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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.

Khedira earns Juventus three points as Napoli defeats AC Milan

ROME, ITALY - AUGUST 27:  Sami Khedira #6 with his teammates of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Serie A match between SS Lazio and Juventus FC at Stadio Olimpico on August 27, 2016 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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Sami Khedira hasn’t found the field much since moving to Juventus two summers ago, but when he does, he has a striker’s eye.

The German bagged his eighth goal for Juventus in just his 28th appearance as the Italian giants went on the road and defeated Lazio 1-0.

A poor clear attempt by Lucas Biglia saw Paulo Dybala’s lofted ball over the top fall to Khedira, and he skittered the ball across the face of goal into the far corner. The win is the second of the year for Juventus after they took down Fiorentina in their opening match.

There was a goal-fest at Stadio San Paolo as Napoli defeated AC Milan 4-2 braces from Arkadiusz Milik and Jose Callejon. Milik’s came in the first-half, with the opener in 18th minute, a lucky bounce as Dries Mertens’ shot clattered off the post and fell in Milik’s lap. He doubled Napoli’s lead in the 33rd minute with a beautiful header into the far corner, out-jumping Juraj Kucka.

The second half saw a flurry of action. A pair of goals four minutes apart saw Milan tie things up as M’baye Niang and Suso brought them level. Then, the yellow cards came flying. As a result, Kucka and Niang were both sent off for second cautions. Jose Callejon took advantage, bagging his first in the 74th and doubling his tally in stoppage time in a ridiculous bit of play that saw Alessio Romagnoli try to swat Mertens’ cross away from the goal line…yes, as in with his hands.

It’s a wonder Romagnoli wasn’t sent off for his actions. Napoli

Following USWNT suspension, Hope Solo takes leave of absence from club

TUKWILA, WA - AUGUST 31: Hope Solo #1 of Seattle Reign FC warms up before the National Women's Soccer League Championship on August 31, 2014 at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, Washington.  (Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images)
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Hope Solo’s USWNT suspension did not predicate she take time off from her club team the Seattle Reign, but that is exactly what she will be doing.

The 35-year-old goalkeeper will be taking a leave of absence from playing all forms of soccer, the Reign announced. They did not say how long she will be gone.

The club signed 21-year-old Andi Tostanoski as a replacement for Solo on the roster – Tostanoski’s third one-game replacement contract with the Reign. 26-year-old Haley Kopmeyer was given the start in today’s match against the Portland Thorns.

Many believe Solo’s international career could be over after U.S. Soccer reportedly terminated her contract. Despite that, club soccer was still immediately available to her. Even though U.S. Soccer pays her club salary as part of her USWNT deal, that portion of her contract was not terminated, according to reports.

Solo was suspended from international play for six months just two days ago mainly for comments she made following the USWNT loss to Sweden in the Olympic quarterfinals. However, it was clear from statements on both sides that an accumulation of actions, both in the public and private eye, had contributed to her eventual punishment.

Despite her controversial actions and personality, Solo has unquestionably remained the best goalkeeper in women’s international soccer, and has been that was for a number of years. She holds the world records in international appearances, wins, and shutouts for goalkeepers in women’s soccer.

Arsene Wenger confirms deals for Mustafi and Perez are complete

GETAFE, SPAIN - APRIL 24:  Shkodran Mustafi of Valencia applauds fans after Valencia drew 2-2 with Getafe CF during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Valencia CF at Coliseum Alfonso Perez on April 24, 2016 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Arsenal has completed a pair of big-money deals with the transfer windows closing down,.

Manager Arsene Wenger confirmed that the club has finished the transfers of Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez, two players they have long been linked with. He also confirmed the club was unlikely to sign any other players, unless new opportunities cropped up before the window shuts on Wednesday.

“We have bought two players, Mustafi and Perez. We had to work very hard to get signings done,” Wenger said. “We have no plans for anyone else now.”

Mustafi fills the most pressing need, helping patch up a back line ravaged by injuries. He is set to sign a five-year deal, according to the BBC and other reports. The fee is a reported $46 million.

Perez, a 27-year-old Spaniard, also fills a heavy need up front. With just Olivier Giroud and Chuba Akpom as the only healthy strikers available to the Gunners, Perez will help fill a gap. Perez was purchased for a reported $22 million, triggering the player’s release clause.

It’s unclear how soon the players will be available to play for Arsenal. The club next takes on Southampton after the international break.

Dortmund, Wolfsburg, Gladbach all win in Bundesliga openers

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 14:  Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Borussia Dortmund is challenged by Alberto Moreno of Liverpool during the UEFA Europa League quarter final, second leg match between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund at Anfield on April 14, 2016 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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The Bundesliga officially opened Friday with Bayern Munich’s 6-0 demolition of Werder Bremen, but the rest of the league got under way Saturday, and it was business as usual.

Borussia Dortmund cruised with a 2-1 win over FC Mainz at Westfalenstadion behind a brace from main man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The first came early in the 17th minute, a headed goal at the far post on the end of a beautiful ball from Andre Schurrle. The second on a penalty in the 89th minute after Schurrle was fouled by Karim Onisiwo. Aubameyang started last season with 13 goals in the team’s first 10 games, and he’s begun this year’s campaign on the same foot.

Wolfsburg worked its way to a 2-0 win on the road at Augsburg with a pair of impressive goals. Daniel Didavi bagged the first, while the second was a late free-kick from Ricardo Rodriguez to double the lead.

Borussia Monchengladbach won a thriller at Borussia-Park 2-1 thanks to an 85th minute winner from Lars Stindl. The 28-year-old stayed just onside and beat Tin Jedvaj to the ball, slotting it in five minutes from time for all three points. Goals from Andre Hahn and substitute Joel Pohjanpalo had cancelled each other out. Fabian Johnson entered the game in the 61st minute.

Elsewhere, Timmy Chandler and Eintracht Frankfurt held serve at home with a 1-0 win over Schalke. Alex Maier scored the only goal in the 13th minute, and while he had a later penalty saved, The Eagles held their opponents scoreless the rest of the way. Chandler came on as a 56th minute substitute and helped keep the clean sheet.

Ingolstadt pulled out a 1-1 draw on the road at Hamburg thanks to a 76th minute equalizer from Lukas Hinterseer, cancelling out Bobby Wood’s goal on his Bundesliga debut.

Marcel Reese and Anthony Modeste gave Cologne a 2-0 home win over Darmstadt.