United States is streaking as a team – but not so spectacularly as Landon Donovan is individually

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ARLINGTON, Texas – There is a streak that everyone is talking about around the United States national team – but it’s the wrong one.

Yes, this showy 10-game winning streak is a record for the program, so it’s remarkable on its face. But reporters keep asking players about it, the normal course of action. Thing is, it started with a completely different set of performers (the first-choice team rather than the current, second group) so it doesn’t “feel” like a streak to Gold Cup bunch.

On the other hand, here is a streak that actually is something to which we should all raise a glass:

Landon Donovan has contributed directly to every goal the United States has scored in the last three matches. That would be saying something around any winning team, but consider that Jurgen Klinsmann’s bunch of high fliers have scored nine of them over that period!

Let that sink in.

[MORE: U.S. eases past Honduras, into Gold Cup final]

Donovan has scored or assisted on eight of them; he played a heavy role in one other but didn’t get credit for the official assist.

“I’m enjoying myself, and it’s the most relaxed I’ve ever felt,” he said minutes after doing his part and then some in Wednesday’s 3-1 dismantling of Honduras. (It really was more dominant that “3-1” sounds.”

Donovan set Eddie Johnson free for the first U.S. strike and later skillfully brought down a ball with his chest before directing it calmly into goal for a 2-0 lead. After the break, it was Donovan once again, this time with a soul-crusher as he finished off Alejandro Bedoya’s hard work to re-establish his team’s two-goal margin.

All that after contributing to all five goals in Sunday’s quarterfinal win over El Salvador. And that was after Donovan’s sweet cross-field pass finally arranged the breakthrough goal against Costa Rica in the final match of Gold Cup group play.

[MORE: U.S. cruising like never before in Gold Cup]

Consider some other numbers as Donovan, easily the best U.S. man of the tournament so far, continues to stack the dandy facts:

  • Donovan has five goals and seven assists in the Gold Cup. That’s a good season for a lot of players; Donovan has done that in five matches.
  • He is now the tournament’s co-leading scorer along with teammate Chris Wondolowski.
  • Donovan has 17 career Gold Cup goals.
  • As for the bigger picture, he keeps padding the all-time U.S. men’s national team lead in goals (56) and assists (also 56). He keeps pulling away from any pursuers although, truly, there aren’t any active men in the player pool with anything more than an outside chance of catching him.
  • He had played in 432 straight minutes, more than any U.S. man, before being subbed out by Wondolowski in Wednesday’s 72nd minute.

It’s still too much of a stretch to say the United States would not be in Sunday’s final without Donovan; truly, the U.S. side has just looked too dominant to say such a thing. But it does seem fair to pronounce that this tournament might look very different without all the brilliant work from the team’s best creator. We might be talking about a bunch that is arriving dutifully into the final, but perhaps not about one that is mercilessly brushing opposition aside with a relative ease.

A lot of that is about Donovan.

[MORE: What worked, didn’t work with Klinsmann’s changes]

“We are all very proud that he is proving a point,” Klinsmann said, mentioning Donovan’s drive to get back into the first-choice team for upcoming World Cup qualifiers. “With every game he wants to prove that, to show that, not only on the field, but off the field, too, the way is has re-integrated himself into the group.”

“In our conversations I have told him, “Your benchmark is the best Landon Donovan ever.” And that I am not taking anything less than that. I think he is trying to catch up with that. So, give him more games more time. Obviously every game helps him.”

Sweden players, coaches left fuming after last-minute loss

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A last-minute goal. A non-called penalty. A disrespectful celebration.

Sweden had a lot to be upset about when the final whistle blew on Saturday.

[ MORE: Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion” ]

The Swedes were within seconds of holding defending champion Germany to a draw, and moving into good position to advance to the round of 16 at the World Cup, when Toni Kroos scored deep into stoppage time to give Germany a 2-1 come-from-behind victory.

“I’m sorry that we didn’t get at least one point,” Sweden coach Janne Andersson said. “But I’m not blaming anyone tactically or analyzing too much right now, there are so many emotions going around. This is probably the heaviest conclusion that I’ve experienced in my career.”

Kroos’ goal from a set piece came in the fifth and final minute of injury time. The draw would have kept Sweden ahead of Germany in Group F and needing only a draw against Mexico in the last match.

[ MORE: Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination ]

“It was just bad luck,” Sweden forward John Guidetti said. “Now we need to try to find a way to win the last match. In a few days we play again and we have to win it. It’s simple.”

Germany, which is tied with Sweden on points and goal difference, will play against South Korea in the final round.

“We still have an excellent opportunity to qualify,” Andersson said. “Now we have to clean up, tidy up after this game. We’re going to do that.”

The Swedes were leading Germany at halftime thanks to Ola Toivonen’s goal in the 32nd minute at Fisht Stadium. They felt they could have been ahead even earlier if the referee had called a penalty when Marcus Berg appeared to be fouled inside the area with a clear chance to score. There was no formal video review called for.

“If we have the (VAR) system, it’s very unfortunate that he (the referee) can feel so secure in the moment that he doesn’t go and have a look at the situation,” Andersson said.

He and the Swedish players said they also couldn’t understand why Germany decided to celebrate near their bench.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“You shouldn’t celebrate in front of our bench the way they did, that’s disrespectful,” Guidetti said. “You can celebrate with your own fans. Don’t celebrate in front of our bench like that. That’s why they apologized, because they knew they did something wrong.”

Andersson said he was “very annoyed” by seeing the Germany team “running in our direction and rubbing it in our faces by making gestures.”

“We fought hard for 95 minutes,” he said. “And when the final whistle blows, you shake hands.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 11 — England, Colombia back in action

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Day 11 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Sunday, with England back in action and in need of three points — and a resounding win — to keep pace with Belgium in Group G.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Following Belgium’s 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia — the same side that England beat in stoppage time earlier in the week — on Saturday, the Red Devils have positioned themselves perfectly to win the group with a draw against the Three Lions on Thursday. England need a five-goal victory at 6-1 or higher to the finish top of the group following a draw on the final day.

Then, it’s a pair of Group H fixtures, kicked off with Japan (1st) versus Senegal (2nd) — both of whom won their first game — followed by Poland (3rd) versus Colombia (4th).

Below is Sunday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Sunday, June 24

Group G
England vs. Panama: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group H
Japan vs. Senegal: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Colombia: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

FIFA opens case against Xhaka, Shaqiri for celebrations

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FIFA’s disciplinary committee opened disciplinary proceedings against Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri for politically charged goal celebrations during their 2-1 World Cup win over Serbia in Kaliningrad.

[ MORE: The meaning behind Xhaka, Shaqiri’s eagle celebration ]

FIFA also said Saturday it has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian Football Association for crowd disturbance and the display of political and offensive messages by Serbian fans. FIFA also is reviewing statements that Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic made after the match.

Xhaka and Shaqiri celebrated their goals by making a nationalist symbol of their ethnic Albanian heritage. Both of their families come from Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The Polish Football Association was fined $10,100 and given a warning by FIFA’s disciplinary committee for a banner that the governing body deemed political and offensive. The banner was displayed during Senegal’s 2-1 win over Poland on Tuesday in Moscow.

The committee also opened disciplinary proceedings against the federations of Argentina and Croatia for crowd disturbances during Croatia’s 3-0 win Thursday at Nizhny Novgorod.

Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion”

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At 1-0 down, they were headed for elimination in the group stage (with a game still to play); once level at 1-1, they faced yet a steep hill to climb on the final day of the group stage; after Toni Kroos scored his stunning 94th-minute winner, Joachim Low could finally exhale and imagine himself managing the German national team for another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Sweden at the 2018 World Cup was, for most intents and purposes, a worrying performance for the defending world champions. Fortunately for Low and Co., the one place in which their comeback dramatic victory was a raging success is the only one that matters: the Group F table, where Die Mannschaft currently (somehow) sit second and control their own destiny — quotes from the BBC:

“This was a thriller, full of emotion, right up until the final whistle. Brandt hit the goal post just three minutes before the end too. We took out a defensive player and brought on an attacking player because we knew had to bring on everything we had to turn it round.

“We had a couple of great chances — Mario Gomez’s header being one of them. The last couple of minutes were full of drama but those matches exist in football. We’ve had these situations in other tournaments as well. For the viewers that’s part of the attractiveness of football.”

“Something I did appreciate today was that we didn’t lose our nerve, we didn’t panic after going a goal down. We kept a level head and said we needed to make quick passes and tire the Swedes out to open up spaces.

“We didn’t score a couple of good chances but we never lost hope we could win the match and I think the goal scored in stoppage time had a bit of luck involved but it did show the belief we had in ourselves.”

There’s still plenty of work to do for one of the most popular pre-tournament favorites — there’s a little matter of needing to beat, or at the very least, best Sweden’s result against Mexico — but that can wait until tomorrow, because Saturday unexpectedly became all about survival.