Spain’s second-choice team is incredible

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Spain have dominated the world of soccer of the past five years, both at club level with Barcelona’s once-in-a-lifetime team and, in particular, at international level, where they have won the last three major tournaments.

Such is their unbelievable squad depth that if their whole first-choice starting lineup was injured, their replacements would arguably still be a better side than anyone else in international soccer.

Spain’s best current starting eleven is probably the following:

CASILLAS, ARBELOA, RAMOS, PIQUE, ALBA, BUSQUETS, ALONSO, XAVI, INIESTA, VILLA, PEDRO.

Not too shabby I think you’d agree, but when you look at who would be in the backup side it just highlights how incredible the depth and quality of this generation of Spanish stars is.

GOALKEEPER

Victor Valdes, Pepe Reina and David De Gea would all be capable of filling the void left by Casillas, with Valdes probably the favourite. Although Casillas is still the undisputed number one, his replacements are so good you would hardly notice he wasn’t playing.

DEFENSE

Carles Puyol, though a veteran, could still do a great job for the national side, and Real Madrid’s Raul Albiol, with 38 caps to his name, would also be a perfectly solid replacement for Ramos or Pique. At full-back Barcelona’s Martin Montoya is already pushing Arbeloa for a place in the side, while Arsenal’s new signing Nacho Monreal is a more than able deputy to the marauding Alba.

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MIDFIELD

Although the sensational trio of Busquets, Xavi and Alonso are almost impossible to replace, the quality in reserve is phenomenal.

Javi Martinez has established himself as one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe, and many feel he should be ahead of Busquets in the pecking order now. Juan Mata, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva and Santi Cazorla are all top class players, and Spain’s squad is so incredible that one of those may not even make the second-choice team.

OFFENSE

This is perhaps the only area where Spain aren’t quite an unbelievable as they used to be. Villa is a little past his best, while Pedro has not had a good season at Camp Nou. Iniesta, in fairness, is still at the peak of his powers and in the top three players in the world. Strikers like Fernando Llorente, Alfredo Negredo and Roberto Soldado don’t really fit into their style of play but if push came to shove any of the three would replace Villa to decent effect. There’s not even space in the squad for Fernando Torres at the moment.

The most exctiting young player Spain have is Isco. The 20-year-old Malaga star looks like a wonderful prospect for the future. Jesus Navas is another excellent wide player on the fringes of the first team.

In summary, this could be Spain’s second-choice starting eleven:

VALDES, MONTOYA, PUYOL, ALBIOL, MONREAL, MARTINEZ, FABREGAS, SILVA, MATA , NAVAS, LLORENTE. 

That would beat most teams, wouldn’t it?

Report: Man City bid for Mendy rejected

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According to a report by Sky Sports, Manchester City has seen a bid for Monaco full-back Benjamin Mendy rejected, and will have to significantly increase their offer for the transfer to be completed.

The report states that Manchester City bid $58 million for the 23-year-old French international, but Monaco values Mendy at the $65 million level Man City paid for Kyle Walker, a world record for a defender.

[ MORE: Barcelona president warns PSG over Neymar move ]

Monaco is in an advantageous position in this situation, with Manchester City desperate for full-backs and Monaco not obligated to sell. Mendy’s current contract with the defending Ligue 1 champions runs through the summer of 2021.

City has already purchased Walker, but with the departure of aging full-backs Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy, and Bacary Sagna, the club is almost completely devoid at the position, with just Walker and Aleksandr Kolarov on the roster.

Mendy has shown blistering pace and great crossing ability, racking up 11 assists last season across all competitions, including four in seven Champions League appearances. His tackling numbers are also surprisingly competent for such a young defender, completing just about 50% of his attempted tackles during league play last season, and sporting a 64% completion rate in Champions League play.

MLS to add VAR replay in early August

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Less than a month from now, Major League Soccer will introduce Video Assistant Replay to its matches, the league confirmed Thursday.

VAR took its biggest jump forward yet when it was introduced at the 2017 Confederations Cup. Referees on the field were alerted by video assistants in a booth about questionable calls, and the on-field ref would then have the opportunity to review a decision themselves on a video screen.

The MLS press release read, “A fifth member of a game’s officiating crew, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), located in a booth at the stadium, will have access to all available broadcast angles and check all plays for potential clear and obvious errors or serious missed incidents in four game-changing situations — goals, penalty decisions, direct red cards, and cases of mistaken identity.” The league confirmed August 5th would be the introduction of VAR.Major L

For VAR to be successfully implemented and affect the flow of game as little as possible, the system will have to be tightly monitored as to not be used to challenge 50/50 decisions or those too close to call. In addition, quick decisions will be paramount to the system to keep confusion at a minimum and continue play as quick as possible.

There were examples of both good and bad use of VAR during the Confederations Cup. Early in the tournament, Portugal saw a goal correctly wiped off against Mexico thanks to a blatant offside call, with the decision coming 53 seconds after the ball hit the back of the net. However, later in the tournament, Chile saw a goal by Claudio Vargas controversially erased when the system was used to overturn an incredibly close call.

MLS says its decision to use VAR comes after three years of research and testing. It’s somewhat surprising the system is being implemented in the middle of a campaign, with any possible kinks to work out despite the stretch run of the regular season.

Back in early July, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said there is “nothing standing in the way of VAR” use at the 2018 World Cup.

Africa Cup of Nations moving to summer

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The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations has been moved to the summer, neutralizing the effect of the tournament on domestic leagues, the CAF has announced.

In the past, players were forced to choose between club and country with the tournament taking place in January and February. Now, players will not have to choose, and will be able to play for their country without missing any critical club time. Last season, clubs like Liverpool struggled in the absence of key players like Sadio Mane while they left to play for their country.

With the change to playing in June and July, teams will need to manage the heat of a summer tournament in Africa, although it wouldn’t be as bad as one might expect. The 2019 tournament is set to be played in Cameroon, where average temperatures in June start at around 87 degrees and fall throughout the month, reaching closer to 80 degrees by the start of July. Cameroon hosted Morocco in their most recent AFCON qualifier 10 days ago in Yaoundé, and the high temperature for that day (June 10) was 78 degrees.

The CAF also confirmed that the tournament will expand from 16 teams to 24 teams, despite qualification for the tournament having already begun. To fill out the additional slots, the CAF has not announced how it will change qualifying, but it’s likely that 2nd place finishers in all 12 groups would make the field, rather than the top three 2nd place finishers that currently progress. In the current format, the host country automatically qualifies, but still participates in qualification. Cameroon is currently leading Group B after one match.

Eight additional teams could pose problems for Cameroon, who admitted on Wednesday that preparations were behind schedule for the 2019 tournament. “Despite security concerns, social and economic crises, the government and President Paul Biya are totally engaged to do everything for the Nations Cup to go ahead,” said Cameroon Sports Minister Ismael Bidoung.

Finally, the CAF release confirmed that the tournament will, in the future, stay on African soil with only African teams. That means there will be no tournaments held in foreign nations such as China, and non-African teams will not be invited. Both were possibilities the organization was considering.

Barcelona president warns PSG over FFP

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Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu is warning Paris Saint-Germain that even if they try to sign Neymar, they would condemn themselves to UEFA sanctions.

With PSG heavily linked to the Brazilian superstar, rumors suggest the French club is hoping to activate Neymar’s monstrous release clause set at $258 million.

However, that could have serious consequences, warns Bartomeu. “These clauses are impossible to activate if you want to comply with Financial Fair Play,” the Barcelona president told the Associated Press. “If someone doesn’t want to comply, then of course it can be activated.”

The Spaniard assured fans that Neymar is a critical part of Barcelona’s success.

“He has a contract for the coming four years and, of course, we count on him,” Bartomeu said. “He’s part of our team. He’s part of this trident [with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez].”

The 25-year-old signed a five-year contract extension last October that runs through the summer of 2021. Club vice-president Jordi Mestre also said he was “200 per cent” sure Neymar would stay with Barcelona.