Italy's Sebastian Giovinco scores the winning goal during their Confederations Cup Group A soccer match against Japan at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife

Get to your DVRs as soon as possible, because that Italy-Japan match was a classic


Take an aging team, fly them half-way across the world, and ask them to play on short rest. On the other side, put a set of highly skilled, tactically adept players who’re more than willing to run all day. On the surface, it sounds like a mismatch, but when you one team’s Italy and the other’s Japan, it turns into a formula for fireworks.

And that’s exactly what happened today in Recife, where Italy scored last to claim three points in a 4-3 shootout that could have just as easily seen the Samurai Blue salvage their Confederations Cup hopes. But after a match with seven different goal scorers and 37 shots, Japan was cast aside with Mexico, both teams at the bottom of Group A after losing their first two matches. Italy move top of the group with Brazil, each team’s 2-0-0 record assuring them a place in the semifinals.

It was easily the most-entertaining match of the young tournament, one that challenged memories to find a more engaging, top-quality competitive international in recent time. Amid early Japanese dominance, Italy’s second half resurgence, Japan’s late push, and the Azzurri’s countering winner, controversial officiating and the woodwork’s intervention may have ended any debate as to why we have the Confederations Cup.

The Japanese thoroughly controlled the first 35 minutes, finally going ahead through Keisuke Honda, who converted from the spot after a fortuitous call gave Japan a 21st minute reward for their early dominance. A beautiful Shinji Kagawa pivot on a bouncing ball 12 minutes later saw the Manchester United star volley a second past Gianluigi Buffon, leaving Italy overwhelmed while the underdogs assumed control:


A late first half header from Daniele de Rossi made it a game before half time, with Italy building on their momentum with early second half goals from Atsuto Uchida (own goal) and Mario Balotelli. The latter, a penalty kick conversation, came after a disputed hand ball call, Japan’s luck seemingly evening out after an innocuous Buffon tackle was deemed penalty-worthy in the first half.

Over the match’s last half hour, Japan resumed the dominance they showed at the onset, a tired Italian side strained to preserve a result after Shinji Okazaki’s header made it 3-3. But as Japan pressed for a winner, Okazaki and Kagawa finding the post and crossbar as Buffon flailed at Japan’s salvos, Italy found a single, trademark, decisive moment, a rare moment of attacking verve allowing Sebastian Giovinco to slot home the winner in the 86th minute.


Japan had a final equalizer rightly waved off for offside, but the final scorer proved beside the point once full time was blown. Particularly in tournament like the Confederations Cup, there have to be more important things than the final score. On Wednesday, the spectacle on display at the Pernambuco Arena was enough to justify any match, tournament, or outcome. And wherever that magic came from, find it, save it, and be ready to give us more.

FOLLOW LIVE: 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, center, is congratulated by teammates, including midfielder Roger Espinoza (27), following his goal during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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The knockout round of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs concludes on Thursday, as four teams vie for the final two places — one in the Eastern Conference, one in the Western Conference — in the conference semifinals, which begin on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round ]

Up first, the East’s fourth-seeded D.C. United welcome the five-seed Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium for the two sides’ third meeting of the 2016 season. Each of the year’s first two clashes finished a 1-1 draw, in July and August. Didier Drogba is expected to be unavailable for the win-or-go-home tie. United finished the regular season with four wins in the last five games, while the Impact won just two of their last eight.

[ MORE: Preivewing Thursday night’s knockout-round games ]

In the nightcap, the West’s fourth-seeded Seattle Sounders will take on the five-side, Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink Field. Sporting were victorious in both regular-season meetings this year — 1-0 on opening day, and 3-0 in late-July, the day the Sounders essentially quit on Sigi Schmid. Since that blistering hot day in KC, the Soudners have lost just twice in 14 games (eight wins, four draws).

Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs schedule

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET

Cristiano Ronaldo says Ashley Cole is the toughest player he faced

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Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.

He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.

According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.

[ MORE: VIDEO: Incredible Pelle goal in China ]

“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”

During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.

It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.

Phil Neville praises Juan Mata’s play to Manchester United

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Juan Mata has appeared in 116 matches for Manchester United since moving to Old Trafford in 2014. In that time, Mata has scored 29 goals and recorded 18 assists.

Despite his performance for the team, some thought Mata would be moved when Jose Mourinho came to town, including former United player and assistant coach Phil Neville.

Neville told Sky Sports, “I actually thought he would be the first out of the door when Jose came, but he’s actually becoming one of the most important players.”

Neville praised Mata’s contributions and versatility for United. “He is never injured, he provides a lot of assists, he plays in two or three different positions, and he scores important goals.”

Manchester United has lacked an identity under Mourinho and recently faltered in the Premier League as the team is winless in its last three matches.

[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]

Could Mata be the answer to some of United’s problems?

The Spaniard is a classic No. 10 with the ability to dictate his team’s attack and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Mata can also put the ball in the back of the net as evidenced by his winner against Manchester City in the EFL Cup.

Mourinho has options in the center midfield with the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in addition to Mata on the roster.

However, given the team’s Premier League struggles, it could be worth giving Mata a chance as the team’s No. 10.

David Moyes faces FA charges after being sent off during EFL Cup

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David Moyes and Sunderland have gotten off to one of the worst starts in Premier League history.

If they fail to earn a point against Arsenal this weekend, they will tie the 1995-96 Manchester City team for the worst start ever through 10 matches with two points.

It appears those frustrations carried over to the EFL Cup for Moyes. On Wednesday, the manager was forced to leave the dugout toward the end of Sunderland’s 1-0 loss to Southampton after he protested a no-call from referee Chris Kavanagh.

Moyes was charged by the FA for his protests, saying the manager “used abusive and/or insulting words towards a match official”.

It’s just another thing to add to Moyes’ plate as he looks to keep Sunderland’s hopes of safety alive in the Premier League.