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Pair of penalty misses nearly costs USMNT top spot in group

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The U.S. national team knocked off Nicaragua in the two sides’ 2017 Gold Cup Group B finale on Saturday, and has advanced to the quarterfinal round, where they’ll take on a third-place finisher from either Group A or Group C on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Panama win helps USMNT, Mexico into quarterfinals ]

The result didn’t come without adversity, of the self-inflicted variety. Most notably, a pair of penalty misses looked destined to deny Bruce Arena’s side the three-goal victory they needed to leapfrog Panama and finish top of the group. Fortunately, an unlikely hero’s first USMNT would span the gap, but only just.

The breakthrough came after 37 minutes, as the Yanks capitalized on one of few counter-attacking opportunities in the opening 45 minutes. Alejandro Bedoya crossed the ball from the right wing, but it ultimately fell to Joe Corona 20 yards from goal. The Club Tijuana man moved past a pair of defenders, cut inside and fired a bouncing ball past Lorente, inches inside his right-hand post.

[ MORE: Bradley, Altidore to be added to USMNT’s roster for KO rounds ]

Dwyer did everything — from winning the penalty kick, to taking the attempt himself — but score from the spot in the 50th minute. Dwyer went down under slight contact from Marlon Lopez, and claimed the spot kick as his own. He went left, and Lorente was all over it, making the save in comfortable fashion.

Only six minutes would pass before the Yanks’ next golden opportunity, and Rowe wouldn’t waste this one. It was Bedoya, again, who notched the assist with a visionary through ball. Rowe arrived in full stride, corralled it with a delicate first touch and applied the narrow-angled finish for 2-0, and his first international goal.

[ MORE: Costa Rica, Canada book quarterfinal places ]

The penalty woes would continue five minutes later, when Corona would see his own effort from the spot saved by Lorente, in far easier fashion that Dwyer’s attempt which preceded his own.

Nicaragua’s Luis Copete was shown a second yellow card in the 85th minute, when he bowled over Juan Agudelo in the open field, and the USMNT made the most of the man advantage. Graham Zusi lofted the ensuing free kick to the top of the six-yard box, where Matt Miazga awaited, completely unmarked, for a simple downward header, and more importantly, the 3-0 victory.

Zouma signs new Chelsea contract, is immediately loaned to Stoke City

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Kurt Zouma‘s long-term future is secure at Chelsea, but his short-term future will be away from Stamford Bridge.

The France international centerback signed a new six-year contract with Chelsea and was promptly sent out on a season-long loan to Stoke City. Zouma made just three starts and nine total appearances last season as he came back from a torn ACL suffered in February 2016.

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“It is fantastic Kurt has chosen to commit his future to Chelsea,” Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo said in a statement. “He has shown his talent since joining us three years ago, and has returned from a serious injury with a fantastic attitude.

“Now he has the opportunity to play regularly in the Premier League and we will be monitoring his progress closely while he is at Stoke.”

The move to Stoke will give Zouma a new experience, playing for a mid-table side in the Premier League, and it will be interesting to see where he fits in at centerback, battling with American Geoff Cameron and Englishman Ryan Shawcross.

Even with John Terry leaving the club, Zouma was likely to be second-choice in the back three for Chelsea and if he wants to make France’s squad for the 2018 World Cup, he’ll have to play regularly.

 

 

 

Morata signs five-year contract at Chelsea

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Chelsea FC will have another Spanish international leading the front line, with Diego Costa likely on his way out of town.

The club announced that Alvaro Morata has completed a transfer from Real Madrid, signing a five-year contract at Stamford Bridge. The BBC reports the transfer fee at nearly $78 million.

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“I am so happy to be here,” Morata said in a statement. “It’s an incredible emotion to be part of this big club. I am looking to work hard, score as many goals as I can and to win as many trophies as possible.”

Morata emerged as an option to replace Costa after Romelu Lukaku decided on joining Manchester United over his former club Chelsea. Morata, who was a Manchester United target at first, then turned his sights on London after becoming disillusioned in Madrid, playing second-fiddle to Karim Benzema.

Despite not being first-choice up top, Morata scored 15 goals in 26 La Liga games and another three in the UEFA Champions League, which Real Madrid went on to win over Morata’s former club Juventus. Morata started for Juventus the last time the club had been in the Champions League final.

Despite being just 24, Morata is emerging as one of the world’s top forwards. He has nine goals in 19 games for the Spanish National Team and now is the right time for him to experience the challenge of the Premier League, where the games come thick and fast and the pace of the game is a step up from what he’s experienced in Spain and Italy.

However, the tactical knowledge he’s learned in both places should help him in England, where he can position himself between the opposing centerbacks.

 

Report: Neymar tells Barcelona teammates he’s off to PSG

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Brazilian star Neymar isn’t keeping his future plans under wraps, at least when it comes to his current club teammates.

According to a report in French newspaper Le Parisien, Neymar has started telling his Barcelona teammates that he’s intends to join Paris Saint-Germain. Spanish publication Marca meanwhile is reporting that Neymar’s teammates are trying to persuade him to stay in Catalonia for the season.

The Le Parisien report adds that certain officials at Barcelona believe the transfer is imminent and are resigned to losing one of their stars this summer. The report also said that it was a “decisive step” that Neymar was on board with the deal, going along with his father and agent.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule ]

Rumors intensified over the past few days as reports emerged in Spain that Neymar had agreed on a contract with PSG, and all that was awaiting was PSG exercising Neymar’s release clause, worth nearly $260 million (€222 million). On paper, PSG’s Qatari owners can probably afford that tremendous sum but it still remains to be seen whether PSG will see this move over the line.

Should Neymar move, it would break transfer records for the price of the deal as well as shock the world, as Neymar seemed settled and happy in Barcelona playing alongside the likes of fellow South Americans Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

Neymar and Barcelona are currently in New York training ahead of the club’s friendly match in the International Champions Cup against Juventus Saturday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Liverpool complete signing of Hull’s Robertson

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Liverpool has added to its defensive depth with the signing of one of Scotland’s bright young stars.

The club announced the signing of left back Andy Robertson for a reported $10.4 million, which can rise to $13 million with add-on clauses.

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Robertson made 33 appearances for Hull City last season in the Premier League, scoring a goal and assisting on two others. While Robertson is joining Liverpool, midfielder Kevin Stewart is heading the opposite direction, joining the Championship club for a reported $5.2 million.

Robertson will likely compete with Alberto Moreno for the starting left back position, and with Liverpool competing in the Premier League plus three cup competitions, depth at every position will be crucial when injuries and fatigue sets in.