Everton 3-2 Swansea City: Everton tighten grip on Europa League spot (video)

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The Champions League is but a dream for Everton, but Europa is looking increasingly likely. A 3-2 win over Swansea City puts the Toffees temporarily into fifth, depending on how Tottenham do against Southampton tomorrow. The Swans, however, are now just four points in the clear, although neither Sunderland or Fulham are making a decent bid for safety.

The first half at Goodison Park started rather quietly.

Wilfried Bony two chances rather quickly, with his first, a rather speculative shot from 35 yards, was easily saved. His second, off a ball from Chico, went just wide, wasting Swansea’s opportunity to once more take an early lead.

Everton, as is their want, tried to gain control through possession, but it was a penalty that gave them the lead with twenty minutes played. Chico brought down Ross Barkley as he got on the end of a lovely pass from John Stones. Leighton Baines was the man who stepped to the spot, sending a low, sharp shot to the bottom corner of the net. Michel Vorm guessed correctly but was unable to keep it out.

Yet the Swans managed to beat – or at least equal – Everton at their own game. Wayne Routledge did well to pick out Angel Rangel tearing up the right. The fullback squared for Bony, who this time had no trouble slotting home from close range.

The Toffees wasted little time in restoring their advantage after the restart, however. With less than ten minutes played in the second half, Romelu Lukaku shook off his marker before dashing on to meet Kevin Mirallas’ cross. From that range, the Belgian could hardly fail to score.

Five minutes later and Everton were ahead 3-1. As the corner came in, the Swansea defense determined Lukaku was their main threat, leaving Ross Barkley unmarked. The attacker slipped in to head home at the far post.

With over thirty minutes left to play, Swansea started to push. Tim Howard did well, flying through the air to deny Bony with just one hand. It was Pablo Hernández who set up Bony with a cross, and two minutes later he himself had a go, but Howard was quick enough once more.

Gary Monk then threw Michu into the mix, denying Bony the chance at a second. The Spaniard, just returned from a month out, hasn’t scored in the Premier League since September, and although his presence did liven up the Swansea side, he did little to challenge Howard in goal.

The visitors did manage another goal, however, in stoppage time. A corner taken by Hernández dropped favorably to Ashley Williams, who nodded in Swansea’s second.

Everton: Howard, Coleman, Baines, Stones, Distin, McCarthy, Barry, Mirallas, McGeady (Osman 85), Barkley (Naismith 84), Lukaku (Gerard Deulofeu 93)

Goals: Baines 20′; Lukaku 53′; Barkley 58′

Swansea City: Vorm, Rangel, Chico, Williams, Davies, Britton, Cañas (De Guzmán 69), Hernandez, Dyer (Shelvey 63), Routledge, Bony (Michu 70)

Goals: Bony 33′

Kevin de Bruyne questionable for injury-laden Belgium

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Belgium, already without superstar Eden Hazard for the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Greece, will now be without playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who picked up an injury in training on Friday and will miss both the match against Greece and the subsequent friendly against Russia three days later…maybe.

The Belgian National Team official Twitter account sent out a quote from manager Roberto Martinez that confirmed De Bruyne would miss the pair of matches, but the tweet was quickly deleted.

Instead, this one was pushed out in its place, correcting his availability and also updating the type of injury:

Should De Bruyne miss out, it means Belgium would likely rely heavily on Dries Mertens and Kevin Mirallas for the playmaking duties, with midfielder Radja Nainggolan potentially taking on a more attacking role as well.

Belgium and Martinez also confirmed that right-back Thomas Meunier will miss out after failing to recover from an ankle injury, while Marouane Fellaini‘s status is unknown after he was held out of Thursday’s training session.

The injury also leaves De Bruyne’s status for Manchester City up in the air, with a pair of massive games in London in quick succession after the injury break. City visits Arsenal next Sunday, followed by a hop over to Stanford Bridge on Wednesday.

Landon Donovan retires again, this time for good

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After coming out of retirement last fall to join the LA Galaxy for one more shot at an MLS Cup, Landon Donovan has once again called time on his career, saying he’s certain he will not play again.

With a number of other ventures on his plate, the USMNT all-time leading scorer is looking forward to spending his time elsewhere.

“Yeah, I’m done,” Donovan said. “I’m done. No more playing for me. I have not [gone public with it yet]. But that is definitely the case.”

Donovan scored one goal in nine games for the LA Galaxy in his comeback bid, with the club ravaged by injuries and still gunning for the Cup. However, after the season was over with a loss to Colorado in the Conference Semifinals, the Galaxy confirmed it was nothing more than a short-term stopgap.

“With Landon, when he came back, it was always going to be a short-term thing,”team president Chris Klein said to the L.A. Times in December. “He’s enjoying what he’s doing and we see we’re comfortable in the direction that we’re headed.”

In January, reports claimed Real Salt Lake had offered Donovan a Designated Player contract, but it appears he’s turned it down, and will now have time to concentrate on his other ventures. Off the field, Donovan is an analyst on Fox’s soccer coverage, is on the advisory committee for the Los Angeles 2024 Olympics bid, and has joined the ownership group attempting to bring an expansion MLS team to San Diego.

Former Spurs midfielder Paulinho scores thunderbolt for Brazil

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Brazil topped Uruguay 4-1 to move on the verge of World Cup qualification, but there was much more to the first half of this match than meets the eye.

Uruguay went ahead 1-0 on a 9th-minute penalty won and scored by Edinson Cavani, and for a moment it seemed like the home side might find its way to pull within a point of Brazil at the top of the CONMEBOL standings. That would not last very long.

[ MORE: Full roundup of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying action ]

Just 10 minutes later, a bad giveaway near the midfield stripe saw Neymar casually feed Paulinho a good 50 yards from goal. The former Spurs man took matters into his own hands, charging forward and unleashing a vicious strike that continued to rise until it ripped the chords in the top-right corner.

 

Not only was the goal a sight to behold, it was an important moment in the match. Brazil was back level at 1-1, and Paulinho would be on his way to an eventual hat-trick with a pair in the second half. Neymar scored once as well to complete the 4-1 final scoreline, and the three points for Brazil saw them remain perfect in the World Cup qualifying round as they march seven clear of Uruguay at the top of the standings.

For Paulinho, the hat-trick brings him to four goals in the World Cup qualifying round, adding to his score in the 3-0 win over Argentina. They also mark an important moment for the Chinese Super League, where Paulinho now plays, having moved from Spurs in July of 2015. Some national team coaches have left players on the outside of the squad for moving to leagues such as the Chinese League or Major League Soccer, but Paulinho has clearly been an asset to Brazil despite his club situation. In fact, in China, Paulinho has scored four goals in his four league matches for Guangzhou Evergrande this season plus another in the Asian Champions League, leaving him in top goalscoring form coming into this international break, something which has clearly translated directly to international play.

The 28-year-old had lost his place in the national team squad in 2014, going over two years without a single international appearance, but has been a mainstay in the Brazilian side during this World Cup qualification cycle.

Dele Alli banned three European games for straight red card

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Spurs may be out of the Europa League this season, but should they end up qualifying for the Champions League next season, they will start the campaign short-handed.

Tottenham will be without midfielder Dele Alli for the first half of the group stage after his horrifying tackle on Brecht Dejaegere of KAA Gent in their 2-2 draw which saw Spurs out of the competition on aggregate in the Round of 32.

Alli went to ground on the 39th-minute challenge, and made contact on high up on Dejaegere’s leg with both his studs, finishing with a scissior-whip motion. It was a blatant red card, and now UEFA’s disciplinary committee has handed down the three-match ban. Straight-red cards for violent conduct only carry a minimum penalty of one match in UEFA tournament play, but the disciplinary committee clearly thought a longer punishment was necessary, with the ability to sentence anyone up to five matches.

The straight red was the first of Alli’s professional career. Alli apologized to Dejaejere after the match, according to the Gent midfielder. He’s since scored in four straight matches, and when asked on Sunday if that moment was still in his mind, he said, “I’m never going to say sorry for wanting to win or trying as hard as I can but things happen and you have to learn from them.”

Spurs currently sit in second place in the Premier League table with 59 points and look to be in a strong position for Champions League qualification, with a seven-point cushion on fifth-placed Manchester United.