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U.S. under-20s makes progress in CONCACAF qualifying


United States under-20 national team is off and running in World Cup qualifying thanks to a big performance from Daniel Cuevas, currently property of Santos in Mexico’s Liga MX.

The United States got off to a good start result-wise – although perhaps not an outstanding one performance-wise – Monday night in Mexico. Cuevas and Real Salt Lake’s Luis Gil had a first half goal each as the Americans opened the 2013 CONCACAF U-20 Championship with a 2-1 victory against Haiti in Puebla, Mexico.

Four teams from the ongoing CONCACAF qualifying tournament in Mexico will advance to Turkey for the 2013 FIFA Under-20 World Cup.

Tab Ramos’ team had a 2-0 lead after 26 minutes, but the defense had its iffy moments and the United States was in “hang on” mode by the end as Haiti threatened to snatch a late equalizer.

What Ramos said: “It was a difficult match for us. We knew that Haiti had very good players. I think we did a good job in the first half, coming out strong and trying to put the game away. I felt that once we didn’t get that third goal before halftime that there was a good chance that if [Haiti] got a goal that somehow it would turn into a game, and it did.”

J.R. Eskilson from Top Drawer Soccer, a site dedicated to the elite youth and college elements of domestic soccer, didn’t grade many of the young American men very well.

He handed out middling “5s” to Gil and to the LA Galaxy’s Jose Villarreal, who were expected to lead the U.S. attack.

[on Gil] … The Real Salt Lake youngster scored the opener, but he should have had at least two other goals. Gil missed an open header in the opening stages of the game, and later shanked a shot from eight yards out. Either finish likely would’ve have been the contest to bed in the opening half.

[on Villarreal]  The LA Galaxy winger had a couple of decent services on set pieces, but did not have much from the run of play.

But he did have good things to say about Cuevas, who grew up in Sacramento.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.