Enner Valencia brace gives Ecuador a Group E boost with 2-1 win over Honduras

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Ecuador’s “that guy” is Enner Valencia, and he put two past Honduras to give La Tri its first three points of the 2014 World Cup and put Honduras on the brink of elimination.

The win wasn’t without trepidation, as the CONCACAF underdogs struck first through Carlo Costly, but just two minutes later Ecuador came back to level things up, and it was only a matter of time after that.

The game started open and stayed that way, with plenty of chances on both ends, although many of them ended in disappointing mistakes.

The Honduran defense played savior early on, as Victor Bernardez cut out a cross in the opening five minutes, and Ecuador’s Enner Valencia was pressured enough on a breakaway that he just curled his shot wide on 20 minutes.

Maynor Figueroa, a defensive force in the first half for Honduras, also put in a solid block as Valencia nearly found Felipe Caicedo in on goal.

Finally, Ecuador was punished for their wastefulness in front of goal as Honduras surprisingly went ahead.  A long ball from the back came forward to Costly, defended by Jorge Guagua.

The Ecuadorian defender mistimed his jump, and the ball clipped off him right to Costly’s feet. With just the goalkeeper to beat, the 31-year-old striker rocketed home through the legs of goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez for the opener.

The goal ended Honduras’s 510-minute World Cup goal drought, the second-longest of all-time.

source: AP
Enner Valencia has scored in six straight Ecuador matches.

However, the lead would not last long.  Ecuador pulled level just two minutes later, when Juan Carlos Paredes took aim from just outside the box and blasted on net. The ball clipped Jorge Claros on the way through, causing it to dribble to the far post where Enner Valencia had beaten Brayan Breckeles, and Valencia pounced for the equalizer, marking the sixth-straight match in which he’s scored for his country.

The first half started listlessly, but Honduras pulled out the biggest chance.  On the hour mark, Jerry Bengtson tried to thread a shot into the lower corner, but Dominguez dove to push the ball out wide.

Ecuador built up a pile of corner kicks as the second half wore on, and they seemed to inch closer and closer towards scoring the winner as each one swung in. Finally, they found the set-piece magic they were looking for in the 65th minute.

A free kick came in from the left edge of the box after a foul by Boenik Garcia, and the out-swinger found the head of Enner Valencia again who nodded the ball home at the far post for Ecuador’s 2-1 lead.  The goal is the third for Valencia of this World Cup, tying him for the early golden boot lead with Karim Benzema, Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, and Thomas Muller.

The deficit pushed Honduras more into the attack, and they came close on a few chances. Costly had a legitimate penalty should waved off as he was wrapped up in the box as the clock hit 75 minutes.

Honduras pushed with heart, but they just didn’t have the quality or creativity to produce any better opportunities to draw level.

Ecuador’s victory marked the eighth comeback win of the tournament, a staggering number at such an early stage.  It also puts them into second place in Group E on goal-differential, ahead of Switzerland. However, they take on France next and one would think they’d need a result against the dominating Les Bleus if they were to go through to the knockout round.

Honduras remains winless in World Cup play, a span of eight matches for the country.

LINEUPS:

Ecuador – Dominguez; Guagua, Erazo, Paredes, Ayovi; Noboa, Minda (Gruezo 83′), Montero (Achillier 90′), A. Valencia; Caicedo (Mendez 82′), E. Valencia.

Goals: E. Valencia 33′, 65′

Honduras – Valladares; Figueroa, Benardez, Izaguirre (J. Garcia 46′), Beckeles; B. Garcia (Chavez 82′), Espinoza, Garrido (Martinez 71′), Claros; Bengston, Costly.

Goals: Costly 31′

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.