What went right in Saturday’s U.S. win over South Korea

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  • Graham Zusi rises anew

Remember how Alejandro Bedoya seemed to move up in the national team order last fall, perhaps sliding ahead of Graham Zusi for starting dibs on the right-sided attacking spot?

Well, let’s not hand that World Cup starting spot to Bedoya just yet; Zusi (pictured) still has a lot to say about it. (Well, so does Landon Donovan, who could end up holding the position by the time it’s all said and done and they are lining up in Brazil, but let’s just stick to the competition between Zusi and Bedoya for now.)

Zusi’s comprehensive performance Saturday will go a long way to re-establishing his place in the U.S. order. He was in on both American goals, with a good cross to start the early strike Saturday at the StubHub Center and then a nice controlling touch to help set up the second half tally.

(MORE: United States opens year with 2-0 win over South Korea)

Over the last two years, Zusi has demonstrated a smart ability to get into good, attacking spot – and then to make good things happen with all that smooth technical ability.  And he always does the defensive work, too, providing plenty of assistance to right back Brad Evans in Saturday’s win.

  • Chris Wondolowski keeps himself in the conversation

It will still be tough for Chris Wondolowski to make the plane to Brazil. That said, his two-fer Saturday sure doesn’t hurt. In fact, it keeps him squarely in the conversation.

Wondolowski did exactly what he needed, clinically finishing two chances. The early goal set the Earthquakes striker’s confidence alight; “Wonder Wondo” was active and accurate with the ball over the first half, keeping the attack moving forward several times.

More later at PST on Wondolowski – who still has that extra “W” sewn into his jersey for good luck – and what he faces in getting into the team this summer. (Because we’ll all be talking about that now. Again.)

  • Landon Donovan starts a big year well enough

Handed the captain’s armband, Donovan did his part to jazz up an attack here and there, despite a match where the United States’ back line and midfield wasn’t always sharp in moving the ball into good spots for the forwards.

Donovan has always had a big motor, and we saw it once again Saturday. Players are never at their best for these January camp enders; it’s just hard to “be there” physically before a few matches to really prep the legs and lungs.

But Donovan was active in looking for the ball on offense and in tracking back on defense – a bit of a “bonus,” since that is something not necessarily high in the job requirements in the position he played, the second forward in a 4-4-2.

Great example: Donovan tracked all the way back to win a ball just outside the U.S. penalty area from the quickly advancing Koreans in the 67th minute.  From there, he was quickly into the attack, eventually playing a clever little ball in front of striker Eddie Johnson. (If Johnson had finished his run, the ball would have curled neatly in stride for him 20 yards from opposition goal.)

  • Parkhurst and Rimando held serve

Michael Parkhurst won’t excite anyone if he’s among the final 23 headed to Brazil, but he certainly has value as a reliable defender who can play right back, left back or even center back in a pinch. (Parkhurst played center back in MLS before moving overseas; he’ll play in the middle this year for Columbus.)

Parkhurst made a third U.S. start at left back and did little wrong defensively. He doesn’t provide much on the attack, but there is surely a value for a utility man along the back line for situations that demand ample defending.

Behind him, Nick Rimando reminded us once again that he’s a real steady-eddy as a third ‘keeper. There was one little wobble with the ball, and he played with a bit of fire with some passes through the middle. Still, he’s a calming presence who has the big-save ability.

Northern Ireland manager O’Neill banned for DUI

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EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has pleaded guilty to drunk driving and been banned from the road for 16 months.

O’Neill was caught by police on the outskirts of Edinburgh at about 1 a.m. on Sept. 10 and was found to be around three times the legal drink-drive limit.

O’Neill appeared on Thursday at Edinburgh Sheriff Court where he received the driving ban and fine of 1,300 pounds ($1,700).

O’Neill’s solicitor, James Mulgrew, told the court “this was simply a bad error of judgment.”

Northern Ireland is still in contention for its first World Cup trip since 1986. The team plays Switzerland in a two-leg playoff next month to qualify for the World Cup in Russia next year.

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Newcastle takeover bid moves closer

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Newcastle United fans are getting very, very excited.

PCP Capital Partners, led by Amanda Staveley, have signed a confidentiality agreement with the club’s owners after Mike Ashley put the club up for sale earlier this week

Ashley is said to value Newcastle at over $520 million, while Staveley is said to believe the club is worth close to $395 million, so there is plenty of negotiating still to happen but things are heading in the right direction.

In a statement on Monday Ashley said he would allow any potential buyer to pay the overall transaction fee in installments, while he also wants a buy to be completed by the end of December.

Who is Staveley?

She was seen at a Newcastle vs. Liverpool game at St James’ Park earlier this month as speculation was rife that a new owner was being lined up to buy Newcastle. That is indeed the case and Staveley, 44, is now able to look over the finances of the club exclusively.

Staveley oversaw the purchase of Manchester City by Abu Dhabi United and also lined up a deal for Liverpool to be bought by Dubai International Captial which fell through in the past.

Her close links to the Middle East has seen her become one of the most prominent British businesswomen in recent years and she currently manages over $34 billion of wealth globally. Staveley and her investors are said to be interested in buying several Premier League clubs.

Ashley’s lawyer, Andrew Henderson, released a statement on Thursday stating several other parties have inquired about buying the club since the announcement came that they were up for sale.

“Since Monday, a number of additional parties have come forward which we believe to be credible. We are also continuing to engage with a number of parties with whom we had entered into negotiations prior to Monday’s announcement.”

Things are moving very quickly for Newcastle’s fans as they thought they’d never get rid of much-maligned owner Ashley who is a lifelong fan of the club and bought them in 2007.

After two relegations from the Premier League (followed by instant returns to the PL on both occasions) Ashley has been accused of failing to spend money on the playing squad and realize Newcastle’s full potential as they challenged for the Premier League title on numerous occasions during the 1990s.

With Rafael Benitez getting the most of his squad and the Magpies sitting in the top 10 of the PL as things stand, the future is looking bright for Newcastle with plenty of investment expected if this sale does go through to Staveley or those she is closely connected with.

VIDEO: Man United ooze class after consoling teenage goalkeeper

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Wednesday was a big night for Benfica goalkeeper Mile Svilar.

The 18-year-old was making his debut in the UEFA Champions League and in doing so he became the youngest-ever goalkeeper to play in the competition, jumping ahead of the likes of Iker Casillas to set a new, hugely impressive, record.

Still, the night did not end well for the Belgian youngster.

[ MORE: United targeted Benfica’s goalkeeper ]

With Marcus Rashford‘s free kick floating into the box from out wide, he caught the ball but then stepped back over his own goal line… taking the ball with him.

Goal-line technology showed the ball had gone over and United were awarded the goal and won 1-0.

At the final whistle the teenager was stunned but Romelu Lukaku was one of the many United players who took time to console the distraught teenager.

Classy from Lukaku.

Even if Jose Mourinho did admit afterwards that United had targeted the teenager…

FIFA probe: Al-Khelaifi confirms his presence in Switzerland

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi says he will go to Switzerland next Wednesday to answer questions from Swiss prosecutors investigating the suspected bribery of a top FIFA executive for World Cup broadcasting rights.

Criminal proceedings against Al-Khelaifi, who is also CEO of Qatar-owned BeIN Media Group, former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, and an unnamed businessman working in sports rights were announced by the office of Switzerland’s attorney general last week.

The case involves the award of broadcast rights for the next four World Cups from 2018 through 2030.

Al-Khelaifi is alleged to have offered advantages to Valcke – FIFA’s CEO-like secretary general from 2007 until his firing in January 2016 – for the award of media rights in certain countries for the 2026 and 2030 World Cup.

Speaking Wednesday night on Canal Plus television, after PSG’s 4-0 win away to Anderlecht in the Champions League, Al-Khelaifi confirmed his trip to Switzerland.

“I have an appointment on the 25th. I will go there to speak with them, the Swiss (authorities),” said Khelaifi, who attended Wednesday’s match in Belgium. “That’s all.”

The proceeding against Al-Khelaifi is one of the first direct links to Qatar in sweeping investigations by federal law enforcement authorities in Switzerland, the United States, and France concerning FIFA, international soccer, and the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding contests.

Last week, the Paris offices of BeIN Sports were searched. Properties were searched in Greece, Italy, and Spain while Valcke was questioned in Switzerland.