World Cup Today: USA’s hopes on the line, as all eight teams can still advance

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Wednesday say Argentina and Nigeria advance from Group F at the World Cup, while France and Switzerland made it out of Group E.

Argentina had Lionel Mess to thank (who else?) as they overcame Nigeria 3-2, as Bosnia beat Iran to dash the Middle Eastern nations hopes of making the last 16. Elsewhere France and Ecuador drew 0-0 but the French still topped the group, while Switzerland hammered Honduras 3-0 thanks to a Xherdan Shaqiri hat trick.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Germany ]
[ MORE: Soccerly covers the World Cup ]

Two more group finales are in store on Thursday, as the U.S. face Germany in their crucial Group G finale. The USA know that a win or draw would guarantee their spot in the last 16, but a defeat vs. Germany and a big win for either Portugal or Ghana in the other game could scupper the Americans’ chances. As for Group H, Belgium is already through, but will Algeria, Russia or Korea join them?

Everything is on the line.

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MATCH 45: Portugal vs, Ghana
Location: Estadio Nacional, Brasilia
Time: Noon ET
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Cheater’s Guide
Portugal and Ghana are both hoping they rack up a big win and that the USA loses heavily to Germany. If that happens the victor here will go through to the knockout stages. A draw is useless to either side. Expect a humdinger in Brasilia.

What they’re saying
Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo on his teammates: “Maybe we’re an average team … We have a very limited team and we are not at the best level. This does not enable you to beat top teams. There are no miracles. We knew we would have a tough group, with perhaps teams better than us … I’m not a hypocrite, I never thought we could win the tournament.”

History
The two nations have never met.

Premier League Players
Portugal: Nani (Manchester United)

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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MATCH 46: USA vs. Germany
Location: Arena Pernambuco, Recife
Time: Noon ET
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source: AP
The U.S. will have to stop the likes of Muller and Podolski on Thursday.

Cheater’s guide
Both teams need just a point to seal qualification through to the last 16 of the World Cup. Simple… right?

What they’re saying
USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann on his team playing for the draw: “‘I don’t think that we are made for draws, really, except if it happens like tonight (vs. Portugal) – two late goals, last seconds. I think both teams go into this game and they want to win the group.”

History

These two have met twice before at the World Cup. Germany won 2-0 in 1998, when Klinsmann scored the second, and infamously 1-0 in the 2002 quarterfinals.

Premier League players
United States:
 Brad Guzan (Aston Villa); Tim Howard (Everton); Geoff Cameron (Stoke City); Jozy Altidore (Sunderland
Germany: Per Mertesacker, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski (All Arsenal), Andre Schurrle (Chelsea), 

MLS players
United States:
 Michael Bradley (Toronto FC); Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo); Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy); Nick RimandoKyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake); Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes); Clint Dempsey, DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders); Matt BeslerGraham Zusi (Sporting Kansas

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MATCH 47: Korea vs. Belgium
Location: Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo
Time: 4pm ET
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Cheater’s Guide

source:
Belgium are already through to the last 16 after two wins from two.

Belgium is already through to the knockout stages but has the chance to guarantee top spot with a point against Korea. As for Korea, they must win and hope Russia and Algeria play to a draw.

What they’re saying

Belgium coach Marc Wilmots on people criticizing his sides defensive play so far: “Pretty, pretty, pretty makes no one happy. We are tactically very disciplined and we have needed to be patient. It’s not about being beautiful – but about being effective.”

History

This will be the fourth time these sides have met, with Belgium winning two and drawing one of the last three. They met in the 1990 and 1998 World Cup finals, a 1-0 win for Belgium and 1-1 draw respectively.

Premier League players

Belgium: Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Mousa Dembele (Tottenham Hotspur), Nacer Chadli (Tottenham Hotspur), Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea), Eden Hazard(Chelsea), Kevin Mirallas (Everton), Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United)

South Korea: Yun Suk-Young (Queens Park Rangers), Park Chu-Young (Arsenal).

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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MATCH 48: Algeria vs. Russia
Location: Arena da Baixada, Curitiba
Time: 4pm ET
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Cheater’s guide
Both teams have one point so far from the World Cup, however if they win here and Korea lose to Belgium, the victor will make it to the last 16.

What they’re saying

Algeria’s manager Vahid Halilhodzic after they beat Korea: “The fans never gave up on me, and it’s made me feel warm inside. But the press – the press lost confidence in Vahid. This is a gift for everyone except for you. I know you’re sad tonight but this is how it is. There are things that have provoked such animosity in Vahid. So many lies. You have attacked my own family. My pride, my honour, no one has the right to touch those things but I have not won a battle for myself. The Algerian people have never given up on me and have expended a lot of energy, and this is a small reward.”

History

They have only met once before, a 2-2 friendly draw in 1964.

Premier League players

Algeria: Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City), Nabil Bentaleb (Tottenham Hotspur)

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Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

[ MORE: Full FIFA-Qatar report leaked? ]

Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 23-man roster questions ]

That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?