U.S. fights through storm, downs Costa Rica for first points of qualifying’s final round

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It would have been a typical Jurgen Klinsmann era home game if it wasn’t for the weather, but with the game played in the middle of a storm that would make an Eskimo cower, there was nothing typical about the States’ 1-0 win over Costa Rica. Each pause of play saw a snow shovel-wielding battalion attacking the field’s lines, giving officials and players a few moments of clarity before the weather again won out. Ten minutes into the second half, Salvadorian referee Joel Aguilar stopped the match to consider whether the game should go.

But after two hours of wondering whether the match would be suspended, Aguilar’s whistle finally blew on the U.S.’s first win of CONCACAF’s final round. Ending a week of controversy that saw head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s methods’ openly questioned, the United States sit second in the qualifying table and are one of only two teams to have won Hex matches through two rounds.

Were it not for the inflexible nature of soccer’s international calendar, the match would have been rescheduled, but once the game started, there was no reason to stop. For all the complaints of visibility issues from television commentators and the assembled press, field-level shots showed inches of accumulated snow were the real problem. At halftime, Klinsmann said his team’s technical style would have to be abandoned, with the ability to win second balls his chief concern.

(MORE: Images from the Colorado snow globe.)

By that point the U.S. had their lead, with Clint Dempsey converting a 16th minute rebound after his deft turn had started the U.S.’s goal scoring movement. Celebrating his first full game as captain, Dempsey took a short pass from the right flank, turned toward the penalty area and found Jozy Altidore. A Michael Bradley run collapsed the Costa Rican defense, giving Altidore room to get his shot on goal. Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas’s dive to block the shot left him out of position when the blocked shot fell to the middle of the box, where Dempsey waited to guide it home.

“Clint’s always got that sniff,” Altidore said of the goal. “[H]e’s always following plays up.”

It was Dempsey’s seventh goal of the qualifying cycle, one that puts him within two of Eric Wynalda for second on the team’s all-time goal scoring list. Up against a five-man Costa Rican defense set up to play for a point, Dempsey, Altidore, and Herculez Gomez led an attack that would have produced more goals under different conditions.

source: APAround the goal and the weather, the U.S.’s performance mirrored their September win over Jamaica. Back in September the U.S. leveraged their possession and control to get make Herculez Gomez’s goal hold up, downing the Reggae Boyz 1-0 having previously lost in Kingston. In Columbus, the goal came early in the second half, but after scoring near the quarter-hour mark in Commerce City, the U.S. was able to rack up 57 percent of Friday’s possession.

Costa Rica struggled to win the ball, let alone build toward the States’ goal. At night’s end, they had put fuve shots on Brad Guzan, who never gave fans a reason to miss the injured Tim Howard. His saves were four more than the U.S. asked from Navas, but chasing the match for 74 minutes, the Ticos needed to do more.

“The key was getting the goal early,” Dempsey said after that match, “that made it difficult [for Costa Rica] in these conditions.”

But the result was more about the U.S.’s successes than Costa Rican failures. Dempsey and Altidore had strong nights. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones controlled the middle. DeMarcus Beasley proved an inspired selection at left back. For all the controversy that surrounded him throughout the week, Jurgen Klinsmann got his team right on Friday.

Ultimately, Klinsmann’s approach won out. Using the same formula that’s bled out home qualifiers against Jamaica and Guatemala, the U.S. protected a patchwork and uneasy defense by dominating the ball.

In the process, they got their first points of CONCACAF’s final round. They started to defuse the drama surrounding the team, and they won momentum ahead of Tuesday’s huge match in Mexico.

And all they to do was fight through a little snow.

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.”