United States player ratings vs. Honduras

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SANDY, Utah – How the United States men did individually in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Honduras at Rio Tinto Stadium:

GK Tim Howard (7): Was only asked to do something beyond routine when Andy Najar got loose late in the first half, parrying the Honduran blast, and in stoppage time in pushing away a ball with a heavy-impact collision surely coming. Otherwise, claimed a couple of potentially dicey, low crosses after the break and beyond that … just offered some pats on the back here  and there for the inexperienced center backs in front of him.

RB Brad Evans (5): As a stop-gap defender, the Seattle Sounders’ utility knife did fine once again. But there were definitely times when Evans needed to be more aggressive with the ball, to turn and take on a defender rather than playing balls safely rearward, to push further up the wing the way Fabian Johnson was on the other side. This is where Steve Cherundolo was so sorely missed – because the veteran right back would have been more comfortable in adding further push up the right side.

CB Omar Gonzalez (6): Still some wobbles here and there in his game, like the bad give-away that led to an early Honduran free kick in a spot where no team wants to face them. Afterward was happy to distribute with the safety cap on, so to speak, allowing Michael Bradley and Matt Besler to direct the chancy stuff the rest of the half. A couple of nice passes early in the second half seemed to restore confidence to his efforts out of the back.

CB Matt Besler (7): Sure-footed, confident clearances marked a very good night for the emerging U.S. international, who was better than his central partner in this one. (And some of those clearances were quite important ones, not the easiest to handle, either.) Easily the better passer of the two central stoppers. One hiccup was a big one, dispossessed by Andy Najar, and the former D.C. United midfielder got a good chance out of it.

LB Fabian Johnson (7): Once again tucked into the left back slot (for the suspended Damarcus Beasley), Johson may have been the top U.S. attacker in the first half, combining well with Eddie Johnson in front of him and delivering several well-placed balls into scoring areas. Honduras paid more attention to Johnson after the break, but he picked his spots and was dashing once again into position as Graham Zusi dummied Clint Dempsey’s through ball, leaving it for the U.S. left back to arrange a game-winner. Defensively he was solid, with just a couple of lost challenges.

MF Jermaine Jones (5): Jones has been sharper with the ball; a few too many forced efforts toward Clint Dempsey or Jozy Altidore marked this night. And giving up two free kicks in the defensive third could have turned to disaster. He did have his moments, like winning a bunch of midfield headers, and like a big 33rd-minute run through the heart of the Honduran defense.  That one earned the United States a dangerous free kick and saw the first visitor booked. Managed to keep his cool despite some rough stuff inside. And Tuesday saw a return to some of the old communication issues with Bradley, as in, who holds the screening job and who pushes forward?

MF Michael Bradley (6): As usual, he called the shots in midfield, although finding the holes in a well-organized defensive midfield triangle (within Honduras’ 4-3-3) proved tricky. Pushed forcefully with the ball through midfield twice in the first half as a useful change of pace, something Bradley appears to have added to his game lately. Tried the Route 1 approach a few times with marginal success as the United States probed for ways through. Mostly, Bradley was his usual tidy and considered self in possession.

RW Graham Zusi (7): He was one of the main guys who “turned up the tempo,” as manager Jurgen Klinsmann said, after intermission. Rather tame in the first 45 (other than those sharp set piece hits, which are almost always well targeted), Zusi found more places to be effective. He suffered in the first 45 a bit from Evans’ inability to get forward more aggressively, which would have prevented Honduran left back Emilio Izaguirre from latching onto Zusi so tightly.

MF Clint Dempsey (6):  While Dempsey didn’t always find ways to be useful beyond the 18, and while he wasn’t always expertly linked into Altidore’s movements, he certainly managed to find opportunities near goal – which really is what Dempsey’s game is about. Probably should have done better with an uncontested header off Zusi’s corner kick just 8 minutes in. On the other hand, he probably should have earned a penalty kick during that mad scramble-jamble of the 64th minute, when his header near goal hit Wilson Palacios’ arm. Dempsey did work more into the game in the second half, and it was his shrewd through ball that sprang the only goal.

LW Eddie Johnson (6):  Started on the left, swapping sides from last week but in the same essential role. And he swapped liberally with Zusi throughout Tuesday. Drew an early foul for a U.S. free kick (but soon fouled Roger Espinoza to create an early, dangerous free kick for the visitors.) Found ways to put his speed to good use at times and was generally good in possession.  Johnson did fall asleep once on defense, and was beaten here and there, but that’s what you get when you ask a striker to fulfill additional defensive duties as a winger/midfielder.

FW Jozy Altidore (8): Where would the United States qualifying be right now if not for this guy? There was precious little room between Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares and the far post, but the United States’ brilliantly in-form striker found it with the well-targeted, calm and technical finish. (The U.S. striker also had a sweet finish in the 59th minute, but he was two steps offside on Dempsey’s through ball.)  Altidore was not as proficient as a week ago with the little flicks and the other technical work 20-30 yards form goal, but he still managed some effective target play. Oh! And the game-winning goal, of course.

Subs:

Brad Davis, 73rd minute for Zusi (6) – A swell run in the 82nd minute earned a great scoring chance on a free kick. Tracked back like a pro to help kill the game.

Geoff Cameron, 73rd minute for Jones (7) – By his third minute, had already delivered more telling balls forward than Jones. The guy really covers ample ground with those long strides. Another solid shift as a holding mid.

Edgar Castillo, 87th for Eddie Johnson (NR) – Brought on late for additional defensive help.

 

UEFA playoff draw sets up intriguing battles

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The fight for the final four 2018 World Cup spots from UEFA is well and truly on.

On Tuesday in Zurich, Switzerland the draw for the two-legged playoffs was made as the eight best runners up from the UEFA qualifying group stages found out their fate.

[ MORE: Latest World Cup rankings released ]

The Republic of Ireland will face Denmark over two games, while Northern Ireland face Switzerland and two monster clashes have been set up as Sweden and Italy will lock horns and Croatia and Greece will do battle.

A spot at the World Cup in Russia next summer is the prize for the four winners of these home and away playoffs.

The Republic of Ireland seem to have got the better draw, especially as they will play at home in the second leg in Dublin. Northern Ireland will also be okay with having Switzerland but are slightly hampered by playing the first leg in Belfast. Italy against Sweden will be a tight game and one neither nation will relish, and the same can be said for Croatia vs. Greece with their intense local rivalry.

First leg matches will take place on November 9-11, while the second leg will take place on November 12-14.

Below is the full schedule for the two playoff games.


UEFA playoff schedule

First leg

Northern Ireland vs. Switzerland
Croatia vs. Greece
Denmark vs. Republic of Ireland
Sweden vs. Italy

Second leg

Switzerland vs. Northern Ireland
Greece vs. Croatia
Republic of Ireland vs. Denmark
Italy vs. Sweden

Watch Live: England, Mexico, Spain, France in U-17 World Cup action

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It is a busy day at the U-17 World Cup in India as four Round of 16 games take place.

[ LIVE: Stream U-17 World Cup ] 

Red-hot England play Japan, while France and Spain collide and Mexico clash with a very impressive Iran side who won all of their group games. Mali and Iraq complete the Round of 16 games on Tuesday.

The winners of the England v. Japan game will face the U.S. on Saturday after they blew away Paraguay 5-0 on Monday.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s four games, while you can click on the link above to watch all four games live.

Tuesday’s U-17 World Cup Round of 16 games

Iran vs. Mexico – 7:30 a.m. ET
France vs. Spain – 7:30 a.m. ET
England vs. Japan – 10:30 a.m. ET
Mali vs. Iraq – 10:30 a.m. ET

Benevento remains alone in Europe without a point

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ROME (AP) Benevento remained the only club in Europe’s top five leagues without a point after losing at basement rival Hellas Verona 1-0 in Serie A on Monday.

[ MORE: USA U-17s top Paraguay in convincing style ]

Romulo scored with a long volley to conclude a counterattack in the 74th minute.

Benevento center back Luca Antei was shown a direct red card for a sliding tackle late in the first half and Verona striker Giampaolo Pazzini nearly took advantage immediately when he hit the post.

With its first win of the season, Verona moved up to 16th place with six points.

Benevento has lost all eight of its matches.

All of the top-division squads in England, France, Germany and Spain have earned at least a point.

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Calls for exiled player to go to WCup stirs storm in Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) Soon after Egypt qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1990, a hashtag began trending on social media: “Aboutrika to the World Cup.”

In a country where soccer and politics often mix, and often with explosive results, the pro-government media didn’t like that.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

The hashtag unleashed an intense online campaign by tens of thousands of fans calling for former star midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika, who is now living in exile in Qatar, to come out of retirement and play for Egypt at the World Cup in Russia next year.

It stirred a storm in the Arab country because of Aboutrika’s alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist group that has been outlawed and declared a terrorist organization by the government. The Brotherhood was outlawed after the military’s ouster of a freely elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013.

The 38-year-old Aboutrika faces a host of charges rooted in his alleged financial support for the Brotherhood and lives in exile knowing he risks arrest if he returns home. His assets have been frozen by Egyptian authorities and his name is on a terrorism list. He now makes a living as a soccer pundit on the Qatar-based sports channel beIN.

Aboutrika turned down the call to return in a message to his supporters.

“These are kind feelings for which I thank you,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “But realism is better and I don’t steal the efforts of others. Those men (on the current team) deserve to be there alone.”

Yet that gentle refusal didn’t stop the storm around him, and the unfavorable comparisons made by some between Aboutrika and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, the team’s current star and new darling of the pro-government media.

“Mohammed Salah is the player who stood by his country, not like the other one (Aboutrika),” said Ahmed Moussa, perhaps the most ardent government supporter among TV talk show hosts. “He (Salah) is Egypt’s only star.”

The 25-year-old Salah endeared himself to fans with both goals, including an injury-time penalty, in a 2-1 win over Republic of Congo on Oct. 8 that ensured Egypt qualified for the World Cup for just the third time, and first time in nearly 30 years.

Salah has also been embraced by the government of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and its supporters in the media as a patriot. A donation of 5 million Egyptian pounds (nearly $300,000) Salah made in December to a development fund founded by el-Sissi has gone a long way to endear him to them.

In the week since qualification, Salah has been branded “golden boy,” “legend” and “genius.”

One media commentator, Dandarawy el-Hawary of the daily “Seventh Day,” wrote of Salah’s decisive goal against Republic of Congo: “It touched off the volcanoes of patriotism, sense of belonging and love of one’s country.”

Not long ago Aboutrika was the national hero – he still is to many – after playing a central role in Egypt’s three straight African Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Those triumphs made Egypt Africa’s most successful team with a record seven titles.

Now, the pro-government media refers to him as a traitor.

Another talk show host, Amr Adeeb, suggested the campaign to bring Aboutrika out of retirement was the work of government critics and berated him for his failure to lead Egypt to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Aboutrika has been labeled a mercenary, with his job with the Qatar-based beIN used as evidence of his lack of patriotism because of Egypt’s diplomatic spat with Qatar over the tiny Gulf nation’s alleged support of terrorism.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Aboutrika’s supporters argue that to have him back on the team would be a just reward for his dedication to Egypt and compensation for his failed efforts to get the team to previous World Cups. They point out that Argentina great Diego Maradona and Cameroon’s Roger Milla both came out of retirement to play for their countries at the World Cup.

Responding to the criticism from government supporters, Aboutrika’s fans have also been posting videos of him scoring goals for club and country in years past, with commentators lavishly praising him for his skill and passion.