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Fred, Neymar lead rout of Spain, claim Brazil’s third straight Confederations Cup

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From a tournament that began with doubts, Brazil have claimed silverware, handing Spain their most embarrassing loss since the Furia Roja were recognized as the world’s preeminent soccer power. With two goals from Fred and another from Neymar, the Confederations Cup hosts handed the world champions a 3-0 telling loss, one that not only casts doubts on the state of Spain’s hegemony but also announces Brazil as a legitimate contender for next year’s World Cup.

That status looked out of reach two weeks ago, before FIFA’s quadrennial World Cup warmup started. Brazil had recently changed coaches, going back to Luiz Felipe Scolari after the mixed results of the Mano Menezes era. The result was an untested team still looking for an identity; a team that was still thought to be a step behind Spain and the world’s other elites.

Yet any suspicion this would be a typical Spain match was dispelled when Brazil took a shock lead in the second minute, a defensive breakdown allowing Fred to open the scoring while face-down in Iker Casillas’s six-yard box. A looped cross from Brazil’s right fell between defenders Gerard Piqué and Álvaro Arbeloa, with Fred going to ground while trying to compete for the cross. When neither Spanish defender was able to clear the ball, the cross fell to the Brazilian number nine, who was able to get his right foot onto it before Casillas could smother the ball.

The goal spurred Brazil on to an inspired first 25 minutes, when high pressing after turnovers threw the Spaniards off their game, the teams sharing possession for much of the half. Spain’s attempts to calm the game and resume their normal monopoly of the ball were disrupted by the Brazilians’ intensity, with the Seleçao nearly doubling their lead in the 28th minute while Fred failed to convert an open chance near the spot.

Near halftime, Spain almost equalized when Pedro, open in the right of the area, slid a ball past Julio César from 14 yards out. Brazilian defender David Luiz, however, lunged to complete spectacular clearance, preserving the home side’s lead as the world champions appeared to ascend into the match.

That ascent was quelled three minutes later when Neymar, fed to the left of Casillas, blasted a left-footed shot near post and into the top of goal, Casillas bending back and watching as the power of the shot carried Brazil to a 2-0 halftime lead.

In the 47th minute, Fred put the match away, queuing the assured, composed celebrations of teammates and coaches as he slid Brazil’s icing inside Casillas’s left post. Confidently jogging away from goal with a right hand to his ear, collecting the praise of a rabid Maracana crowd, Fred failed to portray his team’s role of surprised upstart. Instead, having had intermission to consider what the team had accomplished, the former Lyon man took his goal with a favorite’s confidence, jogging to the corner flag in triumph of his second score.

Whatever hope Spain maintained was vanquished in the 55th minute as Sergio Ramos, surprisingly attempting his team’s conversation after Jesus Navas drew a penalty, pulled his shot wide left of César’s goal. Fourteen minutes later, when Neymar drew a red card from Gerard Piqué, Spain suffered the indignity of finishing with 10 men.

Cruising through the last 20 minutes of a decided match, Brazil gave onlookers a chance to consider what’s to come. The soundtrack of the Marcana’s crowd told the story of a team who’d carried doubts into the tournament yet ultimately inspired their skeptical and fractured fan base. While protests and demonstrations proceeded outside the stadium, deriding the state of Brazilian social politics, the scene inside the venue spoke to the nation’s sporting potential. At next year’s World Cup, they’ll be more than hosts. Brazil will be threats, if not favorites, to claim a sixth World Cup.

Spain, in contrast, suffered their greatest embarrassment since 2008, when their victory at the European Championships ushered in this era of Spanish dominance. Whether that era ended with tonight’s loss, their worst in 28 years, remains to be seen, but La Roja’s vulnerabilities are clear. Whereas before this tournament it would have been difficult to justify seeing anybody but Spain as World Cup favorites, now the world’s former preeminent soccer power has affirmed a place in the discussion.

Robbie Keane still entertaining offers ahead of return

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 12:  Soccer Player Robbie Keane arrives at the Premiere of IFC Films' "Pele: Birth Of A Legend" at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
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Robbie Keane is still sorting out his future, and it seems unlikely he’s heading back to the past.

Keane is training in Dublin ahead of a return to the pitch. The 36-year-old striker left the LA Galaxy this offseason, and says he’s had several offers from Championship squads in England as well as a few clubs abroad.

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Although he’s starred for Wolverhampton and Leeds, destinations where fans would welcome his arrival, Keane says not to hold your breath.

From TalkSport.com:

“I’ve had a lot of people asking me about coming back to Leeds and Wolves, and they’re great clubs I’ve played for, but you can’t go somewhere if people actually don’t offer you anything.

“Until it’s actually in writing to me I can’t comment much on it, but I definitely haven’t heard from Leeds or Wolves.”

Whether Stateside or in England, Keane can still have an impact on a team’s fortunes. We look forward to seeing him back on the field, and to hear some more quips as well.

Consider his answer to whether he’d entertain an offer from China:

“If they gave the money Diego Costa was offered, I’d walk there now,” Keane said.

Galaxy adds center mid from Portuguese top flight

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LA Galaxy’s roster reformation continues with the addition of Joao Pedro, a day after formalizing a deal with USMNT midfielder Jermaine Jones.

The 23-year-old center midfielder was with Vitoria Guimaraes in Portugal’s top flight, and comes to the club as a “Special Discovery Player” with Targeted Allocation Money.

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Pedro has a goal in 17 appearances this season, as Vitoria Guimaraes sits fifth in the Primeira Liga.

From LAGalaxy.com:

“Joao is an extremely talented midfielder who has experience playing at a high level in Portugal,” said Galaxy general manager Peter Vagenas in a written statement released by the club.

“He is only 23 years old and has the best years of his career front of him. We identified him as a top target this offseason and we think he can immediately help strengthen our midfield. We look forward to welcoming Joao to Los Angeles as we continue to prepare for the upcoming season.”

Pedro was a regular for Vitoria Guimaraes but is far from a certainty to star for the Galaxy. We do know that Vagenas has probably done his research as to whether Pedro fits with Jermaine Jones.

AFCON wrap: Senegal clinches first knockout round slot

Senegal's, Sadio Mane, right, is challenged by Zimbabwe's, Willard Katsande, left, during the African Cup of Nations Group B soccer match between Senegal and Zimbabwe at, Stade de Franceville Stadium, in Franceville, Gabon Thursday Jan. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
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Senegal has advanced to the knockout rounds of the Africa Cup of Nations, leaving three teams to work for the second Group B slot come the final day.

[ MORE: Top Premier League story lines ]

Senegal 2-0 Zimbabwe

Sadio Mane (Liverpool) and Henri Saivet (Saint-Etienne) scored within the first 13 minutes as Senegal clinched Group B with a win over Zimbabwe. There were 48 shots between the two teams, 24 for Senegal, in a fairly open affair. As for the Warriors, they’ll need to beat Tunisia on Monday.

Algeria 1-2 Tunisia

Tunisia rebounded from a loss to Senegal without scoring from the run of play. Lille mid Naim Sliti scored a penalty after an Algeria own goal made it 1-0. Anderlecht midfielder Sofiane Hanni scored for Algeria.

Friday’s matches
Ivory Coast vs. DR Congo — 11 a.m. ET
Morocco vs. Togo — 11 a.m. ET

Wenger concerned Chinese wages become benchmark for players

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 15:  Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal looks on during an Arsenal press conference ahead of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match against Barcelona at Camp Nou on March 15, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is hoping the high quality of competition in Europe will keep players from leaving for the financial gain in China.

Wenger is facing regular questions about the future of both Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, and the big money on offer in the Chinese league can complicate negotiations.

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Argentine striker Carlos Tevez joined Shanghai Shenhua last month in a deal worth $40 million over two years.

“The danger (is) that the Chinese offers become the benchmark for Europe,” Wenger said Thursday. “You cannot compete with that, but I still think that, when you’re a footballer, the first thing is that you want to play against the best players in the best teams.”

Wenger said players that want the best compensation for playing in the best quality league need not look to Asia.

“I think that combination is the best in England at the moment, so I don’t see why the players should leave the English Premier League,” Wenger said.

Wenger, whose team is fourth in the standings, has made only one signing in the January transfer window, picking up defender Cohen Bramall from non-league club Hednesford.

Arsenal has also decided to keep captain Per Mertesacker for another season. Wenger announced Thursday that the club has taken up a one-year option to extend the contract of the 32-year-old German, who has not played this season because of a knee injury sustained during a friendly in July.

Mertesacker faces a fight to get back into the team because Shkodran Mustafi, an offseason signing from Valencia, has built a strong partrnership with vice captain Laurent Koscielny at the heart of Wenger’s defense.