Offshore drilling, Champions League: at Chelsea 3, Shakhtar Donetsk 2

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Two Shakhtar Donetsk gifts an a 94th minute winner from substitute Victor Moses took three points for Chelsea on Wednesday, the defending champions pulling even with the Ukrainians at the top of UEFA Champions League’s Group E.

Seconds away from being relegated to third place in a group that also includes Juventus, Moses headed a corner kick into the upper-right hand corner of Andriy Pyatov’s goal giving the hosts their third lead of the game.

But Chelsea would have never been in position to steal the point had it not been for two Shakhtar errors you’d rarely see in at college level. In the sixth minute, a poor backpass from defender Yaroslav Rakitskiy left Pyatov little recourse but to blast an attempted clearance off the leaping Fernando Torres, the resulting ricochet settling in the back of Shakhtar’s net.

In the 40th minute, after Willian had pulled Shakhtar even, Pyatov’s ill-placed header left him standing outside his area as Oscar put an 40-yard shot into an empty goal.

Man of the Match: It’s rare that this honor goes to a player on the losing team, but when that team has to fight back from two aberrational goals, you’re likely to see a number of superior individual performances from the team left empty-handed. On Wednesday, Fernandinho put in another great performance in Shakhtar’s midfield, Darijo Srna constantly stressed the left side of Chelsea’s defense, and Willian, our Man of the Match, gave the Blues more reason to regret not buying him this summer.

Then, the Brazilian winger was linked with a move to Stamford Bridge, though the rumor never became more than a vague link between player and club. His continued presence in Donetsk helped Shakhtar carry an unbeaten record into today’s game, a mark his two middle-of-the-area finishes nearly preserved.

In the ninth minute, Willian opened his right foot on a ball from Fernandinho, the resulting shot beaingt Petr Cech into the right side of goal. In the second half, a near identical play (this time, the ball from the right coming from Darijo Srna) gave Willian his second goal of the night.

Threesome of Knowledge: What we learned

Chelsea’s come back down to earth.

The Blues’ high-flying start to the Premier League season has long past, not only in terms of results but also form. They were second best today but, to their credit, managed to get full points. Still, Wednesday’s performance falls in line with a series of discouraging results the Premier League’s former leaders have accumulated over the last month: losing at Shakhtar; losing at home to Manchester United; drawing at Swansea City.

As they did under Jose Mourinho, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti, and Andre Villas-Boas, Chelsea started the season strong. And as has been the case over recent seasons, they’ve regressed.

Resiliency rounds out Shakhtar’s contender’s resumé.

At this point, nobody questions whether Shakhtar are capable of competing in Europe. At least, on the fringes. Are they going to compete for Champions League? No, but they’re going to give somebody a lot of trouble in the quarterfinals, if not beyond.

At those levels, talent isn’t always decisive. A series of extra-athletic factors distinguish teams from each other, one of which is the ability to respond to the inevitable adversity you’ll face during a long tournament.

Today, Shakhtar demonstrated that trait, twice coming from behind on the road at the tournament’s holders, coming within minutes of salvaging a result they’d nearly given away (twice). Moses’s last gasp goal took a point out of their hands, but based on what we saw on Wednesday, time was the only thing that kept them from again responding to adversity.

Chelsea’s defense needs help.

The ease of Shakhtar’s responses has to concern Roberto Di Matteo. Except for Moses’ goal, each time Chelsea scored, Shakhtar quickly responded, basic buildup down their right leading to simple goals from Willian. Is that all it takes to breakdown a Chelsea defense these days?

The last time Chelsea kept a clean sheet was Oct. 2 at Nordsjaelland. In the five games that followed, they’ve conceded 11 goals. Handed three leads on Wednesday, they conceded two.

Giving up goals is one thing, but giving up leads is slightly different. Today, Chelsea had two chances to do as they did during last year’s run and lock down a match. That they couldn’t do so at home in an important game is more concerning than the increasingly ugly numbers.

Packaged for takeaway

  • John Terry started on the bench and was working on a stationary bike at one point during the match; however, the Chelsea captain didn’t play.
  • Ryan Bertrand got the call in place of Ashley Cole at left back, combining with Eden Hazard to create a very vulnerable left flank. Shakhtar right back Darijo Srna had his most influential match of the tournament.
  • Despite their effort, Chelsea’s midfield of John Obi Mikel and Ramires had trouble covering the space demanded of them by Shakhtar’s passing. They needed help, but with Hazard, Oscar, and Juan Mata in front of them, there was little to be had. In the second half, Oscar started dropping to Ramires’s level, the team forming a 4-1-4-1 shape with Mikel in front of the defense.
  • On an otherwise quiet day, Luiz Adriano provided some nice holdup play for Shakhtar, who resorted to using their No. 9 more as Chelsea pushed for a late goal.
  • If there were Player of the Group awards, Fernandinho would be the heavy favorite to win Group E’s.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

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Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

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Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 23-man roster questions ]

That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

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Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?