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Russia 2-0 New Zealand: Hosts ease through opening match

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The 2017 Confederations Cup got off to a strong start for hosts Russia as they held much of the possession and soundly defeated New Zealand 2-0 in the tournament opener.

Russia ended the game with 62% of the possession and it felt like much more. They also out-shot New Zealand 16-6 (7-1 in shots on target).

The hosts poured on the pressure in the early going. Just six minutes in, a corner swung in and defender Viktor Vasin got his head to it, but he hit the inside of the post and failed to go in before Michael McGlinchy cleared it off the line. Three minutes later New Zealand needed yet another goal-line clearance as Dmitry Poloz chested down a cross and touched it awkwardly past goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic, but Tommy Smith was there to boot away the slow-roller.

On 15 minutes, Russia went direct and dropped in a long-ball for Poloz who got behind the defense, but Marinovic came off his line to clear the ball. The 2017 Confederations Cup does sport video assistant referees who were on hand to review the penalty shout as play continued, but they chose not to pull it back despite some contact.

With the game slowing past the half-hour mark, pressure in the attacking half by Russia forced a bad giveaway from New Zealand, and a brilliant touch by Poloz sprung Denis Glushakov who poked the ball over Marinovic and it trickled in off the post with defenders giving chase to put the hosts up 1-0. Michael Boxall, one of the charging defenders, was credited with the own-goal as it glanced off his knee after coming off the post.

The first half ended without any further incident, and the second half begun in a similar fashion up to the hour mark. With 20 minutes remaining and Russia again on top, Aleksandr Samedov crossed low from the right, and when Boxall whiffed with the chance to clear the dangerous ball, it fell to Fedor Smolov at the far post who had the simplest of tap-ins to double the lead.

Despite the deficit, New Zealand wasn’t done as they looked for a way back in. Ryan Thomas ripped an absolute howitzer towards the top-right corner in the 77th minute, but it was saved by Igor Akinfeev. On the ensuing corner Smith had a free header on net, but veteran Yuri Zhirkov cleared off the line while manning the far post.

The clock eventually wound down with no further danger, and Russia secured the first three points of the tournament, sending them to the top of Group A with Mexico and Portugal still to play on Sunday.

VIDEO: Portugal lead Iran at HT; Spain 1-1 Morocco

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We’re through the first 45 minutes of Monday’s Group B finales at the 2018 World Cup, and things are happening. A quick rundown…

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos combined to commit a disastrous gaffe at midfield, resulting in a goal for Khalid Boutaib in the 14th minute. At this point, Spain would have finished second, behind Portugal, and headed to the far more difficult side of the knockout bracket.

Five minutes later, it was Iniesta who, with a little help from some slightly lesser geniuses, unlocked the Moroccan defense to set up Isco for an emphatic finish. La Furia Roja moved back to the top of the group, on goals scored.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

In the afternoon’s other game, Portugal and Iran appeared destined for a 0-0 scoreline at halftime, until Ricardo Quaresma unleashed a stunning, outside-of-the-foot curler from outside the box to beat the goalkeeper and put Portugal ahead — both on the day, and in the table. As things currently stand, Portugal would win the group and Spain would finish second.

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 4

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In the fourth episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England players have been preparing for their next match in an unusual way, Argentina has a huge meltdown, and more.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Click play on the video above to watch the fourth episode in full.

Atlanta leads way with six All-Star Fan XI selections

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It may be hard to believe with all the World Cup festivities going on, but the Major League Soccer season is nearly halfway over.

[ MORE: Toronto FC’s 2018 has been far from their cup-winning 2017 ]

And that means it’s almost All-Star time.

The MLS All-Stars will continue their recent tradition of facing a European superpower in August, with Juventus being welcomed to the United States in early August.

But, which players from MLS will we see in action?

Last season’s expansion sweetheart Atlanta United leads the way in the fan voting with six players from the Eastern Conference side voted into the Fan XI, including attackers Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, Darlington Nagbe and Josef Martinez.

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender/captain Michael Parkhurst also made the team from Atlanta.

In all, only five clubs were represented based on the Fan XI, with the LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Los Angeles FC’s Carlos Vela and Laurent Ciman, Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi and Portland Timbers star Diego Valeri each rounding out the squad.


Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United)

Defenders: Michael Parkhurst (Atlanta United), Laurent Ciman (Los Angeles Football Club), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Miguel Almirón (Atlanta United), Ezequiel Barco (Atlanta United), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers)

Forwards: Josef Martínez (Atlanta United), Zlatan Ibrahimović (LA Galaxy), Carlos Vela (Los Angeles Football Club – EA SPORTS™ “More Than a Vote” Challenge)

Saudi Arabia steals late win over Egypt in Group A finale

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Saudi Arabia pulled off a late 2-1 win against Egypt on Monday in their Group A finale, as the two nations ended their 2018 World Cup run in the group stage.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Salem Al Sawsari scored in the fifth minute of second half stoppage time to give the Saudis a late winner in the match, as the attacker struck the post in the dying moments before the ball crossed the line.

The Pharaohs took the lead in the 22nd minute, after a tremendous run from Mohamed Salah and lob over the Saudi Arabia goalkeeper.

Salah has two goals at the World Cup for Egypt, who were already eliminated heading into Monday’s match.

Saudi Arabia was granted a chance to equalize prior to halftime, however, goalkeeper Essam El Hadary brilliantly stopped Hattan Bahebri’s penalty kick in the 41st minute to preserve the Egypt advantage.

El Hadary became the oldest player in World Cup history to appear in a match at the age of 45.

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The Egypt keeper wasn’t as lucky the second time around though, with Salmon Al Faraj converting a penalty kick in the 51st minute.

Saudi Arabia finishes group play in third place on three points, while Egypt goes winless in its three matches.