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.”

Why Arsenal can win the Premier League title

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LONDON — Before the 2015-16 Premier League season began, all of the momentum was behind Arsenal’s bid to win the Premier League title for the first time since 2003-04.

Eight weeks in, despite a topsy-turvy start to the season, the momentum is once again building behind Arsene Wenger‘s men as they rode a blistering start to seal a 3-0 win over fellow title contenders Manchester United on Sunday.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Many would suggest United fell at their first major hurdle this season, with Arsenal’s fluid front three of Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil ripping apart their makeshift backline. But what about the Gunners, can they kick on and sustain a lengthy title challenge?

[ MORE: Brendan Rodgers fired ]

Manchester City is their biggest challenger, with the offensive power of Manuel Pellegrini‘s side making them the title favorites. However, considering how easily Arsenal brushed aside United thanks to their supreme attacking talents, Wenger’s men have supreme attackers of their own and sent out a message out to the rest of the PL. At least, that’s what striker Walcott had to say after he set up two goals and put in a dominant display.

“After the Olympiakos disappointment we started this game completely differently. We caught them on the break, we maybe eased off in the second half but the clean sheet was crucial for the whole team today,” Walcott said. “This game will send out a message to the Premier League that we are ready to have a go this season.”

So, according to Theo they are ready, but why can Arsenal win the title?


After his summer signing from Chelsea, the Czech Republic stopper has cemented himself as the undisputed No. 1 for the Gunners… no matter what Wenger says. The Arsenal manager was lambasted for leaving Cech out of Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League defeat to Olympiakos last week, as his replacement, David Ospina, made a howler to hand the Greek side a 3-2 defeat, but Cech proved his importance to Arsenal once again on Sunday. Looking past his mistakes in the opening day defeat to West Ham United, Cech has already made several stop saves this season (hence the bemusement for him being left out of the UCL games) and although Arsenal led 3-0 after 19 minutes on Sunday he was called into action at pivotal stages.

Right on half time Anthony Martial got free in the box and Cech saved at close range, gobbling up the Frenchman’s low shot. Not long into the second half he showed great bravery to dive at the feet of Bastian Schweinsteiger and he was faultless throughout as he claimed high balls and marshaled Arsenal’s backline. Cech, 33, won everything possible with Chelsea, now he could be the key cog in Arsenal’s quest for glory.


Arsenal’s success on Sunday was largely down to having a settled front three who all knew their jobs and performed them with ruthless efficiency. With Walcott through the middle, Alexis Sanchez off to the left and Mesut Ozil off to the right, the Gunners possessed the perfect amount of creativity and pace. With Olivier Giroud up top, the Gunners are sometimes too reliant on knocking high balls up to the Frenchman and hoping for the best. With the Walcott-Sanchez-Ozil trio, United couldn’t deal with their movement in behind their backline.

It may have been Sanchez and Ozil who got the goals, but Wenger reserved special praise for Walcott after the game as his non-stop running saw the England international lauded by the home fans throughout.

“I hope and I believe it can,” Wenger said when asked if the trio is the answer. “I must say, Walcott had a hugely committed performance today and a very convincing one. He didn’t score but I like to praise the strikers when they don’t score but contribute and give assists. He was involved in two goals and he showed that he can fight and commit and protect the ball as well. He is gaining aspects of his game as a center forward and is improving.”


When you look at the rest of the Premier League, the title race doesn’t seem wide-open. Yes, United, City and Arsenal have all lost two of their opening eight games of the season, while Chelsea has lost four times, but when you look at it overall, only Arsenal and City have the credentials to challenge for the title. Given City’s tendency to blow hot and cold, there may have not been a better time for the Gunners to win the title in the past 10 seasons.

Arsenal have now faced Chelsea away and Manchester United at home, while their next six PL fixtures (trips to Watford, Swansea, West Brom and Norwich, plus home games against Tottenham and Everton) give them a chance to set up a battle with City for the top spot between now and the busy festive period. Wenger agreed with Walcott and believes his side sent out a statement to the rest of the PL as they thrashed United.

“To win in a big game is always a statement and we are in it, you know. We are two points off the leaders Manchester City,” Wenger said. “I hope that result today will give us belief and ambition to fight for it [the title], yes.”

Who next? Klopp, Ancelotti main contenders to take over at Liverpool

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With Brendan Rodgers fired by Liverpool on Sunday, the first question many are asking is: who is next?

Rodgers, 42, was sacked just eight games into his fourth season in charge at Anfield, as a poor start to the current campaign, coupled with spending over $280 million on largely under-performing new players in the past two summers, has seen the Northern Irishman lose his job.

[ MORE: Rodgers fired by Liverpool ]

Despite almost leading Liverpool to their first Premier League title in 2013-14, Rodgers’ side have been on a downward spiral ever since. With the likes of Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling all leaving Anfield over the past 12 months, the pressure has been building on Rodgers as his new recruits haven’t been up to scratch.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Rodgers getting sacked ]

The former Swansea City manager is famed for creating an attractive brand of soccer, but with talk surrounding a transfer committee making plenty of decisions on signing new players, his assistant coaches being fired in the summer and growing unrest as Liverpool have failed to win any silverware during his time in charge, it proved too much for Rodgers to withstand.

Let’s take a quick look at the main contenders to take over at Anfield:

  • Jurgen Klopp – The former Borussia Dortmund manager is the overwhelming favorite to take over. His passion and ability to reignite a sleeping giant with a large fanbase (see: Dortmund) will resonate strongly with Liverpool’s owners. He won two Bundesliga titles at Dortmund with a young, exciting team and also led them to the UEFA Champions League final in 2013. The German coach speaks very good English and is currently on a self-imposed sabbatical after leaving Dortmund at the end of last season. Klopp has been waiting for a chance to manage in England for quite some time. Now, it seems to have arrived.
  • Carlo Ancelotti – He delivered the Premier League during his two seasons at Chelsea, and Ancelotti is a man with an incredible resume when it comes to winning the biggest trophies at the biggest clubs in Europe. He led AC Milan to a Serie A title and two UEFA Champions League trophies, then led Real Madrid to Champions League glory in 2014 before leaving last summer. Many believe Ancelotti is a man you bring in to manage top class players, which Liverpool is lacking at this point in time. At 56, could this job be too late in his career to undertake?
  • Frank de Boer – A long shot, the Dutch manager has done exceptionally well with a small budget and a group of young players at Ajax. He has won four Dutch titles in five years as Ajax boss. This would be way out of left field if it happens, but de Boer has the pedigree from a fine playing career and has cultivated an exciting playing style in Amsterdam.
  • Walter Mazzarri – The former Napoli manager brought plenty of success to Stadio San Paolo as he brought an attacking brand of soccer in a 3-4-3 formation and took the Serie A side to the UEFA Champions League. He didn’t fare so well at Inter Milan, but Mazzarri has a track record of working with exciting attacking players such as Hamsik, Cavani and Lavezzi.
  • Who else? – That is the biggest question and perhaps points to why the decision to fire Rodgers is baffling, if Liverpool don’t have a replacement already lined up. Current PL managers such as Garry Monk and Ronald Koeman have been mentioned, as well as Zenit St Petersbug boss Andre Villas-Boas, but the truth of the matter is, outside of Klopp and Ancelotti, there doesn’t seem to be many managers capable of taking Liverpool to the next level of challenging for silverware and getting back into the UEFA Champions League.