140610_Ronaldo

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.”

PREVIEW: Tottenham Hotspur’s “To Dare Is To Do”

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The latest Premier League Download makes its debut on Sunday, as we dive deep into Tottenham Hotspur.

With a brand new stadium under construction and a solid look at perennial top-end pushes, Spurs are among the more intriguing stories in the Premier League.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League Picks ]

Spurs host Stoke City on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN, and “Tottenham Hotspur: To Dare Is To Do” debuts at 11 a.m. EDT, right after the match.

Ahead of Boro, Allardyce rips his Palace players

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 04: Sam Allardyce, Manager of Crystal Palace looks on during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Sunderland at Selhurst Park on February 4, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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Sam Allardyce continues to have a public go at his players.

The embattled Crystal Palace boss says his resume should have his Eagles players latching onto his directives. He’s previously said he “thought it would be easier“.

The Eagles, seemingly, aren’t. Palace has dropped in form since Allardyce took over for Alan Pardew, and sits 19th in the PL table.

[ MORE: Who is Man Utd opponent Rostov? ]

That’s only two points from safety, and Allardyce isn’t massaging his players to get them over the hump. From The Guardian:

“The advice I’ve given [players] over the years must have been pretty good because I’ve been managing at this level for such a long time now,” said Allardyce.

“My experience and my qualifications are far greater than theirs. They can talk about tactics and systems, that’s fine, but they’re players are they’re paid to play. I’m the manager, and the system and tactics are my expertise, not theirs. When I set those out, they have to put them into practice. Stay focused, stay within the game-plan.”

Allardyce has won less than 36 percent of his matches at every stop except West Ham since 2007, and he went 68W-46D-68L with the Irons. Palace has a massive match against visiting Middlesbrough this weekend, and this is one heck of a risky ploy to motivate his troops.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 26

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Premier League action is back after the FA Cup break, with plenty of big games on the way.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

[ VIDEO: Previews of every game

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush”

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Leicester City 1-4 Liverpool – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Hull City 2-0 Burnley – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

West Brom 3-1 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Chelsea 3-1 Swansea City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Crystal Palace 1-1 Middlesbrough – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Everton 1-1 Sunderland– (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Watford 1-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Tottenham 2-2 Stoke City – (Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Report: Sounders on verge of adding AC Milan’s Honda

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 21: Keisuke Honda of AC Milan attends prior the Serie A match between AC Milan and SSC Napoli at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 21, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
Photo by Getty Images
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The Seattle Sounders may have a game-changing transfer on their hands (inasmuch as a game can be changed for a reigning MLS Cup winner).

AC Milan is reportedly willing to release Keisuke Honda from his contract, clearing the way for Seattle to add the 30-year-old attacker.

Honda has 36 goals in 82 caps for Japan, and has played just 15 minutes in Serie A since Oct. 25 despite his status as a regular call-up for country.

[ MOURINHO: Ranieri firing is absurd ]

This untenable situation would be a boon for Seattle, who would gain Honda despite recent gossip linking him to Watford, Southampton, Spurs, and others.

The idea of Honda on the pitch with Nicolas Lodeiro and Clint Dempsey could spell a major sophomore season for forward Jordan Morris.

If this Japanese import has even a modicum of the success as another Seattle team’s look to Asia — See: Suzuki, Ichiro — look out.