Asian WCQs: Japan slips, fails to clinch; Australia held to draw at home

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Even after looking at all this information, I still don’t think I understand that context of today’s upset in Amman. Jordan beat Japan 2-1 in Asian World Cup Qualifying, and because Japan is so far ahead in their five-team group (up six points with two rounds to play), part of my mind’s shutting off. Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism, tuning out the utter shock that would otherwise be pulsing through my head.

Japan should have won this one and clinched their spot for Brazil 2014. Instead, they fell to a team they beat 6-0 last June in Saitama.

The Samurai Blue are clearly the best team in Asia right now, while Jordan was expected to have trouble in a group that also includes Australia, Iraq, and Oman (top two clinch Brazil, the next goes into a playoff … to play in a playoff for a spot in the World Cup). With a squad comprised of almost exclusively domestic-based players, Jordan had a -7 goal difference through five matches, though they had recently defeated a struggling Australia at home. Japan, with a squad split between their domestic league and Germany (with a few other players sprinkled throughout Europe), were 4-0-1 in the final round, had scored 13 times and only conceded twice.

They’d dominated. The reigning AFC champions should have become the second team to clinch a spot in Brazil.

Because they didn’t, the game turned into an admonition: Getting qualifying results on the road is hard. Maybe a lot less so in Europe, and there are always countries whose familiarities form habits, but when Japan is playing 5,600 miles away from Tokyo, the trip’s always going to seem a little foreign. Even when the Samurai Blue have been handing around the Middle East for a week (playing Canada in Doha on Thursday).

Only in the perverse world of FIFA confederations could the Pacific Rim and the Fertile Crescent be part of the same region, so when one team has to travel from one end of that blob to the other, you get results like a 6-0 in Saitama. And a 2-1 in Amman.

As with most upsets, the game had its fair share of luck, timing, and just deserts. The game looked destined to go into halftime scoreless before an injury time corner kick was converted by Khalil Bani Ateyah. Despite controlling the game, the visitors were sentinto the dressing rooms down a goal.

That dominance turned to urgency in the second half, but a great individual effort from Ahmad Ibrahim doubled Jordan’s lead on the hour. Shinji Kagawa (pictured) pulled one back, and veteran Yasuhito Endo looked set to draw Japan even with a late penalty kick, but when Amer Sabbah saved the try, Jordan had their second win of the group.

They may not have been picked to come out of Group B, but after six games, the Jordanians are in second place. Australia, sitting third, still have a game in hand, and Jordan will have to go to Melbourne for their next qualifier, but with time running out on Asia’s last round, Jordan looks a good bet to at least claim a playoff spot.

Australia plays in Japan on June 4, a game the Samurai Blue now care about, while Jordan closes qualifying on June 18 hosting Oman. The same day, the Socceroos host Iraq.

If the Socceroos lose in Japan, Jordan control their own fate. Get a result in Melbroune then win at home and the nation will qualify for their first ever World Cup.

Even if the Socceroos get something in Saitama, Jordan’s home game against Oman gives them an inside track on the playoff spot.

source: Getty ImagesAnother stumble for Australia

When Australia breezed through AFC qualifying four years ago, there was a sense that they’d caught their new confederation by surprised Their set piece prowess and reliance on Joshua Kennedy and Tim Cahill on the end of crosses made their first trip thorugh Asian qualifying an easy one. Not overly talented and or doing anything complicated, Australia were just winning individual battles and taking victories. The simplicity of it seemed to leave opponents asking “is that it” as the Socceroos moved on to South Africa.

Of course, that’s just a hypothesis, but it’s one that’s gathered supporting evidence this cycle, where the Australians have struggled to keep up with Asia’s other powers. Japan, who Australia lost to in the final of the last Asian Cup, has left them in Group B’s dust, while the Socceroos are stuck on one win. With Jordan’s surprise success, Australia’s a doubt for Brazil. At a minimum, their qualifying campaign’s become unexpectedly complicated.

With results like today’s 2-2 at home against Oman, the Australians have brought this on themselves. They can take solace in having found back from a two-goal deficit, scores by Tim Cahill (pictured) and Brett Holman pulling back the lead built by Abdulaziz Al-Muqbali and a Mile Jedinak own goal, but falling two down to Oman at home is indictment enough. In both form and standing, the Socceroos are in trouble.

“It was definitely not what we expected. We had different hopes going into that games but unfortunately the first half was not according to plan and we almost paid dearly for that,” he head coach Holger Osieck said after the match.

“We always passed backwards, we delayed our game, there was no penetration, there was no quick ball up into the centre. So we basically played to their cards. That’s the reason we didn’t do well in the first half.”

Next up is Japan, a team against whom they needed a 70th minute penalty conversion to draw last June. Thankfully, the Socceroos don’t need a result this time. With June home matches against Jordan and Iraq, Australia can hold serve at home and qualify for Brazil.

Uzbeks still on top of Group A

With their 1-0 home win over Lebanon, Uzbekistan — who have never qualified for a World Cup — still lead their group. South Korea’s 2-1 win over Qatar keep the Koreans one back with a game in hand, but the important number for the Uzbeks is four. That’s how many points they have on third place Iran (who also have a game in hand). Finish ahead of them and fourth place Qatar, and Uzbekistan’s going to Brazil.

Their result came from a bit of luck, but having already suffered their fair share of qualifying mishaps, the Uzbeks deserves a little evening of the scales. In the 66th minute, a shot from Server Djeparov took a heavy deflection before going in for the game’s only goal.

While fortune intervened to guide the ball past Abbas Hassan, the Uzbeks were the better side throughout, earning three points and their third consecutive 1-0 victory. Their June 11 trip to South Korea likely ends that run, but with a June 18 match at home against Qatar, Uzbekistan will likely be able to earn their spot in Brazil 2014.

PSG suffers big blow as Neymar stretchered off against Marseille

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With an important run of fixtures upcoming, including a UEFA Champions League date with Real Madrid, the Parisians received disappointing news on Sunday.

[ MORE: Guardiola hails Man City as trophy haul begins ]

Despite picking up a 3-0 victory against Marseille, Paris Saint-Germain suffered a massive blow in the second stanza after Neymar was stretchered off the pitch with a right leg injury in the 81st minute.

The Brazilian international appeared to twist his ankle upon landing on the ground after going in for a challenge, although there was no contact when the attacker went down in agony.

Minutes after suffering the apparent ankle injury, Neymar was carried off the field on a stretcher by medical staff, raising questions about his availability in the coming weeks.

PSG faces a crucial run of matches, including Wednesday’s French Cup match against Marseille and their second leg UCL fixture against Real Madrid.

Unai Emery and his side currently trail 3-1 against Los Blancos, as the tie heads back to Paris for the second meeting.

This season, Neymar has tallied 28 goals in all competitions for the Parisians, including six finishes in the UCL, so his potential absence would be a huge blow to PSG’s hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals.

La Liga & Serie A: Griezmann hat-trick paces Atleti, Milan tops Roma

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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Sevilla 2-5 Atletico Madrid

Antoine Griezmann’s hat-trick helped pace Atletico on Sunday as Diego Simeone and Co. continue to apply pressure to Barcelona at the top of La Liga. Atleti remains seven points behind the Blaugrana in Spain’s top flight, after picking up its 17th victory of the season. The visitors scored twice in the first half with finishes from Diego Costa and Griezmann, before Koke and two more goals from the Frenchman extended the lead to 5-0.

Meanwhile, Sevilla did manage to pull back two late goals through Pablo Sarabia and Nolito, however, it was too late to complete a comeback.

Valencia 2-1 Real Sociedad

A brace from Santi Mina pulled Valencia to within two points of Real Madrid for third place in La Liga. The defeat for Sociedad keeps the bottom half side in 14th place, however, the side has a 10-point cushion above the relegation zone.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Athletic Bilbao 2-1 Malaga
Villareal 1-0 Getafe

 


Roma 0-2 AC Milan

A big victory for the Milan side has Gennaro Gatusso’s men back in contention for a top five place in Italy. Second-half strikes from Patrick Cutrone and Davide Calabria helped pace the visitors, as Roma suffered a big blow in the title race. Roma now sits 16 points behind league leaders Napoli, while already having lost earlier in the week to Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Champions League.

 

Elsewhere in Serie A

Crotone 2-3 SPAL
Fiorentina 1-0 Chievo
Hellas 2-1 Torino
Sampdoria 2-1 Udinese
Sassuolo 0-3 Lazio
Juventus vs. Atalanta (POSTPONED)

Usain Bolt claims he’s signed with professional team

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A former world-record sprinter is set to take his opportunity as a soccer player, however, he won’t reveal which club just yet.

[ MORE: Three things from Man City’s Carabao Cup triumph ]

Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt revealed on Sunday that he has signed a contract with a professional side, although the 31-year-old wouldn’t state which club or where the side resides.

The veteran runner retired from track and field last year after winning eight Olympic gold medals in his career.

Bolt has been connected with several major European clubs in the past, including Manchester United — whom he has been a lifelong supporter of — and Borussia Dortmund.

Bolt was set to have a trial with the German side next month, although it’s unlikely that the Jamaican will have that chance now that he’s signed with a team.

Last month, he also trained with South African side Mamelodi Sundown.

Guardiola hails Man City as trophy haul begins

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LONDON — Trophies were expected to come by the bucket load when Pep Guardiola arrived at Manchester City in the summer of 2016.

It has taken deep into his second season to deliver his first piece of silverware, but Guardiola secured the League Cup trophy in resounding fashion as Man City hammered Arsenal 3-0 in the final at Wembley.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Speaking after the game, Guardiola admitted the League Cup isn’t at the top of City’s list of priorities as they set their sights on winning the Premier League and UEFA Champions League in the final months of the season.

“It’s important. There are titles more important than this one, but we are so happy. Congratulations to everyone,” Guardiola said. “Big congratulations for all of Manchester City. From Sheikh Mansour to Sheikh Khaldoon until the last person and fan in the club. That is why it is important to win titles because maybe it is going to help us to win the next games in the Premier League to win the league.”

[ MORE: Kompany reacts to League Cup heroics

The Spaniard also played down the importance of his first trophy in England, as much has been made about his expensive rebuild of a City squad already brimming with talent after trophy successes under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini.

Guardiola thanked Man City’s owners from Abu Dhabi for sticking by him after a trophyless maiden campaign in England.

“I’m so happy but I am part of Manchester City. Every title we won, we won as a staff in the past. You are part of the group. That is why I am so happy for Manchester City because I cannot forgot how they take care of me last season when it wasn’t so good in terms of results and winning titles,” Guardiola said. “I cannot forgot. I will always remember all the club, Sheikh Khaldoon and all the people who helped to support me. It was so important. That is why Manchester City won.”

Another reason why they won was because City’s veteran core stepped up big time.

After a testing week which saw them lose in the FA Cup at third-tier Wigan, the hopes of an unprecedented quadruple were dashed. They’ll just have to settle for a treble now.

Captain Vincent Kompany was named Man of the Match, scored the crucial second goal and shackled Arsenal’s danger man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, while Sergio Aguero and David Silva both scored and helped City grab the trophy.

“These three guys plus Yaya [Toure], Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta a lot of names, they helped to be what Manchester City is right now,” Guardiola said. “It is special. Sergio, Vincent and David scored the three goals and they help us to understand what it means in the club. They won titles. They put pressure on us to continue to win titles. If you are able to win more titles in the future, the people who are coming here have to know here have to win titles. That’s why it is so so important. Especially for the performance. The first half was not good but the second half Vincent was all over the game, Sergio started amazingly, despite the brilliant goal the way he played, and in the second half David came back to how he normally is.”

Kevin De Bruyne, the star of City’s season so far, has now switched the focus to sealing the PL title as quickly as possible and focusing on delivering the Champions League.

“We have had a good season already, and now we need to keep going,” De Bruyne said. “We have this one in the bag and now we have to maintain the same focus in the Premier League and the Champions League. The potential for this club is amazing, and the way we play is probably one of the best in the world.”

Guardiola is now off and running in terms of trophies and you get the sense this is just the start.