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International Soccer
U.S. needs healthy Beasley

Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - DeMarcus Beasley collapsed to the ground at RFK Stadium on Saturday during a World Cup qualifier against Cuba, immediately clutching his ankle as U.S. coach Bob Bradley looked on from the sideline with concern.

Beasley, who has battled numerous injuries in his career, was wiped out by Luis Villegas and stayed down on the field in obvious pain. When Beasley finally got back to his feet, a noticeable limp kept his silver boot off the ground.

At the time, Beasley's night appeared to be over. And at the same time, concern followed over just how bad this injury was. Knee, hamstring and ankle injuries have stripped the talented midfielder of too much time in his career already.

But Beasley played through the pain and within 10 minutes, looked as healthy as ever.

Beasley, who made his U.S. debut in 2001 and is only 26, added his second goal in the opening 31 minutes to spark the Americans' 6-1 rout. He played a full 90 minutes and helped set up another goal.

On Wednesday, Bradley rewarded Beasley with the captain's armband - albeit in a 2-1 loss to Trinidad & Tobago that meant nothing to the U.S. - and he played 90 more minutes.

The United States' loss - it has already advanced to the next qualifying stage - paled in comparison to one thing: Beasley's health.

Although overshadowed on the U.S. team by Landon Donovan, Beasley has played 82 times for the U.S. already, and has 16 goals.

Saturday's performance was crucial because he hadn't scored since June of last year, when he also had two goals in a win over El Salvador.

DeMarcus Beasley is arguably the best two-way player on the U.S.
"To get the first goal was great," he said, "because that's the most difficult one."

There's no question about Beasley's ability. He earned a spot on the 2002 World Cup team and since has secured his place at the starting left midfielder. Since leaving Major League Soccer in '04, he's played in the Netherlands, England and Scotland.

Those years overseas have helped shape Beasley into one of the top players on the United States, but they've also produced injuries to slow his progress.

The last injury, a torn posterior cruciate ligament suffered in November of last year, robbed him of six months. He returned from the injury to help his current club, Rangers in Scotland, toward the end of the season.

And in early June in a friendly against Argentina, he played 90 minutes for the first time since the injury.

Despite still having some rust from the long layoff, Bradley lavished praise on Beasley, mentioning that his runs and quickness had already come back. In addition, the U.S. coach pointed out his improved technique, ability to set up goals with crosses and finishing ability.

Bradley, obviously, was very excited about Beasley's play.

Beasley was the first American player to reach the semifinal of Europe's top club competition, the UEFA Champions League, and was also the first to score for two different teams, but his time to help the U.S. is starting to run short.

He certainly doesn't fit into the "old" category, but in 2010 he will be 28 and by the time the next World Cup comes around will be 32 - which is a tad old for most of the world's top players.

So Beasley, who appeared in all three matches for the U.S. in the 2006 Cup, and this core group of Americans have just one more chance at making this country's biggest statement yet on the world stage.

It's obvious the U.S. needs Beasley, who is arguably the best two-way player on the team.

A healthy Beasley, of course.

EUROPE

GERMANS MOVE ON WITHOUT KURANYI

Germany overcame the distraction of striker Kevin Kuranyi being kicked off the team Sunday to beat Wales 1-0 on Wednesday and open a four-point lead in Group 4.

Kuranyi, who scored 19 goals in 52 games for Germany, wasn't on the roster for Saturday's 2-1 win over Russia. Non-active players usually watch the match from the stands, but Kuranyi was upset about not playing and left at halftime.

"How Kevin reacted cannot be accepted. And therefore he will not be nominated for the national team in the future," Germany coach Joachim Loew said.

The Brazilian-born Kuranyi's decision was even more surprising considering he was once wore the captain's armband for the Germans.

SPAIN UNDEFEATED IN 27 STRAIGHT

European champion Spain overcame an early deficit against Belgium on Wednesday to run its unbeaten streak to 27 straight games, including 14 consecutive wins, with a 2-1 victory.

Andres Iniesta scored Spain's first goal and David Villa added the game- winner in the 88th minute. Spain, England and the Netherlands are the only unbeaten, untied teams in European qualifying.

Spain's last loss was on Oct. 7, 2006 against Sweden, 2-0.

ITALIANS OK WITHOUT GK BUFFON

Marco Amelia replaced longtime goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who is out through December with a leg injury, and played well in Italy's 2-1 win over Montenegro on Wednesday.

"I am glad to silence a few of those voices that say there is nobody to back up Buffon. Of course I am not on a par with Gigi, as he is extraordinary," Amelia said.

Italy is unbeaten in Group 8 and holds a three-point cushion on the Republic of Ireland.

ENGLAND'S BECKS HITS MILESTONE

David Beckham moved up to third on England's all-time appearance list when he came on as a substitute in Wednesday's 3-1 victory over Belarus. Beckham, the former England captain, made his 106th appearance.

SOUTH AMERICA

GOOSEEGGS FOR BRAZIL

Brazil failed to score for the fourth time in its last six qualifiers, tying Colombia 0-0 on Wednesday. Brazil has scored 15 goals in qualifying, but 12 of those goals were scored in three combined games.

Overall, Brazil has failed to score in five of its 10 qualifying matches. The five-time World Cup champions (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002) aren't really in danger of failing to advance - the top four automatically qualify for the Cup finals - but coach Dunga is definitely still in danger of losing his job.

Brazil was shut out just three times in 18 matches in 2006 World Cup qualifying, and finished atop the standings.

PARAGUAY STILL ON FIRE

Paraguay edged Colombia and Peru 1-0 in the last week to extend its win streak to three games and open a six-point lead atop the standings over Brazil.

Paraguay, the fourth-highest ranked team in South America, is 7-1-2 through 10 qualifying rounds. The team's only loss was in the thin air in La Paz, Bolivia at Estadio Hernando Siles, which is 2.3 miles above sea level.

AFRICA

SENEGAL FAILS TO ADVANCE

Africa wrapped up its second round group stage Sunday with just one surprise - Senegal didn't advance to the final group stage. Ranked 49th by FIFA, Senegal just needed a win over Gambia in its final match to advance but settled for a 1-1 draw. Senegal made the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup.

Algeria, which moved up 20 spots to 56th in the latest FIFA rankings, won the group to earn an automatic spot in the final round of qualifying.

The continent's other eight top-50 teams - Cameroon (12th), Egypt (22nd), Ghana (25th), Nigeria (27th), Ivory Coast (29th), Guinea (41st), Morocco (43rd) and Tunisia (47th) - all advanced to the next qualifying stage.

The draw for the final stage, which consists of five groups of four teams, is Oct. 22. The winner of each of those groups, along with host South Africa, make the Cup finals.

ASIA

TOP TEAMS IN GOOD SPOTS

Asia is less than halfway through its final qualifying stage, and so far Japan (32nd by FIFA), Australia (34th) and Iran (48th) have avoided any upsets.

Australia and Japan are the top two teams in Group 1 and the Korea Republic and Iran are the top two teams in Group 2. The top two finishers in each group make the Cup finals, and the third-place teams meet in a playoff to determine fifth place and another playoff against the Oceania champion.

OCEANIA

WAITING GAME FOR NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand, which plays its final game in qualifying on Nov. 19 at Fiji, has already wrapped up the top spot in the region but has to wait until November 2009 to qualify for the World Cup finals.

Only the top team in Oceania has a chance to reach the finals, and New Zealand still has to play the fifth-place team from Asia in a two-legged playoff late next year to advance.



Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com

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