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Still party time for World Cup champion France in Nations League

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PARIS (AP) Less than two months after claiming a second World Cup title, no wonder France is still in a partying mood.

After a summer of euphoria, Didier Deschamps’ players didn’t look ready against Germany in the teams’ opening UEFA Nations League match, which ended in a goalless draw. The French were on the back foot for long spells and avoided defeat only thanks to a series of outstanding saves from Paris Saint-Germain `keeper Alphonse Areola.

[ USMNT-BRAZIL: Full recap | Player ratings ]

Thursday’s game in Munich was France’s first match since it beat Croatia 4-2 in the World Cup final in Moscow in July. Deschamps’ team kept the same style of play based on solid defending and counterattacks as in Russia, with not as much efficiency. Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante worked well in midfield but France’s attacking players Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann did not find each other, and did not look sharp enough.

“We wanted to come back with a win, but I think we are not ready, both physically and mentally,” Pogba said. “This is not easy following a World Cup like the one we did. We quickly got back to work, we would have needed more time to recover. But that’s football, we need to move on to something else and find new challenges.”

Next on the plate of Pogba and co. is the Netherlands, on Sunday at the Stade de France. Although the Nations League match against the Dutch has the ingredients required to be competitive – the Netherlands have missed out on both the 2016 European Championship and the World Cup and are eager to prove themselves against the world champions – the atmosphere in Saint-Denis will feel more like a celebration.

France’s players were treated like heroes on their return from Russia but were somewhat frustrated that their parade on the Champs Elysees on an open-top bus was limited to less than 15 minutes. Sunday’s match will give them a chance to celebrate properly in front of some 80,000 fans, and that’s one of the reasons why Deschamps wanted to keep his squad unchanged for the two September games, despite the poor form of some players.

The 23 world champions, including the injured Hugo Lloris and Steve Mandanda, will be at the Stade de France to attend the ceremony that will start right after the game, whatever its result. The French football federation said the sound and light show will consist of the France players introduced one by one before a lap of honor with the World Cup trophy.

Then it may well be times for changes.

“Newcomers could join us, and other players could return to the team,” Deschamps said this week when asked about the future of the World Cup squad. “We are supervising about 50 players and the door is not closed to anyone.”

Deschamps has the reputation of being conservative in his choices, yet only nine of the French players who featured at the 2016 European Championship two years ago took part in the World Cup campaign.

Up front, Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud, who has not scored in his last 10 matches with France, could soon be in danger of losing his spot, to the benefit of players like Alexandre Lacazette, Kingsley Coman and Moussa Dembele.

In defense, Marseille center-back Adil Rami has been struggling recently, while Everton duo Kurt Zouma and Lucas Digne are making compelling cases for a return. It also remains to be seen whether defenders Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez, who revealed themselves during the tournament, will be able to retain their starting spots at the expense of Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy.

In the long term, Areola looks also set to become the heir to Lloris when the Tottenham goalie calls time on his international career.

“You can expect everything,” Deschamps said.

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

FA Cup: Chelsea survive trip to Hull, advance to 5th round (video)

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With their 2-1 victory away to EFL Championship side Hull City, Chelsea joined Leicester City, Sheffield United and Norwich City as Premier League sides to reach the fifth round of the FA Cup on Saturday.

[ FA CUP ROUNDUP: West Ham bounced; Sheff Utd, Norwich advance ]

Frank Lampard‘s side got off to a flying start courtesy of Michy Batshuayi‘s deflected finish in the 6th minute, and the Blues were well on their way to a first half of total dominance.

Hull looked more prepared for a fight after halftime, but it mattered very little after Fikayo Tomori was gifted a free header two yards off the goal line. Ross Barkley‘s free kick was well placed at the back post and there was nothing that anyone could do to stop it.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Hull pulled the game back to 2-1 in the 78th minute, and they were more than a little fortunate in how they managed to do so. Kamil Grosicki smacked a free kick with plenty of power and got the deflection of all deflections to wrong-foot Willy Caballero and find the back of the net.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.

FA Cup roundup: West Ham bounced; Sheff Utd, Norwich advance (video)

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s FA Cup fourth-round (early) action…

[ MORE: Saints hit Spurs late to force 4th-round replay ]

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.

West Ham United 0-1 West Bromwich Albion

West Ham were the lone Premier League side to be knocked out by a lower-division side on Saturday, as David Moyes‘ side failed to find the back of the net and were beaten 1-0 by EFL Championship leaders West Brom.

Conor Townsend scored the game’s only goal in the 9th minute, and though the Hammers controlled possession the rest of the way, they created very little in terms of scoring chances and finished the game with just three shots on target. West Brom finished the game with 10 men, but West Ham could do nothing with their 18-minute advantage following Semi Ajayi‘s second yellow card in the 72nd minute.

Millwall 0-2 Sheffield United

Sheffield United’s dream season continued with a comfortable 2-0 victory away to Championship side Millwall. Both goals came inside the final half-hour, but the Blades were unquestionably the better side even before breaking the deadlock.

That came in the 62nd minute, when Muhamed Besic placed a stunning curler inside the far post for 1-0. Not long before full-time, in the 84th, Oliver Norwood drove his effort hard and low and into the corner to make it 2-0.

Burnley 1-2 Norwich City

Norwich and Burnley were largely inseparable for the majority of Saturday’s clash at Turf Moor, save for a four-minute period early in the second half in which Norwich scored twice and booked their place in the fifth round.

Grant Hanley made it 1-0 in the 53rd and Josip Drmic added to the advantage in the 57th minute. Erik Pieters pulled Burnley back to within a goal in the 73rd, but that’s as close as the Clarets would get.

FA Cup fourth-round scoreboard

Southampton 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur — FULL RECAP
Newcastle United 0-0 Oxford United
Portsmouth 4-2 Barnsley
Coventry City 0-0 Birmingham City
Reading 1-1 Cardiff City

RB Leipzig beaten, Bundesliga title race thrown wide open

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BERLIN (AP) Eintracht Frankfurt defeated Bundesliga leader RB Leipzig 2-0 to throw the title race wide open on Saturday.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Frankfurt defender Almamy Toure scored a brilliant goal just after the break and Filip Kostic sealed the win in injury time to deal Leipzig its first defeat since a 2-1 loss at home to Freiburg in October.

Borussia Monchengladbach cut the gap at the top to two points with a 3-1 win at home over Mainz, thanks largely to goals in each half from French striker Alassane Plea.

Bayern Munich has the chance to cut the gap to one point with a win at home over Schalke in the late game.

[ FA CUP: Saints hit Spurs late to force 4th-round replay ]

Borussia Dortmund is just four points off the top after its 5-1 win over Cologne on Friday.

Also Saturday, Union Berlin defeated Augsburg 2-0 at home, Hertha Berlin came from behind to win 2-1 at Wolfsburg, and Paderborn moved off the bottom with a 2-0 win at Freiburg.

FA Cup: Saints hit Spurs late to force 4th-round replay

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Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur played to a virtual stand-still for nearly 60 minutes before Jose Mourinho’s side broke through with a moment of true quality from Son Heung-min and Giovani Lo Celso, but finished right back where they started after Saints hit back late to force a replay in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Prior to that, Lo Celso put the ball in the back of the net and briefly thought it was he who had put Spurs ahead, but the Argentine was denied his third Spurs goal on the basis that the ball hit Son on its way through traffic, and the South Korean was in an offside position.

Spurs’ best chance of the first half chance came and went just minutes later, with Lucas Moura in disbelief and Angus Gunn the hero of the moment. Dele Alli played Lucas into open space inside the penalty area and, with the goal gaping to Gunn’s left and right, Lucas looked to place his right-footed shot inside the far post. Gunn was up to the challenge, though, and pulled off a sensational left-footed save from close range.

Seconds later, Saints had a surefire scoring chance and were denied in equally spectacular fashion. Danny Ings used his chest to control a free kick into the box and looped it goal-bound over the head of Hugo Lloris, only for Japhet Tanganga to make the last-second headed clearance in front of an open net.

[ MORE: Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong ]

Saints were the first to go ever so close to a goal in the second half. Michael Obafemi crossed from the right side and found Ings inside the six-yard box, where he redirected the ball ever so slightly, but not enough, to send it inches wide of Lloris’ right-hand post.

Following a spell that was all Saints to start the second half, Spurs broke the deadlock through Son in the 58th minute. Lo Celso drove through the heart of Southampton’s midfield before playing the ball to Son near the top of the 18-yard box. He took a touch to set up the shot and fired a left-footed arrow inside the far post.

The lead lasted just shy of 30 minutes, close but not quite over the finish line. With 87 minutes on the clock and a full head of steam over the preceding quarter-hour, Southampton got their hugely deserved equalizer. Sofiane Boufal arrived near the top of the box as Ings’ cut-back ball arrived and the Moroccan international hammered it home.

The two sides will meet again for their fourth-round replay in two weeks at the Tottenham Hotspur. The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.