Klose’s record-tying equalizer salvages Germany draw against Ghana

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In a tournament that’s defied the notion of World Cup favorites, Germany nearly became the latest titan to stumble, but thanks to a late, historic goal from Miroslav Klose, the three-time champions were able to salvage a result against Ghana. After second half goals from André Ayew and Asamoah Gyan put the Black Stars on the verge of the upset, Klose’s 15th World Cup goal pulled Germany even, with the 2-2 final keeping the 2010 semifinalists at the top of Group G.

Germany opened the scoring in the 51st minute when Mario Götze headed home from close range, but goals from Ayew and Gyan in the 54th and 63rd minutes had the West African nation on the brink of a landmark victory. In the 71st minute, however, a corner kick flicked on by Benedikt Höwedes allowed Klose to tie the record for most career goals at the World Cup, his sliding finish salvaging a point for his country.

With the result, Germany moves one point ahead of the United States ahead of the U.S.’s meeting with Portugal on Sunday in Manaus. The two teams will meet in Recife to close group play on Thursday, with the winner potentially claiming first place in Group G.

Kicking off at the same time, Ghana will face Portugal, with today’s draw ensuring the Black Stars will have something to play for at kickoff  in Brasília.

[ MORE: Talking points after Ghana trips up Germany ]
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From the opening kickoff, Germany controlled possession, but the game’s first chance went to Ghana in the seventh minute, with a Christian Atsu ball played to Asamoah Gyan at the edge of the six-yard box eventually put into the stands. Throughout the rest of the half, Germany used their 59 percent possession to consistently threaten, often passing behind Ghana’s fullbacks before attempting to find Thomas Müller in front of goal. Strong play from defender John Boye kept Germany off the scoresheet, while chances for Atsu and Sulley Muntari tested Neuer at the other end of the field.

Six minutes into the second half, Germany finally broke through. After Müller, floating wide right, was allowed to stand over a ball 26 yards out, the Bayern Munich attacker picked out club teammate Mario Götze making a run from the left, inside full back Harrison Afful. Meeting the ball six yards from goal, the 22-year-old gave Fatau Dauda little chance to prevent the opener, heading down and in to give Germany a 1-0 lead.

The lead lasted three minutes, with Ghana’s own cross-header combination pulling the Black Stars even. From the right flank, Afful launched a ball toward a defense matched three-on-three with Ghanaian attackers. That left André Ayew isolated with substitute right back Shkodran Mustafi, who couldn’t prevent the Marseille man from heading inside Neuer’s right post. In the 54th minute, the underdogs had evened the score.

source: Getty Images
Asamoah Gyan oelebrates with his teammates scoring his team’s second goal n Fortaleza, Brazil. (Source: Getty Images)

Nine minutes later, Ghana had their lead. After intercepting a ball in his opponent’s half, Muntari was able to catch the German defense in transition, played a between Per Mertesacker and Mats Hummels that sent Gyan in on goal. A confident finish into the left side-netting gave the underdogs a 2-1 lead, handing one of the tournament favorites their first deficit of the competition.

In the 71st minute, the game swung back toward the Germans, with a record-tying goal allowing the Nationalmannschaft to pull even. Off a corner from the left side, a Benedikt Höwedes flick toward the right of goal was helped in by Klose, whose sliding finish defused Ghana’s upset hopes. Drawing even with Brazilian legend Ronaldo for the tournament lead in career goals, the veteran striker made it 2-2.

Momentum from the goal kept Germany in control, but it wasn’t until the 84th minute that the chances resumed. Müller had an opportunity  from the middle of the area to put the Germans in front only to see Asamoah come from Ghana’s left to make a stop. Two minutes later, Jonathan Mensah came up big on a ball played across the six by Özil, while Klöse pulled a 90th minute chance wide of the left post. In the 92nd minute, Ghana had its own chance to claim a winner, but a three-on-two counter after a corner kick ended with an offside call.

At match’s end, Ghana had one of its most-famous results, but they also had the reality of an opportunity lost. Up 2-1 with 27 minutes left, the Black Stars had a chance to reclaim their own knockout round destiny. Thanks to Miroslav Klose, they now need help.

For Germany, the match was a reminder of their vulnerability, with a defense that’s been questioned since the emergence of the country’s new talent, the team was left on the verge of an upset.

It was yet another reminder. In a tournament where the holders are already out, where the likes of Brazil and Argentina have proved mortal, Germany can be beaten. There may be no favorites at this year’s World Cup.

Lineups

Germany: Neuer; Howedes, Hummels, Mertesacker, Boateng (Mustafi 45′); Lahm, Khedira (Schweinsteiger 70′), Kroos; Götze (Klose 69′), Müller, Ozil

Goals: Götze 51′, Klöse 71′

Ghana: Dauda; Afful, Mensah, Boye, Asamoah; Rabiu (Badu 78′), Muntari, Atsu (Wakaso 71′), A. Ayew; Boateng (J. Ayew 52′), Gyan

Goals: A. Ayew 54′, Gyan 63′

Three things we learned from Seattle-Real Salt Lake

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The game in 200 words (or less): Nick Rimando stood on his head in an outstanding 7-save performance that will be the last of his incredible career, as a fine near post header from Gustav Svensson and a late marker from Nicolas Lodeiro sent Seattle Sounders to the Western Conference Final with a 2-0 win in Washington on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Live scores, box scores, stats ]

Real Salt Lake had a strong first half, with attacking life sprung from Jefferson Savarino, but the hosts had more dangerous chances and took control of the match in the second 45 through relentless Jordan Morris and visionary midfielder Lodeiro. Svensson scored off a set piece and Lodeiro deservedly joined the scoring at the end of a Man of the Match performance before RSL’s Everton Luiz was shown a straight red for an awful two-footed tackle.


Three things we learned

1. Playoffs make unlikely heroes — It was going to take something special for Seattle to beat Rimando, and Gustav Svensson got the better of Kyle Beckerman to turn Lodeiro’s near post corner kick past the wrong-footed keeper. Brian Schmetzer’s teams have never lost a home playoff game, and that record stands thanks to Svensson’s noggin. It was the Swede’s 14th goal in 367 career matches.

2. Morris, Lodeiro lead determined Sounders — Morris, the MLS Comeback Player of the Year, has a first-class engine with a motor to match, and his on-field wisdom and improvement on both wings has made him a terror in MLS. Combine that with the vision of Lodeiro and there was a feeling of inevitability once the match reached halftime with zeroes on the scoreboard.

Lodeiro’s goal to make it 2-0, off a fine set-up from Raul Ruidiaz, was a sweet finish and a deserved marker. Look out, Los Angeles.

3. Rimando’s final game finds him in fine feather– The “Wall of the Wasatch” made a pair of very good saves in the first 15 minutes, the second causing him serious shoulder discomfort. He was needed again at halftime as Raul Ruidiaz raced onto an inch-perfect Lodeiro cross in the 43rd minute. After Nedum Onuoha blocked a shot with his face early in the second half, Rimando saved his teammate an own goal moments later. He made a flying 61st minute save to keep it 0-0, and made another terrific stop in the 86th minute to deny Victor Rodriguez with his seventh save of the night.

Twenty-two times capped by the USMNT, he played over 500 times for Major League Soccer teams and was very good on his final bow. He spoke to FS1 on the field after the game:

“I enjoyed everything. I enjoyed my 20 years and being here with family, it’s not the way we wanted to go. It’s a tough thing to swallow. It’s hard to put in words. I gave so much to the sport. To see it go, I’m just grateful you know, for everything it’s given me. It’s tough to lose like this. We’ll see what happens next.”

Man of the Match: Lodeiro — The 60-times capped Uruguay was lively from Moment No. 1 and will give Seattle hope against any remaining opponent.


NYCFC boss Torrent hints at coaching change after playoff exit

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A crushing defeat to Toronto FC may’ve signaled the end of the Domenec Torrent era at New York City FC.

The Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed was statistically the better team on Wednesday at Citi Field, but Torrent’s saw horrid errors from two players contribute to a 2-1 loss.

[ MORE: NYCFC 1-2 Toronto FC ]

Torrent worked under Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Man City before taking the reins for the Bronx-based City, and led NYCFC to the East’s top seed and the second-highest performing offense in MLS. He finished second to Bob Bradley in the MLS Coach of the Year vote.

The defense wasn’t bad, either, but errors from Maxime Chanot and Ronald Matarrita opened the door for TFC on Wednesday.

Sport Business’ Bob Williams reports that Torrent was pretty blunt with the media following the loss, saying at one point, “NYCFC are ready for another coach, don’t worry.”

Three things we learned from NYCFC-Toronto FC

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The game in 200 words (or less): The Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed is gone from the MLS Cup Playoffs, and has no one to blame but itself.

The hosts took too long to get going at their temporary home of Citi Field — home of baseball’s New York Mets — and needed a strong first half from goalkeeper Sean Johnson to stay in the game before bowing out via two school child errors. The play overall was as haphazard as the baseball screen obstructed the TV cameras for most of the match, so it felt oddly fitting that Toronto’s appearances on the scoreboard came via elementary errors.

[ MORE: Live scores, box scores, stats ]

At the other end, well-traveled French-American backstop Quentin Westberg took over with an outstanding save on Maxi Moralez and another on Ronald Matarrita (an offside chance, alas). Alexandru Mitrita blew a 1v1 chance around the hour mark, but NYC found its breakthrough via Ismael Tajouri-Shradi. The Libyan forward lashed a back post offering from MLS assist leader Moralez home with just over 20 minutes to play. But Matarrita made an absolutely comical slide tackle on Richie Laryea in the box, and Pozuelo stepped to the line and put TFC in another conference final.


Three things we learned

1. Pozuelo punishes rusty hosts: NYCFC got a little too cute in dealing with a wild and unexpected lash into the box from Auro Jr., the message hailed by a series of popped-up headers not heard by City goalkeeper Sean Johnson (who to that point had been spectacular).

Maxime Chanot tried a header back to his keeper. It wasn’t a good one and Johnson declined to rush out for it. The one player City wouldn’t have wanted to run onto the mistake was former Swansea City man Pozuelo, who scored his 13th goal to go with eight assists in his first campaign with the Reds. He’d add his 14th when NYCFC made another terrible error, Laryea chopped down by Matarrita.

2. Savvy Toronto meets NYCFC plan head-on, but City regroups: Calmer on the ball and quick to reload, TFC was not bothered by the narrow pitch at Citi Field. The Reds were happy to play the ball all the way back to Quentin Westberg, but also more adept and desperate in 50-50 battles at the heart of the action. The second half, however, saw less crispness and tenacity from the Reds as NYCFC launched forward in desperation and NYC might’ve pulled out the win without those two costly errors.

Credit Toronto manager Greg Vanney, who introduced the penalty-winning Laryea late as a massive change from from right back Justin Morrow. Without Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez, however, the Reds got the job done.

3. Johnson the early star, Westberg late: NYCFC veteran goalkeeper Sean Johnson was much busier than his counter part in the first 30 minutes, and only stumbled once when he briefly bobbled Alejandro Pozuelo’s unfairly-won free kick. His finest moment came in the 37th, when Tsubasa Endoh backheeled to set up Jonathan Osorio for a vicious shot that Johnson’s pushed over the bar. Whereas the star of the first half was all about Johnson, TFC backstop Westberg was oh-so-necessary. The former Troyes and Auxerre goalkeepr made a big stop just after City equalized, and commanded the area as TFC took the win to the house.

Man of the Match: Chris Mavinga — Toronto’s Congolese center back was a force in the air and on the ground, putting an end to several big NYCFC chances with positioning and power.


FIFA inviting some non-champions to enlarged Club World Cup

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Based on qualification procedures seen by The Associated Press, teams can qualify for FIFA’s expanded Club World Cup without having to win a regional competition – even at the expense of some champions.

The FIFA Council on Thursday is set to approve China as host of the inaugural edition of the 24-team club competition in 2021 and review the qualification procedures, people with knowledge of the decision making told AP.

They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss FIFA’s plans ahead of the meeting in Shanghai.

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A document sent to council members seen by the AP shows the outcome of the initial talks between the FIFA administration and the six regional confederations to determine the criteria for securing one of the slots.

The revamped Club World Cup is due to be staged every four years, replacing the current annual format that features the six champions of continental competitions and the host nation’s domestic title winner.

But caps on the number of representatives from a single country in the new format raises the prospect of even winners of continental competitions missing out.

EUROPE

With eight slots, Europe will be the best represented continent at the Club World Cup even after rejecting four additional places, helping FIFA drive ticket sales and broadcast revenue.

All the Champions League and Europa League winners from 2018 to 2021 are set to qualify – although that could be dependent on UEFA determining the maximum number of slots per country. Clubs from England and Spain have dominated those competitions in recent years.

Should a team enjoy multiple wins across the competitions, the free slot is due to go to the most recent Champions League runner-up.

Real Madrid won the Champions League in 2018 when Atletico Madrid triumphed in the Europa League. English clubs swept last season’s trophies, with Liverpool victorious in the Champions League and Chelsea in the second-tier competition.

SOUTH AMERICA

While South America will get six slots, only the process for distributing four of them has been settled. They will go to the 2019 and 2020 winners of CONEMBOL’s two competitions: The Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana.

The document shows no plan for determining the route to securing the remaining two berths or the limits on national representation.

ASIA

The three Asian places will to go the winners of the 2019 and 2020 Asian Champions League and the runners-up will have a playoff for the third entry into the Club World Cup group stage.

Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal will play Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan in this season’s final next month.

If the title is defended in 2020, the runners-up from both years will complete Asia’s FIFA lineup.

But Asia only wants a maximum of two teams from one country. So, if the winners and runners-up in 2019 and 2020 are all from the same country, the two losing Asian Champions League semifinalists in 2020 would contest a playoff for a route into the global tournament.

NORTH AND CENTRAL AMERICA

The 2021 CONCACAF Champions League finalists will qualify but a process for deciding the third slot was left hanging in the FIFA Council document.

Mexican teams have won all 11 titles since the regional competition was rebooted as the Champions League. Only three of the finals have not been an all-Mexican lineup.

But a cap of two teams per country from this region will exist at the Club World Cup.

[ MORE: Talking CBA, MLS with Chris Wondolowski ]

AFRICA

The simplest qualification will be from Africa, with the places going to the 2021 Champions League finalists and the winner of a playoff between the two semifinalists.

The plan is complicated by a cap on two teams per country.

OCEANIA

Oceania is the only one of FIFA’s six confederations not guaranteed a place at the Club World Cup. To make one of the eight groups of three, the Oceania Champions League winner will face a playoff against the Chinese champions.

TOURNAMENTS DATES

A previous FIFA plan seen by the AP in March proposed the Club World Cup running from June 17 through July 4 in 2021, taking the slot originally set aside for the Confederations Cup competition that is no longer due to be contested.

For some players from Africa and the CONCACAF region it could be a busy summer, with their regional national competitions proposed to start on July 9.

The final two editions of the seven-team annual Club World Cup are being staged in Qatar this December and in December 2020.

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