What we learned from the U.S. World Cup qualifier win over Honduras

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SANDY, Utah – Some early take-aways from the United States’ 1-0 win at Rio Tinto outside Salt Lake City.

The job is all but done

Jurgen Klinsmann insisted the job is far from finished – but what else is a manger supposed to say? So we’ll say it: Something absolutely insane would have to happen at this point for the United States not to make it.

With 13 points, positioned atop the group with such a lovely view of the five pursuers, the United States can feel very, very good about its chances of landing in Brazil – a seventh consecutive World Cup appearance it would be.

Four matches remain, split between the home and road. The United States might even be able to mathematically clinch with one more win. Next up is Costa Rica – a place the United States never does very well. But if the Americans don’t nail it down then …

How sweet would it be to officially qualify for Brazil on Sept. 10 in Columbus against … wait for it … Mexico!

Hanging in there in frustrating games

Some games will be this way. And by “this way,” I mean “frustrating.” It’s important for the team to learn how to deal with it – and it’s important to note the way the United States kept its cool, hung tough and finally found the goal that mattered.

Mattered a lot.

The first half was surely an exercise in frustration. On a couple of goal kicks, if Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares had gone any slower, he would have been going backwards. Calls weren’t really going the U.S. way, either. Jermaine Jones was subjected to some rough stuff, mostly without protection from referee Enrico Wijngaarde (from the noted referee producing factory of Suriname).

Graham Zusi got waylaid 24 yards from goal without a call. Throw in a couple of quick injury-recovery turns from the visitors, the lack of quality chances and the heat (mid-90s at kickoff) and it all must have been maddening.

But the United States did a good job of keeping its cool. Said Jurgen Klinsmann: “In a game like this, what really matters is that you be patient, keep going and find a way.”

(MORE: Player ratings vs. Honduras)

There is still some fouling in bad spots from the U.S. defense

And that is not a good thing. Honduras was well-organized and, clearly, difficult to break down. So the danger was always in the visitors getting something on a set-piece, and three times the United States obliged, offering up free kicks in bad spots.

Eddie Johnson was guilty early, fouling Roger Espinoza, a real thorn in the U.S. side all night. A few minutes later, it was Jermaine Jones that needed to foul Espinoza as he tore in toward U.S. goal, a foul that earned Jones a booking.  After the break, Jones was guilty once again of giving the Hondurans a free kick 24 yards from goal.

(Isn’t this the very thing Jurgen Klinsmann got so upset about with Maurice Edu and Kyle Beckerman last year?)

The better the conditions, the better the chances that Jermaine Jones will be average

The German-born midfielder didn’t have his best night. Not by a long way. It looks a little like this:

Jones excels when the games get gritty. Gritty like him. They need their brave enforcer  when the field is bad or the circumstances are trying or intimidating, generally speaking when they need those leadership intangibles beyond the technical skill. When Jones has to “think” his way around the game, and when the game becomes a little more tactical and technical – and it was very tight in the middle of the field at Rio Tinto – he suffers a little. Then he turns into the average player (at international level, that is) that tends to be so frustrating to U.S. fans.

Jozy Altidore is something else right now

But then again, you knew that. More on that is here at ProSoccerTalk.

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.”