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United States down one in latest FIFA World Ranking; Spain stays top

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The United States Men’s National Team has fallen one spot in May FIFA’s World Ranking, but at 14, the U.S. remains the only team outside of Europe and South America in the list’s top 18 spots. Though the team maintained the same number of points in FIFA’s formula (which factors in the last four years’ worth of results), Chile gained enough points to pass the U.S., who sits one spot above the Netherlands.

Spain remained at number one ahead of Germany and Portugal, leaving the top three unchanged. Brazil, moving to number four, leads a quartet of South American teams in the middle of the first 10, with Colombia, Uruguay and Argentina occupying spots five through seven. Switzerland, Italy and Greece round out the top 10:

Rank Team Region Points
1 Spain UEFA 1460
2 Germany UEFA 1340
3 Portugal UEFA 1245
4 Brazil CONMEBOL 1210
5 Colombia CONMEBOL 1186
6 Uruguay CONMEBOL 1181
7 Argentina CONMEBOL 1178
8 Switzerland UEFA 1161
9 Italy UEFA 1115
10 Greece UEFA 1082

As is the case most months, the more interesting part of the ranking is noting where the teams outside Europa and South America happen to fall. The U.S. is the highest, but you have to drop another five spots to find another team from outside big two confederations (Mexico, 18).  Cote d’Ivoire is the highest-ranking African team (21), while Asia doesn’t check in until Iran at 37:

Rank Team Region Points
1 Spain UEFA 1460
4 Brazil CONMEBOL 1210
14 United States CONCACAF 1015
21 Cote d’ Iviore CAF 830
37 Iran AFC 715
111 New Zealand OFC 271

The FIFA rankings are used for so few things, there’s little point to getting too upset about where teams sit. Besides, there’s a pretty compelling argument that Europe and South America are so much better than the other regions that the disparity fair. Regardless, there’s a cyclical nature to this, where teams in highly rated regions are not only more likely to face highly rated teams (based on geography alone) but get other bonuses for playing teams from tough confederations.

It’s that lack of mobility that’s the problem. There’s almost no way the U.S., Cote d’Iviore, or Japan (sorry, Iran) can make significant strides without a huge run in the World Cup. But the World Cup only happens once every four years. If FIFA is trying to assess which teams are strong at a given moment, having so much tied to World Cups and the Confederations Cup is an issue.

That’s not saying any of those countries should be higher, right now; but if they did, FIFA’s system would have no way of picking that up.

It’s not the worst system in the world, but it is interesting to compare them to the Elo ratings, a measure based on the methodology used to rank chess players:

Rank FIFA Elo
1 Spain Brazil
2 Germany Spain
3 Portugal Germany
4 Brazil Argentina
5 Colombia Netherlands
6 Uruguay England
7 Argentina Portugal
8 Switzerland Colombia
9 Italy Uruguay
10 Greece Chile

And the regional leaders:

Region FIFA (Rank) Elo (Rank)
AFC Iran (37) Japan (24)
CAF Cote d’Ivoire (21) Cote d’Ivoire (22)
CONCACAF United States (14) United States (13)
CONMEBOL Brazil (4) Brazil (1)
Oceania New Zealand (111) New Zealand (69)
UEFA Spain (1) Spain (2)

Elo balances out the South American teams at the top and is a little more forgiving to Asian (and Oceania’s) teams at the bottom. To the degree that conforms with your intuition, you’ll see Elo as a better system.

But beyond some regions using FIFA to order teams for competition (and draws), neither system matters that much. Once every four years, the top teams get World Cup seeds. Beyond that, it’s just data.

Norwich City striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel signs with former club Vitesse Arnham

NORWICH, ENGLAND - AUGUST 17:Ricky van Wolfswinkel of Norwich City celebrates after scoring their second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Everton at Carrow Road on August 17, 2013 in Norwich, England. (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
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Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, Norwich City’s record transfer at the time of his purchase from Sporting CP in 2013, is moving on after a largely unsuccessful four-year stint with the Canaries.

The 27-year-old has returned to his home country, moving to Vitesse Arnham – the club he went professional with as a 19-year-old. Van Wolfswinkel made his professional debut in April of 2008 with Vitesse, and now returns for an undisclosed fee.

Van Wolfswinkel came to Norwich in 2013 with much fanfare, signing for a reported fee of $11 million – a club record signing at the time.

He proceeded to score just a single goal in 25 appearances during his first season in the Premier League, with Norwich finding itself relegated. He moved to Ligue 1 on loan with Norwich in the Championship, but still managed just five goals in 28 league appearances with St. Etienne. He never made another appearance for the Canaries, instead moving on loan again Real Betis last season, but flopped there too, scoring just once in 16 league appearances.

“I debuted in professional football on behalf of Vitesse and that is something you never forget,” van Wolfswinkel said upon signing. “After several foreign adventures I look forward to returning to the Dutch fields. I hope to find my niche and want to play well and add many goals and assists for Vitesse.”

Report: Arsenal continues to push for Lacazette transfer, readies another bid

LISBON, PORTUGAL - JULY 23:  Lyon's forward Alexandre Lacazette celebrates scoring Lyon«s goal during the Friendly match between Sporting CP and Lyon at Estadio Jose Alvalade on July 23, 2016 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)
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According to Friday’s edition of French publication L’Equipe, Arsenal is set to table yet another improved bid for Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette should the current one of $44 million be rejected.

The Gunners have spent little this transfer window, with the capture of Granit Xhaka their only incoming purchase thus far, and it has unsettled many supporters. The club has looked to calm those fears, going so far as to claim they are unable to spend big like many others across England, but on the inside they appear ready to spend for the French frontman.

Should Arsenal submit yet another bid for Lacazette, it would be their third. An initial bid for $39 million was rejected earlier this week, the Ligue 1 side announced on Wednesday.

“The reality is that the Arsenal made an offer of £30m,” the club confirmed in a statement, “which Olympique Lyonnais did not respond to for one reason only: OL wishes to keep Alexandre Lacazette because he is irreplaceable and one of the major leaders of Bruno Genesio’s group.”

The Frenchman scored 21 goals last season in Ligue 1 play, including 11 goals in the season’s final 10 games. His total haul was second in the league behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s whopping 38.

It seems that, with this report out in public, Lyon would be silly to accept the new bid, given that Arsenal is likely to have another improved one soon to follow.

Europa League qualifying roundup: West Ham falls in Slovenia

NYON, SWITZERLAND - AUGUST 08:  The UEFA Europa League trophy is displayed during the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League Play-off round draw at the UEFA headquarters, The House of European Football on August 8, 2014 in Nyon, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In what is often described as more of a distraction than anything for English teams, the Europa League third qualification round is under way, and a Premier League club is in danger of crashing out of the competition prior to the group stage for the third straight season.

West Ham fell 2-1 at NK Domzale, the third-placed finishers in the Slovenian league last season. Mark Noble grabbed an 18th-minute penalty, the only takeaway from an otherwise depressing road result. On the other side, 24-year-old Matic Crnic scored twice to put Domzale through.

Last season, the Hammers also dropped out of the competition in the third qualification round, to Romanian club Astra Giurgiu, although they had wins in the first and second rounds after entering the competition via fair play. In addition, Southampton also crashed out of last year’s Europa League in the playoff round to Danish side FC Mitdjylland. Hull City dropped out of the tournament two seasons ago in the playoff round.

West Ham has the opportunity to turn things around at home in a week as they host Domzale at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday, August 4 in what will be West Ham’s first competitive game in their new home.

Other notable scores from Europa League qualification include:

  • Lille 1-1 Gabala FC
  • Panathinaikos 1-0 AIK
  • Genk 1-0 Cork
  • Pandurii Targu Jiu 0-3 Maccabi Tel Aviv
  • Videoton 0-1 Midtjylland
  • Hertha BSC 1-0 Bronby
  • AZ Alkmaar 1-0 Giannina

Napoli chief calls Gonzalo Higuain a “traitor,” striker hits back

Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain shows the Juventus' jersey as he arrives in the team headquarters in Turin, Italy, Wednesday July 27, 2016. Italian champion Juventus said Tuesday it has signed  Higuain from Serie A rival Napoli for 90 million euros ($99 million). (Alessandro Di Marco/Ansa via Ap)
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Gonzalo Higuain’s summer move to Juventus has not come without bad blood.

When the 28-year-old striker moved from Naples to Turin thanks to Juventus activating his release clause, it left Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis with a sour taste in his mouth. “There are those who say that talk of betrayal is an exaggeration, but I think the opposite,” De Laurentiis told Corierre dello Sport. “Because, in this decision, there is the full sense of betrayal, which also includes ingratitude.”

“We never seriously thought he would leave. Nor that he would have erased in a flash the memories of his three years in Naples.”

That didn’t sit well with Higuain, who fired back that it was de Laurentiis who drove him out of his former club.

“It was my decision to leave, but it was [De Laurentiis] who pushed me into making it,” Higuain told the media at his Juventus unveiling. “I’d like to thank the fans and my teammates, but not De Laurentiis. I no longer had a relationship with him; I couldn’t stand another minute with him.”

Higuain was more celebratory about his time at Stadio San Paulo. “These have been three amazing years,” Higuain said, “and I can only say thanks for all the love I was given, but this was a decision I took for my own reasons. I can understand that they are angry with me and I’ve seen the insults, but it is something I had to do and I’m happy about it.”

Napoli visits Turin in Serie A play on October 30, while Juventus will not travel to Naples for the return fixture until early April of 2017.