Italy's Mario Balotelli (9) heads the ball past England's Gary Cahill (5) and goalkeeper Joe Hart, left, to score Italy's second goal during the group D World Cup soccer match between England and Italy at the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil, Saturday, June 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Balotelli’s winner sends Italy to 2-1 win over England

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An often open battle that continued an early trend of goal-laden matches could have tuned into the 2014 World Cup’s first true shootout. Instead, England was left to rue their inability to grasp a second score after full-time was blown in Manaus, Brazil.

With goals from Antonio Candreva and Mario Balotelli sandwiching Daniel Sturridge’s first half equalizer, Italy defeated England 2-1 at Arena da Amazônia, giving the Azzurri three points that leave them tied with Costa Rica at the top of Group D. England, handed an early setback, joins Uruguay at the bottom of the group ahead of what becomes a high-stakes match between the two sides on Wednesday.

Italy broke through in the 35th minute after a corner kick played short allowed Claudio Marchisio to put a 26-yard shot inside Joe Hart’s right post. Two minutes later, however, England responded, with a Wayne Rooney cross from the left of Italy’s penalty area finding Daniel Sturridge for a tap-in from at the far post.

Five minutes into the second half, Antonio Candreva’s lofted cross from allowed Mario Balotelli to head home the winner for close range, with a series of England chances over the final half hour going to naught. As the teams tired badly amid 70 percent humidity at Arena da Amazônia, Italy was able to preserve their crucial result.

[ MORE: Colombia downs Greece | Costa Rica shocks Uruguay | Ivory Coast takes on Japan ]

England continues Group D play on Wednesday in São Paulo, where an Uruguay team that were shocked by Costa Rica will be looking for its first points of the tournament. Italy will be the next big name for the upset-minded Ticos, who’ll face their early co-leaders Thursday in Recife.

Even play over the game’s first 12 minutes eventually saw Italy assume control, with England willing to let the Azzurri maintain possession once they broke past its initial line of defense. The approach allowed the four-time champions to keep 62 percent possession over the first 45 minutes, though thanks to the speed in England’s attack, the Three Lions proved just as dangerous going forward.

In the 22nd minute, that speed started to pay off, with Raheem Sterling beating Marco Verratti to the left of goal before failing to connect with Danny Welbeck at the far post. One minute later, Welbeck beat Gabriel Paletta to create a chance from the right, but an Andrea Barzagli lunge barely prevented a Sturridge opener. Identified as a weakness before the match, Italy’s lack of speed in defense starting conceding chances in the middle of the first half.

The Italian’s control in the other half proved just as dangerous. Slowly, the Azzurri began breaking down the left of England’s defense, with Wayne Rooney doing little to prevent Italy right back Matteo Darmian from joining Candreva to outnumber Leighton Baines. In the 33rd minute, that dynamic produced a chance for Balotelli at the near post, foreshadowing the Italians’ eventual opener.

[ MORE: Soccerly covers the World Cup ]

source: AP
Italy’s Claudio Marchisio celebrates after scoring the opening goal during Saturday’s match between England and Italy. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Building down the right again the 35th minute, Italy earned their first corner kick of the match, eventually playing their restart short. Quickly, Verratti rolled a ball just outside the penalty area for Marchisio, whose perfect strike gave Hart no chance to prevent the opener.

Two minutes later, England had their response, with Rooney making amends for his defensive failings by creating the team’s equalizing goal. Racing past Darmian and onto a Sterling through ball, Rooney lofted a perfect cross far post for Sturridge, who met the ball in stride to one-time England even, 1-1.

Though Candreva would find the left upright just before halftime, the sides would go into intermission tied at one, with the open play that characterized the half’s final 25 minutes making the team’s 0-0 Euro 2012 quarterfinal a distant memory. If predictions of a first game draw were going to come good, it would be a drastically different draw than most imagined.

That notion was confirmed five minutes into the second half when Italy retook the lead. Again going down the right despite England’s tactical shift (swapping Rooney with Welbeck), Italy was able to create a two-on-one against a passive Baines, one that allowed Candreva to float a cross to the far post. There, Balotelli hammered a header inside the upright before Hart could recover, giving Italy a 2-1 lead.

Moments later, England looked poised for an immediate response. Turning on a ball at the edge of his team’s attacking third, Rooney raced away from Daniele De Rossi before bouncing a 22-yard shot outside of Sirigu’s right post. Eight minutes later, found alone in the middle of the penalty area, Rooney dragged a right-footed shot wide from 11 yards out, a miss that left commentators asking when the 28-year-old will score his first World Cup goal. Two minutes later, Ross Barkley tied to curl a 14-yard shot inside Sirigu’s left post only to see the Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper punch the shot well clear of his penalty area. While speed was still a problem for the Italians, their lead remained in tact.

By the 70th minute, Italy’s control of the ball was gone. The tendency to build through the middle before exploiting England’s left? Gone. As the teams starting looking to their benches, the more pragmatic part of Italy’s nature has emerged. England would need to break them down.

In the 76th minute, Baines came close, forcing a dive from Sirigu on a 28-yard direct kick, but it would prove England’s last good chance. As both teams began to wilt in the Amazonian night, Italy was able to bleed out the result. Though Andrea Pirlo nearly doubled his team’s lead with a late free kick off the crossbar, the 2006 champions where left with their 2-1 result.

Whether that final flattered either side is open to debate, but between Italy’s ball movement and England’s speed, there was little at separated the two sides in Manaus. Unfortunately for England, that failed to produce a point as they opened their 2014 World Cup.

Lineups

England: Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard, Henderson (Wilshere 73′); Welbeck (Barkley 61′), Sterling, Rooney; Sturridge (Lallana 80′)

Goals: Sturridge 37′

Italy: Sirigu; Darmian, Paletta, Barzagli, Chiellini; De Rossi, Pirlo, Veratti (Motta 57′), Candreva (Parolo 79′), Marchisio; Balotelli (Immobile 73′)

Goals: Marchisio 35′, Balotelli 50′

USWNT tops Mexico, advances to Olympic qualifying semis on late Lloyd PK

United States' Carli Lloyd (10) scores a goal on a penalty kick against Costa Rica during the first half of a CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament soccer match Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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The U.S. women’s national team is one step closer to qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in after the Lady Yanks, on the back of Carli Lloyd’s 79th minute, knocked off their North American rivals, Mexico, in a narrow, physical affair at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Tex., on Saturday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

With only bottom-of-the-group Puerto Rico (0 points, -15 goal differential through two games) still to face, the USWNT are through to the semifinal round, at which point they’ll be one more win away from qualifying for this summer’s Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.

The first half of Saturday’s clash was much different from what either side saw in their opening game — USWNT beat Costa Rica, 5-0, while Mexico routed Puerto Rick, 6-0 — as both sides engaged in a rough-and-tumble affair, racked up plenty of fouls and failed to create much of anything in terms of quality scoring chances.

The USWNT’s best chance early in the second half came in the 53rd minute, when Christen Press rifled a right-footed effort toward the far post from 15 yards out, but found nothing but woodwork before the ball caromed back into the field of play.

[ MORE: USWNT routs Costa Rica in Olympic qualifying opener ]

Alex Morgan very nearly opened the scoring in the 67th minute. Becky Sauerbrunn’s long throw was flicked on by Lindsey Horan’s header inside the penalty area, and eventually made its way to Morgan near the top of the six-yard box, from where her volleyed effort was sent inches over the crossbar.

With 77 minutes on the clock, Horan followed suit with a shot of her own off the post. From 20 yards out, her right-footed effort had beaten the goalkeeper, only to hit the same far post and bounce across the face of goal, where not a single American player was waiting to tap home the rebound.

All of Mexico’s dogged defensive work was undone in the 79th minute, though, as the USWNT was awarded a controversial penalty for handball. Lloyd’s initial effort from the penalty spot was saved, but the reigning World Player of the Year was first to the rebound and slotted the ball into an empty net (below video).

PL Sunday preview: Arsenal-Leicester, Man City-Spurs in top-four defining day

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez, center, scores their third goal during their English Premier League soccer match against Leicester City at the King Power Stadium, Leicester, England, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. (Paul Harding/PA via AP)     UNITED KINGDOM OUT       -     NO SALES      -      NO ARCHIVES
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The Premier League top-four’s defining day is upon us, as 3rd-in-the-league Arsenal hosts 1st-in-the-league Leicester City, and 4th-in-the-league Manchester City hosts 2nd-in-the-league Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

It’s also another important day in Aston Villa’s bid to avoid relegation, as they host (very, very faint) UEFA Champions League hopefuls Liverpool.

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra

No side in the Premier League has won more points away from home this season (28) than Leicester, which will no doubt have Arsenal fans feeling terrified for the whole of Saturday evening as Sunday morning looms.

When these sides met for the first time this season, back on Sept. 26, Arsenal walked out of the King Power Stadium with a resounding 5-2 victory, with many thanks to an Alexis Sanchez hat trick. Since that early Autumn day, Leicester have lost just once in the league (two PL losses all season), to Liverpool on Boxing Day. Jamie Vardy, who failed to score a single goal in six league games from Dec. 19 to Jan. 16, has scored three in his last three games (Leicester have beaten Stoke City, Liverpool and Man City by a combined score of 8-1 during that period).

On the injury front, the Gunners are mostly healthy, with Santi Cazorla (knee) the only first-teamer of real consequence due to miss Sunday’s game. The same goes for Leicester, who have a totally clean bill of health in terms of players who have featured this season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Sunderland shock Man United, Chelsea roll ]

Aston Villa vs. Liverpool — 9:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra

Bottom-of-the-table Villa need wins in the very worst of ways — with 13 games left in their season, Rudi Garde’s side is currently eight points from safety; the magical 40-point marks remains a whopping 24 points ahead of them. Liverpool currently sit 12 points behind Man City for the fourth and final Champions League place, thus Sunday’s trip to Villa Park is a must-win for Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds. When these teams met back in late September, Daniel Sturridge was the hero in a 3-2 victory at Anfield.

On the injury front, Villa will be without Jordan Ayew (suspension), Jack Grealish (ankle) and Adama Troare (foot), while Carlos Sanchez (hamstring) and Rudy Gestede (hamstring). Liverpool’s latest injury report, meanwhile, is an utter disaster that weakens every unit of their squad, though Sturridge is (finally) back in action.

[ MORE: Suarez — I’d only play for Liverpool in the Premier League ]

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 11:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra

A single point separates the PL’s second- and fourth-place teams, who are set to face off at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. Tottenham, who are two or three years ahead of Mauricio Pochettino‘s perceived timetable turning Spurs into PL contenders, are very much in the title race. When they welcomed Man City to White Hart Lane in September, the final score was 4-1 to Pochettino’s side, and the warning had been heard loud and clear. Harry Kane has scored four goals in his last four PL games.

City, somehow, still haven’t won back-to-back league games since the middle of October, and that’ll not be changing on Sunday, given their 3-1 defeat to Leicester last weekend. City’s talisman, Sergio Aguero, has remained healthy of late and displayed the kind of form that makes him capable of winning any game on his own on a given day (7 goals in last 6 PL appearances). With Vincent Kompany expected to make his return from a calf injury that has sidelined the Sky Blues captain since Boxing Day, now is the time for City’s defense to begin to match Aguero’s attacking brilliance if they are to push on and send Manuel Pellegrini out with another PL title.

On the injury front, Man City will once again be without Kevin De Bruyne (knee), as well as Eliaquim Mangala (hamstring), Jesus Navas (hamstring) and perhaps Wilfried Bony (calf). For Spurs, only Jan Vertonghen (knee) is expected to be unavailable.

Premier League roundup: Top Four has separation; Relegation picture much clearer

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 13: Louis van Gaal Manager of Manchester United looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Manchester United at the Stadium of Light on February 13, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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A couple of lessons from Saturday in the Premier League:

  1. The reasonable relegation field has slimmed
  2. Thanks to two other sides, so has the Top Four

Manchester United and West Ham United both stumbled in a quest to make up ground on the top four sides in the Premier League, who face off with each other on Sunday.

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And Norwich City’s point coupled with Chelsea’s demolition of Newcastle United has the contestants for the Bottom Three looking pared down to six clubs.

Sunderland 2-1 Manchester UnitedRECAP

United will finish the weekend a minimum of six points outside of the Top Four after allowing a third minute goal and another about the same distance from the final whistle in its first ever loss at the Stadium of Light. Wahbi Khazri looks the part for Sunderland, who moved to within a point of safety with the win. Anthony Martial scored for United

Swansea City 0-1 SouthamptonRECAP

Fraser Forster has six-straight shutouts and Saints are knocking on the door of fifth place after picking up three points in Wales. Shane Long‘s late goal lifted Saints to the win and 40 points on the season, while Swans are three points ahead of 17th place Norwich City and 18th place Newcastle.

during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge on February 13, 2016 in London, England.

Chelsea 5-1 Newcastle UnitedRECAP

Newcastle started a makeshift back four with winger Rolando Aarons filling in at fullback, and Chelsea absolutely devoured the Magpies to win its first season series against the Northeast side since 2011. Pedro nabbed a pair of goals, with Bertrand Traore adding his first Premier League goal. Diego Costa and Willian also scored, and Andros Townsend added his first goal since leaving Spurs in the January transfer window. Newcastle is 18th after the blowout loss sunk them beneath Norwich on differential.

Norwich City 2-2 West Ham UnitedRECAP

And that’s because the Canaries tossed away a 2-0 home lead against Dimitri Payet. We should say West Ham, but Payet has been an absolute wizard for the Irons and scored before setting Mark Noble up for a second in erasing the deficit caused by goals from Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolahan. For the moment, Norwich is 17th and the Hammers failed in a bid to overtake Manchester United for fifth.

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 13: Giannelli Imbula of Stoke City controls the ball under pressure of Harry Arter of Bournemouth  during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Stoke City at Vitality Stadium on February 13, 2016 in Bournemouth, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 13: Giannelli Imbula of Stoke City and Harry Arter of Bournemouth  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

Bournemouth 1-3 Stoke CityRECAP

Giannlli Imbula, Joselu and Ibrahim Afellay helped the Potters cruise to a win at Vitality Stadium, halting its slide while moving Bournemouth smack dab back in the relegation frame. The Cherries are four points free of the drop zone, and Matt Ritchie‘s goal was part of a game comeback effort from Eddie Howe‘s bunch.

Everton 0-1 West Bromwich Albion — RECAP

The Toffees managed an incredible 34 shots, but couldn’t slip one past a packed-in West Brom side. The Baggies closed up shop after Salomon Rondon scored in the 14th minute, West Brom’s only shot on target of the night. Tony Pulis‘ side is eight points clear of the drop.

Crystal Palace 1-2 WatfordRECAP

Alan Pardew‘s Eagles are all the way down to 13th and winless in 2016 Premier League matches. With just one point from its last seven matches, Palace needs a win soon to avoid being a very real part of the relegation picture. Quique Flores‘ Hornets, however, are essentially safe after moving to within five points of fifth. Troy Deeney scored both of Watford’s goals, while Emmanuel Adebayor netted for Palace.

 

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Leicester City 25 15 8 2 47 27 20 7-4-1 8-4-1 53
Tottenham Hotspur 25 13 9 3 45 19 26 7-4-2 6-5-1 48
Arsenal 25 14 6 5 39 22 17 7-3-2 7-3-3 48
Manchester City 25 14 5 6 47 26 21 9-1-3 5-4-3 47
Manchester United 26 11 8 7 33 24 9 6-4-2 5-4-5 41
Southampton 26 11 7 8 34 24 10 7-2-4 4-5-4 40
West Ham United 26 10 10 6 40 31 9 5-5-2 5-5-4 40
Watford 26 10 6 10 29 28 1 5-3-5 5-3-5 36
Stoke City 26 10 6 10 27 32 -5 5-2-5 5-4-5 36
Everton 26 8 11 7 46 35 11 4-4-6 4-7-1 35
Liverpool 25 9 8 8 32 36 -4 4-5-3 5-3-5 35
Chelsea 26 8 9 9 38 36 2 5-5-4 3-4-5 33
Crystal Palace 26 9 5 12 27 32 -5 4-2-8 5-3-4 32
West Bromwich Albion 26 8 8 10 24 32 -8 4-4-5 4-4-5 32
Bournemouth 26 7 7 12 30 44 -14 3-4-6 4-3-6 28
Swansea City 26 6 9 11 24 34 -10 4-5-5 2-4-6 27
Norwich City 26 6 6 14 30 50 -20 4-4-5 2-2-9 24

Newcastle United 26 6 6 14 27 49 -22 4-5-4 2-1-10 24
Sunderland 26 6 5 15 32 50 -18 4-3-6 2-2-9 23
Aston Villa 25 3 7 15 20 40 -20 2-4-6 1-3-9 16

Watch Live: USWNT takes on Mexico in Olympic qualifier no. 2

Costa Rica defender Carol Sanchez, left, helps goalie Dinnia Diaz (1) on a shot by U.S.forward Alex Morgan, center, during the second half of a CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament soccer match Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Frisco, Texas. Morgan scored 12 seconds in and added another goal in the 62nd minute. The United States won 5-0.. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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The latest chapter in the United States versus Mexico soccer rivalry takes place on Saturday, as the United States women’s national team faces the Mexican women’s national team in the second game of 2016 Olympic qualifying.

The game, which kicks off at 4 p.m. ET, can be seen live on NBC Sports Live Extra (link below) from Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Tex.

[ WATCH LIVE: USWNT vs. Mexico live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Mexico currently sits atop Group A after a 6-0 drubbing of Puerto Rico in their opening game, while the USWNT are a very close second, having beaten Costa Rica 5-0 on Wednesday.