Photo by Ricardo Botelho/LatinContent via Getty Images

Brazil, Argentina mired in pressure for Copa America tie

1 Comment

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) Brazil will be under pressure for its future and Argentina for its past when they meet in the Copa America semifinals on Tuesday at Mineirao Stadium.

The hosts need the title to try to calm the waters for coach Tite until the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Lionel Messi’s team seeks its first trophy in 26 years, which would also be the first major one for the superstar in the white and blue shirt.

[ MORE: USWNT-England preview ]

In the other semifinal, defending champion Chile and underdog Peru play in Porto Alegre on Wednesday.

In a change from the quarterfinals, teams will play extra time if the first 90 minutes are drawn.

Neither Tite nor Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni have given much suggestion into how their teams will play their superclasico in Belo Horizonte. Sunday’s training sessions were closed to the media.

The Brazilian coach doesn’t like to make changes, meaning his team could stick to the 4-1-3-1 formation it has used for most of the tournament, with sensation Everton, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino closing midfield gaps and helping Gabriel Jesus up front. Tite is under pressure for his conservative approach since he picked a squad filled with veterans, which signaled his desperation to win.

Scaloni has made changes to his inexperienced team for every Copa America match, and is under pressure to be more conservative against Brazil by ending its effective offensive trio of Messi, Lautaro Martinez and Sergio Aguero. The latter two could be replaced by winger Angel di Maria, who has performed well in roles that include defending, or midfielder Giovani Lo Celso.

Brazil’s and Argentina’s Copa America campaigns have been far from impressive.

The hosts have two victories and two draws, advancing to the semifinals only after a penalty shootout win against Paraguay following a goal-less first 90. The team was booed by fans in three of the four matches, and misses the injured Neymar to break stronger defensive lines.

Argentina comfortably beat Venezuela 2-0 in the quarterfinals in its best performance so far, but it started with a defeat by the same score against Colombia, drew Paraguay in a match which almost sent it crashing out of the tournament, and won against Qatar 2-0 to advance to the knockout stage. In none of those matches did Messi deliver a Barcelona-like performance.

[ MORE: Saints sign Adams, Ings ]

Recent history puts Brazil slightly favored for their clash.

The last time they faced off at Mineirao Stadium in November 2016, Brazil won 3-0 in 2018 World Cup qualifying. Since then, Tite has kept his job, and Argentina has had three coaches; Edgardo Bauza, Jorge Sampaoli, and Scaloni, on an interim basis.

The last time Brazil lost to Argentina at home was in April 1998 in a friendly before the World Cup in France. Striker Claudio Lopez scored at Maracana Stadium.

Messi, who admittedly is not playing well at Copa America, has also struggled in most of the superclasicos. In nine matches between the two South American soccer powers, the superstar has lost five and won three, all those in friendlies against below-strength Brazil lineups.

The last great performance by Messi against Brazil was in July 2012, when he scored a hat trick in a 4-3 win on U.S. soil.

Before the tournament, he said Argentina was “not a candidate” for the Copa title. In recent days, he’s changed his mind.

“What matters is that we are in the semifinals, and matches have been very tight at this Copa America,” Messi said after the win against Venezuela.

Brazil will count again on Richarlison as an option on the bench. The striker was isolated for days in Porto Alegre because of mumps, which made him miss the quarterfinal match against Paraguay. He has rejoined his teammates in Belo Horizonte.

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

Villa boss Smith seethes at players ahead of League Cup Final

Aston Villa
Photo by Mark Kerton/PA Images via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith‘s team left him snarling after a 2-0 loss at Southampton on Saturday.

Villa remains a point above the drop zone after the loss, but could sit in the bottom three should Watford or West Ham get points later this match week.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Out-attempted by a resounding 28-4, Smith wasn’t interested in hearing about the side’s League Cup Final date with Man City next.

“I am not bothered about the cup final next week, this was our cup final today and we were terrible,” Smith said, via the BBC. “Certainly some players have played themselves out of next week.”

Smith’s Villans should’ve carried more urgency given their next six PL fixtures. Leicester City and Chelsea start the run before a Newcastle pallet cleanser leads into Wolves, Liverpool, and Manchester United.

Instead, they were insipid.

“We never laid a glove on them in the first 20 minutes. I try to defend the players but today was not good enough. They were miles off it in the first half. A bit better in the second half. It was a game that could have been won but we didn’t create enough and didn’t defend enough. They were deserved winners.

“We can’t keep talking about getting good starts. Not starting well is a concern. We can’t play that bad again. It gave me a lot of heart seeing them against Tottenham but today was dreadful.

Villa are too talented to go down in theory, and the Midlands set will love its day at Wembley Stadium next weekend. But Smith’s men are still in a position to be competing in the Europa League and the Championship. Wild.

Here are a few more Smith thoughts, transmitted via our own Joe Prince-Wright at St. Mary’s.

Southampton outclass Aston Villa

Leave a comment

Southampton outclassed Aston Villa to win 2-0 at St Mary’s on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

In-form Shane Long struck early and Stuart Armstrong sealed the win in the 94th minute as Villa never looked likely to draw level.

With the win Southampton move on to 34 points for the season and are in the race for European qualification. Villa are just one point above the drop zone.


3 things we learned

1. Saints almost safe: Ralph Hasenhuttl said he will start sorting out a new contract for himself and his players when they reach 36 points. They are now on 34 as they showed just enough class to get past Aston Villa. A clean sheet will delight Hasenhuttl as his team never really looked like conceding against a poor Villa outfit. Saints have played well in recent weeks without getting the points they deserved but on Saturday they dug deep to grab all three points. With a favorable run of games coming up, Saints are finally looking up the table.

2. Sky is the limit for Djenepo: He is one of the most exciting players to watch as the Mali international dribbles and wriggles his way towards goal. He could have scored a couple but set up Long’s goal and his potential is limitless. He is still just 21 years old and has a huge future in the game.

3. Reina, Grealish are Villa’s big hopes: Jack Grealish did his best to get Villa going, as he has done all season, but he had no real hope from his teammates as Villa were pretty wretched. Late on they chucked everything at Saints but even then they couldn’t break through. Pepe Reina made several fine stops from Southampton’s players at one end, even though his loose passing at the back put them under severe pressure. Villa head to Wembley next weekend to play in the League Cup final against Man City and that is a free-hit. Their main aim is to stay in the Premier League and they are now just one point off the bottom three.

Man of the Match: Stuart Armstrong – He finished off his lung-bursting run in the 94th minute to slot home Saints’ second and the Scotsman was tireless in linking together midfield and attack. Long and Ings set the tempo and Armstrong and Djenepo back them up so well.


Southampton almost took the lead early on as Will Smallbone, making his Premier League debut, saw his shot deflect onto the post and out.

The hosts did take the lead soon after as great work from Moussa Djenepo down the left saw him cross for Long who bundled home the ball. VAR checked the goal for handball but it stood.

Saints continued to dominate as Ryan Bertrand‘s header set up Ings who bundled his way through on goal but Pepe Reina produced a top save to deny him, then Djenepo fired over from Long’s cross.

Villa did improve a little as half time approached with Mbwana Samatta scoring from an offside position and Grealish trying to get on the ball as much as he could.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Jack Stephens flicked just over from a superb Ryan Bertrand free kick and then Stuart Armstrong rounded Reina but sent his shot into the side-netting.

Reina denied Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg‘s volley at one end while at the other Samatta’s deflected shot looped just over.

Substitute Che Adams fired just wide late on as Southampton were a threat on the break as Villa poured forward in search of an equalizer.

A frantic finish saw Adams have a shot cleared off the line at one end then Villa flashed a shot wide at the other. Reina then came up for a late corner kick and Saints cleared, leading to a wonderful ball for Adams who set up Armstrong to slot home and send St Mary’s wild.

Wasteful Sheffield United splits points with Brighton

Leave a comment

Sheffield United failed to find the finishing touch more than once in a 1-1 draw with relegation-threatened Brighton and Hove Albion at Bramall Lane on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Enda Stevens gave the Blades a lead with a delightful goal, but Neal Maupay quickly answered for the visitors.

Sheffield United improves to 40 points, behind fifth-place Spurs on goal differential.

Brighton’s 10th draw of the season pulls it four points clear of the bottom three.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]


Three things we learned

1. Blades fail to take advantage of Spurs stumble: If Chris Wilder‘s men fail to qualify for Europa, let alone the Champions League, they will point to results like this one. The hosts had all of the ball and gave up just one big chance, but switched off on one set piece and only collected a single point.

2. Misfiring forwards don’t help the cause: While Blades did have plenty of possession, they managed a single shot on target between starting forward Oli McBurnie and Billy Sharp, as well as substitute David McGoldrick.

3. Norwood impresses in the center: Well-traveled Oliver Norwood sprayed the ball all over the pitch on Saturday. Norwood had 100 touches for the hosts while completing seven of 14 crosses and 12 of 18 long balls. Despite all the big launches, he passed at 88 percent in the center of the park.


The Blades opened the scoring in the 26th minute as Stevens smashed a clinical shot home after a clever short corner routine.

Brighton answered when Lewis Dunk flicked a free kick onto the path of Maupay for 1-1.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Stevens would only last to halftime thanks to injury.

Mat Ryan and his defenders needed to come up big several times in the second half, including an 88th-minute scramble in the heart of his box.,

Palace rides Van Aanholt free kick past messy Newcastle

Crystal Palace v. Newcastle United recap and video highlights
Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Patrick Van Aanholt starred against his former derby rivals as Crystal Palace beat Newcastle United 1-0 on Saturday at Selhurst Park.

Palace snaps a three-match losing run with the win, moving 13th with 33 points.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Newcastle stays on 31 points in 14th.

Valentino Lazaro took a straight red card for a take down of Wilfried Zaha deep in stoppage time and will miss the next three games.


Three things we learned

1. Van Aanholt shines bright:  The Eagles’ fullback hasn’t been at his best too often this season, but he was marvelous on Saturday even apart from the free kick goal. Playing against his former Northeast rivals, Van Aanholt passes at 85 percent, completed five of eight crosses and two of four long balls. He was credited with six key passes and the creation of two big chances (via Sofascore).

2. Same two stars for Newcastle, the rest passengers: Martin Dubravka made eight saves to keep Newcastle in the match, and the attack only went so far as electric winger Allan Saint-Maximin. Newcastle has badly needed a difference-maker in the midfield, and it’s no surprise the midfield is a mess without a real January energizer. Sean Longstaff has been a shell of the man linked with a $35 million move to Manchester United this summer.

3. Scrappy affair: Referee Peter Bankes handed out plenty of yellow cards — five for Newcastle, two for Brighton — and there wasn’t much consistency as to what merited a mere whistle and what registered as a caution. Palace had 15 fouls to Newcastle’s nine despite the discrepancy in cards.

Man of the Match: Van Aanholt, who got the better of his only rival for the honors with his free kick goal.


Dubravka was as busy early as Palace was wasteful. Jordan Ayew and Christian Benteke failed to strike with force from 18 yards before the keeper palmed away a strong Scott Dann header off a corner.

Palace keeper Vicente Guaita was then troubled by a Joelinton rip from distance, and Newcastle had a corner and a chance to breathe.

Benteke missed a sitter on a perfectly struck free kick, Newcastle bailed out in the 21st minute.

Joelinton and Benteke seemed intent on competing for least clinical striker, with the former then bungling a chance to cross for a streaking Miguel Almiron.

It took ex-Sunderland man Van Aanholt to put Newcastle to the sword with a delightful 45th-minute free kick.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Ayew should’ve had it 2-0 in the 48th minute when Van Aanholt’s cross found him near the back post, which he struck.

Gary Cahill then headed a Van Aanholt free kick off the side netting from close range.

Dominated for 68 minutes, the Magpies saw two bits of danger through Danny Rose and Fabian Schar in the 69th. The latter led to a pair of corners.

Dubravka again got the better of Ayew after Zaha and Cheikhou Kouyate set up a brilliant chance. Wasteful.