Belgians pick apart U.S. defense, roll to easy win in Cleveland

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Combine the promise of a young and emerging Belgian national team with a disorganized United States defense and you get Wednesday’s result. Taking the lead in the seventh minute before scoring three times in the second half, Belgium saw goals from Kevin Mirallas, Marouane Fellaini, and two from Christian Benteke defeat the U.S., the 4-2 final understating the extent to which the Belgians controlled the match.

The visitors out-shot the U.S. 10-3, including 8-2 advantage in shots on goals. Before their final, 71st minute goal, Belgium rarely allowed the U.S. enough positive possession to penetrate their attacking third, with the game’s final 20 minutes seeing a resurgent U.S. battle back amid the disappointment of a match that was prematurely settled.

The night got off to a bad start for the U.S., who gave up a goal inside seven minutes. Belgian attacker Kevin De Bruyne, with no pressure on him at the edge of the attacking third, played onto his right foot from the left flank ahead of a through ball into Tim Howard’s area. The Everton star charged off his line but couldn’t get to De Bruyne’s pass ahead of Romelu Lukaku, who had blown past a U.S. defense frozen, assuming Howard would collect the ball. Lukaku’s poke ended up ricocheting to Kevin Mirallas, the defense failing to get back before Howard’s club teammate chipped home the opener from just inside the 18-yard box.

Over the next 20 minutes, Belgium retained control of play but not the score, with the U.S. equalizing in the 23rd minute off a corner kick. A restart initially played short was crossed far post for Clint Dempsey, who’d won space from Vincent Kompany, allowing him to head the ball back toward the left post.  Geoff Cameron had gotten a step on Jan Vertonghen and, partially making up for his part in the preceding goal, headed home to made it 1-1.

(MORE: Breaking down Wednesday’s defensive breakdowns for the United States)

It was the U.S.’s only shot on goal of the half. Belgium, conversely, recorded five shots, three of which tested Howard, though one of the biggest threats, a ball from Lukaku that ended up in the back of the net in the 27th minute, was waved off for offside.

Another strong Lukaku chance, blasted toward Howard’s right post from inside the arc, was pushed wide in the 40th minute, allowing the teams to go into halftime tied, 1-1.

Whereas the Belgians had brought on Sebastien Pocognoli (for Thomas Vermaelen) and Christian Benteke (for Moussa Dembele) in the first half, Jurgen Klinsmann waited until after halftime to make his first changes. Brad Guzan and Eddie Johnson were brought on, with Howard and Jozy Altidore giving way.

Over the first 10 minutes of the second half, the U.S. had appeared to pick up their intensity in defensive. Then a through ball for Benteke to the middle of the U.S. area was cleared weakly by Omar Gonzalez into the right of the States’ area. De Bruyne got to the ball and touched it back toward Benteke, who Gonzalez has left to pursue the errant clearance. Benteke’s one-time shot from just outside the six-yard box put Belgium back in front, 2-1.

In the 64th minute, after Klinsmann had brought on Terrence Boyd for Brad Davis, a long ball played through a high U.S. line allowed Lukaku a shot from 16 yards out, a try that was pushed out at the near post. Off the resulting corner, the second ball in was sent far post for Marouane Fellaini, whose sharp-angle header down at the left post beat Guzan to give Belgium a 3-1 lead.

Seven minutes later, after Brad Evans had been brought on for Graham Zusi, Benteke got behind the U.S. defense to chip a bouncing ball over the oncoming Guzan. The Aston Villa star’s sixth international goal put the visitors up, 4-1.

In the 80th minute, a handball called on Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld on an Eddie Johnson cross allowed Clint Dempsey to convert from the spot. His 10th goal in his last 13 international appearances pulled the U.S. within two.

It would be the last chance of the night for the U.S., a team that struggled to muster a consistent threat against the high-powered Belgians. The visitors, on the other hand, saw little resistance through midfield, with long passes through the U.S. defense taking advantage of a unit that lacked organization.

Barcelona defends Messi over “unfair” suspension

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi’s four-match international suspension for insulting a linesman was “unfair and totally disproportionate.”

[ MORE: Messi handed ban by FIFA ]

Barcelona released a statement Wednesday expressing “its surprise and indignation” with FIFA’s decision to sideline the playmaker for so long following the incident in Argentina’s win over Chile in World Cup qualifying last week.

The punishment was announced before Argentina lost at Bolivia 2-0 Tuesday, a result that left the two-time champions at risk of not qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

Barcelona says it “wishes to reiterate its support for Leo Messi, an exemplary player in terms of conduct both on and off the field.”

Pending an appeal, Messi will only be available to play in Argentina’s final qualifier, on Oct. 10 against Ecuador.

World Cup hopes back on track: What next for USMNT?

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After a four-point haul over the past week in their two crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers, the U.S. national team is back on track and heading in the right direction.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news ]

Bruce Arena led the USMNT to a thumping 6-0 win over Honduras last Friday and then a gutsy 1-1 draw in Panama on Tuesday in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, as the Hexagonal standings will now look a lot better to U.S. fans who saw their team sitting bottom of the pile for the past four months following defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica which cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job.

So, the “Road to Russia” is looking a little less daunting for the U.S. but there are still tough tests ahead in the months to come in World Cup qualifying as well as a Gold Cup campaign on home soil in July.

First let’s look at the standings in the Hex. Ah, that’s better but things are now very tight aside from Mexico running away with things.

With six games to go the U.S. currently occupies the play-off spot as the top three teams in the Hex standings will qualify automatically for the World Cup and the fourth-place team has to play against the fifth-place team from qualifying in the Asian Football Confederation region.


Mexico — 10 points (+4 GD)
Costa Rica — 7 points (+4)
Panama — 5 points (0)
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USA — 4 points (+1)
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Honduras — 4 points (-5)
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points (-4)


And these are the USA’s six remaining qualifiers as they aim to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

June 8: vs. Trinidad and Tobago
June 11: at Mexico
September 1: vs. Costa Rica
September 5: at Honduras
October 6: vs. Panama
October 10: at Trinidad and Tobago

The first three games at crucial. If the U.S. manages to get seven points from those three matches, that’s magical. Even six points by beating T&T and Costa Rica on home soil would be superb. Yet, if the U.S. drops points to one or both of T&T and Costa Rica, that puts so much pressure on themselves to pick up wins on the road at Honduras and T&T in two of their final three qualifiers. That would not be an ideal scenario.

Still, heading into the past week the aim for the U.S. was to get back on track in qualifying and give themselves a chance of making the 2018 World Cup. They’ve done that. Now, the hard work begins.

Chelsea chase Alexis Sanchez; Man United want Dier

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The summer transfer rumors are heating up long before the heat of summer arrives…

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

On Wednesday it is being claimed by the Guardian that Alexis Sanchez has become Chelsea’s “No.1 target this summer” as the Arsenal and Chile forward has yet to sign a new deal with the Gunners.

Per the report, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has drafted up a shortlist of the players he wants to sign this summer and Sanchez is at the top of the Italian managers wishlist as he is also close to signing a new deal at Stamford Bridge.

Sanchez, 28, has a deal at Arsenal until the summer of 2018 but if the north London club fails to agree a new deal with him this summer (as well as Mesut Ozil and Arsene Wenger, but that’s another story…) then they’ll have to sell him on or risk losing him for nothing as a free agent next season.

The striker scored twice for Chile in their 2018 World Cup qualifying win over Venezuela on Tuesday and has been essential all season long to Arsenal, scoring 18 goals and adding nine assists after playing through the middle on his own for much of the campaign.

Would Arsenal really sell Sanchez to a PL rival? It wouldn’t be ideal but it’s not like they haven’t done that in the past. Think of Robin Van Persie, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy.

The thought of Sanchez on one wing with Diego Costa up top and Eden Hazard on the other wing at Chelsea should be enough to get Arsenal to offer their star man whatever cash he wants — the report states he wants $310,000 a week which would almost double his current $160,000 a week salary — when they sit down to discuss the new deal at the end of this season.


Elsewhere in north London, Tottenham Hotspur’s versatile defender Eric Dier has been linked with a $50 million move to Manchester United this summer.

According to Neil Ashton of the Sun, Dier, 23, is being lined up to replace Michael Carrick in the holding midfield role at United.

Now, Tottenham are notoriously tough to do business with and chairman Daniel Levy will not want to lose one of his top prospects and an England international to a direct rival in the Premier League.

That said, Dier has been used in multiple positions by Spurs this season and Mauricio Pochettino appears to prefer Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele as the holding midfielders and the emergence of Harry Winks has seen Dier’s importance questioned by some.

The fact that Dier can play in holding midfield or anywhere across the back line will also suit Moruinho who likes to have a smaller squad to work with and per the report the Portuguese boss has been a long-time admirer of Dier. His power to break up the play and also use he ball safely could work very well alongside Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera.

PHOTOS: Bizarre Cristiano Ronaldo statue unveiled

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Hang on, is that really meant to be Cristiano Ronaldo?

On Wednesday the Portugal and Real Madrid legend had Madeira Airport named after him just outside his hometown of Funchal and during the ceremony a bust of his head was put on show.

Except, it looked horrendous…

Take a look for yourself in the photos below. See.