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.”


WHAT WE LEARNED: Reflective Cristiano Ronaldo and title-chasing Liverpool

Updated 17 September 2018
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WHAT WE LEARNED: Reflective Cristiano Ronaldo and title-chasing Liverpool

  • Liverpool look ready to mount a serious title challenge this season.
  • Barcelona unbeaten but look beatable.

LONDON: It was another busy weekend of action across Europe with all the big clubs in action ahead of the return of the Champions League. Here is what we learned.

RONALDO IS HUMAN

After three matches and no goals, everyone was wondering whether Cristiano Ronaldo had left his scoring boots in Madrid. Two hundred and seventy minutes without a goal is not so much a lean period as a drought of epic proportions for the Portuguese. But the new Juventus star was never going to wait too long for his first Serie A goal, as he got a brace in the Old Lady’s 2-1 win over Sassuolo — the first a tap in from 30cms, the second a drilled shot from the edge of the area. But even Ronaldo was forced to admit he had been worried about his “slow” start. “There’s been a bit of anxiety in general since my move from Madrid — there was a great expectation,” he said after the match. Ronaldo suffering a bit from self-doubt? That is something we thought we would never write.

LIVERPOOL ARE THE REAL DEAL

The Reds were blown away 4-1 when they faced Tottenham at Wembley last season. It was a scoreline that could have easily been far more embarrassing. This time around it was a different story. During their 2-1 win Liverpool never really looked threatened by their fellow title-chasers and while their attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino looked as impressive as ever, it was what Liverpool did without the ball that really marked this side out as different from last year’s crop. The high press, and organization from the back, combined with the intensity with which they play mean it will take a very good side to stop them from going all the way this season. If they can keep their stars fit, maintain that aggression with and without the ball, then whoever finishes above them will win the Premier League.

PERFECT RECORD NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR BARCA

With four wins from four, you would expect everyone at the Nou Camp to be happy and smiling. But you would be wrong. The Catalan club came from behind to 
win 2-1 at Real Sociedad on Saturday, but while the three points and remaining top of La Liga are nothing to be sniffed at, it was the manner of the performance that has created worry at the perennial winners. At Barcelona it is not simply enough to win and pick up trophies, you need to be playing well and put on a show for the ever-demanding fans. Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said that this is not currently the case. “It’s obvious that there are things that can be improved,” he said at the weekend. The main aim this season is Champions League glory. On the evidence of their domestic form so far that looks like a pipe dream.