London 2012

Analyzing the U.S. draw for the London Olympic tournament

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The draw for the women’s soccer tournament at the 2012 Summer Olympics was conducted early Tuesday. Here’s the complete field:

Group A

  • Great Britain
  • New Zealand
  • Cameroon
  • Brazil

Group B

  • USA
  • France
  • Colombia
  • North Korea

Group C

  • Japan
  • Canada
  • Sweden
  • South Africa

Now for what it means:

Charting new territory: The United States plays its first two group matches against France and Colombia in Glasgow at famed Hampden Park. They will then round out the group stage in Manchester at Old Trafford.  But for the USWNT, the British Isles is still a land that is relatively unknown. The team staged a pre-World Cup training camp in Scotland last spring, but has never played a competitive match in the country. The side played its first ever match on British soil last year against England and earned a disappointing 2-1 loss. Pia Sundhage’s team will hope for a better result this time.

Familiar opponents…to a point: The U.S. faced each group opponent at various stages in the World Cup last summer, collecting wins against all three. Still, this will mark the first time the team has faced any of its group foes in the Olympics. If past results are anything to go by, the U.S. should fare well in group play for the 2012 Women’s Olympic Tournament. The USWNT has never lost to any of its Group B competitors. The combined record against all three teams stands at 17-0-2 with 51 goals scored and 10 conceded.

Also, it also wouldn’t be a proper international tournament without a USWNT/North Korea group stage duel. The two sides have been drawn together in the same group in the last four Women’s World Cups. Don’t you love it when tradition is upheld?

Can’t snooze on Les Bleues: One gets the sense the U.S.’s commanding 12-0-1 all-time record against France will hold little significance when the two face off in Group B’s opening match. France are undeniably the rising stars of international women’s soccer. Bruno Bini’s stylish side captured hearts at the World Cup last summer before falling to the U.S. in the semi-finals. France played the most progressive soccer of the tournament and were awarded with an automatic Olympic berth by virtue of their fourth-place finish. Victory in the annual Cyprus Cup last month suggests Les Bleues’ sizzling form hasn’t cooled down. The U.S. were famously downed by Norway in their first match of the 2008 Olympics and later went on to win the tournament. Will a similar scenario pan out this time?

New faces in the crowd: This is probably the thousandth bullet point on the “signs international women’s soccer is growing” list. In previous Olympic tournaments, berths for the CONMEBOL and CAF regions were generally limited to one, if any at all. The 2012 Olympics will see two berths for each federation and thus, the tournament debuts of three countries. Group B’s Colombia made their first appearance in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup last summer and will use this as another opportunity to nurture its young squad. Nigeria has been Africa’s only representative in the women’s tournament. Up to now, at least. South Africa and Cameroon each narrowly missed out on World Cup qualification in late 2010, but will now have the chance to compete for Olympic glory.

Grand stage for a new generation: This tournament could be a swan song of sorts for several USWNT stalwarts entering the twilights of their careers. The Olympics has been a proving ground for emerging talents eager to earn their keeps. Lauren Cheney, Amy Rodriguez, and Tobin Heath were in their very early 20’s when they each got their respective first tastes of major tournament soccer at the 2008 Olympics. Each has since developed at different rates, but all remain integral parts of the senior fold. Alex Morgan, 22, and Sydney Leroux, 21, will likely lead the USWNT’s front line for the foreseeable future. 23 year-old attacker-turned-defender Kelley O’Hara has seemingly overcome the learning curve and had two very serviceable performances in the Kirin Cup Challenge earlier this month. 24 year-old Whitney Engen is in line to inherit a starting job in the backline once a vacancy arises. A slender 20-player roster will make competition for roster spots particularly fierce. For many of these players, the future is now.

The end of an era?: In early 2008 Pia Sundhage inherited a Women’s National Team program in transition and slight disarray. The USWNT had been eliminated from the 2007 Women’s World Cup in humiliating fashion complete with a 4-0 meltdown versus Brazil, that goalkeeper controversy, and the dismissal of head coach Greg Ryan. Nine months later, Sundhage galvanized the squad to its third Olympic gold medal. The thrilling extra time victory over arch rivals Brazil led to a contract extension. Sundhage’s contract reportedly runs through this summer’s Olympics.  The former Swedish international hasn’t been bashful about her ambitions to return to her native country. Another gold medal will undoubtedly cement Sundhage’s legacy as one of the most successful, effective coaches in the program’s history. Talk about going out on top.

Gabriel Jesus available to make Man City debut

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 27:  Gabriel Jesus of Palmeiras celebrates with the trophy after winning the match between Palmeiras and Chapecoense for the Brazilian Series A 2016 at Allianz Parque on November 27, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)
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Manchester City have confirmed that new striker Gabriel Jesus is available to play against Tottenham Hotspur this Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: United need Griezmann

Jesus, 19, agreed to move from Palmerias in the summer for $35 million but remained with the Brazilian side for the rest of their season as he was their to scorer en route to them winning the league title.

After a few weeks training at City he is now registered in the squad and ready to feature for Pep Guardiola‘s side to help them claw back the 10-point gap between themselves and current Premier League leaders Chelsea.

Jesus scored 28 goals in 85 games in all competitions for Palmerias and has shown great promise for the Brazilian national team, scoring four goals in his first six appearances for the Selecao in 2016.

Speaking about his arrival at City, Jesus is looking to hit the ground running.

“I want to win titles and Manchester City is a club that is used to winning,” Jesus said. “City is a Club that always competes for the title in the competitions it enters, so that was an important factor, and because of the manager, Guardiola, and the squad.”

Jesus has arrived at the perfect time to give an ailing City side a boost.

On the back of their 4-0 drubbing at Everton last weekend (City’s worst league defeat since 2008 and Guardiola’s worst-ever in the league as a manager) they need to beat Tottenham this weekend to keep alive any hopes of winning the title. City can’t afford any more slipups and their defensive unit has to improve.

Going forward Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling David Silva and Sergio Aguero have been in good form for most of the season, but adding Jesus will bring competition and Kelechi Iheanacho will also be pushing him all the way for minutes.

Many would like to see Aguero given some help up to and maybe Jesus can start alongside him in the weeks and months to come?

We all saw just how good Jesus can be during the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Now he has all eyes on him as he prepares to make his long-awaited debut against Tottenham.

Kaka hoping to stay in Orlando beyond 2017

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 08:  Kaka #10 of Orlando City SC dribbles the ball during an MLS soccer match between the New York City FC and the Orlando City SC at the Orlando Citrus Bowl on March 8, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
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Kaka is enjoying life in Florida.

The former Ballon d’Or winner is hoping to stay with Orlando City SC beyond the end of his contract, which runs its course after the 2017 season.

[ MORE: Real Madrid now winless in three ]

Kaka has been very good for the Lions, scoring 19 goals and 15 assists in 53 total matches. Reports had said he’s skip town after the third year of the deal, but Kaka refutes that idea.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“A misunderstanding because I am very happy here,” Kaká told reporters at MLS Media Day on Tuesday. “I had a three year contract, so this is the last year under this contract, but my idea is to stay here.

“Of course we never know what can happen at the end of the season or during the season, but my idea for now is to stay in Orlando and stay in the league.”

Kaka turns 35 in April, but has been consistently good even if injuries kept him to 24 MLS contests last season. If he puts forth a similar season, there’s little reason for Orlando — or another team — not to take a chance on Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite.

Gabriel Jesus cleared, could make Man City debut

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 20:  Gabriel Jesus of Palmeiras runs with the ball during the match between Palmeiras and Botafogo for the Brazilian Series A 2016 at Allianz Parque on November 20, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)
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Gabriel Jesus could go straight into Manchester City’s starting lineup.

The 19-year-old Brazilian has finally been cleared to suit up for the English side after finishing a title-winning campaign with Palmeiras.

With four goals in six caps for the Brazil national team and an Olympic gold medal with their U-23 side, Jesus is among the hottest prospects in the world.

[ MORE: City fifth in “Money League” ]

City is struggling, and the fresh injection of attacking talent could be music to the ears of boss Pep Guardiola (who, fun fact, celebrates his 46th birthday today).

From the Manchester Evening News:

“He’s a great player. Going to Europe is a good thing for a player. He will grow quicker, he will start to understand football in another way and also be respected inside the football scene.

“I guess that for Gabriel Jesus it was a good thing to leave Brazilian soccer, he did everything he had could in [Brazil]. He’s going to a very difficult, competitive [type of football] but I think that he can be successful.”

Jesus had 21 goals in 46 matches this season with Palmeiras.

Casemiro: “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose”

MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY 18:  Henrique Casemiro of Real Madrid heads the ball against Daniel Wass of Celta de Vigo during the Copa del Rey Quarter Final, First Leg match between Real Madrid CF and  Celta Vigo at Bernabeu on January 18, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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The pressure at Real Madrid can be overwhelming, and the players who thrive there generally have thick skin and short memories.

They also take losses pretty seriously.

That goes for the manager as well, as both Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane and Casemiro have reacted to Real’s third-straight non-win in serious fashion.

[ MORE: Real no longer No. 1 in money ]

Remember, this is coming after the first match of the “slump” — a 3-3 draw with Sevilla — was the final match of a world record 40-match unbeaten run.

Casemiro, whose record in the Real Madrid lineup is as good as anyone’s, said this (via Marca):

“Yes, it’s worrying to lose again,” he said just after the full-time whistle. “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose. The defeat against Sevilla has hurt us.”

And if you want to tell Casemiro to relax, that only one of those matches was in league play and the club still leads the table by a point with a match-in-hand on nearly everyone… well… enter Zidane.

“I’m the one responsible and I must find the solution,” he said in his post-match press conference. “I wasn’t surprised by the way Celta played, as we knew that they’re a team that can really hurt you. I’m not worried, although it’s a bad moment. We know that we can overcome it and we are going to overcome it.”

I’m far from a Real Madrid fan, and you can credit Florentino Perez’s ideas and the hanky-waving fans for a lot of that, but it’s impossible not admire how seriously Real takes the business of winning. And maybe, just maybe, the fan and board expectations occasionally help the squad.