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Asian Cup: Iran and Iraq advance; Saudis on verge

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Iran and Iraq advanced to the knockout stages of the Asian Cup on Saturday with a game to spare.

Three-time champion Iran beat Vietnam 2-0 and secured its spot in the round of 16 when 2015 semifinalist Iraq beat Yemen 3-0 in another Group D game.

Another three-time champion, Saudi Arabia, moved closer to gaining its spot in the next round after beating Lebanon 2-0 in Group E.

With two wins each, Iran and Iraq meet in Dubai on Wednesday to decide the group winner.

Saudi Arabia meets Qatar on Thursday to close the group stage in a highly charged game amid the political tensions between the two nations.

The top two teams in each group and the four best third-placed teams advance to the round of 16.

It was a record ninth successive victory for Iran in Asian Cup group matches. Asia’s top-ranked team has dominated possession and looked comfortable in its opening two games, scoring seven goals without conceding.

Iran’s Sardar Azmoun took care of the goals against Vietnam, scoring in each half.

Saman Ghoddos crossed for the forward to put Iran ahead with a close-range header before halftime. Azmoun added his second in the 69th with a left-footed strike from the middle of the box for his third goal at the tournament.

Vietnam lost a second straight match after falling to Iraq 3-2.

Iran is led by former Real Madrid and Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz, who is chasing a major title with Iran after eight years in charge.

In Sharjah, Mohanad Ali Kadhim and Bashar Resan Bonyan scored with low shots from outside of the area early in the first half to give Iraq a comfortable advantage against Yemen. Substitute Alaa Abbas sealed it in second-half injury time.

Yemen and Vietnam are pointless and will fight for third place in Al Ain on Wednesday.

In Dubai, Fahad Al Muwallad opened the scoring 12 minutes into the game and Hussain Almoqahwi doubled the lead in the 67th.

With two wins from two, Saudi Arabia leads Group E with six points and could advance with a game in hand if North Korea fails to beat Qatar on Sunday.

Saudi Arabia won its opening two games at the Asian Cup for the first time since 1996, when it last won the title.

After two defeats, Lebanon faces a must win against North Korea to have a chance to make it to the next round.

Berhalter trims USMNT squad to 23 ahead of friendlies

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Four players were sent back to their Major League Soccer clubs as U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter settled on a 23-man squad ahead of a pair of friendlies.

Berhalter and U.S. Soccer announced on Tuesday evening that Toronto FC’s Alex Bono, LAFC’s Tyler Miller, Real Salt Lake’s Justin Glad and the Colorado Rapids’ Kellyn Acosta were all released back to their clubs as preseason training gets underway for all MLS clubs. FC Cincinnati’s Greg Garza departed the USMNT January camp a week ago with a quadriceps injury.

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“We’ve had a great two weeks in Chula Vista focusing on building team culture, style of play and competing every day,” Berhalter said. “The entire group has worked hard and brought an excellent mindset, and we thank them for the consistent effort thus far. We look forward to continuing to build on these ideas in Phoenix and measure our progress in the game against Panama.”

The 23-man squad now heads to Phoenix to prepare to face Panama on Sunday, before facing Costa Rica on February 2 in San Jose, Calif.

Here’s the current USMNT squad, via U.S. Soccer (caps/goals):

GOALKEEPERS (2): Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 5/0), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew SC; 6/0)

DEFENDERS (8): Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas; 2/0), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes; 0/0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 2/0), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact/CAN; 0/0), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union; 0/0), Keegan Rosenberry (Colorado Rapids; 0/0), Auston Trusty (Philadelphia Union; 0/0), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC; 4/1)

MIDFIELDERS (10): Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 17/2), Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake; 0/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 142/17), Russell Canouse (D.C. United; 0/0), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC/CAN; 6/0), Jonathan Lewis (New York City FC; 0/0), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy; 5/1), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC; 5/0), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; 11/0)

FORWARDS (3): Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers, 0/0), Christian Ramirez (LAFC; 0/0), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew SC; 40/6)

League Cup Preview: Manchester City v Burton Albion

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Even with a 9-0 aggregate lead, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola plans to send out a strong squad for the second leg of the League Cup against Burton Albion.

[READ: USWNT picks up first win of 2019]

Players coming back from injury, such as Kevin De Bruyne and Benjamin Mendy, along with some youngsters such as Phil Foden and Oleksandr Zinchenko are likely to play big roles, and though some academy players will feature, Guardiola stated it would mostly be first-team regulars.

“The guys who have a lot of games in their legs are going to rest,” Guardiola said. “Players who need to play, who haven’t played lately, who are coming back from injury long-term are going to play.

Manchester City is looking for its sixth-straight win to open up 2019. Guardiola’s side has also only allowed one goal this year.

On the other side, Nigel Clough and Burton know that realistically the tie is over, but they’ll see if they can score against the defending Premier League champions on a big night at home.

“It will be about little milestones, and pride of course,” Clough said, via the BBC. “If one of our players could score against one of the best teams in Europe then that would be a milestone for us. Amd it would be a wonderful individual milestone for whoever got a goal.”

Burton sits 55 places behind Man City in the English football pyramid, so this tie was always likely out of reach. However, Wednesday is a chance for Burton to have a night none of their players or fans will ever forget.

Teammates, clubs react to Sala disappearance

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The disappearance of Emiliano Sala has sent the soccer world into a state of shock.

The horrible news over the English channel however has brought many players, fans and administrators together, as they hope and pray for the safe return of Sala and the flight’s pilot. Sala was on his way from Nantes, France to Cardiff, where he had just signed a contract with a $19 million transfer fee.

Here’s a look at some of the big names across the world who have reacted to the news of Sala’s disappearance.


Pressure increases on Thierry Henry as Monaco loses again

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PARIS (AP) Thierry Henry’s first managerial stint took another turn for the worse on Tuesday as his Monaco side lost 3-1 at home to second-division Metz in the French Cup.

This latest defeat follows a 5-1 loss at home to Strasbourg in the French league on Saturday, a result which has the 2017 French champion languishing in 19th place.

[READ: Dele Alli out until March]

We have a real problem at the Stade Louis-II,” Henry said after the game, via L’equipe. “I do not know why, I have trouble grasping. We needed to tell each other truths after the match in the locker room. We must be united. I take everything for myself, the lack of aggressiveness, the fact of not being good at Louis II, the tactical errors. We lacked today to be decisive in the opposing end. It will be necessary to be united, to fight, to go forward and to be aggressive. I do not know if the guys realize what’s going on. I can not be in their heads. We are in a critical situation and we are here to try to save ourselves.”

Henry recalled Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic following a long spell out of the side, and only one appearance for Monaco since reaching the World Cup final. But surprisingly, even though Henry said winning this match was a priority for the club, he left key signing Cesc Fabregas on the bench.

When he brought the former Chelsea midfielder on after 69 minutes, second-division leader Metz was already 2-1 up at Stade Louis II.

Monaco had equalized through top scorer Radamel Falcao, but its chronic weakness in defense was again exposed as Metz comfortably reached the last 16 of the competition.

Henry’s immediate task is to win points to help the club escape relegation – starting with Saturday’s key game at Dijon, which is two points above Monaco in 18th spot.

In other French Cup games on Tuesday, first-division sides Guingamp, Lille and Toulouse advanced.

Cup holder Paris Saint-Germain hosts Strasbourg in Wednesday’s matches.