Salvatore Sirigu

AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert

Italy finally finds way past Horvath, USMNT

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The United States men’s national team closed out its 2018 with almost as many questions as it closed out 2017, losing 1-0 on a stoppage time goal in Belgium.

Actually, there may be more questions after the result, as goalkeeper Ethan Horvath made a statement between the sticks with more than a half-dozen saves in place of injured Zack Steffen.

Italy scored in the fourth minute of stoppage time, a terrific team goal completed by two tremendous touches from scorer Matteo Politano.

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The first half-hour was marked by significant Italian possession, and most notable for some dogged interventions from alert USMNT goalkeeper Horvath.

The Club Brugge man played well in Belgium, stopping Leonardo Bonucci point-blank on the Italians’ best chance of the first half.

Horvath was busy again in the 44th minute, reacting quickly to an untouched Marco Verratti free kick.

Fortunately for the U.S., there were few ideas on display from Roberto Mancini’s men.

Verratti headed over the goal within the first 10 minutes of the second half, but the Americans had a chance for an unlikely opener with a 56th minute free kick. Nothing.

Horvath was back in the spotlight with an in-tight leg save after Walker Zimmerman put off a driving Kevin Lasagna in the 59th after Bonucci sent him over the top of the defense.

A Kellyn Acosta free kick found Zimmerman at the back post, but Salvatore Sirigu was there for his first save of the afternoon.

Hoffenheim’s Vincenzo Grifo forced Horvath into a flying save in the 70th minute, and Mancini’s men couldn’t do anything with the ensuing corner. He’d then stymy another 1v1 chance on the left side in the 72nd.

Lasagna probably should’ve given Italy a winner in the final 10 minutes, but he smashed the ball over the bar.

Substitute Romain Gall forced a corner kick out of a diving Sirigu in the 90th minute, but the youngster’s corner didn’t clear Italy’s line.

Verratti and substitute Moise Keane played Politano on goal, with Sebastian Lletget leaving Politano after the Inter man started the play and Aaron Long unable to switch in time.

Chelsea 2-2 (3-3) Paris Saint-Germain: 10-man PSG pull off extra time, instant classic win to eliminate Blues

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We just watched one of the most entertaining matches in soccer history. There aren’t many words to describe it, but we’ll try.

Despite an early red card, Paris Saint-Germain rallied to beat hosts Chelsea and advance to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals with a 2-2 extra time draw at Stamford Bridge.

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Eden Hazard converted a 96th minute penalty after Thiago Silva’s theatrically-poor handball, but Silva headed the ‘winner’ home in the 114th minute to pull the Ligue 1 side through.

Bjorn Kuipers gave a red card to Zlatan Ibrahimovic (WATCH and VOTE here) in the 33rd minute after a controversial collision with Oscar, and Chelsea got an 81st minute goal from Gary Cahill. Ex-Chelsea man David Luiz sent the match into extra time with a powerful header in the 86th.

Regardless of who won, Kuipers had a stunningly poor day. At least he was consistent in making baffling decisions. Kuipers has given a red card in three-straight UCL matches, and this one came after Jose Mourinho set the “dirty PSG” narrative on Tuesday (correlation, not causation).

Jose Mourinho will rue his tactics for the final hour of regulation, as he sat back against a 10-man PSG side.

PSG began the match with cutting runs and effective movement toward the Chelsea goal, but Thibault Courtois collected a second minute corner and Chelsea began its own attack.

Marco Verratti earned cries for a penalty when Chelsea back Kurt Zouma collided with him in the 18, but no such luck was headed PSG’s way.

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And then Chelsea caught a major break, as Ibrahimovic was given a red card for a late slide on Oscar that was hardly worthy of a red.

With the match 0-0 at halftime, Chelsea controlled the ball but took few risks at the outset of the second half. Their away goal would hold up in the case of a 0-0 draw.

source: Getty ImagesBut Edinson Cavani almost shocked the system with a brilliant run and touch around Courtois before an awkward touch pushed him towards a tight-angled shot that hit the post.

Oddly enough, it was 10-man PSG that had chance after chance as the game entered its final half-hour, but seemed hesitant to get solid strikes at Courtois.

Then Cahill picked up Diego Costa’s flubbed volley out of the air and hammered it past Salvatore Sirigu to give Chelsea a cushion.

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All said, Courtois may’ve been the Man of the Match, keeping a clean sheet against a desperate Parisian side.

But then…. Luiz! The former Chelsea sweeper headed a cross past Courtois in the 86th minute, and Mourinho’s side was in danger of a horrific collapse.

To extra time, where Didier Drogba entered for Ramires as Mourinho poured the gas on 10-man PSG. But it was Hazard who would put Chelsea in front with a PK after Thiago Silva leapt with two arms in the air to combat Zouma, touching the ball before the Blues defender headed it.

Courtois made a strong save in the 101st minute when he dove back to tap Luiz’s free kick over the bar.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Fabregas, Matic (Zouma, 84′); Ramires (Drogba, 90′), Oscar (Willian, 46′), Hazard; Diego Costa

Goal: Cahill (81′), Hazard (PK, 96′)

PSG: Sirigu; Marquinhos, David Luiz, Thiago Silva, Maxwell; Verratti (Lavezzi, 83′), Motta, Matuidi (Rabiot, 84′); Cavani, Ibrahimovic, Pastore (Van der Wiel, 117′)

Goals: Luiz (86′), Silva (114′)

FIFPro’s World XI five goalkeeper shortlist includes… Iker Casillas???

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The world of soccer players still likes Iker Casillas a great deal, while many of us are left rolling our eyes at the shortlist of players in the running for the FIFA FIFPro World XI 2014.

Many expect Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer to ease to a win, so the inclusion of Real Madrid keeper Casillas provides us with a decent talking point; How did a man who lived through an embarrassing World Cup and has just reclaimed his No. 1 gig for his club make the list?

Casillas won the award five times from 2008-12, so perhaps players were struggling for names on their ballot and thought, “He’s usually good.” Also on the list are Chelsea’s Thibault Courtois, Juventus’ Gianluigi Buffon and Barcelona’s Claudio Bravo.

Consider that even his most notable accomplishment, winning the UEFA Champions League final, comes with a goofy goalkeeping blunder.

Certainly keepers like David De Gea, Tim Howard, Wojciech Szczesny, Hugo Lloris and Salvatore Sirigu are scratching their heads.

Mario Balotelli excluded from Italy squad prepping for Euro 2016 qualifiers

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New Italy boss Antonio Conte has named his roster for upcoming Euro 2016 qualifiers against Azerbaijan and Malta, but striker Mario Balotelli, who has been considered one of Italy’s more dynamic forwards, didn’t make the cut again.

And this action arrived after Brendan Rogers decided to nix the Italian from his usual starting XI in Liverpool’s 2-1 win over West Brom earlier today.

Balotelli was also excluded from his country’s friendly vs. the Netherlands and Euro qualifier against Norway in September.

Conte has added a fresh face to replace the 24-year-old striker in the forward rotation. His name is Graziano Pelle and he’s enjoyed a great beginning to the season, scoring five goals in eight games so far this season. Pelle is a huge reason for Southampton’s early year success.

On the defensive side, youngster Daniele Rugani received his very first call-up to the senior team, and the Blues highest-capped defender, Juventus man Giorgio Chellini, is unsurprisingly set to star for his country.

Below is the complete roster, via ESPN FC.

Goakeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Mattia Perin (Genoa), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain).

Defenders: Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Angelo Ogbonna (Juventus), Andrea Ranocchia (Inter Milan), Daniele Rugani (Empoli).

Midfielders: Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Giacomo Bonaventura (AC Milan), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan), Alessandro Florenzi (Roma), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Marco Parolo (Lazio), Manuel Pasqual (Fiorentina), Andrea Poli (AC Milan), Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain).

Forwards: Mattia Destro (Roma), Sebastian Giovinco (Juventus), Ciro Immobile (Borussia Dortmund), Pablo Daniel Osvaldo (Inter Milan), Graziano Pelle (Southampton), Simone Zaza (Sassuolo).

At halftime: Marchisio, Sturridge leave Italy, England even – FOLLOW LIVE

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Story of the half:  Italy’s dominance of the ball doesn’t translate onto the scoresheet, with each team producing a goal in the half’s final 10 minutes. Whereas the Azzurri have had success building through the middle before playing wide right, England’s speed has proved as problematic as predicted, with two of the team’s three good first half chances resulting from Italy’s inability to keep up with the Three Lions’ attackers.

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Goals:

35′ – Claudio Marchisio – After having success all half going down their right, Italy finally earns their first corner. A restart played short eventually makes its way to the top of the penalty area, where Marchisio rifles a low liner inside Joe Hart’s right post. Italy, 1-0.

37′ – Daniel Sturridge – Rooney turns the tables, getting behind right back Matteo Darmian and onto a long through ball from Raheem Sterling.  Perfectly floating a ball to the far post, the Manchester United star dropped his cross into Sturridge’s right foot, finding the Liverpool striker in stride for England’s opening goal. Tied, 1-1.

Other key moments:

5′ – Liverpool kicks playing their part – After a pass from the right found Raheem Sterling just outside the Italy penalty area, the Gabriel Paletta deflected a ball back to Jordan Henderson, who ran onto a one-timer that drew a dive from Salvatore Sirigu. The moment, however, was less about the quality of the chance than the people involved. After giving the crowd reason to gasp on a long shot minutes earlier, Sterling was again drawing the defense’s attention, while his Liverpool teammate had seized a chance to get forward.

12′ – England pinned – For the first time in the match, Italy is able to sustain possession in the final third. Most of the Azzurri’s attacks had seen them turn on the ball and toward goal, but this time, with Andrea Pirlo switching play 32 yards out, England set up behind the ball: four defenders; four midfielders; and Raheem Sterling above the arc.

There’s no pressure. No chances are being taken. They just wait for Italy to make their move – a benign play that concedes a goal kick. When Italy’s in control, this is how the match will play out.

22′ – An empty appeal – Play switched from England’s right finds Sterling on the opposite flank, with a perfectly trapped ball allowing the 19-year-old to put his next touch beyond Marco Verratti and toward the byline. Driving a ball into the six, Sterling nearly connects with Danny Welbeck, who is left appealing for a penalty as his move toward the ball finds the left shoulder of Paletta.

23′ – Barzagli saves Azzurri  Welbeck nearly has his revenge with England’s next movement, beating Paletta to go alone into the right of the box. His pass into the six was destined for Sturridge before a lunge for Andrea Barzagli saved Italy, with the ball eventually going out for a corner. It’s the first sign that England’s will give Italy problems.

33′ – Italy finds Balotelli – The Italians continue to find success down their right – behind Wayne Rooney, who’s been pushed wide by Sterling’s inclusion. This time, Darmian is able to find Mario Balotelli making a near-post run, only to see the Milan forward fail to get his try on goal. Moments later, down that same right side, Italy produced the corner that gave them their lead.

45+2′ – Jagielka prevents amazing – A through ball into the left of the area draws Joe Hart off his line, but Balotelli beats him to the ball, leaving the Manchester City goalkeeper helpless as the Italian midfield races into the box. Before they arrive, Balotelli defies his sharp angle and lofts a ball toward goal. If it wasn’t for Phil Jagielka collapsing back to his line, Italy would have gone into half-time up 2-1. Seconds later, as Antonio Candreva nailed Hart’s right upright, England was in survival mode.

Key players:

  • Salvatore Sirigu, Italy – The Paris-Saint Germain number one is making his first start for Italy since 2010. If England’s speed continues to prove problematic, he may need to stay perfect to preserve a result.
  • Andrea Pirlo, Italy – Of course. Everything is still flowing through him.
  • Leighton Baines and Wayne Rooney, England – At some point, Italy has to meet some resistance going down their right. What England’s speed is to Italy’s defense, Candreva and Darmian have been to England’s.
  • Cesare Prandelli, Italy (manager) – Is there a point where the Italy boss sacrifices Marco Verratti to get another attacker in the box? Verratti has been fine, but his inclusion means Balotelli’s alone when Italy penetrates down the right.

Question for the second half:

  • Will Manaus play its part? – Contrary to prematch suspicions, the pitch is fine and appears to be holding up well. The humidity, however, will test each sides fitness. With an 82 degree temperature complemented by 70 percent humidity, attrition could be a factor.