Klose’s record-tying equalizer salvages Germany draw against Ghana

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In a tournament that’s defied the notion of World Cup favorites, Germany nearly became the latest titan to stumble, but thanks to a late, historic goal from Miroslav Klose, the three-time champions were able to salvage a result against Ghana. After second half goals from André Ayew and Asamoah Gyan put the Black Stars on the verge of the upset, Klose’s 15th World Cup goal pulled Germany even, with the 2-2 final keeping the 2010 semifinalists at the top of Group G.

Germany opened the scoring in the 51st minute when Mario Götze headed home from close range, but goals from Ayew and Gyan in the 54th and 63rd minutes had the West African nation on the brink of a landmark victory. In the 71st minute, however, a corner kick flicked on by Benedikt Höwedes allowed Klose to tie the record for most career goals at the World Cup, his sliding finish salvaging a point for his country.

With the result, Germany moves one point ahead of the United States ahead of the U.S.’s meeting with Portugal on Sunday in Manaus. The two teams will meet in Recife to close group play on Thursday, with the winner potentially claiming first place in Group G.

Kicking off at the same time, Ghana will face Portugal, with today’s draw ensuring the Black Stars will have something to play for at kickoff  in Brasília.

[ MORE: Talking points after Ghana trips up Germany ]
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From the opening kickoff, Germany controlled possession, but the game’s first chance went to Ghana in the seventh minute, with a Christian Atsu ball played to Asamoah Gyan at the edge of the six-yard box eventually put into the stands. Throughout the rest of the half, Germany used their 59 percent possession to consistently threaten, often passing behind Ghana’s fullbacks before attempting to find Thomas Müller in front of goal. Strong play from defender John Boye kept Germany off the scoresheet, while chances for Atsu and Sulley Muntari tested Neuer at the other end of the field.

Six minutes into the second half, Germany finally broke through. After Müller, floating wide right, was allowed to stand over a ball 26 yards out, the Bayern Munich attacker picked out club teammate Mario Götze making a run from the left, inside full back Harrison Afful. Meeting the ball six yards from goal, the 22-year-old gave Fatau Dauda little chance to prevent the opener, heading down and in to give Germany a 1-0 lead.

The lead lasted three minutes, with Ghana’s own cross-header combination pulling the Black Stars even. From the right flank, Afful launched a ball toward a defense matched three-on-three with Ghanaian attackers. That left André Ayew isolated with substitute right back Shkodran Mustafi, who couldn’t prevent the Marseille man from heading inside Neuer’s right post. In the 54th minute, the underdogs had evened the score.

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Asamoah Gyan oelebrates with his teammates scoring his team’s second goal n Fortaleza, Brazil. (Source: Getty Images)

Nine minutes later, Ghana had their lead. After intercepting a ball in his opponent’s half, Muntari was able to catch the German defense in transition, played a between Per Mertesacker and Mats Hummels that sent Gyan in on goal. A confident finish into the left side-netting gave the underdogs a 2-1 lead, handing one of the tournament favorites their first deficit of the competition.

In the 71st minute, the game swung back toward the Germans, with a record-tying goal allowing the Nationalmannschaft to pull even. Off a corner from the left side, a Benedikt Höwedes flick toward the right of goal was helped in by Klose, whose sliding finish defused Ghana’s upset hopes. Drawing even with Brazilian legend Ronaldo for the tournament lead in career goals, the veteran striker made it 2-2.

Momentum from the goal kept Germany in control, but it wasn’t until the 84th minute that the chances resumed. Müller had an opportunity  from the middle of the area to put the Germans in front only to see Asamoah come from Ghana’s left to make a stop. Two minutes later, Jonathan Mensah came up big on a ball played across the six by Özil, while Klöse pulled a 90th minute chance wide of the left post. In the 92nd minute, Ghana had its own chance to claim a winner, but a three-on-two counter after a corner kick ended with an offside call.

At match’s end, Ghana had one of its most-famous results, but they also had the reality of an opportunity lost. Up 2-1 with 27 minutes left, the Black Stars had a chance to reclaim their own knockout round destiny. Thanks to Miroslav Klose, they now need help.

For Germany, the match was a reminder of their vulnerability, with a defense that’s been questioned since the emergence of the country’s new talent, the team was left on the verge of an upset.

It was yet another reminder. In a tournament where the holders are already out, where the likes of Brazil and Argentina have proved mortal, Germany can be beaten. There may be no favorites at this year’s World Cup.

Lineups

Germany: Neuer; Howedes, Hummels, Mertesacker, Boateng (Mustafi 45′); Lahm, Khedira (Schweinsteiger 70′), Kroos; Götze (Klose 69′), Müller, Ozil

Goals: Götze 51′, Klöse 71′

Ghana: Dauda; Afful, Mensah, Boye, Asamoah; Rabiu (Badu 78′), Muntari, Atsu (Wakaso 71′), A. Ayew; Boateng (J. Ayew 52′), Gyan

Goals: A. Ayew 54′, Gyan 63′

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

[ MORE: Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho transfer ]

The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

[ MORE: LA Galaxy send Van Damme back to Belgium ]

But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.