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International roundup: Spain downs Italy; Germany squeaks by Chile; Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay held

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All 32 team that qualified for the 2014 World Cup are in action on Wednesday – the last official FIFA international match day before the end of the 2013-14 season. Though cakes in North and Central America will kick off later tonight, here are how the day’s European kickoffs unfolded (teams ordered by FIFA world ranking):

1. Spain – Pedro Rodríguez’s early second half score gave the world champions a 1-0 lead on Italy, an advantage la Roja were able to carry through full-time with relative ease after giving up some early opportunities.

2. Germany – An early goal from Bayern Munich’s Mario Götze hinted at an easy day for Joachim Löw’s team, but held off the scoreboard by Chile for the next 74 minutes, Germany were left to settle for a 1-0 victory over Jorge Sampaoli’s team in Stuttgart.

3. Argentina – A lackluster performance from a full strength Albiceleste saw Romania hold earn a 0-0 draw in Bucharest.

4. Portugal – An early goal from Cristiano Ronaldo saw the Seleccao captain pass Pauleta for first place on his country’s all-time scoring list. Vincent Aboubaker’s goal, however, allowed the visiting Cameroonians to equalize minutes before halftime. Second half goals from Raul Meireles, Fabio Coentrao, Edinho, and a second from Ronaldo left Cameroon routed at full-time, Paulo Bento’s team posting a 5-1 win in Leiria.

5. Colombia – An early goal from James Rodríguez gave the Cafeteros an early lead in Barcelona, but Wahbi Kahzri’s response in the 35th minute provided the equalizer for Tunisia, who held on for a 1-1 draw.

6. Switzerland – A duel between Josip Drmic (goals in the 33rd, 41st minutes) and Ivica Olic (39th, 54th) left the two World Cup qualifiers drawn at the final whistle, with Croatia’s visit to the AFG Arena producing a 2-2 result.

7. Uruguay – Marc Janko’s 14th minute opener put Austria up early, but substitute Álvaro Perreira’s equalizer in the 66th minute salvaged a 1-1 draw for la Celeste.

8. Italy  – See Spain.

9. Brazil – Three goals from Neymar were complemented by scores from Chelsea’s Oscar and Manchester City’s Fernandinho as the Seleçao routed South Africa, 5-0.

(MORE: Neymar hat trick runs international goal total to 30 in Brazil’s 5-0 rout of South Africa)

10. Netherlands – With a disappointing performance in Paris, Louis Van Gaal’s team gave up first half goals to Karim Benzema and Blaise Matuidi en route to a 2-0 loss to France.

11. Belgium – Marouane Fellaini’s return to health produced a 17th minute goal for the Manchester United midfielder, with an early second half score from Radja Nainggolan giving Marc Wilmots’ team to a 2-2 lead over visiting Cote d’Ivoire. Thanks to goals from substitutes Didier Drogba and, in stoppage time, Max Gradel, the Ivorian were able to earn a 2-2 result in Brussels

12. Greece – A much stronger South Korea team than the one that lost in Carson, Calif., last month went up early through Park Chu-Young, with a giving 10 minutes into the second half from Son Heung-Min giving the visitors an impressive 2-0 win.

(MORE: Ukraine 2-0 USA: Disjointed U.S. display sees fired up Ukraine prevail)

Elsewhere: Asian champions Japan got two goals from Shinji Okazaki in a 4-2 win over New Zealand; World Cup-qualifiers Iran were upset at home by Guinea, 2-1; Two first half goals saw Russia trot past Armenia, 2-0; Scores from El Arbi Soudani and Saphir Taider gave Algeria a 2-0 win over Slovenia; Ghana conceded a first minute penalty in a 1-0 loss to Montenegro; Gedo and Mohamed Salah led Egypt to a 2-0 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina; Daniel Sturridge’s 82nd minute goal give England a 1-0 win over visiting Denmark; Two goals from Tim Cahill couldn’t prevent Australia from giving up a three-goal lead to Ecuador following Mitchell Langerak’s 58th minute red card. With goals from Fidel Martínez, Segundo Castillo, Enner Valencia, and Edison Méndez (90+2′), Ecuador claimed the comeback victory.

Later: Mexico hosts Nigeria in Atlanta; Honduras takes on Venezuela in San Pedro Sula; while Costa Rica welcomes Paraguay to San José.

Klinsmann praises Nagbe: “He knows he has to push the envelope”

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Pedro Larrea #15 of Ecuador reacts as Nagbe Darlington #10 of the United States celebrates with Christian Pulisic #17 of the United States after scoring against Ecuador during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
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Breaking into a Jurgen Klinsmann side isn’t easy, especially for an attacker.

With the United States men’s national team boss quite happy to trot out Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and — when healthy — Jozy Altidore, becoming a regular isn’t easy.

So making the most of your opportunity is key, and Darlington Nagbe has done that most times he’s hit the pitch for the USMNT.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

And scoring a 90th minute winner against Ecuador, even in a 1-0 friendly win, is going to help his odds of sticking in the coach’s mind. Klinsmann said Nagbe “knows he has to push the envelope”, and lauded him for doing so while cautioning that he’s never questioned the offensive acumen of Portland Timbers’ man.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Now you also want to tell him ‘Listen, you’ve got to make an impression. You’ve got to learn to play both ways and grind it out defensively, go into 1v1s and win balls as well,’” Klinsmann said.

“And that’s just going forward. He has tremendous talent with the ball at his feet going forward. That’s what we enjoy in MLS every weekend. But the international side is both ways, and that’s what we’re working on. And he’s getting better and better at doing that.”

Nagbe was among a handful of U.S. players to shine during a dominant second half that saw the Timbers midfielder snare the decisive goal, and it’s not a stretch to say he was the brightest. Let’s hope to see him get a chance to start on Saturday against Bolivia.

Lukaku will listen to Everton but “I have my own ideas in mind

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Romelu Lukaku of Everton arrives for the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Everton at the Stadium of Light on May 11, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
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Romelu Lukaku‘s future looks to be away from Goodison Park.

The big Belgian striker authored 25 goals across all competitions this season, including 18 in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Zlatan has “taken a decision” ]

But as he prepares for the Euro 2016 tournament, Lukaku’s comments make it seem likely that even new investments from up high aren’t going to keep him on Merseyside.

From Sky Sports:

“We have a new investor at Everton and out of courtesy I will listen to what he has to say. But I have my own ideas in mind. I want to win titles.

“I have had a very good season, but it is time for me to write myself a CV. That is why I play football. I got that trophy-winning mindset from Chelsea.”

Lukaku would be a big ticket item on the transfer market, and should go for more than the $41 million price tag Everton paid to get him from Chelsea.

Ibrahimovic says he has received offers from England, Italy

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 11:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint-Germain walks out for a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg match against Manchester City at Etihad Stadium on April 11, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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STOCKHOLM (AP) Still looking for a team for next season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic says he has “concrete offers” from England, Italy and other countries.

The 34-year-old Sweden striker, who has said he is leaving Paris Saint-Germain, has yet to announce where he is headed after the European Championship.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

Ibrahimovic says “I have taken my decision,” but he didn’t elaborate.

At Euro 2016, Sweden will play in Group E with Belgium, Italy and Ireland.

Benitez stay is huge, but Newcastle cannot be content with players

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 30:  Rafael Benitez (R) manager of Newcastle United congratulates Andros Townsend (L) after their 1-0 win in the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace at St James' Park on April 30, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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As posted yesterday, Rafa Benitez met with the media after Newcastle United confirmed that the trophy-winning manager has decided to stay with the club despite relegation, and said this is his ship now.

This is huge news for the Magpies.

The 56-year-old Spaniard couldn’t rescue the sinking ship he inherited from Steve McClaren, and is tasked with lifting Newcastle back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

For years, Newcastle’s managers have been subject to the approval of chief scouts, managing directors and owner Mike Ashley. What Benitez has now is assurances that no player is being sold without his permission, and none being bought without his approval. Which means no midseason sales of Yohan Cabaye because the iron is hot, or unrequested purchases like Xisco.

Of course that could mean we’re headed for a huge August or January bust-up when Ashley or Lee Charnley pulls the rug out from some big acquisition that could firm up Newcastle’s standing in the top flight, but we’ll stay on the sunny side for now and assume Benitez’s people made that part of his contact air tight.

It means Newcastle could line up, basically, the same as last season. There are plusses and minuses to that, of course, as the club was relegated thanks to woeful form and players who were perhaps rightfully accused of only showing up for primetime matches.

Consider:

— Newcastle took as many points from Manchester United (2) as Aston Villa.

— The Magpies went 2-0 against Tottenham Hotspur, grabbed four points from Liverpool, beat West Ham and drew both Manchester City and Chelsea.

— They also lost to relegation rivals Norwich, drew Sunderland twice and were swept by Watford.

So while Benitez holds sway to keep Moussa Sissoko, Georginio Wijnaldum and Daryl Janmaat despite the big money they could command on the open market, he has to be 100 percent sure they won’t mail it in.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Kevin Nolan of Newcastle United celebrates scoring the opening goal with team mate Andy Carroll (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Liverpool at St James' Park on December 11, 2010 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Carroll and Nolan (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

There’s no certainty there, and one of the main things that helped Newcastle bounce right back up to the PL in 2009-10 was a crew that got its footing in the Championship by Week 13 and never looked back: the Magpies lost just once in the league from Oct. 24 onward thanks in large part to heart-and-soul players who stuck around after the drop (Kevin Nolan, Jonas Gutierrez, Fabricio Coloccini, Andy Carroll and others).

Among those who fit the bill for understanding the task at hand are Andros Townsend, Jonjo Shelvey, Jack Colback, Chancel Mbemba and Coloccini. Others, like Sissoko and Siem De Jong, risk poisoning the well. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be kept around, but Benitez will need to know transfer rumor and agent hijinks aren’t in the offing.

Make no mistake about it, Benitez in control is better than anything the Magpies have had in ages and Newcastle is far more likely to replicate the instant promotions of West Ham and itself than the divisional drops of Leeds United and Portsmouth.