Left behind: the best players not heading to the World Cup

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Yes, there are a host of players who aren’t going to the World Cup. That’s because the soccer gods have come to the conclusion that there can only be 32 teams in the tournament, which means some talented souls have to watch from the comfort of their own living room.

And yes, there are some incredible men that won’t be going due to the fact that fate is cruel, and they picked up severe injuries that will leave them out of contention in Brazil. This list includes Christian Benteke, Theo Walcott and, most likely, Radamel Falcao.

But what of the ones whose countries qualified, yet still won’t be boarding the plane? In some cases, their national team coaches had reasons for keeping them out of the squad. In others, their lack of inclusion remains a true head-scratcher.

(Clicking the country’s link will take you to the full provisional World Cup roster)

Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Borussia Mönchengladbach and Germany)
Manuel Neuer will be in the net for Germany. We all know it. But why can’t ter Stegen be included as backup? Instead it’s Ron-Robert Zieler, who at least has a fun double-barrelled first name as well. Still, ter Stegen plays for a better club, made more saves, and is on his way to Barcelona to continue his career. Maybe he made fun of Jogi at some point.

Ashley Cole (Chelsea and England)
Cole must’ve thought his chances for England were good after fighting his way back into the Chelsea squad. But Roy Hodgson, slightly surprisingly, gave his England squad a more youthful feel, and it’s Luke Shaw that will take up the role of the understudy of Leighton Baines. It’s a bonus for England, having to choose between talented left-backs rather than taking along Stephen Warnock, but it’s gotta hurt for the 33-year-old to miss out on his last chance for his country. Cole retired from international football after getting the news that he wasn’t headed to Brazil.

Miranda (Atlético Madrid and Brazil)
Miranda edges out Filipe Luís only based on the fact that he managed two goals, but really, why would Luiz Felipe Scolari neglect to bring either? Perhaps Big Phil is a Barcelona fan, and doesn’t like the fact that Atleti could trump them to the title. In general, Scolari seems intent on bringing veterans, but with these two at 29 and 28 respectively, it’s not like they’re short on experience (which could be a reason for leaving out PSG’s talented Marquinhos). And when you add the fact Napoli’s Henrique is going…well, he did play under Scolari for three seasons at Palmeiras, but he only made the partenopei starting XI thanks to injury crisis. Brazil may very well regret not giving one of these two a look.

Samir Nasri (Manchester City and France)
Well, this one was confusing. Nasri impressed at title-winning Manchester City this season, where he had seven goals and seven assists. He was involved in France’s World Cup qualification, making four appearances. So why isn’t he part of les bleus? Turns out Didier Deschamps thinks Nasri has a bit of an attitude problem, and doesn’t appreciate being left on the bench. He likely also now thinks Nasri’s girlfriend has an attitude problem, after she lashed out on twitter when the French squad was announced.

Radja Nainggolan (Midfielder, AS Roma and Belgium)
Yes, Belgium are stuffed to the gills with midfielders, so it’s natural that some of them get left behind. But Nainggolan is a special sort of midfield man – one that could add some protection to the defense, which often looks shaky and uncertain. Just ask Cagliari, who certainly slipped in the standings after Nainggolan went off to Roma in the middle of the season. He adds strength and steel to the middle of the field, but he’s not just an enforcer. Nainggolan can pick out a crisp pass and, when given a chance, loves to put in a shot from distance.

José Callejón (Napoli and Spain)
Yes, we could go on and on about players left off the Spain roster. The defending champions are simply way too well-stocked, particularly in the center of the pitch. But “Ziggy” Callejón deserves a special shout out. He failed to establish himself as a regular at Real Madrid and wound up scoring just three goals in 15 starts last season. Now in Naples, Callejón has blossomed. He may not fit Vicente del Bosque’s system, but in Rafa Benítez’s 4-2-3-1, the wide man has scored 19 goals in all competitions for Napoli.

Francesco Totti (AS Roma and Italy)
Roma’s captain began his international career back in 2000, and was part of the azzurri side that lifted the 2006 World Cup. He retired from international duty after the triumph, but made it clear he was open to returning this season. However, Cesare Prandelli decided to put his faith in younger players, and left the 37-year-old off the roster – despite an impressive season in Serie A, helping Roma fly into second place and challenge for the title.
(Honoroable mention to Luca Toni, another veteran having an amazing season in Serie A. The 36-year-old scored 20 goals for Hellas Verona this season).

Carlos Vela (Forward, Real Sociedad and Mexico)
Again, everyone knew this was coming. Vela hasn’t played for El Tri since 2011, despite various coaches trying to entice him back to the side. After accepting the management gig, Miguel Herrera did his best to convince Vela as well, but the attacker didn’t feel himself mentally ready to return to international competition. That’s too bad for the struggling Mexico team. Vela’s done well for himself in Spain, putting in 41 goals in 104 appearances with Real Sociedad. There are even strong rumors that he just might make a return to Arsenal – assuming he’s mentally prepared for that, of course.

Max Kruse (Forward, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Germany)
Joachim Löw don’t need no strikers. Or at least, not strikers that can actually put the ball in the back of the net. Ok, ok, Lukas Podolski had eight goals for Arsenal this season. And Kevin Volland, of Hoffenheim, did score eleven. But Kruse has twelve to his name, along with nine assists. He’s paccy, he’s precise, and he can get the job done better than Miroslav Klose. The veteran managed just seven for Lazio this season, but sentiment wins out, and he’s the one boarding the plane to Brazil.

Carlos Tévez (Forward, Juventus and Argentina)
A falling out with Alejandro Sabella means Tévez hasn’t played for La Albiceleste since 2011. Of course, Argentina have plenty of firepower up top, what with Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín and…what’s that guy’s name again? Oh right, Leo Messi. Still, 19 goals and 7 assists in 33 league games with Juventus is nothing to sniff at. Who knows, if Tévez scores four this weekend, he could even become Serie A’s top goalscorer this season. But no matter – he’s going to Disneyland instead.

Zlatan Ibrahimović (Paris Saint-Germain and Sweden)
So what if Sweden didn’t qualify? Someone high up at FIFA should’ve worked through a quick rule change that would’ve allowed Ibra to switch his nationality. Because what is a World Cup without Zlatan? Nothing. Just wait. You’ll see.

Report: Kyle Walker a top target for Manchester City

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Manchester City could be looking to bolster its backline further this summer, and the Citizens could turn to Tottenham for help.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on acquiring Monaco’s Silva ]

According to ESPN FC, Pep Guardiola‘s side is growing more and more enamored with Spurs defender Kyle Walker and believes City can acquire the experienced outside back prior to the 2017/18 Premier League season.

With City already losing Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna since the end of the PL season, Guardiola will have to address the club’s lack of depth at outside back.

Several other big clubs have been considered in the running for Walker’s services, including Chelsea, Manchester United and Bayern Munich.

The 26-year-old has been at White Hart Lane since joining Spurs in 2009 from Sheffield United and has made 222 appearances for the club in that span.

Alaves eyes upset of Barcelona in Copa del Rey final

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) The final of the Copa del Rey pits Barcelona’s star power against a tiny Basque Country club whose biggest weapons are its grit and gnawing hunger for a taste of glory.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on Monaco’s Silva ]

Win or lose, Alaves is savoring the cup final on Saturday as the perfect finish to its first season back in Spain’s topflight in an decade.

[ MORE: Three key battles ahead of Chelsea-Arsenal FA Cup final ]

But to have a chance of winning the first major trophy in its 96-year history, Alaves’ ragtag collection of journeymen has to be squeezed of every ounce of effort by coach Mauricio Pellegrino to upset the cup-holders led by Lionel Messi.

One statistic illustrates how daunting their task will be: Messi, all by himself, has scored exactly as many goals as the entire Alaves squad this season, with 53 across all competitions.

“We will need to play a very complete match to have a chance, but we are a team that always competes to the maximum,” said Pellegrino, who is completing a noteworthy first season with the club.

The final will be the last competitive match at Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon Stadium. An exhibition match the next day will be its farewell before demolition.

The final will also be the last match for departing Barcelona coach Luis Enrique, who could bow out with a third straight Copa del Rey.

Here are some reasons Alaves can believe in an upset for the ages:

DONE IT BEFORE

Alaves has already toppled Barcelona this season.

A shocking 2-1 victory at Camp Nou on Sept. 10 was Alaves’ first win since its return to the first division following 10 years in the second and third tiers.

That surprise victory set it on its way to overachieving all campaign. It reached the Copa del Rey final by defeating the more talented Celta Vigo in the semifinals, and finished the league in a meritorious ninth place.

The bad news is that Barcelona showed no mercy back in Vitoria, where Luis Suarez scored twice in a 6-0 rout.

NO SUAREZ

But Suarez won’t be available for Barcelona on Saturday, when he serves a one-game suspension after being sent off during the semifinals against Atletico Madrid.

Luis Enrique could start Paco Alcacer in his place up front alongside Messi and Neymar.

OLD AND YOUNG

Alaves is not devoid of talent.

The 19-year-old right back Theo Hernandez, who is playing on loan from Atletico, is drawing rave reviews and interest from European powerhouses, including Real Madrid.

Marcos Llorente, a 22-year-old Madrid reserve player also on loan, has impressed as a defensive midfielder.

Captain Manu Garcia, at 31, is the only player who has been with the team through its rise from the third tier in 2013.

“Our coaches are telling us that by working as a team just like we have all year, we have a chance to win,” Garcia said.

OH SO CLOSE

Alaves came ever so close to winning the 2001 UEFA Cup when it defied expectations in its first European campaign by reaching the final against Liverpool.

Jordi Cruyff, son of Dutch great Johann Cruyff, scored late to level the thriller at 4-4 and force extra time, only for Alaves to succumb on an own goal by Delfi Geli.

“I want our fans to enjoy the day,” Garcia said. “I remember (the final in) Dortmund from when I was young. I have many memories of that day and that’s why I ask our fans to be proud of Alaves, and that they make the Calderon into our stadium because that is what we will need it to be.”

MLS at Week 13: Rivalries all around, TFC goes for eight games unbeaten

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Week 13 is here and we’ve got ourselves some pretty tasty matchups, after the weekend got off to a fast start on Thursday night when the Chicago Fire downed FC Dallas.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings — Week 13 ]

Meanwhile, the match of the weekend likely comes in the form of Toronto FC taking on the Columbus Crew, as Greg Vanney’s side puts their seven-match unbeaten run on the line at BMO Field.

Several other intriguing fixtures, including multiple rivalries, will take place as well, particularly in the Pacific Northwest as the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers do battle.

Toronto FC vs. Columbus Crew — 7 p.m. EDT on Friday

It’s been seven straight matches for the Eastern Conference leaders since they last lost and Toronto FC has become the clear favorite to hoist MLS Cup through the opening two months-plus. Of course that can change in the blink of an eye. We’ve seen that with the Crew as of late, who started out hot before losing four out of their last six and falling to fifth in the East.

Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers — 2:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday

There’s nothing like a Cascadia Cup match. Although both clubs aren’t exactly up to par at the moment, it’s still a rivalry match. That has to mean something, right?

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. D.C. United — 7 p.m. EDT on Saturday

The Whitecaps have picked up some steam lately, winning three of their last four, and unfortunately for D.C. they haven’t had any similar fortunes. Ben Olsen’s group are at the bottom of the East, and had it not been for the Rapids there would probably be more attention on how poorly they are playing.

New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution — 7 p.m. EDT on Saturday

Jesse Marsch’s club picked up an important tie against a red-hot Toronto last time out, but now they’ll meet a familiar rival on Saturday as they try to get back to winning ways. Meanwhile, the Revs have played significantly better as of late, scoring six goals in their two most recent outings.

Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 8 p.m. EDT on Saturday

Simply put, they only good thing the Rapids have on their side is that the match is at home, where the team has captured both of their wins this season. Sporting KC, meanwhile, continues to tear it up at the top of the West.

Minnesota United vs Orlando City — 8 p.m. EDT on Saturday

Orlando has come back down to earth recently, so it’s time for Jason Kreis and co. to reset. Adrian Heath and the Loons continue to suffer through the growing pains of being a new side, something Kreis can relate to from his time in New York, but Minnesota has shown positive signs during the young season.

Real Salt Lake vs. Philadelphia Union — 8 p.m. EDT on Saturday

The Union are looking really good as of late, and the winners of four straight could very well keep it up on the road against RSL, who have struggled to pick up results for much of the season.

San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. EDT on Saturday

The Cali Clasico takes shape at Avaya Stadium as both west coast sides look for bragging rights out west.

Atlanta United vs. New York City FC — 5 p.m. EDT on Sunday

It was Patrick Vieira’s side that got the best of Atlanta when the two clubs met a few weeks back, and it’s bad news for Tata Martino’s men as NYCFC has caught more steam as they continue to rack up positive results in the Eastern Conference.

FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo — 8 p.m. EDT on Sunday

We’ve got ourselves a Texas Derby down in Dallas, and this could be quite the interesting matchup as both sides enter Sunday on a bit of a downturn. It’s evident both clubs have exciting offensive firepower but which side will come out on top?

Emre Can’s insane bicycle kick wins 16/17 PL Goal of the Season

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It was about as good a finish as you’ll see in any season, and Emre Can was properly rewarded by the Premier League for his efforts.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on acquiring Monaco’s Silva ]

The Liverpool midfielder won PL Goal of the Season on Friday for his audacious and seemingly impossible bicycle kick against Watford.

The goal came off a routine cross from Lucas Leiva into the Hornets penalty area, but what Can did next was simply astonishing as contorted his body and acrobatically finished an overhead kick that was the talk of the PL for the rest of the season.

Can, 23, finished the 2016/17 PL season with five goals in 31 matches for Jurgen Klopp‘s side but none can compare to what he achieved at Vicarage Road.