Jozy Altidore to the U.S. rescue! And there is a lot of that going around lately

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SANDY, Utah – Feel free to ask yourself at this point: where would the United States be in World Cup qualifying without Jozy Altidore?

Probably in OK shape. Possibly even in good shape. But probably not in out-of-this-world, super-model shape.

The man has scored in four consecutive matches, hitting important goals in each one, like the first goal in that game-changing win over Jamaica two weeks back.

And, of course, it was the Alkmaar man to the rescue once again on Tuesday at Rio Tinto Stadium, where the United States needed most of the match to finally break through against a well-drilled, well-positioned and very stubborn visitor.

As I said in the player ratings from Tuesday, there wasn’t much room between Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares and the far post on the young striker’s latest massive goal. That was yet another quality finish in a big string of them, not surprising considering Altidore did it 31 times for his Dutch club over the last 10 months.

It really is in stark contrast to the previous months, when Altidore just could not shake a scoreless skid that stretched to 22 matches with the national team.

“To be honest, I wasn’t really worried by it at all,” he said, breaking a self-imposed media silence. “Last cycle, I was there for the team. If we continue to create chances and continue to be aggressive, we’re always going to be successful.”

Altidore has scored in four consecutive American matches, quite the rarity around U.S. Soccer. In fact, only five other United States players have struck in a consecutive foursome. He joins William Looby (from way back in the day), Eric Wynalda, Brian McBride, Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan (who did it twice).

(MORE: What we learned from the U.S. win Tuesday)

It all started with that expertly struck goal against Germany, and now Altidore has scored in three consecutive qualifiers, leaving the United States in such enviable position heading into three months of down time before final stage qualifying in the region resumes.

U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann said it isn’t just the goals that mean so much to the team right now.

“All the work that he does for the team is so important, how he does the high pressure that we would like to play,” Klinsmann said. “The way he chases down defenders and wins balls back for us. All that energy is very important for the team.”

But a lot of men could do the work; it’s never hard to find a grinder. A grinder who can score? That man is worth his weight in Brazilian World Cup gold.

We can analyze the heck out of these games, banging on about creative influences and formations and why things do or don’t work. But in so many ways, it comes down to having one confident goal-getter who is reliably pushing balls past opposing goalkeepers. That’s Altidore at the moment — and it means so very much in this ongoing drive for Brazil 2014.

Altidore attempted to keep the comments centered around the team.

“I think for everybody, the results speak for themselves,” he said. “I think everybody was so comfortable with each other. I mean just from the back, less long balls. Everybody tried to play more controlled balls. We tried to find a solution and that was huge because it gave us the goal.”

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”