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AFC World Cup qualifying: Two surprise nations on pace for Russia

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A pair of surprises would be headed for Russia if Asian World Cup qualifying finishes the way it stands after four match days.

Because of that, we’d also have an incredible playoff match for the fifth spot with Japan and South Korea points off the pace.

[ MORE: UEFA World Cup qualifiers ]

The surprises come courtesy of Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia. The former some of us saw coming, the latter not-so-much.

Here’s how it all played out on Tuesday.

Iran 1-0 South Korea

Sardar Azmoun continued his insane run to start life as a senior international, as the 21-year-old Rostov striker netted his 16th goal in 22 caps for Iran, which is atop Group A while Korea Republic slips third.

Uzbekistan 2-0 China

The White Wolves rebounded from a home loss to Iran to clinch its third win of qualifying on two second half goals. Veteran Marat Bikmaev and 20-year-old Otabek Shukurov scored for the hosts.

Australia 1-1 Japan

Aston Villa midfielder Mile Jedinak converted a 52nd minute penalty to keep Australia in an automatic qualifying spot, one point ahead of Japan. The visitors opened the scoring through Hertha Berlin winger Genki Haraguchi in the fifth.

Saudi Arabia 3-0 United Arab Emirates

Both sides had the chance to take advantage of group powers Australia and Japan drawing, and it was the Saudis who got the job done on goals from three different players. The Green Falcons lead Group B with 10 points, while UAE is a point back of Japan and sits fourth.

Qatar 1-0 Syria

The lone goal of the game comes from a Hassan Al Haidous penalty.

Iraq 4-0 Thailand

Not one, not two, not three, but four goals came from 23-year-old Mohannad Abdul-Raheem, who plays for Al-Zawra’a SC in Iraq.

PL refs told to defer to VAR more, go to the monitor “sparingly”

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Premier League interim chief executive Richard Masters says that referees have ben instructed “to use the referee review area a bit more sparingly” and rely on the numerous video-assistant referees (VAR) at their disposal to make simple calls upon review when video review is instituted in the PL next month.

[ MORE: Lukaku latest: Man United reject $67-million bid from Inter Milan ]

Following the 2019 Women’s World Cup, where far too many trip to the monitor were made by the center referees, the PL is keen on ensuring that “the Premier League or English football [is not] interrupted, or the pace of the game [is not] changed.” It sounds very much like a “less is more” approach  — quotes from the BBC:

“I think fans want to see those clear and obvious mistakes changed and put right. But they don’t want to see the Premier League or English football interrupted, or the pace of the game changed.

“I think the only difference you might see is the referees using the referee review area a bit more sparingly and relying more on the VAR for the more subjective decisions.

“But we are putting something new into the Premier League and if it needs to be refined or improved or tweaked we will look at it when the moment arises.”

In theory, this should work quite well for the PL. Many of the decisions that referees go to the monitor to review themselves could easily be made by the “fifth official.” If it’s obvious to the VAR and he/she can make the call with 100 percent certainty, the center ref should always take their decision in the name of keeping the game flowing. If the VAR isn’t so sure, or it’s a more subjective call that should be made by the person making 99 percent of the game’s calls, go to the monitor. But do so quickly.

Lukaku latest: Man United reject $67-million bid from Inter Milan

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Given two key factors — the date on the calendar and how far apart the two sides appear to be in their respective valuations — it’s looking increasingly likely that Romelu Lukaku will still be a Manchester United player when the upcoming Premier League season starts, despite numerous bids by Inter Milan this summer.

[ MORE: Borussia Dortmund tops Liverpool 3-2 at Notre Dame ]

According to reports out of the UK, Man United have rejected Inter’s latest bid, said to be for $67.5 million. The Red Devils paid $96 million for the big Belgian forward just two summers ago and appear hellbent on recouping most, if not all, of their investment.

Antonio Conte called Lukaku “an important player for us” this week in an attempt to further unsettle the 26-year-old, but that doesn’t appear to have shaken United’s resolve in holding out for the fee they desire.

[ MORE: Wolves top Man City on penalties in PL Asia Trophy final ]

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is growing tired of answering questions about the saga, especially since there has been little to no progress made in recent days and weeks. When pressed on the topic again this week, he said he had “no more updates.”

Wolves top Man City on penalties in PL Asia Trophy final

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The 2019 Premier League Asia Trophy wrapped up on Saturday, as four PL sides took the field in Shanghai, China…

[ MORE: Borussia Dortmund tops Liverpool 3-2 at Notre Dame ]

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-0 (3-2 PKs) Man City

Wolves turned in a fantastic defensive display against the two-time reigning PL champions, indicating that Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side is very much ready for the start of the season. Man City had plenty of the ball in dangerous areas, but Wolves were quick to close off the passages when City typically dominate.

Wolves captain Conor Coady was part of the stellar defensive performance and he lauded some of the young players who entered the game as second-half substitutes and saw the game out to 0-0.

“To beat City at any point is a great accomplishment for us,” he said after the game. “We rode our luck at times but I thought the young boys were outstanding”

David Silva had perhaps the game’s best scoring chance in the 78th minute, but Rui Patricio made a top-drawer save to deny the Spaniard’s curling effort at the last possible moment.

Silva and Ilkay Gundogan began the penalty shootout with back-to-back efforts saved by Patricio. 20-year-old forward Lukas Nmecha was also denied on City’s fifth and final attempt.

Newcastle United 1-0 West Ham United

Newly appointed head coach Steve Bruce watched as an observer, due to “the terms of his visa,” as his Newcastle side beat Manuel Pellegrini‘s West Ham 1-0 in the third-place playoff.

Yoshinori Muto bagged the game’s only goal in the 34th minute. Jamie Sterry whipped in a cross from the right wing that curled around a pair of defenders at the near post and presented itself to Muto, still with plenty of work to do, for a first-time finish.

Zlatan saves his best for the best, Galaxy beat LAFC 3-2 (video)

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CARSON, Calif. (AP) Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored his second hat trick in Major League Soccer and the LA Galaxy beat rival Los Angeles FC 3-2 on Friday night in their first meeting of the season.

Ibrahimovic, who is second in the league with 16 goals, scored in the 8th, 56th and 70th minutes. The 37-year-old Swedish star’s first MLS hat trick came last season against Orlando City.

Ibrahimovic has six goals in four matches against LAFC in the rivalry nicknamed “El Trafico”.

MLS scoring leader Carlos Vela scored twice for LAFCs. The forward has 21 goals in 20 games and is the fastest to reach 20 goals in a season in MLS history.

LAFC dropped just its third match in 21 matches. It leads MLS with 46 points, but has not been able to beat its rival during its two seasons. The Galaxy (12-8-1) – who moved into second in the Western Conference with 37 points – have two wins while the other two ended in ties.

LAFC (14-3-4) opened the scoring in the fourth minute when Vela converted on a penalty kick. Vela drew the penalty when Galaxy goalkeeper David Bingham came off his line and upended the forward near the goal.

Ibrahimovic evened it four minutes later when he got the feed from Julian Araujo, split defenders Walker Zimmerman and Eddie Segura and fired a shot from the top of the box that beat Tyler Miller.

Ibrahimovic then gave the Galaxy the lead 11 minutes into the second half when he took a pass from Diego Polenta, went over Jordan Harvey and headed it into the net.

He completed the hat trick 14 minutes later with a blast from 21 yards out off Favio Alvarez’s pass.

Vela brought LAFC within a goal in the 97th minute off Eduard Atuesta’s assist.