A ridiculous goal (And an important one!) for Tottenham’s Gareth Bale against West Ham

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Every once in a while a player finds the ultimate groove. The sweetest of sweet spots. The final gear.

(A preciously select few dwell in that universe, but we’re talking Leo Messi-level here, and we know those are few and far between.)

Gareth Bale has nailed the sweet spot. He is truly something to behold right now, as close as anyone ever comes to creating some accuracy in the old broadcaster descriptive fallback “unstoppable.”

Bale’s first goal in Tottenham’s thrilling 3-2 London derby win Monday over West Ham was a fine piece of EPL marksmanship.

His second was just ridiculous. It was one of those where you say, “At some point, it’s not even fair.”

Jussi Jaaskelainen was in beast mode, turning away more than his share in West Ham goal, holding back Bale and Tottenham in the second half.  It was going to take something special to beat the guy – and Bale delivered. His pinpoint flier from close to 30 yards curled away from and then fell perfectly behind Jaaskelainen.

(The goal is below … so long as the video avoids the ol’ internet drop zone)

Bale’s 90th minute goal was as important as it was gracefully stunning, providing Spurs with all three points and allowing the club to leapfrog Chelsea into third place.

The backstory here is in what Bale is doing now to establish himself as the prize of the upcoming transfer window. Now with six goals in 2013, no EPL man has more.

Thing is, this transfer tree has two big branches. His value as a target for elite European clubs keeps rising. Meanwhile, as Bale drives Tottenham further up the table – and make no mistake, the man is so good right now that he is driving the Tottenham bus – Spurs man of the moment could be giving himself a reason to remain at White Hart Lane.

The top three EPL spots are guaranteed Champions League spots for 2013-14. (Fourth place gets into the qualifying round.) As of today, Bale could remain right where he is and experience Champions League greatness next year. (Clint Dempsey, too – and this is why Dempsey worked so hard to get out of Fulham, because he, too, was so desirous of tasting Champions League fruit.)

The back, back story here is in how important it must be for Bale to get into Champions League – and possibly into a team that has more than a puncher’s chance of ever winning the thing.

See, he’s Welsh. He is unlikely to ever get to a World Cup without a ticket in the stands, just like the rest of us. Champions League glory would be the pinnacle of his career, team achievement-wise.

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Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’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 – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE