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Embrace the absurd: Say the 2014 World Cup was drawn today …

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Let me pre-empt your comment and acknowledge: I know this is completely pointless. And in a way, that is the point.

I want to embrace the absurdity of looking too deep into early qualifying results. I want to see what the world would look like if Mexico kept struggling, Ghana didn’t get out of their group, or Portugal doesn’t track down Israel in Europe.

I want Uzbekistan’s name in draw, Venezuela in a finals, and nations like Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina to breakthrough.

Most of all, I want some kind of reward for all of the international soccer we’ve been subjected to over the last five days. I want to know this is leading somewhere – that these constant jumps from the club world into this alternative reality will be rewarded. The only way for my frustrated, fatigued little mind to grasp the implications is to draw out the 2014 World Cup.

So here’s what I did: I took the current standings from qualifying tournaments around the world, assumed the teams’ points-per-game rates played out, and then “qualified” the appropriate teams for Brazil. When playoffs were needed, I went with FIFA’s higher rated team (for no other reason than to take my preferences out of the equation).

Beyond using FIFA ranking as a tiebreaker, I didn’t assume the good teams would automatically make it. Think Panama’s going to fade? Too bad. They’re in first now. Montenegro’s not going to win their group? Then they won’t part of the last time we do this exercise eight months from now. We’re living in the present, baby. Embrace the now!

Once the 32 teams were decided. I pulled out Brazil and the seven seeded teams (by FIFA ranking), and conducted the draw by normal procedures. The way it ended up after playoffs, eight European teams formed one pot, the African and South American teams formed another, while the Asian and CONCACAF teams formed the last.

And this is how it played out.

AGAIN, this is not meant to be anything other than a fun exercise. I don’t intend it to be predictive or in any way a reflection of anybody’s analysis. It’s just a goof.

Group A Group B
Brazil
France
Cote d’Ivoire
South Korea
Spain
Switzerland
Algeria
Uzbekistan
Group C Group D
England
Greece
Zambia
Honduras
Italy
Croatia
Venezuela
United States
Group E Group F
Netherlands
Belgium
Chile
Panama
Germany
Russia
Ecuador
Australia
Group G Group H
Colombia
Montenegro
Nigeria
Japan
Argentina
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Tunisia
Costa Rica

Perhaps once we’re further down the qualifying road we can put some analysis in this space, but we’re still a little too far down the road to be taking this too seriously. For now, it’s cool to seem some of the new names and potential groups …

… but for now, I leave the analysis to you.

PL Sunday: Spurs look to regain second against Stoke

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his sides first goal with Erik Lamela of Tottenham Hotspur  during the Premier League match between Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur at Britannia Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Although there’s only one match on Sunday’s Premier League docket, the fixture bears great weight for both clubs.

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Tottenham vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Spurs have the chance to move back into second place at White Hart Lane as Mauricio Pochettino‘s side are firmly in a battle to finish runners’ up to Chelsea this season. Tottenham currently sit 13 points out of the top spot, however, five clubs are within four points of another in the battle for second. Danny Rose and Erik Lamela remain sidelined due to injuries but Spurs will remain the favorites in the fixture after having won their previous two league meetings.

Stoke enters Sunday having gone unbeaten in five of its last six PL matches and the Potters can enter the top 10 with a victory. Mark Hughes‘ side could be given a big lift with the potential return of Xherdan Shaqiri while Saido Berahino could be in line to earn his first start since joining Stoke. Both players could present massive upside for the Potters, who have struggled to find goals as of late. In their last four matches, Stoke have managed just three finishes, one of which came from an own goal.

 

Sutton forced to use outfield player after goalkeeper left match injured

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 20:  Reserve goalkeeper Wayne Shaw of Sutton acknowledges the crowd after The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Sutton United and Arsenal at Gander Green Lane on February 20, 2017 in Sutton, Greater London.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Sutton United was put in a bit of a predicament on Saturday when the club lost its starting goalkeeper due to injury.

[ MORE: Chelsea, Everton extend unbeaten runs in Saturday’s PL action ]

If only Wayne Shaw were available…

The 45-year-old resigned from his backup keeper position with the team earlier in the week after an investigation over broken betting rules came into question when Shaw ate a pie on the bench during Sutton’s FA Cup defeat against Arsenal.

Ross Worner left the pitch during the team’s 3-2 National League victory over Torquay United in the opening quarter hour.

Despite being down a goal and a man, central defender Simon Downer filled in for the injured Worner and only conceded once in the Sutton win.

Video: Schmeichel opens up about Ranieri sacking, state of Leicester

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Leicester’s downward spiral this season has certainly been one of the most intriguing storylines in the Premier League, and that story came to a head when manager Claudio Ranieri was sacked by the club.

[ MORE: Chelsea, Everton extend unbeaten runs in Saturday’s PL action ]

After leading his side to an improbable PL title during the 2015/16 season, the Foxes are now in the midst of a difficult relegation battle as the season hits its most crucial juncture.

[ MORE: Brighton extends lead in Championship, Newcastle held by Bristol ]

Still, the Foxes must turn their attention towards survival despite losing a manager that was amongst the most well liked in England and really all throughout European football.

“Claudio [Ranieri] leaving is obviously very, very sad. We achieved the impossible together and I have nothing but the upmost respect for him for everything that he achieved at this club,” said Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

“Everybody knows he’s a classy guy. He came in and said his piece to the players, thanked us for our efforts and for last season and said goodbye. It’s a shame it has come to this.”

Schmeichel reiterated that he didn’t believe Ranieri was the issue and that the players are at fault for not taking care of the results on the pitch.

“You can look at our performances on the pitch,” Schmeichel said. “We haven’t been quite good enough this season. It’s quite clear. The league doesn’t lie. We’re in the position we are in because we haven’t been good enough.”

The keeper stated that he especially is taking Ranieri’s sacking to heart and that he wishes the club could have strung together some better performances in order to save his former manager’s job.

“I don’t think anyone has had more sleepless nights over our form than I have,” Schmeichel said. “Our form affects me deeply. Every person can clearly see that we haven’t performed on the pitch and we deserve the criticism that we get and that we are getting because of our performances. But anything above that is out of our hands. On the pitch, we definitely deserve the criticism that we are getting.”

In the interim, Craig Shakespeare will be tasked with replacing Ranieri and hoping to keep his club afloat next season in the PL.

While Shakespeare does have caretaker experience back in 2006 with West Bromwich Albion, the 53-year-old is in a much more difficult position this time around given the magnitude of Leicester’s fall from grace.

“Craig is someone I’ve known for a very long time,” Schmeichel said. “He’s a very bright character. he’s a very serious football man, what you’d call a real football man. he’s very enthusiastic about training. I have absolutely no doubt that he’s capable of becoming a manager whether it’s now or at some point. I think that he does have ambitions of that but he’s been a magnificent manager in his time here.”

La Liga & Serie A: Sevilla moves second, Caldara guides Atalanta

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 29:  Stevan Jovetic (L) of Sevilla FC celebrates with his team mates after scoring his team's first goal during the La Liga match between RCD Espanyol and Sevilla FC at Cornella-El Prat stadium on January 29, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

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Real Betis 1-2 Sevilla

Sevilla has moved into second in La Liga thanks to a pair of second half goals on Saturday. Riza Durmisi gave the hosts the advantage heading into the halftime break but Sevilla fought back in the second stanza with finishes from Gabriel Mercado and Vicente Iborra to pull into a tie on points with league leaders Real Madrid.

Leganes 4-0 Deportivo La Coruna

Raúl Albentosa’s red card was the least of Deportivo’s worries on the day as the 17th place side took a hammering from Leganes. The victory for the hosts moves Leganes two points clear of Deportivo in the table and five points above the drop zone. Alexander Szymanowski and Martín Mantovani helped Leganes jump out to a 2-0 lead inside of the opening half hour before late finishes from Unai Lopez and Alberto Bueno put the finishing touches on the encounter.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Alaves 2-1 Valencia
Eibar 3-0 Malaga

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Espanyol vs. Osasuna (6 a.m. ET)
Atletico Madrid vs. Barcelona (10:15 a.m. ET)
Athletic Bilbao vs. Granada (12:30 p.m. ET)
Sporting Gijon vs. Celta Vigo (12:30 p.m. ET)
Villareal vs. Real Madrid (2:45 p.m. ET)


Napoli 0-2 Atalanta

Mattia Caldara netted a brace on Saturday and helped guide his Atalanta side to within three points of Napoli in the Serie A table. Atalanta currently sits fourth in Italy’s top flight, but the race for the second place is heating up as Roma, Napoli and Atalanta all sit within five points of one another. Meanwhile, Inter Milan will have a chance to draw level on points with Atalanta on Sunday when they take on Roma.

Juventus 2-0 Empoli

It took a bit for the league leaders to get going but Juventus remains in firm control of Serie A after another victory. An own goal from Lukasz Skorupski gave the hosts the lead after the halftime break before Alex Sandro doubled the advantage 12 minutes later after finishing off a Dani Alves cross. The Bianconeri now hold a 10-point advantage over second place Roma.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Palermo vs. Sampdoria (6:30 a.m. ET)
Chievo vs. Pescara (9 a.m. ET)
Crotone vs. Cagliari (9 a.m. ET)
Genoa vs. Bologna (9 a.m. ET)
Lazio vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. AC Milan (9 a.m. ET)
Inter Milan vs. Roma (2:45 p.m. ET)