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 ]
[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

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.

source: Getty Images
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′

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.

FA Cup preview: Three more PL sides face 3rd-round replays

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Three more Premier League sides, including a top-four fighter, attempt to join a dozen of their top-flight contemporaries in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea and Swansea City host Championship opposition in the form of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively, while Bournemouth will make the 500-mile roundtrip to take on League One side Wigan Athletic.

The Blues, who now sit fourth in the PL after their disappointing 0-0 draw with Leicester City, could manage only a scoreless draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road earlier this month. They are winless in their last four games across all competitions — all draws — including their League Cup semifinal first-leg draw with Arsenal last week; the last three of those all finished without a single goal scored. Chelsea, who are tied with Liverpool with the fourth-most FA Cups in their history (7), lost out to Arsenal in last season’s final at Wembley Stadium.

Swansea are undoubtedly the side on highest Cupset alert, as Wolves are the runaway leaders and champions-elect in the Championship (10 points clear after 27 of 46 rounds played), thus able to devote more attention to the FA Cup than the typical second-division side. With the two sides separated by just a single place in the English footballing pyramid (Swansea, 20th in the PL; Wolves, 1st in the Championship), they appear destined to swap places by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s punishment for conceding a pair of early goals to a side currently 32 places below them in the pyramid, is the long, midweek trip from the south coast to the DW Stadium in the northwest of England. It was the Premier Leaguers who needed a two second-half goals, including Steve Cook‘s 90th-minute equalizer, to draw level at home in the first meeting.

Tuesday’s FA Cup replay actionFULL ROUNDUP

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Agent: 37-year-old Ronaldinho has retired

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SAO PAULO (AP) The brother and agent of 2005 Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho announced Tuesday that the former Brazil and Barcelona playmaker has retired from football.

Roberto Assis made the announcement to Brazilian media on behalf of the 37-year-old midfielder, who played his last professional match in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

“Ronnie’s professional career is over. He wants to be a football ambassador, do charity, and work with his friends in music from now on,” Assis told The Associated Press.

Assis hopes to schedule some farewell matches for Ronaldinho after the World Cup in Russia, which ends July 15. The initial plan is to play games in Brazil, Europe and Asia and to also get Brazil’s national team involved, Assis said.

Last July, Ronaldinho said on the sidelines of a friendly in Chechnya that was he was “too old” to return to action.

The Brazilian’s decorated career also includes one World Cup title (2002), one Champions League victory (2006) and two Spanish league titles with Barcelona, and two FIFA world player of the year awards (2004 and 2005).

Ronaldinho started his professional career at Gremio in southern Brazil in 1998. He left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001 and was signed by Barcelona two seasons later.

At the Camp Nou, he was the engine of a team that took Barca back to the limelight. However, after a series of club trophies, Ronaldinho’s career took a downturn. He was often accused by Brazilian and Spanish media of lacking professionalism, despite his mentoring of a then youthful Lionel Messi.

In 2008, with Messi then leading Barcelona, Ronaldinho left for AC Milan. Despite being part of a team that won Serie A in 2011, he failed to reach his previous heights as a player.

When returning home became a real option, Ronaldinho frustrated Gremio’s efforts to re-sign him and joined Flamengo instead.

Disappointing performances in Rio de Janeiro took him to Atletico Mineiro, a club that then was more often fighting against relegation than for titles.

Yet a more mature Ronaldinho took Atletico to a different level.

In his last great run, Ronaldinho carried Atletico with his superb passes and dazzling dribbles to second place in the 2012 Brazilian Championship.

A year later, he was the key to his club lifting its first Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious club trophy, but his hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed.

Ronaldinho left to play for Mexico’s Queretaro in 2014-15, but was mostly on the bench.

He played his last seven matches as a professional for Fluminense, though his performances were a far cry from his best days in Spain.

Now living in Rio, he has appeared in advertisements all over the world since leaving Fluminense.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.