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Paulinho shines as Brazil defeat Uruguay, move into Confederations Cup final

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What was supposed to be a dry run for next year’s World Cup has slowly become a coming out party for an international giant who’d come into the Confederations Cup with more questions than renown. But after tonight’s 2-1 victory over Uruguay, where an 86th minute winner from Paulinho sank the South American champions, Brazil have done all anybody would have hoped for at the beginning of the tournament. Perfect through games against Japan, Mexico, Italy and Uruguay, the 22nd-ranked Selecao will face the winner of tomorrow’s Spain-Italy match in Sunday’s final having already reaffirmed their place among the elites of the world’s game.

Brazil opened the scoring just before halftime, with a sellout crowd in Belo Horizonte erupting when Fred put home the rebound of a Neymar shot, sending the home side into half time up 1-0. Uruguay equalized through Edinson Cavani three minutes into the second, putting the match on a course for extra time, but off a late corner kick delivered by Neymar, Paulinho sent Brazil into the final.

It was a standout match for the Corinthians midfielder, linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur or Chelsea. A superb long ball sent over the defense from the center circle sprung Neymar ahead of the first goal, and elevating for an eventually uncontested header near full time, Paulinho played the most important part in both of Brazil’s goals. In the process, he continued a rise that’s mirrored his team, both bringing some much deserved attention to themselves with standout Confederations Cup runs.

The teams set up as expected, with Brazil’s attacking three of Neymar, Fred, and Hulk relying on the playmaking of Oscar to break through a Uruguayan 4-3-3 that started their back seven at the top of their arc. Óscar Tabarez choice of Luis Suárez, Diego Forlán, and Edinson Cavani up top saw Uruguay revert to their successful World Cup formula, one that would rely on the trio’s supreme skill in limited chances to balance out what was sure to be a severe possession deficit.

Through most of the first half, Tabarez’s tactics worked. Brazil monopolized the ball but saw the worse of chances, with a Forlán penalty kick saved by former Inter Milan teammate Julio Cesar keeping the match scoreless after 13 minutes. When another Forlán chance from 23 yards out saw his half-volley sail just outside the upper-left hand corner, Uruguay’s plan seemed to be working.

But in the 41st minute, Brazil turned the tables, a long ball from Paulinho finding Neymar streaking between Maxi Pereira and Diego Lugano in Uruugay’s back four. Dropping his pass with the position of a Brazilian Pirlo, the Tottenham target sent Neymar in on Fernando Muslera, with only a decisive read from the Uruguayan keeper preventing another Neymar goal. The rebound, however, fell to the middle of the box, where a hop and a scissor kick from Fred saw a shot go off his shin and inside the right post, giving Brazil a 1-0 lead.

The score highlighted the risk of Tabarez’s approach, but given how well the Celeste had executed their plan, it was easy to feel the visitors were hard done. With a back three that laid off Brazil’s defense, Uruguay begged the Selecao to bring the game to them. And for 40 minutes, they couldn’t, the Brazilians seemingly rekindling the uncertainties they carried into the tournament. Even though they went into halftime up one, the direct nature of their goal left you wondering the extent to which Brazil’s capable of coping with a plan like Uruguay’s.

Those musings were amplified three minutes into the second when a series of failed clearances at the edge of the Brazilian era ended with the ball at Cavani’s feet, his left-footed roller just inside the far left corner from 16 yards out equalizing for the Uruguayans. Though it was a softly hit shot, the movements Cesar was making to keep up with the series of deflections left him off guard, his shift to his left to square up for Cavani’s shot coming too late to save the Celeste’s opening goal.

With the score even, the match initially resumed the first half’s tenor, Brazil dictating play but failing to stress Fernando Muslera. Chances for Lugano and Cavani broke up spells of Brazilian control, the home side racking up advantages in shots that had little chance of deciding the game. As time built, and as Luiz Felipe Scolar tweaked his team, brining on Bernard and Hernanes for Hulk and Oscar, extra time not only seemed invited but inevitable. There was a curiosity in the growing tension of the Belo Horizonte crowd, a wonder of where the atmosphere would stand after 120 minutes.

That curiosity ended in the 86th minute, with the man who was so crucial to Brazil’s opening goal getting his name on the scoresheet. Off one of the slew of late corners they’d earned from their dominance of play, Brazil Neymar loft a ball for the far post from the left flank. There Paulinho was allowed to rise uncontested, putting his header just below the crossbar to give Brazil a place in the final.

In a match the rekindled doubts, the winner proved vindication – proof the still building team was capable of pushing through a experienced, resilient side. In their first full tournament since 2011’s Copa America, Brazil came into the Confederation Cup an untested team, and given the still-building reputation of the competition, it was unclear to what extent they’d be pushed this month. But like the tournament itself, Brazil has proved to be more than expected, with Japan, Mexico, Italy and Uruguay providing a validating gauntlet for Scolari’s melding team.

The next test for that group is likely to be the ultimate one. Though Spain still have to navigate Italy in tomorrow’s semifinal, the world is anticipating the meeting they didn’t get four years ago. On Sunday, Brazil should get their crack at the world champions.

WATCH: USMNT’s Bobby Wood scores fast-break goal for Union Berlin

BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 15:  Bobby Wood poses during the offical team presentation of 1.FC Union Berlin at Stadion an der Alten Foersterei on July 15, 2015 in Berlin, Germany.  (Photo by Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Photo by Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images
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When the United States takes on Guatemala in next month’s World Cup qualifiers, might we see Bobby Wood go from super sub to starter?

The Union Berlin striker with a pair of memorable USMNT goals to top the Netherlands and Germany is doing more of the same in 2.Bundesliga.

[ MORE: Fabian Johnson nabs fifth goal of Bundesliga season ]

The 3-0 win saw Wood race down the field for this fast break goal, his fourth in as many matches. On the season, the Hawaiian-born 23-year-old has nine goals and four assists, though Union doesn’t have a look at promotion this season.

Still, as Dr. Dre might say, “Bobby Wood… Bobby Wood always up to no good.” If Jurgen Klinsmann is thinking 4-4-2 with Wood and in-form, slimmed-down Jozy Altidore, we’d be happy to have a look at it.

Aston Villa 0-6 Liverpool: Reds demolish out-of-sorts Villans in historic fashion

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14:  Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool scores the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park on February 14, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
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  • Milner, Sturridge score early
  • Villa eight points off 17th place
  • Can scores great low goal in 59th
  • Most home goals allowed by Villa in PL history

Even Kolo Toure scored!

Six different Liverpool players scored a goal as Liverpool piled misery on Aston Villa with a 6-0 win at Villa Park on Sunday.

Daniel Sturridge, James Milner, Divock Origi, Nathaniel Clyne, Emre Can and Toure scored for the Reds.

The loss is Aston Villa’s first in five at home, and stops them from moving toward 19th place Sunderland.

The Villans are seven back of the Black Cats, and Liverpool pulls into eighth. The Reds sit three points back of fifth-place Manchester United.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Sturridge’s celebratory dance was back on display, as he nodded down Coutinho’s cross to make it 1-0 in the 16th minute.

Milner’s free kick from the right slipped just over Mamadou Sakho‘s head but tricked Mark Bunn enough to give Liverpool a 2-0 lead after 25 minutes of play.

Villa was booed off the pitch at halftime after struggling to show any semblance of a comeback pulse.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Liverpool added a third on a counterattack, as Can picked up a square pass from Roberto Firmino and buried a low shot past Bunn.

Origi subbed on for Sturridge, and scored moments later. Twenty-seven seconds after the move, the Belgian buried a goal. Clyne netted a minute later to make it three goals conceded in less than seven minutes.

By the time Toure added his first goal in five years, it was clear this was an onslaught. In a year that could see Villa relegated for the first time in Premier League history, the club added another first.

VIDEO: Man City youngster’s glee at Dad’s surprising gift of tickets

Man City kid dad
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This Man City fan dad gets high marks for Valentine’s Day after he combined with mom to give a big Etihad Stadium surprise for their son.

[ WATCH: USMNT’s Fabian Johnson scores fifth for ‘Gladbach ]

The child’s reaction could even warm a United fan’s heart, as he leaps into dad’s arms after learning their Sunday morning trip to the team shop was really a date at the big game against Spurs.

Now will their club make it an even better day? Doubt it matters all that much to the kid right now!

VIDEO: Watch Arsenal fans across USA go nuts during last-gasp win

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14:  Robert Huth and Kasper Schmeichel of Leicester City react after Danny Welbeck of Arsenal scored the winning goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Leicester City at Emirates Stadium on February 14, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
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When Danny Welbeck jumped off the bench and made his return for Arsenal after being out injured for nine months, you kind of knew the writing was on the wall.

[ MORE: 3 things learned | Player ratings

That said, heading into the 95th minute with a free kick 40-yards out, as Mesut Ozil swung in a perfect cross time stood still as Welbeck glanced a header into the far corner.

[ RELATED: Welbeck reacts to heroics | Welbeck’s goal

Pandemonium ensued at the Emirates Stadium as Arsenal had snatched a late 2-1 win over title rivals Leicester City in the most dramatic of fashions.

Wherever you watched the game, it’s likely you had a similar reaction to these guys…


This video from the Bling Pig pub in New York City sums up the bedlam well…

While up in Buffalo, NY…

The Syracuse Gooners lost the plot…

It went off in Virginia Beach…

Down in New Orleans it got a little crazy…

Up in Minneapolis/St Paul a similar scene of utter jubilation played out…

The broadcast crew picked up on some of the celebrations from players and fans postgame…

BONUS: And, because it’s awesome, this is how the guys at Telemundo called the game-winner. Sensational.