|Club teammates Messi, Neymar top World Cup scorers|
|Wednesday, June 25, 2014 8:21 PM|
RIO DE JANEIRO — The race for the World Cup golden boot turned into a Barcelona battle Wednesday as Lionel Messi scored twice to lead Argentina to an entertaining 3-2 win over Nigeria and match Neymar’s tournament-leading four goals in three games for Brazil.
Xherdan Shaqiri also vaulted into contention by scoring a hat trick as Switzerland beat Honduras 3-0 to qualify second in Group F. He joined Karim Benzema and Enner Valencia, who could not add to their three tournament goals each as France played out a 0-0 draw against 10-man Ecuador that ensured the French won Group E.
Bosnia recorded its first ever World Cup victory in the day’s other match, downing Iran 3-1 as both teams exited the tournament.
The Swiss will next face Messi and Argentina on Tuesday in Sao Paulo. France plays Nigeria in Brasilia on Monday.
One player who may not be in the reckoning for tournament top scorer is Luis Suarez, who is the focus of a FIFA disciplinary investigation after he appeared to bite the left shoulder of Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini on Tuesday and could be facing a lengthy ban.
He should know soon if he will be sanctioned. Uruguay plays Colombia Saturday in the round of 16.
“We have to resolve it either today or tomorrow,” FIFA disciplinary panel member Martin Hong told reporters. “It’s our duty to see justice done.”
Messi drew level with Barcelona teammate Neymar when he pounced on a rebound in the third minute and then curled in a free kick shortly before halftime.
“Messi is one of heck of a player, he’s blessed. You can’t take it away from him,” Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said. “Messi is from Jupiter, he is different.”
The 22-year-old Neymar is relishing playing the World Cup at home and thriving on the pressure that brings.
“I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do since I was a little kid,” he said. “Today my dream is coming true, I’m playing the matches that I’ve always wanted to be playing.”
Ahmed Musa matched Messi goal for goal in Porto Alegre, equalizing just a minute after Messi opened the scoring in the third minute and levelling again in the second half after Messi’s perfectly curled free kick shortly before the break had put Argentina ahead again. Marcos Roja finally sealed Argentina’s win in the 50th.
In Salvador, Edin Dzeko, Miralem Pjanic and Avdija Vrsajevic got Bosnia’s goals in its historic win and Reza Ghoochannejhad scored for Iran, which had to win and hope Nigeria lost to progress.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz quit following his team’s exit, as did Japan’s Italian manager Alberto Zaccheroni and coach Luis Suarez of Honduras. Their Portugal counterpart Paul Bento, however, said he would stay on even if his team fails to qualify for the round of 16.
Portugal, the world’s No.4-ranked team, has just one point from its first two Group G games and is unlikely to reach the knockout stage even if it beats Ghana in Brasilia today.
While the World Cup goal glut continued on the pitch — with the exception of the France-Ecuador stalemate, Suarez was again hogging headlines with his latest alleged biting incident.
If FIFA rules that Suarez sank his teeth into Chiellini’s shoulder, it could suspend him for up to 24 matches or sideline him for a maximum of two two years. The Uruguay and Liverpool star is a repeat offender — he has twice been sanctioned for biting in his turbulent past, first in the Dutch league in 2010 when playing for Ajax and again in 2013 while in a Liverpool shirt. He also has been banned for racially abusing an opponent in England.
The latest scandal could cost Suarez more than time on the sidelines. Already, two of his sponsors — 888poker and Adidas — have hinted that they are looking closely at their deals with Suarez.
Meanwhile, tragedy struck in Nigeria before the country’s clash with Argentina, as an explosion killed at least 21 people in a shopping mall in the capital, Abuja. Many shops at the mall have TV screens but it was unclear if the explosion was timed to coincide with the match, which started an hour later.
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi said he was saddened by news of the blast and that his team’s progression to the second round is unlikely to offer any solace to the country as it suffers terrorist attacks. Nigeria is the first African nation to reach the knockout stages in Brazil.
“How much of a victory is football going to give for those lives?” he asked.
US and Klinsmann face German friends and foes
RECIFE, Brazil — When Jermaine Jones stands for the national anthems of his countries tonight, he will soak in the moment.
Jones, like four American teammates and his coach, will be familiar with both “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the “Deutschlandlied” before the United States’ World Cup game against Germany.
After playing three games in 2008 for the nation in which he grew up, Jones switched allegiance to the U.S. two years later.
“When I hear the anthem from the United States, I will close my eyes and let everything go through,” the tenacious midfielder said.
And then comes the big game.
Four years of work by the U.S. come down to 90 or so minutes in the afternoon heat and possibly rain at Arena Pernambuco on the outskirts of a sprawling beach city known as the Brazilian Venice. Having squandered the chance to clinch advancement earlier this week against Portugal by allowing a stoppage-time goal in a 2-2 draw, the Americans might need at least a tie against the 3-time champions to reach the knockout stage of consecutive World Cup for the first time.
The story lines are gripping:
—U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann facing the nation he helped win the 1990 World Cup title and coached to the 2006 semifinals.
—Germany coach Joachim Loew managing against Klinsmann, his former boss.
—Five German-American players with U.S. servicemen fathers and German mothers going up against a German squad filled with familiar faces from the Bundesliga.
—Fear by some the U.S. and Germany might collude on a draw, which would advance both nations while eliminating Portugal and Ghana. Both sides insist that won’t happen.
—Thousands of American fans with red, white and blue gear making the trek to the Southern Hemisphere to cheer in person and millions back home tuning into games at record levels.
“The country is in a soccer fever and they’re glued to the TVs when we play,” midfielder Kyle Beckerman said Wednesday.
The Germans beat Portugal 4-0 and tied Ghana 2-2, leaving them with four points and a plus-4 goal difference. The Americans, who defeated Ghana 2-1, have four points and a plus-1 goal difference.
Ghana and Portugal, with one point each, play simultaneously in Brasilia, knowing a tie in either game would eliminate both of them. U.S. Soccer Federation officials will have a system to relay the score of the other match to the bench.
“To be able to keep that level of interest for another four, five, six and hopefully more days would be great for the sport,” USSF President Sunil Gulati said. “I think for the first time in our history — recent history, I’m not going to talk about 1950 or before — our players believe they’re capable of beating anyone.”
He rejects the notion the dual nationals are any less American than those who came up through the U.S. youth system.
When the U.S. and Germany met for the first time in the group stage of the 1998 Cup, Klinsmann scored the second goal in a 2-0 win. The teams played four years later in the quarterfinals, when Michael Ballack’s 39th-minute goal gave the Germans a 1-0 victory. The Americans still complain Scottish referee Hugh Dallas declined to call a penalty kick when Gregg Berhalter’s 49th-minute shot hit the left arm of defender Torsten Frings at the goal line.
While the Germans have four off days between matches, the U.S. has only three. And teams are 0-4 after games in the steamy Amazon rainforest capital of Manaus, where the Americans played Sunday night.
“It’s the biggest game of all of our lives,” Beckerman said. “Any fatigue in our legs will be erased. We’ve got to give it everything we’ve got and more.”
There is an outside chance the U.S. and Portugal could tie for second with four points and be even on all tiebreakers — for instance, if the Americans lose 3-0 and the Portuguese win 2-0. In that case, a drawing of lots would decide which team advances.
The teams that move on will have second-round matchups with Belgium, Russia, South Korea or Algeria. Gulati hopes for more, much more, that will help boost the growing American fan base.
“It’s pretty easy to get emotional about,” he added, “wanting to see this day happen. It’s not The Day. That day is still to come. And that day has got a trophy involved.”