Cuba up next for United States national team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup

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Cuba is likely to pose a little more threat today than little Belize could to the United States’ stab at dominance in the CONCACAF Gold Cup group stage – but only a little bit more.

There are definitely tougher tasks ahead in the three-week tournament to crown a regional champion in North and Central America and the Caribbean, they are just slow to arrive for Jurgen Klinsmann’s men, who made quick work of its first match, a 6-1 win in Portland.

The team relocated south to Salt Lake City for today’s contest against Cuba, which had  its own troubles in a 3-0 loss to Costa Rica to open the Gold Cup.

It did take the Ticos of Costa Rica 51 minutes to break through on Tuesday, finally bettering the Cuban back line and beating Cuban goalkeeper Odelin Molina, who looked suspect on more than one of the goals.

”We got a little bit disorganized in the second half, which cost us the result,” Cuban manager Walter Benitez said.

More of the same will surely cost Cuba goals Saturday when the teams line up at Rio Tinto Stadium just outside of Salt Lake City. (Kickoff is set  for 3:30 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer Channel.) That’s because fate has intervened to stockpile the U.S. lineup with two or three attackers who might not be around otherwise.

Klinsmann has a “B” team for this tournament, giving some of the top men in the U.S. player pool a few weeks off before they get back into league play in Europe. More accurately, he “mostly” has a “B” team.

Turns out, the national team’s all-time leader in goals and assists, Landon Donovan, needed re-introduction into the national team after his well-documented time away from pro soccer. So he was around to strike twice in a 6-0 rout of Guatemala eight days ago, and then to chip in a goal and two assists in an equally dominant 6-1 win over Belize to open the Americans’ Gold Cup account

With the two assists, Donovan became the first national team man record 50 career goals and 50 assists. Not bad for a “B” team type, eh?

Then there’s Stuart Holden, who would definitely be among the first 16-18 players in the U.S. pool but for those career-threatening injuries that stripped away almost two years from the versatile midfielder. The Gold Cup is also Holden’s re-introduction.

(MORE: Player ratings from the win over Guatemala)

(MORE: Player ratings from the 6-0 win over Belize)

Even if the opposition is decidedly of the lightweight variety, Holden’s first two extensive runs in the national team shirt have been wonderfully encouraging for all.

“For me now it’s not a matter of being back, it’s a matter of getting better than that,” Holden said after playing 45 minutes against Belize. “I want to be better than I was before. I want to reach new heights that I didn’t before my injury. In terms of being back, that word is overplayed. I’m there. It’s just a matter of fine tuning and taking it to the next level.”

Brek Shea has also appeared threatening along the U.S. left side in the matches of the last eight days. He was a first-choice type when Klinsmann took the U.S. post almost two years ago, but lost his way amid a string of injuries and a move to Stoke City that has yet to pay dividends.

Klinsmann has personnel choices, like whether to bring Oguchi Onyewu back into the central defense. And whether to get Herculez Gomez back into the starting lineup, which could come at the expense of Chris Wondolowski, who had three goals in a hige night  in Portland against Belize.

With a tougher match coming up against Costa Rica, Klinsmann also has the option of using the match to rest some of the starters and introduce some younger types, like MLS scoring sensation Jack McInerney, who is in his first camp with the senior national team.

“The decisions for Gooch (Onyewu) and Herc (Gomez) were based on the fact that they’ve had knee issues in the past and we didn’t want to risk anything on the turf field,” Klinsmann said in explaining some of Tuesday’s lineup choices. “The same thing with Stuart Holden was that if we need you, you’ll come off the bench when things open up a little bit. There are always situations when it’s not that kind of style in the game and others have the opportunity. Wondo realizes every minute he’s on the field that he has an opportunity, and he better take it, and he did very well.”

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Fekir negotiations back on; Chelsea waiting on transfer targets; and more

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Could Liverpool get its star attacking midfield target after all?

That’s what seems to be the case, as the agent for Lyon and France midfielder Nabil Fekir told French TV channel LCI Monday evening that negotiations aren’t over between Liverpool and Lyon.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“He didn’t sign because um… it is not over! This is not the end of the story,” Fekir’s agent, Jean-Pierre Bernes reportedly said.

It was just two weeks ago when Lyon president Jean-Michael Aulas stated that Fekir, Lyon’s captain, would remain with the club for the upcoming season, after negotiations with Liverpool fell through. According to the Liverpool Echo, the Reds wanted a second opinion on a previous knee injury, and had balked at the $70 million price tag.

But now it appears Liverpool and Aulas could still be in conversations to try and find a mutually accepted fee.

At the same time, stirring up transfer drama is in Bernes interest, as it could drive other teams into the race to sign Fekir and raise his transfer fee, meaning more money to him, Fekir (if he gets a cut) and Lyon. Watch this space for more to come during and after the World Cup.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from across the Premier League and Europe:

(more…)

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.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

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.