At halftime: Dauda denying Ronaldo, but own goal mars Ghana’s half — FOLLOW LIVE

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It’s been a 1v1 drill between Cristiano Ronaldo and Ghana goalkeeper Fatau Dauda, and the latter is keeping the Black Stars alive. Otherwise, the story is a bevy of borderline-dirty tackles between the two sides, as Ghana’s abiding by the “Hurt Ronaldo” philosophy.

The Black Stars have never won a World Cup match in which they’ve conceded the game’s first goal, which they’ve done. As it stands, the US would have to fall 5-0 to not advance to the knockout round.

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Goals:

30′ – Well, this is what it was going to take to beat Dauda. Veloso’s cross was put into the net on a poor clearance from John Boye (not the one from The Waltons), who was colliding with Joao Moutinho.

Other key moments:

6′ – Cristiano Ronaldo stings a cross/shot off the crossbar in our first sign of anything other than nerves from other side. CRON wearing his third different hairstyle of the tourney. Thanks, Irina.

12′ – Ronaldo bends a hard free kick toward the right post that Dauda pushes out for a corner. Corner brings nothing.

19′ – Point-blank header for Ronaldo from the six, but he hits it right at Dauda. The keeper can barely keep it off the line, but the save is made. One they needed from one of the world’s best.

24′ – Corner to Ghana, and it turns into a total of three. Wasted chances from the Black Stars.

39′ – Atsu cuts in from the right, but his curling shot isn’t there.

43′ – Oh! Ghana right to feel aggrieved as Bruno Alves pulls down his mark in the box. Could’ve been a penalty from the right vantage point.

Lineups

Portugal: Beto, Bruno Alves, Pepe, Miguel Veloso, William Carvalho, Ronaldo (c), Moutinho, Eder, Nani, Amorim, Pereira

Ghana: Dauda, Gyan (c), Atsu, Agyemang Badu, A. Ayew, Rabiu, Waris, Mensah, Asamoah, Boye, Afful

Key Players:

  • Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal – Honestly, there might as well be no one else out there. He’s the biggest threat for either team, and it’s scary to think how Portugal’s tournament would’ve gone had he been 100 percent (assuming he isn’t).
  • Fatau Dauda, Ghana — Can this keeper possibly still be plying his trade for Orlando Pirates of South Africa when this is over? The 29-year-old is denying Ronaldo all over the place (when his crossbar isn’t).

Question for the second half:

  • Will Ghana’s need to attack help Ronaldo find more goals? – Ghana needs a ‘W’ while Portugal needs a lot more goals. Will the Black Stars pushing forward cripple their chances to contain Portugal’s No. 7?

La Liga roundup: Barcelona, Real Madrid remain level on points after wins (video)

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Routine wins from league favorites Barcelona and Real Madrid, highlight La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Barcelona 5-2 RCD Mallorca

It was a special night at Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

Fresh from winning the Ballon d’Or for a record sixth time, Lionel Messi was greeted by his three children on the field, who handed him a shinny, golden ball – given yearly to the best player in the world – prior to the first whistle.

From that point on, it was evident that it would be all smiles for everyone tied to the defending champions at the stadium (and for those watching remotely) on Saturday.

 

That was the case.

Antoine Griezmann – a topic of conversation due to lack of productivity at Barcelona this season – kicked off the game with a solo run and subsequent goal in the seventh minute, opening the floodgates.

As a celebration of his latest, individual accomplishment, Messi showcased the power and precision of his left foot at the tune of a hat-trick. The Argentine ace scored twice in the first half and another in consolation time, putting his season total mark at a league-best 12 goals.

The moment and goal of the night (possibly of the season) didn’t directly involve Messi, however. With a daring, emphatic and genius back-heel strike, not only did Luis Suarez put the home side up 4-1, but cemented himself in the ballot for best goal of the season.

With 34 and a better goal differential than Real Madrid, Barcelona remain atop of La Liga ahead of their clash with Inter Milan on Tuesday, while Mallorca hope Ante Budimir can score another brace; this time against a struggling Celta Vigo next weekend.

Real Madrid 2-0 Espanyol

With goals from Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane, Real Madrid comfortably cruised past a struggling Espanyol.

With the majority of Real Madrid in Espanyol’s final third following a recovered free-kick attempt, Benzema charged his way into the box before laying off a ball to Varane, who not a proven goalscorer whatsoever, placed the ball into the back of the net with ease.

It was the 37th minute, and the home side were up 1-0 against a poor Espanyol.

With a notable superior style at hand, Los Blancos continued to surge forward. Opportunities at goal were generated but the ball wouldn’t go past ex-Real Madrid ‘keeper Diego Lopez.

Then, in the 79th minute, Benzema registered his 11th goal of the season, finishing an off-balance pass from Federico Valverde inside the box.

Winners in their last La Liga bouts, Real Madrid now prepare for their Champions League Group Stage finale against Club Brugge midweek. Espanyol, despite being in the drop zone, host CSKA Moscow in their Europa League Group Stage finale. The Catalonian club lead Group H with 11 points after five matches.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Granada 3-0 Alaves

Levante 2-4 Valencia

Ancelotti’s future uncertain after Napoli draws at Udinese

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ROME (AP) Carlo Ancelotti’s future as Napoli coach is uncertain after his team failed to beat Udinese on Saturday in Serie A.

The 1-1 draw extended Napoli’s winless run to nine matches in all competitions. Piotr Zelinski saved Napoli with a late goal that salvaged a point for the visitors.

Amid reports that Ancelotti could soon be fired, Napoli, which had won its last six league matches against Udinese, went a goal down after a counterattack which was finished by Kevin Lasagna in the 32nd minute.

Napoli improved after Fernando Llorente replaced an uninspired Lorenzo Insigne in the second half. It equalized after a good combination between Dries Mertens and Zielinski, who wrongfooted the Udinese ‘keeper with a shot into the bottom corner.

Also, Atalanta twice came from behind after Samuel Di Carmine’s two goals to beat Hellas Verona 3-2 with a late winner from Berat Djimsiti, who volleyed home from close range.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Kyle Walker: City catching up to Liverpool ‘difficult’ after derby loss to United

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After a crushing 2-1 loss to archrival Manchester United at home, 14 is the new magic number for Pep Guardiola and company.

14 is the number of points that Manchester City trail league leaders Liverpool by, an uphill battle that is influencing many people on the outside looking in to think that City’s chances of lifting the league’s silverware for a third straight season are officially done and dusted.

That’s not the narrative that is occupying Kyle Walker‘s train of thought, however. Speaking on behalf of his City teammates and himself, the defender is keen on fighting until they’re mathematically out of contention for the title, regardless if the standings show that Liverpool have yet to suffer a defeat this season after 16 matches.

“Can’t fault the manager,” Walker told Sky Sports following City’s second Premier League loss in five games. “He has won numerous trophies. I can’t put my finger on it. It is going to be difficult, Liverpool are on fire. They [Liverpool] are getting wins and we are not. It is a big gap but we will fight until the end.”

A consolation goal from Nicolas Otamendi in the 85th minutes wasn’t enough for the Cityzens, who endured a fourth league loss this season, matching last season’s number of losses throughout 38 games.

After the dispiriting derby day performance from City, the defending champions stand at 32 points after 16 bouts, the lowest point haul for Guardiola in his 11-year top-flight management career.

No team in league history has overcome a 14-point deficit. Since late October, City are yet to record a clean sheet, an apparent issue that Walker believes he and the rest of the team’s defenders need to address in order to return to old ways.

“Us as defenders need to hold our hands up,” he said. “We need to keep clean sheets and strikers maybe need to put more away. They had a game plan and it worked. They have quick players in quick areas and they are going to hurt you on the counter. Credit where credit is due, they stepped up today. Fair play.”

WATCH: Luis Suarez delivers one-of-a-kind back-heel goal

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At 32 years of age and with a 15-year career behind him, Luis Suarez has scored some emphatic goals.

On Saturday, however, he painted a fine piece of art, a goal that became an instant classic the moment the ball came off of his backheel. With Barcelona already up 3-1 against RCD Mallorca, Ernesto Valverde’s men continued to push forward, comfortably and strategically ping-ponging the ball around the defensive-oriented visitors.

And then Frenkie de Jong found the ball at the top of the box.

The Dutch international smoothly placed a through ball, finding Suarez, who with precision and expertise that only he has, belted the ball into the bottom-right corner of Manolo Reina’s goal.

It’s only December, but the Uruguayan’s goal is an automatic La Liga goal of the season contender: