Blaise Matuidi will lead PSG to new Champions League heights

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I love watching Zlatan just as much as the rest of you.

He’s really one of the most electric players out there, without a doubt, and would qualify as a pure gamechanger.

But as much fun as he is to watch, and as vital as his goalhawking is (with his brace today he has 10 of PSG’s last 15 away goals in the Champions League) he’s not the French giants’ most important player.

I know, I know, that’s blasphemy, but bear with me.

Despite Zlatan’s spark, the designation must go to the man who gets about 1/1000th of the credit, but makes the team churn – Blaise Matuidi.

In a match where PSG got off to a explosive start and didn’t look back, the 26-year-old midfielder was the linchpin in Les Parisians whirring mechanism.

Taking a look at the first goal, and you see all you need to know about his work rate. Matuidi intercepts the ball on the right touchline, seeing the pass well before Simon Rolfes even knew he was going to attempt it. Then, after dishing to Gregory Van der Wiel, he doesn’t power down his afterburners until he gets the ball back and puts it in the back of the net, shielding off Roberto Hilbert to create space for his run.

Later, Matuidi does all the hard work to construct the foundation for PSG’s third goal, the foundation on which Ibrahimovic – as he has so often this year – builds a masterpiece atop.

source: Getty Images
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the face of PSG, but Blaise Matuidi is their workhorse.

The Toulouse product braced himself against both Omer Toprak and Emir Spahic (who had a nightmarish performance), attempting to make something for himself before realizing he was out of options.  He went to ground but remained calm, reaching out and finding his Swedish superstar at the last possible moment for a special finish.

Matuidi eventually came off in the 67th minute, with Laurent Blanc not wishing to risk a second yellow for his most important player already ahead 3-0.

This match, however, is just one small example of Matuidi’s brilliance this year in the French Ligue 1 and beyond.

According to Squawka statistics, Matuidi has a 92% pass completion rate, including a sparkling 86% (57/66) on long balls. His superb strength also helps him defensively, completing 64% of his tackles successfully in the midfield.

In today’s match, he wasn’t needed defensively as much with PSG dominating possession until Matuidi’s exit (not a coincidence).  However, he still chipped in with a successful tackle in his only attempt, as well as three interceptions, two blocked crosses, and a successful clearance.

And while his numbers in Ligue 1 play are great, he leaves his A+ game for the biggest stage – with today, he now has a goal and three assists in the Champions League, while racking up three goals and two assists in 24 Ligue 1 matches.

Ibrahimovic may get all the international headlines, highlight videos, press coverage, and fan love – and rightly so, the guy’s both a beast on the pitch and marketable off it – but Blaise Matuidi’s importance to this PSG side cannot, and should not, be understated.

With Matuidi’s guidance (along with Marco Verrati’s service and, obviously, Ibra’s flair), this team has the very real possibility of finding themselves in the Champions League final four, no question possessing the potential to shock the world with an upset or two along the way.

It’s a bit late, but I’m officially on the PSG bandwagon, and you should be too.

Germany mulls letting China under-20s play league soccer

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BERLIN (AP) The German soccer federation is mulling a proposal to allow China’s under-20 team to play friendly matches in the fourth tier of its league system.

Because the Southwest Regional League is comprised of 19 clubs, each currently has two match-days free that can be used for friendly games. The one-off action would allow China’s under-20 team to prepare for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

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“Nothing has been fixed yet but the clubs are all in favor,” league president Felix Wiedemann told The Associated Press on Thursday. “There’s a lot of interest in it. It’s important to say that there will be no points at stake, so it won’t influence the outcome of the league.”

Clubs would receive about 15,000 euros ($16,700) in compensation for two home games against the Chinese side, if the plan is approved. The Chinese are planning on a base near Heidelberg in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Southwest Regional League members are meeting on July 11, when a decision will likely be made in consultation with the German soccer federation, Wiedemann said. The league kicks off at the end of the month.

China and Germany agreed to a five-year soccer partnership last November, aimed at developing the game in China with training and other programs.

WATCH LIVE: Australia vs. Cameroon in Confederations Cup

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Australia and Cameroon fight for their Confederations Cup lives on Thursday at 11 a.m.ET live on Telemundo Deportes.

[ WATCH LIVE: Cameroon vs. Chile on Telemundo Deportes ]

Cameroon will have its top attacker in the form of Vincent Aboubakar in its bid to overcome an opening loss to Chile, while Australia will hope goalkeeper Maty Ryan can get the job done following a 3-2 loss to Germany.

Germany and Chile square off at 2 p.m. ET.

Reports: De Boer offered Crystal Palace manager’s spot

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Multiple reports claim Crystal Palace has offered its managerial position to Dutch boss Frank De Boer.

Palace has been without a manager since Sam Allardyce retired after the season. The Eagles finished 15th in the Premier League, five points behind eighth place Southampton and seven points clear of the drop zone.

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An accomplished defender at Ajax and Barcelona, the 47-year-old De Boer led Ajax in his first managerial stint before spending less than three months at Inter Milan last season.

De Boer twice won the Rinus Michels Award as the top manager in Dutch football, and would become just the second Palace manager from outside the British Isles.

He would inherit a very good group of attackers with Wilfried Zaha, Christian Benteke, and Andros Townsend. Palace also has a talented midfielders Luka Milivojevic and Yohan Cabaye to go with marauding Dutch back Patrick Van Aanholt.

Farcical officiating at end of Mexico-New Zealand match (video)

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Mexico should be counting their Confederations Cup blessings in congested Group A after a prolonged shoving match at the end of its 2-1 win over New Zealand on Thursday somehow ended with a single red card.

New Zealand is fortunate, too, but the All-Whites have already seen their hopes of the knockout round extinguished by a pair of losses in Russia.

With New Zealand counterattacking in hopes of a late equalizer, Mexico’s Diego Reyes pulled back charging Niko Boxall. It was the second pull back in minutes after Rafa Marquez went uncarded at the other end, and Boxall reacted poorly by lunging cleat-first into Hector Herrera’s calf.

Referee Bakary Gassama should’ve easily pulled two red cards there, but lost his focus in an ensuing melee that saw Herrera charge back to knock down Boxall, headbutts between Diego Reyes and Andrew Durante, and an absurd hand-throwing performance from Javier Aquino. Perhaps this lapse was understandable, which is why he had Video Assistant Referee available.

Even video couldn’t get it right, as a long and sloppy review was seemingly bungled by the referees saw a trio of yellow cards given to Boxall, Reyes, and Herrera.

All three should’ve been sent off, and otherwise Man of the Match contender Aquino and his teammate Marco Fabian should not have escaped discipline by any stretch of the imagination. If Gassama needed it to be level, Michael McGlinchey, Ryan Thomas and Durante could’ve left the match as well.

Instead, a terrific match has been left in the lurch. Will FIFA have the guts to issue supplemental discipline ahead of the important final matches of the group stage?