It’s no secret: USMNT using Nigeria match to prepare for Ghana

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla — It’s not a hidden fact, so why not talk about it?

The US squad did just that Friday, chatting about scheduling Nigeria ahead of the World Cup opener against Ghana.

With the two teams sporting very similar styles of play, the United States hopes to gain valuable information on Ghana with their friendly against Nigeria in Jacksonville today.

“Obviously they [Nigeria] are a very physical and strong team, and a little bit similar team to Ghana,” Aron Johannsson told reporters at EverBank Field.

“It’s kind of a big test tomorrow because then we see how we do against a team that’s like our World Cup opponents.”

He’s definitely not the only one who thinks that.  It comes from the top.

“It’s a team that has strengths and weaknesses that we are trying to utilize and benefit from if possible,” head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “That gives us a little bit of an indication of how to approach Ghana and how to beat Ghana which is so crucial for us to start the World Cup with.”

Klinsmann said that they’re looking for any little bit of an edge they can get in their World Cup opener.

“We see a lot of similar things ahead of us and if you watch [Nigeria’s] game with Greece, they have so much individual talent, they technically are very gifted and always very calm on the ball, but sometimes a little bit over confident and we hopefully can utilize that.”

It’s understandable the US would target this match with Ghana.  They can’t achieve their goals against Ghana, but they can certainly blow them.  A win would set the Stars and Stripes up to have a shot at advancing with work still to do, while dropped points could doom them.

With such importance placed on the opener, midfielder Michael Bradley echoed those sentiments.

“[Nigeria] is a physical team, they’re an athletic team, a team with guys who individually can cause you trouble,” Bradley said. “Obviously no two teams are the same but certainly there are similarities there when you talk about Ghana. So it will be a good test for us to get another 90 minutes under our belts, and…we’ll use it for what it is.”

Even the Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi admitted he knows why his country was asked to play at EverBank.  “I think Nigeria plays similar football [to Ghana], and it will be a good thing for the United States, they should be able to capitalize on that.”

The first match is obviously on everyone’s mind, and to some degree the players clearly just want to get to Brazil and get into the thick of the event.  But there are important steps to complete first, and one of them is getting a good look at another African team with a hard-nosed presence on the pitch.

Ghana comes later, but first it’s Nigeria.

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

WATCH LIVE: Bournemouth vs. Liverpool

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Liverpool looks to pile misery on Bournemouth while increasing its Top Four stock with a visit to the Vitality Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The Reds can climb back into the Top Four with a win, and will do so with Sadio Mane, Danny Ings, and Dominic Solanke amongst their bench players.

Bournemouth starts Jermain Defoe, Joshua King, and Jordon Ibe amongst its attackers.

LINEUPS

Bournemouth: Begovic; Daniels, Ake, Francis, Smith, Pugh, Surman, King, L. Cook, Ibe, Defoe. Subs: Boruc, S. Cook, Gosling, Arter, Fraser, Stanislas, Afobe.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Gomez, Lovren, Klavan, Robertson, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Coutinho, Salah, Firmino. Subs: Karius, Milner, Mane, Lallana, Ings, Solanke, Alexander-Arnold.

AT HALF: Lukaku, Lingard have Man Utd up at West Brom (video)

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Romelu Lukaku didn’t celebrate much more than a fist pump following his match-opening goal against former teammates West Bromwich Albion.

[ MORE: Watch via NBCSports.com).

No one said anything about celebrating teammates’ goals, though.

Lukaku scored to give the Red Devils a 1-0 lead, then watched as Jesse Lingard‘s deflected lash left Ben Foster high and dry as United cruised into the break up two goals.

It’s 10th PL goal of the season for Lukaku, who has 15 in all competitions. For Lingard, it’s four and seven.

Here’s Lingard’s marker:

Celtic’s record unbeaten run ends at 69 matches

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Celtic’s unbeaten domestic run has ended at 69 matches, and it ended with a thud.

Tynecastle Park was the scene for a 4-0 thumping at the hands of Hearts, a defeat started by a 16-year-old’s first Scottish Premiership goal.

[ REPORT: Luiz done at Chelsea? ]

Harry Cochrane’s his name, and his 26th minute goal gave Hearts the lead, and it was 2-0 by halftime through Kyle Lafferty, the ex-Burnley and Norwich player.

David Milinkovic scored three minutes after halftime, as the wake-up call didn’t arrive at the break, and added a penalty kick late in the match.

Celtic has a two-point lead on second-place Aberdeen with a match-in-hand. Rangers sit five-points back.

Sixty-nine games! Remarkable in any league. Here’s what Rodgers had to say:

“But I also want to congratulate my players. To have gone through 69 games and this to be their first defeat; of course it’s a sore one when you are beaten like that but they can hold their heads up. They have been absolutely amazing over those 18 months.”

WATCH LIVE: West Brom vs. Manchester United

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The Hawthorns is the scene as Manchester United attempts to pull back into sole possession of second place on the Premier League table with a visit to West Bromwich Albion (Watch live at 9:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The Baggies have several regular starters on the bench, with Chris Brunt, Gareth Barry, and Gareth McAuley (Allllll the Gareths!) getting a rest.

United will hand starts to Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata, with Anthony Martial on the bench with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

LINEUPS

West Bromwich Albion: Foster; Nyom, Hegazi, Evans, Gibbs, Krychowiak, Yacob, Livermore, Burke, McClean, Rondon. Subs: Myhill, Robson-Kanu, Brunt, Barry, Rodriguez, McAuley, Field.

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Young, Herrera, Matic, Mata, Lingard, Rashford, Lukaku. Subs: Romero, Lindelof, Rojo, Shaw, McTominay, Ibrahimovic, Martial.