Good performances hard to find in U.S. draw with Canada

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If the idea of a January match is just an exercise in January camp motivation, a way for U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann to get his players through three tough weeks of conditioning with a little more skip in their daily step, then Tuesday’s dullard of a friendly hit the note, I suppose.

On pretty much any other account from the U.S. side, there wasn’t much good to say about this one, a scoreless draw at BBVA Compass Stadium against a visiting Canadian that should have been easily overmatched.

Credit to well-organized and hard-working Canada for a worthy response after getting the maple leafs knocked out of them against Denmark just three nights back. Even so …

These matches aren’t about results, of course. But they are about opportunities, about getting a couple of individuals to distinguish themselves. The chances to do so were certainly there for U.S. attackers as Canada happily ceded possession.

Finding someone in the U.S. blue to take advantage? Those were pretty tough to pinpoint out there.

Three take-aways from the match in which plenty of opportunities turned into swinging misses:

(MORE: Individual opportunities wasted; too few sharp edges)

The lineup didn’t work. And then some.

What an interesting choice by Klinsmann to put Brad Evans in the chief playmaking position, at the top of a midfield diamond. The versatile Seattle Sounders’ midfielder may be a lot of things, but he’s not the guy to punch holes in tightly packed Canadian defensive stack-up.

The Canadians played a relatively high line and dropped their attackers – few that they were – back. So it was up to the U.S. midfield and overlapping backs to break through 10 Canadians in a 30 to 40-yard box. With Kyle Beckerman almost always making the safe choice, and with Graham Zusi reliably restrained on the right, unable to find a bit of joy in getting past Nik Ledgerwood, there just wasn’t much happening.

If Klinsmann’s lineup selections were all about rewarding performance over three weeks of training, fair enough. But as a tactical selection for a one match, Benny Feilhaber or Mix Diskerud would have been a better central, attacking choice.

Even Evans’ positioning relative to strikers Chris Wondolowski and Eddie Johnson indicated “safefy first,” as he was generally too far away.

Quite a few U.S. men showed their offensive limitations.

Evans … we already addressed. And he wasn’t much better as a right back, although that’s not his position, so it’s a tough ask. Johnson can clearly be dangerous around goal, but he’s not as adept in a game that requires the United States to handle the ball most of the time. Same with Wondolowski.

Zusi was wide right in the 4-4-2 and simply wasn’t effective, mostly just stuck in the mud over there, so to speak. Some of that was due to Tony Beltran being less aggressive than Justin Morrow on the other side in pushing into attacking spots.

Nor could Beltran manage to release the crosses when he did get forward, which he did a bit more after about 30 minutes. Beltran, who had such a good camp, was subtracted at halftime.

Further back, as the ball moved back and forth across the field, Beckerman rarely turned with the ball or pushed aggressively toward the few gaps in Canada’s alignment. As we’ve seen, at the international level, Beckerman is a better in a match where the United States is defending more than attacking, where he’s more destroyer and less distributor.

It was crowed and tough out there, no doubt. But this is where Zusi and Brad Davis, who similarly failed to distinguish himself, needed to show something. Something!

None of the forwards did any distinguishing either. Wondolowski needed to do better with a couple of half chances that came his way. Juan Agudelo, in for the last 30 minutes, did not look particularly sharp.

Good nights? Yeah, a couple.

Matt Besler was the best passer, managing at least to look occasionally for the passing lanes that would help break up the logjam. Morrow was easily the best offensive threat of the two U.S. outside backs.

Omar Gonzalez demonstrated that he can be a bother at international level on those attacking set pieces, which we’ve all seen him do in MLS.

Josh Gatt certainly kept his stock pointed in the right direction, enlivening the left side. He was easily the best U.S. man at taking on defenders and showing a willingness to ask some questions of the Canadian back line.

Feilhaber looked OK in possession, and his set pieces fell dangerously.

Japan upsets ten-man Colombia in Group H opener

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On paper, the 61st-ranked team in the world beating the 16th-ranked team in the world is a massive upset. But considering the circumstances within the game, perhaps this wasn’t an upset after all.

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Two set pieces were the difference as Japan defeated ten-man Colombia, 2-1 on Tuesday morning in Saransk. Colombia played with ten men for nearly the entire match, after Carlos Sanchez was sent off for a handball in the box and a denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

The game took a massive turn in the third minute, as Colombia centerback Davinson Sanchez failed to control a pass and Yuya Osako found himself free on goal. His shot was parried away by Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina but Kagawa’s rebound shot was clearly blocked by Sanchez’s right arm. The referee, Damir Skomina immediately pointed to the penalty spot and went to the back pocket, sending Sanchez to the showers.

Kagawa stepped up and cooly sent Ospina the wrong way to put Japan on top.

Late in the first half, after both teams had chances on target, Colombia came back and evened the scoreline.

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Juan Fernando Quintero, starting in place of the recovering James Rodriguez, smartly took a free kick and fired it low, under the wall as it jumped. Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima reacted late and although he arrived as the ball was crossing the line, he couldn’t keep it from going over, tying the game in the 39th minute.

Ultimately, despite its efforts, Colombia began to tire and on a corner kick, the Blue Samurai took back the lead and control of their destiny in Group H. A corner kick from Keisuke Honda was re-directed past Ospina by Osako, who jumped well over Santiago Arias, to give Japan a 2-1 lead in the 75th minute.

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Rodriguez was introduced in the 57th minute but try as he did, Colombia was unable to find the final pass in the box, and Japan held on for the unexpected victory.

With the win, Japan top Group H ahead of a meeting with Senegal, while Colombia will have to regroup to face Poland.

In a World Cup full of unexpected results, Tuesday brought yet another memorable win for an underdog.

New Zealand women footballers rebel against national coach

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) Only weeks after New Zealand Football made headlines by signing a revolutionary equal pay deal with its female players, the organization is facing a mutiny by members of its women’s team against the national coach.

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New Zealand Football confirmed on Tuesday it had received a letter signed by a number of New Zealand players complaining about the methods and tactics employed by Austria-born coach Andreas Heraf.

The complaints follow the New Zealand team’s recent 3-1 loss at home to Japan. Heraf angered his players, and fans of the Football Ferns national team, by taking an entirely defensive game plan into the rare home international.

Heraf then further angered his players with comments defending his approach.

He said there was “a big difference in quality” between the New Zealand and Japanese players and that New Zealand “will never have that quality” to compete with top teams like Japan. He said the scoreline might have been 8-0 if New Zealand had not adopted a defensive approach.

One of New Zealand’s leading players, United States-based Abby Erceg, retired after playing 132 matches for New Zealand, citing Heraf’s approach in previous international matches.

She later told New Zealand media: “I couldn’t stand to wear that (national symbol) on my chest any more when his vision was to cower in a corner and not get beat by too much.”

New Zealand Football defended Heraf against the media and public criticism but admitted his comments were “strange” and “wrong” and did not accurately reflect his views. Heraf later apologized and said he had not expressed himself clearly.

But efforts to dampen the controversy have failed. New Zealand Football said in a statement it had “received a letter from the NZ Professional Footballers Association (NZPFA) last night with a number of complaints from the players of the Football Ferns.”

The mutiny comes only weeks after New Zealand gained international headlines for a deal which gives female pay parity with their male counterparts.

New Zealand Football signed the deal which provided female players with equal match payments, travel arrangements and prize money.

At the time, New Zealand women’s captain Ali Riley said the deal meant New Zealand would “be able to compete against the top teams, to be able to do well at a World Cup and the Olympics – this is what we needed.”

VIDEO: Colombia sees red, Japan takes early lead

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The first red card of the World Cup came just moments after fans took their seats in Saransk.

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After David Ospina blocked a breakaway opportunity from Yuya Osako in the third minute of the match, Japan star and former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa fired the rebound on goal. But his shot was blocked by the arm of Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez, which earned him a straight red card from referee Damir Skomina and an early trip to the locker room.

Kagawa then stepped up to the spot and calmly sent Ospina the wrong way to give Japan the shock early lead.

Colombia will play the rest of the match with ten men and no James Rodriguez, who was named to the bench for this match as he recovers from a reported calf injury.

Rodriguez out of Colombia starting XI

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Taking a page out of Egypt’s book, Colombia will be without its talismanic playmaker for its first match, Tuesday morning against Japan.

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Juan Fernando Quintero replaced James Rodriguez in Colombia’s starting Xi to take on Japan in Saransk as Colombia coach Jose Pekerman clearly hopes a few extra days of recovery for the injured Rodriguez will help him return to 100 percent fitness. Rodriguez is battling a reported calf injury.

Rodriguez scored six goals and had two assists in five games at the last World Cup in Brazil, helping guide Los Cafeteros to their first World Cup quarterfinals appearance.