Belgium v USA: Round of 16 - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

Analyzing Jurgen Klinsmann’s work at the World Cup: Job well done?

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For a moment, let’s not discuss the roster selection. The last thing we need when assessing Jurgen Klinsmann’s work inside the World Cup is to pretend Landon Donovan would’ve been in Chris Wondolowski’s cleats on top of goal, during a free kick Landon Donovan would’ve been standing over if Landon Donovan were in the lineup and Julian Green were not (the latter scored, you know, and is now a vested American player forever).

But how did Klinsmann fare in selecting his Starting XI and subs? He certainly wasn’t perfect, but there’s enough evidence to indicate the future is bright for the German as a match day manager.

source: Getty Images

Match 1: Ghana, W 2-1
Who knows how the States would’ve performed under Klinsmann’s original plan, as the manager was forced to take off his best striker after 23 minutes and his most consistent center back after 45. Klinsmann had to use two subs before the second half began, and went with Aron Johannsson for Jozy Altidore and John Anthony Brooks for Matt Besler.

In the latter case, there were questions as to why Klinsmann didn’t turn to Omar Gonzalez in place of Brooks (more on him later). The coach’s final move was to pull of Ale Bedoya for Graham Zusi. Hindsight is always 20/20, but Zusi sent in the ball in that Brooks headed home for the game-winner. Poor marking or not, that’s what we can a ‘feather in the cap’ of Klinsmann.

Match 2: Portugal, D 2-2
Forced to reconsider his striker usage, Klinsmann surprised by using Clint Dempsey alone up-top. This allowed him to move Zusi and Bedoya out wide, while changing his midfield four to a tight triangle with Kyle Beckerman lending some safety for Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley to each probe forward.

source: APHe keeps his defense in tact, and Geoff Cameron rewards him with an all-time US flub to set-up Nani for the first goal. But the Dempsey move pays off, as the Texan is a major source of pressure on the beleaguered Portuguese back line.

Klinsmann’s sub of DeAndre Yedlin for Bedoya pays off within nine minutes, as the Seattle Sounders youngster kickstarts the play that led to Dempsey’s equalizer. Cristiano Ronaldo works a bit of individual magic to find Portugal a point late, but most people would’ve accepted any result if it means Ronaldo would’ve only bested the US once over 90 minutes. The Cameron flub is ultimately what cost the three points, and ultimately it’s hard to fault the coach for starting a man who played in more Premier League games than all but nine players in 2013/14 (three of whom were goalkeepers).

Match 3: Germany, L 0-1
“Why is he starting Gonzalez?” was the cry from many, as Cameron exited the lineup after a tough run against Portugal. Klinsmann also plugged in Brad Davis for Bedoya, the latter of whom was ineffective overall despite many chances (see Belgium analysis).

Davis would end up leaving after 59 minutes in favor of a return from Bedoya. This is where those who believe Donovan would’ve made a big difference — I don’t — have a big argument. Clearly, Klinsmann wanted to use this formation with a two men out very wide but could not find an option he loved. We knew this was a problem when Brek Shea continued to get mentions despite doing very little in club ball. Flat out: Klinsmann could not find the man he needed for this position, but is it fair to say it’s because that man was unavailable to his nation?

Whatever the case, the States needed to limit German goals in order to advance. They did that, and Gonzalez was strong. It’s hard not to call this a success.

source: Getty Images

Match 4: Belgium, L 1-2 (et)
The formation went bonkers, as Klinsmann went a little ‘mad scientist’ with his set-up. It’s clear he wanted to get Cameron back on the pitch without sacrificing what he saw as an in-form Gonzalez (and let’s face it: when Omar’s been good, he’s been very good).

Cameron on the outside would allow the dangerous Fabian Johnson to take more chances, while Klinsmann hoped Graham Zusi could handle more central responsibilities in the process (that didn’t work so well). But in doing so, Klinsmann had to pull Kyle Beckerman from the lineup, removing a player who had done yeoman’s work in the tournament. It was a questionable button to push.

It’s clear Altidore was a smokescreen, though he’s also not the sort of player I personally fancy as a sub. You want him out there wearing defenses down for the second striker or swift little attackers.

And here’s the biggest problem I had with Klinsmann the whole tournament: it’s clear Green, while green, has a skill set others on the roster do not have. There’s a little bit of early-Donovan to his game, with the cool to collect that late goal. At age 19, perhaps he would’ve been roasted on the defensive responsibilities that Klinsmann gave Bedoya and other wide players… but maybe not? That position was a big problem for the U.S., and Green slotted home on his first touch (which may be a World Cup record).

For the record, Klinsmann was right about stoppage time. There were a sub and a goal in the second period. That’s rarely, if ever, one minute.

Conclusion: All-in-all, the States were outclassed by Belgium. In fact, they didn’t hold much of the play at all until Eden Hazard subbed out of the match. Frankly, the US may have had the least talented roster of any team that played in the group, but whether it was their mettle, how Klinsmann organized them or, likely, a combination of both factors, the States progressed out of an incredibly-tough group and are a stoppage time finish away from moving on to Argentina.

As an aside on all the Wondolowski-miss hullaballoo, I was around a group of pretty respected coaches for the game and — after an initial cursing bout — most agreed that Thibaut Courtois played the chance very well and probably could’ve stopped an on-target chance. Don’t know if I agree, but…

Report: AC Milan negotiating new deal for keeper Donnaumma

ROME, ITALY - FEBRUARY 13:  AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma gestures during the Serie A match between SS Lazio and AC Milan at Stadio Olimpico on February 13, 2017 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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Gianluigi Donnarumma has quickly become one of the most coveted goalkeepers in the world, and he’s only 17 years old.

[ MORE: Gameiro nets hat-trick in five minutes for Atletico ]

And that’s why AC Milan plans on doing everything in its power to hold on to the Italy international.

[ MORE: U.S. U-20s fall to Panama to begin CONCACAF Championship ]

According to CalcioMercato, the Rossoneri are preparing to lock up Donnarumma to a big deal once he turns 18 next week in order to fend off the likes of Premier League duo Chelsea and Manchester United, as well as Real Madrid.

However, agent Mino Raiola could stand in the way of Milan as they attempt to negotiate with the promising shot stopper out of fear that the club won’t be able to compete with Europe’s best teams.

Also, it has been suggested that Raiola is seeking at least $4.25 million per season for Donnarumma plus add ons, while Milan is said to be willing to go as high as $2.1 million annually.

Donnarumma is currently in his second professional season with Milan and has risen to the Italian national team level over the past year as well. The young keeper is seen as the logical successor to Gianluigi Buffon once his international career concludes.

Baggio marks 50th birthday by visiting quake victims

ROME, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 01: Roberto Baggio (L) is challenged by Diego Lugano during the Interreligious Match For Peace at Olimpico Stadium on September 1, 2014 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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AMATRICE, Italy (AP) Italian great Roberto Baggio marked his 50th birthday on Saturday by visiting towns devastated by earthquakes last year.

[ MORE: FA Cup Saturday wrap — Man City held against Huddersfield ]

Baggio opted not to celebrate his milestone surrounded by celebrities, and instead spent the day in Amatrice, which was almost wiped out by the Aug. 24 earthquake.

The former world footballer of the year, who met children and others from the central Italy region, said “it was very emotional,” and he went there with his family “to fully understand what so many people are going through.”

Baggio also met the mayor of Amatrice, Sergio Pirozzi, and said they will remain in contact, “and we will try to do something concrete.”

Baggio was moving on to nearby Norcia, which was also damaged, and there was a party organized with a birthday cake.

The Aug. 24 quake killed nearly 300 people and left a further 4,000 homeless. There were aftershocks for several days as well as more quakes in October and January.

Baggio, who was nicknamed “Il Divin Codino” (The Divine Ponytail) for the hairstyle he wore for most of his career, scored 27 goals in 57 appearances for Italy and helped the Azzurri to third place in the 1990 World Cup and runner-up four years later, when he famously missed the last penalty kick of the shootout in the final with Brazil.

He won the Serie A title with Juventus in 1995 and with AC Milan the following year.

FA Cup preview: Spurs, Man United face Championship opposition

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United leaves the pitch with the match ball after scoring a hat-trick during the UEFA Europa  League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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As the Premier League sides have dwindled down in this season’s FA Cup, two of England’s big boys will hope to avoid upsets on Sunday.

At the moment, six PL clubs remain in the competition after Chelsea and Middlesbrough advanced on Saturday and Manchester City was held to a draw against Huddersfield. Arsenal will meet non-league affiliated side Sutton United on Monday.

[ MORE: FA Cup Saturday wrap — Man City held against Huddersfield ]

Fulham vs. Tottenham — 9 a.m. ET

While Spurs have come away victorious in five of their six FA Cup encounters against Fulham in the past, Mauricio Pochettino‘s side will face a tough test on Sunday. Fulham is currently battling to stay in the race for promotion next season to re-join England’s top flight but the Craven Cottage side will have a legitimate chance to make some noise after knocking off Hull City and Cardiff in the past two rounds.

Meanwhile, Spurs will likely be without striker Harry Kane, who picked up an injury in Thursday’s defeat against Gent in the Europa League. Tottenham has struggled away from home as of late, having won just two of their last 14 fixtures away from White Hart Lane.

Blackburn Rovers vs. Manchester United — 11:15 a.m. ET

The two sides haven’t met in the FA Cup since back in the 1980s, a win for Manchester United, and Sunday’s encounter likely won’t be much a walk in the park for Rovers. Blackburn is fighting for survival in the Championship, making their performance in the FA Cup all the more critical for morale over the second half of the season. However, key suspensions to both Hope Akpan and Elliott Bennett will leave Blackburn shorthanded.

Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils will be missing several key players as well, including Wayne Rooney and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, both of whom are injured. United has done well away from home recently, only falling once in its previous nine encounters away from Old Trafford.

Nice holds on to beat Lorient despite Balotelli’s red card

FILE- In this Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016 file photo, Nice's forward Mario Balotelli, of Italy, reacts during the Europa League group I soccer match between OGC Nice and FC Salzburg, in Nice stadium, southeastern France. Nice striker Mario Balotelli’s teammate Alassane Pleas has confirmed he heard Bastia supporters racially abusing Balotelli with monkey chants during the league match on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)
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PARIS (AP) Nice striker Mario Balotelli has more red cards away from home than goals this season.

[ MORE: Marseille beats Rennes to stay in hunt for top four ]

The Italian has scored nine in the French league so far, but all have been at home. On Saturday he was sent off for the second time on his travels, and for the third time overall during his first campaign in France. However, despite his red card, Nice won at Lorient 1-0 to move up to second place behind Monaco.

[ MORE: Gameiro nets hat-trick in five minutes for Atletico ]

Balotelli returned to the side after missing last weekend’s action with a fever, but was shown a straight red following an altercation with Lorient defender Zargo Toure. From initial video replays, it seemed difficult to ascertain what Balotelli did wrong other than backing into Toure with his arms up as they challenged for a ball.

Nice coach Lucien Favre was no closer to an explanation after the game, although he suggested Balotelli may have spoken out of turn to referee Tony Chapron.

“I didn’t see what happened. All of a sudden he was coming off and I said to myself, `What’s happened?”‘ Favre said. “I didn’t see when he (the referee) gave the red card and I don’t know why. It seems that he talked back to the referee.”

Favre refuted any notion that Balotelli might be getting singled out unfairly by referees.

“He’s not on referees’ radars. They are totally neutral,” Favre said. “If there is reason to send a player off, then they will.”

Midfielder Wylan Cyprien scored his seventh in the league after being set up by right back Arnaud Souquet early on.

Nice is three points behind Monaco, and one point ahead of defending champion Paris Saint-Germain, which is at home to Toulouse on Sunday. Lorient is in last place.

MARSEILLE 2, RENNES 0

Marseille showed it can cope without top scorer Bafetimbi Gomis, as it maintained its push for a top-four finish and place in the Europa League next season.

Gomis has been Marseille’s best player, scoring 16 league goals, but injured a knee last weekend and is expected to be out for up to six weeks.

In his absence, wingers Clinton N'Jie and Florian Thauvin grabbed second-half goals as Marseille moved level on points with fifth-place Saint-Etienne and one point behind fourth-place Lyon. They are both playing on Sunday.

France playmaker Dimitri Payet went close three times – hitting the crossbar with a rasping shot – before starting the move that led to N’Jie’s goal in the second half.

Five minutes later, Thauvin scored a powerful swerving shot into the top corner from 20 meters after running onto a neat back heel from midfielder Morgan Sanson.

Inconsistent Marseille has won its last three home games but lost its last three away.

Next Sunday comes bitter rival Paris Saint-Germain, a must-win game in the eyes of the passionate Marseille fans at Stade Velodrome.

“We’re confident when we play at the Velodrome, but I’d like to us to do the same away from home,” Marseille left back Patrice Evra said.

OTHER ACTION

Mid-table Angers won 1-0 at home against Nancy, which is one place above the relegation zone.

Lille, down to 10 men, beat Caen 1-0 in Lille coach Franck Passi’s first match in charge. Attacking midfielder Anwar El Ghazi, who came from Ajax last month, struck shortly after Lille center half Adama Soumaoro was sent off.

Also, Metz drew with Nantes 1-1.

In Sunday’s other games, it is: Lyon vs Dijon, Montpellier vs. Saint-Etienne, and Bordeaux vs. Guingamp.