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Swansea 1 – Manchester United 4: A brace apiece from Van Persie and Welbeck (Video)

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(Watch full replay of the game above)

Manchester United just may have quelled the fears of the majority of its fanbase with an emphatic 4-1 victory against Swansea in their opening match of the season. Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck each scored a brace, while Wayne Rooney was instrumental in the two second half goals. Meanwhile the hosts had to be content with a consolation goal from new boy Wilfried Bony.

Manchester United may have been the ones defending the title, but for the majority of the first half, Swansea looked the better side. The Swans had more of the possession and their passing was crisper and more accurate. Yet it was the visitors that went into the break with a 2-0 lead, thanks to two goals inside two minutes.

A pass up the middle from Ryan Giggs found Van Persie lurking in front of goal. The Dutchman chested the ball down toward his right foot before volleying past Michel Vorm and into the top right corner. It was a beautiful goal and a magnificent start to Van Persie’s second season with United, but it’s quite possible David Moyes was even more ecstatic than the goalscorer.

The new Manchester United manager was even more thrilled, then, when two minutes later Welbeck scored his side’s second. Van Persie couldn’t quite direct his header toward goal, but was successful in knocking it down for Antonio Valencia. The winger sent the ball across the face of goal, where Welbeck was waiting to tap in from close range.

Despite a sudden downpour, Swansea got off to a bright start after play resumed. Record signing Wilfried Bony came on at the start of the second half, as did Pablo Hernandez, while Leon Britton and Wayne Routledge gave way. Just five minutes after the restart, Michu set about troubling the United defense, with a sharp kick forcing De Gea into a save. The United keeper managed to recover the spilled shot before Nathan Dyer could latch on to the ball.

(WATCH: Highlights of Manchester United’s win over Swansea)

With around 30 minutes to play, it was time for Wayne Rooney to step on to the pitch, replacing the venerable Giggs. A few boos rang out around Liberty Stadium, but there’s no telling, really, if any of those were emanating from the away support. But just a few minutes after Rooney stepped on to the pitch, the United supporters may have been justified in throwing a few insults at the forward. Welbeck broke free with plenty of space in the Swansea area, and had the option of picking out Van Persie or Rooney with his pass. Alas, he choose Rooney, who’d put his head into the clouds and drifted into a clearly offside position.

But Rooney redeemed himself in the 72nd minute. Van Persie picked up the ball near the halfway line and took it toward goal himself, picking his way through the Swans players. Yet it was Rooney’s crucial run, which pulled away the Swansea defense, that allowed Van Persie plenty of space to snap a left-footed shot into the top left corner, giving United the 3-0 lead. That move stopped the snide remarks and had the away support chanting Rooney’s name.

Swansea did manage to pick up a consolation prize in the 82nd minute when Wilfried Bony scored in his league debut. Pablo Hernandez, on at halftime, took advantage of some confusion in the United defense, slipping through the red shirts to steal the ball. Hernanez slid his pass over to Bony, who slotted it neatly past David de Gea to put the Swans on the board.

Yet Manchester United refused to stop until they claimed the spot at the top of the table. Danny Welbeck scored his second in extra time, with the help of Wayne Rooney once again. Rooney executed a lovely little turn before slipping the ball toward Welbeck, who was racing up the right. Welbeck almost made it look too easy, dinking the ball over the head of Vorm and into the back of the net for a 4-1 United win.

Lineups

Swansea: Michel Vorm, Ben Davies, Ashley Williams, Chico Flores, Angel Rangel, Leon Britton (Wilfried Bony 46), Jose Canas (Ki Sung-Yueng 77), Wayne Routledge (Pablo Hernández 46), Jonjo Shelvey, Nathan Dyer, Michu

Substitutes not used: Gerhard Tremmel, Jordi Amat, Neil Taylor, Alejandro Pozuelo

Manchester United: David de Gea, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Phil Jones, Ryan Giggs (Wayne Rooney 62), Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck, Robin van Persie (Anderson 86), Antonio Valencia

Substitutes not used: Anders Lindegaard, Chris Smalling, Fabio, Shinji Kagawa, Wilfried Zaha

LA Galaxy newcomer Ashley Cole takes responsibility for previous MLS quote

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 5: Ashley Cole #3 of the Los Angeles Galaxy speaks after he was introduced during a news conference at StubHub Center February 5, 2016, in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Wireimage)
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During Ashley Cole‘s introductory press conference today, where the former Chelsea legend was officially unveiled by the LA Galaxy to the media alongside Belgian defender Jelle Van Damme, a predictable question came his way.

Cole was asked about comments he made a year and a half ago when he joined AS Roma, where he said he turned down offers from Major League Soccer because he didn’t want to go “relax on the beach.”

The 35-year-old took responsibility for the quote, saying, “Of course, I hold my hands up, it was said.” However, he defended himself saying he was baited into the comments by the Italian reporter.

“I’m not going to come here and try to defend myself,” Cole said. “It was said, but it was for sure taken out of content. I was talking to the reporter, and he kind of said it to me, ‘We’re glad to have you at Roma. We didn’t expect you to be here, we thought you would go and relax on the beach.'”

“Of course you have to understand, I was at a new team, I have to tell the fans at Roma I was here to fight, I was there to win things and play in the Champions League.”

Cole said he spoke to Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and Robbie Keane about the league before deciding to join Major League Soccer. “I know it’s going to be hard for me for sure, but I’m happy to be here, I’m going to work as hard as I can, change a few views on me being here, and we’ll see. I’m a winner, I always want to win, I didn’t come here to sit on the beach – to rest – I’m here to play football and work hard. I’m not a diva, I’m not this egotistical guy that comes and thinks he’s bigger than anyone.”

3 key battles for USMNT against Canada

CARSON, CA - JANUARY 31:  Jozy Altidore #17 of the United States chases down a pass against Iceland during the first half at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The United States takes on Canada in the second of two matches throughout January camp to test those brought in and see who stands out.

They took out Iceland in the first match, and now the Canadians stand in the way at the Stubhub Center in Carson, CA at 10:30 on Friday night.

[ PREVIEW: Get the full look at US vs Canada ]

Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann no doubt has already run through is list of positives and negatives in the win over Iceland. While the win is nice, the overriding purpose here is to both evaluate certain players and determine the best formula for success moving forward into World Cup qualifying, the Copa America, and the Olympics.

So, with that in mind, here are three key matchups to keep an eye on as the USMNT players battle both Canada and each other for spots on the roster in future meaningful games.

1) United States attack vs Canada’s organization

The US was solid in possession against Iceland, but it came against an opponent that showed a more attacking intent and also appeared to have limited motivation. Canada would not be what you call a “defensive” team, but they are very organized under Benito Floro, and it shows. They’ve conceded 1 or 0 goals in each of their last 13 matches, losing just once across that time. Their goalscoring numbers have suffered, but it’s translated into marginal success.

To hold the ball against Iceland, the US used a slow build-up process beginning with Jermaine Jones (who stayed surprisingly composed and centralized during his time on the field) who fed Michael Bradley and Lee Nguyen further up the pitch. That tactic may not be as effective against a less erratic opponent, but it will be interesting to see how Klinsmann decides to break down the Canadian defensive unit. The wide areas may be vital.

The 0-0 scoreline has been a fixture in this matchup, finishing goalless the last two times and in four of the last eight, so the US will no doubt be looking to break that deadlock early lest they get frustrated as time progresses.

2) USMNT full-backs vs wide play

Michael Orozco and Brad Evans were sent back to their clubs, leaving the United States incredibly thin at a position the nation has already been weak at for years. Jurgen Klinsmann has been searching far and wide for an answer to this question, and with young Kellyn Acosta slightly out of his depth or potentially star-struck in his debut against Iceland, there are a few other question marks.

The options are limited. Acosta could get another shot if Klinsmann likes what he sees in training, or he could move to the likes of Brandon Vincent or Matt Polster. The latter logged 30 matches for Chicago last year as a rookie, while Vincent was just drafted by FC Dallas and has yet to even make a professional appearance. Either way, it’s likely Canada targets the wide areas as a point of weakness for the US, so whoever plays will be in the spotlight.

[ VIDEO: Bobby Wood scores skillful goal for club ]

3) Central defenders vs Akindele and Larin

Whether Floro decides to play Larin centrally by himself, or partner him with Akindele, the striker(s) will be the main target for Canada’s attack. Larin and Akindele both have not seen the scoresheet since a 4-0 win over the Dominican Republic in World Cup qualifying last June, so they will be itching to get back on board. Should one be deployed centrally, look for the lone wolf to split the central defenders and receive service from wide areas where Canada may exploit the aforementioned weaknesses along the outside of the US back line.

How do you see the US matching up against Canada, and visa-versa?

VIDEO: Bobby Wood splits defenders, scores beautiful solo goal for Union Berlin

DUBLIN, IRELAND - NOVEMBER 18:  Bobby Wood of USA during the International Friendly match between the Republic of Ireland and USA at the Aviva Stadium on November 18, 2014 in Dublin, Ireland.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Bobby Wood may not be in January camp, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t able to catch the eye of USMNT supporters, and more importantly head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

All he has to do is channel his inner Lionel Messi, split a couple of hapless “defenders” with a stunning display of ball control, and bag an 86th-minute equalizer by beating a goalkeeper at his near post.

Funny, because that’s exactly what he did today as Union Berlin drew 2-2 with Kaiserslautern in 2.Bundesliga league play.

Should you set this defensive display to Yakety Sax? It would fit. Is the goalkeeper’s positioning laughable? Absolutely. Nonetheless, the 23-year-old Hawaii native shows he is building his skill set in Germany and is becoming a useful piece of the puzzle for Klinsmann’s talent pool.

The goal is the eighth of Wood’s 2.Bundesliga season in 20 appearances. The club has lost just one match in its last eight, pulling away from the drop zone into a virtual 3-way tie for 11th position. They sit seven points above the relegation zone and nine off a promotion slot.

African confederation backs Shiekh Salman, not Sexwale, for FIFA presidency

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MAY 02:  Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain poses after he was elected as the 11th President of the Asian Football Confederation during the 2013 AFC Congress at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on May 2, 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
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The African confederation (CAF) announced today in a statement following a meeting in Kigali, Rwanda that they would be unanimously backing Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa for the FIFA presidency.

The AFC has unrivaled power in the vote for the FIFA presidency, and with 54 votes, decided to push all their support into one bloc. The choice to back Salman comes at somewhat of a surprise, given that Tokyo Sexwale was a favorite in the region as he is a South African native, and the CAF has long campaigned for one of its own to be put into office.

Sheikh Salman is the current head of the Asian confederation (AFC), serving in that position since he was voted into office in May of 2013. The AFC signed a cooperative agreement with the CAF just last month

“I am humbled by the support of CAF’s Executive Committee and tremendously encouraged by the unanimous decision to support my bid for the office of FIFA president,” Sheikh Salman said in a statement following the announcement. “I am deeply honored to have earned the trust of many of our African friends at this crucial stage of the campaigning effort.  The two endorsements only mean that there is a strong groundswell in favor of my candidacy. What they don’t mean, is that I can sit back and relax. This campaign will be decided on the day of the vote, not before. Naturally, I am confident that I now have a reasonably strong position to work from with such support.”

In a twist, just hours after the announcement by the CAF, fellow presidential candidate Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein revealed on Twitter that he had the backing of the Egyptian Football Federation, which is a member of the CAF. The original tweet came from an account created to support his presidential bid, but it was retweeted by Prince Ali’s personal verified account.

No word has been announced on whether the CAF had accepted Egypt’s apparent rogue nature. The initial statement by the CAF announcing support for Sheikh Salman read, “While respecting the principle of democracy, the sovereignty, and latitude of each member association to vote for the candidate of its choice, the Executive Committee urges all the 54 member associations of the Confédération Africaine de Football to reserve their votes for Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa during the 26 February 2016 elections for the presidency of FIFA in Zurich.”

The CAF is headquartered just outside Cairo, Egypt.