Belgium v United States

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.

VIDEO: Man United’s Marcus Rashford scores 3 minutes into his England debut

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - MAY 26:  Marcus Rashford of England arrives at the team hotel on the eve of their international friendly against Australia at the Hilton Gateshead on May 26, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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12 months ago Nine months ago Six months ago Three months ago, if anyone asked you, “who is Marcus Rashford?” you, just like me, probably would have responded as such: “I haven’t a clue. Should I know who he is?”

[ MORE: Man United confirm Mourinho as new manager ]

Stars are, of course, born overnight in the sports world, and the 18-year-old Manchester United striker, who spent 12 years with the club’s youth academy, is just the latest example. On Feb. 25, he made his first-team debut and scored twice in the Europa League. Three days later, he made his Premier League debut, again scoring twice.

[ MORE: Mourinho — “I prefer to forget the last three years at United” ]

Fast forward to Friday, and Rashford is a fully-fledged England international. In keeping up with the theme of his other debuts this season, he marked his international debut with a goal against Australia after just three minutes of play at the Stadium of Light.

It remains to be seen whether Rashford completes his hat trick of debut braces this year. We’ll update this post if he does so.

Croatia gets 2-match World Cup stadium ban for fascist chant

POZNAN, POLAND - JUNE 10:  Croatian fans light up flares during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C between Ireland and Croatia at The Municipal Stadium on June 10, 2012 in Poznan, Poland.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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ZURICH (AP) Croatia has been ordered to play two World Cup qualifying matches in empty stadiums for repeated cases of fans chanting fascist slogans.

FIFA fined the Croatian soccer federation 150,000 Swiss francs ($151,000), and ordered the stadium bans to take effect when Croatia hosts Turkey on Sept. 5 and Finland on Oct. 9.

Chile was also ordered to play one World Cup qualifier away from its national stadium over fans chanting anti-gay insults, FIFA said in disciplinary rulings announced Friday. FIFA also fined five Latin American soccer federations for “discriminatory and unsporting conduct by fans,” including anti-gay insults, at World Cup qualifiers.

[ MORE: USMNT-Bolivia preview | Castillo replaces Chandler ]

Croatia fans were guilty of discriminatory chants at friendlies against Israel and Hungary in March, FIFA said.

Croatia “had already been sanctioned for similar incidents by FIFA and UEFA” in previous seasons, the world soccer body said.

Before the 2014 World Cup, FIFA banned Croatia defender Josip Simunic for 10 matches for leading fans in a World War II-era chant used by the country’s then-puppet regime.

After incidents of anti-gay chants at the last World Cup in Brazil, FIFA has cracked down on insults aimed by Latin American fans at players on rival teams.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine UCL final ]

Chile cannot use its national stadium when it hosts Bolivia on Sept. 6 and must pay a fine of 30,000 Swiss francs ($30,250). A second stadium-ban sanction was deferred for a two-year probationary period.

In other sanctions for soccer federations, FIFA fined Honduras 40,000 Swiss francs ($40,300), Mexico and El Salvador 35,000 Swiss francs ($35,275) each, Paraguay 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,150), and Peru 15,000 Swiss francs ($15,115).

UEFA Champions League final preview — Madrid’s finest Real or Atleti?

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 27:  Diego Simeone head coach of Atletico Madrid looks on during an Atletico de Madrid training session on the eve of the UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 27, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final isn’t quite the unstoppable force against the immovable object — Real’s defense is good and Atleti has plenty of attacking intent — but it’s fair if you’re expecting the Madrid Derby final to be Diego Simeone’s diligent defenders attempting to counter Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid’s potent attack.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed ]

Simeone’s built his name on tight teamwork, and La Liga teams broke Atleti down a mere 18 times in 38 matches this season. Before you crow about the weakness of Spain’s top flight from top to bottom, Real only managed a single goal against Atleti in a 1-1 draw that came at the Vicente Calderon. Atleti triumphed 1-0 at the Bernabeu to take four of six points from their derby mates.

But this is the big one, and a rematch of the late thriller we saw in the 2014 final. That’s when Diego Godin’s 36th minute goal came within seconds of being the difference, only for Sergio Ramos to net in stoppage time and Real to score three goals in extra time for a 4-1 win.

[ MORE: Torres ready for “game of my life” ]

Ronaldo will be fine to go, which is obviously bad news for Atleti. While his goal at the end of the 2014 final was just chiseled-ab window dressing, he has scored in both of his UCL finals (He scored for Manchester United in the 26th minute of their 2008 defeat of Chelsea).

(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

The beauty of Atleti’s defense is how well it springs into the attack, with Godin and Filipe Luis both capable of providing offense.

But really, with respect to Gabi and Antoine Griezmann… that defense! Atleti allowed three goals in the group stage, and just seven across its 12 UCL matches.

How will Simeone aim to stop Real this time around? Will it be banks of four or five, with Torres and Griezmann waiting to strike on a fleet-footed counter? That could serve their disciplined unit well, but something tells me Simeone has something special cooked up for this much-anticipated rematch, and manager is a distinct edge for Atleti against a still-learning Zinedine Zidane.

As an aside, Griezmann has been fantastic, scoring 32 times this year with seven coming in the UCL. Torres is second in scoring, with 12.

Championship playoff preview: Sheffield Wednesday vs. Hull City

DERBY, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 14:  Eldin Jakupovic of Hull City celebrates as Andrew Robertson of Hull City scores their third goal during the Sky Bet Championship Play Off semi final first leg match between Derby County and Hull City at the iPro Stadium on May 14, 2016 in Derby, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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One is hoping to rejoin the Premier League at the first time of asking, while the other to see its first top flight action since 2000 with a win in Saturday’s promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

Hull City did not make the top flight from its inception in 1904 until winning the playoffs in 2008. Since, the Tigers have spent a pair of 2-season stints in the Premier League.

Sheffield Wednesday, for its part, spent nine seasons in the top tier from 1991-2000, but fell as low as League One in the 21st century before a run to the playoffs this season.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine UCL final ]

Hull’s stingy defense allowed 35 goals this season, tied for the second-best mark in the league, while scoring the fourth-most goals (69). The Tigers finished in fourth place to Wednesday’s sixth, and the sides drew 0-0 at Hull and 1-1 in the reverse fixture.

Uruguayan striker Abel Hernandez was far and away Hull’s most deadly scorer, notching 21 goals in the Championship this season, while Sam Clucas paced the club with 8 assists.

Wednesday’s scoring was paced by former Watford attacker Fernando Forestieri’s 15 goals. Veteran Gary Hooper added 13 for the Owls, who got a team-best eight assists from Ross Wallace.

It’s the “richest game in sports”, and kicks off at Noon ET Saturday.