Daniel Alves, David Luiz, Paulinho, Neymar,  Hulk

Confederations Cup preview: Spain, Italy, and Brazil all on display in high-powered World Cup warmup

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With the competitive World Cup tuneup starting this weekend, it’s time to take a look at who will be participating, where they came from, and how they may fare ahead of the Big One in Brazil next year.

The competition takes place every four years and features all the winners of each regional championship, plus the previous World Cup winners and the next World Cup’s host nation.

That makes eight total teams participating.  The teams are split into two groups of four, with the top two in each group advancing to the knockout semifinals and finals.

It takes place the year before the World Cup every year, and is hosted by the next World Cup host nation, thus it will be in Brazil.

The competition will feature goal-line technology this time around, provided by GoalControl GmbH, and it represents a major step in competitive soccer.  The technology was first used competitively by FIFA in the Club World Cup in 2012, and if this go-around is successful it will be used in next year’s World Cup.

The games in the Confederations Cup will be played out over six different cities in Brazil, with the finals at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.

GROUP A:

Brazil:

The Brazilians are in the competition as the host nation for next year’s World Cup, and have taken this tournament extremely seriously.  With the host nation not needing to participate in their usual CONMEBOL qualification, they’ve spent plenty of time preparing for the Cup.  In fact, the Brazilian Football Confederation forced both Dante and Luiz Gustavo to leave Bayern Munich early for preparation, meaning they missed the final of the German League Cup and the chance to complete the treble with their club.

Neymar will be on full display, having recently made a move to Barcelona amid plenty of fanfare.  At just 21 years old, the youngster has 20 goals in 34 international appearances, but has failed to come through under the brightest lights for his country thus far.

Leandro Damiao is the only real injury issue for manager Felipe Scolari, as a thigh injury will keep him out of the competition.  He was replaced on the 23-man roster by fellow striker Jo of Atletico Miniero.

Expectations and pressure will both be at all-time highs, similar to the way it will be a year from now, and anything but victory will be seen as a failure for the hosts.

Mexico:

Mexico are into the competition having won the Gold Cup back in 2011.  Having failed miserably to get points in the most recent rounds of CONCACAF qualifying and sitting in a much more perilous position than they had hoped to be in at this stage, Mexico’s take on this tournament will be an interesting one.  There are many different routes they can travel in the Confederations Cup.  With both Brazil and Italy in their group, it will take a full effort to make it out of the group stage.

Manager Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre has got to figure out a way this team can score goals outside of Javier Hernandez.  With “Chicharito” struggling to carry the weight of the entire team on his back, the squad has gone three straight home qualifiers without scoring a goal.  By the end of their most recent 0-0 draw with Costa Rica, the crowd was calling for Chepo’s firing. If not for the fantastic form of goalkeeper Jose Corona, he may have already been without a job.

Up against another out-of-form team in Italy in the opening round, it will be interesting to see whether the Mexicans take this competition seriously and try to get back on form by throwing everything they have at top teams, or if the experimentation will begin as their manager possibly tinkers with his lineup.

Italy:

Italy qualifies for the Cup having finished second in Euro 2012.  Spain won the competition, but because they already qualified for the Confederations Cup as the World Cup winners, Italy are awarded the Euro spot.  The Azzuri are coming off two disappointing draws, although neither had any real impact on their chances to qualify for Brazil next year, and neither in the end meant a whole lot.

A draw with the Czech Republic in World Cup qualifying last week saw them fail to score but also retain their stranglehold on their group’s top spot.  They also drew with Haiti in a friendly, but manager Cesare Prandelli was tinkering with different formations and just about every star player at least began the match on the bench.

It will be interesting to see how Mario Balotelli recovers from another chapter in his tumultous career against the Czech Republic, where he received 2 yellow cards in 4 minutes.  He exploded on Twitter after the match, angrily rebuking critical fans by telling them anyone who doesn’t support him can root for another team at the Confederations Cup.  It will be quite interesting to see how Balotelli is received in Brazil.  The 22-year-old does have a goal against Brazil in a friendly back in 2011.

Japan:

The 2011 Asian Cup winners are an intriguing side.  Stuck in a pretty tough group and not expected to do much, the Japanese are certainly capable of putting together a surprise performance or two.

Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda out of CSKA Moscow are the two stars of the bunch, but both are distributors and neither are pure finishers. Striker is actually a position of real concern for the Blue Samurai, although Dutch-Japanese striker Mike Havenaar has emerged as a somewhat viable option up front recently.

Don’t expect Alberto Zaccheroni’s bunch to make a whole lot of noise, but their tournament-opener against Brazil will be a good litmus test to see if they can be competitive with the top of the heap.

GROUP B:

Spain:

The reigning World Cup and European champions are by far the favorites to win the competition.  It helps they were put in a group that offers little challenge, and they will be a shoo-in to make the semifinals.

It’s been 21 matches and 2-1/2 years since Spain has been beaten in any competition, a loss to England back in 2011.

Despite losing Real Madrid’s Xabi Alonso to a groin injury, no worries for manager Vicente Del Bosque.  The squad ranked #1 in the world will replace him in the starting lineup with either Javi Martinez of Bayern Munich or Santi Cazorla out of Arsenal.  Quite a replacement selection I’d say.  Javi Garcia, having just moved to Manchester City, will also miss out on the tournament.

The only real question for Spain is how exactly Fernando Torres will be used, if at all.  The Chelsea frontman has seen an uptick in club form, but whether that will play into Del Bosque’s decisions remains to be seen. Don’t expect anything other than at least a finals appearance and possibly another piece of silverware for the current dominating power in international soccer.

Uruguay:

If you thought the tournament would be full with one fiery striker in Mario Balotelli, you’d be mistaken.  Luis Suarez puts his troubled times at Liverpool in the past temporarily to try and lead Uruguay to the semifinals.

As the winners of the 2011 Copa America, Uruguay get started against Spain in their first match, a tough test.  Manager Oscar Tabarez also has Diego Forlan of Brazil’s Internacional and highly-coveted Edinson Cavani of Napoli at his disposal in the high-powered side.

Tabarez is known to tweak and tinker often, and he will no doubt do his best to try and outwit the Spaniards in Group B’s first and best matchup.

Tahiti:

Ah, Tahiti.  Stuck at 5000/1 odds to win the tournament by betting website William Hill, the tiny Oceanic country and winners of the 2012 OFC Nations Cup are simply looking to get any points they can get their hands on.  It won’t be easy, if even possible.

With a population around 180,000 people, they are the only country making their first Confederations Cup appearance. It’s the first time anyone other than Australia or New Zealand have won the OFC Nations Cup and made it to the Confederations Cup, mainly because Australia moved from the Oceana region to Asia.

Managed by Eddy Etaeta, it will be the feel-good team for all of those not already decided on who to root for, but if they get any points at all in their group, it will come as a shock to all.  But hey, that’s what stories are made of.

Nigeria:

Qualifying through their victory in the 2013 African Cup of Nations, the Super Eagles are back in the Confederations Cup for the first time since 1995.

Nigeria are the wild card of Group B.  Spain and Uruguay are expected to go through, and Tahiti will most likely end up with a goose egg, but Nigeria will hope to challenge the Uruguayans for the second semifinal spot.  Those hopes were dealt a serious blow when Chelsea’s Victor Moses pulled out due to an undisclosed injury.  They will instead have to rely on midfielders John Obi Mikel and Sunday Mbia to lead the squad.

The African nation drew 2-2 with Mexico in a friendly at the end of May, so that provides them with a good barometer on where they stand against the other Confederations Cup countries. With the Spain/Uruguay matches obviously the top matchup in the group, Nigeria’s matches against those two teams will be intriguing, and their match against Uruguay in the second round of play could be a major decider.

SCHEDULE:

Group play will begin this Saturday with Brazil and Japan opening the competition.  Sunday features Round 1 matchups between Mexico and Italy as well as Spain and Uruguay, both incredibly enticing matches.

Round 2 games begin next Wednesday, June 19.  The most intriguing game in that round will be the Nigeria/Uruguay match I mentioned a bit earlier that could decide the second spot in Group B.

The final group round will start Saturday, June 22 and will see the high-powered matchup of Italy vs. Brazil, as well as Japan vs. Mexico that could mean a spot out of Group A if Italy falter.

The semifinals will play Tuesday and Wednesday, June 26 and 27.  The knockout games will absolutely mean marquee matchups.  If things fall as expected, we could be handed Spain vs. Italy and Brazil vs. Uruguay in the semifinals, both fantastic games.

The finals and third-place match will be on June 30.

Patrick Vieira discusses Mix Diskerud and NYCFC’s offseason plans

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While the general feel of Tuesday’s MLS MVP ceremony in New York City was upbeat for New York City FC, the club has a challenging road ahead this offseason as they look to retool ahead of 2017.

[ MORE: David Villa wins 2016 Landon Donovan MLS MVP honors ]

Captain and star striker David Villa accepted honors on Tuesday as the Landon Donovan MLS MVP after notching 23 goals and four assists for the Eastern Conference, but outside of the Spaniard the team will have several noticeable holes that need plugging prior to next season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

NYCFC manager Patrick Vieira proved to be a strong hire in his first season with the club, but his potential success moving forward will be dictated by how he and technical director Claudio Reyna fill out the rest of the roster.

Key pieces such as Frank Lampard and Andoni Iraola have since left the club after providing stability in the midfield this past season, while Jason Hernandez, Claudio Bravo and Steven Mendoza were among the other roster casualties following the team’s first playoff appearance in 2016.

While Vieira admits losing players like Lampard certainly presents a challenge, the Frenchman believes that NYCFC can just as easily recruit more talented members in the buildup to next season.

“Of course we lost Frank [Lampard],” Vieira said. “We lose some other players as well. We have to bring some new players. Something that is very important to us is that we have to be better and we have to bring players that can match out targets and we have different options on the table.

“You would not believe how many players would love to play for New York City FC. We will have some difficult decisions to make and it’s important for us to bring the right people, like David, because it’s important to bring people who want to come, people who want to work hard, prepare to sacrifice themselves for the football club because we have to do well next year.

As it stands, NYCFC currently has 18 players under contract ahead of the 2017 season, including two Designated Players (Villa and Andrea Pirlo).

One name that certainly jumps out on the list of 18 though is U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Mix Diskerud, who has seen more downs than ups in his two seasons in the Bronx. After making 27 appearances for NYCFC in the team’s inaugural season, Diskerud’s playing time was dwindled down significantly in 2016 under Vieira to just nine starts in 12 overall appearances.

The 26-year-old was the fourth-highest paid player on NYCFC in 2016 — making $761,250 — however, he scored just one goal and added two assists. The club is still looking to figure out the best way to handle the Diskerud situation though, according to Vieira.

“He’s looking for playing time,” Vieira said. “We’re having discussions with him and trying to find the best way to satisfy both Mix and ourselves.”

LIVE – UCL group stage finale: Man City, Arsenal both in action

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23:  Olivier Giroud of Arsenal (L) celebrates his sides second goal with his Arsenal team mates after Marco Verratti of PSG (not pictured) scored a own goal during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Arsenal FC and Paris Saint-Germain at the Emirates Stadium on November 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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With their passage into the Round of 16 secured, Premier League duo Arsenal and Manchester City is both in action on Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

The Gunners know a win at Basel combined with PSG dropping points at home to Ludogorets would mean clinching top spot in Group A and an all-important top seed for the last 16 draw. As for Man City, they have secured top spot in Group C and can’t finish above Barcelona so Pep Guardiola will likely start plenty of fringe players against a Celtic side already out of Europe as they will finish in fourth place.

Elsewhere there is plenty to play for as the winner of Napoli vs. Benfica will make it to the UCL’s last 16 and Besiktas know a win in Kiev will also sent them through. There is also the small matter of a battle between two heavyweights in Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich, although Atleti already have first place sewn up and Munich has to settle for second irrespective of the result.

Below is a full schedule for Wednesday’s Champions League games, with each game kicking off at 2:45 p.m. ET. You can follow live commentary and stats of each game by clicking on the link above, while we will have reaction right here on ProSoccerTalk.


Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League schedule

Group A
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Ludogorets
Basel vs. Arsenal

Group B
Napoli vs. Benfica
Dynamo Kiev vs. Besiktas

Group C
Barcelona vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
Manchester City vs. Celtic

Group D
Bayern Munich vs. Atletico Madrid
PSV Eindhoven vs. FC Rostov

Brazil anti-trust body says bids rigged for 2014 World Cup

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazil’s anti-trust body says several construction companies rigged bids for 2014 World Cup stadiums, driving up costs by overcharging for the work.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Five stadium projects were mentioned in the report by the anti-trust body CADE. They included Rio de Janeiro’s famous Maracana Stadium, where Germany defeated Argentina 1-0 in the 2014 World Cup final.

CADE says three other stadiums used in the World Cup also could have been tainted by corruption.

[ MORE: Pogba told to stop showboating ]

CADE says it obtained the bid-rigging information in a leniency agreement with construction company Andrade Gutierrez.

Reports have been widespread about corruption linked to World Cup stadiums, and construction projects tied to this year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Champions League permutations: Who can reach last 16?

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23: Marquinhos of PSG (R) is chased by Mesut Ozil of Arsenal (L) during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Arsenal FC and Paris Saint-Germain at the Emirates Stadium on November 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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The final matchday of the UEFA Champions League group stage is here and there are plenty of permutations to wrap our heads around for the matches on Tuesday and Wednesday.

[ MORE: Full UCL schedule ]

Remember, the top two teams from each four team group go through to the last 16 with the team who finishes top the seeded team, while the team who finishes second the unseeded team. As well as that, the team who finishes third automatically qualifies for the UEFA Europa League Round of 32.

Below is a look at how things stand in each group with one game to go and what each team has left to play for.


Group A
Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain have already qualified but if PSG win against Ludogorets and Arsenal beat Basel both teams will finish on 14 points. However, PSG will top the group due to their two away goals against Arsenal in the first head-to-head tiebreaker. Basel and Ludorogets are both in the hunt for the Europa League spot as they each have two points. If both teams finish on the same number of points then Ludogorets will go through as they similarly lead Basel in away goals in games between the duo.

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Group B
Everything is set up for an epic showdown between Napoli and Benfica in Italy as the winner of that game knows they will definitely go through and seal to spot. However, the loser may advance if Besiktas lose to bottom side Dynamo Kiev. The equation is quite simple for Besiktas: if they beat Kiev in Ukraine, they’re in the last 16. Kiev is on two points and can’t finish any higher than fourth. If Napoli and Benfica draw and Besiktas win, then Besiktas and Napoli would qualify as they beat Benfica 4-2 away from home. Benfica will still qualify if they lose and Besiktas draw, as they have a better head-to-head record. If Besiktas draw and Napoli lose, the Turkish side will be through.

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Group C
Everything is sorted in Group C with Barcelona sealing top spot, Man City finishing second and Bourssia Monchengladbach finishing third. Celtic is guaranteed to finish bottom and is out of Europe.

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Group D
Atletico Madrid have sealed top spot in Group D, while Bayern Munich have second spot guaranteed as both heavyweights are through to the last 16. The only thing left to play for is third place and if PSV Eindhoven beat Rostov at home in the final game then they will finish in third ahead of the Russian side.

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Group E
Monaco have sealed top spot, while Bayer Leverkusen is guaranteed second spot with both going through to the knockout stages. Tottenham Hotspur crashed out of the Champions League and need just a point in their home game against CSKA Moscow to qualify for the Europa League. A defeat for Spurs against CSKA would mean the Russia side go to the Europa League instead.

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Group F
Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid are safely through to the last 16 and a win or a draw for Dortmund at Real Madrid on the final matchday will seal top spot. If Dortmund lose to Madrid then the reigning European champs will finish top of Group F. The battle for third place is on as Legia Warsaw host Sporting Lisbon in Poland. Sporting only need a point to advance to the Europa League Round of 32, while Legia must win.

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Group G
Leicester has sealed top spot in the group and has qualified as a top seed for the last 16. Porto host Leicester in the final game and a win would guarantee them a spot in the last 16. A draw may be enough for Porto of Copenhagen lose or draw at Club Brugge, but if Copenhagen win then Porto must also win to finish second and make the knockout rounds. If Copenhagen win and Porto draw then Copenhagen will go through as they have an equal head-to-head record with Porto but better goal difference.

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Group H
Juventus is safely through to the round of 16 but they’ve yet to seal top spot. A win for the Italian champions at Dinamo Zagreb will guarantee first place. As for the battle for second, Sevilla know a point at Lyon will see them through but Lyon know a win would see them leapfrog Sevilla and make the last 16. If Sevilla beat Lyon and Juventus draw or lose against Zagreb then Sevilla will finish in top spot.

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