Netherlands embarasses Spain 5-1 with thunderous second half

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The defending champions started strong, but mistakes mired their second half and the Dutch made them pay in historic fashion.

Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie both scored twice, including a spectacular diving header from the Manchester United striker, and the Dutch shocked Spain 5-1 in the Group B opener.

The five goals marked two dubious milestones.  It was the most goals conceded by a World Cup champion in their opening match of the following campaign, and it was the most goals Spain had allowed in a World Cup match since 1950.

A rematch of the final four years ago, the match initially looked as if it would repeat that match in both style and scoreline, but things began to open up, and the floodgates couldn’t hold the Dutch back.

Spain, beginning the game with much of the possession, finally broke through when Diego Costa – amid boos in his home country – went down softly under a challenge from Stefan de Vrij, and Xabi Alonso slotted home the penalty for a 1-0 lead under a half-hour.

However, it would all come crumbling down piece by piece for the defending champions.

Just before halftime, van Persie equalized the scoreline by bagging a clubhouse leader for goal of the tournament. Daley Blind ripped in a long ball from deep in the midfield, and it found the Manchester United striker who soared through the air and finished a diving header that looped over Iker Casillas.

Xabi Alonso gave the ball away in the midfield, and Blind sent in his second brilliant ball to catch a streaking Arjen Robben. The Bayern Munich winger settled incredibly, cutting back past Sergio Ramos and pulling the trigger past Iker Casillas for a 2-1 lead that was just the beginning.

It was slight vindication for Robben, who bungled a wonderful chance to win the World Cup four years ago, with Casillas in goal then as well.

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This van Persie goal – their first – exemplified the beautiful play of the Dutch.

Another brilliant piece of Dutch skill reared its head eight minutes later, when Robben burst through the midfield, cut it back for Daryl Janmaat, and the midfielder touched perfectly to van Persie whose volley rocketed the bar.

Diego Costa could have been sent off for a headbutt of Bruno Martins Indi in a corner-kick scrum, but the Italian referee didn’t see the incident and just warned the pair.

Spain thought they’d brought one back in the 67th minute when Silva headed one past Jasper Cillessen on a rebound, but he was offside on the original attempt as Cillessen saved Pedro’s header.

Then, the floodgates opened. Defender Stefan de Vrij picked up a surprising debut international goal in the 64th minute when van Persie clattered Casillas on a corner, and the ball fell to the young defender at the back post for an easy touch and goal.  The goalkeeper was surprised not to see a foul called, as referees have protected goalkeepers constantly the past few years, but he was at fault for getting sucked forward on the corner.

Van Persie then grabbed his brace eight minutes later as Casillas again made a mistake, touching heavy and handing the ball right to the striker, and the Dutchman easily slid past the keeper for an open net finish and a 4-1 lead.

The scoring was capped when Robben picked up his second with 10 minutes to go, and the embarrassment was complete.

Casillas finally stopped something in front of goal, although too little too late, as the 87th minute saw both Robben and substitute Georginio Wijnaldum saw cracking blasts stopped by the Spanish keeper.

The five goals allowed by Spain were more than they allowed all of European qualification for the event.

One note will keep Spain fans hoping – they also lost their opening match of the 2010 World Cup, although the scoreline was just 1-0 to Switzerland. The Swiss didn’t make it out of that group.

[ MORE: Soccerly covers the World Cup ]

LINEUPS:

Spain: Casillas; Pique, Ramos, Alba, Azpilicueta; Xavi, Alonso (Pedro 63′), Busquets; Silva (Fabregas 78′), Iniesta; Costa (Torres, 63′).

Goals: Alonso (pen) 27′

Netherlands: Cillessen; Martins Indi, Vlaar, Blind, de Vrij (Veltman 77′); Janmaat, De Jong, De Guzman (Wijnaldum 62′); Sneijder, Robben, van Persie (Lens 79′).

Goals: van Persie 44′, 72′; Robben 52′, 80′; de Vrij 64′

Barcelona sign Neto in goalkeeper swap with Valencia

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Brazilian goalkeeper Neto will sign a four-year contract with the Spanish champions.

The transfer completes a swap a day after Barcelona sold Jasper Cillessen to Valencia.

Barcelona says it is paying 26 million euros ($29.5 million) plus possibly another 9 million euros ($10.2 million) in variables for Neto. Valencia paid Barcelona 35 million euros ($40 million) for Cillessen.

Neto will replace Cillessen, who played as a backup for Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the Champions League and the Spanish league and only regularly started in the Copa del Rey.

The 29-year-old Neto helped Valencia qualify for the Champions League with a fourth-place finish for the past two seasons in Spain. He also played in Italy at Juventus as a backup to Gianluigi Buffon and at Fiorentina after starting at Brazilian club Paranaense.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

USMNT v. Panama: Three things we learned

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It wasn’t always pretty, but the U.S. Men’s National Team eked out a 1-0 win over Panama in Kansas City, Kan. on Wednesday night to win its group. Jozy Altidore scored the game’s only goal in stunning fashion, finishing an overhead kick to put Panama away and set up a quarterfinal bout with Curacao on Sunday evening.

Here are three of the biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s win:

[READ: All the latest USMNT news here]


Jozy Altidore is still the best we’ve got

Many U.S. Men’s National Team fans have called for the forced retirements of Altidore and Michael Bradley, among many others, after the debacle that was the last World Cup cycle.

Until tonight, Altidore wasn’t in the USMNT picture, in part due to Dave Sarachan using younger players and Altidore continuing to suffer a series of muscle injuries since October 2017. And yet, if tonight’s game showed anything in Altidore’s 83 minutes on the pitch, it’s that he’s still the best option for the USMNT up top. While Gregg Berhalter clearly prefers Gyasi Zardes right now based on their previous work history together in Columbus, Zardes doesn’t have the strength or skill that Altidore does. It’s hard to imagine Zardes executing an overhead kick and it going in as sweetly as Altidore did.

What does this mean going forward? Regardless of if Zardes starts the rest of the way, Berhalter knows that he has Altidore always around who can give the U.S. a goal, especially on home soil and when fit. But it also lays the marker down for Zardes, Tim Weah, Josh Sargent and the other up and coming strikers that this is the level they need to meet, and beat, if they want to break into the starting lineup under Berhalter.

There’s speed to burn on the wings

It may not have had a huge impact on Wednesday, but in bringing Tyler Boyd and Christian Pulisic off the bench, Berhalter showed exactly why he’s brought so many speedy skill players along the wings.

While Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis couldn’t figure out the final pass or final touch in the box to score a goal, just their presence for 65-70 minutes tired out the backline, and the introductions of Pulisic and Boyd could have really unlocked the Panama defense. While it didn’t totally work on Wednesday, it could in the later stages of the tournament, especially in a potential rematch with either Panama or Jamaica in the semifinals and Mexico in the finals.

With Lewis and Morris likely available off the bench, that adds a new piece opponents have to worry about, both in terms of speed and dribbling ability.

Few impressed in a chance to earn a starting spot

It’s been nearly two years since the debacle in Trinidad and Tobago, and yet aside from maybe Matt Miazga or Nick Lima, there have been very few players who have done much to impress and prove they’re better than the previous cycle’s players. That continued on Wednesday with an MLS-heavy lineup. Wil Trapp, a midfielder with so much promise a few years ago, appears to have stalled. He had multiple turnovers and certainly didn’t look as sharp as Michael Bradley.

While Lewis and Morris have plenty of pace, their final pass was woeful and they didn’t do themselves any favors. Djordje Mihailovic was never going to push Pulisic out of the starting lineup, but Mihailovic didn’t exactly do enough to say that he should be the first man off the bench either, or to push Pulisic into a wing role with Mihailovic in the middle.

Aside from Matt Miazga and Omar Gonzalez in the middle, along with Altidore up top, no one in the lineup really did enough through the first 65 minutes to warrant another start in the tournament. It’s yet another disappointment as young players get chance after chance to prove they belong as starters, only to waste the opportunity, enabling the veterans to keep their role. More players need to keep pushing for those spots, whether through club form or national team performances. Otherwise, we’ll end up in the same situation as before.

 

USMNT remains perfect, tops Panama to win group (video)

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In his first start since the U.S. Men’s National Team’s infamous defeat to Trinidad and Tobago, Jozy Altidore showcased his strength, speed and technical ability to help lead the U.S. to victory.

Altidore’s outstanding bicycle kick goal proved to be the difference in a sometimes dour game as the USMNT topped Panama, 1-0, Wednesday evening at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan. The win kept the U.S. perfect through the Gold Cup group stage with no goals allowed, and it has somewhat erased the memory of the USMNT’s horrible run-up to the tournament, with defeats to Jamaica and Venezuela now firmly in the rear-view mirror.

[MUST-SEE GOAL: Jozy Altidore]

With the win, both teams head to Philadelphia for the quarterfinals this Sunday. Panama plays the undercard matchup against Jamaica while the USMNT faces Curacao.

Coming off two wins to open the Gold Cup, Berhalter decided to use a completely changed starting lineup, featuring ten players from MLS teams along with Chelsea loanee Matt Miazga. Although there was some familiarity of the players on the field, it was at times a very poor match, with the USMNT struggling badly in the final third and even turning the ball over at midfield or leading the attack.

Despite winning the possession battle, 62-38, the USMNT didn’t do much with it. Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis, both of whom were subbed out, struggled on their crosses after beating a defender. The pair provided energy and hard running defensively but it didn’t lead to many chances. Altidore had the best of the first half when he was played into the box, but his strike from the right just went wide of the net.

In the 65th minute, Berhalter tried to inject some life in the game with the introduction of Christian Pulisic. It turned out a goal could come just after, but without the intervention of Pulisic.

Djordje Mihailovic drilled the corner kick to the far post where it was met by the head of Matt Miazga who sent it back towards goal. A missed clearance from Panama popped the ball up in the air above the back post, allowing Altidore the time he needed to lift off the ground and bicycle kick it in for the game’s only goal.

Berhalter later brought on both Tyler Boyd and Gyasi Zardes off the bench to try and score an insurance goal, but Panama’s defense held strong and the U.S. failed to threaten the rest of the way. However, the U.S. backline kept a third-consecutive clean sheet and key players such as Michael Bradley got the entire game off to rest before likely returning to the lineup this weekend.

 

 

Must-See Goal: Jozy Altidore puts USMNT in front with Bicycle Kick

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Jozy Altidore put his stamp on the game and gave U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter more to speak about with one fell swing.

Altidore finished off a corner kick in spectacular fashion, executing a perfect bicycle kick to put the USMNT up 1-0 in the 66th minute. The goal came one minute after the entrance of Christian Pulisic, which perhaps was on the mind of the Panama defense.

It was Altidore’s second-straight game vs. Panama with a goal. His last two were in October 2017, when the U.S. pummeled Panama, 4-0. Of course, a few days later, a tired USMNT failed to win at Trinidad and Tobago.