Cuba up next for United States national team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup

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Cuba is likely to pose a little more threat today than little Belize could to the United States’ stab at dominance in the CONCACAF Gold Cup group stage – but only a little bit more.

There are definitely tougher tasks ahead in the three-week tournament to crown a regional champion in North and Central America and the Caribbean, they are just slow to arrive for Jurgen Klinsmann’s men, who made quick work of its first match, a 6-1 win in Portland.

The team relocated south to Salt Lake City for today’s contest against Cuba, which had  its own troubles in a 3-0 loss to Costa Rica to open the Gold Cup.

It did take the Ticos of Costa Rica 51 minutes to break through on Tuesday, finally bettering the Cuban back line and beating Cuban goalkeeper Odelin Molina, who looked suspect on more than one of the goals.

”We got a little bit disorganized in the second half, which cost us the result,” Cuban manager Walter Benitez said.

More of the same will surely cost Cuba goals Saturday when the teams line up at Rio Tinto Stadium just outside of Salt Lake City. (Kickoff is set  for 3:30 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel.) That’s because fate has intervened to stockpile the U.S. lineup with two or three attackers who might not be around otherwise.

Klinsmann has a “B” team for this tournament, giving some of the top men in the U.S. player pool a few weeks off before they get back into league play in Europe. More accurately, he “mostly” has a “B” team.

Turns out, the national team’s all-time leader in goals and assists, Landon Donovan, needed re-introduction into the national team after his well-documented time away from pro soccer. So he was around to strike twice in a 6-0 rout of Guatemala eight days ago, and then to chip in a goal and two assists in an equally dominant 6-1 win over Belize to open the Americans’ Gold Cup account

With the two assists, Donovan became the first national team man record 50 career goals and 50 assists. Not bad for a “B” team type, eh?

Then there’s Stuart Holden, who would definitely be among the first 16-18 players in the U.S. pool but for those career-threatening injuries that stripped away almost two years from the versatile midfielder. The Gold Cup is also Holden’s re-introduction.

(MORE: Player ratings from the win over Guatemala)

(MORE: Player ratings from the 6-0 win over Belize)

Even if the opposition is decidedly of the lightweight variety, Holden’s first two extensive runs in the national team shirt have been wonderfully encouraging for all.

“For me now it’s not a matter of being back, it’s a matter of getting better than that,” Holden said after playing 45 minutes against Belize. “I want to be better than I was before. I want to reach new heights that I didn’t before my injury. In terms of being back, that word is overplayed. I’m there. It’s just a matter of fine tuning and taking it to the next level.”

Brek Shea has also appeared threatening along the U.S. left side in the matches of the last eight days. He was a first-choice type when Klinsmann took the U.S. post almost two years ago, but lost his way amid a string of injuries and a move to Stoke City that has yet to pay dividends.

Klinsmann has personnel choices, like whether to bring Oguchi Onyewu back into the central defense. And whether to get Herculez Gomez back into the starting lineup, which could come at the expense of Chris Wondolowski, who had three goals in a hige night  in Portland against Belize.

With a tougher match coming up against Costa Rica, Klinsmann also has the option of using the match to rest some of the starters and introduce some younger types, like MLS scoring sensation Jack McInerney, who is in his first camp with the senior national team.

“The decisions for Gooch (Onyewu) and Herc (Gomez) were based on the fact that they’ve had knee issues in the past and we didn’t want to risk anything on the turf field,” Klinsmann said in explaining some of Tuesday’s lineup choices. “The same thing with Stuart Holden was that if we need you, you’ll come off the bench when things open up a little bit. There are always situations when it’s not that kind of style in the game and others have the opportunity. Wondo realizes every minute he’s on the field that he has an opportunity, and he better take it, and he did very well.”

Matuidi having a medical at Juventus ahead of move from PSG

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Blaise Matuidi was having a medical at Juventus on Wednesday ahead of a potential move to the Serie A club.

Juventus said that Matuidi arrived at Turin airport in the afternoon and was undergoing tests.

Juventus will reportedly pay PSG 20 million euros ($23 million) plus bonuses for the 30-year-old Matuidi, who had a year left on his contract with the French club.

[ MORE: Wenger issues updates on Alexis, Ox, Wilshere ]

PSG, which is also trying to balance the books after buying Neymar for 222 million euros, could not afford to lose Matuidi on a free transfer.

Matuidi played nearly 300 games for PSG in all competitions after joining from Saint-Etienne in 2011.

After a difficult first season, he quickly became an integral part of the team for successive managers, Carlo Ancelotti and Laurent Blanc.

He flourished from a largely defensive midfielder to a robust, tireless runner with an eye for goal and an enormous work-rate.

Overcoming some technical deficiencies in his game, Matuidi gradually earned himself a place in the France lineup and became a key player at the 2014 World Cup and last year’s European Championship.

At the beginning of last season, after Blanc was fired and replaced by Unai Emery, he expressed a desire to leave PSG and already wanted to join Juventus. But the club blocked his move, considering him too important to leave, and he stayed for another season.

Altogether, Matuidi has scored 33 goals for PSG in 295 appearances, becoming a well-respected player among fans and teammates alike, often taking a public stance when others would not and when tensions arose within the club.

In all, Matuidi has won four league titles, three French Cups and four League Cups with PSG.

This story has been corrected to show that Neymar’s fee was 222 million euros, not 220 million euros.

Furious Cristiano Ronaldo responds to five-game ban

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Cristiano Ronaldo has hit out at the Spanish soccer federation after his five game ban for pushing a referee in the back was upheld.

Ronaldo, 32, pushed the ref after he was shown a second yellow card in Real Madrid’s 3-1 win in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup at Barcelona on Sunday.

It capped an eventful El Clasico for Ronaldo who arrived in the second half as a sub, then scored a stunner to put Real 2-1 up.

He received his first yellow for taking off his shirt and holding it up to the Nou Camp crowd to mock Lionel Messi for doing the same in a goal celebration in April at the Santiago Bernabeu. Ronaldo then received a second yellow for going down in the box under a challenge.

In an Instagram post the Real Madrid forward had the following to say about the decision which sees him banned for the second leg ag the Bernabeu on Wednesday as well as Real’s next four games.

“It seems to me exaggerated and ridiculous, this is called persecution.”

 

 

LIVE – Champions League playoff: Napoli, Celtic, Sevilla in action

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Five more UEFA Champions League playoff first leg games take place on Wednesday after Liverpool, CSKA Moscow, APOEL and Qarabag all recorded wins on Tuesday to take them one step closer to the UCL group stage.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

Brendan Rodgers‘ Celtic host Kazakhstan’s Astana at Celtic Park hoping for a big first leg lead with the Scottish champs aiming to make the UCL group stage for the second-straight season under former Liverpool boss Rodgers.

A tasty clash at the Stadio San Paolo sees Napolo host Nice in what is the best tie in the UCL playoff round. Can Lorenzo Insigne down Mario Balotelli and Co.?

Elsewhere Turkish side Istanbul Basaksehir have the likes of Gael Clichy, Gokhan Inler and Emmanuel Adebayor as they try to upset Sevilla, while Greek giants Olympiacos host Croatia’s Rijeka, Israeli champs Hapoel Be’er Sheva do battle with Slovenian champs Maribor.

Below is the full schedule for Wednesday’s games, which kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, while you can click on the link above to follow live commentary on all five matches.


Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League playoff first legs

Napoli vs. Nice
Cetlic vs. Astana
Olympiacos vs. Rijeka
Istanbul Basaksehir vs. Sevilla
Hapoel Be’er Sheva vs. Maribor

SERIE A 2017-18: 5 key players signed in the off season

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ROME (AP) Here’s a look at five offseason signings to watch in the upcoming Serie A season:

LEONARDO BONUCCI

Considered Italy’s top defender – which is saying a lot for a nation that prides itself on its great defenders – Bonucci’s transfer from Juventus to AC Milan could alter the balance of power in Serie A.

While Bonucci clashed often with Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri last season, his decision to leave the six-time defending champion was still surprising.

The 30-year-old Bonucci brings leadership qualities and will allow Milan coach Vincenzo Montella to employ a three-man defense that promotes the center back’s excellent passing skills.

Bonucci’s transfer fee topped 40 million euros ($45 million), and he signed a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros ($11 million) per season – making him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Milan won the last of its 18 Serie A titles in 2011 – just before Juventus’ current reign started.

FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI

One of Italy’s top young players, the 23-year-old winger will provide a new attacking dimension for Juventus following a move from Fiorentina.

Also capable as a playmaker, there was pressure for Bernardeschi to take the No. 10 shirt that Michel Platini, Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero wore at Juventus. Bernardeschi cautiously chose No. 33 instead, saying he needs to show that he “deserves” No. 10 in the future.

Juventus paid a transfer fee of 40 million euros ($45 million) for Bernardeschi and signed him to a five-year contract worth 4 million euros ($4.6 million) per season.

BORJA VALERO

Another Fiorentina export, this Spanish passing wizard could provide Inter Milan with the touch of class that it lacked during a tumultuous campaign last season that included four managerial changes.

At 32, Valero has long been overlooked by Spain’s national team but he was a fan favorite at Fiorentina.

The bald-headed midfielder’s vision on the pitch can be compared to Andrea Pirlo’s skills, although he’s not as precise on free kicks as the former Italy international.

ANDRE SILVA

Cristiano Ronaldo’s wingman with Portugal, the 21-year-old Silva has been compared to a young Fernando Torres, the former Spain striker currently playing for Atletico Madrid.

At AC Milan, the tall forward should be a constant danger on set pieces inside the area.

Silva has already scored eight goals in just 13 matches for his national team.

He also scored 21 times in 44 matches for FC Porto last season, before joining Milan in a transfer that cost 38 million euros ($42.5 million).

MATTIA DE SCIGLIO

Mattia De Sciglio’s transfer from AC Milan was not greeted with too much enthusiasm by Juventus fans.

The fullback was brought in as a replacement for Dani Alves, who departed for Paris Saint-Germain, and supporters believe it’s a downgrade.

But De Sciglio is reliable at either right or left back and is still developing at 24 years old – even though he made his Serie A debut at 18.

It will be interesting to see if De Sciglio can prove the doubters wrong, and if he can fit into Massimiliano Allegri’s preferred three-man defense.

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf