Goal, assist from Neymar give Brazil win, prolong Mexico’s woes

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Bookends of brilliance from the Confederations Cup’s most talked-about player defined today’s first match in Brazil, with Neymar’s early goal and late, defense-breaking assist giving the host nation a 2-0 win over Mexico.

Barcelona’s newest star opened the scoring in the ninth minute when a failed clearance from Maza Rodríguez fell on his left foot, the resulting volley blasted past Jose de Jesus Corona for the game’s opening goal. While the ensuing 80 minutes saw Mexico play their hosts on even footing, Neymar ended all doubts in stoppage time, when a dribble that split Hiram Mier and Rodríguez in the left of El Tri’s penalty area allowed him to pick out Jo for an easy, game-clinching goal.

The performance served as a 90-minute crash course in the 21-year-old’s game. His precise finish buried a shot many would have wasted, his unexpected chance met with the calm and precision of a player who already has 22 international goals. While much of the rest of the match saw few returns from a scheme that allowed Neymar free run of Brazil’s left side, he was eventually able to create Brazil’s icing goal, his break down of Mier showing the danger he presents in any one-on-one scenario.

Here’s the first goal:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4S2w7VfkWg]

And the second:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsXFMQQsZ7E]

Neymar’s game may not be an all-around one, but in its marvelous spurts of indefensible skill, his talents often prove lethal for opponents. It’s a quality that will give Barcelona a needed second option next season. It also give Brazil a change to transcend their recent, indifferent results and become a legitimate, Spain-threatening dark horse over the next two weeks.

The win leaves Brazil at the top of their Confederations Cup group, two wins in as many games leaving them temporarily three points clear of Italy in Group A. The Italians play Japan in the day’s second game. Should Cesare Prandelli’s team claim at least one point, Mexico will be eliminated from the tournament.

That quick resolution would  a pitter pill for a Mexico team that has improved over fledgling play that’s left them third in the World Cup qualifying group, but unable to turn possession into goals against Brazil, the team’s problems remain the same. For all of their quality — a golden generation of young talent that should see them consistently compete with the world’s most renown soccer nations — Mexico can’t seem to find goal. Arguably more worrisome: Head coach Chepo de la Torre seems out of ideas as to how El Tri can get over their hump.

There were undoubtedly positives to take from today’s game, but against a team still trying to find their identity under Luiz Felipe Scolari, moral victories are insufficient. El Tri, for all their positives, were less effective against the Seleçao than England had been earlier this month, a comparison that highlights how far Mexico has drifted. Whereas over the last two years they’ve claimed a dominant Gold Cup title and an Olympic gold medal — results that had fans wondering if 2014 could give the nation a long-awaited World Cup breakthrough — soon the Seleccíon will left to consider drastic steps to get their team’s ambitions back on track.

Bayern signs Germany midfielder Goretzka from rival Schalke

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich signed Germany midfielder Leon Goretzka on Friday on a free transfer from Bundesliga rival Schalke effective from next season.

Bayern said the 22-year-old Goretzka signed a four-year deal from July 1 through June 2022.

Schalke, which Goretzka joined in 2013 from hometown club Bochum, said the player informed the club this week of his wish to join Bayern when his contract expired.

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“We think we did everything in the last months to convince Leon to stay with us,” Schalke sporting director Christian Heidel said. “In the end, it wasn’t enough.”

Schalke had long been engaged in trying to get Goretzka to extend his contract, but was aware of reported interest from Bayern, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Liverpool.

“We’re very happy that Leon Goretzka, a German international with big potential, has decided in favor of Bayern despite big-name international competitors. This way it’s ensured that Leon Goretzka remains in the Bundesliga,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said.

Goretzka scored 19 goals and set up 13 more in 130 appearances for Schalke.

The club had previously expressed its displeasure with Bayern making public statements about its player after Goretzka was praised by sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic and coach Jupp Heynckes.

Heidel said “we don’t need to hear every day from the Munich people how good our player is.”

Goretzka has six goals in 12 games for Germany.

Pele hospitalized overnight in Brazil

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The most famous soccer player in the world had a scare last night as he was hospitalized in Brazil for “severe exhaustion.”

Pele, 77, was set to travel to London this weekend to be honored by the Football Writers Association, though it looks like that trip has now been postponed.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, Pele collapsed and was taken to a hospital in Brazil where he has undergone a series of tests which appear to point to severe exhaustion,” a FWA statement said. “He remains on fluids while doctors monitor his recovery.

“Thankfully, there is no suggestion of anything more serious than exhaustion.”

Here’s to hoping Pele makes a full recovery.

[MORE: USMNT centerback heads to Championship club]

USMNT centerback Carter-Vickers heads to Ipswich Town on loan

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Cameron Carter-Vickers has a new club to call home for the next five months or so after a rough first half of the season.

Tottenham announced Friday morning that it had loaned the U.S. Men’s National Team centerback to Championship club Ipswich Town for the rest of the season. Carter-Vickers spent the first five months of the season at fellow Championship side Sheffield United, starting 17 times though he struggled recently as Sheffield won just one game he played in during the month of December, losing three and drawing one.

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Carter-Vickers was then recalled earlier this week and now has a new home with a mid-table Championship club, with a new chance to impress. Hopefully Carter-Vickers can recover his form and continue to grow, potentially latching on to another Premier League side next year or breaking into the Tottenham first team.

There’s another interesting American tie-in to this. Carter-Vickers appears to be a short-term replacement for Ipswich Town’s Tommy Smith, who the club states is headed to join the Colorado Rapids ahead of the 2018 MLS season.

Sanchez, Mkhitaryan transfer still up in the air

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The player-swap/trade/transfer between Arsenal and Manchester United still appears to be heading towards completion, but it was further delayed Friday.

Multiple reports in England state that while Alexis Sanchez seems set to move to Manchester United, Henrik Mkhitaryan has yet to agree to move the other way, as talks between the player’s agent and Arsenal continue. Mkhitaryan was seen training at Manchester United’s practice facility on Friday, and because the latest delay, both players would be unable to debut for their new teams this weekend after missing the Premier League registration deadline.

[MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks]

Arsenal hosts Crystal Palace Manchester United travels to Burnley, both on Saturday at 10 a.m. (Watch Arsenal live on CNBC, Manchester United live on NBCSN, and both live on NBCSports.com)

The London Evening Standard reports that Mkhitaryan would command a $242,000-per-week salary but that as of Friday morning he had yet to undergo a medical for the transfer. Arsenal reportedly still wants a transfer fee included for Sanchez, while Manchester United would prefer to just swap the two players.

It’s also looking as if that won’t be Arsenal’s only business in the transfer market. While it seemed like a far-fetched rumor at first, the links between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Arsenal have only grown stronger in the past few days, and the Gabon international appears to be in the Gunners sights. It appears that Bordeaux’s young striker Malcolm is now off the table.