Women’s World Cup notebook: Sweden up next for United States

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba – The United States women held a light training session in southern Winnipeg on Tuesday, the morning after defeating Australia, 3-1 in their 2015 Women’s World Cup opener.

The 10 field players who started the match were given the morning off from training, while Monday’s reserves and the three goalkeepers participated in about a one-hour long session.

Monday’s performance by the United States was shaky despite the victory. Australia dominated the opening 20 minutes and would have gone ahead early were it not for two world-class saves by U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo.

[ MORE: Complete coverage of 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup ]

Several players and U.S. coach Jill Ellis admitted the performance was sub-par in the opening minutes, citing nerves among other things. They believe all of that is out of their collective system now, however.

“All those things that you see in the first game, we got out of our system,” midfielder Tobin Heath said Tuesday.

Ellis said before Monday’s match that she wanted the team to build into its peak throughout the tournament. (“I’m so damn literal, aren’t I,” she quipped when asked a follow-up on that following her team’s underwhelming start to the match against Australia.)

Morgan gets back into full swing

Alex Morgan trained Tuesday after seeing her first minutes of game action in almost two months on Monday. She entered the match in the 79th minute on Monday and looked as eager as any player who hasn’t played for club or country since April 11 might be expected to be, showing confidence and having a go at goal almost right away.

“We’re so excited to have Alex back,” Heath said. “Obviously a world-class player and someone we’re going to need this tournament. It’s awesome to see how quickly she’s gotten back into the group. The way she’s taken care of herself over this time has just shown. She’s been able to jump in so seamlessly with us now. So in that way, we’re really fortunate to have her back healthy and we’re all excited to just have her on the team and on the field.”

[ MORE: U.S. tops Australia  |  Three things learned  |  Not at their best ]

Morgan’s introduction to the match was a dramatic one. She began warming up not long after halftime. Ellis said that given Morgan’s knee injury – a bone bruise in her left knee – the U.S. staff wanted to allow the 25-year-old forward extra time to warm-up. Morgan was personally accompanied by U.S. fitness coach Dawn Scott while warming up.

And after the long warm-up, Morgan had an extended wait to check into the game. She stood at the midfield line for an inordinate amount of time. There was no stoppage in play for over five minutes until Megan Rapinoe scored the United States’ third goal.

“I was waiting for the ball to go out of play for like five minutes,” Morgan said postgame, laughing as she replayed the dramatic wait in her head. “It took a while. I was hoping that someone would maybe kick the ball out of play a little quicker than that. But that’s OK, I think that we were playing well. We were keeping the ball really well and when I got in, I was just happy to help the team in whatever way that was. And that was to keep the 3-1 lead and not to (give up) another goal.”

Morgan said after the game that she feels “really good.”

Sweden up next for the U.S.

Sweden looked like the worst of the four teams in Group D on Tuesday. The Swedes scored twice in the first half on corner kicks that were a result of poor marking and goalkeeping by Nigeria, but they never settled into the game, failing to find any rhythm in the midfield. Sweden blew the 2-0 lead and then again conceded late while leading 3-2 to draw Nigeria, 3-3.

After the match, Pia Sundhage was quick to point out on multiple occasions that players didn’t follow her game plan. Sweden wanted to prevent 1-v-1 opportunities for Nigeria, since the Super Falcons are so dangerous off the dribble. But all three goals saw Nigeria either 1-v-1 or in behind Sweden’s defense.

[ MORE: Nigeria rallies to draw Sweden in wild opening match ]

Sundhage said before the game that Nigeria was a mystery of a team, since they are so hard to scout. So was she surprised by anything?

“Not really, because I was prepared and we prepared the team quite well,” she said. “As I said in the beginning, we just – if we would have been able to follow the game plan, we would have done even better. Now, yeah, scoring three goals was nice. But this was not – I saw another game in front of me. But then again, it is the first game and people out there are a little bit nervous. At the end of the day we have a second game and a third game as well, so we will do better.”

Midfielder Lisa Dahlqvist was a particular culprit, in Sundhage’s eyes.

“Lisa Dahlqvist, she was 100 percent ready to go, it was more of the gameplan, the fact that she should work really hard to make space for (Caroline) Seger and give a lot of battles. So I didn’t expect her to play 45 or 50 or 65 or something like that, so we prepared Linda Sembrant to jump in and take over her position, role”

Sundhage was complimentary of defender Nilla Fischer, which was interesting given Fischer was culpable on all three Nigeria goals (she did score one on the other end).

Next up for Sundhage and Sweden is the United States on Friday. This will be the fifth time the two teams have met in a World Cup and the fourth straight edition in which they have met in group play. The two rivals can’t seem to shake each other, and this time, there is the added wrinkle that Sundhage coached the Americans to two Olympic gold medals and a World Cup final from 2008 to 2012. While guiding the U.S. at the 2011 World Cup, Sundhage lost to Sweden in the group stage.

A New York Times piece released on Tuesday revealed what are being made out to be controversial quotes from Sundhage about her former team. She called U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd a “challenge” to coach because she is so “delicate.” Sundhage said Abby Wambach would be a substitute if she were still coaching the team and she noted that goalkeeper Hope Solo was a challenge, “especially when it comes to trouble.”

To some extent – and part of this is Sundhage’s English being her second language – this is just how Sundhage speaks. She’s honest but hardly confrontational.

Asked by a Swedish journalist on Monday to ensure that Sweden wouldn’t follow the same fate as 2007, when a tie against Nigeria in the opening match eventually led to Sweden missing out on the knockout stage, Sundhage laughed.

“I can ensure you one thing: I will do my very best to make sure that I boost the team and we come together as a group and at least try as hard as we can to win against United States of America,” she said.

Nigeria-Australia could be a goal-fest

Nigeria-Sweden was the best match of the tournament through one round of play. It is clear that the Super Falcons love to attack, and they have more organization than ever in doing so.

[MORE: Australian FA website blasts U.S. performance]

Australia was similarly impressive against the United States and could have had a different result had Solo not bailed out the Americans twice early. Both Nigeria and Australia showed a propensity to attack and a slight lack of desire to defend, which could make Friday’s match-up another thriller.

“You’ve got two very similar teams, haven’t you?” Australia coach Alen Stajcic said. “You’ve got two teams that like to attack, two teams that like to go at each other.”

Nigeria coach Edwin Okon refused to over-hype the importance of Friday’s match, the potential loser of which could be doomed in the Group of Death. Every match is a must-win match, he says.

La Liga roundup: Casemiro’s brace earns injury-riddled Real Madrid win (video)

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Casemiro’s heroic performance against Sevilla highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Real Madrid 2-1 Sevilla

Real Madrid’s goalscoring hero on Saturday wasn’t Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard, or even Sergio Ramos.

With two crucial goals in the second half, Casemiro single-handedly earned three points at the Santiago Bernabeu, days removed from cathartic Spanish Super Cup win against arch rivals Atletico Madrid.

With Bale, Hazard, Ramos injured, Benzema on the bench far from match-fit, and Federico Valverde suspended, Los Blancos were in dire need of someone to lead the way, and place pressure on struggling co-leaders Barcelona, who are now under Quique Setien’s tutelage.

By the time the first 45 minutes came to a close, the overall impression was that it would take a miracle for the home side to earn much-needed three points.

That all quickly changed in the second half as the Brazilian midfielder chipped Tomas Vaclik after a picture-perfect backheel from Luka Jovic. Madrid were edging Julen Lopetegui’s side, and Casemiro foreshadowed what was to come.

With the score level, the Brazilian leaped inside the box and headed home a lofting ball from the right flank, catching Sevilla’s defense completely off guard.

Casemiro’s brace came just five minutes after Luuk De Jong‘s left-footed goal in the 64th minute.

League leaders with 43 points, Madrid prepares for their Copa del Rey bout against third-division side Unionistas midweek. Sevilla, on the other hand, host Levante in the same tournament.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Eibar 2-0 Atletico Madrid

Osasuna 0-0 Real Valladolid

Levante 0-1 Alaves

16-year-old Cherki scores 2 as Lyon advances in French Cup

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PARIS (AP) Two goals and two assists from 16-year-old forward Rayan Cherki helped Lyon win 4-3 at Nantes and reach the last 16 of the French Cup on Saturday.

But the run of Reunion Islanders JS Saint-Pierroise ended with a 1-0 loss away to Epinal, which scored deep into extra time.

Cherki put Lyon ahead in the first minute, deftly rounding goalkeeper Alban Lafont and then clipping the ball beyond a defender. He made it 2-0 in the ninth, slotting the ball through Lafont’s legs after being set up by right winger Bertrand Traore.

New signing Renaud Emond headed in Moses Simon’s cross from the left to pull a goal back for Nantes in the 16th. Cherki then showed great awareness to release forward Martin Terrier with a fine pass from midfield in the 37th for 3-1.

Cherki shaved the crossbar with a shot in the 60th and won a penalty in the 67th after robbing the ball off Thomas Basila. He generously allowed striker Moussa Dembele to take it, but Lafont saved Dembele’s attempt.

Two minuter later, Cherki threaded the ball down the right to Dembele, who slotted in, and the irrepressible Cherki set up another chance for Terrier.

Lyon’s defense remains vulnerable and Simon set up Imran Louza’s goal before heading in late on to ensure a tense finish.

Saint-Pierroise had caused an upset in the previous round by knocking out second-division Niort and the players again traveled 6,000 miles (around 9,700 kilometers) from the small island in the Indian Ocean, located off the east coast of Africa.

Saint-Pierroise, the former club of France midfielder Dimitri Payet, was looking to become the first club from the Reunion Islands to reach the last 16 and almost forced a penalty shootout, despite having forward Jean-Michel Fontaine sent off in the 15th minute.

But substitute Adel Berkane rifled home a half-volley for fourth-tier Epinal with two minutes left in extra time.

Also, there were wins for first-division sides Nice, Lille, Saint-Etienne and Strasbourg.

Lille won 2-0 at fifth-division Gonfreville thanks to goals from forwards Loic Remy and Victor Osimhen, while coach Patrick Vieira’s Nice side held on to beat third-tier Red Star 2-1.

Saint-Etienne won 3-2 at Paris FC, a team fighting relegation in the second division.

Paris FC led 2-1 with goals from former Paris Saint-Germain forward Jeremy Menez and ex-Rennes winger Jonathan Pitroipa. Teen forward Charles Abi equalized for Saint-Etienne with 20 minutes left before veteran right back Mathieu Debuchy netted the winner.

Strasbourg won 5-1 at fourth-tier Angouleme.

On Sunday, Rennes plays at fifth-tier Athletico Marseille and PSG travels to face second division league leader Lorient.

Rennes beats PSG in last year’s final.

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

‘I’m very happy for this’: Jimenez becomes Wolves all-time leading PL goalscorer

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Raul Jimenez has carved his name in Wolverhampton Wanderers’ history books.

“I want to say thank you to all my teammates, to the staff, to the coach, because without all of them, I can’t achieve this goal,” Jimenez said following Wolves’ come-from-behind 3-2 victory against Southampton on Saturday.

Just minutes earlier, in front of a fervent stand of Wolves supporters at St. Mary’s Stadium, Jimenez scored his 23rd Premier League goal for Midlands side, becoming the club’s all-time leading scorer in the Premier League era. The Mexican surpasses Steven Fletcher‘s record of 22 goals, which stood since 2012.

“I’m very happy for this, and I want to keep scoring,” he added.

With Wolves disputing Europa League qualifying matches in August, the 28-year-old began to build early on what is now a monstrous campaign – 19 goals and 9 assist in throughout all competitions. Half a year down the road, there are no signs of Jimenez’s magic running out. In fact, his brace against the Saints is clearest indicator of why that’s the case.

With his divine hold up play, well-calculated pressing and hunger for redemption, Jimenez emotionally inspired Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side comeback. And in the 65th minute, his trademark penalty overturned a two-goal deficit, turning emotional to physical inspiration.

“[Coming back] was very important for us after a very bad first half,” he told Wolves reporters following the match.

Jimenez was full of praise for his team’s collective grit. He lauded his team’s “fantastic” second half – full of pressing and chances created. The tactic alterations implemented by Nuno Espirito Santo influenced Adama Traore’s run that led to Jimenez’s third and winning goal.

“In the end, we know that it depends on us – what we want to do, what we want to achieve. So, we need to keep going until the last minute. Keep trying to score, keep going with our football that makes us Wolves.”

We now know that Jimenez is Wolves’ all-time Premier League goalscorer, too.

Lampard calls for Chelsea to finish chances: ‘We know where we need to strengthen’

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Chelsea’s dramatic last-gasp loss to Newcastle United was, in a way, a blessing in disguise for Frank Lampard and company.

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The Blues conceded their first first loss since Boxing Day, dropping crucial points in the league’s top-four race. With plenty of chances to score at hand, the visit to St. James’ Park is one of sheer frustration.

But at the same time, the London side learned an invaluable lesson: Chelsea are in dire need of a new striker before the January transfer window comes to a close. Chelsea registered 19 shots (4 on target) on Saturday but squandered most, while Newcastle’s netminder Martin Dúbravka did his job and saved a few.

“We know we have problems at the top of the pitch in terms of we don’t get enough goals,” Lampard said following his team’s 1-0 loss, via the BBC.
“If you don’t score you are always liable for a sucker punch and they got it.”

“If we are looking for people to bring in to the areas to win games when you are controlling it, it is scoring goals.”

From RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner to Lyon’s Moussa Dembele, Chelsea has been linked to a striker all winter long. With Olivier Giroud a signature away from sealing a move to Inter Milan, a replacement is necessary.

Sure, Tammy Abraham‘s return to Stamford Bridge is an outright success – 13 goals and two assists in 22 league appearances – but rotation is visibly needed. Michy Batshuayi replaced Abraham, but failed to show any promising signs. The 26-year-old has scored just once in 13 matches this season.

“We can’t work anymore in training on finishing,” the 41-year-old manager added. “You need to have that killer instinct in front of goal. We need to score more goals from front-line areas if we are going to get to where we want to be.”

Lampard gave no indicator that his side are on the brink of landing a new goalscorer up top. With the transfer window open for just 13 days, however, Chelsea are going to have to get intentional on their search.

“It’s quite clear from what I am saying now that we know where we need to strengthen but we shall see.”