What we learned from Tuesday’s U.S. win over Panama

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The United States is in fabulous shape: Jurgen Klinsmann’s team is top of the group, two points ahead of Mexico, never mind that El Tri has played an extra match. By this time next week, the United States can have one leg and a couple of arms already in Brazil. Because a win over Honduras next week in Salt Lake City will see the Americans with 13 points with four matches remaining – and it probably takes 14 or 15 points to book an automatic spot into Brazil.

The crowd got it right chanting “We’re going to Brazil!” after Tuesday’s second goal.

For the record, this will be the seventh in a row.

Dominant win, you asked for … ?: For everyone somehow not satisfied with last week’s win on the road – and fans, whether they like it or not, should always be satisfied with any win on the road in World Cup qualifying – well, here it was.

Tim Howard had just a few routine catches and one traffic-impaired punch before a stoppage time moment called on him to hurry off his line for a swell save. The United States midfield bossed things all night. This one was quite comfortable.

(One word of contextual warning: All credit to the U.S. midfield, every member of which had a night to remember, but Panama’s midfield is weak. If Tuesday’s visitors arrive into their first World Cup, and they may, it will be on the strength of their center backs and strikers, mostly Blas Perez, who was missing Tuesday.

(MORE: U.S. player ratings vs. Panama)

Klinsmann nailed it with his changes: Needing to find replacements for the suspended Graham Zusi and injured Jermaine Jones, Klinsmann couldn’t have done much better. Eddie Johnson filled in along the right (for Zusi), working the position simply and effectively, picking his spots to take on defenders – letting the game come to him, as they say, rather than trying to do too much. Then, he got the big second half insurance goal in front of the home fans.

And about that goal, what made it was Geoff Cameron’s pinpoint ball over about 40 yards. Cameron was Jones’ replacement, and a bit of an unconventional one. He has played centrally in midfield before, but that was back in his Houston Dynamo days. He was a right back for Stoke City this year. Furthermore … well, just keep reading …

Cameron just booked his spot for Brazil: Assuming good health, and assuming the United States keeps on keeping on, Geoff Cameron will be in the 23 when Klinsmann fills out the roster next May. Are you kidding me? A guy who be effective at three positions: center back, right back and holding mid? (And he could probably play right mid, as well.) Yes. You take that man to a World Cup.

Jozy Altidore makes more money every time he steps on the field now: Cameron was quite good Tuesday. Michael Bradley was Michael Bradley, the brains of the team, always a willing outlet, always wise with the ball. But my Man of the Match was Jozy Altidore.

What a complete game, technical in his touches, diligent in chasing and harassing and clever in his positioning. Altidore has scored in three consecutive matches now – and how far, far, far away does that long goalless drought with the national team seem now? If his huge season at AZ wasn’t enough to draw interest from bigger clubs (and it was) then his summer with the national team will put the cherry on this transfer sundae.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.