At halftime: Two goals in a minute has Australia even with Netherlands at 1-1 – FOLLOW LIVE

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Story of the half: Don’t tell Australia what happened to Spain last week, they don’t seem to care.

Despite the Dutch coming off a game in which they torched the defending champions 5-1, the Aussies haven’t just come out competitive, they’ve been flat out better.

The Australians absorbed some early pressure, and have things all square from Porto Alegre at 1-1.  In fact, because the Australians have been better, it’s surprisingly appropriate to call the first Dutch goal “against the run of play.”

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Goals:

20′ – Australia were proving up to the task early, but Arjen Robben broke 3-on-1 and took it himself, slotting far post past Maty Ryan for a 1-0 Dutch lead.  Thanks to a headed pass from Daley Blind, Robben took the ball from the mid line, passed through a foul which the referee played advantage for, and made it all the way to the box for the finish. It appeared he had a wide-open Robin van Persie on the far side with Robben drawing the one defender, but he took it himself calmly.

21′ – Corner flag, I feel your pain. Tim Cahill responded immediately to Robben’s goal, catching the Dutch offsides and finishing powerfully off the underside of the crossbar and in. Off the restart, the referee played advantage for a Dutch foul, and the ball fell to Ryan McGowan who blasted a long-ball forward to Cahill on the far side of the box.  The striker one-timed a volley and the score was level 1-1.

Other key moments:

30′ – The Aussies equalized right after the Dutch scored, and after the scoreline was restored at level, they continued to press the Dutch defense, and had a pair of opportunities on the half-hour mark. Mathew Leckie’s cross trickled through the box untouched and fell to Mark Bresciano who launched a missile just over the crossbar.  Just after, an Aussie free kick fell through the Dutch defense untouched but also went unpunished.

44′ – Tim Cahill clattered into Bruno Martins Indi, earning himself a yellow card, his second of the tournament.  That means he will miss Australia’s next match, the group A finale against Spain.  Consequently, the next 45 minutes very well could be the last we see of the 34-year-old in a World Cup, or even in an Australia shirt altogether. The challenge also knocked Martins Indi out of the game with an injury, replaced by Memphhis Dupey.

LINEUPS:

Netherlands – Cillessen, Vlaar, de Vrij, Indi (Depay 45′), Blind, de Jong, Janmaat, de Guzman, van Persie, Sneijder, Robben.

Goals: Robben 20′

Australia – Ryan, Davidson, Cahill, Spiranovic, Leckie, Oar, Jedinak, McKay, McGowan, Wilkinson, Bresciano.

Goals: Cahill 21′

Key Players:

  • Tim Cahill – Always and forever the key man in their attack, Cahill is consistently the target of Australian crosses into the box.
  • Ryan McGowan/Mathew Leckie – A new addition into the Australian lineup with Ivan Franjic injured, McGowan was a force along the right-hand sideline, and pairing up with winger Leckie, the pair caused the Dutch all kinds of problems.
  • Arjen Robben – With Wesley Sneijder struggling mightily and Robin van Persie invisible, Robben was the only man involved in consistent Dutch attacks, and scored their first goal with a skillful break.

Numbers to know:

4 – Tim Cahill’s World Cup goals for Australia, half of the country’s all-time World Cup scoring tally.

11 – Successful passes by Wesley Sneijder in 18 attempts, just a 61% completion rate.

11 – Number of touches for Robin van Persie in the first half. He has one shot, one completed pass, and is 0/1 in take-ons.

Questions for the second half:

  • How will Louis van Gaal mold the offense to get his attack more involved? With Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder ineffective up front, this could be our first look at how van Gaal will work things at Manchester United when it’s not going as planned in the attack.
  • Can Australia keep up the pressure? Australia held 55% of the possession, and outpassed the Dutch 207-163. It will be interesting to see how Australia counters the inevitable Dutch changes to come.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday