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Ronaldo’s return boosts Portugal just in time for World Cup

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There was some hesitation, there were some tentative movements and there was a brief injury scare on Tuesday, but for the first time in over two weeks, Cristiano Ronaldo played in a competitive match on Tuesday.

In a run-up to a World Cup in which star players being ruled out due to injury have become daily headlines, Portugal welcomed back the Ballon d’Or winner in Tuesday’s 5-1 victory over Ireland at MetLife Stadium.

He started and went 65 minutes in his return from lingering issues with tendinosis around his knee and a separate, mysterious thigh injury, playing a key role in two of Portugal’s goals. Ronaldo’s return to the pitch eases what was a growing concern that he might join the laundry list of injured stars — from Colombia’s Radamel Falcao, to France’s Franck Ribery and the Netherlands’ Rafael van der Vaart — as those missing out on the World Cup, but Ronaldo looked fit on Tuesday.

But Ronaldo is healthy enough — even if not 100 percent — and so too are midfielder Raul Meirelles and defender Pepe. Both were also struggling with injuries, but Meirelles looked sharp in his 65 minutes on the pitch, and Pepe closed out the match.

“Physically, all of the players are fit to play, so there are no concerns whatsoever,” coach Paulo Bento said postgame.

Thirteen minutes into Tuesday’s match, Bento’s decision to start Ronaldo looked like it could be disastrous. The captain was tackled 35 yards from goal and went down grabbing that troublesome left knee, which had a band wrapped around it. Ronaldo shook it off, though, and continued on to create some dangerous combinations on the left wing with fullback Fábio Coentrão.

“I think it’s great for the team,” Portugal midfielder Nani, who had two assists on Tuesday, said of Ronaldo’s return. “It showed tonight – he’s good, he’s well, he can help the team. I think in the first game he will be 100 percent, too.”

The hesitance from Ronaldo was clear at times as he pulled out of some tackles and looked slower than usual on the ball. He warmed up cautiously, too, taking it easy in the small-sided game during warmups and he looked like someone who was cautious to not over-exerting himself shooting.

What was abundantly obvious, though, is that Ronaldo at any percentage of health is a major positive for Portugal, who looked flat and uninspiring against Mexico on Friday without their captain.

On Tuesday, his cheeky backheel to Coentrão led to Portugal’s second goal, and Ronaldo’s header that was initially saved was then finished by Hugo Almeida for Portugal’s third goal. One of Ronaldo’s signature free kicks smacked the post in the 19th minute, and he had several surging diagonal runs in which he cut in from the left flank to have a dangerous opportunity on goal.

But exactly how the superstar feels continues to remain a mystery. Ronaldo didn’t talk to the press after emerging from the locker room over two hours after the final whistle.

The message from his coach and teammates, though — as vague and guarded as it may be — is that Ronaldo is healthy enough to not only play, but make an impact. That’s the best news Portugal can get as they open up Group G play against heavyweights Germany on Monday.

“He had a good match. Considering he hadn’t played competitively for a few weeks, I thought he did well,” Bento said. “Players like Ronaldo are definitely important for any team they play for. It’s good for us. We are delighted.”

Report: French outfit Nice interested in adding Liverpool’s Balotelli

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 14:  Mario Balotelli of AC Milan looks on during the Serie A match between AC Milan and AS Roma at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 14, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images
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Mario Balotelli could soon have a new home, according to the BBC’s Phil McNulty.

The mercurial Italian striker, 26, has one league goal in each of his last two seasons (spent between Liverpool and AC Milan).

Jurgen Klopp is ready for Balotelli to find a home away from Anfield and McNulty says that place could be OGC Nice, where he’d join newly-signed ex-Bayern man Dante. Balotelli also had talks with Sion in Switzerland, according to the report.

The striker was a blazing hot commodity after scoring 17 goals for Manchester City in 2011-12, and again after netting 18 for AC Milan in 2013-14.

Balotelli has 13 goals in 33 caps for Italy, but hasn’t appeared for the national team since 2014.

Report: West Ham lands Zaza from Juventus for $32 million

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 07: Simone Zaza of Juventus in action during the Pre-Season Friendly between West Ham United and Juventus at The Olympic Stadium on August 7, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images
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After months and months of trying to land a big name striker, it seems West Ham has done just that.

David Amoyal of DiMarzio says that Juventus striker Simone Zaza is on his way to the London Stadium for a medical which will seal a $32 million transfer to West Ham.

[ MORE: Chelsea adds EURO champion ]

Zaza, 25, made his name as Sassuolo before moving to Juve last season, and forced his way into the national team. He has 14 caps with one goal, but is perhaps better remembered at this point for missing a penalty — with a creative run-up —  in Italy’s final EURO game.

The striker had been linked with West Ham as far back as this time last season.

This move should help insure the Hammers avoid too many goalless outcome moving forward, even with Andy Carroll and Andre Ayew out for a while.

That’ll be music to Slaven Bilic‘s ears. The manager said, “The disappointment is massive” after his side couldn’t break down Astra Giurgiu and dropped out of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday.

Chelsea adds No. 2 goalkeeper from Portugal’s EURO winning squad

LISBON, PORTUGAL - JULY 11: Portuguese goalkeeper Eduardo  during the meeting with the countries President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa for the Portugal Euro 2016 Victory ceremonies at Lisbon on July 11, 2016 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)
Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images
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Chelsea have added some depth at the very back.

Eduardo’s the name, and the 33-year-old Portuguese backstop arrives at Stamford Bridge with a decent resume, having been on the roster for his country’s EURO 2016 triumph.

[ MORE: Stambouli, Bentaleb reunited ]

USMNT fans will remember him from his time between the sticks for Portugal at the 2014 World Cup. He has 35 caps, and has been with Dinamo Zagreb since 2014.

From ChelseaFC.com:

‘All the colleagues I have always say the dream is to come to the Premier League, where there are the best clubs and the best players, and the opportunity to come here arrived at this moment.

‘I am happy to be here and I hope I meet the expectations people have for me.’

Eduardo certainly won’t be taking over for Thibaut Courtois, but will definitely provide competition for No. 2 Asmir Begovic.

UEFA Europa roundup: West Ham bounced by Astra Giurgiu; Genk, Gent, Anderlecht roll on

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Angelo Ogbonna of West Ham and Takayuki Seto of FC Astra Giurgiu battle for possesion during the UEFA Europa League match between West Ham United and FC Astra Giurgiu at the Olympic Stadium on August 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images
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West Ham dominated the game but not the score line against Romanian side Astra Giurgiu, who advanced to the UEFA Europa League group stage with a 1-0 win at London Stadium on Thursday.

Well-traveled French midfielder Filipe Teixeira did the damage for Astra Giurgiu, as the former West Brom and Barnsley man scored in the 45th minute to give the visitors a 2-1 lead on aggregate after the sides went 1-1 in Romania last week.

The Irons carried possession and a wealth of shots, but couldn’t find their way past Romanian international goalkeeper Silviu Lung, Jr.

[ MORE: Stambouli, Bentaleb reunited at Schalke ]

Sassuolo star Domenico Berardi scored in a 1-1 draw with Red Star Belgrade, completing a 4-1 score line.

Elsewhere, a hat trick from Slovan Liberec’s Jan Sykora led the Czech side to a 3-0 second leg win, and 4-0 aggregate defeat of Cypriot side AEK Larnaca.

Gent got a pair of goals from giant Malian striker Kalifa Coulibaly as the Belgians completed a 6-1 aggregate win over Shkendija.

Full scoreboard
West Ham United 0-1 (agg. 1-2) Astra Giurgiu
Astana 2-2 (agg. 4-2) BATE Borisov
Arouca 1-2 (agg. 1-3) Olympiacos
Midtjylland 0-3 (agg. 0-4) Osmanlispor
Trencin 2-0 (agg. 0-4) Rapid Wien
Lokomotiva 0-2 (agg. 2-4) Genk
AEK Larnaca 0-3 (agg. 0-4) Slovan Liberec
Dinamo Tbilisi 0-2 (agg. 0-5) PAOK
Austria Wien 2-1 (agg. 4-2) Rosenborg
Beitar Jerusalem 0-0 (agg. 1-2) Saint-Etienne
Vojvodina 0-0 (agg. 0-3) AZ Alkmaar
Gabala 0-1 (agg. 3-2) Maribor
Slavia Prague 0-3 (agg. 0-6) Anderlecht
Fenerbahce 2-0 (agg. 3-0) Grasshopper
Panathinaikos 1-1 (agg. 4-1) Brondby
Krasnodar 0-0 (agg. 4-0) Partizani Tirana
Gent 4-0 (agg. 6-1) Shkendija
Istanbul Basaksehir 0-2 (agg. 1-4) Shakhtar Donetsk
SonderjyskE 2-3 (agg. 2-3) Sparta Prague
Sassuolo 1-1 (agg. 4-1) Red Star Belgrade
Goteborg 0-3 (agg. 1-3) Qarabag
Maccabi Tel Aviv 1-2 (agg. 3-3) Hajduk Split