Asian powers polar opposites in Wednesday friendlies

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While you never want to read too much into February friendly results, two of Asia’s powers provided another hints of growing gap at the top of their region. Japan, who sit eight points clear of Australia in their World Cup qualifying group, posted the expected rout of Lativa, winning 3-0 in Kobe. South Korea, on the other hand, were overwhelmed by Croatia, embarrassed 4-0 at Craven Cottage.

The loss may prove inconsequential for Choi Kang-Hee, but for a head coach trying to gauge his team ahead of the March re-start of World Cup qualifying, the embarrassment will need some processing. Croatia is better than any team Korea will face over qualifying’s last four matches, but after such a lopsided neutral site result, Choi has a decision to make. Is this a one-off — the type of atypical performance from which you can’t make any assumptions — or is it a sign that a team who qualified for the second round of 2010’s World Cup is losing ground on the rest of the world?

Bayern Munich’s Mario Mandzukic put the Croats up in the 33rd minute after heading home a cross from defender Ivan Strinic. Captain Darijo Srna made the lead two just before halftime, and substitute Nikica Jelavic added a third 12 minutes into the second half. Jelavic then assisted on the final goal, an 85th minute tally from Fulham’s Mladen Petric.

With three of their last four qualifiers at home, there’s little chance Korea will miss Brazil 2014. They’re one point behind Uzbekistan in AFC’s Group 1 and have both a match in hand an a home date with the Uzbeks. But for a team with South Korea’s recent accomplishments, World Cup Qualifying should be a given. Results like today’s, however, provide a hint the team’s failing to gain ground on their global competition. How big a hint will depend on how well the team responds to Wednesday’s shock.

source: Getty ImagesLike Korea, Japan’s main challenges lie outside the Asian reason, though none of those obstacles were present in Kobe on Wednesday. Instead, European minnows Latvia were convinced to make the long trip East, allowing the Samurai Blue a home date during the short international break. Not surprisingly, the result was a lopsided score, one that could have been even more one-sided.

The result put all of Japan’s weapons on display, starting with Shinji Okazaki. The Stuttgart striker scored twice including the opener in the 41st minute, an effort that prolonged the form that’s made him the joint-top scorer in Asian qualifying. Sandwiched between Okazaki’s double was Keisuke Honda’s 13th international goal, the CSKA attacker finishing after a pass from Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa.

The trio is part of a Japanese team that’s developed enough talent to have a puncher’s chance against anybody in the world, and unlike their South Korean rivals, they’re building toward Brazil 2014. Returning to Asian qualifying, the Koreans need to regain their feet, while the Japanese will look to widen the gap.

Retailer removes T-shirt from sale over Hillsborough links

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LONDON (AP) A British retailer has withdrawn a T-shirt from sale in its stores and online following complaints that its design could be associated with the Hillsborough soccer disaster.

[ MORE: Liverpool, Man City drawn in UCL quarterfinals ]

Topman had on sale a red shirt with a large “96” on the back and the phrase “what goes around comes around” underneath. The word “Karma” is written on one of the sleeves.

Ninety-six people were crushed to death in the Hillsborough stadium disaster, which happened in Sheffield in April 1989 at an FA Cup semifinal match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Topman said it “apologizes unreservedly for any offense caused by this T-shirt” and that the “garment has been removed from sale online and in stores.”

The retailer said the design was inspired by a Bob Marley track, with the number referring to the year of the re-release.

Cosmos, Miami FC petition USSF for 2018 U.S. Open Cup entry

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NASL’s decision to cancel the 2018 regular season has caused significant ramifications, with the latest forcing several clubs to be excluded from the U.S. Open Cup.

The New York Cosmos and Miami FC — both of whom participated in the 2017 U.S. Open Cup have not been named among the eligible teams for the 2018 edition following NASL’s cancellation of the league season.

Now, the two teams have petitioned to U.S. Soccer and its new president, Carlos Cordeiro, to rethink its decision and allow the clubs to play despite not belonging to a professional league.

Both clubs do boast reserve teams though — New York Cosmos B and Miami 2 — which is the lead argument from each organization as to why U.S. Soccer should grant the teams an exemption and a spot in the tournament.

Cosmos B and Miami FC 2 will both play in the NPSL once again in 2018, with both rosters largely comprised of senior team players.

As it stands, 94 teams have been placed in the 2018 Open Cup field, as announced by U.S. Soccer on Wednesday.

Both open letters from the respective clubs can be found below.

Brazil’s Luis could miss World Cup after leg fracture

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MADRID (AP) Brazilian left back Filipe Luis has a leg fracture that could stop him going to the World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Arsenal draws CSKA Moscow in Europa quarters ]

Atletico Madrid said Friday that Luis sustained the injury to his left leg in the second half of the Spanish team’s 5-1 rout of Lokomotiv Moscow in the Europa League round-of-16 match on Thursday.

The club did not say how long Luis will be sidelined. Similar injuries have required at least six weeks of recovery time and longer if surgery is required.

The 32-year-old Luis was called up by Brazil coach Tite for friendlies against Russia in Moscow on March 23 and against Germany in Berlin on March 27. Brazil’s first game at the World Cup is against Switzerland on June 17.

Luis was injured while trying to prevent Lokomotiv forward Eder taking a shot from inside the area in the 60th minute. He successfully cleared the ball but his leg was hit from behind.

Luis left the field on a stretcher and tests Friday in Madrid confirmed the fracture in his lower leg.

Atletico advanced 8-1 on aggregate after the victory in Russia.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage:

Casemiro: Neymar “would get along very well with Cristiano” at Real

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The speculation (transfer) train keeps chugging along as domestic seasons near their conclusion, and one rumor continues to be fueled linking one of the world’s top players to Real Madrid.

[ MORE: FA Cup preview ]

Neymar’s time at Paris Saint-Germain has been short, less than a season to be precise, but the Brazil international could be moving on from the Parc des Princes sooner rather than later after his side crashed out of the UEFA Champions League recently against Real.

Nothing concrete has been determined about Neymar’s future, but Real Madrid continues to be linked with the South American star, and one current Real player feels Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo would get along “very well.”

“[Neymar] has always been spectacular, since he was 11 years old. He does crazy things,” Real midfielder Casemiro told El Partidazo .l”I don’t think there is any chance that he will come to Real, but you have to ask [Madrid president] Florentino Perez.

“He knows that the door is always open for him in Madrid, but he is happy in Paris. He always says that he is happy there, that he is comfortable in Paris. There are many Brazilians there too, it is very quiet there, but whether it’s possible you have to ask Florentino.

“With the quality that he has, I would sign him for sure. I hope he comes this season.

“He is a great player, one of the top three in the world. He can do whatever he wants off the pitch if he continues to do what he does on it.

“He would get along very well with Cristiano, very well.”

Real is currently in the midst of a historic run in the Champions League, having won the competition three times in the last four seasons.

Casemiro isn’t the only Real player eager to bring in a talent such as Neymar though.

Defender Dani Carvajal also recently told the media that he would be ecstatic to have a teammate like the Brazilian come into the fold at the Santiago Bernabeu.