Monday's World Cup wrapup

Monday's World Cup wrapup

By Adam Vaccaro

What happened Monday: Chile went a man up over Switzerland in the 31st minute but struggled to capitalize on the advantage for most of the game. Then, a pair of Chilean substitutes put La Roja on the scoreboard late in the contest. Esteban Paredes, who entered in the 65th minute, slipped past a defender into the right corner of the box before crossing to half-time sub Mark Gonzalez. With the goalie drawn out, Gonzalez got his head on the ball to net the game-winner. Unfortunately for Chile, this would be the game's only goal. The team is still undefeated in group play but will see Spain next week and may suffer for not having converted on more scoring opportunities.

Also Monday: Last week, North Korea gave Brazil everything it had in a 2-1 loss to the five-time champions. Based on this morning's result, in saying everything they had I am speaking very literally. Portugal posted a crooked 7-0 score in securing its first victory of the tournament. North Korea was able to hold them to just one score in the first half but the world's third-ranked team put on a finishing clinic in the second half, including three goals after the 80th minute. Tiago scored twice and Cristiano Ronaldo ended a long international scoring drought with a pretty juggling effort late in the match. All of Portugal hopes that the goal, which notably did not come in a high-pressure situation, will get the superstar rolling on the world stage again.

Spain got itself back on track with a 2-0 win over Honduras. David Villa, Barcelona's newest striker, scored twice on six shots and La Furia allowed very little in the way of opportunity to Los Catrachos. Having played pretty well in a losing effort against the Swiss last week, it stood to logic that things would straighten out for the Spaniards against the group's weakest opposition. The win sets up for a very interesting conclusion to what has probably become the tournament's most exciting group.

The head of FIFA's refereeing department did not directly comment on Koman Coulibaly's foul call that cost the United States victory against North Korea. Jose-Maria Garcia-Aranda acknowledged that the tournament has seen some poor calls but chalked them up to human error while saying that most of the tournament's officiating has been quite good (no argument here on that point). It's still likely that Coulibaly will be sent home before the start of the Round of 16, and he has not been assigned to any match through Wednesday's set, the latest with referees already assigned.

What it all means: Portugal finds itself very likely to survive the Group of Death after today's blowout. Should the team post a draw against Brazil, it will advance and the Brazilians will take the group's top seed. But even a loss should be an acceptable result for Ronaldo and Co. They weren't bullying North Korea in scoring seven times, they were improving their chances of advancing. Portugal now boasts a nine goal advantage over Ivory Coast in the event that the two tie. In other words, Ivory Coast is all but eliminated. With the loss, North Korea now knows that it will not advance. I do hope the squad was able to bring happiness to its Dear Leader, as was its stated goal.

Group G just might see three teams mount six points. The Swiss will be favored against Honduras and victory would give them two wins. If Spain beats Chile, already twice a winner, La Furia would also be at six. This would be a remarkable turn of events, as one two-win team would not advance. No group has seen three six point teams since the World Cup finals expanded to 32 teams (1994 saw two groups with three six-point teams, but under the format of that 24-team tournament, those teams advanced). A number of scenarios could play out in that instance. Essentially, advancement would depend on who wins or loses by the most or least in the group finales. Despite not having yet lost, Chile would be in the toughest spot; La Roja has hurt itself by only scoring twice despite numerous opportunities in its first two matches. If, however, Chile posts a draw, the team will win the group. And should that come to pass and the Swiss win, it would mean the shocking end of the line for Spain.

What to watch on Tuesday: It is unlikely that either France or South Africa will advance from Group A, but I would still prioritize their 10:00 a.m. match. The reasons? This will almost certainly be Bafana Bafana's send-off in its home country. The crowd should be loud and the team should have fun and play with a lot of pride, making for some enjoyable soccer. Perhaps even more compelling, Les Bleus have found themselves in complete disarray in group play's concluding week. France entered the tournament as a very difficult squad to cheer for. Frankly, it's been a delight to watch them implode. I'm hoping to catch a few final dramatics from the Frenchmen in what should be their last match as a group.

Also Tuesday: In other Group A action, Uruguay and Mexico will meet knowing that a draw will send both teams to the second round. This probably won't be a highly competitive match and at the end of the day, the two teams will likely advance and shake hands knowing that the only way they'll see each other again would be in the tournament finals. A different result could change things, but even then it's highly unlikely that these two won't advance. Should one team win, they'll take the group's top spot and the loser would be stuck in a tie breaking situation with a hypothetical winner of France versus South Africa. But because Mexico and Uruguay currently have a positive goal differential while Les Bleus and Bafana Bafana are in the red, it would take serious work on Tuesday for either of the latter duo to advance.

Group B on the other hand still needs to be decided. Argentina will win the group with a draw against Greece. The Greeks played well against South Korea in securing its first ever World Cup victory last week, but Argentina should outclass them in this one. South Korea and Nigeria will both play for a win when they meet. For either side, an Argentinian victory over the Greeks would send the victor into the Round of 16. Nigeria is yet to win but could still become this year's first African team to advance to knockout play. Vincent Enyeama has kept the team's hopes alive with his play in goal, and a victory over South Korea along with a Greek loss would advance the Super Eagles on goal differential. South Korea would also move forth with a draw, assuming Argentinian victory. Should both matches result in a draw, the fortunes of South Korea and Greece would come down to total goals scored. Stakes will be high all around during the two 2:30 matches.

Question of the Day: Will Lionel Messi score on Tuesday? The Barcelona superstar has yet to collect a goal for Argentina but has been dominant through two games. Messi played a hand in all four of his team's tallies in defeating South Korea. Against Nigeria, he was shut down on several great opportunities by Enyeama, arguably the tournament's best keeper thus far. Eventually he'll put one in. South Korea and Nigeria both hope it will happen against Greece, maybe more than once.
Full schedule (all times EDT): Mexico v Uruguay Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg 10:00 a.m.; France v South Africa Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein 10:00 a.m.; Nigeria v South Korea Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban 2:30 p.m.; Greece v Argentina Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane 2:30 p.m.

Quote of Note: Yes, I think what happens with the team is sad. But it is also sad that we don't debate soccer. Still, France has a small chance, and this obstacle will be forgotten if France wins. - Former French midfielder and captain Zinedine Zidane, referencing the disarray surrounding Les Bleus on the eve of its Group A finale.

Messi leads Argentina over U.S. 4-0, into Copa America final


Messi leads Argentina over U.S. 4-0, into Copa America final

HOUSTON — Lionel Messi was too much for the United States to contain.

The five-time world player of the year set up Ezequiel Lavezzi's opening goal in the third minute, then scored on a free kick to break Argentina's career scoring record and assisted on the final goal in a 4-0 rout of the U.S. on Tuesday night that put the La Albiceleste into the Copa America final.

"This was the goal when we got here, to play another final and we made it," Messi said. "We've been spectacular from day one and we deserved this."

After Messi doubled the lead in the 32nd minute with his 55th international goal, his tournament-leading fifth, Gonzalo Higuain quickly ended U.S. comeback hopes when he put the rebound of his initial shot past goalkeeper Brad Guzan in the 50th. Higuain scored off a Messi pass in the 86th.

Argentina will seek its first major title since the 1993 Copa — and its first since Messi's debut in 2005 — when it plays Chile or Colombia on Sunday in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

"That's what we hope and what we want, to finally achieve that," Messi said. "We deserve it, for all the good work we've been doing all these years."

It might be missing Lavezzi, who fell backward over an advertising sign board and appeared to land hard on his left arm at about the 60th minute. Lavezzi was able to get up several minutes later and left on a cart.

Hosting a special, expanded 16-nation edition of South America's championship to celebrate Copa America's 100th anniversary, the U.S. won a difficult group that included third-ranked Colombia and then beat No. 13 Ecuador in the quarterfinals. But top-ranked Argentina and Messi, who turns 29 Friday and is at the top of his game, outclassed the U.S. from the opening whistle and stunned the sellout crowd of 70,858 at NRG Stadium.

Messi has helped Barcelona win eight titles in Spain's La Liga and four in the Champions League, but his Argentina trophies have been limited to the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship for players under 20 and the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics, mostly for players under 23. La Albiceleste lost to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final and to Chile in last year's Copa America final.

The U.S. and coach Jurgen Klinsmann were trying to rebound after getting eliminated by Jamaica in the semifinals of last year's CONCACAF Gold Cup, losing to Mexico in a playoff for a 2017 Confederations Cup berth and struggling in the semifinal round of 2018 World Cup qualifying. The Americans close the tournament Saturday in the third-place match at Glendale, Arizona.

Klinsmann inserted midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Graham Zusi into his lineup along with forward Chris Wondolowski because of suspensions assessed to midfielders Jermaine Jones and Alejandro Bedoya, and forward Bobby Wood. In an effort to spark offense, 17-year-old Christian Pulisic entered at the start of the second half, and Steve Birnbaum came on in the 60th for Beckerman, allowing Geoff Cameron to move up to midfield, and Darlington Nagbe replaced Clint Dempsey in the 78th.

Argentina went ahead when Lavezzi played a short corner kick to Ever Banega, who passed back to Lavezzi sprinting from the corner diagonally. Lavezzi beat Fabian Johnson to the ball and poked it to Messi about 25 yards out, in the center of the field. As the U.S. defense started to come out, Messi one-timed a flick with his left foot over the back line to Lavezzi, who got to the ball ahead of Kyle Beckerman about 7 yards from the goal. He headed the ball over Guzan, who had started to come off his line.

Messi doubled the lead after Beckerman slipped and Chris Wondolowski took down Messi, earning a yellow card. Klinsmann screamed at Paraguayan referee Eduardo Cardozo as Messi placed the ball about 26 yards out, a few yards closer to the goal than the foul. After the U.S. set up its wall, Messi bent a beautiful curving drive that went just over Guzan's outstretched left palm and into the upper corner.

Messi moved one ahead Gabriel Batistuta's career total, according to the Argentine Football Association. However, FIFA records Batistuta's total as 56, including two goals in an exhibition against Slovakia in June 1995.

Higuain scored when he burst past John Brooks for Lavezzi's pass and one-timed a shot that Guzan stopped with a diving save, then poked the rebound into an open net. Messi nearly added a goal in the 83rd with a 20-yard shot that Guzan palmed to safety.

Feldman: Terrific goal by Rowe to win the game

Feldman: Terrific goal by Rowe to win the game

Brad Feldman and Paul Mariner break down the New England Revolution’s victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps behind the goals from London Woodberry and Kelyn Rowe.

Messi starts, Argentina beats Venezuela 4-1 in Copa America


Messi starts, Argentina beats Venezuela 4-1 in Copa America

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Lionel Messi had the ball along the sideline, closer to midfield than the goal, in what seemed to be a harmless position.

One well-placed entry pass later, the ball was in the net and Argentina was on its way to a Copa America semifinal matchup with the United States.

"He knows that he's a game-changing player," Argentina coach Geraldo Martino said Saturday night after Messi scored a goal and added two assists to beat Venezuela 4-1.

"Everybody's trying to cancel him. But he knows when to play one against one. He knows when to pass the ball to other players. There may be times when he lets some other player take advantage of this."

Messi's goal in the 60th minute gave Argentina a 3-0 lead and was his 54th in international play, tying the national record set by Gabriel Batistuta, according to Argentina's governing body. The Barcelona star also took over the Copa America scoring lead with his fourth goal despite making his first start of the tournament.

Argentina has two days to rest before playing the U.S. in Houston on Tuesday night. The Americans have been off since beating Ecuador on Thursday.

"I don't think we're too worried about that. We're very focused on our goal," Martino said. "This is not a big deal, the rest time."

With many in the Gillette Stadium wearing No. 10 from Messi's national team and La Liga jerseys, the five-time FIFA Player of the Year started the game after playing a total of just 74 minutes in the three group stage matches. Just eight minutes in, he connected with Gonzalo Higuain on a long entry pass to make it 1-0.

Eight days after recording a hat trick in just 29 minutes against Panama, Messi gathered the ball in at the sideline and lofted a long pass to Higuain, who split two defenders took the ball on a short hop and booted it in.

"We tried to force them to play long balls," Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel said. "They have that stroke of genius that changes all your schemes. They had an incredible pass from Messi, and they scored. When you lose so early in the game, it's almost like a knockout."

Higuain scored again in the 28th to make it 2-0, picking up an errant backpass by Venezuela midfielder Arquimedes Figuera and sidestepping goalkeeper Dani Hernandez before left-footing it into the net.

In the 42nd minute, Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero took out Josef Martinez's legs with a headfirst dive. But on the resulting penalty kick, Luis Seijas tried to scooch it straight up the middle and Romero took a small stutter step to his left before catching it.

Messi made it 3-0 when he took a pass from Nicolas Gaitan just outside the 6-yard box.

Venezuela finally beat Romero in the 70th minute when Salomon Rondon headed the ball in, nicking the post on the way. But Messi assisted again on Erik Lamela's goal a minute later to make it 4-1.

Argentina is 6-2-2 against the U.S., with the teams playing to a 1-1 draw in a 2011 friendly in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The last American win was in a 1999 exhibition in Washington, D.C.

Recovering from a back injury, Messi sat out the group stage opener this year and played just 29 minutes against Panama — but still managed to record a hat trick. He came on as a second-half substitute in the group stage finale against Bolivia on Tuesday.

But Messi played the entire game on Saturday, giving a scare when he was taken down from behind in the penalty box in the first half and was slow to get up.

"We're very happy with the way that he has been evolved, the way that he recovered from his injury," Martino said. "His reinsertion into the team, we really value that, and we're happy to have him in good shape now that we're facing the semifinals."

Martino said he was pleased to see Messi tie the national record, but he would wait to comment on it until the record was broken "and I would like that to happen in the Copa America." With a semifinal and then either a championship or third-place game, that's a good bet.

"I tied it, still haven't broken it," Messi said. "But I'm happy to be next to Bati, with all that means."

Bautista also scored twice in an exhibition against Slovakia in 1995 that is included in FIFA's records but not the national federation's; that would give him 56 goals.

For Venezuela, which finished fourth in the 2011 Copa America, it was a reminder of how far La Vinotinto have to go.

"It's not what we were hoping for, nor what we would imagine," Dudamel said. "We found ourselves watching a very strong team, ranked No. 1, and they have been very unforgiving with our mistakes. When you play an adversary like this, any mistake you make they do not forgive. They just kill you."