Preview: Can US national team beat Guatemala in Gold Cup tuneup?

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  • US have 13-4-6 all-time record against Guatemala
  • Landon Donovan makes return to US national team
  • Yanks Gold Cup campaign begins July 9 vs. Belize

The USA face Guatemala in San Diego on Friday night (watch live on NBC Sports Network, 11pm ET) for their only warm-up match before the 2013 Gold Cup begins.

Jurgen Klinsmann will get to have one final look at his inventive roster, as players push their cause for a starting spot before the tournament opener against Belize in Portland on Tuesday night.

Guatemala will provide a tough test, as the US square off against their familiar foe once more. The last time these two met was during the semifinal stage of World Cup qualifying, where the US defeated Los Chapines 3-1 in Kansas City last October.

Klinsi will be hoping his squad, mixed with veterans and youngsters hoping to make next summer’s World Cup squad, can make a strong start to the Gold Cup tournament with minnows Belize and Cuba the USA’s first opponents during their group games. While the final game of Group C on July 16 will provide the toughest test, as Costa Rica stand in their way.

Landon Donovan is back in the national team fold for the first time in almost a year, and the LA Galaxy star is delighted to be involved. “I am very excited to be back,” Donovan said. “It’s been a long year or so since I’ve been in. I’m in a little bit of a different place than I was before. And now, I am very much on the outside looking in. I’ve got to make my way back in, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Donovan has been handed a chance to prove his international credentials, as Klinsmann looked elsewhere while the former USMNT captain took a self-imposed break from the game during the 2013 off-season and beyond.

(MORE: Gold Cup dress rehearsal against Guatemala promises “a good test” for USMNT)

The US have a strong record against their Central American counterparts, with a 13-4-6 all-time record against Guatemala. The last time Los Chapines defeated the Yanks was way back in 1988, 19-games have passed without a US defeat since.

Tonight’s game won’t just be a friendly, as the US players will be fighting for starting spots in the Gold Cup. And Klinsmann has already said that the starting-11 this evening will be his first choice lineup for the Gold Cup. Thus raising the intrigue for US fans, and those traveling to San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium to cheer on the Nats.

DaMarcus Beasley has been named captain and will likely start at left back, but many other positions are up in the air. Real Salt Lake’s skipper Kyle Beckerman is set to occupy the hold midfield role while Stuart Holden can finally stamp his name on the team sheet after a horrendous time with injuries. Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud and Jose Torres provide plenty of midfield options while veterans Donovan and Herculez Gomez have proven quality up front or out wide. The big question marks going forward lie at the feet of Jack McInerney, the Philadelphia Union’s predatory striker who leads MLS in scoring with 10 goals.

The US are aiming for Gold Cup success, to help seal their passage to the 2017 Confederations Cup. So Klinsmann won’t look kindly on any poor performances in tonight’s friendly.

(MORE: Donovan to get chance with US national team)

As for Guatemala, they are a tough and physical outfit who often push CONCACAF’s best teams all the way during qualifying. The fell just short of making the final round of World Cup qualifying, as they lost out to Jamaica due to an inferior goal differential.

Tough to break down and solid defensively, the US national team will see a mirror image of this from plenty of teams throughout the Gold Cup next month.

“They will make it very tight, they will have all the numbers behind the ball, and we have to find ways to break them down,” Jurgen Klinsmann said. “I think they can give us a good test for what we can expect in the Gold Cup. That’s the reason why we asked them to play the friendly. It’s going to be tricky.”

Find out how tricky it will be by tuning into NBC Sports Network to watch the US face Guatemala at 11pm ET tonight.

A leader at 23, Draxler mentors inexperienced Germany squad

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The youngest captain to lead Germany into a tournament in 105 years, Julian Draxler has effortlessly taken on the task of mentoring an inexperienced squad.

[ MORE: Aubameyang to China? And more transfer rumors ]

All while displaying the versatility linking up attacks that has helped to steer Germany into the Confederations Cup semifinals.

If Germany coach Joachim Loew learns one thing from the World Cup dress rehearsal, it’s that the 23-year-old Draxler is a strong contender to one day assume the armband from injured goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.

“The way he is coordinating the young team is very good,” Loew said Wednesday. “He is turning into a personality who is in a position to assume responsibilities. He’s taking care of younger players and trying to integrate them into the team.

“He is always keeping his mind on what matters on the pitch but also off the pitch he is very sociable with other players as well.”

Draxler is far from the youngest player in the squad, but he’s the most experienced on the international stage. The semifinal against Mexico on Thursday will be Draxler’s 34th appearance for Germany. He is also one of only three members of the World Cup winning squad from 2014 who were included in the experimental group in Russia.

Shkodran Mustafi is another, and the defender is delighted to see Draxler’s progress from being a bit-part squad member in Brazil to an integral member of the team in Russia three years on.

“He has got a really bright future in front of him,” Mustafi said on the sidelines before training in the southern Russian coastal resort of Sochi. “Talent sometimes is not enough but I think he has the character and the talent, the head, to be the next superstar for sure.”

Don’t take Germany’s word for it. Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio spoke Wednesday of his admiration for Draxler’s role as Germany’s “connector” and the way he finds space in midfield to be the link-man to the forwards.

What Draxler offers Loew is variety. The Paris Saint-Germain player is comfortable on both feet and he is given the freedom to roam across the pitch.

“Julian is a very fast, technically refined player with the ball,” Loew said through a translator in the Fisht Stadium in Sochi. “He can travel through longer distances with no problem while keeping the ball and he has very good scoring capabilities.”

In the opening win over Australia at the Confederations Cup, Draxler netted his fifth international goal from the penalty spot. In the final group match on Sunday, Draxler’s slick back-heel set up Kerem Demirbay for Germany’s opener in a 3-2 victory over Cameroon.

Not since the 1912 Olympics there been a younger German captain at a FIFA or UEFA tournament.

“He’s not the loudest guy but on the pitch you could see his quality in the three games now and he’s talking to the players,” midfielder Emre Can said. “He wants to help. He has a lot of experience and he’s doing it very well.

“You can see he wants always the ball, he wants always to create something on the pitch and he wants to always score always. You can see that in every game.”

Draxler has traveled to Russia after finding some stability in his club career after leaving Wolfsburg for PSG in January for 47 million euros (then about $50 million).

“He is very ambitious,” Loew said. “He is a very classy player.”

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

Germany coach wants clarity on Russia doping claims

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Germany football coach Joachim Loew wants more clarity from sports leaders following speculation that doping of Russia’s 2014 World Cup squad was covered up.

[ MORE: 2017 Confederations Cup news ]

The World Cup-winning coach urged the World Anti-Doping Agency and FIFA to be transparent and identify players implicated.

“If there really are names there, they shouldn’t be hidden at all,” Loew said Wednesday at a news conference in Sochi, where his team plays a Confederations Cup semifinal.

“I can’t prove it and no one apparently can if we are not having the facts here on the table,” Loew said through a translator. “And if players have been doped, well, they have to be removed, they have to be suspended.”

Loew was asked by German broadcaster ARD about the World Cup claim and other new allegations that state-backed Russian doping went deeper into football than was previously suspected.

Earlier Wednesday, the broadcaster released an interview with WADA investigator Richard McLaren who said FIFA is aware of 155 potentially suspect samples given by football players in Russia that await analysis.

McLaren told ARD he suspected Russian authorities kept a bank of clean urine samples from footballers to replace tainted ones – a similar system to evade positive doping tests as was used at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

FIFA declined to comment Wednesday on ARD’s report.

The Canadian lawyer’s sprawling investigation of the Olympic doping conspiracy implicated more than 1,000 athletes across many sports. It included evidence in emails and documents of at least 35 football cases for FIFA to prosecute.

The evidence had few details, though included a June 2014 document apparently linked to the squad Russia sent to the World Cup in Brazil. FIFA acknowledged being aware of the document this week after a report by a British Sunday newspaper.

FIFA has not formally identified any players under suspicion, nor imposed provisional suspensions.

“We have the report from WADA but we are not supposed to be disclosing any names,” FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura said Wednesday, in Kazan for the Portugal vs. Chile semifinal. “Until we got the final decision from the laboratory we cannot elaborate.”

Football leaders in the 2018 World Cup host nation consistently dismiss suggestions of a problem.

“There hasn’t been a single doping incident in Russian football in many recent years,” Alexei Sorokin, CEO of the World Cup organizing committee, said this week of the British report. “We do not regard this as any serious matter.”

Germany’s Loew was speaking in the Sochi stadium which hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the much-criticized Winter Games.

He urged WADA and FIFA to “just call a spade a spade, and then we know what is going to happen from there.”

AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni in Kazan, Russia, contributed to this report

STREAM LIVE: Portugal, Chile clash in Confed Cup semifinal

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Cristiano Ronaldo and Alexis Sanchez do battle in Kazan with a place in the 2017 Confederations Cup final on the line.

European champions Portugal play South American champs Chile on Wednesday (Watch live, 2 p.m. ET online via Telemundo Deportes) in an eagerly anticipated clash.

[ STREAM LIVE: Portugal vs. Chile ]

Ronaldo, 32, took his tally to 55 goals in 54 games in all competitions for the 2016-17 season as Portugal won Group A to set up a tasty clash with Chile who finished runners up in Group B behind Germany.

Sanchez scored his 38th goal for Chile against Australia in their final group game, making him their all-time leading goalscorer as the Arsenal striker continues to see his stock rise with just one year left on his contract.

The winner of this game will meet either Germany or Mexico (they play their semifinal tomorrow in Sochi) in the final in St. Petersburg on Sunday, with Mexico the only previous Confed Cup winners left in the field.

Click play on the link above to stream the game live online, and we will have analysis and reaction from Kazan right here on ProSoccerTalk.

Not-so-shy Messi tying the knot with childhood sweetheart

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There is a different side to Lionel Messi, one that not everyone gets to see.

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The player who shines with the ball by his feet appears to be extremely shy off the field. But the timid-looking Argentina star, who for years has been attracting the world’s attention because of his mind-boggling soccer skills, is an outgoing, cheerful and humorous character when he is among those he knows and trusts.

It’s the lighthearted and extroverted version of Messi that will be the center of attention on Friday in his hometown of Rosario when he marries 29-year-old Antonella Roccuzzo, his childhood sweetheart and mother of his two children.

The wedding is a highly anticipated event in the central Argentine city, located about 300 kilometers (186 miles) northwest of the capital of Buenos Aires, although the public is not expected to have any access to the festivities.

About 250 guests, including some current and former teammates, are expected to attend the ceremony in a five-star hotel that overlooks the city’s largest shantytown. Special security measures are expected to be in place as guests begin arriving for the event.

Among those expected to attend are Barcelona teammates Neymar, Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique. Colombian singer Shakira, Pique’s wife, is also expected at the ceremony.

Organizers said personal hairdressers will be available for the guests, along with entertainment services for their children. About 150 journalists will be allowed to cover the wedding under very strict rules, without any direct access to the ceremony or the party.

Messi and Roccuzzo have requested that wedding gifts come in the form of donations to the Leo Messi Foundation.

Messi is already in Rosario on vacation, but hasn’t made any public appearances. He was in the city to celebrate his 30th birthday this week.

Messi grew up in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in Rosario along with two brothers and a sister. Roccuzzo was the cousin of a close friend of Messi, and the two were always around each other and shared a close relationship from a young age.

They stayed in touch after Messi left to play in Spain as a teenager, and eventually started their relationship in the late 2000s, reportedly after he returned to Argentina following the death of one of Roccuzzo’s close friends in a traffic accident.

Roccuzzo eventually moved to Barcelona, where the couple have two boys, 4-year-old Thiago and 1-year-old Mateo.

“I’m a normal person. I have the same life as any human being,” Messi said in an interview with ESPN before the 2014 World Cup. “When I finish playing, I have my family, my friends. I live like any other person.”

Even before Messi turned into one of the best players in the world, he was already the type of person who kept to himself and avoided the spotlight but opened up in the company of friends and relatives.

People close to Messi and some of his former teammates say he is just a normal guy, talkative and often joking. The serious-looking player who rarely shows any expressions on the field or in front of the cameras is nothing like “the real Messi,” they say.

“No, no, no …,” former Barcelona teammate Jonathan Dos Santos said when asked if Messi was as shy as he appears.

Dos Santos, in Russia with Mexico’s national soccer team at the Confederations Cup, said that Messi always opened up while with his teammates.

“He is a great guy, just a great guy,” said Dos Santos, who was a teammate of Messi’s at Barcelona from 2009-14.

Messi and his family recently were photographed with friends on vacation on a boat in Ibiza. Messi was seen playing with his children and laughing with his friends. It was the same when an Uruguayan television channel showed footage of Messi and Suarez playing cards with friends, with Messi joking and smiling all the time.

Messi, who has tattoos of both of his children, showed a more rebellious side of himself recently, dying his hair blond. He also has tattoos honoring his mother and Jesus.

He became much more active in social media recently, opening an Instagram account and posting many pictures of his children and some private moments with his family.

“I think that on the field I’m completely different than I am off,” Messi told Television Publica Argentina a few years ago.

The soft-spoken Messi rarely speaks publicly and almost never talks to the media after or before games. Only a few times he has shown up at news conferences during tournaments with his club or national team.

Messi moved to Barcelona when he was 13 after being diagnosed with a hormone disorder that affected his growth. Barcelona offered to help him with the treatment.

The entire family initially moved with him, but Messi’s mother and two siblings soon returned to Argentina. Messi stayed in Spain with his father, but he couldn’t play at first because he didn’t have the proper documentation.

“One day I asked him, `What do you want to do? Because in the end, the decision is yours,”‘ his father, Jorge, said in a television documentary about Messi’s life. “And he told me, `I want to stay. I want to play for Barcelona.”‘

Now he wants to get married, and he’s gone back home to do it.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni