Sunderland 2-0 West Bromwich Albion: Black Cats confirm Premier League survival (video)

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Early goals from Jack Colback and Fabio Borini quelled any notion Sunderland’s spring revival would stumble at its final hurdles. The Black Cats’ supporters were so confident after three straight wins that the crowd’s reaction to Borini’s seemingly survival-assuring 31st minute goal was more confident exuberance than relief. It was only after the final whistle that the Stadium of Light’s crowd succumbed to elation, with Sunderland’s faithful celebrating the team’s place in next year’s Premier League after its 2-0 win over West Brom.

With the win, Sunderland — in last place three weeks ago — moves to 15th in the Premier League, leapfrogging West Brom and Hull with its 10th win of the season. Most importantly, the Black Cats are five points ahead of 18th place Norwich, leaving the Canaries with empty hopes West Brom’s huge edge in goal difference (17) can be overturned on the last day of the season.

Sunderland, starting the same team throughout their five-game unbeaten run, went up in the 13th minute after left back Marcos Alonso fired a ball  from near the corner into the six-yard box. Charging in from midfield, Colback was able to cut off Chris Brunt in front of the right side of goal, beating the West Brom left back to redirect home the game’s first goal.

Eighteen minutes later, Sunderland got its early insurance. After Black Cats’ midfielder Sebastian Larsson was allowed to carry the ball to the top of the arc, the Swedish international lobbed the Baggies defense to find Borini. One-timing his volley past an oncoming Ben Foster, Borini finished his sixth of the season, eliminating what doubt remained after Colback’s opener.

In the second half, Sunderland assumed a much more defensive posture, ceding control of the game to its guests.  In the 57th minute, that control almost halved the Black Cats lead when halftime substitute Youssuf Mulumbu was able to feed fellow sub Craig Dawson behind Alonso. Putting a cross toward the far post, Dawson just missed his connection with Victor Anichebe, with the ball sailing out for a goal kick.

After 10 more minutes to West Brom control, Sunderland threatened for a third. Shortly after an offside Jozy Altidore drew grasps from the crowd as his shot want past the right post, Santiago Vergini was given an open chance in the right of West Brom’s area after the Black Cats had moved the ball across the width of the field. The  right back’s shot went well wide of the far post, but for the first time in the half, the home side showed a desire to spend some of the day’s final minutes in the Baggies’ half.

As the match approached full-time and the danger of two West Brom goals grew more remote, Sunderland again receded into its defensive third. This time, a less energetic West Brom were unable to respond. With both sides having accepted their fates, all that separated the match from Lee Mason’s final whistle were a few wistful charges from the momentarily inspired. After four minutes of stoppage time, the game ended as we knew it would after Borini’s goal.

LINEUPS

Sunderland: Mannone, Vergini, O’Shea, Brown, Alonso, Cattermole (Giaccherini 88′), Johnson (Bridcutt 61′), Larsson, Colback, Borini, Wickham (Altidore 61′)

Goals: Colback (13′), Borini (31′)

West Bromwich Albion: Foster, Reid (Dawson 46′), McAuley, Lugano, Brunt, Berahino (Vydra 78′), Yacob (Mulumbu 46′), Morrison, Dorrans, Sessegnon, Anichebe

Subs: Myhill, Dawson, Sinclair, Vydra, Mulumbu, Olsson, O’Neil

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’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 C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE