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2014 World Cup team preview: France

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Getting to know… France 

For a generation of viewers that came into their fandom around France’s 1998 World Cup triumph, Les Bleus will always be a world power. The recent reality, however, is less flattering. Since Zinedine Zidane’s retirement after Germany 2006, France has qualified for three major tournament but failed to make an impact at any. At Euro 2008 and South Africa 2010, France failed to advance out of its groups, while Euro 2012 saw Laurent Blanc’s team make a meek exit at the quarterfinals.

From an inability to replace icons (Zidane, Lilian Thuram, Thierry Henry) to off the field issues, there are a number of reasons why France has failed to live up to its global reputation. With an easy group draw in Brazil, however, head coach Didier Deschamps has a chance to send Les Bleus in a new direction.

Record in qualifying

France’s hopes of unseating Spain in Europe’s Group I were given a boost when Olivier Giroud’s 94th minute goal snared a point in Madrid with Les Bleus’ third (of eight) qualifiers. When France gave that point back with a 1-0 home loss to the world champions five months later, Deschamps’ team was destined to return to the playoffs.

Once there, a 2-0, first leg loss at Ukraine on Nov. 15 had France on the verge of missing the finals, but a switch in formation and personnel allowed Deschamps to turn the tide in Saint-Denis. First half goals from Mamadou Sahko and Karim Benzema had France even by the 34th minute, with a second half winner from Sahko putting the team through to its fifth consecutive World Cup.

What group are they in? 

Switzerland was the seeded team others wanted to draw. When Ecuador and Honduras joined Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side in Group E, it became one of the tournament’s easiest groups.

While France’s name value makes the nation the favorite in the eyes of some, that may not necessarily be the case. Regardless, this group will prove kinder than most France could have been drawn into.

Game schedule:

15 June, 15:00, Porto Alegre – France vs. Honduras

20 June, 16:00, Salvador – Switzerland vs. France

25 June, 16:00, Rio de Janeiro – Ecuador vs. France

Star player: Franck Ribéry

The reigning French Player of the Year, Ribéry’s one-on-one ability could prove lethal wide left of Les Bleus’s dangerous midfield. With Yohan Cabaye, Blaise Matuidi, and Paul Pogba in the middle, Deschamps has a threesome that could force opponents to dedicate numbers to the problem. The more room that creates for a winger who averages just under 14 goals per season with Bayern Munich, the longer France is likely to last in Brazil.

Manager: Didier Deschamps

Hired in the wake of Euro 2012, the former Juventus midfielder has slowly instilled some of his reputed steel into his national team. Part of that can be seen in the more robust 4-3-3 the coach has used after experimenting with 4-2-3-1 and various versions of a 4-4-2. Another symptom of that edge: Excluding one of the team’s most talented players, Samir Nasri, after the Manchester City midfielder’s displays is dissent. A former World Cup and European champion as a player, Deschamps is trying to lift France to the same heights as a coach.

Secret weapon: Blaise Matuidi

The extent to which any of France’s prospective starters is a secret is debatable, but still operating in the relative anonymity of Ligue 1, Matuidi’s virtues tend to be underappreciated. A strong, two-way, connecting force for Paris Saint-Germain, the 27-year-old could serve a similar role for Les Bleus, though his influence at either end of the pitch could prove just as important. With 15 goals over the last two years at PSG, the former Troyes and Saint-Etienne man continues to show his value going forward, while his ability to be a stalwart in front of the defense provides liberties to the talented Cabaye and Pogba.

Prediction: If Ecuador proves strong in a South American World Cup, there will be a three-way fight to get out of Group E. Else, whether France finishes ahead of Switzerland will depend on Les Bleus playing to their potential. Regardless, Deschamps’ team is expected to get to the knockout round.

Injury reveals kidney cancer for Richmond Kickers striker

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A Richmond Kickers striker will hopefully be able to credit a back injury with saving his life.

Matthew Delicâte has been with the USL side for 10 years, and picked up a knock in training that required an MRI.

[ EURO 2016: England squad released | Germany, too ]

That scan revealed a mass on his kidney, and Delicâte is now set for 8-12 weeks on the sidelines and major surgery.

From RichmondKickers.com:

“I was frustrated after hurting my back and not being able to train and feature for the team, but in hindsight, I am very fortunate to have caught this at an early stage,” commented Delicâte. “I hope the team continues to work hard in my absence and I am aiming for a full recovery as quickly as possible.”

“Events such as this immediately put the importance of winning soccer matches into perspective,” added Leigh Cowlishaw, Richmond Kickers Director of Soccer.  “We wish Deli a successful surgery, speedy recovery and look forward to having him score more goals for the Kickers in the months to come.”

The 34-year-old English forward played at Virginia Commonwealth University before embarking on a pro career with Richmond and the Rochester Rhinos, briefly heading home to England for a spell with National League side Ebbsfleet United.

All our best to Delicate, his family, and the Kickers.

Pele to conduct $5-plus million auction of unique items

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - MAY 29: Pele looks on during the England Footballers Foundation charity event at Sopwell House on May 29, 2016 in St Albans, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images for 10Ten Talent)
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images for 10Ten Talent
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No surprise here: the most famous footballer of all-time has acquired a wide variety of extraordinary items, many of them as unique as Pele himself.

The 75-year-old Brazilian is going to auction a lot of those items come June in England, with at least part of the money going to a pediatric hospital in his come country.

[ MORE: Marcelo giving away UCL medal via Facebook ]

Some of these items are going to get crazy money. Consider: He’s selling a one of a kind Jules Rimet Trophy given to him after the 1970 World Cup, and the boots he wore in “Victory”.

Here’s what Pele says of the sale, expected to fetch at least $5 million, according to a BBC Business story:

“It was a difficult decision to make but it takes a lot to properly care for these artefacts, and I felt I could do much more good by sharing these items with the world, as well as helping my causes that are important to me.”

Less expensive items, like a match-worn New York Cosmos jersey, are still expected to have purchase prices as high as $8-10,000. So, yeah, a lot of us are going to be left out of the process.

Then again, they’re just Earthly possessions, no? If Pele doesn’t need them, I can be content in also being shut out.

Sturridge, Rashford in England’s Euro squad; Drinkwater, Townsend out

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 10:  Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool takes on Guillermo Varela (30) and Marcus Rashford of Manchester United (39) during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 first leg match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on March 10, 2016 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Andros Townsend and Danny Drinkwater are not going to France as part of the England national team for Euro 2016.

That means both Daniel Sturridge and Marcus Rashford have been included in Roy Hodgson’s squad, putting five strikers in the mix.

[ MORE: Reus left out of Germany squad ]

Rashford, 18, is the youngest player on the roster, with Tottenham’s Dele Alli second (20).

Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson have overcome fitness concerns to get into the squad.

Full roster

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City), Fraser Forster (Southampton), Tom Heaton (Burnley).

Defenders: Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Chris Smalling (Manchester United), John Stones (Everton), Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur), Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool).

Midfielders: Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur), Ross Barkley (Everton), Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), James Milner (Liverpool), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal).

Strikers: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Jamie Vardy (Leicester City), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United).

Klinsmann, USMNT will “go for it” in Copa America opener vs Colombia

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 14:  Jermaine Jones of the USA avoids Carlos Bacca of Colombia during the International Friendly between the USA and Colombia at Craven Cottage on November 14, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
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Comparing it to the 2014 World Cup opener against Ghana, USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann called Friday’s Copa America Centenario opener against Colombia “starting a tournament with a final”.

While Costa Rica and Paraguay are far from slouches, Colombia is the best team in the United States’ group.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

A win would set the tone for the group stage and, historically speaking, winning the first game gives teams a tremendous chance to advance to the knockout rounds.

In a Facebook live chat on Sunday, Klinsmann implied that his Yanks wouldn’t play for a draw against Colombia.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“We are going to go for it. We are going to do that and we are going to try and make it happen on Friday night because it would give us a big, big boost towards the game against Costa Rica and then finishing off the group with Paraguay. Similar to the World Cup, we need a good result in the first game.”

There’s no denying a win would be massive, putting Colombia up against the wall for both of its remaining games. Los Cafeteros have not kept a clean sheet in three matches, but all of those were wins. Their only losses since mid-June 2015 came against Uruguay and Argentina.

Game on.