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World Cup 2014 Groups of Death: From Deadly to Deadliest

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In what’s being billed as the toughest and deepest World Cup ever, 12 nations in particular could lay claim to their group being the despised “Group of Death.” Whether you want to substitute another awful word for death or not, there’s no debating industrious bouts of group play in the following paths.

GROUP OF DEATH: Group B (Netherlands, Chile, Spain, Australia)
Combined FIFA ranking: 84

Chile’s the wild card here. They’re a nation that’s rarely kept off the scoresheet and add a certain scare factor for even clubs as talented as Spain and the Netherlands. The Dutch went 9-1 in qualifying while Spain’s only qualification hiccups were draws versus Finland and France. Australia has to be feeling a great deal of hard luck. The Socceroos recently suffered twin 6-0 defeats versus Brazil and France and their “signature wins” of 2013 are Jordan and Costa Rica.

Those who love to claim rigged groups have a lot to chortle about when it comes to a rematch of the 2010 World Cup final. So who’s the favorite between Netherlands and Spain to win the group? Well, Spain went on to win the 2012 Euro while the Dutch lost all three matches in group play and did not advance.

GROUP OF DEADLY DEATH: Group D (Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy)
Combined FIFA ranking: 57

We covered the long, storied rivalry between Italy and England in a different post, but that’s just the appetizer. Group D will find Luis Suarez going against the nation who hosts his domestic team. La Celeste boast World Cup titles from long ago (1930, 1950) and South American teams certainly have an advantage on European competition. They may have just squeaked into the World Cup, but Uruguay came within penalty kicks of a Confederations Cup win over the Italians last summer. England and Uruguay have twice played in the World Cup, each winning while Uruguay holds a 4-2 goals advantage. That was long ago, however.

Costa Rica is UNCAF’s strongest nation and boasts victories over both the United States and Mexico in qualifying, the latter coming when El Tri needed it most. A January friendly against Chile will be a good pre-test for Costa Rican fortunes.

GROUP OF DEADLIEST DEATHLY DEATH: Group G (United States, Germany, Portugal, Ghana)
Combined FIFA ranking: 45

Wow. Just plain wow. If you’re an American fan, you’re looking at the “worst” team in your group as a team that’s defeated you in consecutive World Cups (though admittedly the States are much stronger ahead of 2014). Portugal may not be the feared monster of other World Cups, but they have perhaps the world’s top attacking weapon, Cristiano Ronaldo to attack the Americans most glaring uncertainly — defending.

The silver-lining in this dark, dark cloud for all three teams is what awaits those who emerge from the group (see here). And to up the ante on courting controversy, FIFA surely would’ve planned a Jurgen Klinsmann versus his home nation (photo above) if they were drawing up the perfect World Cup group.

The group’s Opening Day projects to be its most important, as Portugal and Germany get the highest profile match out of the way while Ghana and the U.S. work for three points they’ll absolutely need if they want to advance. One thing’s for sure: All four of these teams made it out of their groups in 2010, but only two can advance to the knockout round in 2014.

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.

Gary Neville under pressure as Valencia without a win in nine

EIBAR, SPAIN - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Gary Neville of Valencia CF reacts during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and Valencia CF at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
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Gary Neville was appointed manager at Valencia on December 2. He is still yet to win a La Liga match.

After falling 1-0 to Real Betis on Sunday, Neville is now winless in nine league matches at Valencia as pressure grows on the new boss.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Some have called for Neville to step down from his position, as the club has fallen from 8th to 13th and now sit just four points clear of the drop.

However, the former Manchester United legend has said he has been judged too quickly and will work hard to turn things around.

I said before I came that I would be judged in five months. I have been judged in six weeks.

There’s no doubt that at times like this everyone needs to stay together.

Everyone suffers. It’s just not going for us at the moment. I continue to work, I continue to have belief.

Conversations with the owners are between me and the owners. We have to turn it round quickly, I understand that. It is hard to explain the defeat. It will turn.

Not only has Neville struggled in La Liga play, but he has also seen Valencia bounced from the Champions League and saw his side smashed 7-0 by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinal.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

Valencia’s next league match is on Saturday against Espanyol, who sit three points below Valencia and haven’t won a match since December. If Neville fails to win again, there could be some real trouble at the Mestalla.

PSG down Marseille 2-1 for ninth-straight Le Classique win

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 21:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic #10 of Paris Saint-Germain is congratulated by teamamte Maxwell #17 after Ibrahimovic scored a goal in the second half against AFC Fiorentina during the International Champions Cup at Red Bull Arena on July 21, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.Paris Saint-Germain defeated ACF Fiorentina 4-2.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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France’s biggest rivalry has been quite one-sided, as Paris Saint-Germain defeated Marseille 2-1 on Sunday to take their ninth-straight Le Classique.

Marseille’s last win over PSG in Ligue 1 play was in November of 2011.

[ MORE: Juve win 14th straight ]

PSG got off to a dream start in Sunday’s Classique as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the opening two minutes to give the Le Parisiens an early lead. It was Zlatan’s league-leading 21st goal of the season.

On loan from Newcastle, Remy Cabella equalized for Marseille in the 25th minute. Cabella scored on a brilliant individual effort, taking the ball from his own half on a solo run to the PSG box before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.

[ RELATED: Lewandowski’s agent confirms contract talks with Bayern Munich ]

However, PSG pushed on and claimed the win thanks to a 71st minute goal from Angel di Maria, who has been impressing in his first season in Paris. With eight goals and ten assists in Ligue 1 play, only Zlatan has been involved in more goals than di Maria.

Through 25 matches, PSG hold a ridiculous 24-point lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table.