Early approval: Klinsmann extends contract, will serve as U.S. head coach, technical director through 2018

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You certainly can’t argue with the results. CONCACAF champions and top finisher in their World Cup Qualifying group, the U.S. has done all it can under Jurgen Klinsmann, but at some level of international coaching, your final judgment usually comes after the World Cup. Fall flat on your face on the biggest stage, and people will likely forget how you got there.

For Klinsmann, however, judgement came early, with U.S. Soccer announcing the national team boss has extended his contract through the next cycle. Renewing through 2018, the 49-year-old German received a vote of confidence that should transcend whatever happens in Brazil. He also added the technical director’s title to his business card – another sign the USSF is all-in on Klinsmann.

“One of the reasons we hired Jurgen as our head coach was to advance the program forward,” U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said in a statement announcing the extension. “[W]e’ve seen the initial stages of that happening on the field and also off the field in various areas.”

That success saw the U.S. reclaim the Gold Cup this summer. The team followed by winning their World Cup Qualifying group for the third straight cycle. Along the way, a 12-game winning streak set the mark for longest in program history, with the U.S. now ranked 14th in the FIFA World Rankings.

Aside from the U.S. winning all its games, there was little more Klinsmann could have done in his time in charge. Qualifying for Brazil while changing the way they win games, the U.S. accomplished exactly what Klinsmann was asked to deliver.

“I am very fortunate to continue the work we started more than two and half years ago,” said Klinsmann. “It’s exciting to see the progress we have made, and we continue to make improvements on all fronts.”

As much progress as there’s been on the field, there’s been as much progress in the perception of Klinsmann’s performance. Whereas the coach was the target of regular skepticism and critique going into the last round of qualifying, with doubts reaching their peak in the days before the U.S.’s home qualifier against Costa Rica, Klinsmann’s won critics over with results, the product of which has earned him an extension.

“He has built a strong foundation from the senior team down to the youth teams,” Gulati said, “and we want to continue to build upon that success.”

Hence the technical director designation, a move that effectively hands Klinsmann a promotion for the work he’s done since 2011. Though many assumed Klinsmann’s philosophies were already bleeding through the U.S. Soccer apparatus, now the former Germany and Bayern Munich coach as the title to match his influence.

“The role of Technical Director is a huge challenge and also a huge opportunity as we look to keep connecting the dots to the Youth National Teams, Coaching Education, the Development Academy and the grassroots efforts in this country,” Klinsmann said. “For sure it means more work, but also many more fulfilling opportunities.”

With the U.S. slowly changing the way their team is playing at the senior level, the technical director role ensures the concepts Klinsmann has instilled at the highest levels trickle down. The degree to which youth teams are matching the senior team’s style is at his discretion.

“It is vital that we stay focused on the development of our youth players and make sure the messages we are providing the senior team are being spread through our Youth National Teams as well the U.S. Soccer Development Academy,” said Klinsmann. “With Tab [Ramos] as our Youth Technical Director we will be able to continue to connect the dots and see more improvement.”

If connecting dots was the theme of Klinsmann’s remarks, it was an appropriate one. With this extension, U.S. Soccer is connecting the dots between their 2014 and 2018 cycles, a move that ensures the progress that started when Gulati turned to Klinsmann can continue beyond Brazil.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”