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2014 World Cup Team Preview: Colombia

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Getting to know… Colombia
Colombia are one of the sides tapped to be a dark horse in this year’s World Cup. In fact, they’ve been tipped by so many to make a splash that the term “dark horse” likely no longer applies. Perhaps it’s better to view Colombia as a white knight, riding in to rescue a tournament which might, without them, simply be way too boring.

But the Colombia team hasn’t always been so swift, so intimidating, so…fun. In fact, it’s been more than fifteen years since we’ve seen them at a World Cup. Their last appearance was in France, when they failed to make it past the group stages. In their four appearances in the tournament, their most successful was in Italia ’90, when they made it to the Round of 16.

Los cafeteros have never won more than one game at the World Cup. This could be the year that all changes. They go to Brazil armed with plenty of attacking talent, with (hopefully fit) Radamel Falcao, James Rodríguez and Jackson Martínez just a few of the names that are available to terrorize defenses. But their defense is strong as well, making Colombia a truly formidable opponent.

Record in qualifying
CONMEBOL qualifiers require all South American teams (except with the exception of hosts Brazil this time around) to play each other twice, home and away. So Colombia can’t be accused of having an easy group, or a simpler route to qualifying than the rest of the continent’s sides.

Yet they still managed to reach second in CONMEBOL qualifying, two points behind heavyweights Brazil, and five points ahead of Uruguay, who were so successful in South Africa. Colombia scored 27 goals in 16 matches while conceding just 13, the lowest total on the continent.

A look at Group C 
Will winning the group be a breeze for Colombia? It certainly doesn’t look challenging. First up is Greece, who are known for their defensive style of play. But when up against quality opponents in UEFA qualifying, Greece caved and conceded. It should be no problem for Colombia to get goals.

Then comes Ivory Coast, a rather aging squad. They’ll need to worry about Yaya Touré and the seemingly never-ending threat of Didier Drogba, but again, Colombia should come out on top. Japan may worry the cafeteros defense, but their own back line isn’t the most solid, so the closing match should at least provide plenty of attacking thrills.

Game schedule

Saturday, June 14 at 12 noon ET: Colombia vs. Greece (Estadio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte)

Thursday, June 19 at 12 noon ET: Colombia vs. Ivory Coast (Nacional, Brasilia)

Tuesday, June 24 at 4 p.m. ET: Japan vs. Colombia (Arena Pantanal, Cuiabá)

Star player
For better or for worse, Colombia’s star is Radamel Falcao. He hasn’t played since his injury and subsequent operation in January, but he’s still set to be included when José Pékerman names his final squad. The forward scored nine goals in thirteen qualifying matches, and his partnership with Monaco teammate James Rodríguez should not be understated. The midfielder is a key creator for Colombia, but it’s Falcao that applies the finish. If Falcao suffers another injury setback, Jackson Martínez will step in, but will he and James click the same?

Manager
José Pékerman lead Argentina to the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup, then spent time managing in Mexico. He accepted the position of Colombia head coach in January 2012, becoming the third manager of los cafeteros during the 2014 qualifying stages. He came in after the side lost to Argentina, and that’s when the Colombian revolution began.

It’s Pékerman that has exploited Colombia’s wealth of attacking talent. His 4-2-2-2 system not only takes advantage of the likes of Falcao, but also makes use of Colombia’s talented wide players, like Napoli’s Camilo Zúñiga and Fiorentina’s Juan Cuadrado.

Secret weapon
Coffee!

No, not really. I have no idea if the Colombia national team sips a lot of coffee. But it’s appropriate that their nickname is los cafeterosor the coffee-growers. Although Colombia has left much of its violent past behind, the country’s name still conjures up armed guerrillas and drug cartels. About the only previous positive association most people could make with Colombia was its delicious coffee.

Now, Colombia could very well be associated with free-flowing, attack-minded football as well.

Prediction

I have Colombia emerging top of Group C and going on to face Italy in the Round of 16. After Italy’s performance against Ireland, I’m tipping Colombia to move on to the quarter-finals, where they’ll be knocked out by Brazil.

Report: Ronaldo, Mourinho involved in massive tax evasion system

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19:  Head Coach Jose Mourinho (R) of Real Madrid instructs Cristiano Ronaldo during the UEFA Champions League group G match between Real Madrid and AC Milan at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on October 19, 2010 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
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Wikileaks findings played a massive role in this year’s presidential election, and now “Football Leaks” could produce potentially damaging news regarding some of the world’s greatest soccer players.

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According to information obtained by various European media outlets, Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho are at the heart of a multi-million dollar tax evasion ring.

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German outlet Der Spiegel is reporting that Ronaldo could have hidden as much as”hidden 150 million euros (roughly $160 million) in tax havens in Switzerland and the British Virgin Islands.”

Jorge Mendes, who serves as an agent for both Ronaldo, Mourinho and various other major soccer stars, is considered to have played a key role in the alleged wrongdoing.

Mendes reportedly helped Ronaldo and Mourinho conceal money in various offshore accounts, including in Switzerland, Panama and the British Virgin Islands.

In total, the alleged system implemented by Mendes amounted to a loss of “at least 185 million euros (roughly $197 million) of sponsorship income from the tax administrations.”

As more details emerge, follow PST for all the latest information.

Atlanta United adds U.S. U-19 forward Brandon Vasquez

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 07:  (L-R) Former professional soccer player Carlos Bocanegra, MLS Atlanta owner Arthur Blank, rapper Ludacris, Commissioner of MLS Don Garber, and former professional soccer player Darren Eales attend the MLS Atlanta Launch Event at SOHO on July 7, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for MLS Atlanta)
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As their entrance into Major League Soccer continues to draw closer and closer, Atlanta United keeps on adding young talent to its roster.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The 2017 Eastern Conference expansion side announced on Friday that they have signed U.S. Under-19 national team forward Brandon Vasquez after Atlanta claimed Vasquez as a discovery signing.

The 18-year-old joins Atlanta from Liga MX side Club Tijuana, while also having represented the United States at various levels of its youth setup. Vasquez played a key role in the U.S. U-17 national team during the 2015 World Cup, scoring two of the team’s three goals during the competition.

This year, Vasquez has bagged four goals in 2016 for the U-19 side.

Including Friday’s addition of Vasquez, Atlanta has now officially signed nine players to its MLS squad. Both expansion sides Atlanta and Minnesota United will have the opportunity to further their teams during the upcoming MLS Expansion Draft, which will take place on December 13.

Premier League Preview: Tottenham vs. Swansea City

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 28: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur takes on Angel Rangel of Swansea City during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Swansea City at White Hart Lane on February 28, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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  • Spurs had unbeaten run ended last Saturday against Chelsea
  • Tottenham has never lost to Swansea in PL (8 wins, 2 draws)
  • Swans have kept two clean sheets in first 13 matches

Tottenham looks to rebound from its first loss of the Premier League campaign on Saturday when the London side hosts Swansea City (10 a.m. ET, NBCSN and streaming via NBC Sports Live) from White Hart Lane.

For the first time in the PL this season, Tottenham has been defeated. Now, Mauricio Pochettino‘s side must quickly look past their road defeat against Chelsea and focus on Swansea City, who have taken points in back-to-back matches for the first time in 2016.

[ MORE: Kane signs new Spurs deal, ends Man United speculation ]

Spurs have now lost three of their last five matches across all competitions, and anything other than a win on Saturday against one of the league’s bottom sides could prove to be damaging to the club’s title aspirations. Tottenham currently sits fifth in the table on 24 points, already seven points off the pace set by league leaders Chelsea.

Last weekend’s 5-4 win for Swansea gave manager Bob Bradley his first win since joining the PL side, however, the Swans have much to do if they want to continue their success in England’s top flight.

Swansea sits firmly in the early relegation battle after taking just nine points out of their opening 13 fixtures. Despite facing a stiff test upcoming against Spurs, Bradley and co. should be looking to take advantage of the schedule that lies ahead, including matches against bottom-half sides Sunderland, Middlesbrough and West Ham all before the start of 2017.

What they’re saying

Mauricio Pochettino on Tottenham rebounding after Chelsea defeat: “Against Chelsea we lost but we recovered the feeling that we can play well. This week has been perfect because we could spend time together and train hard. We held a lot of meetings and the answer from the players was fantastic.”

Bob Bradley on Swansea’s thrilling victory over Crystal Palace“Last week was positive, but a stretch of good performances and results changes the conversation in a better way. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. But it is a real opportunity to go there, play our football. We have reminded the players of some of the things we will be up against, but what is more important is who we are, how we play and our mentality. We must never let the opponent take away from our confidence in our game.”

Prediction

The Swans will be riding in hot following last weekend’s historic and thrilling win against Crystal Palace, but Bradley’s side will face a hungry Spurs club looking to bounce back from their first defeat of 2016. It would be nice to see Bradley and co. build off of the impressive win but Spurs have proven to be a force at home under Mauricio Pochettino. Tottenham’s only two losses at home this season have come against Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League, and I expect Spurs to get back on the winning side of things on Saturday. Tottenham 3-1 Swansea

Messi looking to end El Clasico scoring drought

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 02:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on during a training session ahead of their La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid on December 2, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) There couldn’t be a better time for Lionel Messi to end his scoring drought than in the clasico against Real Madrid.

With Barcelona struggling and desperately needing a victory to stay close to its rival in the Spanish league, Messi could help turn things around on Saturday if he can find the net again after five scoreless games against Madrid.

Barcelona enters the home game at Camp Nou six points behind Madrid, and another setback could leave it in a difficult position to fight for a third straight league title.

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Messi hasn’t played badly in recent clasicos, but his last goal against Madrid came almost three years ago when he had a hat trick in a 4-3 win at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

He hasn’t scored in the four games since, not even in the stunning 4-0 win at the Bernabeu last season, when Messi came off the bench in the second half after a long injury layoff. Barcelona has won two of the last five games against Madrid, but it’s been 400 minutes since Messi last scored.

Since that hat trick in March 2014, Cristiano Ronaldo has attracted most of the headlines in the clasico, having scored three times, including the late game-winner at Camp Nou last season that ended Barcelona’s record 39-game unbeaten streak.

“They’re two exceptional players,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “Cristiano is doing exceptional, incredible things, I hope he carries on like this.”

Messi remains the all-time leading scorer in the clasico with 21 in 32 matches, but at Camp Nou it’s been Ronaldo who has thrived the most.

He has 10 goals in 12 games in Barcelona, including five in the last five matches and eight in the last nine. He failed to find the net only in four of those 12 games. Messi netted only five times in those same 12 encounters in Catalonia.

Ronaldo has scored in each of the last two league games between them at the Camp Nou. He has 16 goals in 25 clasicos, behind only Messi (21) and Alfredo Di Stefano (18).

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Messi has 15 goals in the 25 clasicos in which he and Ronaldo faced each other.

Ronaldo, who recently netted a hat trick in the Madrid derby against Atletico, is the Spanish league leading scorer with 10, one more than Messi. Ronaldo has eight goals in his last four league matches.

Messi also has been playing well recently, having scored five goals in his last four games. He has netted 16 in his last 11 matches.

Barcelona is coming off three consecutive draws, two in the league and one in the Copa del Rey.

Madrid is enjoying a 32-game unbeaten streak under Zidane.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni