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2014 World Cup team preview: England

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Getting to know… England
In this part of the world, England, as well as its importance to world soccer, needs little explanation. The country’s contribution to the game makes it one of the cornerstone nations in the sport, a status emboldened by its domestic league. The Barclays Premier League is the most popular in the world.

The national team, known as the Three Lions, is one of eight to have claimed the World Cup, doing so when the nation hosted the tournament in 1966. Unfortunately, the last generation of returns have been more mixed. Since failing to qualify for the tournament at USA 1994, England has never gotten past the quarterfinals, though it has reached that depth twice (2002, 2006). Having never won a European championship, the 1966 title remains England’s only major honor.

Record in qualifying
A tricky group with Ukraine, Montenegro, and Poland broke the Three Lions’ way when the team posted a 6-0-4 record, scoring 31 times while only giving up four goals. With the Ukrainians on their heals, however, qualifying was in doubt until the last round, when a 2-0 win over Poland at Wembley Stadium ensured England qualified its fifth straight World Cup.

What group are they in?
Group D with Costa Rica, Italy and Uruguay. While few have lumped this group in with Spain’s and Germany’s (seen as the tournament’s toughest), England’s packet will ensure one Round of 16-quality team leaves before the knockout round.

Game schedule: Group D

14 June, 18:00, Manaus – England vs. Italy

19 June, 16:00, Sao Paolo – Uruguay vs. England

24 June, 13:00, Belo Horizonte – Costa Rica vs. England

Star player: Wayne Rooney

The Manchester United attacker is the biggest name in England’s team. Whether he’ll be its best is the subject of debate before every major tournament.

Since scoring four times as a 18-year-old at Euro 2004, Rooney’s scored one goal at the last four majors. Injuries and suspensions have played a big part in that disappointment, but with a team built around his talents, Rooney will be expected to produce more in Brazil. Whether that means scoring more goals or setting up chances for others, it’s difficult to see England going far without a productive Rooney.

Manager: Roy Hodgson

In addition to winning league titles in Denmark and Sweden, Hodgson has taken Inter Milan and Fulham to European finals. On the international level, he’s managed Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, and Finland, and while he’s primarily known for pragmatic tactics that are often characterized as negative, he’s brought a stability to England that was much-needed in the wake of Fabio Capello and John Terry’s dramatic exits. With his team eliminated on penalty kicks at Euro 2012, Hodgson also showed he can get results with his home nation, even if those results looked a lot like some of his predecessors’.

“Secret” weapon: Leighton Baines

Regular visitors to this site are well aware of one of the Premier League’s best fullbacks, but particularly if England starts Danny Welbeck wide left in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 setup, the Everton left-sider’s ability to create chances could provide a needed balance the formation. It will also help take the load off Rooney. If Costa Rica, Italy, and Uruguay don’t commit a winger to tracking Baines, the 29-year-old will have an even greater impact on the opposite flank.

Prediction
At the risk of making each team into a cliché, England and Italy – teams that played to a draw over 120 minutes at Euro 2012 – seem destined to end tied. If England can do the same against Uruguay five days later, they’ll go into Group D’s final round knowing a win will probably take them through. It isn’t glamorous, but it could get England into the second round.

Bremen beats Wolfsburg to leave Bundesliga relegation zone

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Serge Gnabry of Germany reacts during the Men's First Round Football Group C match between Germany and Fiji at Mineirao Stadium on August 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored twice as Werder Bremen moved away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone with a 2-1 win at fellow struggler Wolfsburg on Friday.

Bremen and Wolfsburg are level on points and two above Hamburger SV, which is in 18th place and in the relegation zone.

It was a fifth defeat in six games for Wolfsburg coach Valerien Ismael, who won the league and cup double as a player with Bremen in 2004.

Gnabry fired the visitors ahead with a deflected shot in the 10th minute and made it 2-0 eight minutes later, controlling the ball with his chest before prodding home on the volley.

Striker Borja Mayoral, who is on loan from Real Madrid, scored with his chest following a Wolfsburg corner as Wolfsburg hit back moments later.

Midfielder Daniel Didavi struck the post with a free kick as Wolfsburg kept pushing for an equalizer.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.