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′)

Champions League preview: Spurs host Leipzig, Valencia visits Atalanta

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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties kickoff Wednesday, including one being labeled as the biggest in a club’s existence.

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That would be Serie A side Atalanta, which hosts Valencia at 3 p.m. at Gewiss Stadium.

Atalanta had played in two consecutive Europa Leagues, but this is their first move into the Champions League. To make the knockout rounds is exceptional, and club president Antonio Percassi is fired up.

“We must be honest, this is the most important game in the history of this club,” Percassi told Sky Sport Italia. “It doesn’t seem real. It’s exciting just thinking that tomorrow we’ll be in a Champions League Round of 16. It’s wonderful for our fans too. … This is going to be a unique experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.”

Atalanta finished second in its group to Manchester City, and is fourth in Serie A. Valencia won its group.

There’s a Premier League side in action on Wednesday, too, as Spurs begin life without Heung-Min Son.

Jose Mourinho spun a tale about how badly Tottenham will need its fans against RB Leipzig, comparing the home-field advantage to an emergency rescue crew of sorts.

Leipzig is led by Julian Nagelsmann, who was once referred to as “Baby Mourinho” by his players.

The 32-year-old was quick to distance himself from the story.

“Tomorrow it is Leipzig against Tottenham, not Mourinho v. Baby Mourinho,” he said. “I have great respect for Mourinho. He has won lots of titles with big clubs, the Champions League twice. He has made his mark on European football at some big European clubs. I think it his 59th knockout game in the CL and it is my first so there is obviously respect there.”

Liverpool’s Robertson not a fan of Atletico Madrid theatrics

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Liverpool fullback Andy Robertson was not impressed with Atletico Madrid’s display as his side fell 1-0 in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Reds fell behind on a fourth-minute Saul Niguez goal and couldn’t get a shot on target despite 73 percent possession in Spain.

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Atleti executed its plan to near-perfection, slowing restarts and taking advantage of counterattacking opportunities to assuage the constant pressure of Liverpool.

At times it was reminiscent of early-century Italian national team play, and both neutrals and Liverpool knew what they were in for once Atleti took the lead.

“We gave them the best possible start to get the fans behind them and then they can start falling over and things like that, trying to get under our skin a bit which I think we handled quite well to be honest,” Robertson told BT Sport. “We know we are better than (how they played). We put in a decent performance and we can be better than that. Luckily we have got a second leg to put it right.”

Given the performance and the reputation, you’d still fancy the Reds to “put it right” at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp thinks Atleti will feel plenty of pressure at Anfield, and he will certainly feel the officiating will be more to his liking.

Liverpool’s Klopp: ‘Our people will be ready’ for second leg at Anfield

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Jurgen Klopp didn’t have any issue with Diego Simeone’s defense-first Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Spanish side flummoxed Liverpool’s attack and the Reds didn’t manage a shot on target despite eight attempts and 73 percent possession at the Wanda Metropolitano.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

What Klopp didn’t appreciate was the referee’s work, though, implying that Polish official Szymon Marciniak was overwhelmed by the occasion. Marciniak has worked UCL matches for six seasons, twice overseeing quarterfinal ties.

Klopp was shown a yellow card in the second half, and the Liverpool boss felt Sadio Mane was harassed by Atleti. Klopp removed yellow-carrying Mane at halftime.

“He was targeted obviously,” Klopp said after the game. “The only thing they wanted was to make sure he got a yellow card. The score is 1-0, that’s all but you need to be really strong as a ref in this atmosphere. So many things happened, after 30 minutes already three players were on the ground. The first yellow card was a striker from us. I’m not sure they even got a yellow card, which is funny.”

Atleti’s Angel Correa was shown a yellow, while Klopp, Mane, and Joe Gomez were cautioned for Liverpool.

The Liverpool boss found himself laughing a few times, especially when he was asked about Simeone’s touchline personality.

Klopp said before the game that if the German was a four in intensity, then Simeone was a 12. Simeone followed suit by constantly urging the crowd to get behind the home side on Tuesday.

That didn’t bother Klopp, but he issued a public relations officer’s dream in reacting to it.

“Wow, wow,” he laughed. “That’s energy. I don’t think I have to do it that much (at Anfield). Our people will be ready. Welcome to Anfield. It’s not over yet.”

Klopp finished his remarks by saying of Jordan Henderson‘s removal from the game with a hamstring injury, “I hope it was a precaution, but I’m not 100 percent sure”

Haaland wins first leg after Borussia Dortmund-PSG comes to life late

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Erling Haaland scored twice in a mid-second half flurry as Borussia Dortmund beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The hosts also got an assist from teenager Giovanni Reyna, who became the youngest American to appear in a Champions League match.

Haaland now has 39 goals in 29 appearances between Red Bull Salzburg and BVB, 11 of those for his new German employer.

Neymar scored off a Kylian Mbappe goal for PSG, who brings an away goal back to the Parc des Princes for a March 11 second leg.

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Neymar had an early free kick, missing just wide of the far post.

Jadon Sancho troubled the keeper twice in the first half hour, first with a cross that Mats Hummels headed over goal. Then, Keylor Navas picked another Sancho offering out of the air.

Sancho kept serving, and Erling Haaland couldn’t turn a promising cross on target.

Dortmund walked into halftime with a scoreless match but a 7-2 edge in shot attempts. Neither of PSG’s shots were on target.

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Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre put in American teen Giovani Reyna in the 67th minute.

Two minutes later, it was 1-0 to the hosts through Haaland’s close-range goal.

Neymar replied from close range himself after a powerful, clever dribble from Kylian Mbappe led to a pass through the box.

But Haaland got his second in the 77th minute with a scorching shot that serves as the first senior assist of Reyna’s senior career with Dortmund (Watch it here).