U.S. Soccer confirms three-game send-off series ahead of 2014 World Cup

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Azerbaijan, Turkey, then Nigeria will face the U.S. Men’s National Team in a three-game send-off series ahead of the 2014 World Cup, U.S. Soccer confirmed on Thursday. The series will begin at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on May 27, move to Red Bull Arena in New Jersey on June 1, and conclude at EverBank Field in Jacksonville on June 7.

The U.S. opens the World Cup against Ghana on June 16 in Natal, Brazil, commencing a three-match group state that will cover 11 days. In announcing its 12-day, three-game send-off series, U.S. Soccer noted the similarity between that run and the 11-day gauntlet that hasthe U.S. face the Black Stars, Portugal, and Germany in Group F.

“We are absolutely thrilled with the schedule we have put together for the Send-Off Series,” head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said in Thursday’s announcement. “We have some fantastic opponents that will help us get prepared for the teams we will meet in the World Cup, and also the opportunity to experience different climates and conditions in the venues … It’s the perfect way to start our journey.”

The series’ opening game will be the Men’s National Team’s first visit to San Francisco since 2006, with the game at Candlestick Park marking the first time the venue has ever hosted a national team game. The stadium is set to be closed at the end of the year.

The match against Turkey on June 1 will be a return engagement of sorts, with the 2002 World Cup semifinalist also participating in 2010’s send-off series. The U.S. won that meeting, 2-1.

Nigeria is the only send-off opponent who has qualified for the 2014 World Cup, with the Super Eagles representing the culmination of a gradual ramping up in competition the U.S. will face over the three-game set. On Wednesday, the reigning African champions drew 0-0 with Mexico at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

That ramping up may also be designed to emulate what the U.S. will face in Brazil. From Ghana to Portugal to Germany, Jurgen Klinsmann’s team will need to increase their level of play throughout June’s group stage, and while that level of play will be much higher than the trio of games the U.S. will face at home, Klinsmann seems intent on putting his team through the same motions they’ll see in Brazil.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”

Boa Esporte goalkeeper back to prison as murder appeal denied

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The risk clearly wasn’t worth it for Boa Esporte.

The Brazilian club signed Bruno Fernandes de Souza in March, not long after the convicted murderer and goalkeeper was released from prison on appeal.

Fernandes, 32, had been jailed for ordering the murder of a lover, who was fed to dogs by the killer. Boa Esporte lost several big sponsors for signing him, but vocally defended the move.

The owner, Rone Moraes da Costa, said he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to revive his career. Fernandes admitted his mistakes but said he wasn’t “a bad guy”.

According to the Associated Press:

“Brazil’s Supreme Court decided on Tuesday to deny an appeal to Boa Esporte goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes de Souza, who was released in March while appealing a 22-year sentence in the 2010 killing of Eliza Samudio.”

So it’s back to jail for Fernandes, and we’ll be waiting with baited breath to hear from Boa Esporte’s owner.

Conte: Chelsea “ready to fight to the end”

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Following Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Spurs and Tuesday’s blowout of Southampton — the 4-2 score line didn’t tell the story of the second half — Antonio Conte is fired up for Chelsea to complete its Premier League title run.

The manager admits that his side was under pressure after Spurs narrowed the table gap to four points last week, but the wins have eased the Blues’ burden.

Chelsea had lost two of four PL matches before the weekend.

From Football.London:

“I think we passed a big, big psychological step after the defeat to United. We lost three points and had to prepare a semi-final against Tottenham and then another tough game in the league. In that moment we had a really important test and our answer was very good.

“We must think that this race is open, we have reached the final of the FA Cup. The situation in the league is totally open. We are ready to fight to the end. We must be proud for the job we are doing and to fight to the end.”

Spurs can bring the gap back to four with a win at Crystal Palace on Tuesday, but have a tougher run-in with five matches to play. As long as the gap is within six points, anything is possible, but the Blues have certainly answered the bell over the past four days.

Chelsea: Big win “feels like a massive step” to title

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“It feels like a massive step to be honest,” said game-changing goal scorer Gary Cahill of Chelsea’s 4-2 win over Southampton at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

Chelsea’s Premier League lead stands at seven points after the win, which saw a dominant second half from the hosts.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Perhaps it was cued up by Cahill’s first half stoppage time header, which boosted the Blues to a 2-1 lead just before the whistle.

Cahill darted in front of Diego Costa‘s scissor kick attempt to power a header past Fraser Forster.

“(Costa) tried to claim it afterward as well,” Cahill said. “When the ball’s just lofted over, it’s dying to be attacked. We went into halftime with our tails up and it was a big boost for us.”

Cesc Fabregas said Southampton surprised the Blues tactically, leading to an entertaining first half that could’ve seen either side ahead before half.

“We needed a little bit of time to adapt to what they did because we prepared for something else,” he said.

Fabregas said the win was big with second-place Spurs watching at home. Tottenham plays at Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

“We needed a good response after the Man United game. We have to keep going with five games to go, to keep it up and make the last push. It would be a big shame if now we relaxed. We just have to push now more than ever,” he said.

“It’s a statement for (Spurs), for us, for everyone, but most of all for us.”
Eden Hazard agreed.
“We scored four beautiful goals,” said the Belgian, who scored the game’s first goal. “It’s good to play before and put pressure on them.”