Crystal’s Bar in Punta Ballena, Magaluf very early Sunday morning.

Clark and a man “in his 30s” got into an argument that saw the Irish defender knocked out, according to the BBC.

Clark was left unconscious and taken to hospital after an argument between him and the suspect broke out on the dance floor.

The 28-year-old suffered cuts and bruises to his face.

Clark, 28, scored twice in 20 Premier League appearances this season, his second at St. James’ Park.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 9 — Iceland’s next step, Brazilian bounce back?

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Brazil is one of the favorites of the 2018 World Cup, while Iceland is the smallest nation to qualify for the world’s biggest tournament.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

On Friday, both enter their second match days feeling quite different after 1-1 draws.

They won’t face each other, of course, but the contrast is striking nevertheless.

Brazil opens the day’s action when it squares off with Costa Rica, who fell to Serbia in the opener. For Serbia, a dark horse of the tournament, it will be a meeting with Switzerland.

Then there’s Iceland’s bid to climb into the Group D driver’s seat by knocking off Nigeria. A win from Iceland would make Lionel Messi and Argentina’s task of qualifying for the knockout rounds extremely unlikely.

Below is Friday’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 D
Nigeria vs. Iceland: Volgograd, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group E
Brazil vs. Costa Rica: Saint Petersburg, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Serbia vs. Switzerland: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE