Aston Villa 4-3 West Bromwich Albion: Benteke conversion the difference after six-goal first half (video)

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Fireworks in the West Midlands produced one the season’s most exciting derby results, Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion providing seven goals during one of the most open matches of the Premier League season. In a game where both sides eschewed maintain possession in favor of all-out attacks, a second half penalty conversion from Christian Benteke was the difference, with Villa claiming a 4-3 win over their rivals.

The victory vaults Villa into ninth place, the team up to 27 points on the season. West Brom, on the other hand, sit 15th, only three points from the drop while still looking for their first win under new manager Pepe Mel.

West Brom struck first in a spectacular fashion, with a long distance goal from captain Chris Brunt putting the Baggies in front with the match’s first shot. Set up by left back Liam Ridgewell, Brunt launched a half-volley from near 25 yards, beating goalkeeper Brad Guzan into the upper right part of goal. When Fabian Delph redirected a James Morrison cross past Guzan five minutes later, West Brom were up 2-0.

The Baggies’ hot start was cooled three minutes later, with Andreas Weimann bringing the home side back into the match. The Austrian attacker lobbed Ben Foster after Diego Lugano headed a long ball from Guzan back toward his own goal. Weimann, running behind the West Brom defense, nestled the ball into the back of the Baggies’ goal to bring Villa within one.

By the 25th minute, Villa were back on even footing, with Leandro Bacuna the beneficiary of a mildly bizarre goal. With the ball in the right side of the penalty area, Benteke tried to cut back onto his left foot only to lose the ball. Unfortunately for West Brom, the tackle played the ball to Matthew Lawton, whose overlapping run had taken him behind the defense. The right back’s ensuing cross found Bacuna at the far post, with his miss-hit shot arching over the recovering Foster and in, leaving the teams drawn, 2-2.

It wasn’t long before Villa claimed their first lead, with a touch of class from Delph making amends for his early own goal. After a long ball targeting Benteke was headed toward the left flank, the Villa midfielder’s deft left-footed touch put him wide of West Brom right back Steven Reid, giving him room just inside of the penalty area. From the left of goal, Delph put his shot against the bottom of the crossbar, giving Foster no chance to prevent the home team from claiming a 3-2 lead.

In the 43rd minute, however, the Baggies were back even. Moments after a strong read from Foster helped prevent Benteke from making it 4-2, West Brom were passing through Villa’s defense, with a ball from Victor Anichebe finding Morrison near the arc before the midfielder played through for Youssouf Mulumbu. The Baggies’ destroyer, bolting forward from his holding position, got behind the defense and finished inside Guzan’s right post, scoring the sixth goal of the half.

source: Getty Images
Diego Lugano played a part in two Aston Villa goes and missed his chance to put West Brom up in the second half. (Photo source: Getty Images.)

Ten minutes into the second half, Diego Lugano was given a chance to restore West Brom’s lead, having gone unnoticed by Villa’s defense on a 55th minute restart. The Uruguayan international’s diving header failed to find it’s target, however, with Lugano pushing his shot wide from just outside the six yard box.

Lugano was made to rue that miss when his foul gave Aston Villa a 64th minute penalty. On a cross from Bacuna, the Baggies center half took down Benteke, with an arm wrapped around the attacker’s left giving Mark Clattenburg no room to overlook the infraction. With a slight hesitation before striking hitting his penalty, Benteke sent Foster right before converting into the left of goal, giving Villa their second lead of the night.

From there forward, the defenses began catching up with the attacks. Although the fanatic pace of the first half had waned, both sides continued to attack impetuously. Over the last half-hour, however, the defenses matches their opponents’ intensity, with only a few near-chances from West Brom hinting the shootout would continue.

Benteke’s goal, however, would be the final of the match, with the game’s final 45 minutes unable to match the fireworks of its first stanza. After the highest scoring first half of the season, one goal proved the difference in the second, with Villa earning a hard-fought win over one of their fiercest rivals.

LINEUPS

Aston Villa: Brad Guzan, Matthew Lawton (Grant Holt 65′), Ron Vlaar, Ciaran Clark, Ryan Bertrand, Ashley Westwood, Karim El Ahmadi (Yacouba Sylla 76′), Fabian Delph, Leandro Bacuna, Andreas Weimann (Nathan Baker 80′), Chrstian Benteke

Goals: Weimann (12′), Bacuna (24′), Delph (37′), Benteke (64′)

West Bromwich Albion: Ben Foster, Steven Reid (Saido Berahino 76′), Diego Lugano, Jonas Olsson, Liam Ridgewell, James Morrison, Claudio Yacob, Youssouf Mulumbu, Nicolas Anelka (Morgan Amalfitano 26′), Victor Anichebe (Matej Vydra 80′), Chris Brunt

Goals: Brunt (4′), Delph (o.g., 9′), Mulumbu (43′)

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

AP Photo/Felipe Dana
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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.