Get to your DVRs as soon as possible, because that Italy-Japan match was a classic

2 Comments

Take an aging team, fly them half-way across the world, and ask them to play on short rest. On the other side, put a set of highly skilled, tactically adept players who’re more than willing to run all day. On the surface, it sounds like a mismatch, but when you one team’s Italy and the other’s Japan, it turns into a formula for fireworks.

And that’s exactly what happened today in Recife, where Italy scored last to claim three points in a 4-3 shootout that could have just as easily seen the Samurai Blue salvage their Confederations Cup hopes. But after a match with seven different goal scorers and 37 shots, Japan was cast aside with Mexico, both teams at the bottom of Group A after losing their first two matches. Italy move top of the group with Brazil, each team’s 2-0-0 record assuring them a place in the semifinals.

It was easily the most-entertaining match of the young tournament, one that challenged memories to find a more engaging, top-quality competitive international in recent time. Amid early Japanese dominance, Italy’s second half resurgence, Japan’s late push, and the Azzurri’s countering winner, controversial officiating and the woodwork’s intervention may have ended any debate as to why we have the Confederations Cup.

The Japanese thoroughly controlled the first 35 minutes, finally going ahead through Keisuke Honda, who converted from the spot after a fortuitous call gave Japan a 21st minute reward for their early dominance. A beautiful Shinji Kagawa pivot on a bouncing ball 12 minutes later saw the Manchester United star volley a second past Gianluigi Buffon, leaving Italy overwhelmed while the underdogs assumed control:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwfaWHQF3BU]

A late first half header from Daniele de Rossi made it a game before half time, with Italy building on their momentum with early second half goals from Atsuto Uchida (own goal) and Mario Balotelli. The latter, a penalty kick conversation, came after a disputed hand ball call, Japan’s luck seemingly evening out after an innocuous Buffon tackle was deemed penalty-worthy in the first half.

Over the match’s last half hour, Japan resumed the dominance they showed at the onset, a tired Italian side strained to preserve a result after Shinji Okazaki’s header made it 3-3. But as Japan pressed for a winner, Okazaki and Kagawa finding the post and crossbar as Buffon flailed at Japan’s salvos, Italy found a single, trademark, decisive moment, a rare moment of attacking verve allowing Sebastian Giovinco to slot home the winner in the 86th minute.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zXk9or_hoI]

Japan had a final equalizer rightly waved off for offside, but the final scorer proved beside the point once full time was blown. Particularly in tournament like the Confederations Cup, there have to be more important things than the final score. On Wednesday, the spectacle on display at the Pernambuco Arena was enough to justify any match, tournament, or outcome. And wherever that magic came from, find it, save it, and be ready to give us more.

Manchester United draws Club America 1-1 on Mata goal

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester United began Jose Mourinho’s “very bad” preseason with a drab 1-1 draw against Liga MX side Club America.

Juan Mata hit the post in the opening 20 minutes and later scored the equalizer in the 78th minute after Ander Herrera‘s header rebounded off the crossbar and right into the Spaniard’s lap. Mata then put his shot through the goalkeeper’s legs and in for the only goal for the Red Devils.

With many players receiving extra rest after participating in the 2018 World Cup, Manchester United is utilizing a bit-part roster for much of the preseason which includes five matches in the United States. Regulars Mata, Herrera, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, and Antonio Valencia were all included in the starting lineup, but they were joined by a smattering of relative unknowns.

35-year-old journeyman goalkeeper Lee Grant played the first 45 minutes between the sticks, replaced in the second half by 22-year-old Joel Peirera. 22-year-old midfielder Andreas Pereira played the full 90 minutes in midfield, while 21-year-old winger Demetri Mitchell saw his name listed among the starters along with Scott McTominay, who suffered a nasty looking head injury late in the match on an overhead kick attempt.

16-year-old Mason Greenwood got a few minutes towards the end, with Mourinho hoping to get a quick look at the club’s U-18 leading scorer. Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Alex Tuanzebe also both came off the bench to participate, as did 18-year-old former Feyenoord youth product Tahith Chong who was impressive during his second-half appearance.

While Manchester United held a slight majority in possession, Club America out-shot the Premier League giants 15-10, however the Liga MX side could only manage to put four of those on target.

Pep: Hart’s future uncertain, will play in preseason

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Joe Hart has returned to Manchester City after spending last season on loan at West Ham, and his future is very much up in the air as it stands.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola was asked about Hart’s situation at the pre-match press conference prior to City’s International Champions Cup match against Borussia Dortmund. He confirmed they are shopping the English veteran. “We’re going to try and make a solution for Joe,” Guardiola told reporters, “but if not then he is with us. He’s one of the best professionals I’ve ever seen but at this moment he is with us.”

Guardiola also confirmed that Hart would play in the preseason game against Dortmund. Starting goalkeeper Ederson is not on the roster for the US preseason tour, having returned from participation in the 2018 World Cup with Brazil, although he didn’t play as he served as Alisson’s backup.

The former #1 England goalkeeper, Hart has struggled mightily in recent seasons. He last played a full Premier League season back in 2015/16, starting 35 games for Manchester City. However, he lost his place the following year and was loaned to Italian top flight club Torino. He had mixed success during his one year in Italy and was loaned out to West Ham last campaign with Ederson and Claudio Bravo entrenched at his parent club. Hart only made it half the season before losing his starting spot for the Hammers, replaced by Adrian. That saw him lose not just starting job with the England national team but his place in the squad, forcing Gareth Southgate to take a trio of inexperienced goalkeepers to the World Cup, leading to the emergence of Jordan Pickford.

West Ham returned Hart to Manchester City at the end of the season, and here he sits in limbo again. Hart has just one more year left on his contract, but according to the Manchester Evening News, wants to leave this season on a permanent deal anyway.

Tomorrow, Hart will get the opportunity – albeit a small one – to showcase himself to potential suitors. If he gets another chance to play in the ICC (Manchester City plays Liverpool and Bayern Munich before heading home to England), he will have another opportunity to plead his case.

Report: Leicester to pluck Danny Ward from Liverpool

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the announcement of Alisson’s signing on Thursday, Liverpool has spent over $200 million this summer, but it seems they’ve already begun to trim the squad and even out the net spend by a bit.

According to the Liverpool Echo, the Reds have agreed to sell 25-year-old goalkeeper Danny Ward to Leicester City, with the clubs agreeing to a $16.2 million fee. The report also states the deal includes a 20% sell-on fee, meaning Liverpool will receive 20% of any transfer fee Leicester City receives for Ward during the life of his next contract.

[ MORE: Alisson signs for Liverpool ]

Ward has spent the last six seasons with Liverpool after signing from small non-league club Wrexham in 2012 as a 19-year-old. However, he has played more games for the Welsh international team (4) than he has for Liverpool (3). Previously stuck behind Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius, the arrival of Alisson meant the club needed to make room.

Leicester City already has Kasper Schmeichel firmly entrenched between the sticks. However, especially after a stellar 2018 World Cup with Denmark where he was considered among the top choices for the Golden Glove award, Schmeichel is a wanted man and 31 years old and a contract with three more years remaining, Schmeichel’s time at King Power Stadium could be limited.

The addition of Ward at the very least would allow Schmeichel some time off. The Dane was stretched thin last season as not just the Premier League starter but also used in a few cup games with only Eldin Jakupovic behind him. Now, it’s realistic that Ward could receive time in Cup competitions, leaving Schmeichel to rest up for league games.

Reports: Conte to sue Chelsea over how firing was handled

Getty Images
1 Comment

According to reports in Italy, and backed up by those in England, Antonio Conte is planning to sue Chelsea over the way the club handled his exit this summer.

Chelsea is reportedly planning to pay Conte the rest of his salary in full, but the reports state that the Italian is unhappy how long it took the club to confirm his exit, leaving him unable to secure a job commiserate with his experience level for this coming season.

The 48-year-old is set to receive nearly $12 million as compensation for the final year of his now-terminated contract, but is looking for additional damages given the timing of his departure. Despite the writing clearly on the wall, Conte had weeks of silence from the club, before being pulled back to London to begin pre-season training with the squad for just four days before he was then let go.

Upon his release, Conte released a relatively benign statement thanking the club, the fans, the staff, and the players, but notably did not thank the board or owner Roman Abramovich.

Things between Chelsea and Conte have been testy for some time now. It was reported earlier last month – before Conte was officially let go – that Chelsea was planning to withhold payment of Conte’s remaining salary and sue the Italian for costing the club money for former striker Diego Costa. Costa told the media he received a text message from Conte while on international duty last summer that he was no longer wanted at the club. If true, the club could have argued that Conte botched the situation and cost the club a significant amount of money. However, it seems the club has – for now – decided not to pursue the lawsuit, with reports stating that Conte is set to receive his salary in full.