2014 World Cup team preview: Argentina

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Getting to know… Argentina: Heading into this tournament Argentina are one of the favorites as the South American side aim to win their third World Cup. With Lionel Messi leading the way and the tournament being played in Brazil, their fierce rivals, Argentina will be hoping to upset the host nation. Argentina have two previous World Cups to their name as they won on home soil in 1978, then were inspired by Diego Maradona at the height of his power to win the 1986 tournament in Mexico. When you look at the incredible attacking talents they possess, Argentina will be a real threat this summer. However the last two tournaments they were also one of the favorites but fell at the quarterfinal stage on both occasions. They must do better this time around.

Record in qualifying: The South American powerhouse breezed through qualification from CONMEBOL as they finished top of the standings. Nine wins from 16 games and only two defeats saw La Albiceleste brush off Colombia and Chile to take the top seed. Messi banged in 10 goals, Gonzalo Higuain scored nine and the likes of Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero also chipped in with plenty of important strikes as Argentina finished with 35 goals to finish as top scorers. With old foes Brazil qualifying automatically at hosts, qualifying was a lot easier than it usually is for Argentina.

Which group are they in? The Argentine’s find themselves in Group F alongside dark horses Bosnia, outsiders Iran and African champions Nigeria. Simply put, they are huge favorites to win their group. If they do not, ,massive questions will be asked of manager Alejandro Sabella as to why he is not getting the best from his talented squad.

Game schedule:

15 June, 18:00, Rio de Janeiro – Argentina vs. Bosnia

21 June, 12:00, Belo Horizonte – Argentina vs. Iran

25 June, 12:00, Porto Alegre – Nigeria vs. Argentina.

Star player: Lionel Messi

The skipper is ready to break out at a World Cup and after an unsuccessful season with FC Barcelona in Spain, expect Messi to be fired up and ready to go. This is the tournament where he will be in his prime and Messi’s powers should rip apart all of Argentina’s group stage opponents. In the past many have criticized Messi’s performances for the national team but he has scored 37 goals in 83 appearances for Argentina. That is nowhere near his incredible numbers at club level and reflects his slight struggles internationally and the expectation of a nation on his shoulders. Messi has won everything else in the game, all he needs now is a World Cup.

source: Getty Images
Can Aguero and Messi fire Argentina to victory in Brazil?

Manager: Alejandro Sabella

A former assistant coach of Argentina under Daniel Passarella, Sabella has excelled since taking charge in the summer of 2011. The former Argentine national team player has a win percentage of just under 60 percent and has only lost four of his 32 games in charge of La Albiceleste. Sabella coached Estudiantes to Copa Libertadores success in 2009 and with Messi, Higuain, Di Maria and Aguero up top, he has been able to get the best out of Argentina’s attackers.

Secret weapon: Being behind enemy lines

Argentina will hop over the border to compete for the World Cup in Brazil. They will face a hostile atmosphere and plenty of adversity during the tournament from the home fans. Dealing with that adversity is key and can often get the best out of teams. If Argentina can succeed in channeling the negative energy shown towards them into a positive, then that will forge a fantastic team spirit.

Prediction: With their supreme attacking talents Argentina should blow teams away in Brazil however the one area you have to say is pretty weak is in defense. Martin Demichelis was in and out during his first season at Manchester City but the veteran will be at the heart of Argentina’s defense. If they can stay tight at the back like they did in qualifying, they have every chance of contesting the final against their old foes Brazil. What a final that would be.

Report: Mourinho to get bumper $89 million extension at Man Utd

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Jose Mourinho is in the third month of his second season in charge of Manchester United, and may join Antonio Conte as men to get a second contract early in his term.

Goal.com says Paris Saint-Germain’s interest in Mourinho will spur United chairman Ed Woodward into action.

Unlike Conte, who received improved terms and the same length at Chelsea, the report says Mourinho will get a new five-year deal.

[ MORE: Yaya Toure to NYCFC? ]

The report says Mourinho’s terms would be worth almost $89 million over the length of the deal, close to $18 million per season.

The 54-year-old has never spent more than four years at a club, his longest stay as an assistant as Barcelona. Last season, he won the Europa League and League Cup for United while finishing sixth in the Premier League.

This season, United is off to a second-place start, leading Spurs on goal differential following a first loss of the season Saturday at Huddersfield Town.

This is about money and security for Mourinho who, let’s face it, probably won’t stay at United for five seasons. It would go against his record, and it’s difficult to imagine he’ll buck his career trend and make it five years. The new deal would be a raise, keep him from PSG for now, and probably will do the trick.

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Report: Yaya Toure lined up by New York City FC

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There are few details, but a report tabbed as exclusive by The Manchester Evening News says a new midfield force could be headed to Major League Soccer.

Yaya Toure’s resurgent 2016-17 has not been followed by a busy 2017-18, at least not yet, as the report says Yaya is set to head to New York City FC following the departure of Andrea Pirlo.

[ MORE: Koeman fired | Who’s in line? ]

Toure, who turns 35 in May, has regularly been on the subs bench for Pep Guardiola this season after signing a one-year contract. He’s played 29 minutes as a sub over the last two Premier League matches, and his lone start came in a League Cup win over West Brom, where he captained City.

Toure has 59 goals and 33 assists in 222 Premier League matches.

The Ivorian is not a pace monger, but neither were Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and both were effective when healthy in MLS. Toure’s powerful presence in the midfield could be worth the wage packet and headache, but we’d pay a penny for Patrick Vieira’s thoughts.

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Italy’s once-vaunted ‘BBC’ defense is showing its age

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ROME (AP) With a combined age of 99, Italy’s once vaunted “BBC” defensive trio is showing its years.

The Azzurri will still rely on Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini in a World Cup playoff against Sweden next month but the signs in Serie A lately have not been encouraging.

[ MORE: Koeman fired | Who’s in line? ]

Bonucci’s red card with AC Milan over the weekend was the latest in a series of poor performances after his high-profile transfer from Juventus made him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Chiellini and Barzagli were beaten for goals twice by Ciro Immobile in Juventus’ 2-1 home loss to Lazio less than 10 days ago, and Chiellini was again off form in the Bianconeri’s 6-2 victory over Udinese on Sunday.

Chiellini was fooled by Stipe Perica for Udinese’s first goal and then left Danilo unmarked to head in another as he appealed for an offside call that never came.

Bonucci is 30, Chiellini is 33 and Barzagli is 36.

While Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura has shown interest in developing new talent, he has shown no indication that he plans to cast aside the “BBC” when it counts.

After all, Italy has historically been slow to incorporate younger players, especially defenders.

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That means the likes of Daniele Rugani (who plays for Juventus), Alessio Romagnoli (Milan) or Mattia Caldara (Atalanta) – who are all in their 20s – may have to wait for their chances with the Azzurri.

But Ventura would do well to remember how Marcello Lippi kept Fabio Cannavaro and other veterans in the lineup at the 2010 World Cup only to acknowledge after the first-round exit that he made a mistake and was overly influenced by the older players’ performance en route to the title four years earlier.

From Franco Baresi to Giuseppe Bergomi to Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Cannavaro and the “BBC,” strong center backs have been a source of uninterrupted pride for the Azzurri for decades.

Gianluigi Buffon in goal has also provided a security blanket for nearly 20 years but he, too, is approaching the end of his career and will likely retire after this season – or after his record sixth World Cup if Italy qualifies.

Italy’s hopes of avoiding the playoffs were dashed with a debilitating 3-0 loss in Spain last month that offered a first hint of defensive problems. The defeat ended Italy’s 11-year unbeaten run in qualifiers for World Cups and European Championships.

[ MORE: Mbappe named Golden Boy ]

The Azzurri attributed the loss to Spain on Sept. 2 to a lack of physical condition so early in the season.

Bonucci, it was figured, just needed some time to adapt to his new surroundings at Milan.

In July, Bonucci completed a surprise transfer from Juventus, where he clashed with coach Massimiliano Allegri last season and was memorably left in the tribune for a Champions League match at Porto.

The transfer fee topped 40 million euros (nearly $50 million) and Bonucci signed a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros (nearly $12 million) per season. He was also made captain before he ever wore a Milan shirt.

When Milan started to falter a month ago, physical trainer Emanuele Marra was fired – reportedly in large part because Bonucci demanded better fitness preparation.

But Bonucci was out run by Mauro Icardi on Inter Milan’s first goal when the striker scored a hat trick in a 3-2 derby win eight days ago. He was also to blame for the second, failing to mark Icardi in the area.

Things got even worse for Bonucci when he was sent off in the first half of Milan’s 0-0 draw at home with Genoa on Sunday for elbowing a defender in the head as he jostled for position on a free kick.

[ LIGUE 1: Neymar sent off ]

Bonucci will likely be given a multiple-match ban, which would exclude him from facing Juventus next Sunday and could affect his form for the Nov. 10 and 13 playoffs.

“Leo is a champion,” Buffon said. “He’ll become decisive again. But it makes me feel calmer knowing that we won’t have to face him on Saturday.”

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

MLS Playoff bracket, dates set: Chicago, Vancouver host Tues.

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Major League Soccer’s playoff bracket is set. Our staff predictions are coming Tuesday before the first round match-ups, but here’s what we’ll be watching…

[ MORE: Mbappe named Golden Boy ]

The chase begins with Chicago and the Red Bulls, and San Jose heading to Vancouver. The Quakes drew the ‘Caps just over a week ago, on Oct. 15.

First round
(E3) Chicago vs. (E6) New York Red Bulls — 8:30 p.m. ET Tuesday
(W3) Vancouver vs. (W6) San Jose — 10:30 p.m. ET Tuesday
(E4) Atlanta vs. (E5) Columbus — 7 p.m. ET Wednesday
(W4) Houston vs. (W5) Sporting KC — 9:30 p.m. ET Wednesday

Conference semifinals
(W1) Portland vs.  San Jose, Houston, or Sporting KC
(W2) Seattle vs. Houston, Sporting KC, or Vancouver
(E1) Toronto vs. New York Red Bulls, Atlanta, or Columbus
(E2) New York City vs. Atlanta, Columbus, or Chicago

Conference finals
Eastern Conference — Nov. 21 and Nov. 28 or 29
Western Conference — Nov. 21 and Nov. 30

MLS Cup Final
At finalist with best record — 4 p.m. ET Dec. 9

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