Associated Press

U.S. comes back, stuns favorites France at U-20 World Cup

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The United States challenged in the first half, but it appeared as if the U-20 World Cup favorites France were too much to handle. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the U.S. had completed a stunning comeback to win 3-2 and secured a spot in the quarterfinals, while the giants were out.

Sebastian Soto’s brace led the way for the United States, cancelled out by France goals from Amine Gouiri and Nabil Alioui until substitute Justin Rennecks pounced with eight minutes to go for the winner.

The opening 20 minutes were of high quality on both ends. France as expected dominated possession, but struggled to do much with it early. The United States had the first good opportunity as Richie Ledezma couldn’t finish from a tight angle, while France came close down the other end with Mickael Cuisance’s cross to Nabil Alioui much too strong, surprising the Monaco youth product who headed over the bar.

Timothy Weah came close on 20 minutes as he turned Enzo Loiodice around but was foiled by France goalkeeper Alban Lafont coming off his line and snuffing out Weah’s attempted chip. That was a harbinger for the French defense which was torn to pieces on the opening goal 25 minutes in. Ledezma broke through the middle and ran it straight down the French throats, with the favorites caught on their heels. He fed a beautiful ball right between the French center-backs for Sebastian Soto through on goal who controlled nervously and finished a curler for the game’s first goal.

France picked things up after the opener and worked a shot off the woodwork in the 36th minute. A wonderful bit of combination play in the box fell to Cuisance who cut a shot from the penalty spot and clattered it off the outside of the right post. The hosts tied things up just before halftime on the counter with the United States caught way too high up the field, which left Aboubakar Kamara all alone to defend a two-man break. Moussa Diaby fed Lyon youth product Amine Gouiri who was clean through and a cool finish brought France back level at 1-1.

A key moment in the first half was an injury to U.S. midfielder Paxton Pomykal, who seemed to be troubled by a painful knock to his lower back. He returned to the field after treatment, but was clearly slowed.

In the second half, there was a quick VAR check for handball in the 52nd minute but Diaby’s shot hit Kamara’s elbow tucked in to his body and nothing rightly came of it. With the United States looking gassed past the hour mark, Tab Ramos made a double change bringing Ledezma and Konrad de la Fuente off with Ulysses Llanez and Justin Rennecks entering the fray.

Completely against the run of play, the United States found an equalizer with 15 minutes to go. Llanez held the ball strongly as the Baby Yanks entered the attacking third, and Weah did excellent work in heavy traffic to feed Soto who timed his run perfectly off the back of the French defensive line. Through on goal, he finished to level the score at 2-2.

With the United States energized, they surged forward. At times it appeared dangerous, but Ramos understandably wished to try for a winner in regulation rather than suffer through another 30 minutes of extra time on tired U.S. legs. He would find a winner through substitute Rennecks after Sergino Dest fired off an absolute howitzer from distance that stung Lafont’s hands, the ball spilling to the turf at the far post. Rennecks pounced and reached the ball before Lafont could recover, handing the U.S. a lead with eight minutes to go.

Soto nearly sealed it in the 89th minute, through on goal again, but he tried to round the goalkeeper and Lafont was on hand to collect off his feet. France fought tooth and nail for the equalizer, but they couldn’t come any closer than Dan-Axel Zagadou’s missed header in the 91st minute. The final whistle sounded, and the United States was on to the quarterfinals for the third straight cycle while France’s tournament came to an early end. The U.S. takes on Ecuador on Saturday, as the CONMEBOL side took down fellow South American side Uruguay 3-1 in their quarterfinal matchup.

Leicester City’s Rodgers: ‘Good news’ on Vardy injury

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Brendan Rodgers says there’s good news when it comes to the injury suffered by Jamie Vardy in Leicester City’s 4-1 blowout of West Ham United on Wednesday.

Vardy hurt his glute in the win, temporarily returning to the match after treatment from the trainer but ultimately subbing off before halftime.

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“It wasn’t his hamstring, so that’s good news for us,” Rodgers said, via The Leicester Mercury.

“He just felt a twinge in his glute, so we just have to wait and see on that in the next day or so. Thankfully his hamstring is okay and he just felt some pain in his glute, so we will have to assess that over the next few days.”

Vardy has a Premier League-best 17 goals, one more than Man City’s Sergio Aguero.

He was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho, who assisted one of Ayoze Perez’s two goals on the day. Perez’s seven goals are second on Leicester, while James Maddison‘s six are third.

Iheanacho has six goals and three assists in 485 minutes and there’s reason to believe he can feast off Leicester’s playmaking if Vardy needs a match or two to heal.

Whether he can fill Vardy’s shoes in the long-term is a big question, especially as Leicester aims to return for the Champions League.

Transfer rumor roundup: Willian Jose to Spurs, Bournemouth after Croatian CB

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London could get itself another Willian.

Willian Jose, 28, was left out of Real Sociedad’s squad at his request on Wednesday, with the club Tweeting that he’d prefer not to play until his situation is resolved.

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Jose Mourinho said he would not comment on another team’s players, but Willian Jose could help Spurs bridge the gap to Harry Kane‘s return.

Willian Jose has been a double-digit scorer for Real Sociedad in La Liga for the previous three seasons, and is well on his way to another 10-goal campaign. He’s got eight goals in 20 matches this season.

Bournemouth needs defensive help, and is reportedly rivaling Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers for Portuguese giant Toni Borevkovic.

The 22-year-old Croatian has one goal in just over 3000 minutes with the side since arriving from domestic side NK Rudes.

He’s averaging 1.3 interceptions, .9 tackles, and 3.3 clearances per game in league play.

Rio Ave sits seventh in Portugal’s top flight and is managed by former Premier League boss Carlos Carvalhal.

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

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Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

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In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho: Spurs don’t have attacking depth, but do have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
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In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

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Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.