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Coutinho, Messi too much for shorthanded Spurs

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  • Coutinho strikes early
  • Rakitic makes it 2-0 with worldie
  • Messi bags brace
  • Kane, Lamela score for Spurs

Philippe Coutinho, Ivan Rakitic, and Lionel Messi all scored wonderful goals as Barcelona outclassed injury-hit Tottenham Hotspur 4-2 at Wembley Stadium in UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday.

Messi scored a second goal for Barca, bagging a 90th minute point-blank finish.

Harry Kane and Erik Lamela scored for Spurs, who were without Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, and Jan Vertonghen.

Barca goes to six points through two matches, while Spurs have zero.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

It took less than a minute-and-a-half for Barca to welcome Hugo Lloris back to the Spurs side, with the goalkeeper’s aggressive pursuit of Jordi Alba allowing the left back to find Coutinho with a cutback. The ex-Liverpool man scored from 18 yards.

Harry Kane forced Marc Andre ter Stegen into a 25th minute save when Spurs got their first strong effort on target.

But Rakitic put the game firmly in Barcelona’s camp with an exquisite piece of technique. Lionel Messi’s cross was chested down to Coutinho, whose blocked shot had the Brazilian scrambling to pass it back atop the 18. Rakitic leapt to volley the ball off the near post and into the goal. Beautiful.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Spurs would’ve been grateful to get to the dressing room at half, and Messi underscored that by hitting the post for a second time once action resumed at Wembley.

Kane cooked Nelson Semedo with a 52nd minute cutback before curling around Ter Stegen to make it 2-1.

The enthusiasm was short-lived, because Messi did not hit the post with his next effort. The living Argentine legend started and finished a pretty play in the 56th minute, using a Luis Suarez dummy to line up a cute finish across goal.

It was 3-2 when Erik Lamela’s left-footed strike took a turn off Clement Lenglet to fool a diving Ter Stegen.

La Liga shockers: Barca loses, but Real fails to take advantage

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Maybe some foresaw Sevilla beating Real Madrid on Wednesday, but did anyone predict that decision would join a Leganes defeat of Barcelona hours earlier?

[ MORE: Bundesliga wrap – Pulisic shines again ]

Andre Silva scored twice and Wissam Ben Yedder continued his fine season with a goal past as Sevilla beat Real to stop Los Blancos from taking ahold of the La Liga lead.

Sevilla managed seven shots on target in the match, while Real only managed three. Thibaut Courtois was between the sticks for Real.

The loss stings more because Barcelona wasted a Philippe Coutinho 12th minute opener and lost 2-1 to last place Leganes at the Estadio Municipal de Butarque.

Nabil El Zhar and Oscar Rodriguez scored a minute apart early in the second half, and Leganes boosted its points total from one to four.

Alaves can join Barcelona and Real Madrid on a league-best 13 points with a win on Thursday, as no unbeaten teams remain in La Liga. Atletico Madrid has 11 points, while Sevilla and Espanyol each have 10.

Elsewhere
Athletic Bilbao 0-3 Villarreal
Valencia 1-1 Celta Vigo

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Barcelona 6 4 1 1 17 7 10 2-1-0 2-0-1 13
 Real Madrid 6 4 1 1 12 6 6 3-0-0 1-1-1 13
 Atlético Madrid 6 3 2 1 8 4 4 2-1-0 1-1-1 11
 Sevilla 6 3 1 2 13 6 7 1-1-1 2-0-1 10
 Alavés 5 3 1 1 8 5 3 1-1-0 2-0-1 10
 Espanyol 6 3 1 2 6 4 2 3-0-0 0-1-2 10
 Celta Vigo 6 2 3 1 11 9 2 1-2-0 1-1-1 9
 Villarreal 6 2 2 2 5 3 2 0-1-2 2-1-0 8
 Real Sociedad 6 2 2 2 9 9 0 0-1-1 2-1-1 8
 Girona 5 2 2 1 7 8 -1 1-1-1 1-1-0 8
 Getafe 5 2 1 2 4 4 0 1-1-1 1-0-1 7
 Eibar 6 2 1 3 5 7 -2 2-0-1 0-1-2 7
 Athletic 5 1 3 1 7 9 -2 1-2-1 0-1-0 6
 Betis 5 1 3 1 3 5 -2 1-1-1 0-2-0 6
 València 6 0 5 1 4 6 -2 0-3-0 0-2-1 5
 Levante 5 1 1 3 8 11 -3 0-1-2 1-0-1 4
 Leganés 6 1 1 4 6 11 -5 1-1-1 0-0-3 4
 Rayo Vallecano 5 1 1 3 5 12 -7 0-0-2 1-1-1 4
 Huesca 6 1 1 4 6 16 -10 0-0-2 1-1-2 4
 Valladolid 5 0 3 2 3 5 -2 0-0-2 0-3-0 3

USMNT 0-2 Brazil: Young hosts no match for Neymar, Firmino

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Brazil coach Tite named a very strong starting lineup, with the likes of Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, and Casemiro. That was always going to be a struggle, and it was, but the United States was far from run off the field in East Rutherford on Friday night as they fell 2-0 to the World Cup quarterfinalists in an international friendly meeting.

The United States came out of the opening whistle with a very high press, and it seemed to trouble the Brazilians from the start, but the visitors began to figure things out and struck in the 11th minute. Douglas Costa straight burned Antonee Robinson who over-committed on the flank, and his cross found Roberto Firmino at the back post who had drifted back from an oblivious Matt Miazga. Brazil nearly grabbed a second as Costa again torched Robinson, this time cutting inside, but his ball into the box was fumbled at the penalty spot for Neymar.

[ COVERAGE: 5 Things Learned | Player Ratings ]

The US had its best chance down the other end on the half-hour mark as Yedlin crossed to Weston McKennie, but his promising shot was blocked. The ensuing corner resulted in a header by Miazga on a delicious cross from Julian Green, and again it went out for a corner. Again McKennie had a massive chance, but Alisson came off his line to smother the shot from the far post. A fourth corner again came sizzling in, but Wood couldn’t get his head to it and instead found himself shaken up on the turf.

Again Brazil almost had a second, but a Coutinho shot from the top of the box was blocked bravely by Robinson and Zack Steffen saved the follow-up from Fabinho. They would double the lead before the break when Fabinho went down softly in the penalty area trying to squeeze between John Brooks and Wil Trapp, and the referee pointed to the spot. Neymar sent Steffen the wrong way for his 53rd international goal. At the break, Brazil had most of the possession while the United States was left with little to savor.

With no substitutions for either side at halftime, Brazil came out of the break with the intent. Douglas Costa toasted Paul Arriola down the right, and nearly found Firmino but his poor first touch killed off the chance. Yet again, Costa beat Robinson on 52 minutes – this time through the middle – and fed a delicious pass to Neymar, but his shot was slowed by Steffen and eventually cleared off the line by Matt Miazga right on the doorstep.

[ MORE: U.S. to hire new head coach by end of 2018 ]

Sarachan brought on Timothy Weah and Kellyn Acosta for Paul Arriola and Julian Green as the game neared the hour mark, a positive substitution. Tite countered with the addition of Arthur for Manchester United midfielder Fred, while Douglas Costa was removed for Chelsea winger Willian. McKennie had a chance to put the U.S. on the board soon after, but he put his effort just wide on the end of a curling free-kick.

Another change for either side saw Gyasi Zardes replace Bobby Wood, while Paqueta made his international debut for Brazil replacing Coutinho. The U.S. nearly found an opening as Wil Trapp forced a shaky save from Alisson with a long-distance shot low and to the left. Down the other end, Robinson picked Firmino’s pocket to save a breakaway opportunity. The U.S. again had a chance on a set-piece with 15 minutes to go, but Alisson stopped a weak effort as two U.S. players came together for the shot.

With three minutes remaining, the U.S. had one last chance as Tyler Adams sent a cross in that went just over the head of Gyasi Zardes, while substitute Christian Roldan had his follow-up cutback cleared away. The loss is just the second for the United States in seven matches since the failure in Trinidad & Tobago, and will provide Dave Sarachan and the rest of the coaching staff plenty of tape to teach the players how to match up against the best in the world.

Key battles in each World Cup quarterfinal match

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The World Cup has reached the quarterfinal stage – the point in the competition where no slouches are left, all the pretenders have packed their bags, and only the truly cohesive squads remain. We’ve seen some barnburners, some defensive grinders, and plenty of exciting moments.

With just eight teams left, there will be plenty of key matchups in each game for pundits to dissect, white boards to draw, and coaches to highlight. Here are a few of those battles that each team must work around.

Uruguay vs. France – Edinson Cavani vs. Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane

France will get its opportunities to score goals, of that there is no doubt. Diego Godin leads one of the most gritty back lines remaining in the big dance, but Kylian Mbappe has already shredded enough defensive units to know that he will provide France chance to take.

With that in mind, the true test will come on the other end of the pitch. France’s defensive unit has been shaky, while Uruguay’s attack is banged up. Cavani came off injured in the dying minutes of the 2-1 Round of 16 victory over Portugal, while Luis Suarez was reportedly injured in Uruguay training. Can they test the French central defenders enough to keep up with the high-powered France attack? They may be forced to play in from the flanks, where France is the weakest. Lucas Hernandez has been surprisingly solid, but aside from scoring a wonder goal against Argentina, young Benjamin Pavard has been mediocre at best. That may be Uruguay’s best chance to score.

Brazil vs. Belgium – Philippe Coutinho and Willian vs. Belgium midfield

Brazil defensive midfielder Casemiro is out thanks to picking up his second yellow card of the tournament in the previous match, so that may very well leave his midfield partner Paulinho on an island.

[ MORE: Tite’s biggest tactical test comes in Casemiro’s absence ]

That’s not where we’re focused on here. No, we’re looking in the other direction. With Brazil likely to maintain a significant portion of the possession, They will look to build their attack through the midfield where Japan exposed a serious weakness in the Belgian setup. In the first half of their Round of 16 matchup, Japan ran the ball straight down Belgium’s throat, with only Axel Witsel covering the back line. It worked. After halftime, Roberto Martinez brought on Marouane Fellaini to shore up the midfield, plus Nacer Chadli to help give the Japanese something else to think about, and it shifted the tide of the match.

So who will Roberto Martinez start in midfield against Brazil? If Witsel and Fellaini are paired from the opening whistle, it may nullify Coutinho’s influence and put pressure on Willian, who has had an underrated tournament thus far. If Witsel is by himself, Coutinho may have a field day.

Sweden vs. England – Emil Forsberg vs. Kyle Walker

Emil Forsberg could give England problems on Sweden’s left wing (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images).

Is this a matchup we could see in the Premier League this coming season? Emil Forsberg has seen one of the tournament’s biggest breakout performances, and he could be on the radar for a summer switch. He plays on the left wing, the same side as Walker’s assignment as part of the back three.

Walker has been impressive in his center-back role, but has slipped up at times. It hasn’t cost England dearly yet, but could Forsberg make Gareth Southgate pay for his experimentation on the biggest stage? Sweden’s shape and structure have been incredibly impressive so far in Russia, and if they can keep Harry Kane and company at bay, one goal may decide the match, and Forsberg’s movement and creativity will be critical for Sweden.

Russia vs. Croatia – Roman Zobnin and Daler Kuzyaev vs. Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic

Croatia’s midfield is being hailed as the best of the remaining World Cup teams, and they have carved up defensive shape after defensive shape. Croatia has beaten Nigeria, Argentina, Iceland, and Denmark so far, all teams known for their ability to lock down the center of the pitch.

Luka Modric has deserved the Golden Ball noise he’s getting to this point, but Ivan Rakitic has been the secret weapon, pairing with Modric flawlessly moving forward. If Russia is going to win this match, they won’t be able to just bunker in and earn a 0-0 draw. They will have to open up to score, and that means keeping Modric and Rakitic locked down despite the additional space. Zobnin and Kuzyaev performed fabulously against Spain, but were aided by Fernando Hierro’s static tactics. Can the inexperienced duo – just 26 caps between the 24- and 25-year-old pair – repeat the performance against the tournament’s best midfield tandem?

2018 World Cup Best XI (so far)

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With 48 of 64 games played at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, a look at the brightest stars of the group stage…

[ MORE: Predicting the round of 16 ]

GK — Cho Hyun-woo — Only Guillermo Ochoa (17) made more saves than Cho (12), who made six in South Korea’s 2-0 victory over Germany — the majority in spectacular fashion — and three each in disappointing defeats to Mexico and Sweden. The Taegeuk Warriors weren’t knocked out due to any shortcomings in goal.

DF — Andreas Granqvist — Sweden conceded just two goals in three games against Germany, Mexico and South Korea, and their 33-year-old captain has been a massive part of the why and the how.

DF — Yerry Mina — Mina’s been solid in defense for Colombia, but he’s done the majority of his damage at the other end of the field. Two goals in two games played, and they were both game-winners.

DF — Jose Gimenez — No one has more interceptions (11) and only seven players have won more tackles (6) than the 23-year-old Uruguayan, who just edges out his steady-as-ever partner — for club and country — Diego Godin.

[ MORE: 10 best goals of the group stage ]

MF — Viktor Claesson — Two assists and six key passes in 254 minutes of work. For all the talk about the tough-nosed, dogged defense — and rightly so — Claesson has been at the center of everything going forward.

MF — Luka Modric — He’s been one of the three best midfielders in the world for a half-decade now, and he’s finally getting due credit after playing a massive part in Real Madrid winning three straight Champions League titles, while Croatia are a rare instance of a national team’s personnel fitting together in every way imaginable.

MF — Philippe Coutinho — With Neymar still working back toward his absolute best — and returning to his diving ways — Coutinho picked up the slack in the goal-scoring and -creating (2 goals, 1 assist) and playmaking departments (10 key passes in three games) during group play.

MF — Kevin De Bruyne — While it felt like De Bruyne didn’t quite put his stamp on Belgium’s dominant victories over Panama and Tunisia — the only games in which he played — the Manchester City man still racked up nine key passes in 180 minutes. His outside-of-the-foot ball to Romelu Lukaku is a strong contender for the pass of the tournament.

[ MORE: The five knockout round games we most want to see ]

FW — Harry Kane — Five goals in 153 minutes — even if two of them were from the penalty spot — is a pretty impressive haul for a 24-year-old making his World Cup debut. England will go as far as Kane’s goals can take them.

FW — Romelu Lukaku — Pretty clearly the most destructive and dominant performer we’ve seen thus far, Lukaku racked up four goals (in just 149 minutes) before suffering a minor ankle injury and sitting out the final group game against England.

FW — Cristiano Ronaldo — Portugal’s leading man opened the tournament with a hat trick in the 3-3 draw with Spain, then followed it up with the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win over Morocco.His free kick — the 88th-minute equalizer in the game against Spain — was, and still is, pure art.