Golden Ball and Golden Boot predictions

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The World Cup is just a day away, and with World Cup Eve here, we take one more look at the tournament.

We’ve dissected the team events just about as much as possible, so we should take a look at the event with an individual focus.

When we discuss the Golden Boot and Golden Ball awards, often a prerequisite is playing more games, since it gives the players more games to score goals as well as a bigger stage to prove their dominance on the field.

First we’ll run down the list of outside contenders who ultimately may not have the best squad or best situation to pull out the awards, and then the list of players who are favorites and will have a great chance to pick up trophies of their own.

Golden Boot:

The Golden Boot is given to the player who scores the most goals across the entire tournament.  The record-holder is France’s Just Fontaine, who scored 13 goals in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Nobody has come close to toppling that, with Gerd Müller in second with 10 at the 1974 West German World Cup.

The pretenders:

Hulk – The Brazilian forward is one of the best attackers on one of the best attacking teams in the World Cup, but with so many options for Luis Felipe Scolari up front, like Neymar, Fred, and Jo, the goals will be spread around, and nobody is going to upstage Neymar this summer (more on that later).

Miroslav Klose – The German very well may set the record for most career World Cup goals, needing one to tie and two to lead.  However, in a German squad dominated by world-class midfielders, it will be difficult for Klose to be the focus of Germany’s attack enough to pick up the Golden Boot.  Germany’s goals will likely be spread across the squad, meaning we may not see one single German to dominate the discussion, no matter how far they go.

Karim Benzema – With Franck Ribery down and out, Karim Benzema is now the biggest name in France’s squad. The Real Madrid winger, however, has a number of things against him as he looks to contend for individual honors.  France is a squad that is difficult to figure out. Likely they will advance from their group, but we saw what happened four years ago, and for Benzema to pick up the Golden Ball, he must not only outshine strike partner Olivier Giroud, but also make sure his country doesn’t yet again flop.

Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal is good, but for the Ballon d’Or winner to pull out a Golden Boot performance, his team will have to help him out.  Portugal is the #4 ranked team in the world according to FIFA, but few have them advancing far enough for Ronaldo to put together the games required to win the award. The clear leader of Portugal, the team will need to look more creative than they did in their recent friendlies for Ronaldo to have a shot.

The contenders:

source: AP
Lionel Messi is obviously a favorite to bag plenty of goals for nearby Argentina.

Neymar – Brazil is the host, and Neymar is the star.  It doesn’t get much better than that.  The 22-year-old likely won’t be upstaged, and barring a shocking early exit, Neymar will prove – like he did in the Confederations Cup – that he is one of the world’s best.  The kid thrives under pressure, and he’ll have the country on his shoulders the next month.

Lionel Messi – Argentina’s superstar has his best chance yet to add international success to his legendary club resume. As the best player on one of the best teams, his chances for the Golden Boot are obvious.

Mario Balotelli – The Italians aren’t one of the favorites, but Cesare Prandelli’s bunch are serious contenders to make the semifinals, and if Balotelli can leave his volatile personality back in Italy, he has plenty of service to bag a bunch of goals.

Luis Suarez – Uruguay’s on-fire striker is primed to continue his incredible Premier League goal-scoring tally at the World Cup. They are in a difficult group and may not be 100%, and those could ultimately destroy his chances, but it’s impossible to look past Suarez’s form at the end of the Premier League season.

Golden Ball:

The Golden Ball is given to the best player in the tournament.  Along with the players listed above, who all have legitimate shots to pick up the award if their teams can go along with it, here are a few more names who may not be goalscoring threats, but are certainly players who could shine on the big stage.

The pretenders:

Angel Di Maria – The 26-year-old winger proved a wealth of doubters wrong at Real Madrid this season, but Di Maria by trade is not a player who will take the star role, and on an Argentina team already bursting at the seams with stars, Di Maria has an outside shot if he upstages his teammates but likely will take a back seat.

Eden Hazard – The best player on a talent-stocked Belgium squad, it remains to be seen how that group will perform with so many expecting them to perform well.  If they make to the semifinals, Hazard will definitely be in the discussion for this award, but unfortunately their path is a tough one for such an inexperienced group.

Andrea Pirlo – While Mario Balotelli will look to rack up the goals, Pirlo is in charge of leading the creative unit for Italy.  Pirlo’s been a part of both ends of the spectrum of World Cup, winning in 2006 and flopping out of the group stage in 2010, so he’s seen it all. The beard is feared, but there are players likely to upstage Pirlo in Brazil.

The contenders:

Sergio Aguero – Should Sergio Aguero win the Golden Ball, that means something has gone horribly wrong for someone else.  Either Messi had a down tournament and questions will arise about his legacy with the national team, or Messi had a great tournament and Aguero bested it, with Argentina demolishing the field.  Aguero is key to Argentina getting over the hump.

Andres Iniesta – The maestro of Spain’s midfield, he won a World Cup last time out in South Africa but saw none of his teammates come in the top-two in Golden Ball voting.  This time around, if Spain lives up to their own expectations, it’s a good bet Iniesta’s in the thick of things.

Mario Götze – Speaking of maestros, Götze is a master on the ball for Germany.  In a squad bursting with talent, it’s highly possible the 22-year-old shows the universe what his wealth of talent can bring the world of soccer.

Dani Alves fires back at Diego Forlan

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After Neymar and Edinson Cavani’s penalty drama that has blown up over the last few days and potentially led to Neymar’s exclusion from the PSG squad this weekend, Uruguayan legend Diego Forlan went on sports radio in his home country to not just back his former international teammate Cavani, but also throw a pair of Brazilians under the bus.

Forlan obviously denounced Neymar’s role in the dispute, but he also picked out Neymar’s club and country teammate Dani Alves for favoring his countrymate.

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“What doesn’t make any sense is what Alves does, he doesn’t give the ball to Cavani and then gives it to Neymar as if he were his [explitive]. Cavani deserves respect. He has been scoring goals for years, taking penalties. There has to be respect. Neymar would not have done that with [Lionel] Messi. He didn’t want Cavani to take the penalty. He was like a little boy annoying him.”

Well, as you can imagine, Alves did not take kindly to being sucked into the fray, and fired back as a result. “I don’t know what match you were watching,” Alves wrote on Twitter, “but for your information, I didn’t take the ball away from any of my teammates. It was just the opposite, it was taken from me!

“And also for your information, the last penalty kick for PSG was mine. So shut your trap and stop making drama in my name.”

This whole situation has blown up more than most penalty disputes (which happen relatively often) likely due to the international affiliations. With the decades-old bad blood between Brazil and Uruguay, it’s no surprise that people are taking sides. Forlan swept up another Brazilian in the mix, and understandably he did not appreciate the cheap shot.

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Liverpool

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  • Leicester City has won 2 straight home PL games vs Liverpool
  • Jamie Vardy has 5 goals in 3 PL games vs Liverpool
  • Liverpool leads the PL with 40 shots on target this season

Jamie Vardy is good to go for the Foxes as they welcome Liverpool to the King Power Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 a.m. ET on NBC or live online via NBCSports.com).

These two teams matched up midweek in League Cup play, with Leicester City winning 2-0, and they did so without Vardy who missed out with a groin strain. He’s since recovered, and will likely play a part. Christian Fuchs and Leonardo Ulloa are also ready to go, with Fuchs back after an eye injury in training, while Ulloa took a knock to the head midweek but is ready to go.

The Foxes need a win in the worst way, as a loss would leave them with their joint-worst point total through the first six matches of a top flight season since 1994/95, the year they were relegated.

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League games

Liverpool, meanwhile, has issues of its own to sort out. They are winless in all competitions since August 27th, and on a larger scale, Jurgen Klopp is taking heat for having less points than Brendan Rodgers did through his first 73 league games of his Liverpool tenure.

The Reds are also facing a bit of injury trouble, with Dejan Lovren still out with back problems, while Joel Matip and Emre Can both suffered slight injuries in the midweek loss and are questionable for Saturday. Should all those miss out, the already leaky defense would prove even more porous.

What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp on Liverpool chasing the ball: “We come too close together in the situation where the first ball is going after a throw-in and it means for the second ball we don’t have a good formation. We need to get more natural in these things because it’s not that difficult to be honest but it happens too often. Now we have to work and then it will be even more difficult to create something against us.”

Craig Shakespeare on Jamie Vardy vs. Liverpool: “Is he a bogeyman? I am hoping so. Sometimes strikers will have good memories of playing against certain teams. Centre forwards go through these purple patches and everybody would like one who can get you 20 goals a season.”

Prediction

If anything is certain in a Liverpool match, it’s that the first goal doesn’t matter. Since the start of last season, the Reds are tops in the league with 20 points from losing positions. However, they’re also fifth in the league in that same timeframe with 20 points lost from winning positions. With that in mind, a wild game is likely in store, but with the inconsistent form for either side of late, it’s tough to pick a winner. A 2-2 draw is a likely result.

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 17 of its last 23 Premier League games
  • Alvaro Morata has 3 goals and 2 assists, all with his head
  • Stoke has lost just 1 of its past 7 home games vs defending champions

Eden Hazard is back and at full strength as Chelsea travels to the Britannia to take on Stoke City Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

With Hazard back and Diego Costa finally shed to Atletico Madrid, the Blues have positioned themselves to make a run at the Premier League’s top spot. Chelsea has not lost since their Opening Day misstep against Burnley, and despite firing a blank in last weekend’s 0-0 draw with the Gunners, Chelsea is still just three points off the top spot, and will look to put pressure on the Manchester clubs.

In addition to Hazard, the Blues also get Temoue Bakayoko and Pedro back in the lineup as well, although David Luiz is suspended after his late red card last weekend.

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League games

This season has been a roller coaster ride for Stoke City, having picked up four points against Arsenal and Manchester United, but also losing to Newcastle and Everton, plus a very disappointing defeat midweek to Bristol City in the Cup. The Potters are missing a host of defenders, with Geoff Cameron and Ryan Shawcross both injured, plus Kurt Zouma ineligible to face his parent club. Kevin Wimmer is also touch and go with a hamstring injury, not expected to be available.

What they’re saying

Mark Hughes on Chelsea’s discipline issues: “Chelsea at the moment look like they are getting yellow and red cards more frequently, but that might be just an anomaly, something happening in the moment. I don’t think it is prevalent in their team. They are just strong when they need to be. It is not going to be tactic we are going to irritate them with, to step over the line, because if I’m honest I don’t think I’ll have the players to do that.”

Antonio Conte on Stoke: “The most important thing for us is to go game by game. Tomorrow it will be a really tough game. We must prepare very well this game in all the situations, tactically, physically, to be disciplined. Stoke won against Arsenal and then drew against Manchester United. It means Stoke is a really good team.”

Prediction

Stoke City has given tough teams trouble, and could again if Maxim Chupo-Moting shows up at his best again, but it’s much more likely that Chelsea will ease by in this game. The Potters have fallen off slightly this season, and while their draw against Manchester United shows they pack some punch, it won’t be enough to see off a Chelsea side buoyed by the return of Eden Hazard. Chelsea could win their opening three Premier League away matches for the first time since 2009…their third away fixture of that campaign was a 2-1 victory at Stoke, so we’ll go for the same scoreline here.

Hope Solo says she has settled grievance with US Soccer

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Hope Solo has settled a grievance with U.S. Soccer over her suspension from the women’s national team following comments she made at the Rio Olympics.

The settlement was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. The 35-year-old goalkeeper was suspended for six months and her contract with the federation was terminated after she called the Swedish team “a bunch of cowards” following the U.S. team’s quarterfinal loss.

Details about the settlement, reached last month, were not released. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Players Association filed the grievance on Solo’s behalf.

In a statement provided Friday to The Associated Press, Solo reiterated her regret over the comments.

“As I expressed in my apology to the Swedish captain immediately following the match, I have tremendous respect for the Swedish team, and in describing the style of play, I used a choice of words that was both offensive and not at all what I had intended to convey,” she said.

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“We have amicably resolved the matter and are moving forward in a positive way,” she added.

U.S. Soccer did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Women’s Soccer Team Players Association declined to comment.

Solo anchored the team in goal for the 2015 Women’s World Cup victory, allowing just three goals in seven games with five shutouts during the tournament – earning her a second straight Golden Glove Award.

For her career, Solo has made 202 total appearances with the national team, with 153 wins and an international-record 102 shutouts.

The defending champion U.S. women were ousted from the Olympics last summer when Sweden advanced 4-3 on penalty kicks following a 1-1 draw.

Solo’s “cowards” quote came immediately following the loss. Sweden went on to play in the gold-medal match against Germany.

Solo told the AP in an interview late last year that she spoke to coach Jill Ellis and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati following the loss, and felt that the issue was put to rest. After she returned to the United States, she said she was blindsided by the announcement about her suspension.

She said she believes U.S. Soccer wanted her off negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. Solo has been an outspoken advocate for equal pay and was among the players who filed a complaint against the federation with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging wage discrimination.

“Let’s call it what is, which is a firing,” Solo told AP then. “It was a termination of my contract effective immediately with severance. That is a firing. It wasn’t a suspension, that’s what they told the media because it looked better. But I got fired. I got fired for what they say was using the word `cowards’ but in reality they got rid of an adversary in the fight for equal pay.”

U.S. Soccer said at the time that Solo was suspended following a culmination of actions, and separately her contract was also terminated with the team.