Cup of Nations: Cote d’Ivoire stay perfect with win over Tunisia

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Either Sabri Lamouchi was hoping to change things up or he was just trying to keep his squad fresh. Regardless, the Cote d’Ivoire coach got the result he sought, one which leaves his team within inches of the quarterfinals at the African Cup of Nations.

With an early goal from winger Gervinho, Les Elephants claimed a 21st minute lead. Last goals from Yaya Touré and Didier Ya Konan gave the Ivorians a 3-0 win and first place in Group D.

It was another Didier, however, who took early headlines. Cote d’Ivoire captain Didier Drogba was on the bench to start this game, and although he came on for the match’s final 23 minutes, the star striker’s unprecedented benching created news before kickoff. While decision was likely a fitness concern, it was still the first time the former Chelsea start had been dropped during his international career.

That wasn’t the only change Lamouchi made. Veteran defender Kolo Touré was left out, as was winger Max Gradel and attacking midfielder Ya Konan (whose late goal came as a substitute). Chieke Tioté, Romaric, Lacina Diarra, and Salomon Kalou got their first starts of the competition. Didier Zokora dropped from midfield into central defense while Yaya Touré moved into an attacking midfield role.

“It doesn’t matter who plays, who doesn’t play,” Kolo Touré said after Les Elephants’ victory. “We want to go back with the trophy.”

The changes produced an early energy, Les Elephants continuously trying to slip the ball behind the Tunisian defense for Gervinho and Kalou cutting in from wide. The tactic led to the team’s first goal when Gervinho caused a turnover, found Diarra in the middle of the penalty area, and then ran onto a backheeled pass before finishing in the top of the Tunisian net.

The game settled after the goal, each side playing out the next hour with few chances to score. Tunisia’s best chance came late in the second half when Saber Khelifa’s volley from near the penalty spot was redirected straight at goalkeeper Boubacar Barry.

Touré’s 87th minute goal finally sealed it for the Ivorians, with Ya Konan’s right-footed finish from 17 yards out giving Group D’s leaders a deceptively decisive result.

“Collectively that was one of our best games,” Salomon Kalou said after the match.

In Wednesday’s highly anticipated match with Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire may only need a draw to clinch Group D. They sit on six points and own head-to-head tiebreakers over both Tunisia and Togo. If Algeria fail to defeat Togo today, Les Elephants will have their group locked up before starting their final game, a just state of a team whom, while imperfect, have looked as good as any in this competition.

Tunisia find themselves in a tougher spot after their decisive loss. It’s unlikely goal difference will help them now, so ahead of a final group match with Togo, they will be hoping for a Sparrow Hawks result today against the Desert Foxes. Get it, and the Tunisians can advance with a victory over Togo. Without it, they may be at the mercy of tiebreakers. At best.

Milan reportedly meeting with Mendes re: Costa, Sanches, Falcao

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AC Milan’s big summer could get downright massive, according to a sensational report out of Italy.

It’d be fair to assume some think it already has been, given the captures of Leonardo Bonucci, Andre Silva, Mateo Musacchio, Franck Kessie, Ricardo Rodriguez, Hakan Çalhanoğlu, and Lucas Biglia.

Right?

[ MORE: Dom Dwyer traded ]

Well, Sky Sports in Italy is reporting that super agent Jorge Mendes is meeting with i Rossoneri regarding not one but three of his clients, each of whom is well-known by European soccer fans.

The biggest name is Diego Costa, who would likely be gone from Chelsea already if Atletico Madrid wasn’t under a transfer ban.

The report also names AS Monaco striker Radamel Falcao and Bayern Munich youngster Renato Sanches, who was considered one of the top summer transfers this time last year.

The 31-year-old Falcao scored 30 goals for Moncao in his return from the Premier League, while Sanches had this to say about a potential move away from the Allianz Arena:

“I’m young, I have to play a lot. I think the chance to do so is greater in Milan than in Munich.

“I want to play more consistently and [a move to] AC Milan is a very interesting option. If the two clubs reach an agreement, I would be happy to join the Rossoneri.”

Milan is participating in the Europa League this year in addition to Serie A, and already has terrific depth to take a chance at winning both.

Dom Dwyer traded to Orlando City for hefty allocation money

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Dom Dwyer is heading back to Orlando City in exchange for money.

By MLS terms, it’s a lot of cash.

Sporting KC will receive a total of $1.6 million in allocation money for the USMNT striker, and Dwyer returns to a club which saw him score 15 goals in 13 loan appearances in 2013.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up? ] 

The England-born 26-year-old had those gaudy numbers when Orlando was still in then-USL PRO (now just USL).

Dwyer has 57 goals in 128 MLS appearances, including a career-high 22 in 2014. His departure from KC raises questions about their plans for to fill his shoes, and some are suggesting that Krisztian Nemeth could return to the club from Al-Gharafa.

And down in Orlando, could Dwyer’s arrival mean the sale of Canadian striker Cyle Larin? The prolific youngster ran afoul of the law earlier this season, and perhaps his departure will be hastened with most leagues in the world still preparing for their seasons.

Plus, the move now takes Dwyer away from the city of his wife’s place of employment. Sydney Leroux-Dwyer helps the attack at FC Kansas City, where she has three goals and an assist in 15 games this season.

What would Gold Cup win mean for Bruce Arena’s future?

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The U.S. face Jamaica in the 2017 Gold Cup final in Santa Clara, Calif. on Wednesday and winning this competition would be very significant for the USMNT and head coach Bruce Arena.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up?

This is much more than a second-tier tournament for the U.S.

Arena arrived in November 2016, just days after Jurgen Klinsmann was fired as USMNT head coach following five years of ups and downs which yielded one Gold Cup (2013) a Round of 16 spot at the 2014 World Cup and a semifinal appearance at the 2016 Copa America Centenario. The downs were too numerous to mention.

In his 13 games so far, Arena has yet to lose in his second spell in charge of the USMNT.

Sure, plenty of those games have been friendlies, winnable World Cup qualifiers (points on the road in Honduras and Mexico were huge) and Gold Cup group games, but he’s still managed his squad exceptionally well and has put both himself and his players in a much more positive frame of mind heading into a big 12 months.

If Arena leads the U.S. to Gold Cup glory on Wednesday, it would not doubt prove U.S. Soccer correct in hiring him and turning around the fortunes of the program which seemed riddled with infighting and anguish under Klinsmann.

Arena is a straight talker, we all know that, and the Brooklyn native is feeding off his vast experience in MLS and from his first stint in charge of the the U.S. from 1998-2006. The 65-year-old is a consummate man-manager, the Sir Alex Ferguson of the U.S. soccer scene if you will, and Arena has already fostered a strong team spirit despite having a huge player pool and almost three separate squads to juggle over the past seven months.

Sure, the European contingent from the U.S is missing for the Gold Cup and so are plenty of stars from Mexico, Costa Rica and other nations but on home soil the U.S. has got by shaky defensive displays to breeze into the final. The USMNT was in a similar situation in the last Gold Cup and didn’t handle it well.

Arena has juggled the demands of his senior players, promising youngster and certain situations (think of the tactical and personnel switches at the Azteca in June) admirably but he knows his strongest team and sticks to it when crunch time arrives.

The U.S. are the heavy favorites against the Reggae Boyz but we all know what Jamaica is capable of after they beat Klinsmann’s U.S. side 2-1 in the 2015 Gold Cup semifinal to hammer another considerable nail into his fast assembling U.S. Soccer coffin.

Arena has a contract through the end of the 2018 World Cup in Russia next summer and although the U.S. still has to qualify for the tournament, if these positive results continue then maybe Arena is the long-term answer for Sunil Gulati and Co.

First up, he has to win the Gold Cup. Secondly, he has to guide the U.S. to the World Cup. And then if he excels in Russia next summer (another Round of 16 berth, or better, would be a great success) then who knows what’s next for Arena?

Everyone agreed he was the smart hire with the USMNT in turmoil back in November but nobody saw it going this smoothly.

Kudos to Arena for his understated, straight-forward approach which is exactly what the USMNT need right now, and possibly for many years to come.

Bayern defender Juan Bernat out weeks after ankle surgery

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich defender Juan Bernat has been ruled out for several weeks after undergoing surgery on his left ankle.

[ MORE: Man United’s transfer plans

Bayern says the 24-year-old Bernat suffered the injury last Saturday in a friendly game against Milan in Shanghai, and that he underwent surgery in Munich on Monday.

Bernat, who joined Bayern from Valencia in 2014, has played in 65 Bundesliga games for the side, winning the league in each of his three seasons. He has made seven appearances for Spain.