The World Cup is 99 Days away!! I'm back from covering the Sochi Olympics, and it's time to zero in on the Biggest Sporting Event on the Planet. Come to this blog every day for soccer news, photos, polls and commentary...would love to hear from all you readers about your views as we head into the Cup. Michelle.
(AP) – Neymar scored his second international hat trick to lead Brazil over South Africa 5-0 Wednesday night and Cristiano Ronaldo had a pair of goals to set Portugal's career scoring record in a 5-1 win over Cameroon. Just 99 days before the tournament opens in Sao Paulo, all World Cup teams had matches on the only date before mid-May that clubs had to release their players.
In Cyprus, in a match that was moved from Kharkiv because of the political unrest in the Ukraine, the U.S. lost to that beleaguered country's national squad, 2-0.
One banner in the stands read "Ukraine is Undivided!" on the top and "One Country — One Team!" on the bottom. Ukrainian fans sang their nation's anthem in the final moments, and some broke into a chant of "No war in Ukraine!" after the final whistle, referring to Russia's military intervention in the Crimean peninsula.
"Our country is facing difficult times now, we must support our team and our country," said Oleg Ivanovskyi a fan from Kiev currently residing in Larnaca. "Ukraine lives and will live. This friendly match is important for us to show the friendship between the U.S. and Ukraine. The friendship between the two countries is more important than the score."
Andriy Yarmolenko scored in the 12th minute and Marko Devic in the 68th as Ukraine exposed the shaky American central defense of Oguchi Onyewu and Anthony Brooks.
Ukraine's players linked arms on shoulders during their national anthem of their nation, and players in both starting lineups bowed their heads as they stood on the field before the game for a moment of silence for the victims of violence in Ukraine.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said his team's thoughts were with the Ukrainian people.
"You feel for that country. You feel for that nation, and there's nothing more than wishing them well and to solve these issues peacefully," Klinsmann said.
At 18th, Ukraine is the highest-ranking nation that failed to qualify for the World Cup. The match marked the last chance for Klinsmann to evaluate his Europe-based players before he chooses his 23-man World Cup roster in mid-May. He will use a squad mostly from Major League Soccer for an April 2 exhibition against Mexico at Glendale, Ariz.
"We're disappointed with the result," U.S. captain Clint Dempsey said. "We just have to do a better job and learn from our mistakes."
Ukraine went ahead when the U.S. failed on an attempted offside trap. Yevhen Konoplyanka sent a looping pass from just before the midfield stripe to Denys Harmash, who split Onyewu and Brooks and trapped the ball at the top of the penalty area. Goalkeeper Tim Howard blocked his shot, but Harmash picked up the rebound and squared the ball to Yarmolenko, his Dynamo Kiev teammate. He slotted the ball past Brooks with a left-footed shot from 6 yards for his 15th international goal.
The U.S. showed more spark at the start of the second half, and Jozy Altidore put an open header over the crossbar following a cross from Cameron.
But Devic scored two minutes after entering when he outran Fabian Johnson onto Roman Bezus' headed pass from inside the midfield circle and cut the ball back to his left foot. Playing a day before his 35th birthday, Howard blocked the initial shot with a sprawling save, but Devic latched onto the rebound and slid the ball between Johnson and Brooks with a left-footed shot from 15 yards.
Playing 99 days before the World Cup opens in Brazil, the U.S. wore its new Nike jerseys with collars that resemble polo shirts. The Americans changed all 11 starters from the 2-0 win over South Korea on Feb. 1 at Carson, Calif.
"Tonight wasn't great," Howard said, "but it's not the end of the world, either."
In other matches, Neymar raised his total to 30 international goals by scoring in the 41st and 46th minutes and in second-half stoppage time in Johannesburg. Oscar and Fernandinho also had goals for Cup host Brazil, which wore its home yellow jerseys in the first half and switched to road blue after the half.
Ronaldo's goals in the 21st and 83rd minutes raised his total to 49 in 110 matches since his international debut in 2003. The 29-year-old has two goals more the previous Portuguese record set by Pauleta from 1997-2006.
"I knew it would come eventually," Ronaldo said. "It's special because I've been in the national team for 10 years now. It's all down to hard work."
Defending champion Spain beat visiting Italy 1-0 in a 63-minute goal by Pedro Rodriguez. England won 1-0 at home against Denmark on Daniel Sturridge's headed goal from Adam Lallana's cross in the 82nd minute.
"I don't think we were effective as we wanted to be because we didn't get the ball forward quick enough," England coach Roy Hodgson said.
Argentina and Lionel Messi were held to a 0-0 tie at Romania. Germany beat visiting Chile 1-0 as Mario Goetze scored in the 16th minute.
France beat the visiting Netherlands 2-0, ending a 17-game unbeaten streak for the Dutch. Karim Benzema scored in the 32nd minute off a pass from Blaise Matuidi, who scored in the 41st.
Belgium, thought by some to be a World Cup contender, tied 2-2 at home against Ivory Coast. The Belgians built a two-goal lead as Marouane Fellaini scored in the 18th minute and Radja Nainggolan in the 51st before Didier Drogba scored his 63rd international goal in the 74th and Max Gradel got the tying goal in the second minute of stoppage time.
In London, Ecuador rallied to beat Australia 4-3. Fidel Martínez, Segundo Castillo, Enner Valencia and Edison Mendez scored for Ecuador. New York Red Bulls player Tom Cahill scored two for Australia to become the country's leading scorer with 31 goals.
Japan got four goals in the first 13 minutes in a 4-2 win over visiting New Zealand, with Shinji Okazaki opening and closing his team's scoring around a penalty kick by Shinji Kagawa and Masato Morishige's header off Keisuke Honda's free kick. Chris Wood scored twice for New Zealand, which failed to qualify for the World Cup.
At the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Mexico and Nigeria played to a scoreless draw in front of 68,212 fans. Raul Jimenez's late header for Mexico went just wide.
In Central America, New England Revolution forward Jerry Bengston and Jerry Palacios scored in Honduras' 2-1 home victory over Venezuela, and Arsenal forward Joel Campbell and Jorge Rojas scored in Costa Rica's 2-0 victory over visiting Paraguay.