Football: US rout Panama, edge closer to FIFA World Cup 2018

Panama midfielder Armando Cooper (11) dribbles the ball as US midfielder Michael Bradley (4) and defender Jorge Villafana (15) defend during the second half at Orlando City Stadium. (USA TODAY Sports)
Updated 07 October 2017
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Football: US rout Panama, edge closer to FIFA World Cup 2018

ORLANDO: Christian Pulisic fired the US to a 4-0 win over Panama on Friday that saw the Americans inch closer to a 2018 World Cup berth.
The brilliant 19-year-old scored one goal and made another in a sensational early barrage that left Panama reeling.
Pulisic opened the scoring on eight minutes and beautifully set up strike partner Jozy Altidore to make it two and compound a nightmare start for Panama, who now look destined to settle for a play-off match against either Syria or Australia to land a World Cup place for the first time in their history.
Honduras, whose match in Costa Rica was put back a day because of adverse weather; also remain in the hunt in the North and Central America and Caribbean region (CONCACAF).
For the Americans, however, a win against bottom of the hexagonal table Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday will seal their ticket for an eighth consecutive finals — and even a point should do it.
“The game in Trinidad won’t be easy but we are in a good position now,” said US manager Bruce Arena. “It won’t be easy, it will be challenging. We faced challenging conditions in Honduras and Panama so we will be ready. Trinidad are out but will be a handful.”
Trinidad and Tobago seized a lead against Mexico in San Luis Potosi before the regional powerhouse roared back for a 3-1 victory.
The result left Mexico on 21 points and on course for a record haul of 24 if it can beat Honduras in San Pedro Sula on Tuesday.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Shahdon Winchester put the visitors ahead in the 66th minute. With El Tri struggling to find momentum it looked as if defeat was a possibility.
Manager Juan Carlos Osorio sent in Carlos Vela, Oribe Peralta and Hirving Lozano in the second half and Lozano grabbed an equalizer that energized Mexico. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez put the hosts ahead before Hector Herrera added a third goal in injury time.
In Orlando, the tension was palpable as Panama arrived in Orlando a point ahead of the United States — who had earned just one point from their prior two matches.
Arena needed his side to heap early pressure onto a Panama side who have been notoriously difficult to break down, conceding just five goals in their prior matches of the six-nation final round of qualifying.
Pulisic’s youthful, skillful exuberance proved the key to unlocking the most miserly of backlines.
Bobby Wood, who was given the start ahead of veteran Clint Dempsey, led the line with Altidore.
And it was the former Sunderland striker who went close early on when his close range shot was charged down before Wood shot inches wide soon after.
Pulisic settled any US nerves with a brilliant display in the eighth.
Altidore flicked the ball on and after the Dortmund star escaped the challenge of Roman Torres, and Pulisic rounded Jaime Penedo and slid home from a tight angle.
Pulisic impressed again in the 19th, picking up the ball on the left wing and firing in a cross that was tapped in by Altidore.
The outcome was sealed in the 43rd. Wood was tripped in the area by Armando Cooper and Altidore stepped up and chipped the ball down the middle.
Pulisic left the field to an ovation in the 56th — before Wood capped his industrious night with a well-taken strike.
“It was a bad night,” Gomez said. “They were totally superior, excellent. It could have been worse — it could have been 10-0.”


Pakistan’s Azhar Ali signs for Somerset

Pakistan's Azhar Ali celebrates reaching his century during a match between England and Pakistant on August 4, 2016. (Reuters file)
Updated 17 July 2018
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Pakistan’s Azhar Ali signs for Somerset

  • Azhar is set to make his Somerset debut against Worcestershire later this month

LONDON: Pakistan batsman Azhar Ali has joined Somerset for the remainder of their first-class English County Championship fixtures this season, the southwest club said Monday.

The 33-year-old replaces Australia opener Matt Renshaw, who made three hundreds at 51.30 in the opening rounds of the Championship before breaking a finger against Surrey at Guildford last month.

Azhar is set to make his Somerset debut against Worcestershire later this month.

"The standard of first-class cricket in England is very high and I hope that I can make a contribution to Somerset winning matches," Azhar told his new county's website.

"I have heard good things about Somerset and I was impressed by what I saw at Taunton in 2016 (when Pakistan opened their tour of England that year against the county).

"I am looking forward to joining my new team mates and meeting the Somerset supporters soon."

Azhar struggled during Pakistan's three Tests against Ireland and England earlier this season, making 73 runs in six innings although his lone fifty did come during Pakistan's impressive victory over England at Lord's.

"Finding the right fit at short notice can be challenging, however we are delighted to have secured a player of Azhar Ali's character, pedigree and class for the remaining seven Specsavers County Championship matches," said Somerset's director of cricket, Andy Hurry.

"His experience at the top of the order will prove to be hugely valuable at the business end of the season.

"I have spoken to him several times over the last few weeks and he is very keen to share his knowledge of the game with our aspirational players, so the influence he can have within the changing room will also be vital for us as a club."