Championship Playoff Preview: Crystal Palace at Brighton

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Okay, so it is going to take a lot to top the dramatic Championship playoff semifinal between Watford and Leicester City on Sunday.

But let’s hope Brighton and Crystal Palace give it a darn good go down on the South Coast of England this afternoon.

The two huge rivals drew 0-0 on Friday at Selhurst Park with everything on the line in their playoff semifinal second leg, to decide who will face Watford in the Championship Playoff final at Wembley stadium later this month.

Who are the favorites you ask? This is a tricky one. Remarkably, after 97 meetings over 93 years; Brighton have won 37, Crystal Palace 36 with 24 drawn. So Brighton and Hove Albion have the edge… just.

Brighton have the home advantage. They have turned the Amex Stadium into a fortress this season —  just their second campaign in the Championship after winning the League One title in 2010-11 —  losing just three times and the Seaside club must fancy their chances.

Brighton have not lost since March 12, in the ten games since they have won five and drawn five.

Manager Gus Poyet’s Uruguayan roots emanate in the Seagulls play and their gritty midfield duo Liam Bridcutt and Dean Hammond are an engine-room to be reckoned with. Forwards Leonardo Ulloa and Will Buckley provide a big threat and could help Brighton move one step closer to their dream of reaching the English Premier League.

Meanwhile Crystal Palace are looking to reignite their wonderful early season form after they stumbled into the playoffs under Ian Holloway. The Eagles saw their goals dry up late in the season and have failed to score in their last three games against their arch rivals. Can they do so today? 39-year-old striker Kevin Phillips may be their best hope after the Championship’s top scorer with 30 goals, Glenn Murray, badly injured his knee in Friday’s semifinal first leg. A huge blow for the South London side.

However they do have Wilfred Zaha on the wing. The England international will be keen to spearhead the Eagles challenge to make it back to the EPL, despite the fact that Zaha has already been signed by Manchester United and will be at Old Trafford next season.

You can catch the game on BeIN Sport from 2:30pm ET.

What they’re saying…

Brighton

Gus Poyet: “There will not be a winner by many goals so let’s see if we can use our home advantage. This tie, anywhere in the world, is 50/50 but I would always want to play in front of my fans. Everything is there. I don’t need to motivate the players and we don’t need to motivate the fans either. It will be an amazing atmosphere and we’ll do everything we can to win.”

Liam Bridcutt: “The job is not done until we win and we know it will be hard at our place as well. We just have to go into the game with the same winning mentality and see if we can score the goals, and win the game. We are looking forward to it and are ready to go again.”

Crystal Palace

Ian Holloway: “We have to go there and they will have to watch us because we aren’t bad at counter-attacking. Obviously we will have to stop them at their own ground, but this is where the pressure happens, this is where it all starts building. It only takes one thing from us and that could upset everything. It’s a fantastic opportunity for us, we have to do better than we did at their ground last time.”

Prediction: This one really is too close to call. Extra-time and maybe even penalties beckons to separate these huge rivals. As you probably gathered, the fans don’t think much of one another and the atmosphere is sure to be electric inside the 30,000 capacity Amex. This game promises to be a great advert for English soccer’s second tier. The home side have the slight advantage and, at a push, I think Brighton will be competing with Watford for a place in the EPL.

Malta captain mutes goal celebration after journalist slain

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Malta captain Andre Schembri says the car bomb slaying of a Maltese investigative journalist prompted him not to exult after scoring an historic goal.

Schembri’s temporary equalizer for Cypriot club Apollon in a 3-1 loss to Italian side Atalanta in the Europa League on Thursday made him the first Maltese player to score in proper European competition – excluding qualifying.

[ PL PREVIEW: Saints vs. West Brom ]

But instead of pumping his fist or leaping in joy over the achievement, Schembri hung his head as teammates mobbed him.

Schembri wrote on Facebook on Friday, “Celebrating my goal didn’t feel right after what happened in Malta this week.”

Malta has been stunned since Monday by the slaying of Daphne Caruana Galizia, an anti-corruption reporter whose targets included Malta’s leading politicians.

“When they killed Daphne I wasn’t able to sleep for three nights,” Schembri told the ANSA news agency. “Malta is Europe, it’s not the third world. We need to be united when faced with grief like this, to say that we’re better than all of this.

“I love my country and with that goal it came naturally to me to think about a reporter’s freedom and the life of a mother of three children.”

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. West Bromwich Albion

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  • West Bromwich Albion hope to choose from goalkeepers Ben Foster (back) and Boaz Myhill (hamstring) for the trip to St Mary’s. Hal Robson-Kanu (strain), James Morrison (calf) and Oliver Burke (hamstring) will all be absent for the Baggies.
  • Southampton are again without Jeremy Pied but have no other injury concerns.
  • Of all teams to have met in at least seven different Premier League campaigns, Southampton v West Brom has the lowest goals-per-match ratio in the competition (21 in 14 matches, 1.5 per match). 
  • Dusan Tadic has been directly involved in a goal in each of his last three PL appearances against the Baggies (one goal, two assists).

Two mid-table sides meet up in the south of England as Southampton hosts West Bromwich Albion at 13:20 p.m. Saturday afternoon. (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Both teams are struggling for form heading into the match. West Brom is winless in its last seven games while Southampton has just one win in its last five, coughing up a chance to defeat Newcastle a week ago.

It’s a big boost for Southampton though that Manolo Gabbiadini is back on the scoresheet after scoring twice against Newcastle. It was Gabbiadini’s first goal since the second week of the Premier League season.

At the other end, West Brom have a worry with both of its top two goalkeepers, Ben Forster and Boaz Myhill. recovering from injuries.

What they’re saying

Southampton manager Manuel Pellegrino on his team: “The reaction of the team was really good, but we have to start from the beginning with this spirit. Sometimes you have to be patient, because at the beginning teams have more energy, they are fresher and they can press you better. I think we feel comfortable with the ball. If we are precise with the ball and with our tempo, we can create more problems – it doesn’t matter who we are playing. We know that West Brom are really strong physically, and dangerous from set plays and on the counter-attack. That’s something we’ve been working on this week. Every single week we are learning from our last few games, and I feel that my players are better prepared.”

West Bromwich manager Tony Pulis on facing Southampton: “They’re a good footballing team. Pellegrino has come in with his own ideas and the way he wants to play. From watching them in a couple of games away from St Mary’s they seem a little more relaxed. They look a little more uptight at home. But I’m sure they’ll become the team everyone knows they can be.”

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Prediction

West Bromwich doesn’t look closer to stopping its slide down the table, especially on the road. Even with Jay Rodriguez returning to his former club, Southampton should find the offense to put Tony Pulis and West Brom away. Southampton 2-1 West Bromwich Albion

Watch Live: West Ham vs. Brighton and Hove Albion

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West Ham and Brighton kick off the weekend’s Premier League action at the London Stadium on Friday afternoon. (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN an online via NBCSports.com).

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Both teams have just eight points from eight games, and are looking to move up in the table with a win.

Manuel Lanzini makes his second consecutive start, playing behind Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez in West Ham’s 4-2-3-1 formation. On the other side, Tomer Hemed sits his final match of his three-match suspension, with Glen Murray playing atop the 4-4-1-1 Brighton formation.

LINEUPS

West Ham United: Hart; Zabaleta, Fonte, Reid, Masuaku; Kouate, Obiang; Antonio, Lanzini, Arnautovic; Chicharito Hernandez. Subs: Adrian, Cresswell, Ogbonna, Byram, Ayew, Noble, Fernandes

Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan; Bong, Duffy, Dunk, Saltor; Izquierdo, Propper, Stephens, Knockaert; Gross; Murray. Subs: Krul, Goldson, Suttner, Schelotto, Molumby, March, Brown.

Report: FIFA considering updating international rules

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Under current FIFA rules, once a player plays a senior international competitive match, they’re cap-tied permanently to that nation. But that rule could be changing.

That’s according to a report from Reuters, which quotes CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani that FIFA could look into updating some of its nationality laws. Montagliani is the head of FIFA’s stakeholders committee.

“There are so many issues that have popped up over the years because the world is changing, immigration is changing,” Montagliani said. “There are nationality issues that pop up all over the world, in Africa, there are issues in Asia and CONCACAF, so its a good time to have a look at this and see if there are solutions, without hurting the integrity of the game.”

Changing the rules would have a big impact on nations with diverse populations or nationalities with large diasporas.

The report states the Cape Verdean FA requested relaxing the rule of cap-tying a player after playing a competitive game, if that player drops out of the player pool and likely wouldn’t be called up again. Cape Verde relies on a lot of Portugal-based and raised players with Cape Verdean heritage.

A relaxation of the rules could have an affect on U.S. Men’s National Team players as well. In theory, if Kenny Saief decided he wanted to play for Israel again, under a relaxation of the rules, and some sort of proof that a new USMNT coach wouldn’t call him up, Israel could potentially use him. In addition, players such as Cristian Roldan or Jesse Gonzalez could in theory be lost should they fall down the depth chart and other countries they’re eligible for.