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

1 Comment

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.

***

MATCH 5: COLOMBIA vs. GREECE
Location: Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte
Time: 12 noon ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

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

***

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
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

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)

***

MATCH 7: ENGLAND vs. ITALY
Location: Arena Amazônia, Manaus
Time: 6pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

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.

***

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)

Europa League preview: Arsenal in Serbia, Everton desperate vs. Lyon

John Walton/PA via AP
Leave a comment

The twelve groups of the UEFA Europa League bring forth soccer on Thursday, with a bevy of matches dotting the continent.

[ MORE: Full Europa schedule ]

Here are the top five matches to keep an eye on.

Everton vs. Lyon — 3:05 p.m. ET

If you would’ve told Ronald Koeman his Toffees would walk into this match with just one point but sit only another behind Lyon, he’d probably tell you to take a hike. But Lyon drew 1-1 at Apollon Limassol and 1-1 at home to Atalanta, opening the door for Everton to finish the day in Group E’s top two slots.

Nabil Fekir and Real Madrid loanee Mariano Diaz have seven goals each for Lyon, while ex-Premier Leaguers Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traore are also key components of the French outfit’s attack.

Red Star Belgrade vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET

Arsenal in Europa has been pretty thrilling, with 3-1 and 4-2 wins under Arsene Wenger‘s belt ahead of the first of two with the 1991 European Cup winners. It’s a nice challenge for Canadian national team backstop Milan Borjan, who should be the man to try to thwart the Gunners in Serbia.

Hoffenheim vs. Istanbul Basaksehir — 3:05 p.m. ET

The favorites to win the group are dead last in the group as they welcome the perceived group underdogs from Turkey. The Super Lig runners-up have some familiar names on the roster with Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Eljero Elia, Mevlut Erdinc, Gokhan Inler, Aurelien Chedjou, and Emre Belozoglu.

AC Milan vs. AEK Athens — 3:05 p.m. ET

Milan has been burying goals in Europa play, with five at Austria Wien and three in a home win over Rijeka. Enter Athens, which has scooped up four points in group play and will look for a win to put them ahead of the group-leading Rossoneri.

Nice vs. Lazio — 1 p.m. ET

The only group with a pair of 2-0 teams. Mario Balotelli is plenty familiar with his Roman opposition from his time in Serie A.

Probe finds racial discrimination by England women’s coach

Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON (AP) Former England women’s team coach Mark Sampson racially discriminated against two of his players, a fresh Football Association investigation has concluded after initially dismissing allegations of wrongdoing and prompting a damaging public row with striker Eni Aluko.

Sampson was cleared of discrimination by earlier FA investigations but was fired last month because of an unrelated case of inappropriate conduct toward players in a previous job.

[ MORE: Champions League at halfway mark ]

Only now has a barrister considered new evidence about Sampson’s conduct toward England internationals Aluko and Drew Spence, with the details being released ahead of a parliamentary hearing.

“I have concluded that on two separate occasions, MS (Sampson) has made ill-judged attempts at humor, which, as a matter of law, were discriminatory on grounds of race,” barrister Katharine Newton wrote in the report.

One racially discriminatory comment by Sampson in 2014 toward Aluko requested her family members from Nigeria didn’t come to a game because of Ebola.

“MS (Sampson) did treat EA (Aluko) less favorably than he would have treated a player who was not of African descent,” Newton wrote. “MS had therefore subjected EA to less favorable treatment because of her ethnicity.”

During a team meeting in 2015, Sampson also asked Spence if she had been to prison, and then suggested she had been arrested four times. Newton concluded that the comment was made “because of her ethnicity.”

[ MORE: Hamid leaving DC United ]

FA chief executive Martin Glenn apologized to Aluko and Spence before the hearing. But Aluko told legislators that Glenn’s earlier conduct toward her was “bordering on blackmail” after he threatened to withhold payments from an 80,000 pound ($105,000) financial settlement unless she published a statement saying the FA “was not institutionally racist.”

With Aluko sitting behind him, Glenn later told the hearing that the player had not been blackmailed.

Instead Glenn said that an August tweet by Aluko – “at least we now know the FA’s stance on derogatory racial remarks by an England manager. Ignore, deny, endorse” – was a “clear breach of the agreement.”

Aluko, who was part of the team that finished third at the 2015 World Cup, has not played for England since making her 102nd appearance in April 2016.

There was a more apologetic tone from Glenn in his written statement on Wednesday, saying that Sampson’s conduct was “not acceptable” and he “would like to sincerely apologize” to Aluko and Spence.

“Our ambition has always been to find the truth and take swift and appropriate action if needed,” Glenn said. “It was our decision to have the original, second and final investigation to ensure that due diligence was taken. It is regrettable that Eniola did not participate in the first external investigation as this would have enabled Katharine Newton to conduct and complete her investigation sooner.”

Report: Hamid leaving DC United to “push himself” elsewhere

Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bill Hamid is taking his talents elsewhere.

The 26-year-old has been with DC United since 2007, making an even 200 appearances across all competitions.

[ MORE: Champions League at halfway mark ]

Hamid is thrice capped by the United States and widely considering to be one of the best shot-stoppers in the league, but the Washington Post’s Steven Goff says Hamid wants to showcase himself on a new stage.

“I want to push myself and see how far I can go because I know I have the work ethic and the hunger to take myself very far in this game. I know I can make it to the next level.”

Hamid is likely to wind up in Europe, and Goff said Danish club Midtjylland is the favorite. He’s also been scouted by Eintracht Frankfurt.

With a new United States men’s national team coach set to be appointed and Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, and Nick Rimando all on the back end of their time with the USMNT, Hamid has to look at himself as competing with Ethan Horvath and any number of young prospects.

Horvath is 22 and starting for Club Brugge. If their season continues on its pace, he’ll have a Belgian title and a Norwegian title under his belt.

U-20 players Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha Berlin), Brady Scott (Koln), and Justin Vom Steeg (Fortuna Dusseldorf) are in German systems, while U-17 World Cup starters CJ dos Santos is at Benfica.

Age when making European debut and club
Tim Howard, 24, Manchester United
Brad Friedel, 23, Newcastle United
Brad Guzan, 23, Aston Villa
Kasey Keller, 23, Millwall
Tony Meola, 21, Brighton and Hove Albion
Ethan Horvath, 19, Molde

Surprises, disappointments halfway through Champions League group stage

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
1 Comment

Clubs have met each of their group mates once, giving us an imperfect but workable sample size for the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League group stage.

Five groups have a side boasting a 3-0 record, while four clubs have yet to seize a single point.

[ CHAMPS LEAGUE: Tuesday | Weds. ]

Some of the strugglers, like 0-1-2 Maribor and 0-1-2 APOEL, are not surprises. And it’s no shock to see Manchester United at perfect 3-0 given its draw.

Others? Well, that’s not the case.

Status down 

While Manchester United is a perfect 3-0 in Group A, raise your hand if you figured Benfica would have just one goal and zero points through three matches. Benfica’s also played two of its three home ties, making the knockout rounds a dream.

Atletico Madrid has found the UEFA Champions League Final in two of the last four seasons, but finds itself with work to do moving forward. Atleti’s Wednesday draw at Qarabag leaves it three points behind Roma and five back of leaders Chelsea. Diego Simeone’s men still host Roma and Qarabag, so points are out there.

Serie A play has been gorgeous for Napoli, who has failed to bring that momentum to Group F. It’s worth noting that a missed penalty by red-hot Dries Mertens could’ve earned the Neapolitans a point at Man City on Tuesday, but as it stands Napoli is three points back of Shakhtar and could be six back before the Ukrainians visit on Nov. 21.

It turns out you can’t sell everyone and expect the youth to come through shining. Monaco is at the bottom of a very winnable group, having lost at home to Porto and Besiktas. Still just three points behind RB Leipzig, they’ll need to win at Monaco and/or Besiktas to have any hope of the knockout rounds.

Borussia Dortmund got a rough deal from officials when it visited Wembley Stadium, but losses to Spurs and Real Madrid can happen in a group stage. Tuesday’s draw at APOEL Nicosia, however, is close to a backbreaker.

(Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images).

Status up

Spurs draw at Real Madrid may have been aided by a huge performance from Hugo Lloris, but goalkeepers — as you know — are actual components of a team. This is in fact a group of death, but the North Londoners are holding a scythe. If Mauricio Pochettino can lead a home win over Real Madrid at a raucous Wembley on All Saints Day, well, look out!

Cenk Tosun has gone from sleepy transfer target to the tip of many gossipers’ tongues, as Besiktas is a perfect 3-0 including wins at Monaco and Porto. Anderson Talisca and… wait for it… Ryan Babel (!!) have also starred for the Turkish powers who will almost certainly see the knockout rounds.

[ MORE: JPW sits down with Ederson ]

Pep Guardiola‘s done this Champions League dance, you know, and Manchester City has weathered all storms. That includes conceded two penalties — one was saved by Ederson — as a down performance versus Napoli still ended with a home win. If City can win at the Stadio San Paolo on Nov. 1, Pep can sleepwalk into the final two matches (though that’s not his style).

Roma has a classy draw at Chelsea and has gathered five points including four away from home. Mimic that mark and i Lupi will be a challenge in the knockout rounds.

Neymar was best pals with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez last season at Barcelona, but having a less-than-perfect relationship with Edinson Cavani hasn’t hurt a thing in Paris. Paris Saint-Germain is for real, scoring 12 times and yet to concede in wins over Bayern Munich, Celtic, and Anderlecht.

Grey area

Liverpool leads its group and advancing is really the only goal, but there’s something off-putting about the home draw against Sevilla. The 1-1 draw at Spartak Moscow looks better now that the Russians hammered Sevilla 5-1, but a return visit from Maribor next should help the Reds buttress their stock.

Be careful how finely you analyze a club as accomplished as two-time reigning champs Real Madrid, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s men don’t look so hot. Still well-positioned to move on, keep a close eye on how they look at Wembley in a few weeks.

Holding pattern

Chelsea‘s 3-3 draw versus Roma today was its first real stumble of the UCL, but there shouldn’t be too many alarm bells considering their injury problems and Roma’s desperation. Consider their status even, especially given their clever win at Atletico Madrid.

Jose Mourinho is doing a fine job with Manchester United, but it’s really hard to praise the club too much for doing what’s expected in a glorified Europa League group. Clearly Sir Alex Ferguson was involved in the icing some of the draw balls again…