United States draws with Mexico in World Cup qualifier

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A week ago the United States national team found itself injury depleted, dealing with some internal turmoil and not so far from a full-blown crisis.

These things do change quickly, though, and tonight finds the United States with four big points from a pair of matches over five nights, striding away from a memorable few days, comfortably positioned in final round World Cup qualifying.

The Americans were hardly overwhelming in a 0-0 draw with Mexico, but Jurgen Klinsmann and his patchwork back line will be far more pleased with Tuesday’s result than the hapless Mexicans, who have (Shockingly!) zero wins after three matches in the final stage of CONCACAF regional qualifying.

The United States never put a shot on goal Tuesday. But neither did they allow much bother for goalkeeper Brad Guzan as quality center back play and a first-half defensive adjustment reduced Mexico and high-scoring Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez – who remains on the hunt for his first goal against the United States – to a series of half-chances and a couple of unlucky, close-in ricochets.

Guzan handled a few routine balls and needed to make one late, quality save. But Tim Howard’s replacement was hardly tested otherwise by a rather stale and uncreative Mexican attack. Including last August’s 1-0 win for the United States, El Tri has not scored on the Americans at Azteca Stadium in more than 180 minutes.

(MORE: United States Man of the Match, Omar Gonzalez)

The United States is tied for second with Costa Rica and Honduras in the six-team group (from which three teams automatically qualify for Brazil 2014). But with the toughest match (away to Mexico) behind them, and with four of seven remaining matches on home soil, the Americans have reason to like their positioning tonight.

“I think when many people doubted us, when many people said it couldn’t be done, that it was over, we came together as a group,” Herculez Gomez told ESPN after the match. “We showed tremendous attitude, tremendous willingness to sacrifice for one another … I’ve got to applaud my teammates. It’s a great group of guys, and we couldn’t have asked for any better.”

This was just the second time the United States earned a point in 15 World Cup qualifiers in Mexico; the U.S. record there now is 0-13-2.

U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann made just two changes form the team that stamped “mission accomplished” across last Friday’s snowy proceedings outside Denver. Maurice Edu was in for the injured Jermaine Jones at the holding midfield spot. And Matt Besler got his first World Cup qualifier start for Clarence Goodson, who picked up a minor injury in Friday’s 1-0 win over Costa Rica.

Mexico’s plan was clear – and it was causing some U.S. defensive headaches early. El Tri looked for Gio Dos Santos or Javier Aquino on the right or Andrés Guardado on the left with diagonal balls, repeatedly catching the U.S. fullbacks a little too far forward.

(MORE: Mexico left to deal with their own crisis)

DaMarcus Beasley looked particularly bothered, reinforcing the worry that the veteran midfielder, pulling emergency left back duty, would be stretched in a match that demanded more defending. Indeed, Mexico at Azteca is a wholly different beast than what Beasley saw Friday at home against Costa Rica.

Two U.S. men had yellow cards in the first 20 minutes. In fact, Beasley needed just eight minutes to get his booking for an unwise push in the back on Aquino.

Those weren’t the only defensive issues early. Jesus Zavala was allowed a wide open header off a free kick, as Geoff Cameron appeared to lose his man. And the United States’ midfield was allowing too much service from 35-40 yards out, begging for trouble with a goal-scorer of supreme instinct like Hernandez is around.

But a defensive tweak helped as what looked like a 4-2-3-1 to begin Tuesday’s contest evolved necessarily into more of a 4-4-2. When Graham Zusi and Herculez Gomez moved their starting positions along the flanks about 10-15 yards back, providing more assistance to their fullbacks, the Mexicans looked slightly less dangerous.

(MORE:  A big point in Mexico City took a bit of  luck, too)

Mexico, running out of ideas, became predictable. They remained dangerous on the flanks, but Besler and especially Omar Gonzalez remained faithfully in the center, refusing to be drawn out, and were so dominant in there. Cameron also did solid work in his second consecutive start at right back.

“‘The back line was outstanding,” Klinsmann said. “It’s really wonderful to see these guys take on these challenges. And it’s a huge challenge in front of 100,000 people, and it seemed like it didn’t bother them.”

Mexican fans will surely be upset about the most dangerous moment for their team, which has not scored at home so far in two final round qualifiers. El Tri was unlucky to be denied a 75th minute penalty appeal when Edu bundled into Aquino from behind 10 yards from goal.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.

VIDEO: Gerrard’s juggle and finish leads Liverpool legends past Real Madrid

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Scoring at Anfield doesn’t get old, especially when your name is Steven Gerrard.

The English midfielder was playing in a friendly match between Liverpool and Real Madrid “legends” on Sunday, when he delivered this tasty goal (and assists to Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, and John Aldridge).

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

Gerrard redirects a cross over a lunging defender and into a place where he can lash a goal home to put the Reds up 4-0. He dedicated his Man of the Match performance to club legend Ronnie Moran, who died earlier this week.

Real’s comeback came up just short in a 4-3 final, with Fernando Morientes, Ruben de la Red, and Edwin Congo scoring for the visitors.

On a Sunday waiting for the international matches to begin, Gerrard supplies a nice highlight for the rest of us (Extended highlights free on Liverpool’s site).

Ozil bristles at talk of Arsenal selling him

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Mesut Ozil is on international break, and bristling at reports that Arsenal is going to sell him.

The midfielder’s absence from the lineup last week had plenty speculating on his future, even more than usual. His contract expires in 2018, and several reports claimed he’d join Alexis Sanchez as players destined for elsewhere.

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

Ozil was not called up by Germany, and has missed four of his last nine Premier League matches. Three of those were for illness, and he missed last week’s loss to West Brom with a hamstring injury.

From Metro:

“And you think Wenger tells the journalist before he tells me? Then I know him differently,” Ozil told German outlet Welt.

“I have a contract until 2018 in London and I feel very comfortable there. We’ll talk soon and then make a decision.”

Metro notes that Ozil also said he wants to win the Champions League, something that can only happen with Arsenal remaining in the Top Four. We suppose you could make snarky inferences from his “comfortable in London” phrasing, but we’ll leave it there.