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2014 World Cup team preview: Switzerland

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Getting to know… Switzerland: Mainstays in and around the World Cup, Switzerland made the last 16 in 2006 but lost in a penalty shootout to Ukraine after not conceding a goal the entire tournament. In 2010 they went out in the group stages despite beating eventual champions Spain 1-0 in their opening game. Switzerland have now qualified for six-straight major tournaments and with a young squad brimming with confidence, this World Cup has the potential to be a breakout tournament for the No. 8 team in the world. The furthest the Swiss have gone at the World Cup is making the quarterfinals three times in the opening six tournaments, the last time being in 1954 when they hosted the showpiece event.

Record in qualifying: Switzerland breezed through qualifying and were unbeaten in 10 games, keeping an impressive seven clean sheets. They weren’t in a strong group but you can only beat what’s in front of you. Seven wins from 10 and there only competition being Iceland and Slovenia means that their World Cup warm up games over the past six months have been hugely important in preparing them for this summer.

What group are they in? They are in Group E alongside France, Honduras and Ecuador. Switzerland are the top seed and will be expecting to make it through to the last 16. Ultimately the French and Swiss will battle it out for top spot but they will have intense competition from their Central and South American opponents.

Game schedule:

15 June, 12:00, Brasilia – Switzerland vs. Ecuador

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

25 June, 16:00, Manaus – Honduras vs. Switzerland

source: AP
The Swiss could shock everyone this summer.

Star player: Gokhan Inler

Captain of Switzerland and the heart and soul of the team, Inler played a pivotal role at the last two major tournaments for the Swiss. He sits in front of the back four and break up the play superbly, which allows the speedy wingers to pile forward and gives Switzerland a solid foundation to build off. Inler’s pedigree at Napoli and Udinese in Serie A is proven and his experience will be vital.

Manager: Ottmar Hitzfeld

The Bayern Munich legend will step down after the tournament after doing a wonderful job with the Swiss. Hitzfeld has been in charge since 2008 and his tactical nous has turned Switzerland into a well organized team who are extremely hard to break down. Clean sheets galore and an astute tactical acumen are his trademark and make no doubt about it, the Swiss side is a lot better than everybody thinks. That is down to Hitzfeld.

Secret weapon: Xherdan Shaqiri

A tricky winger who has great pace and does the unexpected, Shaqiri has had a frustrating season at club level. The Bayern Munich man is behind Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery in the pecking order after his big money move from Basel. Shaqiri is Switzerland’s main attacking threat and a real live wire in and around the box. The 22-year-old has scored eight goals in 32 appearances and is alongside Switzerland’s young attacking core (none of the five strikers are over the age of 24) Shaqiri will show plenty of defenders a clean set of heels this summer.

Prediction: The Swiss have been surprised packages towards the top of the FIFA World rankings for a number of years now. Many would suggest that is no fluke. Well organized and extremely hard to beat, Hitzfeld has introduced plenty of exciting youngsters into his side and they could cause a few shocks in Brazil after their impressive qualifying campaign. Expect them to battle it out with Ecuador for the second spot behind France in Group E.

Is NYCFC showing Mix Diskerud the door? (Photo)

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 01:  Mikkel 'Mix' Diskerud #8 of the USA looks on during the singing of the national anthem prior to their international friendly match against the Korea Republic at StubHub Center on February 1, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The USA defeated the Korea Republic 2-0.  (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
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Since arriving on the New York City scene two years ago it’s fair to summarize Mix Diskerud’s tenure with New York City FC as a disappointment.

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While the expectations of a quick transition from life in Europe to MLS were surely massive, the 26-year-old midfielder has failed to live up to the billing of not only being one of the NYCFC’s highest-paid players but also as a potential U.S. Men’s National Team candidate.

Diskerud saw his playing time dwindle down from 23 starts in 2015 to nine this past season under new manager Patrick Vieira, and it doesn’t appear that the Norwegian-American will see an influx of opportunities during the upcoming 2017 season.

Rumors have surfaced throughout the offseason about NYCFC potentially buying out Diskerud’s contract, however, the midfielder’s cryptic post to social media on Sunday afternoon suggests that he may not be in New York for much longer.

Somebody told me I'm not part of a plan and if he was I – he'd run like the others ran 'cause the budget is tight and binding contracts might be broken, to improve 5-6 positions – in exchange for only one man. – He went on to say; "the message is clear – unless you're clueless – 'cause you've lived it all'year since the budget is tight and binding contracts might not need to be broken if…. you crack, kneel or leave the hemisphere" – Who could tell so straight and clearly tales of destiny I fight sincerely when mental games are attempting aims to make me rage severely? – On and on the conversation went about money spent and special rules and mgt's tools and something about allocation being different cent – I wish I had right there – my pad 'cause then my favorite line fused by Robin Williams spine would play dead poets – real bad

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It has been suggested that Diskerud would possibly consider a return to Europe in the event that his contract was in fact bought out, however, the difference in salaries would likely be drastic.

According to figures released by the MLS Players’ Union, Diskerud made $761,250 in 2016, which was the fourth-highest salary on NYCFC books behind only David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo, each of whom were classified as Designated Players.

Report: Aguero seeking Real Madrid move at season’s end

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21:  Sergio Aguero of manchester City in action during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad Stadium on January 21, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Gabriel Jesus was a revelation for Manchester City before suffering an injury, but even with a spot in the lineup for the time being Sergio Aguero may not be coming back to Manchester City next season.

[ MORE: Lucky Man United, Mourinho begin trophy haul ]

According to the Sun, Spanish giants Real Madrid are eyeing up a move for Aguero in the hopes that the Argentine striker will join the club at the conclusion of the Premier League season.

Prior to joining City back in 2011, Aguero played five seasons in La Liga with Atletico Madrid, where he scored 101 goals in all competitions for the Rojiblancos.

While Aguero is likely to hold his starting spot for some time due to Jesus’ injured metatarsal, manager Pep Guardiola had heavily favored the young forward over Aguero since officially joining the club in January.

U.S. U-20s paired with Mexico, El Salvador in CONCACAF knockout round

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Tab Ramos’ side completed their first task, but now the U.S. Under-20 national team has its next challenge lying in front of them.

[ MORE: Whitecaps acquire Brek Shea from Orlando City in trade ]

The U.S. U-20s finished second in Group B at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship after winning two of its three group stage matches.

Now, Mexico and El Salvador await the U-20s in the classification stage with a spot at May’s Under-20 World Cup in South Korea on the line.

During the classification round there will be two groups of three teams, with the top two teams advancing to the World Cup. Each group winner will meet in the CONCACAF Championship final.

Classification stage schedule

Group D

Feb. 27 — U.S. U-20s vs. Mexico

Mar. 1 — Mexico vs. El Salvador

Mar. 3 — U.S. U-20s vs. El Salvador

Group E

Feb. 27 — Panama vs. Honduras

Mar. 1 — Honduras vs. Costa Rica

Mar. 3 — Panama vs. Costa Rica

Claude Puel calls for video replay after Gabbiadini goal called off

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Manolo Gabbiadini of Southampton takes on Eric Bailly of Manchester United during the EFL Cup Final match between Manchester United and Southampton at Wembley Stadium on February 26, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Manolo Gabbiadini performed brilliantly in Sunday’s EFL Cup final, but was the Southampton striker unfairly gipped of a hat-trick?

[ MORE: Lucky Man United, Mourinho begin trophy haul ]

Saints manager Claude Puel certainly believes so.

[ MORE: Three things from Man United’s win vs. Southampton ]

While the back-and-forth final between Southampton and Manchester United presented a tremendous matchup, the Saints had every right to be furious with the officiating in the early going after Gabbiadini’s 11th minute finish was called off for offsides.

“I would like, of course, video in the future for these situations,” said Puel. “It’s very hard when we see this game to lose. It was cruel.”

Gabbiadini went on to score a pair of goals at the tail end of the first half and early in the second stanza, but Puel was pleased with his side’s resilience after going down 2-0 inside the opening 38 minutes.

“We kept the good attitude and spirit to stay in the game after going 2-0 down,” said the Southampton boss. “We played since the beginning of the season every two or three days. We played to a strong and fantastic level. It’s important now to continue this work, to put away this disappointment and come back in the Premier League with this strength and this quality.”

Video replay has been a common discussion for some time now, but more leagues are beginning to examine the possibility. FIFA is prepared to introduce new experimental trials over the coming months and could present a form of replay at next summer’s World Cup in Russia.