Sunderland beat Southampton to advance in the FA Cup

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Prior to kickoff in the FA Cup fifth-round tie, Gus Poyet announced that the worst possible result for his side would not be a loss but a draw with Southampton, forcing Sunderland to squeeze yet another fixture into their already crowded schedule. Instead Sunderland managed the best possible result, a 1-0 victory that ensures they’re through to the next round – and possibly giving them a boost ahead of their league match with Arsenal and League Cup final against Manchester City.

As the camera panned around the mostly-empty stands during the first half, it soon became clear that it wasn’t the fans that had stayed home that had made a questionable decision, but rather the 16,000 or so that had managed to make it out for the match. Both sides struggled to create much of anything in the first 45 minutes, making for a rather dull affair.

The visitors’ best chance came in the 11th minute, after a lovely bit of attacking play from Southampton. Rickie Lambert got on the end of a cross from Adam Lallana to head across goal. James Ward-Prowse got his foot on the end of it, but Sunderland goalkeeper Oscar Ustari was up for the challenge.

Shortly thereafter, Sunderland had a good shout for a penalty, after Luke Shaw knocked over Fabio Borini inside the area. Nothing doing, but from then on, the hosts started turning the screws, looking the more likely of the two sides to score.

So it was really no surprise when the Black Cats opened the scoring, five minutes into the second half. The surprise was in the beauty of the goal. Craig Gardner sent his shot in from about 22 yards out, blasting it against the underside of the bar. Southampton ‘keeper Kelvin Davis had absolutely no chance of rescuing that one.

With an hour left to play, Mauricio Pochettino, who seemed to have fielded a weakened team from the start (eighth place must be important to the Saints?) made a double switch, bringing in Jay Rodriguez and Morgan Schneiderlin, sending off Guly and Ward-Prowse. But Poyet countered by adding more defensive-minded players which, combined with the Saints’ inability to finish in front of goal, ensured a victory for Sunderland – and reaffirmed the faith of those few that made it out to the Stadium of Light.

Sunderland: Ustari; Dossena (Alonso 77), O’Shea, Vergini, Celustka; Gardner (Colback 83), Cattermole, Larsson; Borini, Scocco (Wickham 69), Giaccherini

Goals: Gardner 49′

Southampton: K.Davis; Shaw, Hooiveld, Yoshida, Clyne; Wanyama, S.Davis; Guly (Rodriguez 62), Lallana (McQueen 82), Ward-Prowse (Schneiderlin 62); Lambert

UEFA: Wales in trouble; Spain dominates; Buffon hits 1000

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Friday’s matches mark the midway point of the main round of qualifying in UEFA, and the tables remain tight near the top of Groups D and G.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Group I, however, is seeing some distance between first and second thanks to Croatia’s result versus Ukraine.

Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales

Neil Taylor was sent off in the 69th minute for Wales, whose World Cup hopes are in trouble.

Seamus Coleman was stretchered off after the tackle, with a scary-looking injury that will leave Everton fans sick in more ways than one. Coleman’s leg was broken, and left dangling by the challenge.

Ireland couldn’t take advantage of the sending off, and failed in a bid to overtake Serbia for first in Group D. The Irish trail on goal differential, and will host Serbia on Sept. 5.

But Wales will rue the result more, remaining four points back of second-place Ireland. Chris Coleman’s side drops a point behind Austria as well, and will not have Taylor or Gareth Bale (card accumulation) in its next match. That comes against leaders Serbia.

Italy 2-0 Albania

Daniele De Rossi scored a 12th minute penalty kick won by Andrea Belotti, and Ciro Immobile scored late to provided the goals in Gianluigi Buffon’s 1000th appearance for club and country. Fittingly, it ended in a clean sheet. The match was briefly delayed after flares were thrown onto the field.

Spain 4-1 Israel

David Silva, Vitolo, and Diego Costa stakes the Spaniards to a three-goal lead, with Lior Refaelov ruining David De Gea‘s clean sheet with 11 minutes to play. Isco scored the match’s final goal.

Spain remains atop Group G on goal differential, eight better than second place Italy. Israel is four points behind both.

Croatia 1-0 Ukraine

Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic’s 38th minute goal was enough for the hosts, and Croatia is now five points clear at the top midway through qualifying.

Elsewhere
Austria 2-0 Moldova — RB Leipzig’s Sabitzer nabs winner
Liechtenstein 0-3 Macedonia — Ilija Nestorovski bags brace
Kosovo 1-2 Iceland — Sigurdsson PK the match winner
Georgia 1-3 Serbia — Mitrovic, Tadic lead the way
Turkey 2-0 Finland — Brace for Cenk Tosun

Boro’s Gibson called to England after injury to Man Utd’s Smalling

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Scoring goals has been the biggest problem for Middlesbrough in its return to the Premier League, and that overshadows how well the Northeast club has defended its own goal.

Ben Gibson has been a huge part of that, and now he’ll earn the chance to represent his nation thanks to an injury to Chris Smalling. Gibson will join England ahead of Sunday’s home World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.

[ MORE: Podolski leads Germany past England ]

Gibson has far and away been Boro’s best player, leading the side in blocked shots and clearances. The blocked shots total is tied for ninth in the Premier League, 11 behind current leader and new England teammate Michael Keane.

Smalling’s undisclosed injury is a bigger problem for Manchester United, which had already lost center back depth on England duty when Phil Jones was hurt.

Dele Alli to miss next three European matches, UCL or UEL

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Tottenham Hotspur is primed to qualify for a second-straight UEFA Champions League campaign this year, and will have to start that sophomore run without Dele Alli.

The 20-year-old playmaker has banned for his next three matches. If Spurs finish fourth, that would mean both qualifying matches and an additional match.

[ MORE: Five questions for USMNT ]

If they finish higher, Dele will miss the first three group stage matches.

Dele was shown red for a tackle on Brecht Dejaegere in Spurs’ 2-2 draw with Gent in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32, as Tottenham left the tournament.

Men in Blazers podcast: Man City-Liverpool review, USMNT preview

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Rog and Davo recap the Top Four battle between Manchester City and Liverpool, ask (again) whether it’s time for Arsene to go, and break down two of the most important USMNT games in modern history.

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