Gareth Bale blast lifts Tottenham past Southampton

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Tottenham Hotspur went 86 minutes without a shot on goal against Southampton, but when former Saint Gareth Bale broke in from the right late at White Hart Lane, one look from near-30 yards out was all the Player of the Year needed to give Spurs a crucial three points. With his left-footed blast into the corner of Artur Buroc’s goal, Bale unbalanced a match that seemed destined to keep Spurs outside the top four. Instead, the 1-0 victory gave Tottenham a temporarily hold on fourth place.

When Arsenal scored early at Loftus Road (the day’s final game kicking off half an hour after White Hart Lane’s final whistle), it appeared Spurs’ advantage would be short-lived, but with a match-in-hand on the Gunners, Tottenham maintains control of their own destiny. Though they visit Stamford Bridge next week, they’re still in a win-and-in situation. Victories against Chelsea, Stoke City and Sunderland would guarantee Spurs’ return to Champions League.

On Saturday, Spurs looked anything but a Champions League club. Against a Southampton team that’s settling into mediocrity after an early spring rush, Tottenham couldn’t distinguish themselves, drawing on memories of early season struggles that saw Andre Villas-Boas’s side break down once they hit the final third. Had you not known better, you’d have thought today’s was a “tie will do just fine” scenario, though it wasn’t. With Arsenal at QPR later in the day, Spurs needed full points, even if a draw would have served Saints just fine.

Without that point, though, Saints sit in 14th place, only four points above the drop. With a three teams between them and 18th place Wigan, it’s unlikely Mauricio Pochettino’s team can be pulled down. But unable to take advantage of an off day from Spurs, Southampton gets to spend another week in doubt.

All of which is owed to Bale, a player whose every game forces you to ask where Spurs would be without him. Today, the answer would be adrift, with only his long-range strike keeping Spurs from losing the ability to dictate their own course. With goals in short supply between Jermaine Defoe, Emmanuel Adebayor, Clint Dempsey, and Aaron Lennon, Spurs’ chances rest exclusively on the laces of Gareth Bale.

Should they fail to snare a top-four spot, Tottenham may very well find out what it’s permanently like to live without Bale. Without Champions League, Bale may be enticed to move on, and if Tottenham’s end-of-season showing provides any hint to that future, it will be back to the drawing board once the Welsh international leaves North London.

Coutinho saves Brazil from Neymar’s VAR humiliation

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Dominant Brazil needed stoppage time to find a way past Costa Rican backstop Keylor Navas and pick up a 2-0 win in Saint Petersburg on Friday.

Neymar embarrassingly saw an awarded penalty overturned when he flopped instead of shooting following a tug from Giancarlo Gonzalez, but Philippe Coutinho toe-poked a shot through Navas’ legs in the first of six stoppage time minutes.

Neymar would later add a goal in the sixth minute of stoppage time from Douglas Costa.

Brazil finishes the group stage with Serbia, while Costa Rica waits on Switzerland.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Brazil controlled the first 12 minutes of the match, but Costa Rica just missed a bid to make it 1-0 against the run of play.

Deportivo La Coruña midfielder Celso Borges darted into the box to drag a low shot just wide of the far post.

Gabriel Jesus had the ball in the back of the goal in the 26th minute, but was deemed offside. And Keylor Navas stymied another Brazil rush a minute later.

But Costa Rica’s packed-in camp held Brazil at bay into the break.

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Brazil fired out of the gates to start the second half, and Navas was again busy as Neymar clattered into him in search of a loose ball. Well, kinda loose.

When Philippe Coutinho’s hammered shot was blocked out for a corner, it simultaneously felt like Brazil’s goal was either inevitable or destined to not arrive.

Navas then pushed a Neymar point-blank bid over the bar.

Tite opted to bring on Roberto Firmino, but Navas kept up his heroics by collecting a header off another Brazil corner.

The possibility of a scoreless draw felt even more likely when Neymar stole the ball and whipped a 21-yard shot just off the upper 90.

Neymar looked to have a won a penalty kick when Gonzalez tugged him in the six, but VAR overturned the call.

Fabregas praises Vela vs. Germany, not impressed by Ronaldo

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Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas was left off the Spain squad for this summer’s World Cup, and has been working as a pundit for the BBC.

Friday morning found him posting a column — well, we doubt he handled the posting — on the tournament so far, one that talked about how Spain rebounded from a tournament-opening loss to win the World Cup.

[ MORE: Lichaj moves to Hull ]

Fabregas then touched on Cristiano Ronaldo’s World Cup, saying credit due to his four goals but also questioning how impressed anyone should be with three goals from set pieces and a fourth from a David De Gea gaffe.

You cannot say that he and Portugal have shown great combinations or tiki-taka football to score great goals.

You have to give him credit, of course, but his goals have come from set-pieces, penalties or mistakes.

Seems a bit of anti-Real Madrid carryover there, although the sentiment is real (Portugal has not been impressive despite its four points).

Fabregas then went on to highlight one particular performance in the tournament: Mexico and LAFC midfielder Carlos Vela’s work in El Tri‘s upset of Germany.

Vela left Real Sociedad to join Los Angeles FC at the start of the year and people seem to think that when you go to the MLS, or that type of league, your level drops.

That was not the case when he played against Germany, because Kroos could not shake him off. He tried but he could not influence the game.

See, Cesc: You can totally come to our shores and run point for a team. Toronto is really close to me, if you’re asking, but Philly, Columbus, and New York are reasonable enough drives.

USMNT back Lichaj finds new home in Championship

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Eric Lichaj is going to bring his Premier League promotion dreams to a new Championship club.

The 29-year-old USMNT fullback has been a key part of Nottingham Forest to the tune of 188 appearances since moving from Aston Villa in 2013.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

But he’s on the move, joining Nigel Adkins at Hull City on the heels of a three-goal season at Forest. He famously scored a pair of goals in a 4-2 FA Cup win over Arsenal, then naming his new dog Gunner.

“It’s a fresh start for me and I want to repay Hull City for the faith that they have shown in me by bringing me here. I’ll be working my hardest, as I always do, every day in training and on matchdays.”

The versatile American can play left or right back, and has pushed his way back into the national team picture. Lichaj has 15 caps with a goal for the USMNT.

Also, #AStarInStripes? We see you, Hull

Report: Minnesota United chasing Ecuadorian national teamer

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Minnesota United may be hoping another Ibarra can cure what ails its attack.

Romario Ibarra, 23, is on the Loons’ radar according to The Athletic‘s Kristian Dyer and Jeff Rueter, who say Minnesota would like to land the Ecuadorian when the summer transfer window opens on July 10.

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Ibarra was limited to eight matches for Universidad Católica this season as he battled through a lingering metatarsal fracture. But he’s scored against Argentina and Chile in each of his appearances for the national team, both World Cup qualifiers.

From The Athletic:

Sources say that Ibarra’s contract is unlikely to make him a designated player, leaving Quintero as the club’s sole DP. (It could depend, in part, on the size of the transfer fee.) Based on league standards, his salary will likely be drawn from Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) contract seems likely.

Ibarra’s older brother Renato plays for Club America, and has 36 caps.

Minnesota is six points outside the West’s final playoff spot, and has scored just 17 goals in 14 matches.