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′

Dempsey, Sounders steal a point on wild night in Portland

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The game in 100 words (or less): An entire game can change in the blink of an eye. For the Seattle Sounders, that blink came in the 44th minute of Sunday’s 2-2 draw with the Portland Timbers. Up 1-0 by way of Joevin Jones’ opener in the 27th minute, the defending MLS Cup champs were poised to head into halftime with a one-goal advantage and every belief imaginable that they’d been the better team for the entire first half. Blink. Brad Evans wrapped his legs around Darlington Nagbe, giving away a penalty and earning himself a red card, just like that, in the blink of an eye. Fanendo Adi stepped up to convert from the spot, but it still was to be a hard-fought 1-1 scoreline from Seattle’s perspective. Then, Dairon Asprilla got loose, completely unmarked atop the six-yard box, on a corner kick, and it was 2-1 after four minutes of first-half stoppage time. 45 more minutes pass, and the Timbers… blink. Clint Dempsey, 34 years old but fresh off the bench 40 minutes earlier, out-leaps everyone in the box and heads past Jake Gleeson to steal a point for Seattle.

[ MORE: San Jose fire Kinnear after 2.5 seasons ]

Three Four moments that mattered

27′ — Jones gets two chances, puts the second away — It’s a classic case of “I dropped my controller” from Alvas Powell, who just stops as Jones cuts across the penalty area. There’s no reason Jones should get a second look on this one.

44′ — Evans brings down Nagbe in the box, sees red — Goodbye, lead. Goodbye 11 versus 11. Things would unravel very quickly for Seattle.

45+4′ — Asprilla rises above to make it 2-1 — Seattle’s marking of Asprilla was nonexistent, and the Colombian showed off some serious hops to get his head to David Guzman’s corner kick.

90+4′ — Dempsey heads home deep in stoppage time — A costly turnover by Asprilla, a hit-it-and-pray cross by Roman Torres, and Dempsey snatches a point at the death.

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Man of the match: Cristian Roldan

Goalscorers: Jones (27′), Adi (45′ – PK), Asprilla (45+4′), Dempsey (90+4′)

Russia has reasons for optimism despite Confed Cup exit

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MOSCOW (AP) When the anger subsides after another group stage exit and another goalkeeping blunder, Russian fans might find they can be proud of their team at the Confederations Cup.

Russia failed to reach the knockout rounds of a fourth major tournament in a row, but there’s no shame in losing by one goal to European champion Portugal and North American champion Mexico.

“We will move on,” coach Stanislav Cherchesov said after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Mexico. “We have won (the fans’) hearts and minds to a certain extent in this month that we have been together … I think that we have given some reasons to feel optimistic about us.”

If Russia’s fans agreed with Cherchesov that Russia had done well to limit Portugal to a single Cristiano Ronaldo goal, there was frustration that Russia hadn’t done better against a poor Mexican side.

Russia wasted chances to exploit Mexico’s ragged defending and add to Alexander Samedov’s opener, while goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev performed an inexplicable lunge which allowed Hirving Lozano to head in the winner. Akinfeev was lucky not to be red-carded, too, after his foot caught Lozano in the chest.

Akinfeev was the immediate scapegoat for Russia’s exit, with fans and newspapers calling for his removal.

The most-capped player in the squad – the Mexico game was his 101st international appearance – Akinfeev’s bulletproof consistency in the Russian Premier League has kept him the undisputed national-team No. 1 for years.

When the world is watching, though, he gets flustered and makes mistakes.

Against South Korea at the 2014 World Cup, an innocuous long shot slipped from his grasp and went in, paving the way for another early Russian exit from the tournament. There have been more than a few blunders in the 43 games since Akinfeev last kept a clean sheet for CSKA in the Champions League, too.

But it’s hard to see who could replace him. The naturalized Brazilian reserve keeper Guilheme is agile but injury prone, while Vladimir Gabulov is a solid but unspectacular veteran. Zenit St. Petersburg’s Yuri Lodygin challenged Akinfeev for a while, but was brought low by his own tendency for embarrassing errors.

On the positive side for Russia, defender Georgy Dzhikiya was solid in all three group games after having only made his debut on June 5, and Cherchesov’s three-man back line was mostly reliable.

Less successful was Cherchesov’s attempt to bolster the midfield by starting Roman Shishkin – usually a defender – in a defensive midfield role against Portugal and Mexico, while 33-year-old ex-Chelsea winger Yuri Zhirkov did his World Cup hopes no favors with a red card Saturday.

Russia’s run of injuries before the tournament weakened the midfield in particular, with Alan Dzagoev and the promising Roman Zobnin both missing out. Forward Artyom Dzyuba’s absence left Cherchesov relying heavily on Fyodor Smolov, who showed touches of class but missed a good chance against Portugal.

Perhaps the biggest damage from Russia’s Confederations Cup exit will be to Russian pride.

Officials have often bragged that the home advantage for next year’s World Cup could drive Russia to new heights, perhaps a repeat of South Korea’s charge to the semifinals in 2002. Those expectations are now being reviewed.

Just one World Cup host in history – South Africa in 2010 – has failed to get out of the group stage. Avoiding a repeat may be the most Russia can hope for.

FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers host Sounders in PNW showdown

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They don’t get much bigger, or more heated, than this one in MLS — it’s Portland versus Seattle, the Timbers versus the Sounders, tonight at Providence Park (10 p.m. ET).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers vs. Sounders ]

To keep up-to-the-second informed on proceedings in Portland this evening, hit the above link, or click right here.

Seattle won the first meeting between these sides, 1-0 back on May 27, on their home turf at CenturyLink Field. Cristian Roldan, who’ll depart for U.S. national team camp following Sunday’s game, scored the only goal that afternoon in Seattle, a 4th-minute header from three yards out.

Mustafi: Arsenal players powerless, hope “brilliant” Sanchez will stay

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Shkodran Mustafi admits that he, along with his Arsenal teammates, feels helpless with over the ongoing transfer saga of Alexis Sanchez.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

The Chilean superstar is linked with a move away from Arsenal this summer, as the Gunners fell out of the Premier League’s top-four and the 28-year-old’s contract is set to expire next summer. Perhaps most importantly, Sanchez hasn’t so much as publicly stated a desire to remain at the club, which, from the outside, appears to have left his future in even greater doubt.

Mustafi admits he hasn’t a clue how things will shake out in the coming weeks, but he’s quick with a pleading sales pitch for Sanchez to stay — quotes from Goal.com:

“I have no idea. Obviously the other players cannot make that decision, he has to make that decision.

“I’m not too much involved. I hope he stays because he is a really brilliant football player but there’s nothing in my hands that I can do.”

[ MORE: De Boer set to be named new Crystal Palace boss ]

Arsenal would likely have to double (if not more) Sanchez’s current $180,000 weekly wages in order to convince him to forego a season in the UEFA Champions League and commit his long-term future to a club presently trending in the wrong direction.