Women’s World Cup Day in Review: Worries for Canada? Dutch impressive in win on Day 1

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To award a penalty or not award a penalty? That is the question asked of soccer matches pretty much since the sport was invented.

In the opener of the 2015 World Cup, host Canada – who had looked flustered and frustrated most of the afternoon – was glad that Ukrainian referee Kateryna Monzul answered “yes” in stoppage time, saving Canada a slightly embarrassing draw to open matters.

On replay, you can’t blame Monzul for her decision, Zhao Rong had her arm up and contact with substitute Adriana Leon was extended. But China, who conceded just four shots on goal in the contest (including the penalty), likely deserved a point. Deserve, however, in a short tournament, often doesn’t have as much to do with it as we might believe.

[MORE: Complete coverage of 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup]

There was, of course, another game in Group A on Saturday night, and this time it was New Zealand’s Hannah Wilkinson who appeared to be bundled over by the Netherlands’ Lieke Martens in the penalty area late in the second half. However, Mexican referee Quetzalli Alvarado emphatically waved play on. The replay showed she was probably wrong, but that’s little comfort for the Ferns, who fell 1-0 (on Martens’ wonderful strike), and are now 0-9-1 lifetime at the World Cup.

Two calls. Two different outcomes, and two different results. Such is life. What else did we learn from the opening day of Canada 2015?

1) China is improved, but they may not score much
Wang Fei is excellent in goal, and coach Hao Wei has the young Chinese (the oldest player on the roster is 26) extremely organized, but they were a bit offensively challenged even before top scorer Yang Li was lost for this tournament due to injury. Now it’s just going to be a struggle. Still, Wang Lisi came within a few inches on a free kick of giving China the lead in the first half and if they can steal a goal or two against New Zealand (or the Netherlands), 3 points and a solid goal differential should allow them to advance and be an extremely tough second round game for someone like Germany.

2) Canada should be worried, but not too worried
John Herdman won’t be happy his team struggled so much offensively, and they will likely need a little more from Christine Sinclair’s supporting cast of Melissa Tancredi, Joelle Filigno and Sophie Schmidt. But Herdman likely set up this tournament for the Canadians to ease into it and play their best soccer in the knockout stages. So, even though it was ugly, Herdman got what he was after. And he’ll be happy to see people like Kadeisha Buchanan (who should have been Woman of the Match in my humble opinion) play extremely well. Other youngsters like Ashley Lawrence and 17-year-old Jessie Fleming should get better as the tournament progresses. So even if Canada had zero corner kicks and looked nothing like a contender on Saturday, they have plenty of time to get there in the next few weeks. Well, maybe not plenty, but some.

3) The Netherlands has some entertaining players
We were warned about 18-year-old phenom Vivianne Miedema, but the other players in the Dutch front four — Danielle van de Donk, Martens and Manon Melis — showed some real skill and ingenuity, especially when they could get going on the counter. It was Martens who eventually scored (the only goal from the run of play on the day), but like their men’s team, the Netherlands really knocked the ball around well. At least in the first half ….

4) But New Zealand’s physical play dominated the second half
In fact, the game ended 50-50 in possession, with the Ferns having 59 percent possession in the second half. It looked like a hockey game at times, not only because of the physical play (poor Dutch goalkeeper Loes Geurts, who played college soccer at Western Illinois, was on the ground a few times and had her face full of turf pellets for much of the contest), but because the Netherlands could not get out of their own end. They got away with it today (and three points should allow them to advance already), but against better teams, the Netherlands will need to get out of trouble much better.

5) Fatigue on artificial turf
Much has obviously been made of the artificial surfaces and their effect on the game, and it remains to be seen how quickly players can recover in a tournament that will require the winner to play seven matches. However, turf could have a factor on in-game fatigue as well. It wasn’t scorching hot in Edmonton on Saturday, but it was warm, and it is much hotter on turf than it would be on grass at the same temperature. China and the Netherlands each looked very tired at the end of their respective games, and we’ll see if other teams suffer a similar fate as the tournament progresses.

Cruzeiro relegated from Brazilian top flight for first time

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Brazilian side Cruzeiro was relegated from the top flight for the first time in the club’s 98-year history following a 2-0 defeat to Palmeiras on the final day of the season.

Cruzeiro required victory and a loss by Ceara at Botafogo to stay safely in the Brazilian Serie A, but neither came to pass.

Palmeiras midfielder Ze Rafael scored in the 58th minute to send the visitors on their way, with fellow midfielder Dudu finished things off in the 84th minute. Referees ushered the players off the field immediately after the conclusion of the match as Cruzeiro fans rioted in the Mineirao stadium, ripping out seats, setting off smoke bombs, and clashing with police.

Cruzeiro finished 17th in the 20-team table, three points back of Ceara in 16th. In the Brazilian top flight, the bottom four teams are relegated. CSA, Chapecoense, and Avai were also relegated. Cruzeiro had won the Brazilian Serie A as recently as 2013 and 2014, winning four titles in its history. They also have six Copa do Brasil titles, most recently winning the league cup in 2017 and 2018.

Flamengo ran away with the championship, finishing on 90 points, 16 points clear of second-placed Santos and third-placed Palmeiras who both finished level on 74 points. Palmeiras had challenged for the title, but fell off at the end of the season with a five-match winless run through November.

Premier League Preview: West Ham United v. Arsenal

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Two struggling London sides meet Monday when West Ham United hosts Arsenal (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The sides might’ve expected they’d be within close proximity at this point on the fixture list, but two wildly disappointing seasons means the three points between the Gunners and Irons comes with the former in 11th and the latter 16th.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

It’s been nine matches since Arsenal beat someone, 11 since it happened in the Premier League. West Ham hasn’t been much better, winning once in its last 10.

Freddie Ljungberg has yet to win as Arsenal interim boss, while West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini could see his current stint in London end without more results like the Nov. 30 win at Chelsea.

Monday versus Arsenal would qualify.


Injuries/suspensions

West Ham United: OUT —  Jack Wilshere, Lukasz Fabianski, Manuel Lanzini, Winston Reid. QUESTIONABLE — Michail Antonio.

Arsenal: OUT — Dani Ceballos. QUESTIONABLE — Rob Holding.


Probable lineups

West Ham United: Martin; Cresswell, Ogbonna, Balbuena, Fredericks; Rice, Noble, Yarmolenko, Anderson, Snodgrass, Haller.

Arsenal: Leno; Kolasinac, Sokratis, Luiz, Bellerin, Xhaka, Torreira, Ozil, Pepe, Aubameyang, Lacazette.


What they’re saying

West Ham’s Antonio sees an opportunity: “The only three teams that are really performing are Liverpool, Leicester and Man City. Everyone else is getting beaten, and it means we’ve had a missed opportunity so far this season. We started the season off brightly, the best start we’ve had for four years, but then we’ve had a slump. Everyone’s having a slump and this is our slump. Now it’s time for us to start turning up. We’ve been in this situation before and we know how to dig in and pull ourselves up again.”

Arsenal’s Ljungberg on setting targets: “I don’t think we should stop talking about the top four, but for us it’s about concentrating on what we’re doing here now and not look up, down, sideways. We just need to work on our own game and our own confidence.”


Prediction

Really, you wouldn’t want to predict anything from these sides right now besides goals. We’ll give an edge in desperation to the hosts and a 2-2 draw.

La Liga: Sevilla held at Osasuna, Getafe maintains UCL fight

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Sevilla was held to a 1-1 draw at 10-man Osasuna on Sunday, giving both Real Madrid and Barcelona space at the top of the La Liga table.

Munir El Haddadi put the visitors 1-0 up just 11 minutes in, but Ezequiel Avila struck just before halftime to share the points. Sevilla was held to just two total shots through the opening 45 minutes, and despite Osasuna defender Oier Olazabal being shown a second yellow card with 29 minutes to go, Sevilla still managed just 11 total efforts through the 90 minutes, with four on target.

Getafe continued its battle for a top four spot as they won 1-0 on the road at Eibar. Angel Rodriguez bagged his eighth goal of the season to secure the win, cropping up in the 67th minute to finally put Getafe through. They had been turning the screw for some time, forcing Marko Dmitrovic into a pair of big saves just before the opener which came from an absurdly tight angle after Angel had rounded the goalkeeper. The win leaves them fourth, level with Real Sociedad on 27 points.

They were allowed to close the gap after Real Sociedad was held scoreless in a 0-0 draw at 14th placed Real Valladolid. The visitors put just two of their 14 shots on net, and dropped to fifth thanks to Getafe holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Athletic Club also fell back in the race for a top four spot, dropping a 3-2 decision on the road at Real Betis. Joaquin scored a first-half hat-trick, with all three goals coming in the opening 20 minutes to give him five in his last three games. Inaki Williams brought Athletic Bilbao one back before halftime from the spot, and Yuri Berchiche made things interesting with a minute to go, but that was all they could muster as the visitors fell to sixth on 26 points, above Atletico Madrid on goal differential with the two yet to play head-to-head.

Celta Vigo made it interesting as Iago Aspas scored a man-down goal, but Leganes held on for a 3-2 win over the 10-man visitors. Oscar Rodriguez had a first-half brace to help the hosts to a 3-0 lead, but Nestor Araujo and Aspas helped Celta Vigo make things interesting. Still, a 71st minute second yellow card for halftime substitute Gabriel Fernandez hampered the visitors in their efforts for a comeback, leaving Celta Vigo in the relegation zone, a point back of safety, with Leganes is four points behind them in 19th.

Gerrard reacts to Rangers’ Old Firm heartbreak in final

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Steven Gerrard lined his Rangers side up for success, but fate was cruel to the Liverpool legend.

Rangers lost the League Cup Final to their Old Firm rivals on Sunday despite out-shooting the Bhoys by a 16-5 margin, winning a penalty, and playing almost a half-hour up a man.

[ RECAP: Rangers 0-1 Celtic ]

“To a man we were very good … by much the better side,” Gerrard said. “But unfortunately that’s not what gets you a trophy.”

But Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster stopped Alfredo Morelos’ penalty, three minutes after goal scorer Christopher Jullien was offside on the lone goal of the game.

Scotland doesn’t yet use VAR, and Gerrard doesn’t love VAR but he likes it more than he likes Scottish officials.

“There were three Celtic players standing in offside positions but unfortunately we play in a country where there is no VAR,” he said, via the BBC. “I’d be a liar if I said I was 100% in favour of it, but the one thing I do know is that officials up here need support.”

Now he has the task of getting his men to rebound ahead of its biggest non-derby in ages, as Rangers need at least a draw against Young Boys at home on Thursday to advance to the Europa League knockout rounds

“It’s a bit raw right now… It’s up to me to pick the players up. One thing I will say is I’ll stay with these players on the evidence of today because they gave me absolutely everything. We might have to suffer a bit short-term. I need to pick them up a bit physically and mentally for Thursday which is huge but our day will come on the evidence of today.”

Gerrard has done a very good job with Rangers, who are two points back of Celtic in a two-horse race for the Scottish top flight title. Celtic has won eight-straight titles to improve their total to 50, four less than the Rangers.