Early take-aways from United States win over Guatemala

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KANSAS CITY — United States soccer team moved into final-round World Cup qualifying with a 3-1 win Tuesday over Guatemala in Kansas City. Here are some initial thoughts on the night as the United States’ drive toward its seventh consecutive World Cup (all of them since 1986) is now into its final push.

  • Advancing was always Job 1 on Tuesday, to get the result that propels them into the final six in regional World Cup qualifying. So, that’s a big check-plus. All the critical, comprehensive analysis can (and will) come later, because the second round was harder than most people expected. But for now, everyone can breathe a little. The United States will join Jamaica from this group in next year’s final stage.
  • Guatemala is out, obviously. They simply could not get the draw they came into Kansas City to get.
  • For all the face-twisting and teeth gnashing, the United States finished atop the group.
  • There were lots of good individual performances, as there rightly should have been against an outmanned bunch from Guatemala. Danny Williams and Michael Bradley performed well in the middle. Graham Zusi – those weren’t boos, they were yelling “Zuuus” for the hometown hero – added a lot on the outside, working well once again with right back Steve Cherundolo. And Clint Dempsey’s two goals speak for themselves; yes, they were tap-ins, but getting yourself in the right spots means a lot.
  • In the match that mattered, Bradley and Williams were the central midfield preferences for U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann. If we’re guessing, and unless Stuart Holden can get healthy and say something about it, that certainly is looking like the preferred central pairing for the final round and, if they make it, for Brazil 2014.
  • It must have been awfully frustrating in the late going for the Guatemalans, who had precious few chances on to gather themselves offensive and move forward over the last 20 minutes. That was credit to the U.S. ability to keep the ball, with Bradley orchestrating the drive to keep possession. Along with Williams, Dempsey and Cherundolo (and others, but those in particular), they kept the ball moving at a good pace – away from the tiring visitors, which was the important part.
  • All this high tech fitness stuff must be good for something. The United States clearly had more gas left in the tank after 65 or 70 minutes, when the Guatemalans wilted down to practically nothing. Even with the knowledge that they desperately needed goals, the visitors could do very little in terms of bothering the U.S. back line.
  • Lots of Americans – heck, lots of folks around the CONCACAF region – are celebrating this little dandy bit tonight: This was probably the last we’ll ever see of Carlos Ruiz in World Cup Qualifying. Truly, he may be the most infuriating player in the world.
  • No one on the field, on either side, has the sophistication to run the midfield like Bradley. His work throughout the match was tactically sound and technically adept, playing more offensively (slightly ahead of Williams) early, and then alongside in a more conventional 4-4-2 in the second half. And that third U.S. goal, all the way through, from the swell dummy to the delicate little chip over the goalkeeper, was top-class stuff.
  • In all honesty, it’s fair to begin asking if Carlos Bocanegra can play at this level anymore? He’s playing in the Spanish second division, and on a bad team at that. So, I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that the speed of the international game catches him sometimes unawares.
  • It certainly did on that first goal, when the U.S. back line was all over the place. The line was too high, Bocanegra and Cameron were too far apart and then the U.S. captain simply didn’t have the foot speed to catch … Ruiz? Ruiz is a lot of things, but “fast” isn’t one of them.
  • Klinsmann: “We didn’t need to take that first goal. The good thing was the response. We turned it right around.”

Burton Albion making League Cup semi “absolutely staggering”

Owen Humphreys/PA via AP
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Burton Albion has never finished higher than 20th in the Championship, so getting to the League Cup semifinals followed a 1-0 defeat of Middlesbrough is pretty darn sweet to manager Nigel Clough and his men.

The Brewers were relegated to League One last season, finishing 23rd in the 24-team Championship.

[ MORE: Leicester 1-1 (1-3 pens) Man City]

Now, manager Nigel Clough has the club within a win of the League Cup Final. It’s their best major cup performance in a 68-year history.

From BurtonAlbionFC.co.uk:

“The scale of the achievement is absolutely staggering – for Burton Albion to get to the semi-final of a major cup competition. It’s very difficult to describe the feeling at this point.”

Sure the luck of the draw is involved — Burton has only drawn one Premier League team, and it was Burnley — but winning five cup matches is winning five cup matches.

Clough, the son of legendary manager Brian Clough, also sung the praises of Southampton loanee Jake Hesketh. The 22-year-old won the match with the game’s loan goal.

“We got the goal through Jake Hesketh. The most impressive thing was to win the tackle on the edge of the box and he was one of the few players tonight not to hit his shot over the bar, We bang on in training about hitting the bottom corners and he did.”

Whether or not Burton can hang with Premier League opposition in the final, this is a pretty monumental moment for the Brewers. Sitting 15th in league play, it will likely be the most memorable moment of the season.

River Plate loses on penalties to Al Ain at Club World Cup

AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
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AL AIN CITY, United Arab Emirates (AP) South American champion River Plate was upset by Al Ain FC in the Club World Cup on Tuesday, losing in a penalty shootout after the semifinal finished 2-2 following extra time.

Al Ain’s players converted all five penalty kicks, before goalkeeper Khalid Eisa saved Enzo Perez’s fifth shot for River to seal a 5-4 victory in the shootout.

[ MORE: Leicester 1-1 (1-3 pens) Man City ]

River endured the humbling loss to the team from United Arab Emirates less than two weeks after thrilling its fans with a memorable win over fierce Argentine rival Boca Juniors in the final of the Copa Libertadores.

Real Madrid plays Kashima Antlers on Wednesday in the other semifinal.

Marcus Berg put Al Ain ahead in the third minute before Santos Borre scored twice to give River the lead in the 16th.

Brazilian forward Caio pulled Al Ain level at 2-2 in the 51st.

Gonzalo Martinez had an opportunity to put River back in front from the penalty spot after Mohamed Ahmad fouled Milton Casco in the area. But Martinez hit the 68th-minute spot kick against the crossbar.

The final is on Saturday.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Pep on Man City win, Sterling’s poor panenka, Mourinho sacking

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Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City needed penalties to outlast hosts Leicester City in the quarterfinals of the League Cup, but got the job done thanks in no small part to some laughable efforts from the Foxes.

[ RECAP: Leicester 1-1 (1-3 pens) Man City ]

Kevin De Bruyne and Marc Albrighton scored good-looking goals in regulation, and Oleksandr Zinchenko converted City’s third penalty after Leicester missed three-consecutive offerings at the King Power Stadium.

Man City’s only miss was an awful missed panenka from Raheem Sterling, but Guardiola was mostly okay with the outcome given their lineup.

Eric Garcia started and made his first team debut at age 17. Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz also started the match. Young goalkeeper Arijanet Muric starred for Man City, stopping two penalties in the win. From the BBC:

“A tough game, it is always difficult at Leicester. We played with a guy who is 17 years old and some injured players, it was a good game. … Raheem took that decision [to chip his penalty], unfortunately he missed it but that is OK.”

Guardiola was also asked about fired Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho. He feels compassion for his longtime rival.

“I am always sad for the manager when that happens. We are alone in that situation. I am close to all of the managers. You are sacked when results are not good. He doesn’t need me, he is so strong. I wish him all the best and he will be back soon.”

Man City is one win from a third League Cup final in four years, and will face either Burton Albion, Arsenal, Spurs, Bournemouth, or Chelsea. Next up is a visit from Crystal Palace on Saturday and another trip to Leicester on Boxing Day.

League Cup: Man City wins in PKs; Burton upsets Boro

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It took penalty kicks to separate Leicester City and Man City, while Middlesbrough was booed off the pitch after 90 minutes of an upset loss as the first two quarterfinals of the League Cup were played Tuesday in England.

[ MORE: Steffen wins USMNT award ]


Leicester City 1-1 (1-3, PKs) Man City

A bungling batch of penalties ended an entertaining quarterfinal at King Power Stadium, and the reigning champions are alive for their third League Cup in four years.

Christian Fuchs airmailed Leicester City’s second attempt of penalty kicks, but Raheem Sterling chipped his ensuing panenka over the bar for Man City.

It was three-straight misses when Man City’s Arijanet Muric saved James Maddison‘s tame low effort and then nabbed Caglar Soyuncu’s shot to cue up Oleksandar Zinchenko for the winner.

Before that, we learned that Kevin De Bruyne can ball.

Okay, that’s not news, though we haven’t been able to see it in sometime thanks to a pair of knee injuries.

De Bruyne had played just 251 minutes heading into Tuesday’s League Cup quarterfinal at Leicester City, though he’s looking plenty sharp.

Watch the Manchester City midfielder cut his mark with a clever back leg move, then sweep a shot through a defender’s legs and past the reach of Leicester backstop Danny Ward.

It’s delightful stuff. Watch it here.

No sooner had De Bruyne left the contest after 70 minutes, Leicester City restored the stalemate via Marc Albrighton. The veteran midfielder collected a Wilfred Ndidi over-the-top pass with style before lashing past Arijanet Muric.

Middlesbrough 0-1 Burton Albion

There goes Tony Pulis‘ Boro outfit thanks to a strike from Southampton loanee Jake Hesketh, as Burton Albion trumped the ol’ West Bromwich Albion coach at his own game.

The League One side is the only non-Premier League team left in the tournament, and will now face either Man City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, or Bournemouth in the semifinals.