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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.

MLS Snapshot: LA Galaxy 2-4 Seattle Sounders (video)

SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 06:  Jordan Morris #13 of the Seattle Sounders FC in action against Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field on March 6, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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The game in 100 words (or less): While one American star continues to earn more time on the pitch, another is making his presence felt as his side pushes for a playoff position. Jordan Morris’ 11 and 12th goals of the season were the difference for the Sounders on Sunday afternoon, propelling his side to within three points of the six spot in the Western Conference. Despite trailing early on, the Sounders stormed back with three second-half tallies and now have the postseason very much in sight. For the Galaxy, Bruce Arena’s group remains in third place in the West.

[ MORE: David Villa discusses MLS playoffs, Guardiola and more ]

Three four five moments that mattered

20′ – Keane smashes home header — Sebastian Lletget has played a key role for the Galaxy in 2016, and the midfielder’s cross was everything it should be to help put the the hosts out in front.

35′ — Van Damme own goal levels it up before halftime — Call it lucky but with the playoffs on the line, the Sounders need all the help they can get as the regular season winds down.

63′ — Morris stuns StubHub crowd — It’s safe to say the Sounders are happy Jordan Morris opted to play in MLS this season. The American striker not only knocked in his 11th goal of the year but this beauty of a finish also propelled the Sounders to within three points of a playoff spot.

73′ — Morris tacks one on for good measure — Was it as pretty as the first one? No. Was it timely? We’ll let you judge.

73′ — Alonso caps off win with screamer — He got a little help from the referee but Osvaldo Alonso made no mistake with this finish.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jordan Morris

Goalscorers: Robbie Keane (20′, 84′), Jelle van Damme (OG 35′), Jordan Morris (63′, 73′), Osvaldo Alonso (78′)

La Liga roundup: Atletico edges Deportivo, Pato propels Villareal

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 25:  Antoine Greizmann of Club Atletico de Madrid reacts after his goal was declared offside during the La Liga match between Atletico Madrid and Deportivo La Coruna at Vincente Calderon stadium on September 25, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Antoine Griezmann was the difference for Atletico Madrid on Sunday as Atletico Madrid narrowly defeated 10-man Deportivo La Coruna, 1-0, to move up to third place in La Liga. The visitors were reduced a player prior to halftime, as Faycal Fajr was sent off in first-half stoppage time after picking up his second yellow card.

[ MORE: Schalke misery continues, Leipzig earns road point ]

A clinical first half performance from Villareal gave the hosts a 3-1 win over Osasuna, who remain at the bottom of the table. Alexandre Pato kicked off the impressive offensive display from the Yellow Submarine after five minutes, before Bruno and Nicola Sansone also tallied before halftime. Roberto Torres pulled one back for Osasuna before the break but it wasn’t enough to capture a share of the points for the road side.

After trailing inside of the opening half hour, Valencia battled back for a 2-1 win over Leganes. Alexander Szymanowski handed the hosts the lead after 21 minutes, but it was Nani and Mario Suarez that had the final say for Valencia as they wound up with the points on the day. The victory pulls Valencia out of the relegation zone temporarily, with the club currently sitting on six points in as many matches.

It looked like the two sides were on pace for a share of the points, but late stoppage time finishes from Giuseppe Rossi and Pione Sisto gave Celta Vigo a 2-0 win over Espanyol. Rossi, who entered the match in the second half, knocked Celta into the lead in the 91st minute, before Sisto doubled the lead two minutes later.

Sagna praises Aguero as “one of the best players I have played with”

SWANSEA, WALES - SEPTEMBER 24: Sergio Aguero of Manchester City celebrates scoring his sides second goal  during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Manchester City at the Liberty Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Everything about Manchester City’s start to the 2016/17 Premier League season has been right, and Bacary Sagna is already praising the squad’s biggest attacking threat.

[ MORE: Podolski displeased with Mourinho’s treatment of Schweinsteiger ]

With the Citizens already on 18 points and unbeaten in their opening six matches, the veteran defender was quick to note the importance of Argentine striker Sergio Aguero — who has already notched five tallies.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Aguero, 28, has posted nine straight double-digit goalscoring seasons, dating back to his time in La Liga with Atletico Madrid. Last season, the Argentine netted 29 goals across all competitions, including 24 finishes in the PL.

“He is one of the best players I have played with, not just because he scores goals but also because of his attitude – he always wants to give his maximum for his team and bring the team up,” Sagna said of Aguero’s effort.

“His two goals showed his class. He has such desire in front of the box, and in the box itself. He is great.”

Podolski displeased with Mourinho’s treatment of Schweinsteiger

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  Bastian Schweinsteiger of Manchester United in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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The Jose Mourinho-Bastian Schweinsteiger relationship is a very puzzling situation for Manchester United, and most outsiders appear to be taking the German’s side.

[ MORE: De Bruyne sidelined a month with hamstring injury ]

Former teammate Lukas Podolski has chimed in on the matter, pointing out Schweinsteiger’s decorated career for both club and country.

[ MORE: Lewis Baker stuns Twente with long-distance golazo ]

Since the arrival of Mourinho this summer, the Portuguese manager has made it clear that the 32-year-old isn’t his plans, including dropping Schweinsteiger to United’s reserves.

Podolski recently spoke to Bild about the situation:

“When you look at the career Bastian has had, I can only say that what is happening there is simply not right for a player of his stature,” Podolski said.

“I do not know what Mourinho has discussed with Bastian. But is clear that it is not okay to drop someone like Basti to the reserves.

“A coach should always keep his door open to all players, and especially to players like Schweini.”

While Schweinsteiger’s contract doesn’t run out until 2018, the volatile relationship between the Red Devils midfielder and Mourinho certainly looks to be one that won’t last much longer.