World Cup Today: Four, that’s right, four, games to watch

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WORLD CUP TODAY: SATURDAY, JUNE 14

Can it get any better than Friday’s matches? One can only hope.

Things got off to a rather rough start on Day Two, when Mexico had two goals disallowed when the flag went up. The calls were so egregious that even USMNT fans started cheering El Tri, which should give you some idea of the tension charging through the field. But Oribe Peralta broke through around the hour mark, and Mexico came away with a 1-0 win.

Then things got very, very, very fun. Unless you are a Spain fan. Netherlands put not three, not four, but five goals past the defending world champions, leaving the majority of the world either giggling hysterically or wondering if they’d accidentally ingested some questionable substances. By the end, Iker Casillas was in tears, having failed to prevent Spain from falling 5-1.

It all wrapped up with one of the more balanced matches we’ve seen in the two short days of this tournament. It looked as though Australia were about to go the way of Spain, as Chile scored twice inside two minutes. The Aussies fought back, however, and up until the final minutes they looked good value for a draw. But Jean Beausejour put on in during added time, and Chile came away 3-1 winners.

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MATCH 5: COLOMBIA vs. GREECE
Location: Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte
Time: 12 noon ET
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Cheater’s guide:
Colombia, once everyone’s darlings, are going to have to prove that they’re more than just Radamel Falcao. Which, of course, they are, with los cafeteros set to start the likes of Juan Cuadrado, James Rodríguez and Teófilo Gutiérrez, with Jackson Martínez on the bench. Despite Greece’s dogged approach to defending, expect Colombia to be able to break through. Greece may not have conceded many in qualifying, but bear in mind they were drawn with Lithuania, Latvia and Liechtenstein.

What they’re saying:
“Since [the Euro 2004 win], the players have felt somehow comfortable playing in a particular pattern,” said Greece coach Fernando Santos. “Lately, we’ve been trying to progress from that pattern, but it’s very hard especially at national team level, since there aren’t many training sessions. We haven’t had much time to work as a group, so it’s not easy to change these patterns and the team’s habits.”

Translation: expect Greece to be their boring, defensive selves.

History:
The two sides have met once before, with Colombia beating Greece 2-0.

Premier League players:
Colombia: None
Greece: Does Kostas Mitroglu of recently relegated Fulham count?

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera believes his team can win the World Cup in Brazil again.

MATCH 6: URUGUAY vs. COSTA RICA
Location: Estádio Castelão, Fortaleza
Time: 3pm ET
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Cheater’s guide:
Uruguay made it to the final four in South Africa, so they’ve got to be good, right? Except they’re more or less the same team, with four years added on. Oh, and Luis Suárez won’t be starting. But Costa Rica have been tipped by many to finish dead last, so expect la celeste to get the three points anyway.

What they’re saying:
Fernando Muslera, Uruguay’s goalkeeper, believes unity will be key: “I’ve never experienced such a united group. We are all friends, we all have the same objective, we all row in the same direction. We have already won a World Cup in this country and we hope we can do that again.”

That’s cool, Nando. But as that was over 60 years ago, I’m pretty sure your squad, although admittedly an aging one, has changed a bit.

History:
Uruguay has a definite advantage here, having won six and drawn two, scoring 15 goals to the Ticos’ 8.

Premier League players:
Uruguay: Luis Suárez (Liverpool) Gastón Ramírez (Southampton)

MLS Players:
Costa Rica: Giancarlo González, Waylon Francis (Colombus Crew), Roy Miller (New York Red Bulls)

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MATCH 7: ENGLAND vs. ITALY
Location: Arena Amazônia, Manaus
Time: 6pm ET
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Cheater’s guide: The thing about these two sides is there’s no way to really imagine what might happen. It could be a dull goalless draw, as happened in Euro 2012. Italy crush England’s confidence with slick passing through the midfield and Mario Balotelli’s tendency to be in the right place at the right time. Or England could wear down the azzurriplaying patiently until breaking through with a late winner.

Or both sides could go all out and we could get a 4-3 goalfest, but that’s probably the one thing we can be confident won’t happen.

What they’re saying:
Then again, England captain Steven Gerrard seems convinced his side have destiny in their own hands: “It is not sit back and camp out on the edge of our box and see what happens. We have a game plan to go and attack with confidence and belief.

History:
This will be the two sides’ 25th meeting. Italy have a slight edge, with 9 wins, 7 draws and 8 losses.

Premier League players:
England: 22 of England’s 23 players are on Premier League clubs. The full squad list can be found here.

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MATCH 8: IVORY COAST vs. JAPAN
Location: Arena Pernambuco, Recife
Time: 9pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide: An attack-minded Japan is going up against a rather aging Ivory Coast squad – one that feels like it has one last chance to impress before the band gets broken up for good.

What they’re saying:
Maya Yoshida on how Japan’s previous experience in Brazil may help: “Brazil is the host of both the Confederations Cup and the World Cup, and we really got to experience this country, both on and off the pitch. Other than things such as the heat and the environment, we got to experience Brazil in areas outside football such as the food and life inside the hotel. I think the fact that we’ve experienced this country once already will make a huge difference.”

History:
The two sides have met three times, all in friendly conditions. Japan have won twice, Ivory Coast once.

Premier League players:
Ivory Coast: Wilfried Bony (Swansea City), Cheick Tioté (Newcastle), Kolo Touré (Liverpool), Yaya Touré (Manchester City)
Japan: Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Maya Yoshida (Southampton)

Who’s to blame? A closer look at Chelsea’s blunder late vs. Barcelona

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As our very own Joe Prince-Wright explained yesterday in the aftermath of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16, Antonio Conte could not have set his team up better for success at Stamford Bridge.

And yet, they walked away from the first leg with a disappointing result, one that could set up Barcelona with the advantage as they head to the Camp Nou in two weeks time.

So where did it all go wrong? That pass from Andreas Christensen, obviously – the one that gifted Lionel Messi a late goal. But is Christensen to blame? Or were there other culprits?

Clearly, the pass was ill-advised. Christensen sends the ball across his own box parallel to the goal mouth, which Andreas Iniesta easily pilfers and sends to Messi for his first goal against Chelsea. It was a pass they teach 7-year-olds not to make, one that even the youngest of dedicated soccer players knows to avoid.

Christensen makes an easy target, given that he is just 21 years old, has only just recently earned his way into the Blues starting lineup, and was the most obvious culprit having made the fateful pass.

However, upon closer inspection, it may not have even been meant to reach the far side of the field.

Christensen’s exasperated reaction suggests the pass was likely intended for Cesc Fabregas who sat at the top of the box under little pressure. Christensen was closed down on the far touchline with little room to operate, and his outlet to Fabregas in the middle of the field was a good option, even if the general idea of a pass in that direction is usually frowned upon. However, Christensen’s pass was just slightly behind Fabregas, and the Spaniard ultimately decided to let the ball go instead of chasing it down, leaving it for a less populated area of the field.

Unfortunately, with his back turned to the eventual destination of the pass, Fabregas was unaware that Iniesta had anticipated its flight path and was already making a run to steal the ball. When the veteran Barcelona midfielder reached the ball, he was challenged by a sliding Cesar Azpilicueta, who completely whiffed. While Christensen and Fabregas were culpable of putting the team in a dangerous situation, Azpilicueta’s tackle was an abomination. Azpilicueta actually reached the ball first, but inexplicably failed to make contact with the ball, allowing Iniesta to easily evade the slide and still take charge of the ball.

Andreas Christensen is the clear perpetrator, but Fabregas and Azpilicueta both contributed negatively to the situation, leaving Chelsea at a slight disadvantage heading into a hostile environment despite Antonio Conte’s best efforts. Sadly, Conte will be the one to shoulder the accountability at the end of the season if Chelsea goes out of the Champions League, even though he received top marks for the match, and his players let him down.

Mata seems to confirm Champions League is Man United’s priority

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With the Premier League title all but wrapped up, English top flight teams are beginning to put their true focus onto competitions they still have a realistic shot of winning.

Manchester United sits in second place in the Premier League table, but they are a full 18 points back of rivals Manchester City, as so with a Champions League match against Sevilla on Wednesday afternoon, Juan Mata all but confirmed that the Red Devils are putting their main efforts into Europe’s largest competition.

[ MORE: Messi pegs back Chelsea despite winning tactics ]

“If we had less of a gap with respect to the Premier League leaders and we had a chance to fight for it, it wouldn’t be so tough to be eliminated from the Champions League, but now our aim is to progress from every round,” Mata said to Spanish radio station Cadena Ser. “It would be a big blow to be eliminated in the last 16.”

Last season, a similar story played out. Manchester United was out of reach of a top four finish in the league, so manager Jose Mourinho publicly admitted they were putting their main focus on the Europa League due to the automatic berth the competition’s winner received into next year’s Champions League. The gamble paid off, as Manchester United won the competition and earned their spot in the Champions League this season.

Sevilla has not progressed past the Round of 16 since 1958. Manchester United, meanwhile, has not made it past the Champions League quarterfinals since their runners-up finish in 2011, when they lost to Barcelona in the finals at Wembley Stadium.

Wenger confirms Ospina will start pair while Ozil, Ramsey miss out

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Arsene Wenger confirmed in his pre-match press conference that goalkeeper Petr Cech will get an extended rest with a pair of Cup games on the horizon for Arsenal.

In his place, David Ospina will start both Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32 match against Ostersund and Sunday’s EFL Cup Final against Manchester City. Ospina is no stranger to this type of rotation, with the Colombian owning just 30 starts over the last three seasons in national and international Cup competitions compared to just seven Premier League appearances.

In addition, Wenger also confirmed that Mesut Ozil will miss out for Thursday’s match due to illness, but is expected back for Sunday’s EFL Cup final. Arsenal has a 3-0 lead over Swedish club Ostersund after the first leg, with the second leg to be played at the Emirates.

Wenger said Aaron Ramsey is back in training, and while he will not be risked in the Europa League match in his return from a groin injury that saw him miss the North London derby loss, he could be in contention to play against Manchester City. [Ramsey] is not in the squad tomorrow, he had a good training session. We will see how his evolution goes between now and Sunday. I don’t rule him out.”

Ramsey scored a hat-trick in the 5-1 win over Everton in early February, but has played just 181 minutes since picking up a hamstring injury in mid-December.

Finally, Wenger said that Danny Welbeck and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will both receive starting spots against Ostersund, as will some unnamed youth products. Welbeck has been out of Premier League action since mid-January, stuck behind Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but he received four minutes off the bench in the North London derby and will get another opportunity in the Europa League to prove his worth.

Conte admits job security speculation will always exist at Chelsea

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Antonio Conte admits that he will always face speculation about his tenure as manager while he is employed at Chelsea, but dismissed it as “no problem for me.”

There is a general acceptance that Conte will part ways with Chelsea at the end of the season given the tough times the club has seen this campaign. The Blues are hanging on to a Champions League place by a thread, and struggled through a January that included just two wins across all competitions in six matches.

“I’ve said it very clearly: I’ve got a contract until 2019 and I intend to respect this, but you know anything can happen in football,” Conte told Italian publication Mediaset. “It takes two to be happy and continue a marriage. Our work is unique because we’ve always got our suitcase in our hands.”

Conte did issue somewhat of a warning to Chelsea, however, that if he were to be fired, it could come back to haunt the club, as he would have no shortage of offers. “My intention is to respect my contract, but if something were to happen, it would open up different scenarios.” Big clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid could have job openings this summer if their lofty goals aren’t met, and those places would be attractive destinations for Conte, who won the Premier League title with Chelsea just last year.

“It’s a bit the history of Chelsea and inevitable when, in the past, in 14 years, 10 coaches have been changed,” he said. “Clearly when there is this habit, let’s say, the press play on it and as soon as there is a result or two which don’t go your way, they try to put the pressure on.

“But it’s no problem for me. I hope that this pressure doesn’t harm the players, not me, because I go looking for pressure.”