Yeltsin Tejeda, Graham Zusi

Costa Rica 3-1 United States: Worst-case scenario as yellow cards, injury compound road loss

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It was about as bad as Jurgen Klinsmann could have hoped for, from before the start to the final whistle as Costa Rica thumped the United States 3-1 at Estadio Nacional.

Things started horribly for the USMNT, when they lost Michael Bradley pregame with an ankle sprain.  It forced Geoff Cameron into action, and the absence of Bradley’s calm and precise passing was evident throughout.

The match started rough as well. In the third minute the ball slotted through and fell to Bryan Ruiz all alone in the box, and he wasn’t able to put it in the back of the net, forcing a save from Howard.  The ensuing corner was beautifully headed in by Jhonny Acosta, taking a deflection off DaMarcus Beasley covering the near post and tucked into the back of the net for an early Costa Rican 1-0 lead.

Costa Rica continued to pinch and collapse their wingers forward into the box, and support them on the wings by launching their wing backs forward.  This flooded the box, and in the 10th minute Celso Borges beat the United States defenders in the air to bury another header past a flat-footed Tim Howard to make it a shock 2-0 scoreline early.

The bombing wing backs targeted Michael Orozco on the US’s right flank.  Orozco was a surprise start at right back by Jurgen Klinsmann over Michael Parkhurst or Geoff Cameron, and it didn’t appear clear why that decision was made.

The US barely had a sniff on goal in the first half, with their best chance coming off the foot of Fabian Johnson in the 27th minute.  The first good buildup from the visitors produced a low cross into the box by Zusi.  Johnson found it and unloaded a laser of a volley to the far post but a fabulous save by Keylor Navas turned it around wide.

Just as Costa Rica thought they were going into halftime with a solid lead, Navas took down Fabian Johnson in the box, who had been threaded through on goal. The ball skidded away, and what looked at first like a legitimate challenge was proved by replays to be all man and no ball.  The referee awarded a penalty, and Dempsey converted for a massive goal on his 100th cap to make it 2-1.

source: ReutersThe second half settled down heavily from the hectic first period, and it took 11 minutes for the first clear chance to rear its head.  Clint Dempsey found himself with space out on the top of the box, neatly cut back and forth until he had an opening, and rifled a shot that clattered the left post.

The United States possession looked cleaner and tighter as the second half progressed.  By the 70th minute, the chances had minimized but the United States were clearly in the ascendency.   It wasn’t to be for the Stars and Stripes though, as a clear miraculously found Joel Campbell who outpaced the center backs caught up too high and he easily slides past Tim Howard for a 3-1 Costa Rican lead.

Matt Besler soon received a yellow card off the ball, and he – along with Geoff Cameron, booked earlier in the match – will miss the meeting with Mexico early next week.  Jozy Altidore will also miss the match in Columbus, with an idiotic yet soft yellow for a shove in stoppage time.

The loss ends the national streak of 12 victories in a row for the United States, and means they drop to second place in the Hex standings, a point behind Costa Rica and two up on Honduras, who shocked Mexico at Azteca.

Lineups:

United States – Howard; Orozco, Gonzalez, Besler, Beasley; Cameron, Jones; Zusi (E. Johnson, 58′), Donovan, F. Johnson (Altidore, 71′); Dempsey (Johansson, 90′).

Costa Rica – Navas; G. Gonzalez, J. Acosta, Umana; Gamboa, Oviedo, Borges, Tejada (Cubero, 73′), Bolanos, Campbell, Ruiz.

AFCON wrap: Tunisia joins Senegal in knockout rounds (video)

Tunisia's Wahbi Khazri smiles during a press conference in Libreville, Gabon, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group B soccer match against Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Half of the field is set for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations knockout rounds, as Group B completed his final day of group play on Monday in Gabon.

[ FIFA: World Cup draw date at Kremlin ]

Senegal will move onto play Cameroon on Saturday, while Tunisia will take on Burkina Faso.

Senegal 2-2 Algeria

Leicester City’s Islam Slimani scored twice, but it wasn’t enough to get Algeria into the knockout rounds of AFCON.

Papakouly Diop and Moussa Sow answered Slimani’s goals, and Senegal enforced its hold on the group it had already clinched after two matches.

Algeria needed a win and help, and looked to get it when Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani carried over their chemistry from the Foxes of England to the Fennecs of Algeria.

Zimbabwe 2-4 Tunisia

Sunderland’s Wahbi Khazri scored of the fourth of Tunisia’s first half goals as the Eagles of Carthage emphatically clinched their knockout round spot. Tunisia lost in the quarterfinals in 2015.

Lille’s Naïm Sliti was also among the goal scorers for Tunisia, with Youssef Msakni (Lekhwiya) and Taha Yassine Khenissi (Esperance de Tunis) also netting markers.

Tendai Ndoro (Orlando Pirates) and Knowledge Musona (Oostende) scored for Zimbabwe.

Three USMNT players leave camp, two with injuries

Kekuta Manneh chases the ball during practice of the U.S. men's national soccer team Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Carson, Calif. Manneh has become a U.S. citizen, moving the Vancouver Whitecaps forward closer to eligibility for the men's national team. U.S. Soccer announced Manneh received his citizenship Wednesday, after the opening practice of January training camp under new coach Bruce Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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Less than a week from Bruce Arena’s second debut as USMNT boss, we know three players who won’t be in the Starting XI.

Injuries have felled FC Dallas duo Kellyn Acosta and Matt Hedges, while Vancouver attacker Kekuta Manneh is leaving the squad to join his ‘Caps teammates for preseason in Wales.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League Playback ]

Acosta has a mild left ankle sprain and Hedges has a mild right knee sprain.

While Manneh may have been a long shot to see significant playing time on Sunday against Serbia or Feb. 4 versus Jamaica, Hedges had a chance to start at center back and Acosta has been capped before as well.

FIFA going to Kremlin for World Cup draw in December

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  Vladimir Putin, President of Russia speaks as FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter looks on during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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ZURICH (AP) FIFA says it will stage the 2018 World Cup draw on Dec. 1 at a Kremlin concert hall in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been allowing FIFA to use high-profile venues for World Cup ceremonies.

In July 2015, the qualifying program draw was made on the grounds of one of Putin’s official residences, Konstantin Palace near St. Petersburg. The summer was home built at the direction of Peter the Great.

The World Cup in Russia kicks off on June 14 at Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital, and returns there for the final on July 15.

Jurgen Klopp discusses Liverpool’s title chances

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool reacts during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Swansea City at Anfield on January 21, 2017 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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It was a disappointing weekend for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.

[ MORE: New odds for title contenders ]

The German coach watched on as his side lost 3-2 to Swansea City on Saturday in the Premier League and the Reds fell 10 points behind leaders Chelsea with 16 games to go.

Klopp’s men have only won once in six outings in all competitions in January, and ahead of their EFL Cup semifinal second leg against Southampton at Anfield (they trail 1-0 from the first leg) he was asked if they still have hope of overhauling Chelsea and winning the Premier League.

Speaking to the media, Klopp revealed that his team are good enough to at least be in the top four battle.

“We fight in each game, that’s maybe the most important thing. Then we have to see what happens around,” Klopp said. “Of course, in cup competitions the target is to win the competition. In the Premier League, it’s probably the same but it’s not that easy to plan or whatever. In this case, if Chelsea win all their games – which they pretty much do – there is no chance for any other team. For us, it’s still absolutely important to finish the season as well as possible – whatever that means. We’ll see after the season.

“You can imagine we have the quality to fight for the Champions League, that’s what we should do. If we do this and we are then close enough in the decisive moment of the season, you can still fight for a little bit more. But in this moment, it’s nothing we have to think about or we should think about. We now have two games and then we play Chelsea, so that’s when I’ll think about Chelsea but not how we can get them or whatever. We fight for everything we are able to, that’s all.”

He’s right. Liverpool finishing in the top four this season would be a great achievement at this stage of his project.

Perhaps more worrying for Klopp is that his side may now capitulate and finish outside of the top four for a second-straight season.

There’s no doubting that Liverpool have exceeded the expectations of most people so far in 2016-17 but Klopp’s men faded badly last season to finish in eighth place and with no wins in their last three games in the Premier League the pressure is on.

Without leading scorer Sadio Mane, who is away at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal, they’ve struggled to break opponents down and their defensive issues came to the fore against Swansea with sloppy mistakes costing them dear.

No team in the top seven has conceded more than Liverpool and with the Reds in fourth place and just four points ahead of sixth-place Manchester United and two points ahead of Manchester City who sit in fifth, all of a sudden they are looking over their shoulders instead of up at Chelsea.

Liverpool has lost momentum.

Boy do they need a big win in the EFL Cup against Southampton on Wednesday to regain some confidence and take that into their next PL clash, which just so happens to be against Chelsea at Anfield on Jan. 31.

Whatever he says publicly, Klopp must know that Liverpool cannot afford to lose to Chelsea. If they do and fall 13 points behind the Blues, the Kop can kiss goodbye to their title hopes for another season.