Goals galore: United States rebounds, defeats Germany 4-3 in Centennial match

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In a result that was unforeseeable in the wake of a Wednesday dismantling at the hands of Belgium, the United States produced one of the more memorable wins of the Jurgen Klinsmann era, though not without some drama. At one point leading by three goals, the U.S. were left to sweat out the last few minutes against visiting Germany, eventually downing the world’s second-ranked team 4-3 in front of 47,359 at RFK Stadium.

The match was part of U.S. Soccer’s 100th anniversary celebration, the first of a doubleheader that concludes with the U.S. Women’s National Team’s visit to Toronto to face Canada. The game also marked Klinsmann’s first meeting against his former team, the Nationalmannschaft’s former star player and boss producing a confidence-boosting result against a world power.

The highly-touted Germans were short-handed, with many of the team’s stars left in Europe. But coming off a lopsided win over Ecuador on Wednesday, Joachim Löw’s side had proven themselves dangerous, with most considering the visitors the likely winners ahead of kickoff in Washington, D.C.

But over the first 75 minutes, that danger rarely bore out, with the U.S. carrying a three-goal lead into the match’s final act on the back of tallies by Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey (two) and German `keeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, who was at fault on an early own goal.

(MORE: United States Man of the Match, Jozy Altidore)

Late scores from Max Kruse and Julian Draxler built on Heiko Westermann’s early second half header, saving the Germans from what would have been an embarrassing result. When the final whistle blew, however, Germany had suffered their first defeat since losing to Argentina in August.

The two teams came into the day’s match off drastically different mid-week results. Germany scored four goals in the first 24 minutes against Ecuador in Boca Raton ahead of a 4-2 win on Wednesday. That night, the United States gave up three second half goals en route to a 4-2 loss to Belgium in Cleveland.

Coming off the defeat, Jurgen Klinsmann made a number of changes to his starting XI, welcoming Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and, at left midfield, Fabian Johnson back into the team. The U.S. head coach also made two changes to a defense that struggled mid-week, starting Matt Besler over Clarence Goodson in central defense along with Brad Evans over Geoff Cameron at right back.

They were part of the team that faced a largely second-choice German squad, no players from Bayern Munich in attendance, all but one of Borussia Dortmund’s stars out, and neither of Real Madrid’s Mesüt Ozil or Sami Khedira in Joachim Löw’s starting XI.

The U.S. changes brought immediate improvement over Wednesday’s match, with confident play from Jozy Altidore helping the U.S. establish early possession in their attacking third. Combined with a defensive intensity that was absent against Belgium, the U.S. were the better side from the opening kickoff.

But the Germans nearly offset that in the 11th minute, with Per Mertesacker given a chance to open the scoring from nine yards out. As Tim Howard challenged, the Arsenal defender pulled his shot wide left, giving the U.S. and early reprieve.

The States took advantage. Two minutes later, a ball out of the U.S. end for Altidore near the center line was laid off for Clint Dempsey, the U.S. captain carrying the ball on the counter from inside his own half to the edge of the German area. Dempsey then played the ball wide right, with Graham Zusi crossing for Altidore at the penalty spot. Having peeled off Mertesacker, Altidore created enough room to put a right-footed volley into Ter Stegen’s side netting, the German keeper with no chance to prevent the U.S.’s opener.

The goal marked the end of a prolonged drought for Altidore. The 23-year-old forward, who has scored 51 goals over the last two seasons with AZ in the Netherlands, had yet to score an open play goal under Klinsmann. The only other time Altidore had scored since his head coach took over in July 2011 was a spot kick against Slovenia in November 2011. His last open play goal for the U.S. came under Bob Bradley, against Guadalope in June 2011 at the last CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Three minutes after Altidore ended that slump, the U.S. doubled their lead. Or, more accurately, the Germans doubled the States’ lead, with a bad response to pressure off a goal kick ending with Ter Stegen’s poor handling of a Benedickt Howedes back pass – an innocuous ball from just outside the penalty area rolling into the German goal, giving the U.S. a 2-0 lead.

Andre Schurrle nearly pulled the gift back in the 19th minute, a move from the right that went through Demarcus Beasley and around Matt Besler leading to a shot from 15 yards out. The Chelsea target pushed his shot just wide of Howard’s left post, leaving the U.S. up two.

Before halftime, Altidore would generate a 20th minute chance for Dempsey and German striker Miroslav Klose would see a goal waved off for offside. As the clock approached the 45th minute, the pace slowed amid the late spring Washington D.C. heat, the teams fading into halftime with the score 2-0.

The U.S. made one change at halftime, a forced substitution as Fabian Johnson came off with a hamstring injury. Brad Davis, who started Wednesday against Belgium, came in to what began as a very different half.

Whereas the U.S. were the aggressors at the opening kickoff, the 46th minute started with the Germans in control. Pressing for the quick score that would halve the States’ lead, Löw’s side converted a 52nd minute corner, Heiko Westermann getting space on Omar Gonzalez at nine yards out to head the Germans within one.

Though Germany initially continued their control after the goal, Westermann’s score evolved into a wakeup call, with the U.S. able to quell  German momentum after a set of 56th minute substitutions: Eddie Johnson coming on for Zusi; Edgar Castillo replacing  Beasley. With Johnson proving valuable for a team forced to rely on their transition game, the States were able to restore their two-goal lead at the hour mark.

In the 69th minute, a long ball from Jermaine Jones found Altidore isolated against Philipp Wollscheid. Able to bring the ball down and work his way to the byline, Altidore eventually played a pass back across the German area to Dempsey, whose right-footed shot from just inside the penalty area beat Ter Stegen into the left of goal, giving the U.S. a 3-1 lead.

The score pulled Dempsey even with Eric Wynalda for second on the U.S.’s all-time goal scoring list, a status that would last four minutes. In the 64th minute, Dempsey was given too much time on a left-footed shot from 24 yards out, curling his 35th international goal around Ter Stegen to give the U.S. a shocking 4-1 lead.

In the 79th minute, well after what seemed to be the match’s denouement, Werder Bremen attacker Max Kruse broke through with his first international goal. Allowed to cut across the defense from the left at the top of the penalty area, Kruse was given little resistance before letting go of a 19-yard shot that beat Howard into the left of the U.S.’s goal, cutting the States’ lead to two.

Less than two minutes later, Sidney Sam was allowed to make a similar move to Kruse’s, cutting in from the right side ahead of a left-footed shot from just outside the U.S. area. Howard’s push save left the ball at the edge of the six-yard box, allowing Draxler to make it 4-3.

Like Westermann’s early second half tally, the Germans’ late onslaught seemed to awaken the U.S., who eventually generated a chance for Eddie Johnson as they sought to reestablish a hold on the match. Yet over the the game’s final 10 minutes, fans were left gasping as speculative shots gave Germany faint hope of pulling off the huge comeback.

Shortly after the 92nd minute, however, after Howard had played a final, relief-granting ball out of the back, the U.S. heard the final whistle and were able to claim a huge, bounce back victory, capping their centennial celebration.

Beyond getting a much needed victory, the U.S. can look at the play of Altidore, the match’s best player, as a much-needed awakening. The AZ star had struggled under Jurgen Klinsmann, at one point left out of a squad last fall as he struggled to be productive in his new coach’s scheme. Even after reclaiming a regular place in the national team, the 23-year-old had struggled to make an impact.

With today’s performance, however, Altidore hinted his club influence may start to translate onto the international stage. Active as a outlet  and productive both producing and providing for goals, Altidore had his best performance in two years. It was  one of the best performances of his career.

For a U.S. team that has struggled to produce goals, it is difficult to imagine a more positive development coming out of Sunday’s friendly. Ahead of Friday’s World Cup Qualifier in Kingston, an Altidore awakening couldn’t have come at a better time.

Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Eriksen

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After months of posturing and working the back channels, it would appear that Christian Eriksen is close to getting his transfer away from Tottenham Hotspur.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

After months of posturing and holding firm, it would appear that Tottenham are close to getting their desired transfer fee for Eriksen despite his contract having only six months remaining.

After months of posturing and unsettling the 27-year-old star, it would appear that Inter Milan are close to getting their Danish international playmaker.

In the end, it would appear that everyone is going to get what they want, only no one truly gets what they want. Spurs spent the last year trying to sign Eriksen to a new contract; Eriksen wanted to leave in the summer and will feel like they wasted six months of his career; much like Inter would have been desperate to bolster their squad in the summer.

[ MORE: Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong ]

$22 million — the amount Spurs will reportedly receive from Inter — will hardly be enough to replace such an influential player, therefore Spurs come out of this long-running saga the worst of the bunch.

As for Eriksen and Inter, it’ll be a challenge for the player to immediately find his footing and shine ever so brightly in the midst of a title race, especially after the side has already slumped to back-to-back draws and fallen four points back of Juventus. Though, reportedly tripling his wages from Spurs to Inter leaves Eriksen the biggest winner in a mostly no-win situation.

Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

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MADRID — This is uncharted territory for many Atletico Madrid fans.

Few other times in recent years have they seen their team struggle so much under Diego Simeone.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

Few other times have they seen their coach fail so often while trying to put the team back on track.

Atletico hit a new low under Simeone on Thursday when it was eliminated by third-division club Cultural Leonesa in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. The 2-1 loss in extra time was the team’s worst result in the cup competition since losing to third-tier club Albacete at the same stage in 2011-12.

Two days after that loss in 2011, Atletico hired the then-mostly unknown Simeone to replace Gregorio Manzano, a move that kick-started one of the club’s most successful eras and led to a Spanish league title, two Europa League trophies and two Champions League final appearances.

Atletico did go through difficult moments under Simeone, including when the team failed to advance past the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago.

“There were always complicated moments in past seasons, maybe after we didn’t make it in the Champions League, or when we lost in the Champions League finals,” Simeone said. “After being at the club for so long, things like this can happen, although they shouldn’t happen.”

There is a greater sense of urgency about the team’s struggles this time.

In addition to Wednesday’s embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination, Atletico lost the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid on Jan. 12, and already is eight points off the Spanish league lead after 20 matches.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

Before, there used to be a notion that Simeone would quickly turn things around and put the team back on track, but this time there aren’t many signs things will improve again soon.

Atletico has yet to impress since undergoing its biggest squad revamp under Simeone at the end of last season, when it lost Antoine Griezmann and other veteran players such as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin. Young Portugal forward Joao Felix, who arrived to replace Griezmann after a transfer from Benfica worth more than 120 million euros ($133 million), has yet to meet expectations.

More concerning, Atletico is not being nearly as effective as it used to be, when it always seemed to find a way to win matches despite not playing well.

The team remains solid defensively — it has the second-best defense in the Spanish league with 14 goals conceded — but it hasn’t been able to do much in attack recently.

“Everything is harder when you can’t score,” Simeone said.

Only seven teams have scored fewer goals than Atletico’s 22 in the 20-team standings.

Diego Costa has been mostly out injured, and Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Alvaro Morata haven’t done much in attack. Morata is the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, and no one else has more than five.

“We have to be humble enough to be self-critical,” Simeone said. “We need to keep working to try to be ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us. We have a very good squad and I’m sure that the results that we want will start arriving soon.”

Atletico biggest chance to rebound will come next month against European champion Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg will be on Feb. 18 in Spain.

Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong

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Jose Mourinho seems to be quite happy that the Premier League will implement its first-ever winter break next month, allowing players a bit of rest and recovery time during a marathon campaign, but says its timing makes the break almost worthless for clubs competing in European competitions.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

The next four weeks will play out as follows for Tottenham Hotspur: FA Cup against Southampton this weekend; PL fixture against Manchester City next weekend; the following weekend off which results in two weeks without a game; PL fixture against Aston Villa the following weekend; Champions League first leg against RB Leipzig three days later.

In Mourinho’s perfect world, that first round of PL fixtures following the break would be held a week earlier, leaving the seven English clubs competing in the Champions League and Europa League with a week and a half between games before setting out once again to chase European glory. Instead, Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea will all have a quick turnaround from PL action to UCL competition — quotes from the Guardian:

“It is what it is. I’m not happy that the break comes in the wrong moment. The break should be before the Champions League and, in the end, before the Champions League we don’t have the break. We have to play Aston Villa on the Sunday, playing [RB Leipzig three] days later. So we don’t really care about the break, honestly.”

Mourinho’s point is a solid one: if the winter break is going to exist — and it should — then why shouldn’t its benefits be maximized? Non-European sides — typically those with smaller squads — would still have the full two weeks between games, while those in Europe are able to better leverage their slightly larger squads with only 10 or 11 days between games — still a lengthy break relative to the rest of the season.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

It’s only the first year of the winter break in the PL, so perhaps hopefully they’ll receive Mourinho’s criticism — and that of any other managers — constructively.

Serie A: AC Milan extends unbeaten run since Zlatan’s arrival

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BRESCIA, Italy (AP) Ante Rebic scored his third goal in two matches, goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was superb and AC Milan won 1-0 at relegation-threatened Brescia on Friday to climb into the Europa League places in Serie A.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

Rebic, who scored twice in a win over Udinese last weekend, pounced on a loose ball directly in front of the goal following a cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 71st minute.

Since Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan over the holiday break, Milan is unbeaten with four wins and a draw across all competitions.

Donnarumma produced several difficult saves to deny Dimitri Bisoli and Ernesto Torregrossa.

Also, Milan fullback Theo Hernandez hit the crossbar in the closing minutes.

The Rossoneri moved up to sixth place, four points behind fifth-place Atalanta.

[ MORE: Solskjaer’s transfer update; positive on rebuild ]

“Our goal is to qualify for Europe,” Donnarumma said. “We’ve got to continue like this and not rest for a moment. There’s another big Italian Cup match coming up with Torino midweek and we want to reach the semifinals.

“We’ll take it one game at a time and try to keep this momentum going.”

Brescia was without Mario Balotelli, who was suspended for two matches after protesting a booking last weekend that ended up with the striker being sent off.

Brescia remained one point above last-place Genoa.