By CAITLIN MURRAY
To close the weekend’s quarterfinal Africa Cup of Nations action, Ghana advanced to their fifth consecutive semifinal in convincing fashion Sunday, easing past Guinea 3-0.
The hero of the day was Christian Atsu, who bagged a brace, and his second goal was something special. The Everton striker cut in from near the touch line and fired a wide blast from well outside the 18-yard box that Guinea goalkeepr Naby Yattara could not reach.
Ghana look like favorites heading into hosting Equatorial Guinea next in the semifinals on Thursday in Malabo. Ghana has won the African Cup of Nations four times, but last reached the final in 2010, losing to Egypt.
Elsewhere, Wilfried Bony got his groove back and his timing could not have been better.
The Manchester City striker had failed to help Ivory Coast throughout this Africa Cup of Nations tournament, but managed an all-important brace to lead his side past Algeria in a match closer than the 3-1 score line made it appear.
This weekend also saw Equatorial Guinea top Tunisia, 2-1, and DR Congo moved past Congo, 4-2.
Here is the other overseas news from Sunday (after the jump):
By IVES GALARCEP
The 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup might still feel like it’s a long time from now, but the reality is we are only about five months from knowing the team Jurgen Klinsmann will select to try and defending the U.S. team’s title.
Four months will likely fly by, but there will be a plethora of friendlies to bring Klinsmann closer to finding the team he wants, and now that the first friendly of 2015 is in the books, the U.S. coach must have a slightly clearer picture of his options.
What we are still trying to figure out is just how serious is Klinsmann’s commitment to a shift to the 3-5-2 formation. He only used it for the first half of the Chile friendly, but given the personnel in the player pool, we shouldn’t be surprised to see much more of the new formation in the more than half-dozen friendlies between now and the Gold Cup.
The next match is next week against Panama, and that match should help weed out some pretenders and identify some more serious candidates for Gold Cup roster spots.
As we reach the end of the first month of the new year, here is a look at the latest SBI 23 for 2015:
By FRANCO PANIZO
Talk about starting the new month off with a bang.
After nearly two months without a goal, Aron Johannsson got himself back on the scoresheet to help lift AZ Alkmaar to victory on Sunday. Johannsson netted his third goal of the season by scoring the opener in a 3-1 triumph against Heracles Almelo, flicking teammate Nemanja Gudelj’s shot past goalkeeper Dennis Telgenkamp in the ninth minute. The goal was the 24-year-old U.S. Men’s National Team forward’s first since Dec. 6, and helped keep AZ within striking distance of a guaranteed UEFA Europa League spot.
Fabian Johnson also snapped a humbling streak of his own this weekend. Johnson received his first start for Borussia Moenchengladbach since Oct. 5 on Saturday, going the distance in a 1-0 road win over VfB Stuttgart. Johnson was deployed as a left midfielder in the match, which was was Moenchengladbach’s first since the Bundesliga winter break.
One left-sided player who did not enjoy as good of a weekend was Greg Garza. While he saw Club Tijuana move up to first place in the Liga MX Clausura campaign with a 4-2 win over Morelia, Garza left the Friday encounter with an injury. Garza hurt his knee in the second half, and had to be replaced by fellow American Joe Corona in the 52nd minute.
Here is how the Americans Abroad fared this weekend:
By ADAM TROXTELL
The gap in form and confidence between Arsenal and Aston Villa was easy to see on Sunday.
Arsenal controlled the game from start to finish in a 5-0 win against the struggling Villans in London. The Gunners stormed to a fifth straight win in all competitions, while Aston Villa has now failed to score in six league games and failed to win in eight.
American goalkeeper Brad Guzan was often just a spectator in the Villa goal. In the eighth minute, Mesut Ozil’s neat flick sent Olivier Giroud one-on-one with Guzan, and the Frenchman finished with a simple chip for the early lead.
The flood gates opened in the second half, with Giroud turning provider for Ozil’s goal in the 56th minute. Theo Walcott made it three just eight minutes later before a Santi Cazorla penalty kick had the Gunners cruising back into fifth place in the Premier League.
Spanish teenager Hector Bellerin saved the best for last. Cazorla set-up the young right back for a tidy shot that glanced inside the far post. Arsenal scored on five of their eight shots on goal.
In La Liga play, Sevilla benefitted from a late Iago Aspas strike to beat Espanyol. There was also another win for a streaking Torino in Italy.
Here is a full recap of all the action from Europe’s top leagues (after the jump):
By ADAM TROXTELL
Two of the hottest teams in Spain come face-to-face at the Camp Nou on Sunday with an important three points up for grabs.
Barcelona hosts Villarreal as they try to keep pace with Primera Division leaders Real Madrid. The Catalans have won seven straight games in all competitions and currently find themselves four-points behind in second place.
They meet another seemingly immovable object in the form of Villarreal, who has not lost a La Liga game since Nov. 2. It’s been 18 games since the Yellow Submarine last tasted defeat, and the streak has helped them climb to within three points of the last UEFA Champions League spot.
In England, Arsenal gets the day started with a home game against Aston Villa, who has not won a league game in seven outings. In the later game, Southampton will try to jump back into third place in the Premier League as they host Swansea.
Juventus can extend its lead at the top of the Serie A standings to nine points with a win at Udinese. Lyon is also trying to maintain a healthy title advantage on a trip to Monaco in Ligue 1 play.
Ghana faces Guinea with a trip to the African Cup of Nations semifinals on the line. The Black Stars got the better of Guinea when the two had to qualify for the tournament out of the same group, though they also tied twice. Ivory Coast plays Algeria in the second quarterfinal of the day.
If you will be watching today’s action, feel free to leave your thoughts, opinions and some play-by-play in the comments section below.
Enjoy the action (today’s soccer TV schedule after the jump):