Moussa Dembele

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Belgian midfielder Fellaini retires from international duty

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After leaving Manchester United this past summer for a big-money move to Chinese club Shandong Luneng, midfielder Marouane Fellaini has decided to call time on his international career as well, he announced on Instagram on Thursday.

The 31-year-old has accumulated 88 caps for the Belgian national team, seeing time in both the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, scoring a goal in both events. His international call-up in 2007 coincides with the beginning of the Belgian “golden generation” that features the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Moussa Dembele, Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens, and a host of other highly talented players all around the same age.

That culminated with a third-place finish in the World Cup in Russia this past summer, their best-ever finish in a World Cup.

“After twelve years of representing Belgium at the highest level, I have decided to retire from senior international football,” Fellaini wrote on his social media post. “It has not been an easy decision for me and not one I take lightly however I feel that the time is right for me to step down and allow the next generation of Belgian players to continue this very successful period in Belgian football history.”

“I have many amazing memories with the Red Devils from my debut in 2007 to last year’s World Cup in Russia and I am very proud Belgium is currently No 1 in FIFA’s world rankings. I want to thank all those who have been part of my international career especially my team mates, many of whom will be friends for life and all the coaches I have worked with. I would like to also thank all the Belgian fans who have travelled the world to support us.”

Fellaini leaves Belgium as they are getting set to begin qualification for the Euro 2020 tournament. They take on Russia and Cyprus in the upcoming international break in late March, with qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Scotland on the docket in June.

PSG falls to Lyon in first Ligue 1 defeat of the season

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Moussa Dembele and Nebil Fekir scored bracketing halftime to secure a 2-1 comeback victory for Lyon over Paris Saint-Germain, dooming the Parisians to the club’s first defeat of the Ligue 1 season.

Angel Di Maria put PSG up just seven minutes into the match after Julian Draxler won the ball off Houssem Aouar in the attacking third and threaded across to his Argentinian teammate to slot home. That was it for the visitors at Parc Olympique Lyonnais, however, as PSG – without injured Neymar – racked up nine shots on target but Anthony Lopes was up to the task.

Former Fulham youth product Dembele was the main danger man for the hosts, and he struck just past the half-hour mark with a towering header, beating goalkeeper Alphonse Areola to Leo Dubois’s cross and bulldozing the ball into the back of the net.

After the break, he then won a penalty as he burst down the left edge of the penalty area, putting Thiago Silva on roller skates with stepovers and directional changes before the Brazilian blocked him off with a knee. Fekir stepped up to take and sent Areola the wrong way, putting Lyon in front for good.

Without Neymar, PSG struggled to create significant chances in the attack. More specifically, PSG completed just seven of 21 take-ons, a specialty of Neymar’s on the ball. They also connected on just three of 20 crosses, and Di Maria was the only PSG player to create more than two chances.

Prior to the loss, PSG had dropped just four total points all league season, with draws at both Strasbourg and Bordeaux. Their home form still remains perfect with 11 wins in 11.

Henry’s Monaco draws 1-1 with Vieira’s Nice in French league

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PARIS (AP) Old friends Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira had to split the points as Monaco drew 1-1 with French Riviera rival Nice on Wednesday in a scrappy match featuring three video reviews.

Winger Allan Saint-Maximin put Nice ahead in the 30th minute and 17-year-old defender Benoit Badiashile equalized shortly after halftime, becoming the youngest scorer in the French top flight this season. Badiashile’s header from a corner was deemed to have crossed the line by the use of goal-line technology.

[MORE: Ligue 1 scores, schedule]

Henry and Vieira are in their first seasons coaching in France, but they go way back and hugged warmly before kickoff.

Living next to each other in London, they blossomed with Arsenal and were part of the famed “Invincibles” side which went a whole season unbeaten in the Premier League. The Frenchmen also won the 1998 World Cup and the European Championship in 2000, as well as playing together in the 2006 World Cup final.

Having started their illustrious careers as teenagers on the French Riviera – Henry with Monaco and Vieira with Cannes – they have come full circle as coaches.

Monaco had chances through Aleksandr Golovin and Rony Lopes, only for Nice to strike against the run of play following a sloppy mistake from Youssef Ait Bennasser. After he gave the ball away in midfield, Saint-Maximin took it off him easily and shrugged off defender Jemerson before shooting confidently past goalkeeper Diego Benaglio.

The goal was awarded before being checked and confirmed by referee Benoit Bastien using VAR. Moments before the interval, he consulted VAR again to send off Nice striker Ihsan Sacko for a late challenge on defender Benjamin Heinrichs.

“There’s a lot of frustration and questions about the decisions. The red card is very harsh,” Vieira said. “It wasn’t a dangerous action and it had a negative impact on us.”

Bastien used VAR for the third time to award a penalty in the 75th, ruling that Badiashile impeded right back Youcef Atal when images suggested Atal initiated contact with Badiashile before tumbling down.

Benaglio guessed correctly to keep out Saint-Maximim’s spot kick. Monaco almost won it near the end when Radamel Falcao hit the post with a curling effort.

“A point isn’t enough for us, but we could have been sat here talking about a defeat,” Henry said. “I have no opinion about the VAR, those are their decisions. Diego saved the penalty – so much the better for us.”

Monaco has not won at home this season and is 19th – only one point ahead of last-place Guingamp, which beat Rennes 2-1 at home.

OTHER MATCHES

VAR also played a key role elsewhere as Saint-Etienne equalized with a penalty in a 2-1 home win against Marseille.

Referee Antony Gautier awarded the penalty in the 56th after goalkeeper Steve Mandanda upended forward Wahbi Khazri.

Gautier then changed his mind after the linesman signaled Khazri was offside when receiving the pass, but further confusion ensued as he then consulted VAR and re-awarded the penalty, which was confidently tucked away by Khazri.

There was no debating Khazri’s late winner, struck ferociously from 20 meters past Mandanda. It was his 12th league goal of the season and leapfrogged Saint-Etienne over Lyon into third place ahead of their local derby on Sunday.

Netherlands midfielder Kevin Strootman headed Marseille ahead early on from Florian Thauvin‘s excellent cross. The defeat increases the pressure on ninth-place Marseille and its coach Rudi Garcia after a string of poor performances have left fans disgruntled and angry.

In other matches, forwards Moussa Dembele and Nabil Fekir netted late on as Lyon rallied to draw 2-2 at Toulouse.

Nimes moved into 11th spot after winning 1-0 at home to Nantes.

UCL wrap: Real Madrid shocked in Russia

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There were just two blowouts amongst the eight UEFA Champions League matches on Tuesday’s docket, with an Edin Dzeko hat trick leading AS Roma past Viktoria Plzen and Paulo Dybala scoring three for Juventus versus Young Boys.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

The rest of the matches had more than a few eyebrows raised, with Bayern Munich and Manchester United held by Ajax and Valencia respectively, and Real Madrid failing to find the back of the net in a loss to CSKA Moscow.

CSKA Moscow 1-0 Real Madrid

Everton loanee Nikola Vlasic scored in the second minute, two weeks after recording a goal and an assist in the tournament opener at Viktoria Plzen, as Real Madrid continues to struggle in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era.

Manchester United 0-0 ValenciaRECAP

There was very little to like from the hosts, who worked hard but found precious few chances in a scoreless struggle at Old Trafford.

Hoffenheim 1-2 Manchester CityRECAP

Ishak Belfodil’s first minute goal sounded alarm bells for the Premier League champions, who fell to Lyon at home in the first match of the group stage.

Leroy Sane set up Sergio Aguero for an equalizer within six minutes, and City eased into control of the match. It would take until the 87th minute, however, for David Silva to win it for Pep Guardiola‘s men.

Juventus 3-0 Young Boys

Paulo Dybala’s evenly-distributed hat trick (5′, 33′, 69′) was complete by the time of Mohamed Aly Camara’s red card for the Swiss visitors (78′).

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Bayern Munich 1-1 Ajax

Arjen Robben cued up Mats Hummels for a fourth minute opener, but 20-year-old Noussair Mazraoui leveled the score line for Ajax in the 22nd minute.

AEK Athens 2-3 Benfica

The first half’s 2-0 score line to the favored visitors didn’t provide a lot of hope for neutrals, as Haris Seferovic and Grimaldo scored in the first 15 minutes for Benfica, but a red card for Ruben Dias in first half stoppage sure did the trick.

Viktor Klonaridis pulled the hosts within one after halftime and scored his second in the 63rd minute to prime the pump for a dramatic final half hour.

Alfa Semedo, however, scored a late winner for the 10-man visitors.

Lyon 2-2 Shakhtar Donetsk

Junior Moraes’s first half goal was joined by another nine minutes into the second frame, but it was far from curtains for the French hosts. Moussa Dembele and Leo Dubois scored twice in three minutes to push Lyon into a deadlock at Groupama Stadium.

Roma 5-0 Viktoria Plzen

Edin Dzeko’s hat trick, the opener coming in the third minute, was more than enough for i Lupi to rebound from its loss to Real Madrid. Cenzig Under and Justin Kluivert proved Roma’s kids are more than alright with second half goals.

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.

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