Ronaldo topples Zlatan: Real Madrid star’s hat trick sends Portugal past Sweden, into the 2014 World Cup

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aj2cTazTgV8]

It was the type of shootout you’d see on a basketball course, not a soccer field: Two players, one-on-one, their teammates fading into insignificance as alpha tried to one-up alpha. You saw it in Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s determination, his second half brace temporarily leaving Sweden one goal away from the World Cup. and you saw it in Cristiano Ronaldo’s elation, the Real Madrid star’s stern “right here” declarations celebrating his tie-sealing goal.

For as tedious as the pre-match hype was — everybody trying to portray Portugal against Sweden as Cristiano Ronaldo versus Zlatan Ibrahimovic — that’s exactly what we got. It too three halves to surface, but by the end of Portugal and Sweden’s playoff, it was all about the two icons, stars trying to eclipse each other in front of a full house in Solna. After two legs and 180 minutes, two of the world’s top three players had combined for six goals.

But thanks to a Swedish defense that was beaten badly three times, four of those goals went to Ronaldo, whose Tuesday hat trick sent his hosts crashing. Despite a second half brace from Ibrahimovic, Sweden will miss their second straight World Cup, today’s 3-2 loss allowing Portugal to advance to Brazil 2014 (4-2, aggregate).

Portugal joined the day’s other six qualifiers to bring the World Cup field to 30, with France eliminating Ukraine shortly after the final whistle in Sweden. Ghana and Algeria won their African qualifying playoffs earlier today, while Greece and Croatia defeated Romania and Iceland in Europe.

[MORE: Historic comeback sees France into World Cup 2014, Ukraine denied place in Brazil]

[MORE: Europe World Cup playoff roundup: Greece, Croatia complete UEFA’s field for Brazil 2014]

[MORE: Ghana finish off Egypt to qualify for World Cup 2014 in Brazil; what now for Bob Bradley?]

Over the next two days, the final two World Cup 2014 spots will be decided. Uruguay carries a 5-0 lead over Jordan into the teams’ second leg in Montevideo (Wednesday), while Mexico is likely to advance past New Zealand on Tuesday night, having earned a 5-1 lead last week in Mexico City.

From the early moments today in at Friends Arena, it was clear that Ronaldo’s late goal in Lisbon would allow Portugal to play from their more comfortable, counterattacking posture. Conceding Sweden the ball and electing to stay organized rather than pursue, the Seleccao were able to rely on their transition to dominate the first half. Though Sweden held 56 percent of the ball, they were outshot 9-3 in the first half, a 40th minute header from Hugo Almeida nearly doubling Portugal’s 1-0 lead.

source: AP
Two goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic pulled Sweden even with Portugal, away goals the only thing separating the sides. Portugal went on to win on aggregate, 4-2. (Photo: AP Photo.)

Five minutes into the second half, Portugal had their two-goal advantage, a counter that left Ronaldo behind the Swedish defense ending with a left-footed shot from 12 yards out into the right of goal. Beating a high defensive line, Ronaldo cut across right back Martin Olsson to get onto an João Moutinho ball play through central defense. Moments later, alone on goal, the Real Madrid star’s second goal of the playoff had the visitors up two.

But in a playoff that was billed as Ronaldo versus Zlatan, it was time for Ibrahimovic to step up. In the 68th minute, a corner from Kim Källström saw the Paris Saint-Germain star out-muscle Bruno Alves at the edge of the six-yard box, his header into the left of Rui Patricio’s net cutting Portugal’s lead to one. Four minutes later, the Seleccao were left with only their tiebreaker edge, an Ibrahimovic free kick from just outside the penalty box pulling his team event.

But again, Sweden’s high line would be victimized. From the left this time, Ronaldo was left to go in alone on goal once more, sprinting past the Swedish defense at the center line for an eventual chance from the left of goal. Burying is shot in the far corner, the Portuguese captain made it 2-2 (3-2 on aggregate).

Their lessons unlearned, Sweden allowed themselves to be beaten again in two minutes later, a turnover in midfield quickly converted into an open chance when Moutinho found Ronaldo streaking across right back Mikarl Lustig. After drawing Isaksson out, Ronaldo put his right-footed shot into the top of the Swedish next, completing his hat trick.

With their 3-2 win in Solna, Portugal had navigated their third straight major tournament qualifying playoff, but after 180 minutes that produced six goals from Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic, few are likely to remember the matchup’s context. Instead, the same fascination that dominated the buildup with write the history of Portugal-Sweden. With four goals over two games, Ronaldo earned his spot in next year’s World Cup, but with two goals in five minutes of Tuesday’s second half, Ibrahimovic did his part to ensure the show delivered on its promise.

U.S. Open Cup Final preview: Sporting KC vs. New York Red Bulls

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New York Red Bulls and Sporting KC are set to tangle for the 104th Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday in Missouri.

[ MORE: League Cup wrap ]

The longtime rivals met more often while Eastern Conference foes — SKC now plies its trade in the West — and KC leads the league series 21W-20L-13T.

Here’s everything you need to know about the most prestigious tournament in American soccer, one that earns a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League.

  • Sporting KC is looking to move into a tie with Chicago Fire and Seattle Sounders for the most USOC titles amongst active teams with four. Maccabi Los Angeles and Bethlehem Steel won five but are no longer active clubs (The USL side Bethlehem Steel FC is a new entity).
  • The Red Bulls, meanwhile, enter their second final in search of their first Open Cup.
  • New York knocked off New York City FC, Philadelphia Union, New England Revolution, and FC Cincinnati to reach the final.
  • KC topped Minnesota United, Houston Dynamo, FC Dallas, and San Jose Earthquakes.
  • The sides met May 3 at the same venue, with Dom Dwyer scoring twice in a KC victory.
  • KC is 3-0 in USOC finals, having won in 2002, 2012, and 2015.

As for Wednesday, the Red Bulls enter the match without an MLS win since Aug. 12. That five-match span includes four-straight ties. KC has two wins and a draw from its last four games.

Dwyer’s not around for KC anymore, but the firepower remains. Home field advantage will likely tilt the field for KC, but this is the sort of match that begs for a Bradley Wright-Phillips moment or two. We’ll call it for the hosts, but just… 2-1.

NASL launches lawsuit against United States Soccer Federation

NASL.com
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Using scathing language, the North American Soccer League announced Tuesday its intention to take its problems with the United States Soccer Federation to court.

A Division II soccer league until recently, the NASL accused the USSF of using unjust means and arbitrary rules to prop up Major League Soccer at the expense of the sport in the United States.

[ MORE: Klopp rages at defending ]

Tuesday’s press release makes clear that the NASL believes MLS’ relationship with the USL is detrimental to soccer in the United States and unfair to competitors. It also notes the tricky relationships between U.S. Soccer, MLS, and Soccer United Marketing.

The NASL isn’t trying to win a big financial judgment, it says, rather get its D-II status back in the face of what it deems destructive practices from the USSF.

From NASL.com:

The complaint alleges that the USSF has selectively applied and waived its divisional criteria to suppress competition from the NASL, both against MLS and against United Soccer League (USL).  For example, under the USSF’s divisional criteria, there are European clubs that have successfully operated for decades that would be considered ineligible for “Division I” or even “Division II” status due to arbitrary requirements like stadium capacity and market size.

The complaint alleges that the USSF sought to limit competition from the NASL to MLS and USL, and now seeks to destroy the NASL by arbitrarily revoking the NASL’s “Division II” status for the upcoming 2018 season. The complaint only seeks injunctive relief against the USSF’s conduct regarding its divisional designations.

NASL board of governors chairman and New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso said the USSF had left the league “no choice” but to file suit.

The NASL and fourth-tier NPSL took the bold step of filing a claim against FIFA, CONCACAF, and the USSF with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, asking that the United States be forced to implement a promotion/relegation structure.

Riccardo Silva, owner of NASL side Miami FC, made waves when a July report showed he presented MLS with a $4 billion TV offer to inject pro/rel into MLS.

Messi scores four (4) as Barcelona hammers Eibar (video)

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Lionel Messi scored four times as Barcelona belted Eibar 6-1 at the Camp Nou on Tuesday.

The 30-year-old now has 522 goals for Barca, including nine in five league matches this season. That includes two hat tricks.

[ MORE: Klopp rages at defending ]

Paulinho and Denis Suarez also scored for Barca, which is yet to lose a point in La Liga play.

Messi scored a penalty to start the scoring, then started a combination play before scooting into the 18 to score low and left.

Watch the movement from the Argentine magician.

Messi added his second when he drew the defenders and keeper to play him straight-on, then used the outside of his boot to flick a deft finish home.

He’d later dash to the doorstep to complete the 6-1 scoreline.

And how often do we see this? Messi starting and finishing a combination. When you’re an elite player who also thirsts for goals every minute on the pitch, you’ll score a few.

League Cup: Foxes oust LFC; Stoke, Burnley upset (video)

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Leicester City turned to its favorite tactics to send Liverpool out of the League Cup, while Bristol City stunned struggling Stoke City as 11 matches dotted the English tournament landscape on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Pulisic up for major award ]


Leicester City 2-0 Liverpool

Both sides were decidedly second-string, and the Reds had plenty of control over the proceedings despite a lack of goals.

But substitute Shinji Okazaki scored in traffic after Vicente Iborra headed a corner kick his way, and the Foxes took a late lead.

And Okazaki cued up Islam Slimani for a wonderful 78th minute marker (see above) to ensure the result.

Bristol City 2-0 Stoke City

The Robins were flying at Ashton Gate, getting an opener in the 50th minute through Famara Diedhiou and a 60th minute insurance tally from Matt Taylor.

Stoke left some starters on the bench in Erik Pieters, Joe Allen, Jack Butland, and Jese, but had plenty of their best in the XI (Kurt Zouma, Eric Choupo-Moting, Darren Fletcher).

Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Barnsley

Spurs had a hefty edge in shots and possession, but the visitors held firm against a decent side including Dele Alli, Son Heung-min, Jan Vertonghen and Mousa Dembele.

Fernando Llorente made his first Spurs start, but it was Dele who broke the Londoners through on the side’s 17th shot of the night.

Burnley 2-2 (3-5 PKs) Leeds United

Sean Dyche‘s Premier Leaguers were dismissed from the tournament by Thomas Christiansen’s high-flying Championship side.

It took penalty kicks, where Leeds GK Andy Lonergan stopped James Tarkowski to send the Clarets out of the Cup.

Hadi Sacko had an eye for the winner, assisted by Pablo Hernandez, but Chris Wood converted an 89th minute penalty to, seemingly, send the match to extra time.

Hernandez then scored a penalty of his own in stoppage time, only for Robbie Brady‘s free kick to equalize and again put the match on pace for extra time.

Elsewhere
Crystal Palace 1-0 Huddersfield Town
Aston Villa 0-2 Middlesbrough
Brentford 1-3 Norwich City
Bournemouth 1-0 (ET) Brighton
West Ham 3-0 Bolton
Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-0 (ET) Bristol Rovers
Reading 0-2 Swansea City
Arsenal vs. Doncaster Rovers — Wednesday
Chelsea vs. Nottingham Forest — Wednesday
Everton vs. Sunderland — Wednesday
Manchester United vs. Burton Albion — Wednesday
West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester City — Wednesday