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.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.