France wins Group E after goalless draw with Ecuador

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France clinched the top spot in Group E with a goalless draw against 10-man Ecuador at the Maracana stadium in Rio.

It was a match full of chances with no one to convert and with the draw, Ecuador becomes the first South American side to exit the tournament. Going against a high-flying France squad it was always going to be a difficult game for La Tri but the pressure ramped up ten-fold when captain Antonio Valencia was shown a straight red card for a daft second-half challenge on Lucas Digne. The Ecuadorians continued to fight but the chances simply wouldn’t fall and with Switzerland cooly handling Honduras, Reinaldo Rueda’s team was left in the dark.

The action began in the 15th minute when Moussa Sissoko unleashed a left-footed rocket from the right side of the box that Ecuadorian goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez did well to save. Five minutes later, it was La Tri’s turn with speedster Jefferson Montero flying down the left side but his shot was snuffed out by France keeper Hugo Lloris.

In the 38th minute it was Dominguez to the rescue again, this time tipping a Paul Pogba header over the bar, a shot the France midfielder should have done better with.

Here’s what we were saying at halftime.

The teams entered the dressing room on even ground but things were made extra difficult for Ecuador when Valencia’s increasingly poor discipline got the best of him as came in later and dragged his boot over the shin of Digne. Down a man, Ecuador showed courage through the press, enjoying flashes of brilliance with Enner Valenica finding Christian Noboa on a 54th minute counter-attack. Noboa found himself wide-open and inside the box but shower poor composure as he nervously sprayed his shot wide of the mark.

France then regained control and for the next twenty minutes produced multiple threats on goal only for Karim Benzema, Morgan Schneiderlin and Pogba to all blast over the bar. In the 81st minute Ecuador was at it again with Michael Arroyo streaking down the left side and into the box unmarked but he too lacked poise, sending his shot wide of the mark. A minute later and third golden opportunity was presented when substitute Alex Ibarra broke Raphael Varane off the dribble and unleashed a left-footed crack that Hugo Lloris batted away.

With the clock winding down it was back to France to blow chances as Benzema and Olivier Giroud interchanged only for the former to rip his shot directly into the arms of Dominguez. Then it was Loic Remy, on for Moussa Sissoko and eager to make an impression, snapping his left-footed shot towards the corner only for a sprawling Dominguez to tip the effort wide.

Finally, one minute into injury time and for good measure it was Giroud putting a wide-open header directly into the hands of Dominguez sealing a horrific finishing display that saw 31 chances on goal and nothing to show for it.

As winners of Group E, France now move on to the Round of 16 where they’ll face Group F runner-up Nigeria on July 30th.

Lineups

Ecuador: Dominguez, Guagua, Erazo, Paredes, Noboa, Montero (Alex Ibarra 67′), W. Ayovi, E. Valencia, Minda, Arroyo (c), A. Valencia

France: Lloris (c), Sakho (Raphael Varane 61′), Benzema, Griezmann, Matuidi (Olivier Giroud 67′), Sagna, Digne Sissoko, Pogba, Koscielny, Schneiderlin

Discipline: E. Valencia (Red Card 50′)

“First-choice” Emery reveals his plans for Arsenal

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Unai Emery spoke to the media for the first time as Arsenal manager on Wednesday, with the Spanish coach detailing his vision for the Gunners as more details emerged about the managerial search.

Emery, 48, was named as Arsenal’s new “head coach” with the former PSG coach replacing Arsene Wenger and edging ahead of Mikel Arteta in the battle to take charge at the Emirates Stadium.

Sat alongside Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis, Emery spoke to reporters at Arsenal’s home stadium on Wednesday and although his English is limited he seemed excited by the challenge ahead.

“My English is not very best now and I want to make sure, to the supporters to explain my idea, my ambition, to explain that I am very excited for this opportunity at a big club, a great city and a grand stadium. Also, great players for this work,” Emery said.

Before adding that “it’s a great challenge but in my career, every year I grow up with new challenge and for me this challenge is a dream.”

Asked about changes to his current squad and which players may stay or leave this summer, Emery wanted to focus on speaking about the club as a whole rather than individuals but hinted at change.

“We think we need change, little things, a little players, today I want to work and want to speak globally for the squad,” Emery said.

Gazidis revealed that he led a three-man team in the managerial search which involved Raul Sanllehi, the head of football relations, and head of recruitment Sven Mislintat.

The keys for Gazidis and Co. were to bring in “progressive, entertaining football, a personality and a record of developing players, particularly young players through detailed tactical instructions and cultural demands.”

Arsenal’s CEO also revealed that there was an eight-man shortlist and all eight were interviewed in-person and none of the candidates withdrew their interest.

Gazidis confirmed that Emery was their “first-choice” after meeting him on May 10, and the Spaniard was then recommended “unanimously” on May 18 to the board.

Emery, Gazidis and Sanllehi then flew to Atlanta, Georgia to meet majority owner Stan Kroenke and his son Josh on Tuesday before arriving back in London to meet the media on Wednesday.

“Thank you to all the chairman and the board,” Emery said. “They feel with their heart Arsenal and the conversation with the chairman and the board is very important for me to know better Arsenal. Also, thank you Ivan, Raul and Sven, the first meeting with Arsenal’s board, after three hours I felt a very good feeling and we will work together and we will create a new present and future at Arsenal. Thank you Arsene Wenger for your legacy. For all the coaches in all of the world he is a reference. A learned from him all of the things in football.”

Emery will have a strong Arsenal squad to work with but fans and the board will no doubt expect him to challenge for the top four, at least, and that’s before any big-name arrivals this summer.

Reports: Rooney flying to DC to finalize MLS move

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Wayne Rooney is edging closer to his move to Major League Soccer.

Multiple reports state that Rooney will fly to Washington D.C. on Thursday for a 48-hour trip to check out D.C. United and meet with club executives as he moves towards finalizing his move to MLS.

[ MORE: Rooney to DCU “done deal” ]

Rooney, 32, is already said to have agreed a “deal in principle” with DCU but with Everton without a manager following Sam Allardyce‘s departure last week, there is no real rush for him to push through the move ahead of the MLS’ transfer window reopening in July.

It is also believed that Rooney still has plenty of negotiating to do with Everton about the remaining year of his contract.

Per a report from the BBC, Rooney’s trip to D.C. is more about him getting a feel for the club, the city and what will be on offer as DCU’s coaching staff and players will not be around as they’re currently out on the West Coast and will face LAFC on Saturday.

It does seem like Rooney is moving closer to a surprise move to MLS just 12 months after he agreed to move back to his boyhood club Everton after a 13-year stay at Manchester United.

The potential for the all-time leading goalscorer for England and Man United joining DCU has split opinion in American soccer circles.

Many would rather see D.C. United think outside the box and spend big Designated Player money on younger attacking talents from South America (a la Atlanta United), but some suggest Rooney’s star name will attract plenty of interest towards DCU as they prepare to move into their new home at Audi Field in July.

There will be plenty of eyes on Rooney in the coming days as he nears his move to MLS.

Arsenal announce Emery as new head coach

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Unai Emery has been unveiled as Arsenal’s new head coach.

The Spanish coach, 46, left Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the 2017/18 season after winning the domestic treble in France but after two years with Les Parisiens he failed to take them beyond the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League.

So, maybe he is very well suited to Arsenal…

Emery was handed the two most-expensive signings on the planet in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe and although they dazzled domestically, they were knocked out by Real Madrid in the UCL this season after their dramatic collapse to Barcelona in 2016/17.

Following a near 22-year spell in charge of the Gunners for Arsene Wenger, Emery becomes Arsenal’s first managerial appointment since 1996 as the north London club seemed set to appoint Mikel Arteta as their new coach but moved instead for the former Valencia, Sevilla and PSG boss who has won eight major trophies in Europe over the past five years.

In a statement released on the club website, Emery is delighted to have landed at the Emirates Stadium.

“I am thrilled to be joining one of the great clubs in the game. Arsenal is known and loved throughout the world for its style of play, its commitment to young players, the fantastic stadium, the way the club is run,” Emery said. “I’m very excited to be given the responsibility to start this important new chapter in Arsenal’s history. I have met Stan and Josh Kroenke and it’s clear they have great ambitions for the club and are committed to bringing future success. I’m excited about what we can do together and I look forward to giving everyone who loves Arsenal some special moments and memories.”

Arsenal’s CEO Ivan Gazidis added that Emery “plays an exciting, progressive style of football that fits Arsenal perfectly” while majority owner Stan Kroenke hailed the Spaniard as “a proven winner” who can “build on the platform created by Arsene Wenger and help this club enjoy greater success.”

Emery will speak to the media for the first time as Arsenal’s head coach on Wednesday.

And that title as the new “head coach” is telling, especially with so many new roles added within the club in recent months in terms of recruitment and a technical director.

Like Antonio Conte at Chelsea, Emery’s role at Arsenal will be clear: coach the players and make them better. That’s it.

That’s in stark contrast to Wenger’s overarching role over the past two decades and many will see the Gunners have found something of a “yes man” who will simply work with the players he is handed by the board.

Emery’s appointment has raised plenty of eyebrows but given his pedigree of leading Sevilla to three-straight Europa League titles, managing in the Champions League and winning everything in France last season with PSG, his resume speaks for itself.

Yet his reputation as a manager who is solid defensively and loves to set his teams up to counter and react to weaknesses opponents show during a game may see the Gunners add a little more stability to their fluid, passing play.

Surely that’s a good thing, but only time will tell if Emery will shine at the Emirates.

Report: Toronto to send Giovinco to Tigres for Valencia, cash

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An Mexican site reports that Tigres UANL is ready to send Enner Valencia and cash to Toronto FC to land Sebastian Giovinco.

Normally that’s seem a bit wild for TFC to send their perennial MLS MVP candidate packing, but the club has been hesitant to meet Giovinco’s terms on a new contract.

[ MORE: PL Manager Power Rankings ]

And Valencia is nearly three years younger and a bit bigger than Giovinco.

Valencia scored in bunches for Tigres after arriving from West Ham, scoring nine goals with an assist in 16 Apertura matches including three multi-goal games. He then saw his numbers dip to two goals and three assists in 11 Clausura appearances.

Giovinco, meanwhile, has six goals and six assists in 15 matches between MLS and the CONCACAF Champions League.

It would be a significant risk for TFC, though the idea of pairing up Enner Valencia and Jozy Altidore is a physical nightmare for MLS defenses.