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′)

WATCH: Jose Luis Morales stunner shocks Real Madrid, hands Levante win

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Levante stunned Real Madrid 1-0 on Saturday, toppling Zinedine Zidane’s men from La Liga’s throne and handing them their first league loss since October, with a goal that is fitting for the importance of the situation.

Captain Jose Luis Morales, 32, sprinted down the left flank before finding Nikola Vukcevic’s lofting, through ball. The rest is history, really:

Morales’ first goal of the season is a big one for Levante – both on a results and emotional sense – moving them eight points behind sixth-place Sevilla. But it, undoubtably, works in Barcelona’s favor the most, who reclaimed the league’s top spot after Madrid’s loss and their 5-0 of Eibar.

Gabriel Jesus indirectly speaks about City future amid goal-scoring performance, Juventus links

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In the eye of transfer rumors linking him to Serie A leaders Juventus, Gabriel Jesus perhaps delivered one of Manchester City’s most gratifying goals as of late.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

The Brazilian striker’s short-range unbalanced shot in the 80th minute proved to be City’s winner on Saturday against Leicester City, solidifying a six-point lead on the Foxes, who squandered a handful of chances throughout the night.

Jesus was quick to redirect praise to teammate Riyad Mahrez, who to many, was player-of-the-match quality at King Power Stadium. The Algerian winger’s wizardry was on full displaying, especially in the sequence leading up to the defending champions’ winner. From the BBC:

“Always when I go on I try to help my team-mates and find space,” Jesus said. “[Riyad Mahrez] has a lot of quality and I thought ‘go’ because I know he has the quality to give me the ball, he gave a very good ball and I can score.”

Despite not being directly questioned about the Juventus link, Jesus indirectly made it clear that, like manager Pep Guardiola, who confessed his future stands in Manchester, he hopes to respect his contract at the Etihad.

“It is important for us, for the club,” the 22-year-old said about Guardiola confirming his stay at City. “We have a contract, we want to stay, of course it’s important.”

From City’s future Champions League ban, to Guardiola’s rumored departure, to the Leicester match, the topic of conversation around the club now revolves around their Round of 16 showdown with Real Madrid midweek.

It seems the storm has passed and the sun is starting to shine over the Etihad, and Guardiola senses that.

“The preparation after 12 days off was good, we have played two good games, and it’s good to prepare for Madrid with these good opponents,” he said. “We are playing the kings of the competition, we will see, we will try to enjoy it and do our game.”

Bundesliga wrap: RB Leipzig, Dortmund keep pace with Bayern

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(Photo by Alexandre Simoes/Borussia Dortmund via Getty Images)
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There were plenty of young American players on show Saturday as the Bundesliga title race continues with at least three contestants.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

RB Leipzig smashed Schalke and BVB took care of business at Werder Bremen to stay close to Bayern Munich.

Borussia Monchengladbach slipped a bit off the pace with a draw, but still has a match-in-hand on the three teams ahead of it.

Werder Bremen 0-2 Borussia Dortmund

Erling Haaland scored his 40th goal of a season spread between BVB and Red Bull Salzburg to salt away a two-goal win a relegation-threatened Bremen.

Dan-Axel Zagadou scored BVB’s other goal, with Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hazimi getting assists. Dortmund is four points back of leaders Bayern and three back of Leipzig. They face Bayern on April 4 and Leipzig on May 9.

American teen Giovanni Reyna followed up his first UCL assist at midweek by making another substitute appearance. He completed all 12 of his passes, making one key pass and winning 2-of-3 duels in 13 minutes.

Fellow USMNT man Josh Sargent played 11 minutes for the hosts, converting his only dribble attempt and winning his only 50-50 while registering an interception.

Schalke 0-5 RB Leipzig

Five different players scored for the visitors in a humbling of David Wagner‘s top four hopefuls in Gelsenkirchen.

Marcel Sabitzer’s last name sounds like a weapon, and he put Schalke on notice with a bullet after 55 seconds before Timo Werner, Marcel Halstenberg, Angelino, and Emil Forsberg joined in on the fun.

USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie was subbed off in the 55th minute with the score 1-0, so he was spared a bit.

Elsewhere
Bayern Munich 3-2 Paderborn — Friday
Hertha Berlin 0-5 Koln
Freiburg 0-2 Fortuna Dusseldorf
Borussia Monchengladbach 1-1 Hoffenheim
Bayer Leverkusen v. Augsburg — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Wolfsburg v. Mainz — Noon ET Sunday
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Union Berlin — 2:30 p.m. ET Monday

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 23 15 4 4 65 26 39 8-2-2 7-2-2 49
 RB Leipzig 23 14 6 3 61 25 36 7-3-1 7-3-2 48
 Borussia Dortmund 23 13 6 4 65 32 33 8-3-0 5-3-4 45
 Mönchengladbach 22 13 4 5 43 25 18 8-2-1 5-2-4 43
 Bayer Leverkusen 22 12 4 6 38 29 9 5-4-2 7-0-4 40
 FC Schalke 04 23 9 9 5 32 32 0 5-5-2 4-4-3 36
 1899 Hoffenheim 23 10 4 9 34 36 -2 5-1-6 5-3-3 34
 SC Freiburg 23 9 6 8 31 33 -2 5-2-4 4-4-4 33
 VfL Wolfsburg 22 8 7 7 28 28 0 3-5-3 5-2-4 31
 Eintracht Frankfurt 22 8 4 10 37 35 2 6-3-2 2-1-8 28
 FC Augsburg 22 7 6 9 34 45 -11 5-3-3 2-3-6 27
 1. FC Union Berlin 22 8 2 12 27 35 -8 6-0-5 2-2-7 26
 1. FC Köln 22 8 2 12 33 42 -9 5-1-5 3-1-7 26
 Hertha BSC Berlin 23 7 5 11 27 43 -16 3-2-7 4-3-4 26
 FSV Mainz 05 22 7 1 14 31 48 -17 3-1-7 4-0-7 22
 Fortuna Düsseldorf 23 5 5 13 23 46 -23 3-2-6 2-3-7 20
 Werder Bremen 23 4 5 14 25 53 -28 1-2-8 3-3-6 17
 SC Paderborn 23 4 4 15 29 50 -21 2-1-9 2-3-6 16

What we learned in the Premier League

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What did we learn in the Premier League on Saturday?

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

There were six Premier League games across three time slots and plenty had huge implications in the top four battle, European battle and relegation scrap.

Here’s a look at the big talking points from around the Premier League as the drama really never stops.


VAR steals the show

In both Chelsea’s win against Tottenham and Bournemouth’s hammering at Burnley, VAR stole the show. And not in a good way. Spurs’ Giovani Lo Celso somehow stayed on the pitch but Stockley Park later said he should have been sent off. Bournemouth were hard done by as two goals were chalked out at Burnley and the second one was in such a cruel manner as they had a goal taken away and a penalty awarded against them which put the game to bed.


Giroud now the main man

Chelsea have been missing a target man and Olivier Giroud stepped up against Spurs to put them in the driving seat in the Premier League’s top four race.. Big time This is just what he does. For some reason Giroud has been the third-choice striker all season at Chelsea and he looked likely to leave in January. Chelsea will be glad he didn’t. Tammy Abraham is young and has cooled down after a red-hot start to the season and Michy Batshuayi doesn’t have Giroud’s composure or experience in key moments. Giroud jumped off the bench on Monday against Man United and scored but was just offside and he has the knack of being in the right place at the right time. We spoke with Giroud after his display against United and he said he was fired up and ready to start, especially with a place in France’s EURO 2020 squad on the line. With Bayern Munich coming up in the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday, surely he has to lead the Chelsea line. With his clever runs and flicks, Giroud linked up defense and attack perfectly. This is just what he does and it is a mystery as to why he hasn’t played more this season.


Man City’s tough week ends well

It has been a rough seven or so days for Man City off the pitch but on it they have pretty much wrapped up second place in the Premier League. After their two-season European ban their fans have been revolting against UEFA and Pep Guardiola has insisted he will stay at the club. Winning away at Leicester City with another clean sheet showed plenty of character after a win against West Ham on Wednesday. After Sergio Aguero had a late penalty kick saved it would have been easy for City to sulk. Even if VAR, or a lack of it, may have helped them on a Kevin De Bruyne possible handball, they dug deep to get a late win which they deserved. They now sit seven points above third-place Leicester and Man City will finish second this season. Liverpool’s title party should start soon if it hasn’t already as they can go 22 points clear once again with a win on Monday against West Ham. Man City are hanging in there and ahead of their game against Real Madrid on Wednesday they are showing plenty of grit to put the UEFA troubles to one side.


Villa, Bournemouth in big trouble

Aston Villa and Bournemouth are in real trouble and their final 11 games are horrendous. Where are Villa and the Cherries going to get their points from? Villa were awful as their seething manager Dean Smith saw his side totally outplayed by Saints. Bournemouth were unlucky due to VAR but with Chelsea and Liverpool in their next two and Spurs, Everton, Man City, Leicester and Man United still to come, where are Bournemouth’s points going to come from? Villa are in a similar predicament and also have the distraction of the League Cup final against Man City at Wembley next weekend.