Nerves, Nishimura, Pletikosa: Talking points after Brazil’s victory over Croatia

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Squint your eyes until the game is a blur, and Thursday’s result looks like a dream start for Brazil. Two goals from their best player? A 3-1 win over Croatia? Luiz Felipe Scolari would have taken that, had you offered him that result before kickoff. His team’s off to a 100 percent start.

Open those eyes and look at the details, and the result doesn’t look so convincing. The first 20 minutes where sluggish. The last 20 minutes tested Júlio César. Brazil was the better team over the full 90, but the two-goal margin flatters the Selecao.

In game one of (what Brazil hopes is) seven, it’s nothing to worry about. Every team has to start somewhere, and at this point of the tournament — for a core that’s never competed together on this stage — three points are enough.

Here are four other thoughts after the Selecao’s win in Sao Paulo:

1. Nerves slowed down Brazil – For 20 minutes in Sao Paulo, Brazil were bystanders, if not worse. After all, they scored Croatia’s goal.

Playing without passion or imagination, the Selecao seemed handcuffed by the occasion. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they were a team that’s never played together a World Cup that was trying to manage the pressures of being favorites on home soil.

Once they went behind, Brazil woke up, but that first 20 minutes is the kind of spell a team has to get out of its system early. In game one, you can overcome it. In game five, six, or seven, it will send you home.

[ MORE: Nerves, Nishimura, Pletikosa: Talking points after Brazil’s victory over Croatia ]

2. Yuishi Nishimura owes Croatia an apology … – The penalty call was ridiculous. If Lovren’s left hand hadn’t been near Fred’s shoulder, it would have been unfathomable, not that Nishimura can use that excuse.

Any experienced referee (and especially one working a World Cup) should be able to distinguish foul from flop on such a routine play. If not, they shouldn’t be at the tournament. Hopefully Nishimura’s seen his last action of the World Cup.

(Also, if you’re inclined to say Brazil’s final goal makes the call irrelevant, that’s just not the case. The way Luka Modric was pinging passes around in the second half, Croatia could have very well played out the final 20 minutes and earned a draw. Goals change games, and Nishimura gifted Brazil their winner. Without it, Oscar doesn’t get the same chance he saw in the 91st.)

[ MORE: Dive, poor officiating get 2014 World Cup off to a bad start ]

3. … and Stipe Pletikosa was the Nishimura of goalkeepers – You have to move those feet, man. On Neymar’s first and Oscar’s insurance, you can’t get get beat on those type of balls. A goalkeeper at this level has to be better than that.

Neither shot was hit well. Both were struck from distance, and each gave the Croatian keeper a chance to stop them. As much as Nishimura changed the match, Pletikosa had a chance to save it. And he didn’t.

[ MORE: Soccerly cover the World Cup ]

4. Despite it all, Brazil got three points – This wasn’t Confederations Cup Brazil, but it was also game one, and for as much as they failed to live up to the hype, the Selecao kept themselves in position to take advantage of what the match presented.

That’s a sign of a good team. Now the question is whether this team can grow into a great one.

La Liga & Serie A: Real Madrid dominates, Messi stars

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Real Madrid 4-0 Alaves

Cristiano Ronaldo and Real are finding their form at the perfect time, and that should concern a lot of teams in Europe.

Although La Liga is likely out of reach given Barcelona’s brilliant play in 2017/18, the Madridistas have turned up another gear in the second half of the season.

Ronaldo’s brace on Saturday lifted Real to yet another victory in Spain’s top flight, and the club’s run in all competitions simply won’t be halted. Over their last seven matches, Real has scored an absurd 26 goals.

Barcelona 6-1 Girona

For two minutes, Girona looked like they were going to be en route to a stunning victory at the Camp Nou. That was only for two minutes though…

Lionel Messi decided to steal the show, in typical Messi fashion, sparking four unanswered goals before halftime from the Blaugrana, including two from the Argentine international.

The superstar forward picked out Luis Suarez for the equalizer in the fifth minute, before unleashing two brilliant goals of his own. Suarez found his second of the game prior to halftime, before completing his hat-trick in the second stanza.

For every piece of brilliance that Messi completed though, Philippe Coutinho did his very best to show up his teammate in the second half. The former Liverpool attacker bent a tremendous curler into the far corner in the 67th minute to extend the lead, and it was a thing of beauty.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Celta Vigo 2-0 Eibar
Leganes 0-0 Las Palmas

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Villareal vs. Getafe (6 a.m. ET)
Athletic Bilbao vs. Malaga (10 a.m. ET)
Valencia vs. Real Sociedad (12:30 a.m. ET)
Sevilla vs. Atletico Madrid (2:45 p.m. ET)


Inter Milan 2-0 Benevento

For the time being, Inter is up to third place in Serie A. The Milan side still sits a ways away from league leaders Napoli and Juventus, however, Inter managed to pass both Roma and Lazio with the victory on Saturday. The defeat for Benevento keeps the bottom dwellers firmly buried at the bottom of Italy’s top flight, 11 points behind 17th-place Crotone.

Bologna 2-0 Genoa

Second-half goals from Mattia Destro and Cesar Faletti helped Bologna move into 11th in Serie A on Saturday, while Genoa sits three points behind in the table. Faletti, who was only on the field 10 minutes prior to scoring, nabbed his first Serie A goal of the season in the outing for the hosts.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Crotone vs. SPAL (6:30 a.m. ET)
Fiorentina vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Hellas vs. Torino (9 a.m. ET)
Sampdoria vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Lazio (9 a.m. ET)
Juventus vs. Atalanta (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. AC Milan (2:45 p.m. ET)

Report: Sounders suffer big loss with Jordan Morris injury

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The Seattle Sounders are aiming to find their way back to MLS Cup in 2018, but they’ll likely have to do it without one of their most important attacking players.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Johannsson gives Werder big three points in Bundesliga ]

U.S. Men’s National Team striker Jordan Morris looks to be sidelined for some time, with Fox Sports analyst Stu Holden reporting that the American has suffered a right ACL tear.

Last season, Morris missed some time with a hamstring injury, but now his latest setback could cost him the entire 2018 MLS campaign.

In two years with the Sounders, the 23-year-old has tallied 15 goals and added five assists in the regular season, while also playing a big role in the club’s 2016 MLS Cup title.

NASL denied injunction to obtain temporary Division II status

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The latest gut punch to a league hanging on by a thread was thrown on Friday when the North American Soccer League (NASL) was denied its injunction to obtain temporary Division II status.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit was in charge of bestowing the decision, which went in favor of the U.S. Soccer Federation — who had previously lifted NASL’s Division II standing for not meeting several criteria set forth by the U.S. Soccer Federation Board of Directors.

[ MORE: PST takes a look at which PL sides will be relegated ]

NASL and USL had previously been granted temporary Division II status, including prior to the 2017 season, however, USL is the only league currently operating under Division II sanctions heading into the 2018 campaign.

The latest decision from the Court of Appeals doesn’t affect the antitrust lawsuit currently ongoing being NASL and USSF, which was filed in 2017.

NASL is seeking to be reinstated by U.S. Soccer to be recognized with Division II priority, after allegedly being wrongfully stripped of its status. The lawsuit also alludes to a conspiracy that USSF is working in conjunction with Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing (SUM) in order to drive NASL out of operation.

As NASL is currently constructed, just six teams remain intact in the league, although Miami FC and Jacksonville Armada have pursued other opportunities while NASL awaits its future.

The New York Cosmos, Puerto Rico FC and expansion sides 1904 FC and California United FC round out the field of clubs that remain.

The league lost several of its clubs in the last 12 months due to a variety of reasons, including Indy Eleven and North Carolina FC (both of whom have entered USL) and defending NASL champions San Francisco Deltas (club folded).

PL roundup: Liverpool runs rampant; Brighton, Huddersfield victorious

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Get caught up on all seven of Saturday’s Premier League fixtures…

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham — FULL RECAP

When Philippe Coutinho departed for Barcelona there was a question as to how Liverpool would perform without the Brazilian. Now, it’s safe to say the Reds are going to be just fine without him. Another dominating effort at home on Saturday has pulled the Reds up to second place in the PL, courtesy of goals from Emre Can, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah. Jurgen Klopp‘s side has now totaled 65 league goals in 28 matches.

Leicester City 1-1 Stoke City — FULL RECAP

Xherdan Shaqiri‘s brilliant finish before halftime looked like it would be enough to give the Potters a much-needed three points, however, Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland cost his side dearly with a howler in the second stanza. A powerful cross from Marc Albrighton, coupled by a darting run from Jamie Vardy, gave the keeper troubles, before he spilled the ball into his own net.

West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Huddersfield Town  — FULL RECAP

Second-half finishes from Rajiv Van la Parra and Steve Mounie helped go three points clear of the bottom three on the day, while West Brom looks very much buried in the relegation race. The Baggies pulled a goal back through Craig Dawson‘s finish, however, it was too late to provide a comeback for the last-place side.

Burnley 1-1 Southampton FULL RECAP

The Clarets sit seventh in England’s top flight, however, Sean Dyche and Co. have not won a PL match since early December. Southampton’s form hasn’t been much better though, with the Saints winless in their last 15 matches. Manolo Gabbiadini‘s finish was vital for Southampton, who are one of 10 teams separated by a mere six points.

Bournemouth 2-2 Newcastle — FULL RECAP

A victory would have been massive for the Magpies, who are muddled in the heap of relegation sides, but a strong second-half effort from Bournemouth helped secure a point for the hosts.

Brighton 4-1 Swansea City — FULL RECAP

The promotion side has opened up a four-point cushion in the relegation race after a brilliant home showing on Saturday. A brace from Glenn Murray, combined with Anthony Knockaert and Jurgen Locadia goals, helped the Seagulls move into 11th place, while Swansea’s offensive woes continue to prove critical in their attempt to stay afloat in the PL. The Swans have score a league-l0w 21 goals in 28 matches, nearly 0.75 goals per game.

Watford 1-0 Everton — FULL RECAP

Troy Deeney‘s strike with 10 minutes to play was the difference for the Hornets, closing the gap between the two sides to just one point. Everton struggled mightily on the day to muster up any quality chances, although to be fair, both clubs didn’t look like they were in the finest of form up front. The Toffees have been dreadful away from home this campaign, with just one victory away from Goodison Park.