United States' Clint Dempsey works out during a training session in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Saturday, June 28, 2014. The U.S. will play against Belgium on Tuesday, July 1, in the round 16 of the 2014 soccer World Cup. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Preview: Despite Belgium’s talent, U.S. has reason to believe


The United States has a semifinal appearance on its World Cup résumé, but there’s a reason why that doesn’t come up very often. That result came all the way back in 1930, when the shallow nature of the inaugural tournament meant winning your group earned a place in the semifinals. Having beaten Belgium and Paraguay in group play, the U.S. lost to Argentina in the semifinals, 6-1, bowing out in front of over 72,000 at the legendary Centenario in Montevideo.

The true gold standard of U.S. World Cup performance remains2002 – the year the team claimed its only knockout round victory. Having tarnished Portugal’s Golden Generation in the group stage, Bruce Arena’s team got goals from the best number nine in team history (Brian McBride) and a 20-year-old Landon Donovan to cruise past rival Mexico and into the quarterfinals. A controversial loss to Germany later (thanks, Torsten Frings), and the squad that went to Japan-South Korea had both legacy and martyrdom.

Twelve years later, that win in Jeonju, South Korea, remains the only bright light in the U.S.’s knockout round history. Be it 1994, when a tournament on home soil saw the team bow out 1-0 to a 10-man Brazil, or 2010, when a second straight do-or-die loss to the Black Stars handed the team a new nemesis, close calls in must-win matches only affirmed the legend of 2002.

They’re the types of loses that fuel fan nightmares. Though the team was second-best each time, each game was close enough for one break to matter. What if Frings’ hand ball gets called in `02? Or Claudio Reyna doesn’t lock knees with __ against Ghana in `06? What if Rico Clark doesn’t gift Kevin-Prince Boateng the opener in 2010, or … what if Leonardo doesn’t break Tab Ramos’s skull in `94? Even that year, the U.S. only lost by one goal.

Each result allows fans to dream, to think “We’re so close. If we’re better four years from now, we can get over the hump.”

[ MORE: How will US line up vs. Belgium in Round of 16 clash? ]
[ MORE: Jozy Altidore hands US huge boost, fit to face Belgium ]
[ MORE : Three key battles that could decide US vs. Belgium showdown ]

Tuesday may as well be four years from now. After seeing the U.S. advance out of one of the most difficult groups its ever been given, fans have every reason to believe Jurgen Klinsmann’s team is better than the team that went to South Africa. The win over Ghana and the team’s performance against Portugal proved as much. Having made strides since 2010, this year’s team may be the U.S.’s best since the standard-setter that sent El Tri home from Jeonju.

Unfortunately for the U.S., the competition is tougher this year, too. Whereas the Americans won a weak group in 2010 and played Ghana in the second round, this year’s second place finish means they’re slotted against one of the most talented teams in the tournament – a team whose talent could, in time, be seen to rival those Brazil and Germany teams that sentthe U.S. out of previous World Cups.

source: AP
Belgium’s goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, center, helped lead Atlético Madrid to this springs UEFA Champions League final. Eden Hazard, left, was among the best attackers in the Barclays Premier League. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Belgium, the seeded team in Group H, is one of four teams to reach the knockout round with a 3-0-0 record. They have one of the best goalkeepers in the world (Thibaut Courtois), one of the game’s elite central defenders (Vincent Kompany, if healthy), and a 22-year-old attacking midfielder that helped lead his clubteam to Europe’s Champions League semifinals (Eden Hazard). Though they haven’t been to a major tournament in 12 years, Belgium has the talent to compete with any team still alive in this tournament.

Their entire starting XI will be made up of talents playing at major clubs in Europe’s biggest leagues. Over half of their team will see time in next season’s Champions League, and aside from central defender Daniel Van Buyten, none of the Red Devils’ major contributors are over 28 years old. As much people expect the Belgians to make an impact now, Brazil 2014 will be the first salvo from a Golden Generation that could redefine their country’s soccer. Belgium has only made it past the second round at one World Cup.

[ MORE: Chasing the narrative: What the numbers tell us (if anything) about Michael Bradley’s World Cup ]
[ MORE: The case for Geoff Cameron: should US defender start vs. Belgium? ]
[ MORE: So, how much of an upset would it be if the USMNT beat Belgium? ]

That, remarkably, may be where the U.S. has an edge. We don’t think of the Americans as an experienced group, but unlike the Belgians, many of them have been here before. The leadership of this U.S. team — the Clint Dempseys, DaMarcus Beasleys, Michael Bradleys, and Tim Howards of this squad — know what this pressure is like. They’ve not only played in a knockout round, but they know what it’s like to expected victory and come up short. Add in Jurgen Klinsmann, a coach that’s taken a team to the World Cup semifinals (as well as won a world title as a coach), and the U.S. may have enough “know-how” to defy expectations.

Those expectations say talent will win out on Tuesday in Salvador; that the U.S. will meet their Germany (2002) or Brazil (1994). But those expectations overlook Belgium, for all their talent, aren’t Germany or Brazil, yet. The Red Devils’ three, one-goal wins in a weak group hints they may be a tournament away from greatness. Meanwhile, the U.S.’s adaptability in the face of one of the competition’s toughest draws hints at a ability to transcend its talent.

Against Ghana, Portugal, and Germany, the U.S. showed it can play at a knockout round level. Against Algeria, Russia, and South Korea, Belgium never had to reach those heights to get out of their group.

[ MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann questions choice of Algerian referee for match against Belgium ]
[ MORE: Belgium injury update: Thomas Vermaelen out; Vincent Kompany still doubtful ]
[ MORE: You can probably stop referencing Belgium’s win vs US last year, okay? ]
[ MORE: Belgium reveal respect for US ‘keeper Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey ]

That doesn’t make the U.S. favorites. The world’s right to see the Americans as underdogs, though the quarterfinals are within reach. If the U.S. wins on Tuesday, the world won’t be shocked, nor will they need a series of breaks to pull it off. The result wouldn’t even be the biggest surprise of this competition. If Klinsmann’s team plays to its potential — like it already has in stretches during this tournament — it can beat Belgium.

With one minor upset, this U.S. team can create a legacy of its own. If they can show the Belgians are still one tournament away, the United States will return to the quarterfinals.

How can Chelsea qualify for last 16 of Champions League?

HAIFA, ISRAEL - NOVEMBER 24: Willian of Chelsea celebrates scoring his teams second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC and Chelsea FC at Sammy Ofer Stadium on November 24, 2015 in Haifa, Israel.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

With one match left in UEFA Champions League group play, Chelsea control their own destiny.

After beating Maccabi Tel-Aviv 4-0, the Blues sit tied with FC Porto on ten points at the top of Group G.

[ MORE: Champions League standings

However, with Dynamo Kyiv earning a big win over Porto on Tuesday, Chelsea must wait until the final matchday to qualify for the knockout round, as there is a possibility of a three-way tie for the top spot in Group G.

With Chelsea hosting Porto on December 9, here are the scenarios for Jose Mourinho’s men to assure advancement.

  • A win over Porto will clinch Chelsea the top spot and a place in the last 16.
  • A draw against Porto will see Chelsea advance.
    • Chelsea draw/Dynamo win: Chelsea win group, Dynamo finish second
    • Chelsea draw/Dynamo draw or loss: Porto win group, Chelsea finish second
  • A loss to Porto and a Dynamo Kyiv draw/loss to Maccabi Tel-Aviv will see Chelsea finish second in the group and advance to the last 16.
  • The Blues have secured at least a berth in the Europa League, regardless of the result in their final match.

Simply put, get a point at Stamford Bridge and Chelsea advance.

Mourinho says bad pitch in Tel-Aviv injured Ramires, John Terry

during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC and Chelsea FC at Sammy Ofer Stadium on November 24, 2015 in Haifa, Israel.
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chelsea left Israel with a 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel-Aviv, but also left with some injuries.

Ramires was hurt in training the day before the match, and John Terry was forced off in the second half.

[ RECAP: Tel-Aviv 0-4 Chelsea ]

Jose Mourinho talked about the condition of the pitch before the match, and was even more upset after it as two of his players are now hurt, although the extent of those injuries is not yet known.

Terry was stretchered off and looked to be in quite a bit of pain after going up for a challenge, as his ankle twisted awkwardly when he landed.

The pitch in Tel-Aviv was in poor condition, as large chunks of turf could be seen flying up when players planted or went in for tackles. Mourinho himself was seen on the field trying to fill in divots before the match.

While Mourinho said he didn’t want to jump to conclusions before getting test results, he believes John Terry will be unable to play this weekend, a huge Premier League match away at Tottenham.

[ MORE: Arsenal ready to “play for our lives” in match vs. Olympiacos ]

Other than his issues with the conditions, Mourinho was relatively happy with the team’s play and believes they are getting some confidence back, now with consecutive wins after beating Norwich City over the weekend.

UCL roundup: Barcelona, Bayern clinch spots in the knockout round

BARCELONA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 24:  Gerard Pique (C) of Barcelona celebrates scoring his teams fourth goal with Luis Suarez (L) and Lionel Messi during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between FC Barcelona and AS Roma at Camp Nou on November 24, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Two more teams booked spots in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, as perennial powerhouses Barcelona and Bayern Munich earned big wins to advance out of their groups.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Barcelona 6-1 Roma

Barcelona fared well without Lionel Messi, and now with him back in the lineup, they look unbeatable. The Catalans advance to the last 16 with an absolutely dominating performance, thrashing Roma 6-1. Messi and Luis Suarez scored two goals each, with Gerard Pique and Adriano adding the others. Edin Dzeko would ruin the clean sheet with a goal for Roma in stoppage time, but it was another Barcelona masterclass at Camp Nou.

Bayern Munich 4-0 Olympiacos

Continuing with the trend of dominating performances, Bayern Munich eased past Olympiacos 4-0 to clinch a spot in the knockout round. Bayern scored early and often, going three goals ahead in the opening 20 minutes through Douglas Costa, Robert Lewanowski and Thomas Muller. Despite going down to ten-men in the second half after Holger Badstuber was sent off, Bayern continued to dominate as the young Kingsley Coman scored the fourth and final goal.

Arsenal 3-0 Dinamo Zagreb

Arsenal is clinging on to hope of advancing out of Group F with a 3-0 win at home over Dinamo Zagreb. Mesut Ozil opened the scoring and Alexis Sanchez added two more as the Gunners now head into the final matchday in need of a win over Olympiacos.

Maccabi Tel-Aviv 0-4 Chelsea

Chelsea got a big win away from home in Group G, beating a ten-man Maccabi side 4-0. Willian scored another free kick for the Blues, as the Brazilian has now scored from a set piece in four of Chelsea’s five Champions League matches. Tied with Porto atop the group, Chelsea needs just one point from their final match to advance.

Elsewhere in the Champions League

Group E

BATE Borisov 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen

Group G

Porto 0-2 Dynamo Kyiv

Group H

Zenit St. Petersburg 2-0 Valencia (Zenit clinch top spot)
Lyon 1-2 Gent (Lyon eliminated)

Arsenal ready to “play for our lives” vs. Olympiakos to remain in UCL

Alexis Sanchez
Leave a comment

Following their 3-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday, Arsenal know what they must do in two weeks time at Olympiakos.

Win by two goals or more — or by a margin of one if they score three goals — and they’re in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League for the 16th straight.

[ MORE: How can Arsenal make last 16? ]

Anything less means Arsene Wenger‘s side will crash out of the UCL at the group stage and will be competing in the last 32 of the Europa League when European play restarts in 2016.

Hope remains. Just.

It’s a simple equation but don’t underestimate how hard the Gunners have battled to put themselves in this situation. After losing both of their opening Group F games at Zagreb and then at home against Olympiakos, they looked dead and buried.

Now, they have a chance to advance.

“The team knew it was a very important day today – everyone had to turn up and they did. Now we’re going to play for our lives [against Olympiakos],” Arsenal right back Hector Bellerin said. “This was an important test for us, to be alive in the Champions League. The team responded very well. The team is showing we have got a lot of quality, a lot of creativity. When we have all our players back, we’re going to be up there.”

Wenger’s men have been in these kind of situations in the UCL before, but usually in the knockout rounds.

[ MORE: Chelsea hammer Tel Aviv, face tricky final day ]

In each of the past five seasons they’ve fallen at the last 16 hurdle but often that exit has come after after putting themselves in perilous situations from dreadful displays in the first legs and then nearly clawing things back in the second legs. Last season they lost to AS Monaco 3-1 at home in the first leg and won 2-0 away, going out on away goals. The season before that they lost 2-0 at home to Bayern Munich in the first leg but drew 1-1 away from home in the second leg and battled hard in Bavaria.

Simply put, Wenger’s men have been in this kind of “do or die” situation many times in the UCL over the past few seasons. It’s all about one game in Greece in two weeks. Wenger knows it as he spoke following their win over Zagreb which set up the tantalizing encounter in Athens on Dec. 9.

“It promises to be a very interesting game [against Olympiakos], but at least we have a chance,” Wenger said. “I think Mesut Ozil had an outstanding first half, he has got the taste for scoring now. I have never seen Ozil in the box so many times as in the last five or six games. The Europa League is not the target – let us give everything to remain in the Champions League.”