FBL-WC2014-CONFED-BRA-MEX

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.

Bremen beats Wolfsburg to leave Bundesliga relegation zone

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Serge Gnabry of Germany reacts during the Men's First Round Football Group C match between Germany and Fiji at Mineirao Stadium on August 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored twice as Werder Bremen moved away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone with a 2-1 win at fellow struggler Wolfsburg on Friday.

Bremen and Wolfsburg are level on points and two above Hamburger SV, which is in 18th place and in the relegation zone.

It was a fifth defeat in six games for Wolfsburg coach Valerien Ismael, who won the league and cup double as a player with Bremen in 2004.

Gnabry fired the visitors ahead with a deflected shot in the 10th minute and made it 2-0 eight minutes later, controlling the ball with his chest before prodding home on the volley.

Striker Borja Mayoral, who is on loan from Real Madrid, scored with his chest following a Wolfsburg corner as Wolfsburg hit back moments later.

Midfielder Daniel Didavi struck the post with a free kick as Wolfsburg kept pushing for an equalizer.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.