Liverpool 2-1 Sunderland: Nervy Reds go second, seal seventh-straight win (video)

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Liverpool’s Premier League title charge continues despite a tension filled 2-1 victory over Sunderland at Anfield on Wednesday.

It took the Reds almost 45 minutes to break down a stubborn Sunderland side, but their inspirational captain Steven Gerrard curled in a tremendous free kick just before the interval to ease any nerves around from the Kop.

Moments after half time Daniel Sturridge scored a sublime curler for his 20th PL goal of the season — he and Suarez are only the third strike duo in league history to score over 20 goals each in the same campaign — as the Englishman then went close to a third after rattling the crossbar.

To their credit Sunderland kept battling away and the arrival of Adam Johnson and Ki off the bench pepped up the Black Cats, with Ki pulling a goal back in the 75th minute to leave the Liverpool faithful on their edge of their seats for the final minutes.

However Brendan Rodgers’ men held on for their seventh-straight win to go second in the standings, as they now sit just one point behind leaders Chelsea. As for Sunderland, they are still in the relegation zone and are three points from safety with a game in hand.

(MORE: Steven Gerrard – “We can’t make it nervy” as Liverpool’s defensive worries resurface)

A strangely subdued start played out at Anfield, as Sunderland’s five-man defense easily thwarted Liverpool’s early advances. The Black Cats barely threatened going forward, as U.S. international Jozy Altidore and recalled loan striker Connor Wickham cut frustrated figures up top for the away side.

Midway through the first half Liverpool started to come to life, as their superior possession began to pay dividends. However Glen Johnson and Joe Allen both fired way over from the edge of the box, as the Reds started to snatch at any chance that fell their way.

For the rest of the first half Liverpool kept hold of the ball but struggled to carve out many clear openings, as the home fans started to voice their discontent with several sloppy passes beginning to pepper the Reds’ play. But then in the 39th minute captain fantastic himself turned up to put Liverpool ahead, as Santiago Vergini scythed down Luis Suarez and a free kick was award right on the edge of the ‘d’. Vergini could’ve easily been sent off for the tackle on Suarez, as he looked to be last man, but referee Kevin Friend only dished out a yellow.

source: Getty Images
Gerrard bent in Liverpool’s first with a superb free kick.

From the resulting set piece Gerrard curled in a stunning effort to score his 11th PL goal of the season to lift the tension at Anfield as the home side went in 1-0 up at the break.

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

Within three minutes of the restart Liverpool were 2-0 up, as Sturridge showed exactly why he’s one of the hottest strikers in European soccer. The England international received the ball on the right hand side of the box, shifted it onto his left foot and the curled in an unstoppable shot into the top corner to add another stunner with his 25th goal of the season.

Liverpool’s swagger returned after that goal, as a marauding Philippe Coutinho helped set up Sturridge moments later but the Liverpool striker saw his goalbound shot blocked… by his own strike partner Suarez, as the Uruguayan international couldn’t get out of the way.

The home side were now well on top, as Suarez picked up Gerrard’s cross-field superbly and then cut inside of Vergini’s lackluster challenge before rifling a shot just past the far post. Sunderland brought on Adam Johnson and Ki to try and breathe impetus into their attack, but the away team barely threatened as they were outplayed, out-possessed and out-battled by a hungry Liverpool side.

However Sunderland did improve as the game wore on, with Lee Cattermole clattering the crossbar courtesy of a controlled slice from the edge of the box, then Ki skied the rebound. Moments later it was Sturridge’s turn to hammer the woodwork, as the 24-year-old curled a delightful right-footed effort towards the top corner but he also smashed the bar.

In the 76th minute Sunderland pulled a goal back, as Ki knocked home after a corner from the right found the South Korean unmarked in the box. In fairness it was no more than the away team deserved, as Poyet’s men stuck to the task and took the game to Liverpool in the closing stages.

Late on a vicious inswinging free kick from the left was headed towards goal by John O’Shea, but U.S. international striker Altidore was crashing  in behind him and would’ve been better placed to seal an unlikely equalizer.

As it was the Reds thwarted Sunderland’s late rally, as the Merseyside club remain in the hunt for their first-ever PL crown. Be wanred Liverpool fans: there will be plenty more nervous nights like this in the coming weeks.

LINEUPS

Liverpool: Mignolet; Flanagan, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson; Gerrard, Allen, Henderson; Coutinho; Suárez, Sturridge (Sterling, 77′)

Goals: Gerrard (39′), Sturridge (48′)

Sunderland: Mannone; Bardlsey, O’Shea, Brown, Dossena (Colback, 83′); Wickham (Ki, 66′), Vergini, Cattermile, Bridcutt, Giaccherini (Johnson, 61′); Altidore

Goal: Ki (76′)

UEFA playoff draw sets up intriguing battles

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The fight for the final four 2018 World Cup spots from UEFA is well and truly on.

On Tuesday in Zurich, Switzerland the draw for the two-legged playoffs was made as the eight best runners up from the UEFA qualifying group stages found out their fate.

[ MORE: Latest World Cup rankings released ]

The Republic of Ireland will face Denmark over two games, while Northern Ireland face Switzerland and two monster clashes have been set up as Sweden and Italy will lock horns and Croatia and Greece will do battle.

A spot at the World Cup in Russia next summer is the prize for the four winners of these home and away playoffs.

The Republic of Ireland seem to have got the better draw, especially as they will play at home in the second leg in Dublin. Northern Ireland will also be okay with having Switzerland but are slightly hampered by playing the first leg in Belfast. Italy against Sweden will be a tight game and one neither nation will relish, and the same can be said for Croatia vs. Greece with their intense local rivalry.

First leg matches will take place on November 9-11, while the second leg will take place on November 12-14.

Below is the full schedule for the two playoff games.


UEFA playoff schedule

First leg

Northern Ireland vs. Switzerland
Croatia vs. Greece
Denmark vs. Republic of Ireland
Sweden vs. Italy

Second leg

Switzerland vs. Northern Ireland
Greece vs. Croatia
Republic of Ireland vs. Denmark
Italy vs. Sweden

Watch Live: England, Mexico, Spain, France in U-17 World Cup action

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It is a busy day at the U-17 World Cup in India as four Round of 16 games take place.

[ LIVE: Stream U-17 World Cup ] 

Red-hot England play Japan, while France and Spain collide and Mexico clash with a very impressive Iran side who won all of their group games. Mali and Iraq complete the Round of 16 games on Tuesday.

The winners of the England v. Japan game will face the U.S. on Saturday after they blew away Paraguay 5-0 on Monday.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s four games, while you can click on the link above to watch all four games live.

Tuesday’s U-17 World Cup Round of 16 games

Iran vs. Mexico – 7:30 a.m. ET
France vs. Spain – 7:30 a.m. ET
England vs. Japan – 10:30 a.m. ET
Mali vs. Iraq – 10:30 a.m. ET

Benevento remains alone in Europe without a point

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ROME (AP) Benevento remained the only club in Europe’s top five leagues without a point after losing at basement rival Hellas Verona 1-0 in Serie A on Monday.

[ MORE: USA U-17s top Paraguay in convincing style ]

Romulo scored with a long volley to conclude a counterattack in the 74th minute.

Benevento center back Luca Antei was shown a direct red card for a sliding tackle late in the first half and Verona striker Giampaolo Pazzini nearly took advantage immediately when he hit the post.

With its first win of the season, Verona moved up to 16th place with six points.

Benevento has lost all eight of its matches.

All of the top-division squads in England, France, Germany and Spain have earned at least a point.

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Calls for exiled player to go to WCup stirs storm in Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) Soon after Egypt qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1990, a hashtag began trending on social media: “Aboutrika to the World Cup.”

In a country where soccer and politics often mix, and often with explosive results, the pro-government media didn’t like that.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

The hashtag unleashed an intense online campaign by tens of thousands of fans calling for former star midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika, who is now living in exile in Qatar, to come out of retirement and play for Egypt at the World Cup in Russia next year.

It stirred a storm in the Arab country because of Aboutrika’s alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist group that has been outlawed and declared a terrorist organization by the government. The Brotherhood was outlawed after the military’s ouster of a freely elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013.

The 38-year-old Aboutrika faces a host of charges rooted in his alleged financial support for the Brotherhood and lives in exile knowing he risks arrest if he returns home. His assets have been frozen by Egyptian authorities and his name is on a terrorism list. He now makes a living as a soccer pundit on the Qatar-based sports channel beIN.

Aboutrika turned down the call to return in a message to his supporters.

“These are kind feelings for which I thank you,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “But realism is better and I don’t steal the efforts of others. Those men (on the current team) deserve to be there alone.”

Yet that gentle refusal didn’t stop the storm around him, and the unfavorable comparisons made by some between Aboutrika and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, the team’s current star and new darling of the pro-government media.

“Mohammed Salah is the player who stood by his country, not like the other one (Aboutrika),” said Ahmed Moussa, perhaps the most ardent government supporter among TV talk show hosts. “He (Salah) is Egypt’s only star.”

The 25-year-old Salah endeared himself to fans with both goals, including an injury-time penalty, in a 2-1 win over Republic of Congo on Oct. 8 that ensured Egypt qualified for the World Cup for just the third time, and first time in nearly 30 years.

Salah has also been embraced by the government of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and its supporters in the media as a patriot. A donation of 5 million Egyptian pounds (nearly $300,000) Salah made in December to a development fund founded by el-Sissi has gone a long way to endear him to them.

In the week since qualification, Salah has been branded “golden boy,” “legend” and “genius.”

One media commentator, Dandarawy el-Hawary of the daily “Seventh Day,” wrote of Salah’s decisive goal against Republic of Congo: “It touched off the volcanoes of patriotism, sense of belonging and love of one’s country.”

Not long ago Aboutrika was the national hero – he still is to many – after playing a central role in Egypt’s three straight African Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Those triumphs made Egypt Africa’s most successful team with a record seven titles.

Now, the pro-government media refers to him as a traitor.

Another talk show host, Amr Adeeb, suggested the campaign to bring Aboutrika out of retirement was the work of government critics and berated him for his failure to lead Egypt to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Aboutrika has been labeled a mercenary, with his job with the Qatar-based beIN used as evidence of his lack of patriotism because of Egypt’s diplomatic spat with Qatar over the tiny Gulf nation’s alleged support of terrorism.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Aboutrika’s supporters argue that to have him back on the team would be a just reward for his dedication to Egypt and compensation for his failed efforts to get the team to previous World Cups. They point out that Argentina great Diego Maradona and Cameroon’s Roger Milla both came out of retirement to play for their countries at the World Cup.

Responding to the criticism from government supporters, Aboutrika’s fans have also been posting videos of him scoring goals for club and country in years past, with commentators lavishly praising him for his skill and passion.