Women’s World Cup — what we learned on Day 16

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It was one of the forefathers of women’s soccer, Anson Dorrance, who loved to talk about the importance of 50-50 balls, those times when neither team had possession of the ball and it was all about heart, effort, or whatever cliche you wanted to brandish. In Dorrance’s mind, the team that won more of those 50-50s would have more of the ball and therefore have a much better chance to win, he reasoned.

Dorrance has had his share of detractors over the years, mostly about style of play, but he did coach the United States to its first World Cup title in 1991 and has won 21 NCAA national titles at North Carolina, a record that will never be touched in Division I. Heck, no one will get close to half that number.

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

Coaches don’t talk about 50-50 balls as much these days, it comes off as kind of archaic, but there are still times, even at the highest level, when a big match rides on who comes out of a random scrum in the middle of the field.

And so in the 80th minute of a massive World Cup round-of-16 game, it turned out that the fortunes of two national programs turned on a ball that it looked like Brazil should come away with just inside its own half. There were three yellow jerseys and just one Australian to start, but when they corral it quickly, Kyah Simon sneaked in and poked the ball with her toe.

Then it was teammate Katrina Gorry’s turn. She stuck her 4-foot-whatever body in there, fought through a couple of those yellow shirts, and not only came out with the ball, but drilled an inch-perfect through ball to Lisa De Vanna, who had enough faith in her teammate to start her run before Gorry actually had the ball. De Vanna’s shot was spilled by Luciana, but Simon ran all the way in to be first to the rebound. Australia had a winning goal, and that was it.

From there all the narratives followed. Brazil was outc-oached, they will never be able to win a big tournament, Marta should retire, and all the other hot takes out of a match that Brazil put three times as many shots on target (6-2) as their opponents.

[JOHAL: Canada coach Herdman playing with tactical fire]

Which should take nothing away from Australia, of course. The Matildas matched them stride for stride and had a little extra at the end of the match when they needed it most to make the quarterfinals for the third straight time at a World Cup. And the couple of people that tabbed them as a sleeper to make the final will most certainly grow in numbers before that quarterfinal match.

But Brazil will be left to wonder, maybe for a long time, what would have happened if they just won that darn 50-50 ball in the 80th minute.

What else did we learn Sunday?

1) Brazil was solid, but they probably weren’t a contender in Canada
Marta is five-time World Player of the Year for a reason, and she will always be underrated in my mind because of who she is and where she came from. But she was not a big factor in Canada, and certainly wasn’t today as Brazil failed to generate many chances (although they hit a post and Formiga was inches away from a wonderful goal in the first half). The young defense held up extremely well in front of poor Luciana, who was probably hurt by the fact she had so little to do in the group stages. This game does not mean Brazil were poor, they could have easily won this match and maybe squeezed into the finals on the weaker side of the bracket. But they weren’t as good as Germany, France, or even the United States. And that’s a little concerning hosting the Olympics next year. They are young and that should help.

2) Those gutty, gritty Aussies
I’ll be honest, I thought they might finish last in Group D entering the tournament, but take nothing away from their performance not just in this game, but the entire World Cup. Caitlin Foord has recaptured the form she had four years ago running up and down the wing, youngsters like Sam Kerr and Steph Catley are older and wiser (as De Vanna seems to be as well), and Alen Stajcic has pressed all the right buttons so far in his impressive midfield with Gorry and Elise Kellond-Knight (who just happened to be FIFA’s Woman of the Match on Sunday) really standing out but others contributing as well. They certainly won’t be heavy underdogs in their quarterfinal.

3) Hi there, France
Sports are often riddled with the cliche of needing experience to win titles and you have to lose a couple before you can win one. If you subscribe to that, this is probably France’s time. It’s been four years since France burst onto the scene in Germany, and they certainly didn’t appear flustered by much on Sunday. Outside backs Jessica Houara and Laure Boulleau got forward at will (which is kind of what I think Jill Ellis wants to see, even though it doesn’t come as often for the U.S. as it did Sunday for France) and Korea Republic was done in eight minutes.

[MORE: France rolls past Korea Republic, advances to QFs]

Interestingly, my rudimentary research shows the last time Korea Republic conceded more than twice in a competitive match was Sept. 5, 2011, when it lost 3-2 to North Korea (evidently recovered from those lightning strikes in Germany), some 30 matches ago, so France was impressive. And that France-Germany game should be one for the ages.

4) Tough ending for Ji Soyun
At least people know Marta, this was Ji Soyun’s chance to make a name for herself (even though she is one of the best players in the world). And yet she couldn’t play in the biggest game in her career, apparently because of a hamstring. She’s only 24, so hopefully we’ll see her again four years from now in France.

5) Canada’s time?
They have plenty of flaws, but in a fairly even side of the bracket, they have an in-form Erin McLeod and Kadeisha Buchanan, which are two things that none of the other teams have. Buchanan may be battling an injury, and goals may be hard to come by, but you’re telling me Canada would be a huge underdog – at home – against Norway (or England)? And by the semifinals, the whole nation (if they weren’t already) will be behind them. So I say Canada to the finals. Just don’t ask me how right now.

Mexicans Abroad: Jimenez makes Wolves history; Guardado assists in Betis win

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On what was perhaps Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s last weekend in Europe, Raul Jimenez made it clear that he is ready to carry on the mantle as Mexico’s marquee striker in the old continent.

The 28-year-old’s double made him Wolverhampton Wanderer’s Premier League all-time leading goalscorer, surpassing Steven Fletcher‘s record of 22 goals in just 61 appearances.

Meanwhile in Spain, Andres Guardado continues to add remarkable chapters to his never-ending European photo book, recording an assist in Real Betis’ 3-0 thumping of Real Sociedad.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.


Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers —  Not only did Jimenez boost his league goalscoring tally to the double digits on Saturday, but he also became Wolves’ Premier League all-time goalscorer. The Mexican is indispensable for the Midlands side – well worth the club-record $33-million investment.

La Liga

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Sevilla — Chicharito did not make the trip with Sevilla to the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday. On Friday, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reported that Los Angeles Galaxy have signed the 31-year-old. An official announcement from the MLS side is expected in the coming days.

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — Herrera started and played 43 minutes in Los Colchoneros’ rare, 2-0 loss to Eibar on Saturday. Atletico are now eight points behind leaders Barcelona and second-best Real Madrid.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Guardado played all 90 minutes and recorded an assist in Betis’ trashing of Real Sociedad. The midfielder also earned a yellow card in the 23rd minute.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old dressed but remained on the bench for Betis. 

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo started and played 90 minutes in Celta’s 1-1 draw with Athletic Bilbao. The defender recorded 11 clearances, two interceptions, and earned a yellow card.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli —  As Napoli’s continues to suffer under Gennaro Gattuso, so does Chucky. The frenetic winger saw just 26 minutes of playing time in Napoli’s 2-0 loss to Fiorentina on Saturday. Gattuso, however, may be on his was out as reports indicated that he’s considering resigning after just 35 days at the helm.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Tecatito started and played all 90 minutes in Porto’s 2-1 loss to Braga on Saturday. The Dragons trail league leaders Benfica by seven points.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven —  Gutierrez dressed but remained on the bench for PSV on Saturday.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez dressed but remained on the bench for Ajax on Sunday.

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea started and played 90 minutes in Zulte’s 3-0 loss to KRC Genk.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Pedro Arce, Panionios –  Panionios were inactive over the weekend.

Gerardo Ramirez Alonso, Roda JC – Ramirez Alonso and Roda JC take on Jong FC Utrecht on Monday.

Unhappy reunion for Klinsmann as Bayern beats Hertha 4-0

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BERLIN (AP) Jurgen Klinsmann endured an unhappy reunion with Bayern Munich as his former protege Thomas Muller started a 4-0 Bundesliga rout of his Hertha Berlin team.

“It was nice to see him again but of course even nicer to win,” Muller said after Sunday’s victory lifted Bayern to second place, four points behind Leipzig.

Klinsmann gave Muller the first of his so far 336 Bundesliga appearances when he brought on the then 18-year-old for the last 10 minutes of a 2-2 draw with Hamburger SV on the opening day of the 2008-09 season. Klinsmann was fired as Bayern coach in April 2009 as its title hopes faded.

But Muller has only fond memories of his mentor, who later went on to be United States coach.

“I have a special relationship with Jurgen Klinsmann. He made me a professional. I still have the mailbox message from when he called me up for the start of training with the professionals,” Muller said. “He gave me my chance to earn my spurs. He put me straight in. He was my first coach.”

Klinsmann was only cleared to face his former club on Saturday after the German soccer federation and league confirmed they received missing documents for his coaching license.

But Klinsmann, who also played for Bayern between 1995-97 and coached Germany at the 2006 World Cup, could only watch as his team was completely outplayed in the second half.

Hertha showed little initiative going forward and finally paid the price for sitting back when Muller rifled in from close range.

“The first goal opened the game,” said Klinsmann, who had been hoping to extend Hertha’s unbeaten run to five games.

The visitors thought they had another goal minutes later, but Robert Lewandowski’s goal was ruled out through VAR for heading the ball out of Rune Jarstein’s hands.

Lewandowski finally got his goal from the penalty spot in the 72nd after Lukas Klunter tugged Leon Goretzka’s arm.

“The turning point was the penalty,” said Klinsmann, who felt it was a harsh decision.

Thiago Alcantara sealed the result three minutes later with a brilliant strike in off the underside of the bar after Goretzka sent him through, and Ivan Perisic headed in Muller’s cross in the 84th.

Bayern had been missing defenders Niklas Sule, Lucas Hernandez and Javi Martinez through injury, with forward Kingsley Coman also out and midfielder Joshua Kimmich suspended. Canadian teen Alphonso Davies made his 10th consecutive league start.

Santiago Ascacibar started for his Hertha debut after his winter transfer from second-division Stuttgart. The combative Argentine is Hertha’s first signing following financier Lars Windhorst’s investment of $250 million in the club.

Also Sunday, Bayer Leverkusen won 4-1 at bottom side Paderborn to move sixth.

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

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

La Liga roundup: Messi scores, wins game in Setien’s Barcelona debut (video)

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Barcelona’s vintage playing style in their 1-0 win over Granada highlights La Liga’s Sunday action.

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Barcelona 1-0 Granda

With a goal from Lionel Messi against an iron-willed Granada, Barcelona are back at the top of La Liga.

The win is the club’s first under Quique Setien, who debuted as the Catalans manager after replacing Ernesto Valverde.

Barcelona rolled back to the years of Pep Guardiola‘s tiki-taka, as they culminated the game with 83 percent possession and completed 1005 passes. That said, Granda – playing  with 10 men from the 69h minute on – were bulletproof until the 76th minute. Messi gently pushed the ball with his weak foot, finishing what had been a series of fluid, build-up passing.

Setien deployed a nuanced 3-4-3 variation – far from Valverde’s 4-3-3 formation that ended up costing him his job after losing to Atletico Madrid in the Super Copa semifinals.

Players like Sergio Busquets were asked about the distinct styles, but he was candidly opposed to comparing the managers and their philosophies.

“We were a solid team. We had control of the ball. They created little against us,” he told Movistar. “It’s true that we struggled when they dropped deep but, in general terms, the team played a good game.

“It’s not about comparing. Every coach has his style and his way of seeing football. You’ll see what Setien asks us to do. We’re not going to reveal it. We’re delighted with what Ernesto did and we’re delighted with Setien.”

With Real Madrid and Atletico right behind, the defending champions have a long way to go this season. They’ll have to build on the win and, more importantly, further deepen their chemistry under the ex-Real Betis boss. Integrating winter signings into the fold might present itself as a challenge, too.

But one thing is certain: Barcelona can still play like they did back in their glory days. If that sticks, a lot can happen.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Mallorca 4-1 Valencia

Real Betis 3-0 Real Sociedad

Villarreal 1-2 Espanyol

Athletic Bilbao 1-1 Celta Vigo

Serie A roundup: Ronaldo sets record with brace in Juventus win over Parma (video)

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s two-goal performance against Parma highlights Sunday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Juventus 2-1 Parma

Cristiano Ronaldo scored two goals as Juventus edged visiting Parma 2-1, going four points clear of Inter Milan, who drew with Lecce on Sunday.

Ronaldo opened the scoring at Allianz Stadium in the 43rd minute and added his second in the 58th minute, extending his scoring mark to seven straight games – the first Juventus player to reach that mark since Frenchman David Trezeguet in late 2005.

With the double to count for, the Portuguese sees his overall count move up to 16 goals this season, seven behind Serie A’s leading scorer Ciro Immobile, who has put together an extraordinary season.

Surpassing the 15-goal mark, Ronaldo becomes the only player within top five European leagues to at least score 15 goals in each of the last 14 campaigns. A big boost for the 34-year-old recent form has been Paulo Dybala, who provided the assist for the match-winning goal.

After a slow start this season, questions were asked about the chemistry between Ronaldo and the Argentine. But as Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri noted after Sunday’s game, Ronaldo is unlike others: he can create a world of trouble, but manage to resolve it all on his own.

“You have a world class player who might cause you a few problems every now and then, but can also resolve 100 of them,” Sarri said about Ronaldo after Juventus’ victory. “So you have to take him into account and work around his characteristics.”

Juventus will hope Ronaldo remains on what has been his best form this season as they host AS Roma in the Coppa Italia quarterfinal on Wednesday. For Parma, the campaign that is to crack the top six resumes on Sunday against Udinese.

Elsewhere

Milan 3-2 Udinese

Lecce 1-1 Inter Milan

Brescia 2-2 Cagliari 

Bologna 1-1 Verona

Genoa 1-3 AS Roma