Late goals see France advance, beat stubborn Nigeria to reach quarters

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France scored twice late on through Paul Pogba and a Josehph Yobo own goal to make the World Cup quarterfinals after beating Nigeria 2-0 in a tense encounter in Brasilia on Monday.

Early on the African champions took the game to France and the game wad deadlocked at half time.

However as the game wore on, France looked more likely to grab a winner and only the heroics of Nigerian ‘keeper Vincent Enyeama kept Les Bleus at bay. Enyeama then turned from hero to villain with 10 minutes to go, as he inexplicably came for a corner, tipped the ball towards Pogba and the Juventus midfielder nodded France into the lead.

In stoppage time Yobo’s own goal compounded Nigeria’s misery, as France made it through to the quarterfinals for the first-time since 2006.

[ RELATED : Full bracket for the WC knockout stages ]

Early on the game ebbed and flowed, as France surged forward through Pogba but the Juventus man saw his pull back cleared for a corner as Benzema and Giroud both lurked in the box.

Nigeria didn’t sit back and launched plenty of their own attacks to put France on the back foot. In the 15th minute Benzema and Giroud linked up but the latter was off balance and sent a shot way over the bar as Les Bleus struggled to get a foothold in the game.

However just as France threatened to start clicking through the gears, Ahmed Musa whipped in a delightful cross from the left which Emenike stabbed home for Nigeria… but the offside flag was up as American referee Mark Geiger (the first to ref a World Cup knockout match) and his officials got the call spot on.

source: AP
Nigeria pinned France back, but Les Bleus were too good in the end.

France hit back in the 22nd minute as  Valbuena was released down the right and his perfect cross found Pogba on the penalty spot but the Frenchman’s flying volley was beaten away acrobatically by Enyeama. Nigeria continued to press and pin France back as the heavy favorites looked nervy in the opening half in Brasilia. Five minutes before the break Deschamps side had a glorious opportunity to take the lead as Valbuena was again the architect as his run and cut back opened up space for right back Matheiu Debuchy but he lashed his effort wide with the goal beckoning.

Before the break Nigeria came close again as Emenike picked up the ball on the right hand side of the box and crashed a thunderous effort towards goal that Hugo Lloris couldn’t hold but France ended up clearing the danger. In the second half the same pattern occurred as Nigeria pushed forward but there was then a large stoppage as Ogenyi Onazi was caught by Matuidi outstretched leg and the Nigerian midfielder was stretchered off the pitch. Nigeria then went close through Peter Odemwingie as he blasted a shot in on goal that Lloris saved smartly.

France finally woke up and then took the game to Nigeria as Benzema saw his shot cleared off the line after going one-on-one with Enyeama. The Lille ‘keeper stopped Benzema’s shot but the ball then trickled towards the line, only for Moses to hack it clear and keep the scores locked at 0-0. Soon after France continued to pile on the pressure and Benzema’s cross-shot was cleared off the line by Efe Ambrose, then Yohan Cabaye’s follow-up shot smashed the underside of the crossbar and bounced away.

Then it was Benzema again as Enyeama saved his header from point blank range and tipped it out for a corner. Form that set-piece Enyeama made his only mistake of the afternoon as he came for the corner and only tipped the ball into Pogba’s path, as the French youngster headed France ahead with just over 10 minutes to go.

Late on Nigeria pressed for the equalizer that would send the match into extra time but a superb ball into the box from Valbuena found substitute Antoine Griezmann, however he missed it and the ball nicked off Yobo’s leg and into the net to make it 2-0 to France.

France saw out the game to book a quarterfinal spot for the first-time since 2006 and the eighth-time in their history.

LINEUPS

France: Lloris; Debuchy, Varane, Koscielny, Evra; Pogba, Cabaye, Matuidi; Valbuena (Sissoko, 90′), Giroud (Griezmann, 62′), Benzema.

Goal: Pogba, 79′, Yobo – Own goal, 90′

Nigeria: Enyeama; Ambrose, Yobo, Oshaniwa, Omeru; Musa, Onazi (Gabriel, 59′), Mikel, Moses (Nwofor, 89′); Odemwingie, Emenike.

Four-star Manchester United wins Europa League group

Manchester United Mata Greenwood
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Manchester United is in fine feather and showing it, smashing AZ Alkmaar in a stylish 4-0 win at Old Trafford in Europa League play on Thursday.

Juan Mata had a goal and set up two others, while Mason Greenwood scored twice after Ashley Young opened the scoring in a group-claiming victory.

[ MORE: Saka leads Arsenal comeback ]

United wins the group with 13 points, conceding just twice in six matches.

The Red Devils have won three-straight matches, as AZ joins Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the loss column. Up next is a Sunday visit from Everton in the Premier League before Wednesday’s League Cup quarterfinal visit from Colchester United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer handed starts to James Garner, Brandon Williams, and Axel Tuanzebe, bringing youngsters Ethan Laird and Tahith Chong off the bench.

Greenwood, 18, now has six goals in 22 senior appearances, while Mata, 31, gets on the score sheet for the first time this season.

For his career, the award-winning Spaniard is doing okay, though: 125 goals and 149 assists in 542 senior appearances.

Ljungberg hails ‘amazing’ teen Saka after game-changing performance

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Arsenal phenom Bukayo Saka‘s big day spurred the Gunners to a top seed in the Europa League knockout rounds.

Arsenal went behind on two deflected goals in the second half’s first 25 minutes, but Saka answered with a goal and an assist in three minutes to take a point from Belgium in a 2-2 draw at Standard Liege.

[ RECAP, VIDEO: Standard Liege 2-2 Arsenal ]

Saka was at the heart of it of all good things Arsenal, the 18-year-old handed plenty of responsibility. despite his tender age.

“He was amazing,” said interim manager Freddie Ljungberg. “He was a bit upset with me before the game that he had to play wing-back and full-back. He’s a tremendous talent.”

Saka had four key passes to go with his goal and assist, winning six of eight duels while producing two tackles and an interception.

Ljungberg said Arsenal hasn’t sent its young players on loan enough, though that hardly applies to Saka given he was 17 until September.

The injured Gunners used Konstantinos Mavropanos, Emile Smith-Rowe, Joe Willock, and Reiss Nelson in the Starting XI, and brought Gabriel Martinelli off the bench.

“I feel sorry for our young players,” he said. “A lot of them haven’t been on loan, they’ve not had that exposure to men’s football. Some of them made mistakes but they’ll learn from those mistakes and won’t do them again.”

Smith-Rowe was loaned to RB Leipzig last season and Nelson starred on loan at Hoffenheim. Mavropanos played first team football for Greek Super League side PAS Giannina in his late teens.

Arsenal joins Premier League sides Wolves and Manchester United in the knockout rounds, having lost the Europa League final to rivals Chelsea at the end of last season.

The Gunners beat West Ham on Monday and host Manchester City at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday.

Arsenal uses thrilling comeback to win Europa League group

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Nothing Arsenal-related is allowed to be easy, it seems.

The Gunners used a goal and an assist from Bukayo Saka to come back from a two-goal deficit and draw Standard Liege 2-2 in Belgium on Thursday, winning its Europa League group when Vitoria came back to beat Eintracht Frankfurt on a wild afternoon of soccer.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Arsenal trailed on second half goals from Samuel Bastien and Selim Amallah, but rallied behind Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette to score a second-straight win for interim boss Freddie Ljungberg.

Saka sent in a laser cross in the 78th minute and Lacazette did quite well to power it under the bar.

He’s loving this competition, having made a serious entrance earlier in the tournament versus Eintracht Frankfurt. The 18-year-old now has two goals and five assists across all competitions this season.

The Gunners needed just three more minutes to tie the score on a day they outshot the hosts 15-11.

Saka showed his nose for goal to tie the score five minutes later with a dribble to the top of the 18 and a sly finish to the keeper’s left.

This was all happening around the same time Vitoria scored twice in three minutes to take a 3-2 lead on Eintracht Frankfurt.

Standard Liege goes from the knockout rounds to nothing in a blink, while Eintracht goes from winning the group to second.

The field for the Europa League is looking fierce, with Inter Milan, Benfica, Ajax, Club Brugge, Olympiacos, Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, and Red Bull Salzburg joining the competition via transfer from the UEFA Champions League.

Arsenal joins Premier League sides Wolves and Manchester United in the knockout rounds, having lost the Europa League final to rivals Chelsea at the end of last season.

The Gunners beat West Ham on Monday and host Manchester City at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Matchweek 17 is here in the Premier League as the games continue to come thick and fast during the festive season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

DOWNLOAD NBC SPORTS PREDICTOR

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Chelsea 3-0 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Liverpool 3-1 Watford – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM] 

Crystal Palace 3-1 Brighton – (Monday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Leicester 3-0 Norwich – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Southampton 1-1 West Ham – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Sheffield United 2-1 Aston Villa – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Man United 2-1 Everton – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Arsenal 3-3 Man City – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Wolves 1-2 Tottenham – (Sunday 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-2 Newcastle United – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM