What went right in Saturday’s U.S. win over South Korea

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  • Graham Zusi rises anew

Remember how Alejandro Bedoya seemed to move up in the national team order last fall, perhaps sliding ahead of Graham Zusi for starting dibs on the right-sided attacking spot?

Well, let’s not hand that World Cup starting spot to Bedoya just yet; Zusi (pictured) still has a lot to say about it. (Well, so does Landon Donovan, who could end up holding the position by the time it’s all said and done and they are lining up in Brazil, but let’s just stick to the competition between Zusi and Bedoya for now.)

Zusi’s comprehensive performance Saturday will go a long way to re-establishing his place in the U.S. order. He was in on both American goals, with a good cross to start the early strike Saturday at the StubHub Center and then a nice controlling touch to help set up the second half tally.

(MORE: United States opens year with 2-0 win over South Korea)

Over the last two years, Zusi has demonstrated a smart ability to get into good, attacking spot – and then to make good things happen with all that smooth technical ability.  And he always does the defensive work, too, providing plenty of assistance to right back Brad Evans in Saturday’s win.

  • Chris Wondolowski keeps himself in the conversation

It will still be tough for Chris Wondolowski to make the plane to Brazil. That said, his two-fer Saturday sure doesn’t hurt. In fact, it keeps him squarely in the conversation.

Wondolowski did exactly what he needed, clinically finishing two chances. The early goal set the Earthquakes striker’s confidence alight; “Wonder Wondo” was active and accurate with the ball over the first half, keeping the attack moving forward several times.

More later at PST on Wondolowski – who still has that extra “W” sewn into his jersey for good luck – and what he faces in getting into the team this summer. (Because we’ll all be talking about that now. Again.)

  • Landon Donovan starts a big year well enough

Handed the captain’s armband, Donovan did his part to jazz up an attack here and there, despite a match where the United States’ back line and midfield wasn’t always sharp in moving the ball into good spots for the forwards.

Donovan has always had a big motor, and we saw it once again Saturday. Players are never at their best for these January camp enders; it’s just hard to “be there” physically before a few matches to really prep the legs and lungs.

But Donovan was active in looking for the ball on offense and in tracking back on defense – a bit of a “bonus,” since that is something not necessarily high in the job requirements in the position he played, the second forward in a 4-4-2.

Great example: Donovan tracked all the way back to win a ball just outside the U.S. penalty area from the quickly advancing Koreans in the 67th minute.  From there, he was quickly into the attack, eventually playing a clever little ball in front of striker Eddie Johnson. (If Johnson had finished his run, the ball would have curled neatly in stride for him 20 yards from opposition goal.)

  • Parkhurst and Rimando held serve

Michael Parkhurst won’t excite anyone if he’s among the final 23 headed to Brazil, but he certainly has value as a reliable defender who can play right back, left back or even center back in a pinch. (Parkhurst played center back in MLS before moving overseas; he’ll play in the middle this year for Columbus.)

Parkhurst made a third U.S. start at left back and did little wrong defensively. He doesn’t provide much on the attack, but there is surely a value for a utility man along the back line for situations that demand ample defending.

Behind him, Nick Rimando reminded us once again that he’s a real steady-eddy as a third ‘keeper. There was one little wobble with the ball, and he played with a bit of fire with some passes through the middle. Still, he’s a calming presence who has the big-save ability.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 7 — Spain, Portugal aim for wins

Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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Spain and Portugal got through the toughest match on their Group B dockets, against each other, but now need to stack some W’s.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s EURO champs open Wednesday’s World Cup action with a match against Morocco, and manager Fernando Hierro leads Spain against Iran to close out the day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

In the middle, Uruguay looks to suck the drama out of Group A by joining Russia as 2-0 sides.

Below is Wednesday’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 – Wednesday, June 20

Group A
Uruguay vs. Saudi Arabia: Rostov, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group B
Portugal vs. Morocco: Moscow, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Iran vs. Spain: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Fortunes up or down? 32 thoughts after first 17 World Cup games

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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All it took was one round of games for some favorites to be doubted, others to verify their status, and some underdogs to earn dark horse status.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

While there are valid reasons to make early judgments, it’s important to note that some perceived setbacks don’t change much while others put a serious crimp in tournament hopes.

Group A

Russia (2 games played) — Fortunes way up — Two resounding wins combined with early tumult in Group B could help Russia consider a quarterfinal spot.

Uruguay — Fortunes level — Jose Gimenez’s 89th minute winner may allow the CONMEBOL side to render its group finale moot by hammering Saudi Arabia.

Egypt (2 games played) — Fortunes way down — Could be out of the tournament should Uruguay get a point against lowly Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia — Fortunes down — Unsure anyone figured the Green Falcons as anything other than an obstacle, but their performance against host Russia was miserable.

Group B

Iran — Fortunes up — Carlos Queiroz would’ve circled the Morocco opener as a must-win. Mission accomplished, however it was done.

Portugal — Fortunes level — Needed a PK, goalie error, and wonder free kick to get a point from Spain. Still, got the point.

Spain — Fortunes down — Still look capable of imposing themselves on the tournament, but too many errors in their first outing.

Morocco — Fortunes down — Probably should’ve had a point against Iran, but would’ve wanted three anyway. Very disappointing and now a mountain ahead.

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – JUNE 15: Karim Ansarifard of Iran is challenged by Noureddine Amrabat of Morocco (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Group C

France — Fortunes level — Clearly the better side against Australia, didn’t inspire title confidence but could’ve easily nabbed a three- or four-goal win.

Denmark — Fortunes up — Despite being the second-best side against Peru, now can expect the knockout rounds by beating the Socceroos.

Australia — Fortunes down — France first was always going to be a struggle, but to fight so valiantly and fall to an own goal will be a mental hurdle ahead of Peru.

Peru — Fortunes down — Terrific energy and performance would’ve led to a win with any finishing luck, but getting a result from Denmark was very important. A loss presents a major challenge.

Group D

Croatia — Fortunes up — Its tactical options for the second match against Argentina are wide open after securing three points against Nigeria.

Argentina — Fortunes down — Forget control of the game and Lionel Messi’s 11 shots on target; Not getting full points against Iceland is a significant setback. A group stage without Messi is possible.

Iceland — Fortunes up — It remains hard to picture Iceland getting out of the group, but the UEFA side has now flummoxed Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in successive tournaments. Can they find a win against Nigeria to set up a wild final day?

Nigeria — Fortunes down — Group D was always going to be tough, but a 2-0 loss to Croatia means the margin of error is almost zero.

Group E

Serbia — Fortunes up — Forget how Serbia won, their fortunes have leapt due to Brazil drawing Switzerland.

Brazil — Fortunes down — Drawing their second-trickiest game could see Neymar and Co. in position to finish second in the group instead of first. The only silver lining is that Germany may also fail to claim its group and make runner-up a good thing for the Round of 16.

Switzerland — Fortunes up — Maybe Swiss supporters were expecting it, but a result against Brazil is a positive step for a team that took Argentina to extra time at the 2014 tournament but underwhelmed at EURO 2016.

Costa Rica — Fortunes down — Now needs to beat Brazil to have much hope of anything going into the final group match vs. Switzerland.

Group F

Sweden  — Fortunes level — Beating South Korea was nice and we understand the chemistry argument, but a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic would’ve feasted on the spoils offered in the opener.

Mexico  — Fortunes way up — El Tri is a very good tournament team, but if you had them beating Germany 1-0 in the opener you’re a better prognosticator than me.

Germany  — Fortunes down — Still favored to come out of the group and deep enough to repeat as champions, being unable to get a result from Mexico will only raise more questions about leaving Leroy Sane home (fair or not).

South Korea — Fortunes down — Would’ve wanted no less than four points from the Sweden and Mexico encounters, and has zero heading into the second against El Tri.

NIZHNIY NOVGOROD, RUSSIA – JUNE 18: Andreas Granqvist of Sweden. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Group G

Belgium  — Fortunes up — Delivered expected dominance against Panama and could have a spot in the knockout rounds sewn up by the end of Day Two versus Tunisia.

England  — Fortunes up — There will not be Wayne Rooney questions about this tournament’s captain, as Harry Kane scored twice on a day he perhaps wasn’t at his best. Will clinch a berth in the knockout rounds by beating Panama next, you’d have to think.

Tunisia  — Fortunes slightly down — Needed to surprise England or Belgium to get out of the group, and still has a second opportunity after losing late to the Three Lions.

Panama  — Fortunes slightly down — Not sure anyone was expecting a Cinderella story, but even those will feel it more unlikely after a big loss to Belgium.

Group H

Japan  — Fortunes up — Not a bad team at all, but prospects were dim given the talent of the group. After beating Colombia in match one, there’s a house money feel to this one.

Senegal  — Fortunes up — Controversy aside, the Lions of Teranga deserved all three points against Poland and are in pole position to win the group.

Poland  — Fortunes down — Disappointing is an understatement leading into a match versus Colombia which could leave both on the outskirts with a match to go.

Colombia  — Fortunes down — Carlos Sanchez’s third minute red card didn’t ultimately doom them, but the task is tall with equally desperate Poland up next.