USA beat Cuba 4-1 to make Gold Cup quarterfinals

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The US national team overturned a first half deficit to defeat Cuba 4-1 on Saturday night in Utah.

A lively crowd gathered to cheer on the USA, but they were left reeling after a spirited effort from Cuba in the first half.

However the Yanks got their act together in the second period as the comeback victory was sealed by two goals from substitute Chris Wondolowski and strikes from Joe Corona and Landon Donovan. The win was also the USA’s seventh victory in a row, tying their all-time record.

And Jurgen Klinsmann’s side are now through to the quarterfinal stages of the Gold Cup for the 13th consecutive time.

In what was a largely sluggish first half display from the Nats in sunny Utah, the Cubans grew in stature as they continued to thwart the USA with solid defense.

And after 36 minutes Cuba got their reward for being patient.

Left back Edgar Castillo was left flat footed by Cuba’s speedy attacker Ariel Martinez and captain Oguchi Onyewu was caught napping to allow Jose Alfonso to score and give Cuba a shock 1-0 lead. Cuba had their tails up after their opening goal as they searched for just their second win in Gold Cup history.

There were a few half chances for the USA from set pieces, but Klinsmann’s men really didn’t get going at all in the first half.

Donovan missed a clear header at the back post in the 42nd minute and in the 43rd minute the US thought they were back level, as Donovan slotted home Herculez Gomez’ knockdown from close range. But the assistant raised his flag as the LA Galaxy forward strayed offside by about a yard.

(MORE: Three things we learned from U.S. victory over Cuba)

That could have changed the whole outlook of the game. But luckily the turning point arrived soon after.

Right on half time a surging run from Brek Shea created the opening as Castillo played a one-two with Donovan and the Club Tijuana man was brought down in the box. The referee pointed to the spot and Donovan stepped up to score his 53rd goal for the US to make it 1-1.

Brek Shea got injured at the end of the half and was replaced by Jose Torres at the break. Shea did well in stages but certainly struggled to emulate the form he found whilst at FC Dallas.

Cuban goalkeeper Odelin Molina was in fine form to stop the US from taking the lead early in the second half, saving Michael Orozco’s header in the 49th minute.

The US kept pushing hard and finally went ahead in the 57th minute when Joe Corona blasted home from the edge of the box. The goal was his first international goal and a sweet strike from the Club Tijuana attacker.

But less than a minute after Corona put the U.S. ahead, Onyewu looked to have given away a penalty after a clumsy tackle on Alfonso. Onyewu’s lunge inside the box was waved away and replays showed that he did get his foot to the ball, just. Nevertheless, the Cuban players were incensed with the referees decision.

Chris Wondolowski jumped off the bench to put the USA up 3-1, continuing his terrific form for the national team. The San Jose Earthquakes striker pounced to prod home Kyle Beckerman’s teasing ball in the 65th minute.

(MORE: Wondolowski revealed hidden “W” on jersey, as misspelling does the trick again)

Despite the USA dominating for large spells as they game closed out, Cuba were still dangerous on the break as Nick Rimando was forced into a good smothering save in the 80th minute.

But the predatory instincts of Wondolowski showed up once more as he scored his sixth goal in three games for the USA, after being slotted in beautifully by Castillo in the 85th minute.

Klinsmann’s men saw off the game with relative ease after an early scare, as the US comfortably sealed their passage into the Gold Cup knockout stages.

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina squad

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Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.

Modric urges humility after big win, stunning goal (video)

AP Photo / Ricardo Mazalan
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There are few teams who’ve looked as strong as Croatia at the World Cup in Russia.

[ RECAP: Argentina 0-3 Croatia ]

Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.

The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.

Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”

Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”

That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni. 

Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.

“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”

Croatia smashes disheveled Argentina

AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan
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Ante Rebic, Luka Modric, and Ivan Rakitic have Croatia in the knockout rounds and Argentina on the verge of World Cup disaster.

Croatia scored a trio of second half goals, one aided by a Willy Caballero howler, in a 3-0 win in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday.

Argentina will enter its final match against Nigeria on the outskirts of the knockout rounds regardless of how Nigeria-Iceland ends on Friday.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Ivan Perisic forced a big save out of Wily Caballero for an early Croatia corner kick that came to nothing.

Messi had a chance stopped inside of 10 minutes, then started a play that Dejan Lovren blocked for a corner in the 13th.

Enzo Perez missed an open goal off a poor Croatia giveaway in the 30th minute.

There were a pair of fouls not out of place on a red card lowlight reel, one for each team, but neither resulting in a sending off.

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Croatia took the lead through Caballero’s gaffe and Rebic’s smash in the 54th.

Argentina nearly answered moments later. After a mazy Messi dribble, Argentina regained possession in the 64th minute, spearheaded by a Gonzalo Higuain run that led to a corner.

Croatia came close to making it 2-0, as Mario Mandzukic couldn’t turn a flick on frame and instead saw it glide into the outside of the goal.

Then Modric put the match to bed as the clock hit 80, an absolute beauty. Another huge defensive mistake allowed Mateo Kovacic to cue up Rakitic for the third.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

WATCH: Caballero blunder punished as Rebic rip puts Argentina on ropes

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Willy Caballero has made one of the bigger blunders in recent World Cup history.

His Argentina side needs at least a point from Thursday’s match-up with Croatia, and the match remained scoreless into halftime.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

But 10 minutes after the break, Caballero flubbed a clearance in a big way.

The Argentina goalkeeper then could only watch as Ante Rebic kept his composure to blast a side volley into the goal.

It was a fine finish, to be sure, but not possible without such a terrible gaffe.