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Santi Cazorla of Spain shoots towards the goal under a challenge by Jonathan Barrios (left), and Alexander Larin of El Salvador during an international friendly match between El Salvador and Spain at FedEx Field on June 7, in Landover, Maryland. (AFP)
Spain ease to victory in final WC warmup Messi-led Argentina breeze past Slovenia

WASHINGTON, June 8, (Agencies): David Villa struck twice to extend his record goal tally for Spain to 58 as the World Cup holders eased to a 2-0 win over El Salvador on Saturday in their last warmup game before the finals in Brazil. Spain dominated the Central American minnows at the FedEx Stadium and barely broke into a sweat in securing a comfortable victory ahead of their opening Group B match against Netherlands in Salvador on Friday. Vicente Del Bosque’s team squandered a chance to take an early lead when Diego Costa was felled in the penalty area by goalkeeper Henry Hernandez and Cesc Fabregas smashed his fourth-minute spot kick over the crossbar.

Villa, whose goals helped propel Spain to their maiden world title in South Africa four years ago, came off the bench at the break and was in the right place to nod in a Sergio Ramos knockdown in the 60th minute. Another substitute, Sergio Busquets, crashed a long-range effort against the crossbar in the 80th minute before goalkeeper David De Gea made his debut for La Roja when he replaced captain Iker Casillas for the final 10 minutes. David Silva floated the ball into the area three minutes from time and Villa chested it down before firing into the corner on his 96th appearance. “We know that Villa, in tight spaces, is one of the best forwards in the world,” Del Bosque told a news conference.

“The feelings are good and we are optimistic about the start of the competition. We perhaps lacked fluidity and precision when closing in on goal but we kept our shape well.” Villa, 32, announced this week he was leaving Atletico Madrid to join Major League Soccer team New York City. He has not been the same lethal marksman since breaking his leg at the end of 2011 but his double is good news for Spain as they bid to become only the third nation to retain the World Cup after Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962.

Del Bosque had the players from Champions League finalists Real Madrid and Atletico available after they joined up with the rest of the squad on Monday and it was a chance to test the fitness of the likes of Costa. The Brazil-born Atletico forward struggled with a series of niggling muscle injuries in the final weeks of the domestic season but looked fit and lively before being replaced by Xavi in the 73rd minute. Jordi Alba took a painful-looking knock to his ankle in the first half but Del Bosque said the Barcelona left back had not sustained serious injury.

Argentina 2, Slovenia 0
In La Plata, Argentina, substitute Lionel Messi scored his 38th goal for Argentina as they breezed past Slovenia 2-0 in their final World Cup warmup on Saturday. Messi, his country’s second highest scorer after Gabriel Batistuta, had not found the net in an international since a 5-2 qualifying win over Paraguay in Asuncion in September. Argentina’s captain began the match on the bench along with other key players like Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria, with coach Alejandro Sabella fearful of his squad being caught up in the spate of injuries affecting other World Cup finalists. Sabella used the friendly at the Estadio Unico to test an alternative tactical plan with three at the back and five across the middle before changing things in the second half.

Winger Ricky Alvarez opened the scoring in the 12th minute with a low left-foot shot from the edge of the box but two minutes later midfielder Lucas Biglia came off after receiving a knock and was replaced by Hugo Campagnaro. In the 76th minute Di Maria lobbed the ball from the edge of the box to the left where Aguero headed it down to Messi, who had come on for Alvarez in the 57th, and he dinked it between two defenders and the goalkeeper. “Now the hour of truth has come, the friendlies are over and we’re going to Brazil full of desire,” Messi told reporters after winning his 86th cap. “We’ve managed to be a united and very strong squad and we did that as Alejandro wanted. We’re more together than ever because of the dream we all have.” Biglia joined Rodrigo Palacio, who twisted his ankle in the 3-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago on Wednesday, and Martin Demichelis in nursing minor injuries as the squad headed for their tournament base in Belo Horizonte. Argentina open their Group F programme against Bosnia at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro on June 15 before meeting Iran in Belo Horizonte on June 21 and Nigeria in Porto Alegre four days later.

England 0, Honduras 0
In Miami, England manager Roy Hodgson breathed a sigh of relief after his team emerged unscathed from a bruising goalless draw with Honduras on Saturday. A match interrupted by a lightning storm also saw plenty of sparks on the pitch with a number of full-blooded challenges that would have given Hodgson some anxious moments. Honduras had Brayan Beckeles sent off in the 66th minute for a second bookable offence but will take heart from a battling display and a clean sheet after losing their previous two warm-up games 4-2 to Israel and 2-0 to Turkey. England created several openings but failed to take advantage with Daniel Sturridge the main culprit but Hodgson was now looking forward to getting down to the main business at hand. “It’s time for the real thing now. Everyone is fit, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is making progress and I think he will make the tournament,” Hodgson said of the injured Arsenal midfielder. “Honduras were quite physical and it was one of the most frustrating games I have been involved in for a long time,” he said.

“I thought the tempo of our play and effort to score in the second half was commendable. I will take the draw and take the fact we got away without any injuries. We go to Brazil in the right frame of mind,” he said. Wayne Rooney made his third straight start for England, making him the only member of Roy Hodsgon’s squad to play in all three pre-World Cup warm-ups. The Manchester United forward was again asked to play on the left flank and it was Rooney who produced the first effort on goal with a curling free-kick in the 14th minute which Honduras keeper Noel Valladrares spilled.

Rooney then sparked another England opportunity when, on the edge of the area, he fed Danny Welbeck, who dummied the ball allowing it to run into the path of Sturridge who should have done better than drag a left foot shot wide of the post. Sturridge’s Liverpool team-mate Raheem Sterling was missing after picking up a red card in the 2-2 draw against Ecuador on Wednesday and Honduras’s Emilio Izaguirre was fortunate to avoid a similar punishment after he drove the ball into Sturridge’s midrift while he lay on the ground.
There was surprise when American referee Ricardo Salazar halted the game in the 23rd minute and ordered the teams of the field due to a lightning warning. The teams were off the field for 43 minutes while the lightning passed the area and after the break the Hondurans picked up the tempo better. Rooney made way for Ross Barkley at the break with Jack Wilshere taking the place of Steven Gerrad in the centre of midfield.

Barkley quickly made an impact with a snap shot that flashed wide just two minutes after the re-start and he seemed to give England some instant creative impetus. Honduras were reduced to ten men in the 65th minute when Beckeles was given a second yellow card after he recklessly caught Leighton Baines with an arm to the head as he flew in to a challenge for a header. Sturridge wasted another chance when his header from a nicely delivered Glen Johnson cross was badly off target. England start their World Cup Group D campaign against Italy in Manaus on June 14. Honduras have a tough start against France in Group E before tackling Ecuador and Switzerland and coach Luis Fernando Suarez said they would take heart from the draw. “A result like this against England can give us some belief and give people in Honduras some cause for optimism,” he told reporters.

USA 2, Nigeria 1
In Jacksonville, Jozy Altidore broke his goalscoring drought as the United States beat Nigeria 2-1 on Saturday in the Americans’ final World Cup warm-up on US soil before heading to Brazil. Sunderland’s much-maligned striker — without a goal in 2014 — netted in the 32nd and 68th minutes as Jurgen Klinsmann’s men made it a hat-trick of wins after victories over Azerbaijan and Turkey in their “Send-Off Series.” “It took us awhile to get into the game,” Altidore said. “But after 25 minutes we started playing better. “Look, we can always do better, but I thought we created enough chances tonight.” It was a fitting final dress rehearsal for the American squad and a confidence-boosting game for Altidore, who seemed to have rediscovered his scoring touch at EverBank Field. Except for a stumble late in the first half when they squandered two scoring chances, the USA put together a complete performance against Nigeria, who are ranked 45th overall.

“The most important thing is how this team performs,” Altidore said. “Going into a tournament like this we want to make sure we are performing at a level where we give ourselves a good chance. I think we are going to do that.” Altidore said he never lost confidence throughout the scoring slump. “To be honest. I felt fine before and I feel fine now,” he said. Altidore opened the scoring in the 32nd minute, finishing from close range after a deft pass from Fabian Johnson. He then blasted a right-footed shot into the bottom left corner for his second goal in the 68th minute. “The first goal was a beautiful give and go with Fabian and the second goal was just having a shot on goal.” Victor Moses scored the only goal for Nigeria with a penalty four minutes from time to make it 2-1. Nigeria also had two quality scoring opportunities late in the first half but couldn’t connect. Ogenyi Onazi’s long shot from outside the box to the top right corner was saved by American goalkeeper Tim Howard in the 41st minute. Three minutes later, Efe Ambrose’s header from in close almost connected for Nigeria who controlled the play in the final five minutes of the opening half. American Clint Dempsey had a chance to give the USA a three goal cushion in the 65th minute when he took a through ball from Michael Bradley and broke in with Altidore on his left. Dempsey chose to shoot for the bottom corner but was stopped. This is just the second meeting all-time between the two countries, the first being a 3-2 USA win in June 1995, in Massachusetts. Nigeria is the only World Cup-bound team the USA faced in their Send-Off friendly series before heading to Brazil. The US opens their World Cup with a Group G match against Ghana on June 16 in Natal.

Belgium 1, Tunisia 0
In Brussels, Dries Mertens scored one minute from time as Belgium scrapped to a 1-0 victory over Tunisia in its final preparation game for the World Cup on Saturday. The match was interrupted for about 40 minutes after a severe hail storm forced players off the field in the first half. After a successful preparation campaign highlighted by a 5-1 victory over Luxembourg and a 2-0 win in Sweden, Belgium coach Marc Wilmots sought safety first for the send-off game against Tunisia. He kept Romelu Lukaku on the bench until the 61st minute after the striker had already proven his form with four goals in the last two games. He also experimented in midfield by keeping expected World Cup starters Axel Witsel and Kevin De Bruyne sidelined. Tunisia was reduced to 10 men after 63 minutes when Issam Jemaa was sent off for a second yellow card for grabbing Vincent Kompany’s shirt. Belgium dominated but lacked the cutting edge and had only a few shots at goal until Mertens slotted home after being set up by Nacer Chadli’s pass. Belgium plays Russia, South Korea and Algeria in Group H.

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