Preview: Brazil and Spain in juicy Confederations Cup final

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It may be just a warmup to the World Cup, but with silverware on the line things always heat up.  Hot it will be at 6pm ET when Brazil take on Spain in the final of the Confederations Cup.

Brazil will look to take a few steps forward in front of their home crowd in preparation for the World Cup, and manager Luiz Felipe Scolari knows the home field advantage inside the Maracana will be important.

So much so, that Scolari has called upon his team to use their “soul” to “overcome, equalize and pass ahead of all of it [Spain] have.”

“They have had continuity in their team in the last six years, only changing just one or two players every now and then” said Scolari.  “So they have some advantages over us, but we have something that is important inside Brazil and that is to get the credibility back with all our supporters.”

For Brazil, this match is about the beginning of redemption.  Their manager chose his words well when he said the team is looking to regain credibility.  Having fallen well short of expectations in two consecutive World Cups, the Seleção can regain the confidence of their fans with a win against the world’s highest-ranked country.

The Brazilians know it’s no World Cup, but with one on the way in their backyard, a win in this final could provide the keystone to reconstructing the bridge to World glory.

Neymar will be looking to get back on the score sheet, having netted in all three group matches but failed to find a score in the semifinal win over Uruguay.  Brazil weren’t at their best in that match, but the build-up play was just enough. They’ll need him, as the Spaniards have conceded just a single goal so far in the tournament.

For Spain, this match is all about pride.  They don’t need the silverware, they don’t need the media attention, and they certainly don’t need the praise.

What they don’t need is a loss.

While defeat wouldn’t really hurt them that much, a win would maintain the status quo, while a loss would break it down a bit.  They came close in their semifinal with Italy, absorbing much pressure until deciding to rev the engine in extra time.  They advanced on penalties, but it wasn’t pretty.

In addition, Italy taking Spain to extra time and penalties gives an immediate advantage to Brazil. The hosts already had a day of extra rest before the big game, and now they’ve played 30 fewer minutes and had to endure 1 less nerve-wracking penalty shootout.  If Spain show any signs of weakness, this will be the first excuse fans will point towards.

For Spain, Xavi is injured, and reports are that Javi Martinez could come in to replace him. Cesc Fabregas is also reportedly coming into the lineup for Fernando Torres in a false 9 position that quite possibly won them the World Cup three years ago.

With Vincente del Bosque possibly busting out the false 9, it means Spain are certainly not taking this match lightly and are also looking to get into a full-effort mentality.

I think Neymar was right in saying “It’s the match everyone wanted to happen.” With Brazil 2014 just a year away, things are getting serious, and that in turn makes them a whole lot of fun.

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.