Women’s World Cup: USA defeats Brazil 5-3 on penalties, advances to semifinals

In a thrilling quarterfinal, the United States leveled the match in the last minute of overtime despite being a player down for nearly an hour.

America's Abby Wambaugh (#20) heads in a last-minute equalizer against Brazil

The US were gifted their first goal in the second minute when Brazil’s defender Daiane bundled the ball into the back of her net while attempting to clear a cross. Brazil equalized in the 68th on a  penalty kick from their star, Marta.

Referee Jacqui Melksham and her officiating crew won no friends in America. Her decision to red-card US defender Rachel Buelher for the foul which led to the penalty seemed harsh. Things got even stranger when Ms. Melksham ruled that an American player had illegally encroached into the box before Brazil’s Cristiane took her penalty, which was saved by US ‘keeper Hope Solo. Replays showed that the encroachment, if it occurred, was a matter of inches. Marta scored easily from the retake.

When Marta scored again in the second minute of over-time after receiving a cross from a player who appeared to be offside, the game seemed over. But the US fought back: veteran striker Abby Wambaugh scored a brilliant header off Megan Rapinoe’s fine cross in the 122nd minute. It was the latest goal in World Cup history, men’s or women’s.

The US scored all five of their spot-kicks but Brazil’s Daiane had hers saved by Solo. Highlights are here.

The US will play France tomorrow evening in the semifinal.

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Copa America Group A: Argentina and Colombia Qualify for the Quarterfinals

Argentina defeated a young Costa Rican team 3-0 on Monday in Cordoba.

The Costa Ricans surprisingly beat Bolivia 2-0 in their last match but couldn’t stop Argentina’s dangerous forwards. Sergio Aguero scored two goals either side of half-time and Angel Di Maria added the clincher in the 62nd minute.

Lionel Messi gave a fine performance as well.  His superb passes set up two of the goals. If Gonzalo Higuain hadn’t sent two powerful shots inches over the crossbar Barcelona’s superstar would have given four assists.

Goalscorer Sergio Aguero (arms raised) shows his appreciation for Lionel Messi, Argentina's best player.

Aguero is now the tournament’s top-scorer (3 goals in 1 start and two substitute appearances) and looks set to hold onto his place in the starting 11.

Argentina qualify from Group A with five points,  two behind group winners Colombia, who secured their place in the quarterfinal with a 2-0 winover Bolivia. Porto’s exciting forward Radamel Falcao scored a brace for the Colombians.

Chelsea are eager to bring Radamel Falcao, Colombia's dangerous striker, to London but his club side Porto seem determined to hang onto him for at least another year.

Bolivia exit the tournament at the bottom of Group A with a single point. The Bolivians showed their defensive ability in the Copa’s opening match, a 0-0 draw against Argentina, but couldn’t score goals. Meanwhile, Costa Rica have a slim chance of moving on to the quarters since the two best third-place teams also qualify. Costa Rica have three points and that probably won’t be enough.

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World Cup 2014 Qualifiers: Palestine – Afghanistan 3-1 (on aggregate)

On July 3rd, Palestine’s national team played their first ever World Cup home game, an early qualifier for the 2014 tournament in Brazil. Because of the poor security situation, Palestine has had to play their “home” games in neighboring Jordan. Last Sunday, 9,000 eager fans turned up at the Faisal Al-Husseini International Stadium in Al-Ram. Palestine managed a 1-1 draw with Afghanistan, thanks to Houssam Wadi’s incredible  lob from 35 yards in the 11th minute. Bilal Azou leveled the match  with a 63rd minute goal but it was too little too late for the Afghanis.

Palestine (in green) drew Afghanistan 1-1 in their first ever World Cup qualifier at home

Afghanistan have had their own troubles with security. The first leg, which Palestine won 2-0, was played in Tajikistan. The overall result, 3-1 on aggregate, was good enough to see Palestine through to the next round of qualifiers against Thailand.

The team has little chance of making it to Brazil but will be hoping for strong showings in the qualifiers, as the security situation improves. They will also need more cooperation from Israeli authorities. Over the last few years, Israel has denied the team exit visas, forcing Palestine to forfeit previous World Cup qualifiers and the 2008 Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup.

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Copa America Update

The first round of Copa America group-stage play ended on Tuesday as Uruguay drew Peru 1-1 and Chile beat a young Mexican team 2-1.

Uruguay are my favorite team at this tournament. They did fantastically well at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, losing in the semi-final to runners-up Holland 3-2. But their star striker, Diego Forlan, has had a wretched year with club side Atletico Madrid. Not to worry: attackers Luis Suarez of Liverpool and Edinson Cavani, who scored 26 goals in 35 appearances for Napoli this season, are on fire.

All three started against Peru but Uruguay, like Argentina and Brazil, couldn’t get their attack going.

In the 23rd minute, Peru won the ball at the top of their own box from a Uruguayan throw-in. Midfielder Michael Guevara looked up and saw teammate Jose Paolo Guerrero making a perfect run between Uruguay’s stationary center-backs. Guevara’s long-ball over the top split the hapless defenders, who were playing far too high up the pitch, and found Guerrero in space. The Peruvian striker rounded Uruguay’s keeper, Muslera, and finished calmly into the back of the net.

Down 1-0 to a supposedly lesser team, Uruguay came to life. Peru’s keeper Raul Fernandez had to make a smart save from Diego Forlan’s well-struck free-kick. A few minutes later, Forlan missed an absolute sitter when one-on-one with the keeper. A shocking miss for Europe’s former top goal-scorer. Finally, just before the stroke of half-time, Nicolas Lodeiro played Luis Suarez into the box with a good pass. Suarez’s low shot beat Peru’s keeper for the equalizer.

Uruguay's Forlan (number 10) and Suarez (number 9) celebrate the latter's first-half goal against Peru

Both sides had chances to win in the second half but couldn’t capitalize and the score remained 1-1 at the final whistle. Highlights are here.

Chile v. Mexico was another even affair. Chile, the only team to beat winners Spain at the 2010 World Cup, are one of the strongest sides at the Copa. Mexico have brought a talented squad of young players whose ranks were forcibly depleted by scandal. On June 28th, the Mexican Federation kicked eight players off the roster after they were found with prostitutes in their hotel room during a pre-tournament training camp.

Despite the absence of nearly 1/3 of their original squad, Mexico struck first: in the 40th minute, Nestor Araujo, making just his third appearance for the national team, scored a fine looping header over the ‘keeper after a teammate flicked on a good cross.

Chile pressed but couldn’t equalize until the 65th minute when substitute Esteban Paredes knocked the ball home after Mexico failed to clear a corner. Chile’s Arturo Vidal headed in the winner seven minutes later from another corner-kick. Highlights.

Chile's defender Vidal (number 8) scores the winner against Mexico (Ricardo Mazelan/Associated Press)

So far, this Copa has been all about the smaller sides: Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia and Venezuela have put in strong showings. Meanwhile, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, the continent’s dominant teams, have started slowly. Can the minnows keep it up? Or will the slumbering giants wake up as the tournament progresses?

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Paraguay 0 – Ecuador 0: Fulltime

The second half continued in the same vein as the first: Paraguay were the better side but Ecuador had several good chances to grab a win. A draw was probably a fair result.

Ecuadorean ‘keeper Marcelo Eligaza was in outstanding form. The oldest player at the Copa, Eligaza pulled off some fine saves to deny Paraguay the lead. The most impressive came in the 62nd minute when the 39 year old dove half-way across his goal to beat away Roque Santa Cruz’s well-placed header.

Ecuador's 'keeper Marcelo Eligaza earned his side a point with a series of acrobatic saves (AP Photo / Dolores Ochoa)

Group favorites Brazil should be nervous. Both these teams will be tough opponents for the slow-starting “Samba Boys.” Paraguay, in particular, might be this Copa’s dark horse.

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Paraguay 0 – Ecuador 0: Halftime

Paraguay got the better of a sluggish and nervy Ecuadorean team in the first half of this evening’s Copa America match but couldn’t find a way to open the scoring. Paraguay’s Marcelo Estigarribia, making a surprise start in place of striker Nelson Haedo Valdez, was particularly impressive. His pace and dribbling ability gave the Ecuadorean back-line fits.

Paraguay's speedy Marcelo Estigarribia in international action. The talented attacker, who plays for Newell's Old Boys in Argentina, looks set to have an excellent tournament.

As the half wore on, Ecuador woke up and began to threaten Paraguay’s goal. Chucho Benitez should have scored but a well-timed sliding challenge from a Paraguayan defender sent the ball out for a corner-kick. Later, Segundo Castillo’s powerful low shot from distance flashed just wide of ‘keeper Villar’s right-hand post.

In the 38th minute, Paraguay’s midfielder Edgar Baretto was taken off injured and replaced by Enrique Vera.

Not a bad match so far. I think each team will get a goal in the second half.

Prediction: Paraguay 1 – Ecuador 1

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Brazil 0 – Venezuela 0: Fulltime

Brazil’s fans booed their beloved national team off the pitch at the final whistle. The Selecao deserved it. Not an impressive second half from Mano Menezes’ new-look side. The highlights are here.

The Brazilians needed to play with intensity and cohesion to break down a sturdy Venezuelan defense but instead seemed to take their foot off the pedal after coming out of the dressing room. Ramires and Ganso in particular were guilty of some very poor passing. At times, cautious Venezuela seemed the more positive, adventurous team.

Brazil struggled to create chances and Venezuela thoroughly deserved their point. The reigning champs are notoriously slow starters in major tournaments. At the last Copa America, Brazil lost their first game 2-0 to Mexico only to recover brilliantly and eventually beat Argentina 3-0 in the final. Menezes must hope for a similar revival or he will surely be out of a job. Brazil’s midfield failed to create and their star dribbler Robinho proved largely ineffective. None of Brazil’s substitutes added anything to the game. The whole team will need to do better against Paraguay on the 9th.

Venezuela put in a brave performance. Central defender Omar Vizcarrondo deserves a special mention. He was an absolute rock at the back. Venezuela have every chance of picking up another point or even a win against Ecuador in Group B’s next round of fixtures.

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