Abby Wambach, USWNT

U.S. Women start their Algarve Cup defense on Wednesday

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The U.S. Women’s National Team’s annual foray into the Algarve Cup starts on Wednesday when the world’s No. 1-ranked team taking on 2011 World Cup winners Japan. Also grouped with Sweden and Denmark, the U.S. is guaranteed to get three strong games during their trip to Portugal, with a potential meeting with Germany in the championship match making this the most competitive point on the team’s 2014 calendar. While the team’s return to a series of domestic, mostly non-competitive friendlies will occupy the summer, providing tepid preparation for October’s World Cup qualifying tournament in Mexico, March’s chance to claim a 10th Algarve Cup will define where they rank against the rest of the world.

If the U.S. can beat Japan (ranked third) and Germany (second) while avoiding a slip in its reunion match with former coach Pia Sundhage and Sweden (or against Denmark), the team can cruise through the rest of the year assuming it remains the best in the world. Fall to Japan or Germany, and 2014 becomes about seeing the World Cup from a challenger’s role, knowing that the last time the team faced another of Canada 2015’s favorites they came up short.

To this point, Tom Sermanni (the person who replaced Sundhage in Jan. 2013) hasn’t had any such setbacks. Last year, the U.S. beat Germany 2-0 in the Algarve Cup final, affirming their place at the top of the world’s soccer hierarchy. This year, they’re favored to do the same, but an inability to snare first place will cast the run  to next year’s World Cup in an entirely different perspective.

Format: 12 teams are divided into three, four-team groups to play a round-robin format over the tournament’s first week. The competition’s final round will see winners of Groups A and B (compromised of the tournament’s top eight team) face off in the final, with runners up going into the third place match. Third place finishers compete for fifth, while the groups’ last place teams will face teams from Group C.

The competition: The reigning Olympic champions face fellow London finalists Japan in Wednesday’s opening match, with games against Sweden and Denmark following on Friday and Monday.  Next Thursday, the U.S. will face their final round opponent, with pre-tournament expectations casting European champions Germany against the Americans in the first place match.

source: Getty ImagesWhich players are there: FIFA Player of the Year finalist Abby Wambach is, as are Sydney Leroux, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, captain Christie Rampone, and this little known goalkeeper: Hope Solo (she’s supposed to be very good). NWSL stalwarts Ali Krieger, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rachel Buehler Van Hollebeke, and Heather O’Reilly are in the team, as is Christen Press, whose three goals in 2014 lead the team.

Morgan Brian, Sarah Killion, and Samantha Mewis make up the college contingent, while Whitney Engen, Meghan Klingenberg, Tobin Heath, and Sarah Hagen are all European-based stars (with the first three bound for the NWSL later this year).

Also in the squad: Alyssa Naeher, Jill Loyden, Stephanie Cox, Kristie Mewis, Kelley O’Hara, and Amy Rodriguez.

Which players are missing: Lauren Holiday, the NWSL Most Valuable Player in 2013, was excused from the tournament for personal reasons, while Alex Morgan continues to recover from an ankle injury that has kept her out thus far in 2014

Outlook: Any doubt the 2011 World Cup cast on the U.S.’s status as the world’s best team is a distant memory. Ahead of Wednesday’s kickoff against Japan, Sermanni’s group is riding a 42-match unbeaten streak. But that last loss came to Japan in this tournament two years ago. If the U.S. needs a reminder of how fragile their hegemony can be, that 1-0 defeat in Mar. 5, 2012 could serve as motivation.

Even if the U.S. lost to Japan (or Germany), it wouldn’t be the end of the world. The Algarve Cup is a very particular kind of beast, forcing teams to play four games in eight days. Even though pride is on the line (and any loss will inject doubt), this isn’t the World Cup. This isn’t the Olympics. How the team builds towards those events is more important than where it end up Mar. 12.

Zlatan becomes PSG’s all-time leading goalscorer

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 21:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic #10 of Paris Saint-Germain celebrates his 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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Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined Paris Saint-Germain in 2012, and he is already the club’s all-time leading scorer.

After scoring both of PSG’s goals in a 2-1 win over Marseille today, Zlatan’s tally is up to 110 goals for the club, eclipsing Pauleta’s mark of 109. However, Pauleta needed 79 more matches to reach that number.

Zlatan has scored at a blistering pace since moving to Paris, having seasons of 35, 41, and 30 goals in his first three years at the club. Early into his fourth season with PSG, he has four goals through seven matches.

Not only has Zlatan achieved great success individually during his time at Parc des Princes, the club has dominated French football during his tenure.

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Since Zlatan moved to Paris in 2012, the club has won three consecutive Ligue 1 titles, two League Cups, and one French Cup. During that time, Zlatan was twice named Ligue 1 Player of the Year and won two Golden Boots as the league’s top scorer.

Zlatan’s contract with PSG is up at the end of this season, and it has been long suspected that he will move on and join a new club next summer. Despite turning 34 earlier this month, Zlatan has proven his is still one of the world’s elite goalscorers, and will have his choice of clubs should he leave PSG.

Atletico and Real draw 1-1 in Madrid derby

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 04: Karim Benzema of Real Madrid CF wins the header after Gabi Fernandez of Atletico de Madrid during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on October 4, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Luciano Vietto scored with less than ten minutes to play to earn a draw for Atletico Madrid against their crosstown rivals Real.

Karim Benzema had given Real Madrid an early lead, heading home a cross from Dani Carvajal in the ninth minute. While Cristiano Ronaldo may get all the headlines, Benzema has been superb for Real, scoring six goals in seven La Liga matches this season.

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Atletico had a golden opportunity to draw level in the 22nd minute when the hosts were awarded a penalty, but Keylor Navas made a brilliant save to deny Antoine Griezmann, keeping Real ahead.

Still trailing 1-0, Diego Simeone made a substitution for Atletico in the 58th minute, bringing in Luciano Vietto for some added strength on the attack. It was the 21-year-old’s first taste of a Madrid derby, and he proved to be ready for the pressure.

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With the clock winding down, Jackson Martinez played a cross in from the left wing, and after a slight scramble in the box, the young Vietto cleaned up the scraps to level the score in the 83rd minute.

The result leaves Real Madrid second in La Liga, one point behind leaders Villarreal, while Atletico sits fifth, three points off the leaders.