Preview: US hope to rout minnows Belize in Gold Cup opener

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  • USA and Belize have never played eachother
  • Belize’s population is 335,000, roughly the size of St. Louis
  • Landon Donovan notched his 50th and 51st US goals against Guatemala last week

The US national team will begin their quest for Gold Cup success this evening in Portland, as the host the small Central American nation of Belize. The crowd at JELD-WEN Field are sure to create a raucous atmosphere, as the Timbers Army and American Outlaws go all out to welcome the USA back to Portland for the first-time since 1997.

For Belize, it is their first-ever trip to the Gold Cup, with American coach Ian Mork in charge of the tiny soccer nation. While Jurgen Klinsmann’s much-changed US side are looking to get off to a dominant start in their Group C opener.

Elsewhere in the group, Costa Rica play Cuba which begins at 8:30 pm ET, also up in the Rose City.

Despite the US having a ‘B’ squad available, the Yanks’ reserves should comfortably wipe the floor with the Jaguars. The USA’s diverse roster has several different clusters of players, with experienced pros and young upstarts all looking to edge their way into Klinsmann’s World Cup 2014 plans.

 

(MORE: Which U.S. men may go from Gold Cup to World Cup)

Tuesday night’s clash will mark the first-ever meeting between the US and Belize, while the USA have played in Portland on three prior occasions, grabbing two wins and a draw.

We all remember the demoralizing 4-2 defeat in the 2011 Gold Cup final to Mexico. After racing into a 2-0 lead at the Pasadena Rose Bowl, Bob Bradley’s men imploded in the second half and that was to be his last act as USMNT manager.

After that debacle, only five players who were involved in the 2011 final defeat are included in Klinsmann’s 23-man roster, with veterans Landon Donovan, Clarence Goodson and Oguchi Onyewu all looking to make amends. Despite everyone wanting and expecting Gold Cup success this summer, US fans will be keen to see which players can adapt and morph into a key component of Klinsmann’s new system. Stuart Holden, Mix Diskerud and Jose Torres have shown glimpses that they can force their way into the midfield picture, this Gold Cup is huge for them.

No doubt, the squad assembled will be going flat out to try and better the achievements of the US national teams three wins from three in the recent CONCACAF Hexagonal qualifying round.

After smashing Guatemala for six last time out, Klinsmann’s hybrid squad looked hungry and defiant to stake their claim for the Gold Cup trophy. It all starts in front of the partisan crowd at JELD-WEN Field at 11pm ET this evening on Fox Soccer.

While Belize will simply be hoping to keep the score respectable against the US and Costa Rica in their first group games before meeting their final game against Cuba. They’re ranked No. 130 in the latest FIFA rankings and have only been a member of the governing body at all since 1986.

The Jaguars qualified for this year’s tournament after a fourth-placed finish in the Copa Centroamericana in January, after beating Nicaragua 2-1 in the group stage keyed by Deon McCauley’s injury-time winner. It was Belize’s first Centroamericana win in 23 tries.

Striker McCauley is their biggest hope for success, and he is still the leading scorer in the current CONCACAF World Cup qualifying round with 11 goals, despite Belize crashing out in the second round way back in 2011.

OTHER NOTES: The USA’s biggest win in an international match came against Barbados on June 15, 2008, when the Nats won 8-0. Can they top that tonight?

Watford signs Will Hughes from Derby County

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Watford has completed the capture of 22-year-old central midfielder Will Hughes, a fantastic transfer for one of England’s younger talents.

Hughes, despite his young age, racked up 189 appearances for Derby County (despite missing significant time in 2015 for an ACL tear) and now gets his first shot at the Premier League, and with it potentially a chance to push his way into the England fold. Hughes has been a staple for the England youth system, making 22 appearances for the country’s U-21 side but is yet to feature for the senior team.

The fee for the transfer was undisclosed but reports have tabbed the amount at around $10 million.

Hughes came close to making the Premier League with Derby County on multiple occasions, reaching the Championship playoffs in both 2014 and 2016. Now, he’ll battle the likes of Valon Behrami, Tom Cleverley, Etienne Capoue, Abdoulaye Doucoure for a spot in Watford’s midfield.

The club release confirmed that Hughes has not yet completed his medical, and will do so when he returns to the U.K. from competing in the U-21 European Championships in Poland.

New Zealand 0-4 Portugal: Ronaldo, Portugal win Group A

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New Zealand gave the 2017 Confederations Cup all they had, but they go home empty-handed as Portugal won the Group A finale 3-0 to advance to the knockout round.

Portugal held much of the possession as expected, but they found little at the end early on. The first true chance fell to Cristiano Ronaldo in the 24th minute, who latched onto a Ricardo Quaresma cross from wide right and produced a powerful header, but it was poorly directed straight to New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic for the easy save.

[ RECAP: Mexico eliminates Russia with 2-1 comeback ]

Ronaldo had another headed chance minutes later, but he rocketed the attempt back off the post. Portugal would eventually find the opener just past the half-hour mark via the penalty spot. Danilo was clearly shoved by a pair of defenders on a set-piece, and Ronaldo easily dispatched the spot-kick for a 1-0 lead.

The favorites would double their lead just a few minutes later as Eliseu on the overlap came down the left flank and cut horizontally into the box. He fed a charging Bernardo Silva, and the in-demand Monaco attacker jumped to meet it and poked home. Silva was unable to celebrate after turning his ankle heavily on the landing, but he would come back onto the field.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Portugal finished things off with 10 minutes to go in the game as Andre Silva burst through the midfielder, shucked his defender, and fired past Marinovic to seal the game for good. Nani added a fourth The win means Portugal finishes level on points with Mexico at the top of Group A, winning the group on goal differential thanks to Silva’s final goal.

Mexico 2-1 Russia: Comeback seals semifinal place

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Mexico again produced a poor first half, but were saved in the final 45 minutes as Juan Carlos Osorio led the CONCACAF squad to the semifinals of the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Right off the bat, there was a controversial moment. Just five minutes into the game, Yuri Zhirkov burst into the Mexico box and went to ground under a challenge from Hector Moreno. The referee waved play on, but it appeared on replay that Moreno tripped Zhirkov. Nevertheless, no call was made and no word came from the video assistant referee.

[ RECAP: Portugal eases by New Zealand 4-0 ]

The hosts had another huge penalty shout, but the referee again waved play on as Fedor Smolov was sent flying to ground as Nestor Araujo contacted his leg from behind in the 17th minute. After about a minute of play, the VAR called for a review, but even after a look at the monitor, the referee decided there was not obvious reason to reverse the call.

With Russia applying all the pressure, they would find the breakthrough in the 25th minute. A pair of fantastic saves from Memo Ochoa went for naught as Alexandr Erokhin whiffed, but he was able to find Aleksandr Samedov who struck low past Ochoa for the opener.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

The lead wouldn’t last long. Mexico didn’t exactly seem sparked by the deficit, but they would draw back level against the run of play just past the half-hour mark. It appeared that Nestor Araujo’s looping header was meant to set up a teammate at the far post, but it ended up chipping Igor Akinfeev and tucking inside the woodwork for the equalizer.

After halftime, Mexico scored completely out of nowhere. A bombed clearance out of the back by Hector Herrera seemed an easy collect for Akinfeev, but as the ball bounced high up into the air, Hirving Lozano charged it down and headed the ball under feeble pressure from the Russian goalkeeper. The ball bounced unchallenged into the net, and Mexico took a shock 2-1 lead.

Mexico appeared to have a third to pad the lead, but VAR took 34 seconds to correctly reverse the call as replay spotted goalscorer Hector Moreno in an offside position on the delivery. Russia was doomed to defeat when Zhirkov was given a second yellow card for a clear elbow to the face of Miguel Layun. Somehow, the hosts still had one big chance in the 72nd minute despite the disadvantage, but Igor Smolinkov somehow missed the net on what should have been a tap-in.

The win for Mexico sees them into the knockout stage, but they fail to win the group, finishing level with Portugal on 7 points but coming up short on goal differential by one. Mexico will be without Andres Guardado in the semifinals, as he was shown his second yellow card of the tournament in the first half.

Report: Arsenal owner calls Bellerin to state intentions

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According to a report by Spanish radio station Cadena SER, Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke has personally called defender Hector Bellerin to tell the Spaniard he would not be sold.

The 22-year-old experienced a serious regression at the Emirates last season, and with media speculation surrounding his potential departure, Kroenke wanted to make sure his intentions were clear. Reports had linked Bellerin with a return to his home country, most notably to Barcelona.

With Bellerin under contract through 2021 having just signed his extension last summer, it’s clear the club has decided who they believe keeping should be a priority.

The defender lost his place briefly down the stretch run last season, finding himself on the bench in seven of the club’s final 17 Premier League matches. Despite that, Arsenal still clearly values Bellerin’s talent and durability and hope to ward Barcelona’s interest off. Bellerin didn’t help cool speculation when he bought a house in Barcelona just a short time ago.

Reports say that Arsenal would not take any less than $57 million for their right-back.