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 ]

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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′

Manchester United players respond to Louis van Gaal leaving

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Manchester United’s players have been reacting to the news that Louis Van Gaal is no longer their manager.

On Monday United released a statement confirming the Dutchman, 64, was no longer in charge at Old Trafford with his three-year deal cut short after a fourth-place finish in the Premier League last season and a fifth-place finish this season.

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United

Despite winning the FA Cup last weekend at Wembley, it wasn’t enough for LVG to keep his job after his players failed to finish in the top four and qualify for the UEFA Champions League. Jose Mourinho is reportedly in talks with United about succeeding Van Gaal and is expected to be appointed by the end of this week.

Dutch utility man Daley Blind was signed by Van Gaal two years ago for $19 million from Ajax and his father, Danny, was LVG’s assistant with the Dutch national team and is the current head coach of the Oranje.

[ PHOTOS: Ronaldo injured in training for Real ]

Speaking to the media as the Netherlands are in Portugal preparing to face the Republic of Ireland, Poland and Austria in upcoming friendlies, Blind shared his thoughts on how Van Gaal was treated.

“I always worked well with him and would have been keen that the co-operation lasted longer,” Blind said. “A manager who has achieved so much already deserved more respect. Even though there was so much being written about him losing his job over the last months, he always looked to protect and shelter us.

“It is not easy for a coach if you are repeatedly being fired in the newspapers. Still, we as a squad kept believing in the manager and showed that with our FA Cup win. That we did together for the supporters, the manager and for ourselves. It was in the end a good finish to the season.”

Blind’s words are perhaps not a surprise as the Dutch international was often seen out having dinner in Manchester with Van Gaal’s family, plus his own father Danny who is a long-term LVG man.

Memphis Depay, 22, was another Dutch player LVG brought in but after arriving from PSV Eindhoven for $37.5 million last summer he scored just two goals in the Premier League and wasn’t even on the bench for the FA Cup final win against Crystal Palace last Saturday. Despite all of that, he still wants to stay at United next season.

“I don’t know why it wouldn’t be. I am happy to be there and the management know I’m happy to be there,” Memphis said. “A love-hate relationship? I’m not sure about that. But him leaving is part of life in football and you learn from that and it makes you stronger.”

The rest of United’s squad are yet to speak on the matter or share any message on social media about the outgoing Dutch manager.

Perhaps that’s the most telling indication of how LVG was really thought of by the vast majority of the United dressing room as reports of severe unrest have surfaced multiple times throughout his eventful two years in charge at Old Trafford.

Let’s see who says what in the coming days as the dust begins to settle.

Cristiano Ronaldo hands Real Madrid injury scare

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 24:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid is helped after getting injured in the team training session during the Real Madrid Open Media Day ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final against Club Atletico Madrid at Valdebebas training ground on May 24, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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With the UEFA Champions League final in Milan this Saturday, the last thing Real Madrid want is to have Cristiano Ronaldo go down injured.

That’s exactly what happened in training on Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Follow UCL final ] 

The pictures below show Ronaldo, 31, receiving treatment on the floor and grimacing as he was helped to his feet after a clash with goalkeeper Kiko Casilla. It was an open media day ahead of the UCL final, a repeat of the 2014 between Real and Atletico Madrid, hence why pictures of the incident have been published.

Zinedine Zidane must have been sweating as the Portuguese national team captain missed the first leg of Real’s UCL semifinal against Manchester City in late April and they badly missed his cutting edge and power in attack.

Speaking about the knock, Ronaldo had this to say: “It was a minor scare, a knock, but in a few days I will be well.”

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United ]

Ronaldo had suffered from a reoccurring thigh injury this season, missing three games in April and he also came off at half time of Real’s final La Liga game as well as failing to complete the last three training sessions.

With the UCL final against crosstown rivals Atletico in just four days, most Real fans feared the worst when they heard the news. However, Spanish publication Marca has since reported that Ronaldo’s injury was assessed by the medical team at Real and it doesn’t appear to be too serious but any setback like this certainly isn’t ideal.

The three-time Ballon d’Or winner is Real’s leading goalscorer this season with 51 goals in all competitions and is also the leading scorer in UCL history with 93 goals, plus has 16 goals in 11 UCL games this season.

Flick through the images below to see more on Ronaldo’s injury scare.


 

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 24: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid is helped after getting injured in the team training session during the Real Madrid Open Media Day ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final against Club Atletico Madrid at Valdebebas training ground on May 24, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 24: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid reacts after getting injured in the team training session during the Real Madrid Open Media Day ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final against Club Atletico Madrid at Valdebebas training ground on May 24, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 24: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid reacts after getting injured in the team training session during the Real Madrid Open Media Day ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final against Club Atletico Madrid at Valdebebas training ground on May 24, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 24: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid leaves the team training session after getting injured during the Real Madrid Open Media Day ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final against Club Atletico Madrid at Valdebebas training ground on May 24, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 24: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid leaves the team training session after getting injured during the Real Madrid Open Media Day ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final against Club Atletico Madrid at Valdebebas training ground on May 24, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 24: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid leaves the team training session after getting injured during the Real Madrid Open Media Day ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final against Club Atletico Madrid at Valdebebas training ground on May 24, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Jose Mourinho set for talks with Manchester United

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Jose Mourinho is closing in on taking over at Manchester United.

Multiple reports claim Mourinho’s agent, Jorge Mendes, will meet with United’s executive vice chairman Ed Woodward and other representatives in London on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after Louis Van Gaal left the Red Devils.

[ MORE: LVG issues statement ]

It is believed that a deal may be struck on Tuesday but confirmation of Mourinho’s arrival at Old Trafford will not come until later this week, perhaps within the next 48 hours.

Late on Monday it was confirmed that Van Gaal was fired by United after two seasons in charge which saw them finish in fourth-place and fifth-place in the Premier League. Just two days after securing the FA Cup at Wembley — United’s first trophy since Sir Alex Ferguson left in 2013 — LVG was gone.

Van Gaal’s Dutch coaching staff also departed but mystery over the future of United legend Ryan Giggs remains. Giggs, 42, was LVG’s assistant but now seems set to be overlooked for the second time in the last three years when it comes to being handed the job permanently. Will he stay on and accept a lesser role on United’s coaching staff if Mourinho rolls up?

All the focus is now on the future and that next step and Mourinho arriving seems inevitable, as well the most logical and best available option.

Is it a risk? Of course it is.

[ VIDEO: Most bizarre moments of LVG’s reign ]

Mourinho, 53, was fired by Chelsea last December, just seven months after delivering a third PL title for the Blues. Their title defense was woeful and Mourinho left them one point above the relegation zone as his off-field antics — the Eva Carneiro situation, cryptic post-game press conferences and public condemnation of his star players — saw Chelsea rapidly unravel at the seams.

However, he is a born winner and has delivered trophies wherever he has managed.

He’s won two UEFA Champions League titles, three PL trophies, two Serie A’s, a La Liga crown and two Portuguese titles. He is a trophy machine and everything points to him delivering short-term success at United.

For the long-term, he may not align fully with their philosophy and ideology of promoting youth and being a proponent of sportsmanship and fair play, yet Mourinho is a winner and he gets the job done whatever way he can. Right now, that’s exactly what United need.

This is not the perfect fit but it is a necessary one as one of the most powerful and wealthy clubs on the planet looks to get back to winning where it matters most: on the pitch.

Pardew says Crystal Palace need a “big name” signing this summer

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  Alan Pardew manager of Crystal Palace gives a thumbs up during The Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 21, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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After losing to Manchester United in the FA Cup final on Sunday, Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew is already looking ahead to next season.

The Eagles’ boss was happy with his team’s performance against United, but admitted that the club needs to bring in some more talent over the summer transfer window.

MORE: All 2015-16 PL season reviews ]

Speaking about his summer plans, Pardew said he wants to bring a “big name” to Selhurst Park to help Palace continue their plan of growth.

We have shown that we have got talent in the group. We need to refine it a little bit, and we are going to try to do that in the transfer market. But we were a force to be reckoned with against Manchester United. We have given a real good, honest account of ourselves.

I think we have got to get players who are better than this. There is no point in getting players who are not potentially better than the ones we have got. Well, then they have got to be good players. So will there be a big name in there? There’s going to need to be.

After a hot start to the 2015-16 Premier League season, many believed Pardew had a Palace side that was able to compete in the top half of the table for a spot in Europe. However, after sitting fifth on Boxing Day, Palace won just two of their final 21 matches and slid all the way down to 15th on the table.

[ MORE: The best moments of LVG’s memorable yet bizzare tenure at Man United ]

Palace has far too much talent to be languishing near the relegation zone, but Pardew is right that work must be done over the summer. If the club’s new American ownership is willing to spend, a quality striker will be Pardew’s first target.

Last summer’s striker signing Connor Wickham finished the season tied for the team lead with five goals, level with Yohan Cabaye and Scott Dann. When considering that four of Cabaye’s five goals came from the penalty spot and that Dann is a center-back, the Eagles’ lack of attacking depth is quite clear.