Is Jermaine Jones’ suspension a U.S. blessing in disguise?

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KANSAS CITY — Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster and lineup choices can be confusing at times. He’s like the blind and deaf pinball wizard from the old song: he plays by intuition, think and feel. Similarly, Klinsmann is less bound by conventional selection tenets.

It’s not the right or wrong approach, necessarily, it’s just his approach. Lots of coaches make their selections the same way – even if they don’t feel as secure about it all, so they tend to rationalize through public explanation. Klinsmann, rather immune to criticism, having dealt with so very much more in previous playing and coaching stops, doesn’t feel the need to validate his choices beyond the basic “this guy is ahead of that one.”

He’s not being snotty about it; quite the contrary, Klinsmann is typically candid and actually tries to explain his choices. It’s just that the criteria are frequently more subjective, so what makes “this guy better than that one” is sometimes less clear.

In the end, he’ll be proven right if the United States gets to Brazil 2014 and makes a good account. He’ll be proven wrong if his quirky ways produce less.

One of the real head-scratchers over Klinsmann’s 15 months at U.S. control is Jermaine Jones, a man who seems to add little to the American effort beyond some midfield bite. And he does certainly have ample stores of that.

Too much, in fact; the man is a yellow card or red card waiting to happen. Some call him a “hatchet man,” and to see the foul that led to last year’s lengthy Bundesliga suspension, it’s hard to argue the point. He’s not so far from Nigel de Jong that way, except that the infamous Dutch midfielder (who broke Stuart Holden’s leg two years ago) has greater technical skill and passing ability over various ranges to go with his “bad cop” ways of midfield enforcement.

Beyond that? Jones’ does have a sense of tactical discipline, but his passing is too labored to make it count for much.  He holds the ball too long, frequently stalling the advance. He doesn’t have a great feel for late runs into the box. His long range shooting is adequate but nothing special. He’s hardly a playmaker and not fast enough to drift wide and occasionally run at a defender.

He’s certainly not in development stage, either. At, , Jones is what he is.

So …

The larger discussion is moot for Tuesday because Jones collected another yellow card in Friday’s match with Antigua, a silly and completely needless intentional handball at a spot on the field where such a thing simply wasn’t required. With that, he was suspended for Tuesday’s match; the Schalke man is already back in Germany training once again with his club.

Kyle Beckerman or Maurice Edu can provide the midfield tackling and enforcement – and they are apt to smarter about it than their German-American teammate. Danny Williams probably can, too, although he’s younger and perhaps not as comfortable taking the tactical yellow card when it’s absolutely necessary, or knowing how far he can push the limits with international referees.

So long as Michael Bradley is on the field, Klinsmann can probably choose between any one of the three; Beckerman, Edu or Williams can shield the back line effectively Tuesday, with Bradley playing slightly higher in the arrangement.

(MORE: Michael Bradley, now the most important U.S. man)

The bigger point on Jones: he won’t be around to take a potential red card.

One of the recipes for U.S. disaster Tuesday (unlikely as that seems) would be this: an American does something stupid and gets himself ejected. Guatemalan confidence soars as the home team surrenders the initiative at that moment. From there … Well, I think we see where this particularly unpleasant scenario is going.

(MORE: U.S. qualifying scenarios)

Everyone who knows the U.S. personnel would look at Klinsmann’s selections from last week and immediately circle Jones as “most likely to do something stupid,” and get himself ejected.

Again, it’s hard to see what particular skill, what bigger-picture ability or intangible Jones brings to the United States effort, at either micro or macro level. Klinsmann clearly sees something a lot of us don’t.

Either way, in this case, Jones may have saved Klinsmann from himself.

Sweden players, coaches left fuming after last-minute loss

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A last-minute goal. A non-called penalty. A disrespectful celebration.

Sweden had a lot to be upset about when the final whistle blew on Saturday.

[ MORE: Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion” ]

The Swedes were within seconds of holding defending champion Germany to a draw, and moving into good position to advance to the round of 16 at the World Cup, when Toni Kroos scored deep into stoppage time to give Germany a 2-1 come-from-behind victory.

“I’m sorry that we didn’t get at least one point,” Sweden coach Janne Andersson said. “But I’m not blaming anyone tactically or analyzing too much right now, there are so many emotions going around. This is probably the heaviest conclusion that I’ve experienced in my career.”

Kroos’ goal from a set piece came in the fifth and final minute of injury time. The draw would have kept Sweden ahead of Germany in Group F and needing only a draw against Mexico in the last match.

[ MORE: Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination ]

“It was just bad luck,” Sweden forward John Guidetti said. “Now we need to try to find a way to win the last match. In a few days we play again and we have to win it. It’s simple.”

Germany, which is tied with Sweden on points and goal difference, will play against South Korea in the final round.

“We still have an excellent opportunity to qualify,” Andersson said. “Now we have to clean up, tidy up after this game. We’re going to do that.”

The Swedes were leading Germany at halftime thanks to Ola Toivonen’s goal in the 32nd minute at Fisht Stadium. They felt they could have been ahead even earlier if the referee had called a penalty when Marcus Berg appeared to be fouled inside the area with a clear chance to score. There was no formal video review called for.

“If we have the (VAR) system, it’s very unfortunate that he (the referee) can feel so secure in the moment that he doesn’t go and have a look at the situation,” Andersson said.

He and the Swedish players said they also couldn’t understand why Germany decided to celebrate near their bench.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“You shouldn’t celebrate in front of our bench the way they did, that’s disrespectful,” Guidetti said. “You can celebrate with your own fans. Don’t celebrate in front of our bench like that. That’s why they apologized, because they knew they did something wrong.”

Andersson said he was “very annoyed” by seeing the Germany team “running in our direction and rubbing it in our faces by making gestures.”

“We fought hard for 95 minutes,” he said. “And when the final whistle blows, you shake hands.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 11 — England, Colombia back in action

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Day 11 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Sunday, with England back in action and in need of three points — and a resounding win — to keep pace with Belgium in Group G.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Following Belgium’s 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia — the same side that England beat in stoppage time earlier in the week — on Saturday, the Red Devils have positioned themselves perfectly to win the group with a draw against the Three Lions on Thursday. England need a five-goal victory at 6-1 or higher to the finish top of the group following a draw on the final day.

Then, it’s a pair of Group H fixtures, kicked off with Japan (1st) versus Senegal (2nd) — both of whom won their first game — followed by Poland (3rd) versus Colombia (4th).

Below is Sunday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Sunday, June 24

Group G
England vs. Panama: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group H
Japan vs. Senegal: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Colombia: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

FIFA opens case against Xhaka, Shaqiri for celebrations

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FIFA’s disciplinary committee opened disciplinary proceedings against Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri for politically charged goal celebrations during their 2-1 World Cup win over Serbia in Kaliningrad.

[ MORE: The meaning behind Xhaka, Shaqiri’s eagle celebration ]

FIFA also said Saturday it has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian Football Association for crowd disturbance and the display of political and offensive messages by Serbian fans. FIFA also is reviewing statements that Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic made after the match.

Xhaka and Shaqiri celebrated their goals by making a nationalist symbol of their ethnic Albanian heritage. Both of their families come from Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The Polish Football Association was fined $10,100 and given a warning by FIFA’s disciplinary committee for a banner that the governing body deemed political and offensive. The banner was displayed during Senegal’s 2-1 win over Poland on Tuesday in Moscow.

The committee also opened disciplinary proceedings against the federations of Argentina and Croatia for crowd disturbances during Croatia’s 3-0 win Thursday at Nizhny Novgorod.

Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion”

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At 1-0 down, they were headed for elimination in the group stage (with a game still to play); once level at 1-1, they faced yet a steep hill to climb on the final day of the group stage; after Toni Kroos scored his stunning 94th-minute winner, Joachim Low could finally exhale and imagine himself managing the German national team for another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Sweden at the 2018 World Cup was, for most intents and purposes, a worrying performance for the defending world champions. Fortunately for Low and Co., the one place in which their comeback dramatic victory was a raging success is the only one that matters: the Group F table, where Die Mannschaft currently (somehow) sit second and control their own destiny — quotes from the BBC:

“This was a thriller, full of emotion, right up until the final whistle. Brandt hit the goal post just three minutes before the end too. We took out a defensive player and brought on an attacking player because we knew had to bring on everything we had to turn it round.

“We had a couple of great chances — Mario Gomez’s header being one of them. The last couple of minutes were full of drama but those matches exist in football. We’ve had these situations in other tournaments as well. For the viewers that’s part of the attractiveness of football.”

“Something I did appreciate today was that we didn’t lose our nerve, we didn’t panic after going a goal down. We kept a level head and said we needed to make quick passes and tire the Swedes out to open up spaces.

“We didn’t score a couple of good chances but we never lost hope we could win the match and I think the goal scored in stoppage time had a bit of luck involved but it did show the belief we had in ourselves.”

There’s still plenty of work to do for one of the most popular pre-tournament favorites — there’s a little matter of needing to beat, or at the very least, match Sweden’s result against Mexico — but that can wait until tomorrow, because Saturday unexpectedly became all about survival.