Jozy Altidore hat trick pushes U.S. to 4-3, comeback win over Bosnia and Herzegovina

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The United States men’s national team’s 11-match winning streak was threatened early Wednesday night, the CONCACAF champions going into halftime down two. Then the summer of Jozy Altidore continued, with three goals and an assist in the second half extended the U.S.’s record streak to 12, the team going to Sarajevo and handing Bosnia and Herzegovina a 4-3 loss.

The result was one of the most dramatic turnarounds of the Jurgen Klinsmann era, with a team that looked decidedly second best through 45 minutes finding four second half goals, giving the U.S. their first come-from-behind victory on European soil. It also have the U.S. a surprisingly strong result against FIFA’s 13th-ranked team, a likely-Brazil 2014 qualifier who started most of their best players.

First half goals from Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic gave Bosnia and Herzegovina a two-goal, halftime lead, though a halftime adjustment from Jurgen Klinsmann saw early Eddie Johnson and Jozy Altidore pull the U.S. even within 13 minutes of half time. A free kick in the 85th minute and a close-range finish a minute later completed Altidore’s second international hat trick, mimicking his April 1, 2009 performance in World Cup qualifying at Trinidad and Tobago.

Eddie Johnson recorded the U.S.’s first goal, pulling the team within one 10 minutes into the second half. Dzeko’s second goal, a 90th minute header flicked into the right of Tim Howard’s goal, pulled Bosnia back within one after Altidore’s second half explosion had put the U.S. up two.

Lineup and debuts

A mostly European-based lineup saw 20-year-old John Anthony Brooks get his first senior cap at kickoff, the Hertha Berlin defend who scored on his weekend Bundesliga debut starting to the left of Geoff Cameron in central defense. Fabian Johnson and Brad Evans completed the defensive line in front of Tim Howard.

In midfield, Gold Cup standouts Eddie Johnson, Mikkel Diskerud, and Alejandro Bedoya formed the attacking midfield’s line of three in front of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones, with Jozy Altidore left alone up top.

Though he didn’t start, AZ Alkmaar striker Aron Jóhansson later joined Brooks in earning his first senior cap, the Iceland youth international having completed his one-time switch to the United States on Tuesday. Entering in the 63rd minute for Eddie Johnson, Jóhansson became permanently committed to the United States.

Defense fails U.S. early

After an even start that saw the U.S. gain traction down their right, a mistake by Eddie Johnson just outside the U.S.’s 18-yard box practically gifted the hosts their opening goal. Standing above the ball six yards from the edge of the penalty area, Johnson hesitated and elected to take an extra touch before being dispossessed. Two touches later, Zvjezdan Misimović put Dezko through on Howard. Through the U.S. number one made the initial stop, a rebound straight back to Dezko allowed the Bosnian star to give his team an eighth minute lead.

It was part of a rough start for Johnson, who also hesitated twice when given the chance to go one-on-one against Biram Bikacic in the left of the Bosnian penalty area. On the other side, however, Bedoya was continuing the strong Gold Cup form that earned the new Nantes winger a start on the right.

Bedoya wasn’t the only American who showed signs of life after Bosnia and Herzegovina’s opener. Altidore was proving troublesome of for the Bosnia defense, drawing fouls from his opposing central defenders, including a 27th minute yellow card from Bosnian captain Emir Saphic. In the 17th minute, Diskerud nearly generated a chance before being ridden off the ball by Elvir Rahimic in the Bosnian penalty area. As the U.S. dictated possession, Michael Bradley controlled the game in front of a deep-sitting Bosnian block.

The U.S. control was rendered irrelevant in the 30th minute, however, when a Bosnian with strong U.S. connections doubled his team’s lead. Vedad Ibisevic, who went to St. Louis University and maintains family in the area, cut in front of Geoff Cameron on a cross from his team’s right flank. Although relays showed Ibisevic may have been offside, the assistant referee’s flag stayed down. Ibisevic’s header give Bosnia and Herzegovina a 2-0 lead.

The rest of the first half was defined by Bosnia’s danger on the counter, the team getting out on four dangerous transitions over the half’s final 15 minutes. Twice Brooks intervened. Another attack failed to generate a chance, while a 35th minute movement from the right after a  Jones turnover allowed Miralem Pjanic a shot from just to the right of the penalty spot. While Roma attacker was unable to bend his shot inside the right post, the U.S. defenders were still left flat-footed by two quick passes and a run through the middle by Pjanic.

The U.S. eventually survived into halftime only down two, but the team hadn’t shown well. Beyond Altidore and Bedoya, nobody stood out, while the struggles of Jones, the central defenders, and Fabian Johnson left the team’s winning streak in doubt.

Klinsmann’s key halftime adjustments

Jurgen Klinsmann adjusted at halftime by switching formations, going from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2. To do so, Klinsmann sacrificed Diskerud in favor of Edgar Castillo, whose insertion at left back pushed Fabian Johnson into midfield. That freed Eddie Johnson to join Altidore up top.

The tweak paid off early in the second half. Bradley, standing over a ball just inside the Bosnian half in the 55th minute, lofted a pass just inside Begovic’s area for Altidore. Though the keeper came for the ball, he couldn’t prevent Altidore from touching a pass to his right for Eddie Johnson, who finished into an open net, making it 2-1.

Three minutes later, the U.S. had their second goal, with Fabian Johnson’s pass into the area finding Altidore cutting in front of Rahimic. The Sunderland striker’s first time, left-footed finish into the right of goal made it 2-2.

Soon, Klinsmann started making chances. In the 63rd minute Jóhansson and Joe Corona were on for Eddie Johnson and Bedoya. Seven minutes later, Sacha Kljestan was on for Jones. By that time, Bosnia had responded to the U.S.’s opening second half surge, but with both managers turning to their benches, it looked unlikely that the deadlock would be broke.

Jóhansson, however, did his best to do so. Two strong shots on goal early in his shift didn’t trouble Begovic, but hey showed more initiative than most were providing over the match’s final half hour. Bosnia tested Howard twice, too, but when Bosnia’s defense was sent sprawling in the 81st minute to deny one of his attacks, Jóhansson looked like the likely game-winner.

Altidore’s late explosion

Two minutes later, however, Altidore stepped back into the spotlight. Taking a rare free kick 21 yards out, Altidore went up-and-over the Bosnia wall to finish into Begovic’s upper-left hand corner, giving the U.S. a chance to extend their 11-match winning streak. When, one minute later, Bradley set up Altidore in the right of the area — much like Altidore had set up Eddie Johnson on the U.S.’s opening goal — Altidore had the 23rd goal of his international career, his scoring streak extended to five games.

Bosnia made it a match four minutes later when Dexko flicked home his second goal of the match, but in the tall striker’s celebration, you could see the match was over. Rather than running to the ball to retrieve it ahead of a quick kickoff, Dzeko’s immediate reaction was relief. Shoulders slumping as he exhaled, Dzeko gave the appearance of a man happy to have stopped the U.S. onslaught.

That onslaught maintains the U.S.’s momentum ahead of the resumption of World Cup Qualifying next month. The U.S. travel to Estadio Nacional in San Jose to face Costa Rica on Sept. 6, returning to Columbus four days later to face Mexico.

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.