Vedad Ibisevic goal puts Bosnia and Herzegovina into their first World Cup

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For 60 minutes, Bosnia and Herzegovina supporters were left pondering a missed opportunity. Lithuania were holding their team, first in UEFA’s Group G, to a nil-nil after an hour in Kaunas. Meanwhile, Greece had done up through Dimitris Salpigidis after seven minutes at home against Liechtenstein. If those results held, Greece would win the group, qualify for Brazil 2014, and send Bosnia and Herzegovina to another playoff.

Then the breakthrough – the team’s two star forwards combining to alleviate their fans’ festering worry. Lithuania did their part, too, their defense falling to stop Edin Dzeko from reaching byline left of goal before crossing for an unmarked Vedad Ibisevic in the six-yard box. The Stuttgart striker’s redirection past a helpless Giedrius Arlauskis not only put his team in front, it gave soccer fans among his nation’s 3.8 million reason to hope this close call would fall in Bosnia’s favor.

Twenty-five minutes later, their hopes were realized. Bosnia had qualified for the first World Cup in the nation’s 21-year history/ The 1-0 result leaves them with 25 points in 10 games, same as Greece, but thanks to a +26 goal difference (Greece: +8), a team that’s been playing under their own name for just over 10 years has made their first major soccer tournament.

They’d come close in 2010, qualifying for a playoff before losing to Portugal, 2-0 over two legs. The failure to reach South Africa emboldened hopes to qualify for Euro 2012, dreams dashed by another playoff loss. This time, the Portuguese sent them crashing out with a 6-2 romp.

That’s why avoiding a playoff was so vital. Perhaps Safet Susic’s team could finally tame that beast, but there was a feeling of inevitability about going to another winner-take-all match. Been there, done that, and especially having to go through it again after having Group G in their grasp, Bosnia and Herzegovina had more reason than most to avoid a playoff.

Instead, the team’s made history, something that could prove significant for a country that was set up and still exists as a divided entity. Those divides aren’t formally maintained in the national team, so although it’s always a bit altruistic to assume sport can serve as a rallying point, in Bosnia, there is a chance World Cup 2014 can have symbolic value. The potential for a divided nation to function as a unit exists. At least, it does on the soccer field.

In time the Ibisevic goal could become to Bosnian soccer what Paul Caligiuri’s “Shot Heard Around The World” is in the U.S., only its potential importance could be much greater. Both goals sent their countries to World Cups, but in the case of Bosnia, Ibisevic’s goal has the potential to symbolize much more.

Sadio Mane injury update

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An injury update has arrived on Sadio Mane after the Liverpool winger was subbed off in the first half of their 2-1 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Thursday.

Mane, 27, is Liverpool’s leading goalscorer this season and the Senegalese star has taken his game to a new level.

Asked for an update on Mane’s fitness, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp confirmed the details and that the Premier League leaders will assess the damage further.

“Sadio is a real shame he had to go off,” Klopp said. “Hopefully it’s not too bad – just a muscle tweak, but we will see tomorrow.”

Asked about their gruelling schedule coming up before their mid-season player break in mid-February, Liverpool’s boss basically confirmed that Mane will not play in the FA Cup fourth round this weekend.

“That is tough and it’s probably without Sadio,” Klopp said when asked about their FA Cup trip to Shrewsbury on Sunday.

Klopp was then about the pressure of being 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League table and look nailed on to win their first league title in over 30 years, Klopp shrugged it off but mentioned that the next week will take a big toll on his players.

“I didn’t think about it, I know we play Sunday at Shrewsbury, I know we play Wednesday at West Ham and I know we play Saturday,” Klopp said. “That’s three games in seven days which is a lot. We lost Sadio Mane and that’s the pressure I think about. All the rest is no pressure.”

Mane has spearheaded Liverpool’s title procession this season and there seems to be no real need to rush him back from a hamstring injury.

With the damage done and Liverpool’s Premier League title all but secured, Klopp should focus on having him fit for their upcoming UEFA Champions League knockout games. That should be the focus as the likes of Divock Origi, Takumi Minamino, Curtis Jones and Xherdan Shaqiri can step in for Mane.

Liverpool cannot replace Mane, especially given his form this season, but given the comfortable situation they find themselves in there’s no need to risk losing him for an extended period of time.

Javier Hernandez explains retirement comments

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Javier ‘Chicharito‘ has explained comments he made about his move to the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer as he mentioned the word ‘retirement’ in his YouTube reality show which featured him talking about his move to LA.

That’s right, using the words retirement and MLS in the same sentence will unleash an unreal level of fury among the most ardent supporters of North America’s top-flight.

Chicharito, 31, was shown in tears as he spoke with his parents on the phone about his move to the Galaxy and it appears his comments have been blown out of proportion as he was speaking about the end of his European journey as he returns to North America.

“It’s so simple. I think all over the world, but in my country, we love and we are, like, obsessed with drama and excess,” Hernandez said. “They don’t really listen to what I said at the beginning of the retirement (comment). This retirement could last 10 years. That word is strong for them when I mention (retirement), but it’s just the beginning of that. Hopefully this beginning is going to last so long.”

Drama? LA? Soccer? Surely not…

Hernandez has issued some much-needed perspective on this topic. Is he heading towards the end of his career? Well, folks, water is wet. Anybody who tries to say MLS is not a great place for stars from Europe to see out the final years of their careers is in denial. There is still a place in MLS for huge names to raise the profile of the league and have a swansong while they are paid handsomely.

MLS isn’t dominated by those type of players anymore but we’ve all seen the success David Villa, Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane had and more recently Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney.

Yes, Hernandez probably should have not used the word ‘retirement’ but it was taken out of context and even if he now realizes he’s in the final years of his career he seems hellbent on enjoying them in the USA as he tries to restore the Galaxy’s status as the elite club in MLS.

Chicharito is keeping it real and we salute him for that. Anybody who has a serious problem with his comments should probably just go back to yelling at the clouds.

Chicharito seizes chance to be center of the Galaxy

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Carson, Calif. — Javier Hernandez has been to the top of the soccer world. He spent the last 10 years in Europe’s top leagues, winning trophies and representing some of the biggest clubs.

Yet from Manchester United to Sevilla, the Mexican striker better known as Chicharito often struggled to get consistent playing time.

Whether his path was blocked by Wayne Rooney‘s brilliance or a manager’s lack of confidence in him, Hernandez rarely got to show his full talent. When he wasn’t fighting injuries, he often served as a key backup instead of a centerpiece.

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That’s the main reason the 31-year-old Hernandez agreed to return to North America with the LA Galaxy, who introduced their latest superstar acquisition Thursday.

Chicharito is the center of the Galaxy now, and he is thrilled.

“I just want to play,” Hernandez said in his distinctively rapid bilingual delivery. “This league and this team, it’s giving me that opportunity (to show) that I’m one of the best players around the world. That’s why they want me to be here, to try to improve this league and this team. … It’s a win-win-win-win. I know I’ll be on the pitch most of the time if I keep working hard for the club. I’m going to be doing what I loved since I was in the belly of my mother.”

With Chicharito playing in only nine games so far this season for Sevilla, the timing was finally perfect for this long-rumored combination of player and club.

While the Galaxy made major improvements and reached the playoffs last season behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s franchise-record 30 goals, they desperately needed another topflight striker at the center of coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s attack when Ibrahimovic chose to return to Europe. Unlike most Major League Soccer clubs, the Galaxy have the money to go get elite talents, even in the January transfer window.

Hernandez is well aware of the five-time MLS champions’ history of landing world-class players, reeling off his own list of favorites: “Robbie Keane. Steven Gerrard. Giovani Dos Santos. Jonathan Dos Santos. Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Landon Donovan. David Beckham, that’s the most iconic one, obviously. And then my name is over those. I’m just so blessed and so humble that I can be a part of all this.”

The speedy, shifty Chicharito likely fits Barros Schlelotto’s style even better than the hulking Zlatan, and the Argentine coach worked aggressively behind the scenes to land Hernandez.

While Chicharito’s European career got off to a strong start at Manchester United under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, he repeatedly struggled elsewhere when managers clearly didn’t believe in his abilities.

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“More than anybody, Guillermo was involved in making it happen,” said Galaxy general manager Dennis Te Kloese, who has known Chicharito since the player’s childhood. “In the end, it had to do with Javier’s interest in being a part of this organization because he’s going to be in a team and with a coach who has a lot of trust in him.”

That clearly wasn’t always the case in Hernandez’s European career. After four years in Manchester, Chicharito spent one season at Real Madrid and two more at Bayer Leverkusen, followed by two seasons back in the Premiership at West Ham. He scored goals at every stop, but never landed a permanent, consistent role matching his importance to the Mexican national team.

“I think what makes a lot of the world-class players even better is (how) they get used to their circumstances,” Chicharito said. “That’s something that I think I can bring. I want to show them that I’ve never been a selfish player – even though strikers are going to be in front of everyone, and I’m probably going to take the shot. I’m completely motivated.”

The top goal-scorer in the history of the Mexican national team already knows Los Angeles from many trips representing El Tri, which is invariably treated as the home team at the Rose Bowl by California’s massive Mexican-American population. Chicharito was greeted at the airport by hundreds of noisy fans when he arrived with his young family Wednesday night.

“I’ve been playing in this country since I was 16 years old,” Chicharito said. “I’ve won a lot of games here, and I’ve been treated with a lot of value and respect. I want that, and it’s coming from the best club in the USA. They came to get me, and that speaks of what they think of me.”

While the MLS is an undeniable step back in overall exposure and competition, Hernandez knows he will deal with even more scrutiny on his home continent from the fans and Spanish-language media based in Los Angeles.

That extra scrutiny has already started: When Chicharito’s YouTube reality show released an episode Wednesday in which Hernandez told his father that moving to the Galaxy was “like the beginning of my retirement,” fans and critics immediately seized on the term often used to denigrate MLS.

Chicharito explained himself with a smile before he held aloft his Galaxy jersey and formally began his next chapter.

“In my country, we love and we are, like, obsessed with drama and excess,” Hernandez said, clarifying that he only meant he had finished the European portion of his career.

“They don’t really listen to what I said at the beginning of the retirement (comment). This retirement could last 10 years. That word is strong for them when I mention (retirement), but it’s just the beginning of that. Hopefully this beginning is going to last so long.”

Simeone has no plans to leave Atletico Madrid despite setbacks

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It might seem insane, the idea that anyone other than Diego Simeone would manage Atletico Madrid any time soon.

And if the 49-year-old Argentine manager comes available, the market for his services is going to be active.

Simeone was answering questions about his future following Atleti’s stunning 2-1 loss to third-tier Cultural Leonessa in the Copa del Rey’s Round of 32 on Thursday.

“I have the desire to work like every day since I arrived,” Simeone said, via Marca. “The penalties or the extra time in the Champions League didn’t change me, nor will going out in this round. I have an important squad and results will come soon.”

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Simeone has led Atleti to a La Liga crown, two Europa League titles, and a pair of Champions League finals.

He’s a three-time La Liga coach of the year, and Atleti has finished Top Three in all of his seasons at the club except 2011/12. He was hired in December of that year and won Europa.

The third-place run is at risk this season, and not because Simeone hasn’t been able to marshal his back line (Come on, obviously). The club has struggled to find goals without Antoine Griezmann, though massive signing Joao Felix has shown signs. After Alvaro Morata’s 10 goals, only Angel Correa (5) and Felix (4) have more than two.

Hence all the Edinson Cavani talk. And the Alexandre Lacazette talk.

If Simeone were to be looking for a job, it would be interesting to see how many jobs would almost instantly become available.