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.

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

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It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.