Belgium's Fellaini celebrates after scoring against Serbia during their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match at the King Baudouin stadium in Brussels

UEFA World Cup Qualification roundup – England get the help they need

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There were some decisive matches today as Europe’s qualifying for Brazil 2014 is nearing a close.  Many groups have just one or two rounds left, so the races are shaping up.

If you’re unaware of how UEFA’s World Cup qualifying works, there are nine groups of 6 teams each (except one which has 5).  The top team in each group qualifies automatically, and the next highest eight teams then play a two-leg playoff round for four spots.  Thus a total of 13 teams make it to Brazil.

For an up-to-date look at the groups, here’s FIFA’s site.

Portugal 1-0 Russia

Helder Postiga scored early and Portugal withstood a vicious Russia assault down the stretch to take over control of Group F.  The result is massive for Portugal, who were propelled from third to first in the table.  Cristiano Ronaldo and company have 14 points which leads Russia by 2 and Israel by 3.

Montenegro 0-4 Ukraine

A match with huge reverberations for England, the Group H leaders fell when 10-men Ukraine scored a goal against the run of play, and then Montenegro themselves were reduced a man down when Vladimir Vokov received his second yellow in the 74th minute, and then dropped to nine men Savo Pavocevic befell the same fate.  Ukraine doubled their lead through Dnipro Dnipropetrivsk’s Yevhen Konoplyanka to sink the Falcons, and defender Artem Fedetskyy added a third.

England still trails Montenegro by 2 points in the group, but now they will have a game in hand to make up the ground.  Ukraine is one point back of England in third.

Moldova 1-1 Poland

Also helping the Three Lions in Group H, Poland were held to just a point, keeping them 3 back of England.  Borussia Dortmund’s Jakub Blaszczykowski put Poland up early, set up by Robert Lewandowski, but Moldova’s Eugen Sidorenco drew level before the break and they held tight from there.

Austria 2-1 Sweden

In a massive result for Austria, they stayed tight on second place in Group C after defeating Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden.  David Alaba converted a penalty in the 26th minute and Marc Janko doubled the lead just 6 minutes later.  Johan Elmander gave Sweden a lifeline eight minutes before the death but it wasn’t enough.

Germany has a firm grip on Group C with 16 points, but that second spot will be crucial for the team that wants to have a chance in a playoff.  Coming into the match, three teams (Austria, Sweden, and Ireland) were all tied for second with 8 points, but now it’s just Austria and Ireland with 11.

Ireland 3-0 Faroe Islands

A hat trick from LA Galaxy’s very own Robbie Keane also kept Ireland in the hunt for that second spot.  Keane became Ireland’s most capped player in the process. Their goal differential is way less than Austria’s though so they’ll need some outside help to make the playoff round in Group C.

Albania 1-1 Norway

The Norwegians fought from a goal down to grab a valuable point, but still have work to do for a playoff spot in Group E.  The draw gives Norway a 2-point deficit for second place held by Albania, with Iceland sandwiched in between.  Switzerland remain in first place 3 points ahead of Norway.

Iceland 2-4 Slovenia

A heartbreaking result for Iceland, they fell from 2-1 up and could not capitalize on Albania’s misstep, and instead find themselves in a dire position a point down of Albania for second place instead of two up in Group E.  The game started at a blistering pace, with the scoreline 2-2 by the 30th minute before things shut down.  Bostjan Cesar of Serie A’s Chievo Verona was the hero for Slovenia, scoring in the 60th minute to secure the victory, and Rene Krhin gave Slovenia a 2-goal advantage late.

The group is still wide open, with just three points separating the top 4 spots (Switzerland, Albania, Iceland, Norway in that order).

Liechtenstein 1-1 Slovakia

Slovakia rescued a valuable point to keep pressure on Greece for second place in Group G. Jan Durica leveled the match in the 73rd minute to make sure not all was lost.  A loss for Slovakia would have surely ended their hopes for the second spot.

Lithuania 0-1 Greece

A goal from Bologna’s Lazaros Christodoulopoulos allowed Greece to pull away from Slovakia for second place in Group G.  All three points put them three up in second place with a game in hand.  They’re still 3 points behind Bosnia-Herzegovina for first.

Latvia 0-5 Bosnia-Herzegovina

Nothing really to see here. The Group G leaders grabbed an easy 3 points after Latvia’s Aleksandrs Fertovs was sent off in the 10th minute.  Five different goalscorers bagged goals for B-H, including Edin Dzeko who scored the fifth and final goal in the 82nd minute.  They’re now 3 points ahead of Greece.

Belgium 2-1 Serbia

Belgium capitalized on a slipup by Croatia to take sole possession of first place in Group A as they beat third-place Serbia on goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Marouane Fellaini.  De Bruyne’s goal is his third international goal for the Belgians, all coming in qualification for Brazil. For Fellaini it’s his seventh, with the previous one coming against the Americans this week in a friendly.

Croatia 0-1 Scotland

Group A bottomfeeders Scotland are unable to qualify, but they did their best to play the part of spoiler.  Ranked #4 in the world, Croatia were unable to keep pace with Belgium for first place in Group A after Norwich’s Robert Snodgrass scored midway through the first half to lead Scotland to victory.

Czech Republic 0-0 Italy

In a disappointing result for both countries, the Czechs and Petr Cech are all but eliminated now, and Italy have lost their game advantage over second-place Bulgaria in Group B.  Italy do move to 4 points ahead in first, but a win would have wrapped up the group’s top spot.  Already struggling to find a goal, Mario Balotelli was sent off in the 72nd minute after his second yellow. He wasn’t too happy about it.

Finland 1-0 Belarus

Group I, the only 5-team group in the qualification, is pretty much over for the lower teams as Spain and France battle for first and second.  Finland’s win keeps them in the hunt with 8 points, 2 behind France and 3 back of Spain.

Lionel Messi picks up hamstring injury, will travel with Argentina anyways

BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 20: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Betis Balompie at Camp Nou on August 20, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi’s “return” to the Argentinian national team may have to wait.

Barcelona has revealed their superstar picked up a left hamstring injury at an unspecified time, and discovered them during tests earlier on Monday. The statement said he would still travel to Argentina to link up with the national team for the international break, and will have more tests there.

Argentina, sitting in the third spot in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying and just two points above elimination, have vital matches against Uruguay and Venezuela over the next week. “His presence in those matches will depend on how the injury develops,” the statement from Barcelona read.

It is unclear when Messi developed this injury. He has played the full 90 minutes in all four of Barcelona’s matches this season, including the 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, the first of the four matches in which he did not score or assist a goal.

This also could be a bit of gamesmanship from Barcelona. Obviously, it benefits clubs for their players to rest during international breaks instead of play international matches, and for them to suddenly announce an injury to Lionel Messi would put pressure on Argentina to consider sitting their superstar. Of course, in attempts to dispel this idea, Barcelona included in their statement that the injury report was “approved by the FC Barcelona Medical Services and the Argentinian Football Association.”

A legitimate injury to Messi would be a devastating blow to Argentina considering Sergio Aguero has already withdrawn from the squad following an injury picked up against West Ham this weekend. Aguero was substituted in the 88th minute of Manchester City’s 3-1 win over the Hammers.

Messi was expected to make his first appearance to the national team setup after his brief “retirement” following the loss in the Copa America finals.

VIDEO: What will Southampton’s new star Boufal provide?

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Sofiane Boufal is a name many will be familiar with.

After his $21 million move to Southampton on Monday for a club-record fee, plenty of people are getting excited about seeing Boufal in the Premier League.

The Moroccan international is the type of player who has already become a cult figure due to the “Football Manager” video game, as his potential to become a star of European soccer has been well documented with huge teams interested in signing him over the past six months.

[ MORE: Fabregas wants Chelsea stay ]

That’s because Boufal, 22, shone for Lille last season, scoring 12 goals and his trickery, pace, set pieces and direct running saw him named as the best African player in Ligue 1.

He chose Southampton and it seems like a very wise choice after they helped turn the likes of Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw, plus many more, into top international players.

So, what have Southampton got in Boufal?

Take a look at the video above which gives a great overview of Boufal from his time at Lille after making the step up from Angers in Ligue 2 in January 2015.

That’s right, those comparisons with Riyad Mahrez seem pretty legit.

Late show? Chelsea linked with transfer deals for James Rodriguez, Alonso

Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
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Chelsea may be set to do some late business in the summer transfer window.

According to Marca in Spain they will sign Fiorentina defender Marcos Alonso for $27 million.

[ MORE: Boufal signs for Saints ]

Alonso, 25, previously played for Bolton and Sunderland in the Premier League but the Real Madrid product moved to Serie A in 2013 and has flourished for Fiorentina. He is able to operate as a left back and in midfield and could provide Antonio Conte with another option in defense so he can switch Cesar Azpilicueta to right back and potentially Branislav Ivanovic to center back.

Another player who could be on his way to Chelsea is Real Madrid’s forward is James Rodriguez. This is one we’ve heard before, many times.

The Colombian national team captain, 25, was subject of a $80 million bid from Chelsea but according to the Daily Mirror the bid was turned down by Real Madrid.

[ MORE: McCourt to buy Marseille ]

James has found himself a bit-part player at the Santiago Bernabeu with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema around. However he has a huge release clause in his contract and Chelsea would have to pay close to $100 million for his services. Is he really worth that? When you have Oscar, Pedro, Willian, Eden Hazard, Victor Moses and others already in your squad, probably not.

In terms of outgoings at Stamford Bridge, Kurt Zouma has been linked with a move to Schalke in the Bundesliga as the French central defender continues his long comeback from a horrendous knee injury he suffered against Manchester United in February last season. Zouma, 21, is said to be close to joining Schalke on a season-long loan deal wit a view to a permanent move.

Nacer Chadli signs for West Brom

COLCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 30:  Nacer Chadli of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his team's third goal during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round match between Colchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Weston Homes Community Stadium on January 30, 2016 in Colchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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West Bromwich Albion have signed Nacer Chadli from Tottenham Hotspur in a deal said to be worth $17 million.

[ MORE: Boufal signs for Saints ]

Chadli, 27, has spent the past three seasons with Spurs after arriving from FC Twente in 2013 for $9.1 million.

The Belgian international fell down the pecking order at Tottenham last season under Mauricio Pochettino and has now moved on to secure regular minutes in the Premier League.

Speaking to West Brom’s website about his move to the Hawthorns, Chadli was delighted to be on board with Tony Pulis‘ side.

“I feel very good to be here. It came very quickly but I spoke to the Club and they have a good team, a good manager and I am very pleased to be here,” Chadli said. “My ambitions? I just want to help the team win as many games as possible.”

Chadli can operate in central midfield, out wide, in a No. 10 role or even up front and he is very good on the ball and has an eye for goal with 25 goals in 119 appearances in all competitions for Tottenham.

With Spurs possessing Dele Alli, Victor Wanyama, Dele Alli, Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son in the central and attacking midfield areas, Chadli wasn’t guaranteed minutes at White Hart Lane.

West Brom have picked up a player who can create chances and is a powerful presence in midfield. With his creativity Chadli should slot in nicely in front of Darren Fletcher in the Baggies’ midfield and Pulis will be hoping he can lay chances on for Salomon Rondon up top.

This seems like a really shrewd piece of business by West Brom, while Spurs are also looking to offload Ryan Mason and Son according to multiple reports. Is Pochettino lining up some last-minute business in the transfer window?

Could West Brom’s Saido Berahino be heading for Spurs with Chadli the sweetener in the deal? Let’s see what the next 48 hours or so brings before the transfer window slams shut at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday.