Asian World Cup Qualifying: Japan has almost clinched a spot in Brazil

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If you need some king of clear, unambiguous sign that Asian soccer continues to improve, consider the World Cup qualifying campaigns of South Korea, Australia, and North Korea — three qualifiers for 2010’s World Cup:

  • South Korea’s doing well enough in the tournament’s fourth and final round (2-1-1 through four matches), though it’s a slow start for a team that went 4-0-4 during 2010’s final qualifying round.
  • Australia, while second in Group B, has only won one of their four final round matches, scoring only four goals in as many games.
  • Meanwhile, North Korea didn’t even make the final, 10-team round.

Japan, on the other hand (the region’s other qualifier for South Africa), appears to be getting stronger. After today’s 2-1 win in Oman, the Japanese have 13 points from a possible 15. Holding an eight-point lead with three games left in their tournament, Japan’s almost assured a fifth trip to the World Cup.

The win was more meaningful than it looked. Oman may never be a household name, but in World Cup qualifying, they’ve been tough. Their record is now 2-2-1, their only losses coming at the sword of the Blue Samurai (despite playing in a group with Australia and Iraq).

Coming into today’s game, Paul Le Guen’s side had five points in their last three games. Though most of his players play domestically, they have two noted talents making their money beyond the Omani league: Wigan Athletic goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi and Al-Ahli (Saudi Arabia) striker Amad Al-Hosni. Particularly at home — 4860 miles from Tokyo — they can be formidable.

Australia learned that lesson earlier in qualifying. In June, the Socceroos showed up in Muscat expected to win only to be shutout by Al-Habsi. The Aussies won a point, Mark Schwarzer keeping his own clean sheet, but with Oman coming off a lopsided 3-0 loss in Japan, the result provided a huge confidence boost.

On Wednesday, Oman was just as resilient. The match looked destined to end in a 1-1 draw, Oman having pulled back an early Japan lead while Al-Habsi had kept the Japanese at arms’ length. Then, just before full time, Shinji Okazaki converted on a set piece to give the confederation champions their win.

The difference between Japan and Australia’s results in Muscat exemplifies Japan’s climb. While the Japanese have improved since we saw them in South Africa, Australia has regressed. The rest of the qualifying group (Iraq, Oman, Jordan) started in too big a whole to compete with the Samurai Blue.

Whether Japan’s advantage applies to the rest of Asia — specifically, South Korea — remains to be seen. With the Koreans in Group A and the next Asian Cup not scheduled until 2015, it may be a while before we see the Japanese meat the region’s other power.

Other results – AFC qualifying

Iraq 1-0 Jordan – Iraq got their first win of the tournament, another “home” game staged in Doha. Against Group B’s most generous defense, Iraq needed 85 minutes before 19-year-old Hammadi Ahmad scored from just outside the penalty area, giving Zico’s team their first win of the tournament.

Qatar 1-0 Lebanon – Against a Lebanon side making their first appearance at this stage of the tournament, Qatar got what amounted to a must-win. Naturalized Uruguayan Sebastián Soria scored in the 75th minute to pull Qatar out of last place, vaulting them within one point of group-leading … Uzbekistan?

Iran 0-1 Uzbekistan – A huge win for Uzbekis, and not because it pushed them into first place. With South Korea holding a match in hand, that status will likely change, but after a devastating home loss to Iran that opened final round qualifying, Uzbekistan got revenge. A late goal from veteran Ulugbek Bakayev was only the second goal Carlos Quieroz’s side has given up in five games.

Standings

Group A Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
Uzbekistan 5 2 2 1 5 4 +1 8
South Korea 4 2 1 1 9 4 +5 7
Iran 5 2 1 2 2 2 0 7
Qatar 5 2 1 2 3 5 −2 7
Lebanon 5 1 1 3 2 6 −4 4
Group Bt Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
Japan 5 4 1 0 13 2 +11 13
Australia 4 1 2 1 4 4 0 5
Iraq 5 1 2 2 4 5 −1 5
Oman 5 1 2 2 4 7 −3 5
Jordan 5 1 1 3 4 11 −7 4

Mourinho blames fatigue for Swansea collapse

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Following a 1-1 draw with Swansea City, Jose Mourinho has begged Manchester United fans to give his players their full support as they navigate a period of serious fixture congestion.

The Red Devils have gone unbeaten in a whopping 25 straight Premier League matches, but still remain outside the top four due to a plague of draws that has befallen the squad, again failing to secure a lead after a late Gylfi Sigurdsson free-kick pegged them back at Old Trafford.

“Did the supporters know it [that the players are struggling]?” Mourinho said in his post-match press conference. “Because if they know it, and they think about it, they would be more supportive of the players who give everything, deserve everything and are at their limits. The team is in trouble, the boys are in trouble. But when you give everything I cannot demand more. I’m not happy with the result. I’m very happy with the boys.”

United is suffering from a host of injuries, particularly to the defense. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones were both unavailable for the Swansea match Sunday, and both Luke Shaw and Eric Bailly both left the field injured during the 90 minutes

[ RECAP: Swansea City salvages 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

“Luke has to be a big injury, when you’re out after 10 minutes, it has to be a big injury,” Mourinho said. “Eric, maybe he is injured but, at the same time, maybe it’s in relation to him being the guy who’s played 800 minutes of football in April.”

In addition, midfielders Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini were unavailable for the match, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s season is over thanks to a double ACL/PCL tear.

Mourinho went on to explain his team’s schedule in further detail, and the issues behind it. “You cannot be punished because we play the League Cup final, you play the final and then you have to play a game in midweek. Why don’t you stop the competition [the Premier League] when you play the final?

“You are punished for doing well and if we beat Celta, we have the final — in this moment that is obviously hypothetical — but the Europa League final is on the Wednesday and then we play against Crystal Palace on the Sunday. We play Southampton away two days before the final. So they want us to play the final, and we would be playing in disaster consequences.”

Matt Miazga, Vitesse win Dutch League Cup

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USMNT youngster Matt Miazga started and played the full 90 minutes as Vitesse Arnhem defeated AZ Alkmaar 2-0 to win the KNVB Beker. The trophy is the club’s first in its entire 125 year history.

Former Norwich City striker Ricky Van Wolfswinkel scored the winner in the 81st minute, crashing in a header past lazy AZ defenders on a pinpoint cross by 20-year-old Kosovo international Milot Rashica. The former Premier League striker struck again in the 88th minute to put the game away.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned in the North London derby ]

Miazga has been a fixture for Vitesse this season, making 21 Eredivisie appearances this season and seeing the field in every Cup game. Vitesse conceded just four goals throughout the entire Cup run, and just one over the final four games. They shut out Feyenoord in the quarterfinals, a game which Miazga was a late substitute. Vitesse also kept clean sheets against lower league opponents in Jodan Boys in the Round of 16, and again in the finals, games that Miazga saw the entire 90 minutes.

The 21-year-old American is on loan from Chelsea, and after a slow start, has earned a significant place in the side. In the latest 10 league matches for Vitesse, Miazga has played the full 90 minutes in eight of them, with five wins and two clean sheets in that span. Vitesse sits in ninth position in the Eredivisie table, but their problems have come more so up front, as they’ve conceded just 38 goals in 34 matches, better than all but the top two teams in the table.

Another Chelsea loanee, central midfielder Lewis Baker, finished the competition as its top scorer, bagging five goals in Cup games. The 22-year-old England youth international had a brace in the 2-1 semifinal win over Sparta Rotterdam. Chelsea is known for its loan relationship with Vitesse, with four players currently loaned to the Dutch club.

Player ratings from North London Derby

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LONDON — Tottenham beat Arsenal 2-0 at White Hart Lane on Sunday as Spurs remained four points behind Chelsea in the title race and also ensured they will finish about their north London rivals for the first time in 22 years.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

There were some incredible individual displays throughout as Spurs dominated for vast swathes.

Here’s how each player marked out of 10.


TOTTENHAM

Hugo Lloris – 7 – Didn’t have too much to do but calm on the ball and quick off his line as ever.

Kieran Trippier – 7 – Picked ahead of Walker and didn’t let Pochettino down. Few loose balls but great defensively.

Toby Alderweireld – 8 – Fine display from the Belgian who oozed class.

Jan Vertonghen – 8 – Almost scored twice and an inspiration at the other end. Went down injured early on but battled hard.

Ben Davies – 7 – Solid and steady at left wing back.

Eric Dier – 8 – Fine display in center of midfield. Pochettino always looks to him to get info to the team. A leader.

Victor Wanyama – 9 – Dominant display from the Kenyan. Bossed midfield and even poured forward in attack.

Christian Eriksen – 7 – His shot was parried to Dele for Spurs’ first goal and always looked lively. Missed a good chance early.

Dele Alli – 7 – Finished well for his goal but missed a sitter early on. Popped up with another big goal.

Heung-Min Son – 7 – Launched some great counters in the first half but faded in the second.

Harry Kane – 8 – Won the penalty kick and slotted it home. Denied by Cech and bullied Arsenal’s defense. 6 in 5 NLD’s in the PL.

Subs
Kyle Walker on for Kieran Trippier – 6 – Did a solid job.
Mousa Dembele on for Heung-min Son – 6 – Steadied the ship in midfield late on.
Moussa Sissoko on for Dele Alli – N/A


ARSENAL

Petr Cech – 8 – Without Cech it could have been five or six. Three fines stops in the second half kept the score down.

Gabriel – 5 – Gave away the penalty kick and had a torrid game.

Laurent Koscielny – 6 – Tried to hold a shaky defense together but never looked comfortable. Looked like he was carrying a knock.

Nacho Monreal – 6 – Did okay on the ball but failed to give defensive solidity.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – 5 – Picked ahead of Bellerin at right wing back but showed little going forward.

Granit Xhaka – 4 – Poor display. Gave away silly free kicks and was subbed off.

Aaron Ramsey – 6 – One of Arsenal’s best players, especially in first half with his midfield runs.

Kieran Gibbs – 5 – Saw plenty of the ball but didn’t do much with it.

Mesut Ozil – 5 – Went missing in a big game again. Seemed to be carrying a knock. Last NLD for Ozil?

Alexis Sanchez – 6 – Last NLD for Sanchez? Had moments of class in the first half but seems to be on another page to his teammates.

Olivier Giroud – 5 – Barely touched the ball and had a snapshot he rifled over in the second half.

Subs
Hector Bellerin for Gabriel – 5 – Didn’t get too involved in his 15 minutes on the pitch.
Danny Welbeck on for Granit Xhaka – 6 – Put himself about and got in-behind Spurs’ defense on a couple of occasions.
Theo Walcott on for Olivier Giroud – 5 – Hardly touched the ball to make an impact.

Tottenham 2-0 Arsenal: Spurs quick pair wins North London derby

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For the first time in 22 years, Tottenham will finish above Arsenal in the league table.

The North London derby finished 2-0 in favor of the home side at White Hart Lane, and the last visit there for Arsene Wenger & company confirms they cannot catch Spurs. Dele Alli scored and Harry Kane struck from the spot just two minutes later as a quickfire double soon after halftime sent Tottenham through.

With White Hart Lane at full throat, Tottenham was the more dangerous side out of the gate. Harry Kane tested Petr Cech with a tight-angled shot inside the opening minute, and Toby Alderweireld had a set-piece header go just over the bar also from a difficult position. The Gunners also spent a bit of time in the opposition area as Kieran Gibbs forced Hugo Lloris off the line to challenge a ball near the end line.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Spurs had the best pair of chances of the opening half on 21 minutes back-to-back. Harry Kane delivered a ball towards the six-yard box, and with a deflection it came to the head of Dele Alli, who should have scored, but put it over the bar from right on the doorstep. Minutes later, Heung-Min Son sliced up Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the left flank and burst into the box, and while his shot was deflected, it fell to Christian Eriksen who also should have scored with the goal gaping, but didn’t hit the volley cleanly and skied it over.

Aaron Ramsey worked Hugo Lloris as the Frenchman was forced into a low save to his left on the midfielder’s shot seven minutes before halftime.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

The hosts had the best chance straight out of halftime as Victor Wanyama charged down a loose ball and unleashed a howitzer on net that was just tipped over the bar by Petr Cech.

The breakthrough came in the 56th minute as Spurs went in front. Kane held the ball up brilliantly and found Alli, and under pressure Christian Eriksen latched onto it, and while his shot was saved, it fell back to Alli and he crashed it home. Immediately after, Spurs doubled their lead as Gabriel caught Kane’s foot in the penalty area, causing the England international to go to ground. Referee Michael Oliver gave the penalty, and Kane slotted it in off the left post.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Arsenal, suddenly down 2-0, looked to push forward to find a way back in. Olivier Giroud forced an easy scoop save from Lloris and then Gibbs fired over past the hour mark. The Gunners seemed shell-shocked at their sudden deficit, and by the time they truly worked themselves onto the ball, they were faced with a bunkered-in Spurs defense.

Tottenham saw the game out with little threat from the visitors, and the three points keeps pace with Chelsea, closing the gap back to four points with their ninth straight win. Arsenal, meanwhile, failed to capitalize on the opportunity brought on by Manchester United and Manchester City both dropping points earlier in the day.