United States women show confidence in win over China


OTTAWA, Ontario – Is this it? Is this finally it?

Could Friday’s victory over China – a 1-0 victory, but one that never seemed in doubt – finally be that turning point for the United States at this Women’s World Cup?

Through four games, the United States’ play was largely uninspiring, drawing criticism from ex-players and pundits alike. The Americans were largely outplayed by Australia in the opening match but won the game thanks to the brilliance of Megan Rapinoe and her two goals. They struggled against Sweden in a scoreless draw, scraped by Nigeria and needed a player advantage to finally beat Colombia on Monday.

[MORE: Lloyd’s goal lifts US past China, into World Cup semifinals]

And for their part, U.S. players and coaches knew that they weren’t performing up to their high standards. They spoke about it all week about it. “At the end of the day, we all know we’re not playing our best football and we’re still finding ways to win,”Carli Lloyd said earlier this week to the tune of just about all of her teammates.

But there was something different in the air on Friday in Ottawa, where the setting summer sun shone blindingly down on a U.S. team that was just beginning to see the light on its capabilities.

“The confidence was slowly building and I think that this game, it really, really helped us,” said Lloyd, who scored the game’s only goal.

Soccer is so often a game of momentum, not just within a specific match but across several. The United States is structured around an unbreakable mentality still heralded by competitors as the best in the world.

Sure, Friday’s opponent was a still-rebuilding China team that always only wanted to defend. But it’s a China team that does that extremely well; Lloyd’s goal was only the fourth scored on China in five games at this World Cup.

[KASSOUF: O’Hara, high pressure pay off in big way for U.S. win]

On paper, the 1-0 victory doesn’t look like anything more than a game the United States is expected to win. But the eye test tells that Friday’s 1-0 victory was light-years more impressive than Monday’s 2-0 win over Colombia or any other result the Americans earned at this tournament.

On Friday, everything finally clicked.

“This is a new tournament,” U.S. forward Abby Wambach said. “And in order to get to the final, we’re going have to play almost impeccable soccer to get there.”

Vibes from U.S. players after Friday’s win mirror those put forth after the team’s Algarve Cup final victory over France in March. Much like this World Cup, the group stage of that Algarve Cup exhibition tournament wasn’t pretty for the United States. But a victory over a weakened France team in the Algarve Cup final restored confidence to the Americans and brought relief from the barrage of criticism after months of so-so performances.

Sound familiar?

“I think it’s big,” United States coach Jill Ellis said after Friday’s win. “We talked about trying to grow in this tournament, and today was a big, big step for that.”

Tuesday is the penultimate step in the journey toward a World Cup title, but it is a huge step against world No. 1 Germany.

Peaking too early is a concern the U.S. women voice often. Wambach said earlier in the tournament that she didn’t want to be at her peak until she was standing on the podium on July 5 in Vancouver. And all the while, everyone wondered if this “peak” would ever come.

Friday wasn’t the peak, but it finally felt like the U.S. was beginning to ascend.

Champions League preview: Spurs host Leipzig, Valencia visits Atalanta

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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties kickoff Wednesday, including one being labeled as the biggest in a club’s existence.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

That would be Serie A side Atalanta, which hosts Valencia at 3 p.m. at Gewiss Stadium.

Atalanta had played in two consecutive Europa Leagues, but this is their first move into the Champions League. To make the knockout rounds is exceptional, and club president Antonio Percassi is fired up.

“We must be honest, this is the most important game in the history of this club,” Percassi told Sky Sport Italia. “It doesn’t seem real. It’s exciting just thinking that tomorrow we’ll be in a Champions League Round of 16. It’s wonderful for our fans too. … This is going to be a unique experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.”

Atalanta finished second in its group to Manchester City, and is fourth in Serie A. Valencia won its group.

There’s a Premier League side in action on Wednesday, too, as Spurs begin life without Heung-Min Son.

Jose Mourinho spun a tale about how badly Tottenham will need its fans against RB Leipzig, comparing the home-field advantage to an emergency rescue crew of sorts.

Leipzig is led by Julian Nagelsmann, who was once referred to as “Baby Mourinho” by his players.

The 32-year-old was quick to distance himself from the story.

“Tomorrow it is Leipzig against Tottenham, not Mourinho v. Baby Mourinho,” he said. “I have great respect for Mourinho. He has won lots of titles with big clubs, the Champions League twice. He has made his mark on European football at some big European clubs. I think it his 59th knockout game in the CL and it is my first so there is obviously respect there.”

Liverpool’s Robertson not a fan of Atletico Madrid theatrics

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Liverpool fullback Andy Robertson was not impressed with Atletico Madrid’s display as his side fell 1-0 in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Reds fell behind on a fourth-minute Saul Niguez goal and couldn’t get a shot on target despite 73 percent possession in Spain.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Atleti executed its plan to near-perfection, slowing restarts and taking advantage of counterattacking opportunities to assuage the constant pressure of Liverpool.

At times it was reminiscent of early-century Italian national team play, and both neutrals and Liverpool knew what they were in for once Atleti took the lead.

“We gave them the best possible start to get the fans behind them and then they can start falling over and things like that, trying to get under our skin a bit which I think we handled quite well to be honest,” Robertson told BT Sport. “We know we are better than (how they played). We put in a decent performance and we can be better than that. Luckily we have got a second leg to put it right.”

Given the performance and the reputation, you’d still fancy the Reds to “put it right” at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp thinks Atleti will feel plenty of pressure at Anfield, and he will certainly feel the officiating will be more to his liking.

Liverpool’s Klopp: ‘Our people will be ready’ for second leg at Anfield

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Jurgen Klopp didn’t have any issue with Diego Simeone’s defense-first Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Spanish side flummoxed Liverpool’s attack and the Reds didn’t manage a shot on target despite eight attempts and 73 percent possession at the Wanda Metropolitano.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

What Klopp didn’t appreciate was the referee’s work, though, implying that Polish official Szymon Marciniak was overwhelmed by the occasion. Marciniak has worked UCL matches for six seasons, twice overseeing quarterfinal ties.

Klopp was shown a yellow card in the second half, and the Liverpool boss felt Sadio Mane was harassed by Atleti. Klopp removed yellow-carrying Mane at halftime.

“He was targeted obviously,” Klopp said after the game. “The only thing they wanted was to make sure he got a yellow card. The score is 1-0, that’s all but you need to be really strong as a ref in this atmosphere. So many things happened, after 30 minutes already three players were on the ground. The first yellow card was a striker from us. I’m not sure they even got a yellow card, which is funny.”

Atleti’s Angel Correa was shown a yellow, while Klopp, Mane, and Joe Gomez were cautioned for Liverpool.

The Liverpool boss found himself laughing a few times, especially when he was asked about Simeone’s touchline personality.

Klopp said before the game that if the German was a four in intensity, then Simeone was a 12. Simeone followed suit by constantly urging the crowd to get behind the home side on Tuesday.

That didn’t bother Klopp, but he issued a public relations officer’s dream in reacting to it.

“Wow, wow,” he laughed. “That’s energy. I don’t think I have to do it that much (at Anfield). Our people will be ready. Welcome to Anfield. It’s not over yet.”

Klopp finished his remarks by saying of Jordan Henderson‘s removal from the game with a hamstring injury, “I hope it was a precaution, but I’m not 100 percent sure”

Haaland wins first leg after Borussia Dortmund-PSG comes to life late

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Erling Haaland scored twice in a mid-second half flurry as Borussia Dortmund beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The hosts also got an assist from teenager Giovanni Reyna, who became the youngest American to appear in a Champions League match.

Haaland now has 39 goals in 29 appearances between Red Bull Salzburg and BVB, 11 of those for his new German employer.

Neymar scored off a Kylian Mbappe goal for PSG, who brings an away goal back to the Parc des Princes for a March 11 second leg.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Neymar had an early free kick, missing just wide of the far post.

Jadon Sancho troubled the keeper twice in the first half hour, first with a cross that Mats Hummels headed over goal. Then, Keylor Navas picked another Sancho offering out of the air.

Sancho kept serving, and Erling Haaland couldn’t turn a promising cross on target.

Dortmund walked into halftime with a scoreless match but a 7-2 edge in shot attempts. Neither of PSG’s shots were on target.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre put in American teen Giovani Reyna in the 67th minute.

Two minutes later, it was 1-0 to the hosts through Haaland’s close-range goal.

Neymar replied from close range himself after a powerful, clever dribble from Kylian Mbappe led to a pass through the box.

But Haaland got his second in the 77th minute with a scorching shot that serves as the first senior assist of Reyna’s senior career with Dortmund (Watch it here).