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Game on: Italy missing Buffon, Sterling starts for England

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One of the most anticipated games of the World Cup’s opening weekend, Italy’s meeting with England today in Manaus, Brazil, took a turn early today when Azzurri captain Gianluigi Buffon was ruled out with an ankle injury sustained in training. Instead of the 36-year-old’s 140 international appearances and experience at four previous World Cups, Cesare Prandelli will turn to Salvatore Sirigu, whose ninth international appearance will be by far his most important.

England is not without its own injury concerns, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out while Danny Welbeck nurses a thigh problem, but none of those ailments can detract from today’s bigger story. These are two of the most storied nations in the soccer world, and although this is only their first game of Brazil 2014, there is an urgency to these first 90 minutes. Grouped with defending South American champions Uruguay, both England and Italy will be thrown into two must-win scenarios if they can’t get a result in Manaus.

Here’s how the teams will line up for today’s 6:00 p.m. Eastern kickoff:

[ MORE, Previews: England | Italy | Group D]
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Starting lineups:

England: Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard, Henderson; Welbeck, Sterling, Rooney; Sturridge;

Italy: Sirigu; Darmian, Paletta, Barzagli, Chiellini; De Rossi, Pirlo, Veratti, Candreva, Marchisio; Balotelli

Talking points:

1. England’s Andrea Pirlo obsession – It’s not that the Three Lions are wrong to be concerned about Italy’s midfield magician, but it’s strange to see a player who’s not named Messi, Ronaldo, or Ibrahimovic become such a single-minded focus of an opponent. Given how Pirlo performed against England at Euro 2012 (as well as the talent around him), you can’t blame Roy Hodgson for dwelling on the now-legendary distributor.

2. How do you help Sporadically Super Mario? – Whether Prandelli starts somebody with Mario Balotelli up top will be a game-to-game concern, but the reality of Italy’s attacking options remains the same: The team only has one proven goal scorer in the squad, and for better or worse, it’s the mercurial Balotelli. 

3. Some good old English bravery – Hodgson is known for his conservative approach, but in the lead up to Saturday’s match, there was an increasing hope that the former Inter Milan and Liverpool boss will roll the dice with his quick attack against a veteran (read: slower) Italian team. Facing an Azzurri side that should control the ball while needing its fullbacks to augment the width of a narrow midfield, the Three Lions should have their changes to counter, but to what extent will Hodgson play for those moments? Moving Southampton’s Adam Lallana to the bench gives us hint number one.

4. That pitch in Manaus – Particularly in this country, with the U.S. starting its tournament on Monday at the same venue, the quality of the field in Manaus has been a major concern. According to reports, part of the field appear to be painted, portraying an unnatural color of green. If the field’s a mess, it will be even more difficult for these two teams to distinguish themselves.

Expectation: Italy is generally seen as the slightly better team, with its run at Euro 2012 and performance at the 2013 Confederations Cup confirming that perception. Matched up against England, however, the Three Lions’ potential width plus the speed of Daniel Sturridge have given prognosticators pause. There is no clear expectation for this one.

One blogger’s prediction: The last time these teams played a competitive match, 120 minutes passed without a goal. Today’s game my not end scoreless, but where a loss would be a huge blow to either side, we still see a draw.

MLS: Le Toux to join D.C., Timbers set to acquire Myers and more

Sebastien Le Toux, Tony Beltran
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Two teams are set to bring in experienced players ahead of the new season, while another veteran has said his goodbye to his former club.

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D.C. United has reportedly signed veteran forward Sebastian Le Toux after spending last season with the Philadelphia Union and the Colorado Rapids.

According to SB Nation’s Black and Red United, Le Toux has inked a one-year deal with D.C. United. Le Toux has scored 57 goals in his time in MLS, with 50 of those goals coming with the Union.

Le Toux has also previously played for the New York Red Bulls, Vancouver Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders.


Meanwhile, the Portland Timbers are reportedly set to sign long-time Sporting KC defender Chance Myers, who spent the last nine seasons with the Western Conference side.

The 29-year-old had made 147 appearances for Sporting KC since joining MLS, while adding two goals over that span.


Dax McCarty posted a heartfelt message to New York Red Bulls fans, players and staff following the veteran’s move to the Chicago Fire.

The midfielder was recently traded to the Eastern Conference side after the spending the last five-and-half years with the Red Bulls, where McCarty served as the team’s captain.

Gerrard urges Liverpool to “try and bid for Van Dijk”

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  Virgil van Dijk of Southampton celebrates as he scores their first goal during the Premier League match between Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur at St Mary's Stadium on December 28, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Virgil Van Dijk‘s quick rise in the Premier League has caught the attention of many around England, and one of the division’s greats has high hopes the Dutchman will join his former side in the future.

[ MORE: Saints wallop Leicester in complete effort ]

Steven Gerrard has suggested that Liverpool come out and pursue Van Dijk, who joined Southampton back in 2015 from Scottish side Celtic.

Gerrard — who is set to take a coaching position with Liverpool’s academy — believes the budding star would be a strong fit for the Reds, however, the ex-midfielder realizes it’ll be a hard sell.

“Who I think we need, I would go and try and bid for Van Dijk from Southampton,” Gerrard told BT Sport. “But we’ve had enough of their players so that will probably go down like a lead balloon.”

The 25-year-old has made waves in England’s top flight after quickly proving to be one of the division’s top defenders and helping guide the Saints towards the top half of the table since his arrival.

Report: San Diego making push to become future MLS expansion site

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With the NFL no longer the biggest show in town, San Diego could be bringing another football to the city in the near future.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Hyndman provides assist in Rangers debut win ]

According to NBC 7 San Diego, FS Investors founder Mike Stone and former Qualcomm Vice Chairman Steve Altman are prepared to reveal their proposal on Monday that will bring a future MLS franchise to San Diego.

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The proposed move includes a stadium plan that will reside where the Chargers’ Qualcomm Stadium currently sits. With the NFL franchise now playing in Los Angeles, the San Diego Padres of Major League Baseball are the only remaining professional team in the area, out of the five major sports in the U.S.

NBC 7 is also reporting that a future San Diego team would share its facility with the San Diego State Aztecs football team.

MLS is currently up to 22 teams entering the 2017 season, while Los Angeles FC is also tabbed to enter the league next year. David Beckham’s Miami project is also considered to be the league’s 24th team, and MLS is likely to hold off on further announcements regarding expansion until later in 2017.

If San Diego were to be chosen as an expansion site, the club would become the fourth to call California home in the current state of MLS, joining the San Jose Earthquakes, Los Angeles Galaxy and LA FC (2018).

In addition to San Diego, several other cities are currently vying to enter MLS in the future, including St. Louis, Cincinnati, Sacramento and Charlotte.

Hull’s Ryan Mason hospitalized following collision with Gary Cahill

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22: Ryan Mason of Hull City lies injured after the collision with Gary Cahill of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Ryan Mason has undergone surgery following a scary collision with Chelsea’s Gary Cahill on Sunday.

[ MORE: Chelsea goes eight points clear at top of PL ]

The Hull City midfielder was injured after knocking heads with Cahill during first half of the 2-0 defeat to the Blues. Nine minutes of first-half stoppage time were needed after Mason stayed down on the pitch at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: Xhaka’s red card makes him most sent-off player in Europe ]

It has been confirmed by the club that Mason suffered a skull fracture, while it is has also been speculated that the 25-year-old could have had bleeding on his brain.

Mason will remain hospitalized for the “next few days,” according to the Tigers.

“The Club can confirm that Ryan Mason sustained a skull fracture in our fixture at Chelsea this afternoon. He was taken to St Mary’s Hospital where he has undergone surgery.

“Ryan is in a stable condition and is expected to remain in hospital for the next few days.
“Everyone at the Club would like to express their sincere thanks for the excellent and swift care given to Ryan by both the Accident and Emergency department and Neurosurgery Unit at St Mary’s Hospital.

“A further update will be issued tomorrow.”

While Mason was forced off during the match due to the injury, Cahill managed to continue for Chelsea and scored the game’s second goal.