Tottenham and Liverpool battle for fourth, Southampton’s youngsters shine – View from the booth, with Arlo White

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When watching soccer on TV, have you ever sat there and wondered what the man behind the microphone really thinks?

Maybe this will go some way to helping with that.

In the latest edition of “View from the Booth” we chat with NBC Sports’ lead soccer announcer Arlo White Tottenham’s top four challenge, what is holding Liverpool back from being title contenders, how Southampton have fared, the woes of Cardiff City and much, much more.

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You can hear Arlo calling live games every weekend on NBC Sports Network and NBC, and watch every single game available live online via NBC Sports Live Extra,

So, let’s get to it.

Tottenham have slipped of late, as Tim Sherwood’s side have looked a little jaded. Is this the Europa League curse striking again? And is a top four spot out of the question?

A top four place is not out of the question for Tottenham, but we will know more about their credentials after a busy and very difficult March period.  Following Sunday’s game against Cardiff at White Hart Lane, they face Chelsea away, Arsenal at home in the north London derby, Southampton at home and then Liverpool away. All extremely tough matches. Their midweek heroics against Dnipro in the Europa League may provide a huge boost in confidence and momentum for the rest of the season, but it has also handed them a tough Last 16 tie against Benfica. Playing a big European game on a Thursday night is not the ideal preparation for a big Arsenal match on Sunday, but as Sherwood has said, they can’t be picky. They need some silverware because the trophy room “echoes.”

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Tim Sherwood’s Spurs are in danger of falling off the pace for a UCL spot, can they pick things up this weekend?

We spoke to Tim Sherwood during the week. He has a very simple, no nonsense approach to management. At least that’s the approach which he projects to the Football world. He wants his defenders to defend, his attackers to attack, and his midfielders to do a bit of both. Simple! He promised us a very attacking line-up against Cardiff, so we’ll see if he perseveres with his 4-4-2, and whether Roberto Soldado will get another opportunity to bag the goal from open play that he, his team mates, Tim Sherwood and all Spurs fans crave.

WATCH SPURS vs. CARDIFF, 11:30am ET, SUNDAY

Sherwood has been boosted with the return of Sandro and Andros Townsend for the run in. Kyle Walker should return at right back as well. If Liverpool win at Southampton, the gap between the 4th placed Reds, and Spurs, will be 9 points. But a Spurs win against Cardiff, will put 8 points between themselves and Manchester United in 6th. Is a 5th place finish looking more likely? Perhaps so, but at least Spurs would have two avenues into the Champions League to explore next season.

We spoke about Cardiff and how well they did in the transfer window… but just one win for Ole Gunnar Solksjaer sees them in all kinds of trouble. What do the Bluebirds need to do to survive?

The air of chaos continues to hang over Cardiff City. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer has been chastened by his opening seven games in charge, managing just one win, and suffering five damaging defeats. Cardiff have failed to score in 15 of their 27 Premier League games, and defensively they were shocking against Hull in a 4-0 home defeat last week. Does Solksjaer know his best XI yet? It doesn’t look like it, which is not a good situation heading into March. Over the last three games, 21 Cardiff players have seen action in the League. His response to a 0-0 draw with Aston Villa, was to change three of the back four against Hull, with catastrophic results.

Solksjaer thinks his side need to win five of their last 11 games to stay up. They still have to play Spurs, Liverpool, Everton, Southampton and Chelsea, so they simply must beat the likes of Fulham, West Brom, and Crystal Palace to stand any chance at all. Cardiff will be boosted by the return of Craig Bellamy from suspension and Jordon Mutch from injury, but with owner Vincent Tan making yet more incendiary statements this week, anything other than a Cardiff defeat at White Hart Lane would be a major surprise.  

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England international Lallana and Rodriguez have led the way, as Saints’ youngsters can finish the season strongly.

Southampton have had a funny season. It started so well, then tailed off, then they went on a long unbeaten run before being battered at West Ham. How do you assess Mauricio Pochettino’s first full season in charge?

To spin the cliche ‘it was a game of two halves’, Southampton have put together a season of ‘three thirds’. They were a wonderful surprise in the opening 11 games of the season. They won six, lost only one and conceded a paltry five goals. The Saints were riding high in 3rd place. Then came a spate of injuries to key midfielders, such as Victor Wanyama, and the departure of their popular and visionary Chairman Nicola Cortese. What followed was a run of one win in nine, and a slide down to mid-table. The Saints capitulated at West Ham last week having taken an early lead, but they have only lost one of their last seven games, and appear to be back on track.

WATCH SAINTS vs. LIVERPOOL, 12:30 pm ET, SATURDAY

Pochettino’s first season in charge has been an unqualified success. Not just because of the results on the field, but the way he has brought on some exciting young talent from the club’s production line. Luke Shaw’s call up to the England squad this week has been greeted with universal positivity in England.  Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez have enjoyed break out seasons. Just below Southampton’s new flock of England senior internationals are the likes of Calum Chambers, Nathaniel Clyne, Sam Gallagher, Harrison Reed and James Ward-Prowse. All eager, confident and technically gifted young professionals.

You wonder why Pochettino treated their FA Cup tie at Sunderland with such apparent disdain, but it would be a shame to see Southampton’s League season peter out. Hopefully they can provide a statement of intent with an energetic and committed performance against Liverpool.

With Liverpool joining the title race, have the top four now pulled away? How pivotal is it that the Reds defend better, starting against Southampton on Saturday?

Brendan Rodgers has enjoyed a magnificent season in charge of Liverpool. He exudes calm authority and tactical intelligence. His free scoring side are right up there in the title race, they just need a little help from elsewhere like a Chelsea defeat or an Arsenal draw. With Manchester City in Capital One Cup Final action this weekend, the Reds could leap over them into 3rd place with a win at St Mary’s. Sure, City have games in hand, but their fixtures are piling up, and Liverpool could play the role of clubhouse leader if they continue to win. They need to carry on putting pressure on their rivals, and make a virtue of the fact that they only have 11 Premier League games left in their season. It’s a massive advantage in this title race.

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In recent weeks Liverpool have torn teams apart going forward. But it’s at the back where Arlo thinks they could falter.

Defensively there are clearly issues. For someone who has approached things with such clarity this season, Rodgers’ thinking could be questioned in terms of his defense against Swansea last Sunday. Martin Skrtel had a torrid afternoon. He was booked, he conceded a free kick in a dangerous area, and then conceded an own goal from it. He also gave away a penalty at the start of the 2nd half which Bony dispatched to make it 3-3. But when Rodgers made a center back substitution, it was Daniel Agger that made way for Kolo Toure. Perhaps Agger is getting back to full fitness, or maybe he was carrying a knock. If not, it was odd to burn a substitution on a center back, and then leave the guy on who was struggling.

Also, Glen Johnson played at left back, with John Flanagan, who has seen plenty of action on the left, over at right back. I wouldn’t be surprised if they switched positions at St Mary’s. But let’s not take anything away from Liverpool, who have been an absolute pleasure to watch for long stretches this season. Can they carry on playing like they have nothing to lose, now that they have forced their way onto the top table?

Finally, what else are you looking forward to?

Stoke vs. Arsenal. Even with the slightly more refined approach of Mark Hughes, Stoke City can still produce destructive, whirlwind performances against the big boys at the Britannia. Just ask Jose Mourinho and David Moyes. Arsenal have been known to wilt in the face of physical intimidation, so this is a massive test of their credentials. It would be a huge boost for Arsene Wenger if they come away from the Potteries with the three points in the bag. After all, Liverpool, and a nation of journalists, are waiting to pounce on any mistakes.

UEFA playoff draw sets up intriguing battles

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The fight for the final four 2018 World Cup spots from UEFA is well and truly on.

On Tuesday in Zurich, Switzerland the draw for the two-legged playoffs was made as the eight best runners up from the UEFA qualifying group stages found out their fate.

[ MORE: Latest World Cup rankings released ]

The Republic of Ireland will face Denmark over two games, while Northern Ireland face Switzerland and two monster clashes have been set up as Sweden and Italy will lock horns and Croatia and Greece will do battle.

A spot at the World Cup in Russia next summer is the prize for the four winners of these home and away playoffs.

The Republic of Ireland seem to have got the better draw, especially as they will play at home in the second leg in Dublin. Northern Ireland will also be okay with having Switzerland but are slightly hampered by playing the first leg in Belfast. Italy against Sweden will be a tight game and one neither nation will relish, and the same can be said for Croatia vs. Greece with their intense local rivalry.

First leg matches will take place on November 9-11, while the second leg will take place on November 12-14.

Below is the full schedule for the two playoff games.


UEFA playoff schedule

First leg

Northern Ireland vs. Switzerland
Croatia vs. Greece
Denmark vs. Republic of Ireland
Sweden vs. Italy

Second leg

Switzerland vs. Northern Ireland
Greece vs. Croatia
Republic of Ireland vs. Denmark
Italy vs. Sweden

Watch Live: England, Mexico, Spain, France in U-17 World Cup action

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It is a busy day at the U-17 World Cup in India as four Round of 16 games take place.

[ LIVE: Stream U-17 World Cup ] 

Red-hot England play Japan, while France and Spain collide and Mexico clash with a very impressive Iran side who won all of their group games. Mali and Iraq complete the Round of 16 games on Tuesday.

The winners of the England v. Japan game will face the U.S. on Saturday after they blew away Paraguay 5-0 on Monday.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s four games, while you can click on the link above to watch all four games live.

Tuesday’s U-17 World Cup Round of 16 games

Iran vs. Mexico – 7:30 a.m. ET
France vs. Spain – 7:30 a.m. ET
England vs. Japan – 10:30 a.m. ET
Mali vs. Iraq – 10:30 a.m. ET

Benevento remains alone in Europe without a point

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ROME (AP) Benevento remained the only club in Europe’s top five leagues without a point after losing at basement rival Hellas Verona 1-0 in Serie A on Monday.

[ MORE: USA U-17s top Paraguay in convincing style ]

Romulo scored with a long volley to conclude a counterattack in the 74th minute.

Benevento center back Luca Antei was shown a direct red card for a sliding tackle late in the first half and Verona striker Giampaolo Pazzini nearly took advantage immediately when he hit the post.

With its first win of the season, Verona moved up to 16th place with six points.

Benevento has lost all eight of its matches.

All of the top-division squads in England, France, Germany and Spain have earned at least a point.

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Calls for exiled player to go to WCup stirs storm in Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) Soon after Egypt qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1990, a hashtag began trending on social media: “Aboutrika to the World Cup.”

In a country where soccer and politics often mix, and often with explosive results, the pro-government media didn’t like that.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

The hashtag unleashed an intense online campaign by tens of thousands of fans calling for former star midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika, who is now living in exile in Qatar, to come out of retirement and play for Egypt at the World Cup in Russia next year.

It stirred a storm in the Arab country because of Aboutrika’s alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist group that has been outlawed and declared a terrorist organization by the government. The Brotherhood was outlawed after the military’s ouster of a freely elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013.

The 38-year-old Aboutrika faces a host of charges rooted in his alleged financial support for the Brotherhood and lives in exile knowing he risks arrest if he returns home. His assets have been frozen by Egyptian authorities and his name is on a terrorism list. He now makes a living as a soccer pundit on the Qatar-based sports channel beIN.

Aboutrika turned down the call to return in a message to his supporters.

“These are kind feelings for which I thank you,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “But realism is better and I don’t steal the efforts of others. Those men (on the current team) deserve to be there alone.”

Yet that gentle refusal didn’t stop the storm around him, and the unfavorable comparisons made by some between Aboutrika and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, the team’s current star and new darling of the pro-government media.

“Mohammed Salah is the player who stood by his country, not like the other one (Aboutrika),” said Ahmed Moussa, perhaps the most ardent government supporter among TV talk show hosts. “He (Salah) is Egypt’s only star.”

The 25-year-old Salah endeared himself to fans with both goals, including an injury-time penalty, in a 2-1 win over Republic of Congo on Oct. 8 that ensured Egypt qualified for the World Cup for just the third time, and first time in nearly 30 years.

Salah has also been embraced by the government of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and its supporters in the media as a patriot. A donation of 5 million Egyptian pounds (nearly $300,000) Salah made in December to a development fund founded by el-Sissi has gone a long way to endear him to them.

In the week since qualification, Salah has been branded “golden boy,” “legend” and “genius.”

One media commentator, Dandarawy el-Hawary of the daily “Seventh Day,” wrote of Salah’s decisive goal against Republic of Congo: “It touched off the volcanoes of patriotism, sense of belonging and love of one’s country.”

Not long ago Aboutrika was the national hero – he still is to many – after playing a central role in Egypt’s three straight African Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Those triumphs made Egypt Africa’s most successful team with a record seven titles.

Now, the pro-government media refers to him as a traitor.

Another talk show host, Amr Adeeb, suggested the campaign to bring Aboutrika out of retirement was the work of government critics and berated him for his failure to lead Egypt to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Aboutrika has been labeled a mercenary, with his job with the Qatar-based beIN used as evidence of his lack of patriotism because of Egypt’s diplomatic spat with Qatar over the tiny Gulf nation’s alleged support of terrorism.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Aboutrika’s supporters argue that to have him back on the team would be a just reward for his dedication to Egypt and compensation for his failed efforts to get the team to previous World Cups. They point out that Argentina great Diego Maradona and Cameroon’s Roger Milla both came out of retirement to play for their countries at the World Cup.

Responding to the criticism from government supporters, Aboutrika’s fans have also been posting videos of him scoring goals for club and country in years past, with commentators lavishly praising him for his skill and passion.