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Field set for UEFA’s eight-team playoff; Denmark the odd-nation out

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Between today’s earlier posts and previous rounds’ results, you could piece together most of the picture for UEFA’s World Cup playoffs – that eight-team, four-match tournament that will decide Europe’s final World Cup qualifiers next month. Croatia, Portugal, and Sweden came into the day knowing they were in, making today’s results (loss at Scotland, win vs. Luxembourg, loss vs. Germany) irrelevant. And with England’s clincher, Spain’s walk, Bosnia’s new history and Turkey’s loss, four other teams went into the pile:

  • Ukraine (7-0 winners at San Marino) stayed second in England’s group (H);
  • France (3-0 vs. Finland) secured their spot behind Spain (Group I);
  • Greece (2-0 cruise past Liechtenstein) finished behind Bosnia and Herzegovina on goal difference (Group G);
  • and Romania (2-0 over Estonia) were the beneficiaries of Turkey’s loss in Holland’s group (D).

The one remaining spot will go to Iceland, whose 1-1 draw at Norway proved enough to snag second place in Group E.  The nation has never qualified for a World Cup or European Championship, and if it weren’t for Switzerland’s 1-0 win over Slovenia, they wouldn’t have taken the next step toward Brazil 2014. But with Granit Xhaka’s goal in Bern (securing a Swiss win) and Kolbeinn Sigþórsson’s opener in Oslo, the country of around 320,000 people is within two games of becoming the smallest nation ever to compete at a World Cup.

But with UEFA breaking qualifying into eight groups, one team was left outside-looking-in on the playoff pileup. Denmark, who finished second in Italy’s group, saw their hope of returning to a World Cup come to an end, their record against the top five teams in their group the worst among the confederation’s second place finishers.

Go-go Wiki screenshot:

source:

With the playoffs set, that FIFA Ranking (in parenthesis in the table, above) is what matters. The top four teams per that ranking will be drawn against the bottom four. That means Croatia, Portugal, Greece and Sweden will be “seeded” (as the rankings stand now); France, Ukraine, Romania and Iceland will not. Ukraine and Swededn could yet swap spots, when new rankings come out.

Though the other teams have their virtues, France is clearly the team to avoid from the unseeded lot, though their status in the second pool isn’t without some controversy. Yesterday, the French Football Federation said they hoped to appeal to FIFA regarding their ranking. Their case: Because they were in UEFA’s only five-team qualifying group, they had two less qualifiers through which they could improve their ranking.

Why Sweden (or Ukraine) should have to pay for that is unclear. Regardless, expect France, for the second cycle in a  row, to be involved in a much-publicized World Cup playoff:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_uieTTzSSk]

Messi returns ahead of schedule, sporting golden hair (photo)

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JUNE 26: Lionel Messi #10 of Argentina looks on against Chile during the Copa America Centenario Championship match at MetLife Stadium on June 26, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Chile defeated Argentina 4-2 in penalty kicks. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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Lionel Messi is back with Barcelona a week earlier than expected, as the Camp Nou set prepares to defend another La Liga title.

That means Messi will be on the roster for the International Champions Cup, as Barcelona is slated to play Celtic, Leicester City, and Liverpool.

[ MORE: Manchester Derby in China on Monday ]

That’s not the only surprise from the 29-year-old, who has pulled an Aaron Ramsey and dramatically altered his ‘do.

Glad to have him back on our screens a bit earlier than planned, and — although I’m far from a style icon — I’ll be just as glad when the blonde grows/washes out of his head.

Ronaldo seeking new contract, says he’ll miss UEFA Super Cup

FUNCHAL, MADEIRA, PORTUGAL - JULY 22: Dionisio Pestana, Cristiano Ronaldo and Miguel Albuquerque (President of the Regional Government of Madeira) during the opening of the new 'Pestana CR7 Funchal' Hotel owned by Cristiano Ronaldo on July 22, 2016 in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal. (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)
Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images
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Cristiano Ronaldo’s long summer has earned him an extended vacation, but the knee injury he suffered in the EURO 2016 Final would’ve kept him from this season’s first big club match anyway.

The 31-year-old star will not be available for the Aug. 9 UEFA Super Cup match between Real Madrid and Sevilla, saying he’ll be back in the mix just one day later.

[ MORE: Discussing Yedlin’s future ]

Ronaldo also said he’s going to speak with the club about extending his contract, which runs through the 2017-18 season. He’s very been vocal about his desire to finish his career at the Bernabeu, and will put pen to paper in order to prove it.

From Sky Sports:

“I spoke to the president on the phone and when I get to Madrid, we will talk about it.

“Obviously it’s something I want, I have mentioned it many times, and the club also wants it. But we only spoke briefly, and there will be more concrete things to come.”

No surprises here, though it would’ve been nice to have Ronaldo on our screens for the match-up between his Champions League winners and the Europa League champions.

Guardiola, Mourinho prepare for derby in China, shake off personal rivalry

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 16: Barcelona manager (L) Josep Guardiola shakes hands with head coach Jose Mourinho of Real Madrid before the start of the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 16, 2011 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
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Preseason matches rarely have legitimate hype, let alone live up to it.

Yet Monday will see Manchester United and Manchester City tangle outside of England for the first time in history, and there are a lot of fans looking forward to the early morning match in China.

[ MORE: Discussing Yedlin’s future ]

A lot of that has to do with it being the first match-up between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho as bosses of City and United, to the extent where journalists asked whether the longtime rivals would shake hands (admittedly a weird question, as if to say, “Are you a grown-up?”).

They essentially issued the same answer, and here are Mourinho’s comments, from ManUtd.com:

“Of course I will shake his hand – why wouldn’t I? I don’t understand the question to him or to me. We were opponents for three years [in Spain] but we are professionals. I don’t see why I wouldn’t shake his hand.”

Both managers also talked, understandably, about fitness and health being their No. 1 goal of the match, and there are concerns about the pitch in China due to heavy rains.

Guardiola also gave insight into Vincent Kompany‘s continued struggles with recovery from the injury that hampered him for much of last season, refusing to give a timetable for the captain’s return.

MLS Snapshot: Colorado Rapids 1-1 FC Dallas (video)

COMMERCE CITY, CO - JULY 23: Marlon Hairston #94 of Colorado Rapids celebrates after scoring a first half goal past Chris Seitz #18 of FC Dallas during a game at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on July 23, 2016 in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
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The game in 100 words (or less): In keeping with the the theme of “we never really learn anything in MLS, it just kind of happens,” both the Colorado Rapids or FC Dallas had the chance to make a massive statement in the two sides’ ongoing race for the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield (FCD entered Saturday’s clash at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park with a three-point lead), but they ultimately settled for a 1-1 draw, and we settle for “wait until next week, maybe we’ll actually learn something then.” At least the goals were great, though — Marlon Hairston opened the scoring by rounding the goalkeeper with traffic in all directions, and Victor Ulloa unleashed a rocket from well outside the penalty area to equalize late on. In that sense, the 90 minutes were befitting a first-versus-second matchup. The draw means the Rapids are unbeaten in their last 15 league games, but the LA Galaxy, who won away to the Portland Timbers and inched two points closer to the league’s elites, are ultimately the day’s biggest winners.

[ MORE: Previewing the rest of the MLS weekend ]

Three Four moments that mattered

26′ — Akindele goes inches wide of the far post — Quick, decisive movement around the penalty area is the only way to create that half-yard of space needed to fire a shot off.

33′ — Hairston breaks out, Zimmerman makes the dramatic block — Hairston was thisclose to having a one-on-one chance on goal, but Walker Zimmerman made a spectacular recovery run and an even better last-second sliding tackle to deflect Hairston’s shot narrowly wide of the post.

44′ — Hairston rounds Seitz to make it 1-0 — Composure, quickness, finesse. Hairston displayed it all on this goal, his second in as many games.

82′ — Ulloa unleashes a blast from 25 yards out f0r 1-1 — If not for the net on the goal, Ulloa’s strike might still be traveling at an ever-so-slightly upward trajectory for the rest of time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Sam Cronin

Goalscorers: Hairston (44′), Ulloa (82′)