Drilling down on: L.A. Galaxy 3, Seattle Sounders 0

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Seattle looked nothing like the team that eliminated Real Salt Lake, while the Galaxy continue to look like the team that turned it on at precisely the right time.

The defending champions clobbered Seattle on Sunday at the Home Depot Center. As a result, Los Angeles has a chokehold on the Western Conference finals series, a strong three-goal lead heading into next week’s second leg in Seattle.

Man of the Match:

With apologies to Houston’s Will Bruin and his four post-season goals, the sensational Robbie Keane looks more and more like this year’s playoff MVP. There’s still time for something to change, of course, but the Irish international seems unstoppable right now. With two more goalsand an absolutely brilliant pass to set up another Galaxy goal, no one was more influential in Sunday’s big win.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Landon Donovan continues to deliver:

Donovan may sound like he’s bound and determined to retire, but he is delivering like a man just getting started. So far in the playoffs, the Galaxy captain has a goal and three assists, and his combination work withKeane is a sight to behold.

Donovan started just a little slowly in the playoffs against Vancouver, but he has been a productive livewire since. Proving that Donovan at 30 still has the fleet feet, he blew past Seattle center back Jeff Parke to create that handy Galaxy goal just before the half.

It’s not just that signature jump in his boots; Donovan is thinking fast, too. He was the fulcrum as the Galaxy looked to create midfield turnovers (something Bruce Arena teams always do well) and then get the attack started quickly.

When the counter was on, the ball usually found Donovan quickly. He did a wonderful job of moving things along quickly from there.

Seattle had a bad plan: 

Seattle manager Sigi Schmid’s hands were somewhat tied by Eddie Johnson’s lingering injury. That said, Schmid’s choices just didn’t work out.

The 4-5-1 with Fredy Montero isolated up front produced zilch. Christian Tiffert, playing in the hole behind Montero, was nowhere to be found. Result: Montero’s playoff shutout streak, now at nine games and counting, had no chance to reverse itself in this one. The Sounders created precious few chances until the final 10 minutes, when the Galaxy backed off.

Mario Martinez, the hero of Seattle’s win Thursday in Utah, reminded everyone why Schmid has been so reluctant to play him. He doesn’t show much interest in defending, and his positional discipline stinks. In a game where Seattle’s third-choice left back, Zach Scott, was never going to advance up the flank, Martinez continually worked to the inside. Which would be fine if Martinez had a left back behind him to provide the width.

Defensively, the visitors simply unraveled, and the Galaxy goal just before the half was just the start. By the 65th minute, the Sounders’ defense had been absolutely shredded. Jeff Parke, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and the rest of Seattle’s defense was helpless against the Galaxy’s interchange inside the final third.

With a little luck, the home team’s win would have been 4-0 or 5-0.

There are plenty of potential playoff MVPs coming from L.A. Galaxy Valley:

Keane isn’t the only drop-dead gorgeous performer at the moment in an L.A. Galaxy kit.

Donovan’s movement and understanding with Keane is simply sensational at present (the very opposite of what we saw Sunday between Tiffert and Montero, who looked as if they barely knew each other.)

Omar Gonzalez was commanding in the back once again, although he did get sucked out of position and then linger out there a bit too long at times. Christian Wilhelmsson was a two-way force along the right. He played a significant role in two Galaxy goals.

And then there’s Mike Magee, who hit the Galaxy’s second Sunday. He now has eight playoff goals in 15 games for the Galaxy.

Packaged for take-away

  • Fair to point out that the visitors had one day less rest. Did that explain the gulf in performance level of these two teams Sunday? Probably not, but it’s still worth pointing out.
  • Donovan has 20 goals and 12 assists in 32 MLS playoff games. Anybody who cannot see Donovan’s value – there are plenty of U.S. supporters out there who inexplicably refuse to do so – simply is not looking at this thing objectively.
  • The Galaxy’s 57th minute sequence from inside the Sounders’ penalty area might have been the best combination work of the playoffs so far. Only Alex Caskey’s last-ditch defending prevented Donovan from recording his second assist of the night.
  • A hustle play by Parke kept Donovan from making it 4-0 in the 76th, as the Galaxy worked more of that combination magic inside the Sounders’ penalty area.

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.