Bayern Munich grabs control over Arsenal in Champions League matchup of UEFA heavyweights

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Bayern Munich took a big step forward in its Champions League defense, emerging from an eventful, pulsating night at the Emirates with a 2-0 win over an Arsenal team now on the fade in two major competitions.

A Bayern Munich team that, being so far ahead in the Bundesliga race, is destined to be judged by its ongoing Champions League defense, had to work hard to claim the margin in this Round-of-16 matchup of European heavies, one that now goes back to Bavaria for a final verdict.

[MORE: Three things we learned in Arsenal’s battling defeat to Bayern Munich]

Thomas Muller’s late goal on a skillful diving header doubled the lead provided by Toni Kroos earlier in the second half, as Arsenal needed just a few more minutes of defending to escape with something better (a 1-0 loss, that is) against all the offensive might of Bayern’s high-scoring side.

Two penalty kick failures (one by each team) and a red card, all before the break, went a long way to deciding this one, as Arsenal was forced to play a man down against the defending UEFA champs for more than 50 minutes.

A slightly controversial decision from the man in the middle will be the topic around North London as Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli ejected Gunners goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny after 38 minutes. Szczesny had brought down Bayern’s Arjen Robben near goal after the Bayern winger was put through on Kroos’ clever, chipped ball.

[MORE: Wenger: Robben ‘made a lot of’ Szczesny contact; penalty ‘killed the game’]

It was Kroos who finally broke through, putting the visitors in command with a sumptuous, well-placed right-footed shot in the 54th minute. The sequence started with more good work from the right side, which Bayern worded relentlessly, feeding the tireless  Robben and Philipp Lahm time against along that flank.

The game was alive from the start with both goalkeepers forced into quality saves within five minutes. The best was from Gunners ‘keeper Szczesny, whose flying, fingertip save on Kroos’ well-aimed effort from 20 yards was surely among the best stops of all the Round-of-16 matches.

The real talkers of the early minutes were still to come as Mezut Ozil went through in the 8th minute (although he was possibly offside). When Bayern center back Jerome Boateng failed to deal well enough with the German attacker’s quick cut-back inside Bayern’s 18, Rizzoli pointed to the penalty spot.

[MORE: What’s wrong with Champions League home teams? Four shutouts!]

Big Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer stood his ground on Ozil’s tentative run-up and the Arsenal man saw his shot straight down the middle turned away by a fellow German international. Ozil, by the way, is the only player now to have missed two Champions League penalty kicks this year.

Rizzoli’s choice to eject Szczesny could have turned out worse yet for Arsenal but for David Alaba’s penalty shot for Bayern, which he aimed low and left, only to see it ping off the outside of Arsenal’s post.

Most of the second half was damage control for the home side; Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger set his side into a 4-4-1, with Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain wide – the hard-running “Ox” managed to be a bother here and there to Bayern’s back line, although he  didn’t dance through the German defense the way Robben did on the other side – in behind striker Yaya Sanogo.

Wenger had rattled the Champions League world with his lineup choice at striker, gambling with the French youngster Sanogo over far more experienced (and yet personally troubled, recently) Olivier Giroud.

[MORE: Late header from Diego Costa gives Atlético Madrid Champions League edge over Milan]

Giroud has been Wenger’s preferred striker choice all year; Sanogo had just one previous start for the Gunners.

It was actually a double gamble, of sorts. If Wenger was unhappy with Giroud, who has been OK, although hardly overwhelming during Arsenal’s fine seasons, the manager could have opted for German international Lukas Podolski, who has over 100 caps for his country.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Flamini, Wilshere; Ozil, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Sanogo

Bayern: Neuer; Lahm, Boateng, Dante, Alaba; Martínez, Thiago; Robben, Kroos, Gotze; Mandzukić.

AT HALF: Lletget, Bradley, Dempsey spur USMNT to 3-0 lead

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The United States men’s national team’s bid to recover their 2018 World Cup hopes is off to a flying start.

As it stands, the 3-0 halftime lead provided by Sebastian Lletget, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey has the Yanks up from sixth to fourth in the Hex table.

Sebastian Lletget scored a fifth minute goal to ease the tensions of the Avaya Stadium crowd in San Jose, though he’d leave the match with injury before the match was 20 minutes old.

Sloppy Honduran defending caused a turnover outside the 18, and Jozy Altidore played Christian Pulisic in on goal.

[ LIVE – Play-by-play via @USSoccer ]

Keeper Donis Escober got a piece of Pulisic’s shot, but no one followed Lletget to the back post and the ex-West Ham and current LA Galaxy man quickly put the Yanks up 1-0.

Then it was the captain who doubled the lead, as Honduras inexplicably gave him the room to walk across the arc of the 18 to rip a shot across goal. 2-0.

It was Clint Dempsey’s turn in the 33rd minute, after an otherworldly scooped pass from Pulisic.

What. A. Pass. Kid.

LINEUP

USMNT: Howard; Villafana, Gonzalez, Brooks, Cameron; Bradley, Lletget (Bedoya, 18′), Nagbe; Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore.

Goals: Lletget (5′), Bradley (27′), Dempsey (33′)

LIVE – USMNT looks to right ship vs. Honduras

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The United States starts to make amends for its 0-2 start to the final round of World Cup qualifying with a match against Honduras on Friday in San Jose.

Losses to Mexico and Costa Rica cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job and Bruce Arena will try things differently

[ LIVE – Play-by-play via @USSoccer ]

Most importantly for Arena, Geoff Cameron and Tim Howard are available this time around.

Cameron starts at right back, with John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez in the center of the back four. Jorge Villafana slots into the mix at left back.

Captain Michael Bradley will sit atop the midfield, with Darlington Nagbe, Sebastian Lletget, and Christian Pulisic in the midfield.

Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore are the forwards. Kickoff is set for 10:55 p.m. EDT from Avaya Stadium.

Minnesota’s Molino lifts Trinidad and Tobago to big win (video)

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Minnesota United attacker Kevin Molino has given Trinidad and Tobago life in the race to win a spot at the 2018 World Cup.

Molino’s 37th minute goal gave hosts T&T a 1-0 lead against visiting Panama at Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain on Friday, and the Soca Warriors held on to win its first points of qualifying.

Panama had a Luis Tejada goal controversially ruled offside as Los Canaleros nearly pulled their fifth point of the Hex. Panama faces the USMNT on Tuesday in Panama City.

[ WATCH: Zaha scores wonder vs. Russia ]

Molino fooled long time LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo with a low shot across the body. The Panama backstop couldn’t get low enough or far enough with his dive to stop the shot.

The win has T&T in fifth place on the Hex table, behind Honduras on goal differential and three points ahead of the last place USMNT.

The U.S. needs a two-goal win to pass T&T, and a three-goal win to climb above Honduras.

WATCH: Zaha drives Russia nuts with mazy dribble goal

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Wilfried Zaha combined balance, deft touch, and breakneck speed to score his first international goal for the Ivory Coast.

With his side leading Russia 1-0 on Friday, the Crystal Palace winger worked his way through four defenders before burying his shot.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Zaha especially fooled with Ilya Kutepov, a harsh cut nearly tipping both to the field.

He’s just 24, and it seems much longer ago that he made his failed move to Manchester United in 2013.

Failed may be a rough verb considering it all contributed to making him the player he is for Crystal Palace and Ivory Coast today.