Abby Wambach, USWNT

US women host Brazil looking to stay unbeaten in 2013


Abby Wambach and the United States women’s national team never settle. Not for second, not for losses and certainly not for ties.

There’s only one goal, always, and that’s to be No. 1. They have held that ranking by FIFA since March 2008, winning Olympic gold medals that year and last year, but falling to Japan in the 2011 World Cup final. Good enough hasn’t been enough by their standards ever, and with the last World Cup triumph coming in 1999, eyes have long been set firmly on 2015 in Canada.

So results like the 1-1 draw with New Zealand on Oct. 30 don’t sit well with the Americans, even if it was a seemingly meaningless friendly. After a lackluster match from the U.S., New Zealand’s Hannah Wilkinson buried the equalizer in the 87th minute, a result the Americans treated as a loss.

“Ties and losses never sit well with any of us, especially for me, having missed a penalty early on in the game,” Wambach said.

Sunday presents the chance for the United States to end 2013 on a high note against archrival Brazil, and despite the disappointment surrounding the last result, there’s more history at stake at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla. (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online here).

Only once has the U.S. ended a year in which it played double-digit games undefeated, finishing 2006 with an 18-0-4 record (four other times they ended a year undefeated with less than 10 games played). This year’s 12-0-3 record includes a win and a draw vs. European champion Germany and a 1-1 draw against Sweden. There’s also a 76-game home unbeaten streak and 38-game overall unbeaten streak on the line.

But all of those are just numbers; Sunday is about progressing, and each team will bring a crop of young players to the match.

Marta won’t be playing for Brazil due to UEFA Champions League commitments with her Swedish club, Tyresö, which will also keep Americans Christen Press, Ali Krieger, Meghan Klingenberg and Ashlyn Harris out of the U.S.-Brazil match. Aside from regulars Cristiane and Rosana, this Brazil team features primarily players with less than 10 caps, a very different squad from that historic 2011 World Cup quarterfinal, won by the U.S. on penalties after Wambach’s 122nd minute header tied the game.

“I never overlook Brazil,” Wambach said Friday. “You never really know quite what you are going to get. Sometimes they will send a young team. Sometimes they’ll send all their stars. They train less together than our team, so it’s always a question mark, what system they are going to be playing, what personnel they are going to have – sort of their mystery makes them so good.”

The U.S. has some unknowns at the international level, too. Erika Tymrak and Amber Brooks – both 22 years old and both at Bayern Municg – as well as PSG striker Lindsey Horan, 19, have all joined camp from their European clubs with two total caps between the three of them. Horan, still eligible for the 2014 U-20 World Cup, is unlikely to see much time with the senior team this World Cup cycle with four world-class forwards in front of her on the depth chart, but Tymrak’s NWSL Rookie of the Year season in 2013 put her on the map and has given her the opportunity to prove herself internationally.

Brooks remains an X-factor. She is the only one of the three young players without a senior team appearance, but she’s a versatile talent who can play a position that coach Tom Sermanni still needs to figure out: defensive midfield. Carli Lloyd has been playing in that holding role, but she’s more dangerous getting forward into the attack (in case two consecutive Olympic gold medal-winning goals weren’t enough evidence for that). Shannon Boxx, who owned the role over the past decade, is 36 and currently pregnant.

Sermanni’s most pressing questions right now rest in the back, as noted throughout the last few weeks, and Sunday is another chance to test that. The Scotsman has tried a few different back lines over the last three games, all in October (right to left):

Vs. Australia (10/20): Crystal Dunn–Whitney Engen (Rachel Buehler, 57’)–Becky Sauerbrunn–Meghan Klingenberg

Vs. New Zealand (10/27): Ali Krieger–Rachel Buehler–Becky Sauerbrunn (Christie Rampone, 73’)–Meghan Klingenberg

Vs. New Zealand (10/30): Ali Krieger–Becky Sauerbrunn–Christie Rampone (Rachel Buehler, 46’)–Kristie Mewis

Could Stephanie Cox finally see some time after being in camp last month? She gave birth in the spring and last played for the U.S. against Brazil on April 3, 2012. FC Kansas City defender Leigh Ann Robinson was also in U.S. camp in October after earning her first cap in September, but she did not play in the last three matches.

Whoever lines up in front of (likely) Hope Solo, they know they’ll need to keep an eye on Cristiane, who has 64 goals in 85 appearances for Brazil. But also keep an eye on 22-year-old Debinha, who scored twice in a 4-0 win over Mexico at the Valais Cup in Switzerland in September and was the most dangerous player on Brazil’s young roster. Gabi Zanotti will also make plays from a withdrawn position in the No. 10 role for Brazil.

Thanksgiving transfer rumors: Bender, Pato to Arsenal; Slimani to Palace

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Happy Thanksgiving!

[ VIDEO: Foxes to stay top? United for the title? ]

It’s time for a healthy dose of transfer rumors before you fill up on Turkey and pumpkin pie, so here is your fix of gossip.

Lars Bender, 26, is reportedly attracting Arsenal’s interest as the Bayer Leverkusen holding midfielder could move to the Emirates Stadium in January. Italian outlet CalcioMercato claim that Arsene Wenger is tracking Leverkusen’s captain as he badly needs reinforcements in midfield after Francis Coquelin went down injured against West Brom last weekend and is set to miss at least three months through injury. Bender, a German international, would certainly fit Wenger’s requirements as “top, top quality” but the transfer price may put Arsenal off as he would cost just under $30 million.

Another player the Gunners are said to be in for is ex AC Milan winger Alexandre Pato. Yeah, remember him? Pato, 26, is currently playing for Corinthians back in his homeland of Brazil but Wenger has met with former Arsenal midfielder, and current Corinthians director of football, Edu, to talk about signing the man who once carried the hopes of AC. Edu confirmed the talks and the Brazilian side are reportedly eager to cash in Pato in January and the player is keen for a move back to Europe. Do the Gunners need more firepower?

Algerian striker Islam Slimani, 27, has been linked with a $20 million move to Crystal Palace. Alan Pardew‘s side have made their best-ever start to a Premier League season this year but it could’ve been even better as scoring goals has been a real issue for the Eagles with midfielder Yohan Cabaye their top scorer with four goals. With Connor Wickham, Marouane Chamakh and Dwight Gayle all injured in recent weeks, the Daily Mirror says Pardew is looking to Sporting Lisbon’s Slimani to arrive in January and deliver the goals which could see them push for Europa League qualification. There’s no doubt Palace need reinforcement up top but is Slimani the man? With new investment from Americans David Blizter and Josh Harris expected by the festive season, Palace could have plenty of cash to spend in the January window.

Finally, Newcastle United have been linked with moves for both Jonjo Shelvey and Andros Townsend by the Daily Mail. Steve McClaren‘s team are hovering just above the relegation zone and creating chances has been a big issue for the Magpies. It’s hard to see Shelvey, who has become a key figure for the Swans, leaving South Wales for a relegation scrap, but Townsend leaving Tottenham is much more likely to happen after he was involved in a bust-up with a fitness coach earlier this month and was suspended from training by Mauricio Pochettino. Townsend, 24, would likely be a regular for Newcastle and ahead of EURO 2016 he could get a good run of games to try and break back into the England squad.

Qatar launches probe after rains exposed poor construction

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Qatar has launched an investigation after heavy rains exposed poor construction in a country set to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, a deluge that saw water cascade through the roof of its $15 billion main airport.

[ MORE: 3 things learned – United v PSV ]

The investigation already is examining the work of five unnamed companies and others could be targeted as well in the probe launched by Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, who also serves as interior minister, the country’s state-run Qatar News Agency said.

“Parties responsible for dereliction or negligence, whether governmental or private, will be held accountable,” the agency said, citing a statement late Wednesday from Qatar’s Government Communication Office.

Reached for comment, officials at Doha’s Hamad International Airport issued a statement simply saying: “There was no impact to operations yesterday.” It referred other questions to the government.

The day before, at least 79.5 millimeters (3.13 inches) of rain fell at the airport, according to the Qatar Meteorology Department. Typically, the hot, desert country sees around 50 millimeters (1.97 inches) of rain in a year.

The sudden rainfall saw water pour out of the airport’s ceiling in several places, captured in online videos.

Qatar opened Hamad International Airport in April 2014, part of its effort to enter the competitive Gulf airline market. The 600,000 square meter (6.5 million square feet) passenger terminal complex was scheduled to be completed in 2009.

The airport is part of a multibillion-dollar building boom in Doha ahead of the 2022 World Cup. However, the push has seen Qatar criticized for the way it treats its large migrant worker population. There also have been accusations of shoddy construction.

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at .

How can Man United qualify for last 16 of Champions League?

Wayne Rooney, Manchester United FC

Heading into the their final UEFA Champions League Group B game, Manchester United hold their destiny in their own hands, but any slip-up could mean it’s Europa League on Thursday nights for Louis Van Gaal‘s men.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

The Red Devils would have advanced to the knockout stage with a victory over third-place PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday, but slumped to an ugly 0-0 draw instead.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Man United 0-0 PSV ]

So, here’s all of the scenarios for the final matchday of the group stage, away to Wolfsburg, in which United would advance to the round of 16 advance:

  • A Man United win will see Man United finish top of Group B
  • A Man United draw, coupled with a PSV draw or loss (vs. CSKA Moscow), will see Man United finish second in Group B
  • A Man United draw, coupled with a PSV victory, will see Man United finish third in Group B
  • A Man United loss, coupled with a PSV loss, will see Man United finish second in Group B
  • A Man United loss by more than one goal, coupled with a PSV draw, would see Man United finish third in Group B
  • A Man United loss, coupled with a PSV win, would see Man United finish third in Group B

[ MORE: Champions League schedule

There are your scenarios for Man United as it’s pretty simple to break it down: Win, and they go through. Fail to win, and their fate is completely in the hands of PSV.

VIDEO: Can Leicester stun the world? Man United title favorites?

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The Foxes are top of the Premier League and are led by a surging Jamie Vardy but how long can they keep shocking the world?

With six tough games coming up between now and the start of 2016, Claudio Ranieri‘s men will be pushed to their limit but so far this season they’ve been sensational and Vardy has equaled Manchester United legend Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record of scoring in 10-straight PL games.

[ MORE: Full PST Extra archive ]

Can he make it 11 in a row on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) when United visit the King Power Stadium? As for the Red Devils, they sit in second place and are just one point behind the flying Foxes’. Louis Van Gaal‘s men have certainly flown under the radar so far and our churning out wins at an impressive rate.

Jenna Corrado and I discuss that and more in the latest edition of PST Extra. Click play on the video above to see our chat in full.