European World Cup qualifying playoff round: Excellent matchups across the board

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The playoff round in Europe’s World Cup qualifying procedure are a fantastic reminder that not only does Europe have just an unbelievably strong lineup of teams, but also how difficult it truly is to make the World Cup.

The following have already qualified: Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Russia, Netherlands, Bosnia, and England.

However, that leaves four more spots for European teams to snatch, and the matches to take place Friday are a treat.

First up is Iceland at Croatia at 2pm ET.  The Croatians are the favorites in the tie, but the team is in a state of flux and with the first leg in Reykjavik, it’s a chance for Iceland to not only make a statement but put themselves in an envious position.

With Croatia losing their last two matches in the group stage of qualifying to Belgium and Scotland, manager Igor Stimac decided to resign after a tumultuous one year in charge. Niko Kovac has taken over, and the Blazers will look to follow the Berlin-born man’s half-German, half-Croatian playing mentality.

At 2:45 the other three matches get under way.  These will no doubt be headlined by the matchup between Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden in Lisbon.

Both teams are coming off vastly different stories in their group stage travels.  Portugal got what appeared to be a cake walk of a draw, but could not overcome a surprisingly strong Russia side and finished in second place by 1 point.  Their 21 points was the second-most of any group-stage runners up.

Sweden, on the other hand, faced a very difficult draw with Germany, Austria, and Republic of Ireland all in the mix and surprised a few by qualifying for the playoff round, even coming back from 3 goals down to draw 4-4 with Germany in Berlin.

The Swedes have come out swinging in the press before the match, with Ibrahimovic saying that “we deserve to go to Brazil more” despite the Portugese being the favorites.

source: AP
Ballon d’Or favorite Franck Ribery will look to help France overtake Ukraine en route to Brazil.

France hosts Ukraine in another exciting draw.

Les Bleus had a horrendous draw in the group stage, with the presence of defending champoins Spain in the five-team group making automatic qualification almost impossible.

However, their trek to the 2014 World Cup won’t be a guarantee either against a Ukrainian side that has kept seven clean sheets in a row. Seven!

France, despite boasting big attacking names like Karim Benzema, Paul Pogba, and Ballon d’Or favorite Franck Ribery, have also held a strong defensive unit, allowing just two goals to Belarus in their last six matches dating back to June.

Finally, Greece has Romania in their path to Brazil as the Greeks only missed out on automatic qualification on goal differential having finished level on points with Bosnia.

The Greeks come into the match in Athens having kept a whopping 11 clean sheets in their last 12 matches, a 3-1 loss to Bosnia the only exception.  Their outstanding defensive form is being led by Borussia Dortmund’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who has taken the defensive leadership all on his own in the long-term injury absence of young star Kyriakos Papadopoulos.

The Romanians are no slouch, however, having pipped Turkey and Hungary for their spot in the playoff round.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Onyekuru to Arsenal; Sigurdsson to Everton

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Sky Sports are reporting that Arsenal is in talks to sign Nigerian striker Henry Onyekuru from Belgian side KAS Eupen.

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The 19-year-old forward is also said to be interesting Everton, Southampton and West Bromwich Albion, but Arsenal look to have pushed ahead of their competitors.

Onyekuru scored 22 goals in Belgium’s top-flight this season, making him the highest domestic scorer and the teenager’s representatives have reportedly said they’re confident he will play in England next season with the striker having a $8.8 million release clause in his contract.

Arsenal have history of taking some of the most talented youngsters in Europe and turning them into first team regulars such as Theo Walcott, Hector Bellerin, Cesc Fabregas and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to name a few.

Would Onyekuru be better off coming to England and playing for the likes of Southampton, West Brom or Everton where he could play regularly? Perhaps.

But even if he ends up at Arsenal he could be loaned at a la Romelu Lukaku when he was at Chelsea and we all know how that turned out. Playing regularly will help Onyekuru’s development and even though he may not get that initially at Arsenal with Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck and maybe even Alexis Sanchez still around, it’s not the worst place to learn the game and experience the loan system in the PL or Championship.


The Daily Mirror reports that Everton have agreed a $32 million fee with Swansea City for Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Sigurdsson, 27, was the main reason the Swans fought off relegation from the Premier League as the Icelandic international scored nine goals and added 13 assists.

However, despite the two clubs agreeing a fee it is believed that Sigurdsson’s wage demands of over $155,000 per week could see the deal fall flat on its face.

With Ross Barkley‘s future at Everton increasingly uncertain, bringing in a more experienced playmaker who had the third-most assists in the PL this season. Sigurdsson’s former club, Tottenham Hotspur, and Southampton are said to be interested in signing the playmaker but Everton appear to have moved fast.

This certainly points towards Barkley not having a future at Goodison Park and Sigurdsson may well fancy another crack at European action after struggling at Tottenham before he moved to Swansea in 2014.

VIDEO: Calamitous own goal costs England at U20 World Cup

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Oh no.

This is not a moment Chelsea and England defender Fikayo Tomori will want to see again, but he will probably see it for the rest of his career.

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With England’s U-20 side leading Guinea 1-0 at the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup in South Korea on Tuesday, Tomori played a long-range blind back pass towards goalkeeper Dean Henderson.

The only problem was, he over-hit the pass. By a lot.

Click play on the video above to see the calamitous own goal as Guinea held on for a 1-1 draw in the second group game for both teams in Group A.

England play hosts South Korea on Friday in their final group game and despite this huge error they’re on course to make the knockout stage after a 3-0 win against heavily-favored Argentina last Saturday.

Manchester clubs release statements after terror attack

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The City of Manchester is united.

Both Manchester United and Manchester City released statements on Tuesday as a suicide bomber struck Manchester Arena late on Monday, killing 22 and injuring 59 as families and young children walked out of an Ariana Grande concert.

United’s staff held a minute’s silence before training and have canceled all media activity ahead of their Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm on Wednesday, while City’s Etihad Stadium is being used as a support center as part of the ongoing relief effort in the northern English city.

It has also been reported by the Daily Telegraph that the wife and two daughters of Man City manager Pep Guardiola were at the concert but were unharmed.

Below is the statement from United.

Everyone at Manchester United is deeply shocked by last night’s terrible events at the Manchester Arena. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected, including our supporters, club staff and members of our community such as the children from our Manchester United Foundation partner schools who were attending the concert at the Arena. Club staff are ready to help the police and other emergency services in any way that may be required at this challenging time for our city.

And here is a statement from City.

The thoughts and prayers of our ownership, Board and everyone at Manchester City are with the people of Manchester and all those affected following the horrifying events of last night’s Manchester Arena attack.

We have offered our full support throughout the night and this morning to the leaders of the City of Manchester itself and to the Emergency Services who are doing so much to support our city in these most challenging of circumstances.

The Etihad Stadium is being used as a support centre following the tragic events and Greater Manchester Police have advised that anyone needing assistance relating to the attack can access that help at the Etihad Stadium via Gate 11.

Man United honor attack victims ahead of Europa League final

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Manchester United’s players and coaching staff held a minute’s silence ahead of training on Tuesday at their Carrington base in Manchester.

Following the terrorist attack in Manchester late on Monday where a suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured 59 at an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena, United will not hold a press conference and other media activities on Tuesday ahead of the Europa League final in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Europa League final against Ajax on Wednesday will still go ahead as planned at the Friends Arena in nearby Solna, with UEFA releasing a statement reassuring fans that there was no security threat in the Swedish capital.

“UEFA is shocked by last night’s attack in Manchester. Our thoughts are with the victims and the families of those affected. There is currently no specific intelligence which might suggest that any of the UEFA Europa League final activities in Stockholm may be the target of attacks.

“UEFA has been closely working with local authorities and the Swedish FA for many months and the terrorist risk had been taken into account since the very beginning of the project. Furthermore, a number of additional security measures were implemented following the attacks in Stockholm last April. Due to the tight security arrangements, UEFA urges fans to arrive at the stadium as early as possible, as detailed checks will be made at the entrances, resulting in potential delays in accessing the stadium.”

United released the following statement early on Tuesday morning following the attack, while many of their players and key figures in the soccer world have been sharing their condolences on social media.

Everyone at Manchester United is deeply shocked by last night’s terrible events at the Manchester Arena. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected, including our supporters, club staff and members of our community such as the children from our Manchester United Foundation partner schools who were attending the concert at the Arena. Club staff are ready to help the police and other emergency services in any way that may be required at this challenging time for our city.