More from the Nashville Nightmare: Freddy Adu and his maddening inconsistency

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Freddy Adu, the once-wunderkind, once-fallen, then-risen U.S. soccer prodigy, comes so tantalizingly close to fulfilling expectations.

After yet another humdrum half – also known as “the usual” for Adu in this tournament – he finally became the difference-maker everybody so badly wants him to be.

The U.S. under-23 captain finally made El Salvador and everyone around him take notice, finally managing an impact, one that very nearly drove his team into the Olympic qualifying semifinals. His two setups Monday, including a killer pass that put Terrence Boyd clean through, sparked the second half rally – although one ultimately undone by more shoddy U.S. defending and even worse goalkeeping.

The question then becomes: why are these moments so few and far between? Because with a little more of the bright stuff we saw for 30 minutes Monday, perhaps the U.S. wouldn’t have been in position to lose the whole shebang on a lost-second goalkeeper’s bobble.

As the captain and most experienced man, couldn’t he have cranked things up earlier?

Adu’s erratic body of work in this tournament will be among the lasting talking points. That’s similar to his memorable, up-and-down summer of 2011, punctuated by a big night against Mexico, when Adu was plucked from the bench and, against all odds, roundly praised as the best U.S. man in an otherwise forgettable Gold Cup final U.S. loss.

Adu’s history is starting to stack up with such aching, frustrating inconsistency.

Just like the last five days, for instance. In the end, Adu played 30 respectable minutes out of 270 in Nashville. For about 30 minutes Monday he became a leader of young men and a playmaker, arranging those two U.S. goals and lifting his side with spunky feet, ideas and energy.

Good on him for that – but where was more of the same over the other five-plus halves? Because the rest of the time was a disappointing mish-mash of meek work along the U.S. right side, poor decisions and an inability to seize the initiative when he did find the ball near goal.

Perhaps it wasn’t all Adu’s fault. It seemed like a mistake to play him out wide right – especially since central attacker Joe Corona disappeared after his three goals against Cuba’s stationary defense.

Out wide, Adu never stretched the field on that side; he was clearly more comfortable coming inside, and too predictably so. When he did occasionally push to the outside the result was usually a poor cross.

Adu failed most memorably in two moments that mattered just before the break Monday, instances inside the penalty area that called for decisive, early action. Instead, Adu made of mess of both, squandering a pair of juicy chances at equalizers.

Clinical Russia tops Egypt to reach knockout rounds

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  • Russia goals: Fathy o.g. (48′), Cheryshev (59′), Dzyuba (62′)
  • Egypt: Salah (PK, 73′)
  • Next: Russia-Uruguay, Egypt-Saudi Arabia

Hosts Russia scored a trio of second half goals to clinch the first spot in the 2018 World Cup’s Round of 16 with a 3-1 win over Egypt on Tuesday in Saint Petersburg.

The loss means Egypt is 0-2, the Pharoahs unable to find momentum despite the return of Mohamed Salah. Egypt needs a wild combination of factors to stay alive for the knockout rounds, and is likely heading home.

Salah won and converted a penalty for Egypt, while Denis Cheryshev, Artem Dzyuba, and an Egyptian own goal accounted for Russia’s goals.

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Some sloppy play out of the back allowed Golovin a shot from outside the 18 but he hit his effort wide of the frame.

Egypt stayed in the mix though, and a Russian mistake  deep in its own end forced Zhirkov to concede a corner with a desperation intervention that stopped Mo Salah from a doorstep opportunity.

Salah then won a yard of space but fired wide in the 42nd minute after Zhirkov stopped him from going to his right peg.

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Russia went ahead through an Egypt own goal from Fathy, who was jostling for position with Artem Dzyuba and turned Roman Zobnin’s mishit inside his net.

After Cheryshev made it 2-0, Dzyuba took an Ilya Kutepov long ball out of the air with his chest before turning past Ahmed Hegazy and blasting Russia’s third goal home.

Salah won a penalty in the 73rd minute, one initially ruled a free kick, and the Liverpool man blasted his shot home.

Neymar limps out of Brazil training

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Having drawn against Switzerland in its opener, Brazil now faces renewed concerns over the health of its megastar forward.

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Neymar’s right foot was “still not 100 percent” when he took the field for the 1-1 draw on Sunday, and the 26-year-old left practice early two days later.

He missed nearly three months after fracturing his foot for PSG under pressure by Marseille’s Dimitri Payet, but returned to score for Brazil in friendly defeats of Croatia and Austria. Neymar has 55 goals in 85 caps.

Neymar was favoring his right foot as he limped off the pitch, two days after being fouled 10 times against Switzerland. Fox reports that Neymar will be fine to practice on Wednesday, but the situation bears close observation.

Neymar was injured in the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals when Juan Zuniga kneed him in the back.

Salah returns to Egypt starting lineup

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A familiar name returned to the starting lineup for Egypt on Tuesday afternoon.

Egypt named star Mohamed Salah in its starting XI, after resting Salah in Egypt’s 1-0 defeat to Uguruay on June 15. Salah has been recovering from an injured shoulder that he suffered during the UEFA Champions League final in late May.

Salah makes his World Cup debut now against the host nation, Russia, at 2:00 p.m.

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Senegal hold off late charge, defeat Poland on controversial goal

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Two matches, two upsets.

For the second time on Tuesday, an underdog took down a favorite as Senegal defeated Poland, 2-1, with the game-winning goal decided in controversial fashion.

In the 60th minute, M’baye Niang was waved onto the field by the referee while the ball was still in play in the middle of the field, and Niang raced on to the end of a Gregorz Krychowiak backpass that stunned the Poland defense. Niang arrived at the pass a second quicker than goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, allowing the Senegal winger to score into an empty net.

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The VAR checked the goal but it was allowed, as it was a subjective decision of the referee to allow Niang back on the field following an injury, and not a clear and obvious error.

Senegal took the lead in the first half on the counter attack. With Poland slow in transition, Sadio Mane found Idrissa Gueye in space at the top of the box. After two touches, Gueye fired a strike to the far post in the 37th minute that took a wicked deflection off Poland defender Thiago Cionek and left Szczesny helpless.

Poland struggled all game against the pace and physicality of Senegal and the Lions of Teranga were very smart in controlling possession and switching the field, forcing the Poland squad to tire quickly.

Krychowiak did breathe some life into the game with a header goal off a free kick in the 86th minute, but despite some poor clock management from Senegal, its defense was able to hold off Poland’s last-ditch chance to tie the game, going level with Japan on three points at the top of Group H.