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Mbappe sparks rally in France’s draw with Iceland

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GUINGAMP, France (AP) Kylian Mbappe saved world champion France’s blushes by creating one goal and scoring a late equalizer in the space of five minutes to salvage a 2-2 draw against Iceland in a friendly on Thursday.

Iceland was 2-0 up with five minutes left at the Roudourou stadium in Brittany and looked set to hand France its first loss since winning the World Cup in July.

But Mbappe, who went on as a substitute for the last half an hour, was the home team’s savior.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward helped to pull a goal back when he fired in from a tight angle and the ball took a deflection off Holmar Eyjolfsson to go in for an own goal in the 85th minute.

Mbappe then levelled with a penalty awarded for handball five minutes later.

“We reacted well after a bad start against a well organized team,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “It’s good for Kylian, he brought his speed to us.”

Deschamps rested several regulars to keep them fit ahead of next week’s UEFA Nations League against Germany at the Stade de France.

Without Blaise Matuidi and N'Golo Kante, France were lacking in midfield, while Olivier Giroud was subdued up front.

Mbappe was meant to start the game but a minor thigh injury prompted Deschamps to leave him on the bench, allowing Giroud to partner Antoine Griezmann.

France lacked a cutting edge in the first half despite monopolizing possession.

Unmarked on the edge of the area, Paul Pogba fluffed a shot in the 17th minute. Griezmann also headed a cross from Lucas Digne just wide and Florian Thauvin fired a shot over from Ousmane Dembele’s precise pass.

France was made to pay when Presnel Kimpembe was dispossessed near the corner flag by Alfred Finnbogason and went down holding his ankle.

The Iceland forward carried on and sent a low cross to Birkir Bjarnasson, who beat keeper Hugo Lloris with a low shot to claim his 10th international goal in the 31st minute.

France should have gone two down but Lloris made a superb triple stop in the 37th minute.

The hosts pushed hard for an equalizer and almost got it in the 54th minute when Griezmann forced keeper Runar Runarsson to stretch and save a header that looked bound for the top corner.

France was then caught cold from a corner in the 58th as Kari Arnason lost his marker at the near post and doubled Iceland’s lead with a looping header that went in off the bar.

Mbappe had the last word, though, setting up the first France strike before bagging his 10th goal in 25 internationals.

Ligue 1: Neymar bloodied but scores twice as PSG rout Nice

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PARIS (AP) Neymar took a whack to the face, played on with cotton tissue in his bloodied mouth, and grabbed his second goal as Paris Saint-Germain won at Nice 3-0 in the French league on Saturday.

[ SERIE A: Cristiano Ronaldo sets up Juve’s comeback win over Napoli ]

The Brazil forward was caught by Wylan Cyprien’s flailing arm as they contested the ball near the hour mark of an otherwise one-sided contest.

Cyprien was sent off for a second yellow card, and Neymar sat down for a while and had a little blood wiped from his mouth with a sponge. He got up and carried on, playing for several minutes as he ran around with the makeshift plaster device protruding from his mouth.

Neymar had already done damage of his own to Nice, expertly curling PSG in front midway through the first half from the edge of the penalty area. The ball fizzed past goalkeeper Walter Benitez before he could react and lodged in the bottom right corner.

That was enough for league leader PSG’s eighth straight win.

France star Kylian Mbappe returned from a three-game ban and was desperate to score for PSG, but too much so. He fluffed a good chance right at the start of the second half by taking too many touches. After his shot was blocked near the line, attacking midfielder Christopher Nkunku stroked in the rebound to make it 2-0.

[ LA LIGA: Barcelona slip up again, helped by Madrid derby draw ]

PSG has struggled in the past at Nice, which always reserves a vitriolic welcome, but should have scored several more. When Neymar eventually got the third goal, it was in the second minute of injury time as Mbappe set him up for an easy tap-in.

With seven goals, Neymar is one ahead of Marseille winger Florian Thauvin at the top of the scoring chart.

There seems no stopping PSG in the French league: It has 27 goals and counting. PSG is the second French side to win its first eight games after Lille in 1936, and victory at home to Lyon next weekend will be a record.

Europa League preview: Arsenal, Chelsea debut; Red Bull Derby (of sorts)

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The Europa League group stage begins Thursday, with two London giants taking part in a relatively unfamiliar competition.

[ MORE: Full Europa League schedule ]

Both Arsenal and Chelsea have played in the tournament finals in recent years, but for the most part are Champions League mainstays.

This season, however, it’s the UEL leading one to Greece and the other to a visit from a Ukrainian side.

Both are involved in our five matches to monitor amongst the 48-team field on Day 1.

5 (tie). Villarreal vs. Rangers / Celtic vs. Rosenborg

The Old Firm rivals with plenty to prove kick off their group stages on Wednesday, in turn saying something for Scottish football.

For Steven Gerrard‘s Rangers, that means the chance to make good on their first full European tournament since the 2010-11 Europa League. They took the long way, winning four qualifying rounds to earn these nights. Now what? Perhaps their toughest test yet in Villarreal.

For Brendan Rodgers‘ Celtic, it’s an opportunity to show that while the Champions League has been a bit too rich for their blood, a Europa League group stage with Austrian, German, and Norwegian competition isn’t a problem for the best team in Scotland.

4. Arsenal vs. Vorskla Poltava

Forget the opposition: Unai Emery sees the Europa League as the opportunity to put more silverware in the halls of Arsenal HQ. From Arsenal.com:

“Every title for us is very important. In 2000, Arsenal played the final against Galatasaray but didn’t win. And also, Arsenal played the final in 2006 in the Champions League and also didn’t win. In my career, the ambition is very important for continuing to improve and continuing to achieve the objectives in my career personally and with the team. I want to play for every title going forward.”

There’s no reason to expect anything but a win for the Gunners against a team in just its second European group stage.

3. Marseille vs. Eintracht Frankfurt

Frank McCourt’s Olympique Marseille still doesn’t sound quite right, so let’s go with the manager. Rudi Garcia’s Olympique Marseille has a lot of weapons, including a trio of World Cup winners in Steve Mandanda, Florian Thauvin, and Adil Rami. Their Bundesliga visitors feature a Mexican national teamer (Carlos Salcedo) and an American (Timothy Chandler), but eyes will be trained on a Frenchman: Sebastian Heller has three goals and an assist in three league appearances this season.

2. PAOK vs. Chelsea

With all respect to Vieirinha and Amr Warda, this shouldn’t be a major challenge for Maurizio Sarri‘s men. Yes, even with Eden Hazard, Mateo Kovacic, and David Luiz being rested in London.

But it gets our circle because Sarri has called it the most difficult challenge of their group stage. BATE Borisov and MOL Vidi (formerly Videoton) are the other members of Group L. From ChelseaFC.com:

“I have seen the four matches played by PAOK in the Champions League play-offs. My staff have seen the matches of the Greek championship. I think I know everything.

“We want to play with our characteristics, to control the match with our ball possession, but I know tomorrow will be difficult. They are a good team. They have won against Basel, Spartak Moscow, they drew against Benfica in Portugal. We have to do a very good match if we want to gain points.”

1. RB Leipzig vs. Red Bull Salzburg

UEFA would prefer to avoid matches like this, even presumably one-sided ones, as two clubs owned by Red Bull square off in a meaningful competition. The pair being in the same group will be even trickier when there are chances to affect the next round fate of their brother club (The clubs aren’t technically deemed to have the same ownership, but it’s difficult to conclude the relationship isn’t a healthy one).

VAR paves way for Marseille’s 4-0 victory in season opener

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PARIS (AP) Marseille crushed Toulouse 4-0 on Friday as the French league season opened with a video assistant refereeing (VAR) decision leading to the first goal.

Attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet scored in each half, with his penalty on the stroke of halftime awarded after a video review. Striker Valere Germain added a third goal, while winger Florian Thauvin struck two minutes into injury time.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 2-1 Leicester City ]

Alerted by VAR officials that defender Kelvin Amian had blocked a cross with his hand, Ruddy Buquet checked the images. Having initially signaled a corner, the referee changed his mind and pointed to the spot.

Payet, who missed France’s World Cup title victory last month after being injured in the Europa League final, sent goalkeeper Baptiste Reynet the wrong way.

He netted again in the 62nd minute with a neat volley after Reynet had blocked Bouna Sarr’s angled shot.

“The ball came to me quickly, I just tried to guide it in,” Payet told Canal Plus television. “The end of last season was quite hard for me … so I just want to enjoy myself and start the season well.”

Payet completely controlled the game and sent Germain clean through with a defense-splitting pass in the 75th minute but Reynet saved well.

Payet got an ovation from the Stade Velodrome crowd when he was replaced by Thauvin – a member of France’s World Cup squad – in the 82nd minute.

Germain then expertly controlled midfielder Morgan Sanson’s pass and curled the ball past Reynet in the 89th minute before Thauvin skillfully flicked the ball up with his heel and slotted in from close range to complete the rout.

Marseille finished fourth last season and missed out on a Champions League playoff spot by one point.

Jerome Pugmire is at http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

World Cup preview: France vs. Belgium

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The two most exciting teams remaining in the field square off in the semifinals, when France and Belgium meet at Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Bobby Wood staying in Bundesliga ]

With apologies to Harry Kane and Mario Mandzukic amongst others on Croatia and England, the managers for France and Belgium have fleets of top-end talent to make selection a headache.

The 2 p.m. ET kickoff features some of the most prolific boots in the world of club soccer. Consider these numbers from last season:

France
Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid: 29 goals, 15 assists
Florian Thauvin, Marseille: 26 goals, 18 assists
Kylian Mbappe, PSG: 21 goals, 16 assists
Nabil Fekir, Lyon: 23 goals, eight assists

Belgium
Romelu Lukaku, Man Utd: 27 goals, 9 assists
Dries Mertens, Napoli: 22 goals, 12 assists
Eden Hazard, Chelsea: 17 goals, 13 assists
Michy Batshuayi, Chelsea + Borussia Dortmund: 21 goals, 3 assists
Kevin De Bruyne, Man City: 12 goals, 21 assists

Several of those players may not even be chosen for the XIs. It’s bonkers.

So defending will be oh-so-important, and both groups are coming off big asks in the previous round. Belgium bent but didn’t break in ousting Brazil, while France stopped Luis Suarez when it matched up with Edinson Cavani-free Uruguay.

There are more similarities, one of which is Premier League star goalkeepers who were at less than their best last season in Thibaut Courtois (Belgium) and Hugo Lloris (France).

And while Belgium’s Axel Witsel and Youri Tielemans are fine talents, the difference may come down to Ballon d’Or should-be finalist N'Golo Kante of France.

Who wins it?