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Giggs still available for Team GB, eyes Beckham reunion

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The Welsh FA might not be too keen on contributing to Team GB, but Ryan Giggs doesn’t seem to mind. The Manchester United legend is eyeing a role at this summer’s London Olympics, even if his nation’s federation would have him stay away.

Though Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales compete individually on the international level, the nations have been lumped in with England for this summer’s Olympics, which are contested by kingdom of Great Britain. As such, soccer players from those nations will have to compete for Team GB or not at all.

‘Not at all’ is Wales’ preferred option. Northern Ireland and Scotland want the same from their players. Their reasoning: The concept of a Team GB undermines the country’s individual football associations, which have independent recognition from FIFA. If a Team GB is allowed to compete at this major tournament, where will it end?

At this major tournament, most would say. The slippery slope is hard to see.

Apparently, Giggs is overlooking the fallacy, too, having re-affirmed his desire to be one of Stuart Pearce’s the over-age (older than 23) selections.

“I’ve put myself forward to be involved,” said Giggs, who has already spoken to the GB head coach, Stuart Pearce. “Whether I get picked we’ll have to see. Everybody is excited about the Olympics coming to London and different parts of Britain.”

That second part is important. The soccer tournament isn’t just a London-based event. Matches will also be taking place in Glasgow (Scotland) and Cardiff (Wales), in addition to Manchester, Newcastle, and Coventry. Only five of the events 32 games will be waged in London.

Giggs isn’t the only prominent Welshman to defy his country’s FA, with Tottenham Hotspur dynamo Gareth Bale also professing his desire to play in the Olympics.

He also isn’t the only Manchester United-linked winger to put his boot in, with LA Galaxy cast member David Beckham is hoping London will be his international swan song.

“Becks is obviously a friend,” said Giggs of the 37-year-old, “and he remains a great player. If [featuring in the GB side together] was to be, it’d be great. I started my playing career with Becks in the [United] youth team. Twenty years later, to be still doing that would be great.”

To me, these two are obvious picks, though many question whether Beckham’s play warrants a spot on the team. Depending on how Team GB does, the squad could be looking at six games in 16 days, too much for the 37-year-old to handle. Then again, that’s why squads are allowed to pick more than 11 players.

Whether the intent behind that is to allow honorific appointments is more debatable. The general public in England seem to want Beckham to participate. Stodgy soccer honks worried about which players are “in form”? Not so much.

I don’t really care how Team GB does at the summer games, so my main concern is entertainment value. If we’re talking about nothing more than a few minutes of Giggs and Beckham at this summer’s games, I’m already far more interested in this tournament than I was China’s.

UEFA Champions League final preview — Madrid’s finest Real or Atleti?

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 27:  Diego Simeone head coach of Atletico Madrid looks on during an Atletico de Madrid training session on the eve of the UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 27, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final isn’t quite the unstoppable force against the immovable object — Real’s defense is good and Atleti has plenty of attacking intent — but it’s fair if you’re expecting the Madrid Derby final to be Diego Simeone’s diligent defenders attempting to counter Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid’s potent attack.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed ]

Simeone’s built his name on tight teamwork, and La Liga teams broke Atleti down a mere 18 times in 38 matches this season. Before you crow about the weakness of Spain’s top flight from top to bottom, Real only managed a single goal against Atleti in a 1-1 draw that came at the Vicente Calderon. Atleti triumphed 1-0 at the Bernabeu to take four of six points from their derby mates.

But this is the big one, and a rematch of the late thriller we saw in the 2014 final. That’s when Diego Godin’s 36th minute goal came within seconds of being the difference, only for Sergio Ramos to net in stoppage time and Real to score three goals in extra time for a 4-1 win.

[ MORE: Torres ready for “game of my life” ]

Ronaldo will be fine to go, which is obviously bad news for Atleti. While his goal at the end of the 2014 final was just chiseled-ab window dressing, he has scored in both of his UCL finals (He scored for Manchester United in the 26th minute of their 2008 defeat of Chelsea).

(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

The beauty of Atleti’s defense is how well it springs into the attack, with Godin and Filipe Luis both capable of providing offense.

But really, with respect to Gabi and Antoine Griezmann… that defense! Atleti allowed three goals in the group stage, and just seven across its 12 UCL matches.

How will Simeone aim to stop Real this time around? Will it be banks of four or five, with Torres and Griezmann waiting to strike on a fleet-footed counter? That could serve their disciplined unit well, but something tells me Simeone has something special cooked up for this much-anticipated rematch, and manager is a distinct edge for Atleti against a still-learning Zinedine Zidane.

As an aside, Griezmann has been fantastic, scoring 32 times this year with seven coming in the UCL. Torres is second in scoring, with 12.

Championship playoff preview: Sheffield Wednesday vs. Hull City

DERBY, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 14:  Eldin Jakupovic of Hull City celebrates as Andrew Robertson of Hull City scores their third goal during the Sky Bet Championship Play Off semi final first leg match between Derby County and Hull City at the iPro Stadium on May 14, 2016 in Derby, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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One is hoping to rejoin the Premier League at the first time of asking, while the other to see its first top flight action since 2000 with a win in Saturday’s promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

Hull City did not make the top flight from its inception in 1904 until winning the playoffs in 2008. Since, the Tigers have spent a pair of 2-season stints in the Premier League.

Sheffield Wednesday, for its part, spent nine seasons in the top tier from 1991-2000, but fell as low as League One in the 21st century before a run to the playoffs this season.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine UCL final ]

Hull’s stingy defense allowed 35 goals this season, tied for the second-best mark in the league, while scoring the fourth-most goals (69). The Tigers finished in fourth place to Wednesday’s sixth, and the sides drew 0-0 at Hull and 1-1 in the reverse fixture.

Uruguayan striker Abel Hernandez was far and away Hull’s most deadly scorer, notching 21 goals in the Championship this season, while Sam Clucas paced the club with 8 assists.

Wednesday’s scoring was paced by former Watford attacker Fernando Forestieri’s 15 goals. Veteran Gary Hooper added 13 for the Owls, who got a team-best eight assists from Ross Wallace.

It’s the “richest game in sports”, and kicks off at Noon ET Saturday.

Sturridge injured again, Rashford set for England debut

England v Norway - International Friendly
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GATESHEAD, England (AP) England striker Daniel Sturridge has picked up another injury, potentially affecting his chances of being selected for the European Championship.

England manager Roy Hodgson says Sturridge has a calf injury that has prevented him from training and is a doubt to play in the warmup match against Australia on Friday. Hodgson has until Tuesday to finalize his 23-man squad for the tournament in France.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed | Speaks more ]

Sturridge has been beset by injury problems in recent years.

His latest injury increases the possibility of 18-year-old Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford‘s fairytale season being extended to include Euro 2016.

Hodgson said Thursday that Rashford will make his debut against Australia in Sunderland – as a starter if Sturridge isn’t fit. Rashford only made his United debut in February.

Ex-Leicester boss Pearson hired by Derby County

Nigel Pearson, Leicester City FC
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Nigel Pearson lives.

The combustible former manager of Southampton, Hull City and Leicester City will now lead Derby County in the hopes of Premier League promotion.

Derby has been on the edge of promotion to the Premier League for several seasons, but neither Steve McClaren and Darren Wassall could do the trick.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed | Speaks more ]

Enter Pearson, 52, who has been hired on a three-year deal. It’s his first stop since a roller coaster ride saw him guide Leicester into the Premier League, only to be fired in the aftermath of some players being involved in a racist sex tape incident on a tour of Thailand.

This was after a bizarre season that saw him put his hands on an opposing player’s throat, call a journalist an ostrich, and ultimately save Leicester from the drop.

From Derby County’s site:

“I am honoured to be named as the Manager of Derby County, which is one of the biggest clubs in the country, a club in excellent shape and one with strong ambitions. It is firmly focused on achieving Premier League football.

“I will give absolutely everything I have to this role and do all I can to bring exciting, entertaining and winning football which our supporters can be proud of.”

At the very least, the Rams will be interesting to watch next season.