Michael Bradley, Tim Howard

USA fear toughest ever World Cup draw but relish chance to make history

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EXCLUSIVE — After asking plenty of U.S. national team players how strong the other nations are that they’ll be facing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, I got the same initial response from most of them.

They puff their cheeks out and look down to the ground in a reflective pause before answering the question. Without saying anything, they’ve already answered my question.

On Friday, the draw for the World Cup next summer in Brazil will finally be made after 32 nations have risen to the top of international soccer and qualified. Now they’ll find out who they can pit their wits against in the Group Stages in South America next June.

Arguably the 20th edition of the world’s greatest sporting showpiece will be the hardest test yet. Is that the way the USA see it?

“Yeah… that’s the way it looks when you break down the pots,” U.S. ‘keeper Tim Howard said. “Who can get who and potential match ups. It’s hard with so many different challengers. I’ll be an interested observer come December 6. But at the moment I’m not trying to figure out too many scenarios.”

(MORE: 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw – Here’s how it’s going to work)

Central midfielder Michael Bradley, who will arguably be the USA’s most pivotal player in Brazil, echoes Howard’s sentiments that an incredibly tough task lies ahead as all the big names in world soccer will be in Brazil.

“For sure, when you start looking at the pots and looking at the draws… you realize it,” the AS Roma maestro said. “Look. it’s going to be a good World Cup and there’s not going to be any easy groups, that’s for sure.”

Placed in Pot 3, the USA are unseeded for the tournament and know a clash against either the host Brazil or one of the big names in European or South American soccer awaits. Jurgen Klinsmann’s side are up for the battle and after an encouraging year that has seen them knock off some top European opponents in friendlies and totally dominate CONCACAF, they’re better equipped than they’ve ever been for a World Cup, expect this one is a tournament many are calling the toughest in living memory.

(MORE: What US Soccer wants from the World Cup draw)

Howard believes the fact that he’s now a veteran of two World Cups, and most of his teammates are too, will help the USA reach the top of their game when the big matches come around in Brazil.

“When you play at the highest level the more big matches you can have, the bigger occasions you can have, it just kind of hardens you and allows you to have that fear factor dissipate,” Howard said furrowing his brow. “Because you’ve been there before and you’re not rattled by the crowd, the occasion or the moment or ‘oh my god this is a big game, we need a result.’ We’ve been there and done that, so that’s what you see our players are all about. And that’s why it’s  important to have senior players in your team so you can settle everyone’s nerves.”

(MORE: 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw – Everything you need to know)

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Klinsmann and his team face an anxious wait on Wednesday to see which nations they’ll face in the Group Stage.

There will be some World Cup virgins in the U.S. squad though, and Stoke City defender Geoff Cameron is one of them. Recently when I spoke to the man many believe is nailed on to be the USA’s starting right back at the World Cup, Cameron insisted he’s just focusing on getting to Brazil and isn’t too bothered about the draw.

“It’s all about just putting your name on the list,” Cameron said. “That’s obviously the goal, going to the World Cup. You just have to be consistent and be a regular player and go from there, little baby steps you know? I’ll watch the draw on December 6 and kind of go from there.”

(MORE: 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw – The sum of all fears scenario for the United States)

Right now, as all the different permutations and worries about who the USA will be playing in Brazil swim around the heads of management, players and fans, what we can expect when the USMNT turn up in South America in six months time has sort of fallen by the wayside.

(MORE: 2014 World Cup Simulator – One last time, lets fret over how hard it’ll be for USA)

So, what can Klinsmann’s men achieve? Is a semifinal berth out of the question, or is the aim to just get out of the group?

“It’s always a tough one to put your finger on,” Howard said. ‘I think our best ever finish was quarter finals [in the modern era], I think if you look at this team and the results that we’ve had and how we’re put together, certainly we want to get out of our group as we did in 2010. Unfortunately we lost in the second round, but we feel like if we can win that game and get ourselves to the quarter finals… we’re in touching distance of doing something special. What that is, I don’t know. But we’re all going to try and get ourselves back to that quarterfinal game.”

Make sure you log onto NBCSports.com and ProSoccerTalk for live updates of the World Cup draw and plenty of analysis and reaction from Brazil.

Mangala replaces Mathieu in France squad

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 03:  Kolbeinn Sigthorsson of Iceland and Eliaquim Mangala of France compete for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2016 quarter final match between France and Iceland at Stade de France on July 3, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) Barcelona defender Jeremy Mathieu has been removed from the France squad for upcoming World Cup qualifiers for an unspecified reason.

[ MORE: What’s Arsenal’s best XI in the Arsene Wenger era? ]

The French football federation gave no explanation for coach Didier Deschamps’s decision to replace Mathieu with Eliaquim Mangala, only saying he made the move “following a discussion” with the Barcelona player. Mangala is currently on a season-long loan at Valencia from Manchester City.

France takes on Bulgaria on Oct. 7 at the Stade de France before traveling to Amsterdam to play the Netherlands three days later in Group A.

Report: FA chief reveals Allardyce could be charged in scandal

TRNAVA, SLOVAKIA - SEPTEMBER 04:  Sam Allardyce manager of England looks on prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Group F qualifying match between Slovakia and England at City Arena on September 4, 2016 in Trnava, Slovakia.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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While England continues its search for the country’s next manager, Sam Allardyce‘s troubles with the FA roll on as well.

[ MORE: Redknapp was reportedly aware of former players betting ]

On Friday, FA chief executive Martin Glenn revealed that “it is realistic [Allardyce] could be charged” by the football governing body for his alleged role in an English corruption scandal.

Allardyce was relieved of his duties as England manager on Tuesday following a release of information from the Telegraph.

“The newspaper that made the revelations are releasing the full transcripts to the police, which is what has to happen,” said Glenn. “Once we get full access to them, we’ll pass them to our Integrity Unit. We’ve dealt with Sam as an employee. Sam’s role as a participant in the game will be part of this next process, if there is one.

“The decision will be based on the merits of the evidence. Bringing the game into disrepute might be a possible charge.

“A potential sanction could range from a fine to a ban. That’s what history shows. But that is for a tribunal to decide.”

Additionally, Glenn stated that interim England manager Gareth Southgate could be in consideration for the permanent job pending how he and the national team fare with its upcoming fixtures.

“I think Gareth is a genuine contender, but this isn’t an audition,” Glenn stated.

England: Telegraph alleges Redknapp knew of players betting on matches

AMMAN, JORDAN- MARCH 22: Jordan's latest manager Harry Redknapp speaks during a joint press conference with the president of the Jordan Football Association, Prince Ali Bin Al Hueesin ahead their World Cup qualifiers on March 22, 2016 in Amman, Jordan. Redknapp, the former Tottenham manager has signed a two-game deal to take charge of Jordan's 2018 qualifying matches against Bangladesh on Thursday and Australia next week. (Photo by Jordan Pix/ Getty Images)
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In the wake of Sam Allardyce‘s firing from his post as England manager, the fallout continues to be immense.

[ MORE: Everton, Palace finish scoreless at Goodison Park ]

English media outlet The Telegraph released several details regarding Allardyce’s role in bribery and corruption that could be widespread amongst the English football community.

On Friday, the Telegraph again released information pertaining to another high-profile English manager, however, this time it’s Harry Redknapp that reportedly knew of illegal goings-on when he was managing in the Premier League.

The newspaper alleges that the 69-year-old was aware of his own players betting on matches, including those that they were involved in. Friday’s report reveals undercover journalists filming a conversation between Redknapp and agent Dax Price, as the two men discuss one match in particular that the players had told Price could be very profitable for him given the favorable odds.

From the Telegraph:

“[Player A from Redknapp’s team] phoned me and said remortgage your house ’cause the odds were mental, they were 5/2 at the time,” Price said.

“All my family lumped on, we lumped on, I phoned him after 15 minutes because you had put, you put a good, you put a great side out as well, you put the best side out, and, um, I spoke to [opposition player], he was sitting in the stand… and he went, ‘[Redknapp’s side] ain’t touched the ball yet, first 15 minutes’, and the game ended up [with Redknapp’s side winning].”

Under FA laws, Redknapp would have needed to notify the governing body regarding his players’ actions.

While the Telegraph has left out specific details in the investigation, including teams, player names and particular matches, the FA has reportedly asked that the newspaper hand over all of its information as the England’s football federation looks into the various allegations brought up by the outlet.

In addition to Redknapp’s reported knowledge of his players placing bets, the Englishman was also recorded in discussing third-party ownership of players, which is illegal under both FIFA and FA laws.

“Yeah, absolutely, any way I could help, you know,” Redknapp replied. “Listen I put my money where my mouth is and all you know, if you, if you’re gonna buy players, now, if I’m involved in picking the players then I don’t mind having an investment and having a little bit of a, you know, not a thing obviously but you know, I’d put a few quid in and take a chance with you. I need something to do with my money as well, don’t I? Can’t be fairer than that can you?”

 

 

Everton 1-1 Crystal Palace: Benteke finish keeps Eagles unbeaten in last five

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 30:  Yannick Bolasie of Everton takes on Damien Delaney of Crystal Palace during the Premier League match between Everton and Crystal Palace at Goodison Park on September 30, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Both clubs came into Friday’s meeting with a lot to play for, but finishes on both sides of halftime forced Everton and Crystal Palace to settle for a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park.

[ MORE: Liverpool looks to remain hot on Saturday vs. Swansea ]

The visitors pulled level just five minutes after the halftime whistle as Christian Benteke rose to meet Joel Ward’s cross. The summer signing did well to generate enough power to nod the ball towards the far post, but Palace nearly took the lead just minutes later.

[ MORE: Chelsea travels to Hull as both clubs look to halt poor form ]

Ward was at it again down the right flank in the 56th minute, when he played in a perfect cross to Damien Delaney. Despite another timely header and finish, the goal was called back for offsides, keeping the two teams level once more.

Romelu Lukaku‘s first PL free kick goal gave the hosts a thrilling lead before halftime as the Belgian striker put Everton ahead in the 35th minute.

Palace wasn’t too thrilled with the decision to award the set piece after the half hour had gone, but Damien Delaney was the man called for the foul on Phil Jagielka just outside of the penalty area.

The Toffees move up to third place in the PL with Friday’s result, while Palace remain seventh on 11 points.