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Staying golden: The U.S. prevail over Japan to clinch fourth Olympic gold medal

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The U.S. finally gets one back against Japan with a resounding 2-1 victory. If this indeed the end of a cycle, what a way to go out.

Wembley Stadium played host to an Olympic gold medal match between well-balanced rivals that is jam-packed with talking points. Here are five such notes:

Love her or hate her, Hope Solo’s got real substance behind all that gruff talk. Sure, Solo can be something of a rabble-rouser, but tonight the attention is squarely on her job and how well she does it. As she’s been known to say, goalkeepers don’t win games, they save them. She did just that today. That 83rd minute leap to keep out Tatsuya Tanaka’s effort on goal? Wow. That save almost certainly prevented another penalty kick shoot-out and preserves her status as the world’s best.

Carli Lloyd has silenced the doubters. The U.S.’s number 10 has been known to polarize a segment of the USWNT’s support base, but even her most fervent faultfinders have to applaud her performance today. Lloyd had what was perhaps her best game in a national team shirt yet. Her brace (just the second in Olympic final history) capped off an unstoppable performance. Lloyd set the tempo with her opening goal just a few minutes into the proceedings when she powered in Alex Morgan’s pass from short range. It was a harbinger of positive things to come. Her second effort was textbook Lloyd: a surging solo run through the center of the park topped off with a cannon blast of a shot.

Lloyd lost her once-sacred starting spot heading into the tournament. It seems that was the catalyst for such the stark turnaround in form. She’s been a robust and productive force in midfield throughout her stint in the United Kingdom. As Pia Sundhage beamed in her post-match comments, “She proved that I was wrong and that I’m not that perfect.”

Another jaw-breaking stat? Carli Lloyd has now scored every one of the USWNT’s three goals in their previous two Olympic finals.

It’s entirely appropriate to flag up (and gripe about) the blown calls. Let’s leave the U.S./Canada furor to one side for a moment. The United States were the beneficiaries of a couple major non-calls. Tobin Heath committed a blatant handball in the first half that should have led to a penalty kick. Rachel Buehler’s egregious bear hug on a Japanese attacker in the box also went unpunished. Head official Bibiana Steinhaus is arguably the most preeminent referee in the women’s game. That both she and her assistant referees missed said incidents is a tad surprising. Let the debate rage on.

Simply put, Japan are class. And that extends way beyond their eye-pleasing soccer. It’s the Nadeshiko’s grace in defeat to the non-existent remonstrations over the non-calls to the modest bows upon being substituted off. Granted, it’s probably cultural as much as it is sporting, but it’s still a pleasant sight. Let’s just hope these players have done enough to get first dibs on first class seats on the flight home. They deserve nothing less, despite the result today.

The sequel was better than the original.Let me dish out an early caveat here and say one should avoid becoming a prisoner of the moment. Still, after bearing witness to two exhilarating women’s soccer matches in four days, it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment.

Today’s match may not have featured the controversy or heart-stopping suspense that compel some to grant the U.S./Canada semifinal ‘greatest of all time’ status. And of course there was last year’s World Cup final with its steady supply of star-making performances and plot twists. But in terms of the sheer quality shown by both teams tonight, this match was special.

Possession see-sawed back and forth as both teams earnestly tried to outwit their opponents through varied means. Japan clung to their patented patient build-up play while the U.S. weren’t shy in imposing their physical advantage. Japan hardly lost their composure, even while facing a two-goal deficit. Passes weren’t hurried; reckless fouls weren’t committed; players refused to be gripped by panic. The U.S. also looked tighter and more polished than they did in the World Cup final one year ago. They were certainly more clinical, which is the ultimate difference maker.

Tremendous goalkeeping, some dandy goals (Japan’s included), and an enthused near-capacity crowd at Wembley added to the momentum of the occasion.

Make no mistake: these are the two best women’s soccer teams in the world. Today’s result just means we have a new (and familiar) number one.

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho, center left, makes his way from the opposition dugout after greeting Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, centre right, during their English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.

Another one: Lavezzi the latest star set for the riches of China

Paris Saint Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi form Argentina, celebrates the opening goal during a French league one soccer match between Paris-Saint-Germain and Rennes at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Paris Saint Germain clinhed its second straight French league title on Wednesday after rival Monaco drew 1-1 against French Cup holder Guingamp. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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The list just keeps growing; Ezequiel Lavezzi, he of Paris Saint-Germain and Argentine national team fame, is the latest star leaving Europe behind with the Chinese Super League his next stop, according to multiple reports Saturday night.

[ MORE: The latest transfer news and gossip ]

Linked with a move to Premier League side Chelsea during the recently completed January transfer window, a move away from PSG never materialized for the 30-year-old. Not on the European continent, at least.

Now, the former Napoli, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes (Argentina) attacker is set for Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll reportedly take home something in the $11-to-15-million-per-year ballpark. When you can somehow get a raise from your current deal with a Qatar Sports Investments-owned club… well, I guess you’d be dumb not to do it.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

It was already pretty well known Lavezzi would be leaving the French capital in 2016, but when his tenure survived through much of Europe’s winter window, it seemed he would hang around until the expiration of his current contract before moving elsewhere on a free transfer.

Then came the monstrous windfall of cash into and subsequent spending by CSL clubs over the last two weeks; Lavezzi joins the likes of Ramires, Gervinho, Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeira, Demba Ba and Fredy Guarin, among others, to move to China for massive annual salaries. At Shenhua, Lavezzi will play alongside Ba and Guarin, as well as former Everton and New York Red Bulls man Tim Cahill, who made the move to China last year.

The CSL’s transfer window doesn’t close until Feb. 26, so the spending spree may well go on a little while long.

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Atleti bounce back to keep pressure on Barca

Atletico's Jose Maria Gimenez, right, celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and Eibar at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Eibar

The race for the La Liga title isn’t over quite yet — though Barcelona are overwhelmingly favorites at the moment — and Atletico Madrid will have to keep winning, with just about no room for error, to keep it that way. On Saturday, they did just that by defending their home turf, to the tune of a 3-1 victory over Eibar.

Keko put the visitors ahead in the 46th minute, but Jose Gimenez quickly opened the scoring for Atleti and equalized on 56 minutes. Saul Niguez made it 2-1 to Atleti seven minutes later, and Fernando Torres’ 100th career goal (below video) gave Los Rojiblancos a bit of insurance in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. With the victory, Atleti are level on 51 points with Barca, but the Catalan giants have two games in hand on Madrid’s “other” team, the first of which they’ll play on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Las Palmas
Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Villarreal
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Levante vs. Barcelona (6 a.m. ET)
Real Betis vs. Valencia (10 a.m. ET)
Celta Vigo vs. Sevilla (12:15 p.m. ET)
Granada vs. Real Madrid (2:30 p.m. ET)


Bologna 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina have left the door wide open for Inter Milan to re-enter the top three — and UEFA Champions League-qualifying — places with a 1-1 draw away to Bologna. The Viola finished the game with 10 men after Matias Fernandez was sent off for two yellow cards 10 minutes apart either side of halftime.

Their opening goal, which gave them the lead in the 59th minute, was beautifully worked and wonderfully taken by Federico Bernardeschi (below video). It was quickly canceled out, though, as Emanuele Giaccherini equalized four minutes later to earn a point and strengthen Bologna’s hold on 10th place in the league table.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Genoa 0-0 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Hellas Verona vs. Inter Milan (6:30 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Carpi (9 a.m. ET)
Torino vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Frosinone vs. Juventus (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Palermo (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Empoli (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (2:45 p.m. ET)