United States vs. Germany preview: American revenge opportunity for 2002 World Cup

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For a World Cup that’s being widely touted as the most entertaining ever, the drama will ramp up one notch higher on Thursday (12:00pm ET) when the United States face Germany in Recife and Ghana play Portugal in Brasilia to determine who will advance out of Group G.

The high-quality displays, bravery, spirit and gut-wrenching drama have made the US the darlings of this tournament but whether those characteristics will be enough to see the Americans through to the Round of 16, however, remains to be seen.

After substitute defender John Anthony Brooks disposed of arch-nemesis Ghana with a thumping 86th minute header to win the opener 2-1, the Yanks took their no-nonsense style to a Portugal side ranked 4th in the world, drawing 2-2 after Selecção forward Silvestre Varela scored in the fifth and final minute of injury time.

It’s no time for back-patting, however, because tomorrow Jurgen Klinsmann’s side faces its biggest challenge yet in world #2, Germany. With one of the deepest, most talent-laced squads in the world, Die Mannschaft is many-a-pundit’s favorite to hoist the cup come July. After a Thomas Muller hat-trick helped them comprehensively destroy Portugal 4-0 in the opener the Germans fought to a shock 2-2 draw with Ghana in the second match, proving themselves incapable of handling the athleticism and audaciousness of the Black Stars.

Now, with the US and Germany locked at four points apiece and Portugal and Ghana each on a single point heading into the final match of the group stage, it truly is all to play for. The scenarios to advance vary wildly.

The clearest path to advancing for the US is by beating Germany, making them Group G winners who would take on the runner-up of Group H in the Round of 16, or drawing, putting them runners-up to face the winner of Group H. A loss to Germany, however, could also see the Americans through so long as a) Ghana and Portugal draw, b) Portugal wins but don’t pass the US in goal differential, or c) Ghana win by one goal in which they don’t score two more goals than the US.

Germany, on the other hand, will advance as Group G winners with a win or draw against the US, or as Group G runners-up if they lose and either Ghana-Portugal draw, or if the Ghana-Portugal winner does not pass Germany in goal differential.

Given these scenarios, that the US have five players born to American fathers and German mothers, and Klinsmann being German and having won the 1990 World Cup with West Germany, it’s impossible to ignore the whispers of conspiracy where a draw would take both sides through.

But both sides are adamant that won’t be the case.

“I think both teams go into this game and they want to win the group,” Klinsmann said when posed the question following Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Portugal. Germany defender Mats Hummels echoed the sentiment, saying, ”[i]t would be highly unsportsmanlike and unfair to other teams if anyone on the pitch had such thoughts.”

With rumors of collusion cast aside the focus can remain on the pitch. Germany is expected to play a similar team that started against Ghana with Manuel Neuer behind a back four of Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng, Per Mertesacker and Benedikt Howedes, a midfield three of Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos and Phillip Lahm and an attacking three of Mesut Ozil, Mario Gotze and the in-form Muller. Don’t be surprised, however, if Lahm moves back to his favored full-back slot, Howedes exits, and Bastian Schweinsteiger comes into the midfield.

Likewise, the US is expected to adopt the same 4-2-3-1 formation it set out against Portugal with Tim Howard behind a back four of DaMarcus Beasley, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler and Fabian Johnson, a holding pair of Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones, an attacking three of Graham Zusi, Michael Bradley and Alejandro Bedoya, with Clint Dempsey the lone striker. Jozy Altidore, who injured his hamstring in the opening match against Ghana, remains out.

The two sides memorably met in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinal in South Korea where Germany won 1-0 on a 39th minute header by Michael Ballack. It’s a result that haunts Americans after a fantastic display went unrewarded after Gregg Berhalter’s 50th minute shot was deflected by Oliver Kahn onto the hand of Torsten Frings but no penalty was given.

For Americans it was a match that has lived in infamy and now, twelve years later, the opportunity for revenge has finally arrived. Game on.

 

 

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

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

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.