Monterrey’s stunning comeback makes it three straight CCL titles

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When Santos Laguna went up 2-0 after 50 minutes the CONCACAF Champions League title looked to be heading the way of Herculez Gomez and company. But in the final 30 minutes Monterrey exploded for four goals to snatch victory from the hands of their Mexican neighbor.

It was a display for the ages for the Rayados, whose spectacular comeback showed why they came into the match as the tournament’s two-time defending champions. Victor Manuel Vucetich’s side began the game very much in control but Darwin Quintero’s 37th minute goal from five yards out handed the Guerreros a 1-0 lead. Five minutes after the break Santos doubled its tally through Panamanian defender Felipe Baloy, who headed Osmar Mares’ corner into the side netting.

While Santos were dreaming of champagne celebrations, Monterrey had other ideas and their sustained pressure finally paid off in the 59th minute. Jesus Corona collected the ball on the right side and took his space with pleasure, driving down the field and crossing into the path of Aldo de Nigris, who cracked a one-time left-footed shot into the bottom corner.

With Guadalajara’s Estadio Tecnológico shaking under a vociferous crowd the Rayados found their equalizer in the 84th minute. Humberto Suazo’s corner kick was skimmed out to the top of the box where an unmarked Neri Cardozo hit a low burner that Oswaldo Sanchez was late getting down on. It was a decent shot but one where the defense and goalkeeper should have done better.

The leveler gave Monterrey plenty of momentum but still left Vucetich’s side down on away goals, forcing them to press on. Three minutes later the do-it-all Suazo dropped back to take a set piece play from 45 yards out and served a perfect ball into the box and onto the head of de Nigris, who re-directed it into the bottom corner for his brace.

Down 3-2, Santos barreled forward in search of the goal that would’ve brought the score level but it wasn’t to be as Pedro Caixinha’s side were caught stretched in stoppage time. Jesus Zavala collected the ball just inside midfield and tore into the Santos box, slipping a delightful pass under the onrushing Sanchez for Suazo to thump home. It was justice served for the Chilean striker, who had been heavily involved in the Monterrey attack throughout the entire 90 minutes.

For Santos, it was a crushing blow but one that on the balance of play, seemed a fair result. With the victory, the Rayados will represent the CONCACAF region at the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco in December.

For U.S. international Herculez Gomez, it was a night of missed touches and, arguably, missed calls. Despite playing a vital role in Santos’ run to the finals, he was omitted from his side’s Starting XI and had to wait until the 63rd minute to enter the match. Inserted as a left midfielder, Gomez’ role was primarily defensive as Santos tried to preserve its lead. The 31 year old was his typical hard-working self, lacing two shots off target while earning a caution for some feisty play. Gomez almost earned his club a breakthrough in the 90th minute as he laid claim for a penalty but referee Marco Rodriguez wasn’t interested.

In the end it was disappointment for the American, who has recently been linked to a transfer back to MLS where he could star for either Toronto FC or Seattle, possible in a Designated Player role.

Netherlands manager Danny Blind fired after Bulgaria loss

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The Netherlands are in real trouble, and the manager has paid the price.

The Dutch national team has parted ways with Danny Blind the day after a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria left the Dutch fourth in their World Cup qualification group halfway through.

The move garnering all the headlines from Saturday’s loss was Blind’s decision to start 17-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt. The Ajax youth product, who has just two Eredivisie starts to his credit, made two crucial errors and yanked at halftime, but the damage had been done. Spas Delev scored twice in the opening 20 minutes for Bulgaria, and that was all the home side needed as the Dutch offered little in front of goal.

Blind was also criticized for not getting Memphis Depay on the field as they chased the game. The Netherlands held 74% possession, but could only manage 3 shots on target. Depay has been in good form since his January move to Lyon, with five goals in his 10 Ligue 1 appearances.

This decision was something Blind saw coming. He told national broadcaster NOS immediately after the Bulgaria loss, “I blame myself. It can’t go on like this. Things have to change.”

“I need to think about [my future]. I do not throw the towel in here. I’m incredibly disappointed, especially since I had a good feeling about this match. It makes sense that I put myself in front of the mirror.”

However, the problems for the Dutch go far deeper than Danny Blind. They missed out on Euro 2016 largely thanks to the failed 2nd tenure for Guus Hiddink. His assistant Blind took over, but the results have been equally as poor. The Netherlands sit fourth in UEFA World Cup qualification Group A, with losses to Bulgaria and France plus a draw with Sweden. It’s not over for them though, as they sit three points back of a second place spot with five matches to go, and three of those five at home.

With the Netherlands still yet to play their friendly against Italy this coming week, former goalkeeper Fred Grim takes over on an interim basis. Grim collected 101 caps for the Netherlands, and has served as the Netherlands U-21 manager for the last two years. Before that, he took charge of his first full managerial job as head man of Dutch 2nd-tier club Almere City.

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.

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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.

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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).

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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).