Breakfast with United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann: Today’s topic – tough friendlies ahead

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I was among a small group of journalists who had breakfast recently with Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. national team coach whose methods and player selection tendencies can sometimes lean to the less conventional. The results so far have been mostly favorable, even if the aesthetic hasn’t always risen to expectation.

Over the next week or so, we will extract one element each day of the extremely informative conversation, where Klinsmann expanded candidly on subjects ranging from Jozy Altidore to evolving player roles to Jermaine Jones to future matches and all points in between.

Today’s topic: Tough friendlies ahead

Jurgen Klinsmann giggled when someone at the table mentioned that his U.S. Soccer team in 2012 had faced three teams in the FIFA Top Ten: Russia, Italy and Brazil.

“Mexico is not in the Top Ten?”

It was a funny moment, hearing Klinsmann stick it to the main U.S. rival just a little.

But the bigger point was well taken. Among the swell promises when Klinsmann came on board 16 months ago was a schedule chock full of high-level matches. It looks like 2013 (and beyond) will look no different.

For instance, Klinsmann hopes to face Germany at some point in 2013. Clearly, this would be a special one for Klinsmann, who helped that country win a World Cup and later coached Germany to a third-place World Cup finish.

“I would love to see that happen,” he said. “We would love to have every big soccer nation come to us and play a friendly.”

As to that one, he said the Germany contest “is looking good.” Venue? Somewhere in the United States, he said.

This is the kind of match he wants to play in the States, for a number of reasons. But a bit of running joke through the breakfast conversation was last month’s trip into Krasnodar, Russia (pictured), to play one of Europe’s better sides. If they’ll play in Krasnodar …

“We take them on wherever.” he said.

There is one biggie of a friendly that Klinsmann would, however, like to make a road trip: he would love nothing more than to play a friendly in Brazil I 2013. Trouble is, the calendar presents a big obstacle. It’s already full, and that’s too bad.

The United States will not be involved in the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil. That’s a bummer. (Remember about 18 months back, when Bob Bradley and everyone around U.S. Soccer kept telling us how important the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup was? It wasn’t just the Gold Cup itself, it was that a spot in the Confederations Cup went to the winner.)

That means the United States misses out on an exploratory to trip into Brazil next year. Teams love getting a hands-on look at stadiums, training sites, accommodations, etc., removing some of the mystery from the big, ultimately important trip ahead to Brazil in 2014. The more players involved in this hands-on “site inspection,” the better.

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So Klinsmann hopes to fill the void by taking the team to Brazil for a friendly. (This is all assuming that things go well and the U.S. qualifies, of course.) But with the 2013 calendar stuffed, any trip into Brazil would probably be in January of 2014 – at the end of that year’s January camp.

“Even if it’s playing local teams. Even if it’s not a national team, we’ll do a training game or whatever. Just to see it, facility-wise how it all works out. To try things out down there, to test it out.”

There is one date open this year, a FIFA international fixture date in November. Klinsmann says that’s not an option, however.

“If you look at the calendar of the European players, if you tell them you are going to play in Brazil, the clubs will do everything possible … officially they have to release the players. But they come up with all kinds of stories. So, before you have 10 cancellations, you might as well [play in Europe]. It’s really crucial that you have games and that you have those players.”

So assuming the United States does not finish 4th in final stage qualifying (and then facing a play-in match), Klinsmann will use the November double fixture date for a pair of friendlies in Europe.

“Then clubs are all fine, the players are all released. Clubs on board.”

(MORE of the Klinsmann conversation: explaining Jermaine Jones)

(MORE of the Klinsmann conversation: Landon Donvan’s career crisis)

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”