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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
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

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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
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)

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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.

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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)

Blatter loses appeal against six-year ban

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - JULY 20: Comedian Simon Brodkin (not pictured) throws cash at FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter during a press conference at the Extraordinary FIFA Executive Committee Meeting at the FIFA headquarters on July 20, 2015 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
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Sepp Blatter should get the message this time.

[ MORE: Zlatan defends kick ]

It was announced on Monday that the former president of FIFA from 1998 until 2015 has lost his appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over a six-year ban from all soccer related activity.

After being found guilty of making an illegal payment of $1.65 million to the former head of UEFA, and close friend, Michel Platini, in 2011, the Swiss official has already had his initial eight-year ban reduced to six and Platini had his eight-year ban reduced to four years.

However, Blatter has reached the end game and at the age of 80, it is unlikely he will ever hold any position in world soccer ever again.

Plus, Blatter has the small matter of still being investigated by the Swiss authorities who are looking into FIFA’s records, and the FBI continues to arrest and charge officials within world soccer’s governing body due to allegations of widespread corruption over the past two decades.

Things could get much worse than a six-year ban for Blatter.

In a statement released by CAS, they revealed why Blatter’s appealed had been turned down:

“The appeal of Joseph S. Blatter has been dismissed. As a consequence, the decision rendered by the FIFA Appeal Committee (FIFA AC) on 16 February 2016 remains in force and Mr Blatter remains banned from taking part in any football-related activity at national and international level for six years as from 8 October 2015 and must pay a fine of 50,000 Swiss francs.

“By approving a payment of £1.3m to Mr Platini in 2011 for the balance of work carried out under the alleged oral agreement, Mr Blatter breached the FIFA Code of Ethics since the payment amounted to an undue gift as it had no contractual basis.

“The Panel further found that Mr Blatter unlawfully awarded contributions to Mr Platini under the FIFA Executive Committee retirement scheme which also amounted to an undue gift.”

Aguero banned four games, Fernandinho gets three

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The English FA have confirmed that Manchester City duo Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho will be banned for four and three games respectively after being sent off late in the 3-1 defeat against Chelsea last weekend.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Aguero, 28, lunged in on David Luiz and was shown a straight red card for the tackle (if you can even call it that) and Fernandinho, 31, was sent off in the ensuing melee as he pushed Cesc Fabregas repeatedly and grabbed him around the throat.

In the case of Aguero, he would have already been banned for three games but his punishment has been extended by an extra game due to his suspended three-game ban which he received for elbowing West Ham’s Winston Reid back in August.

As for Fernandinho, he has been handed the standard three-game ban for being sent off for violent conduct.

Pep Guardiola‘s City ended the game with nine-men against Chelsea and looked frustrated after blowing a 1-0 half time lead as they lost 3-1 against the Premier League leaders.

Without Aguero and Fernandinho, their upcoming games against Leicester, Watford and Arsenal are now looking very difficult, plus Nicolas Otamendi will be unavailable against Leicester this Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) due to picking up his fifth yellow card of the season.

With regards to the melee at the end of Chelsea’s win at City, it is expected the FA may fine both teams for their actions and Fabregas could also be implicated as some camera angles appeared to show him striking Fernandinho in the face first.

Let’s wait and see.

As for City, injuries and suspension are adding up and they’re now four points behind leaders Chelsea, plus they’ll have to do without their leading score Aguero who has 10 of their 30 goals in the Premier League.

A chance has now arrived for City’s only other central striker as 20-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho will likely be given the opportunity to lead the line, or if not Nolito or Kevin De Bruyne may operate as the highest player in a false nine formation.

Ibrahimovic denies deliberately kicking Coleman in the head

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United tangles with Seamus Coleman of Everton as they battle for the ball during the Premier League match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park on December 4, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Zlatan Ibrahimovic was involved in an incident in the second half of Manchester United’s 1-1 draw at Everton on Sunday which have raised a few eyebrows.

[ VIDEO: Rojo red card? ]

As Zlatan and Everton defender Seamus Coleman tussled for the ball, the duo fell down and the Manchester United striker eventually fell on top of Coleman.

However, as he went to get up he kicked Coleman in the head and the Toffees’ right back was later subbed out with an apparent head injury.

Speaking to MUTV after the game, Ibrahimovic was asked about the incident.

The response of the 35-year-old striker — who scored once again for the Red Devils to take his tally this season to 12 — to the incident was not exactly the perfect PR answer…

“It was a physical game, they played hard,” Ibrahimovic explained. “I heard one of the commentators say I kicked someone in the head on purpose, but it was a 50/50 duel and he pulled me down. Trust me if I want to kick someone in the head, I know how to kick someone in the head and make him fall asleep. That is the only thing I have to say.”

It is unlikely that Zlatan will be facing any further action from the FA for the kick out but I look at that incident and say he was lucky to escape with a petulant act. He knew where Coleman was and took a chance on leaving his boot in and letting the Everton defender know he was there.

Sure, it may have been accidental but anybody who has played the game knows you can get away with certain things and when a master of the “dark arts” such as Zlatan is involved, I find it tough to believe he didn’t know what he was doing.

It was unnecessary from Zlatan and the act seemed to steam from the frustration of playing up top on his own against a bruising Everton defense.

USC wins NCAA women’s soccer national championship

Southern California's Morgan Andrews celebrates after scoring a goal against West Virginia during the first half in the NCAA Women's College Cup soccer final, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016 in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Katie Johnson broke a tie in the 75th minute and Southern California won the NCAA women’s soccer title Sunday, beating top-ranked West Virginia 3-1 at Avaya Stadium on Sunday.

The second-seeded Trojans (19-4-2) also won the College Cup in 2007.

The Mountaineers (23-2-2) lost for the first time since a 1-0 setback to Georgetown on Sept. 18. West Virginia had a 17-game unbeaten streak snapped, and allowed three goals for the first all season.

Johnson, who also had the winning goal in USC’s 1-0 semifinal victory over Georgetown on Friday, was wide open in front of the net when Leah Pruitt took a pass up the left sideline, beat defender Easther Mayi Kith, and delivered a perfect cross. Johnson simply rolled the ball into the goal to the right of goalkeeper Rylee Foster.

Johnson scored again off an assist from Nicole Molen in the 87th minute.

The Trojans got on the board just 1:22 into play after Julia Bingham directed a corner kick to the top of the penalty box, where Savannah Levin headed the ball forward to Morgan Andrews, whose header from 5 yards eluded Foster.

West Virginia’s Ashley Lawrence, a member of the 2016 Canadian Olympic team, tied it in the 66th minute when she ripped a shot from the top left corner of the penalty box just inside the near post.

After USC took the 2-1 lead, the Mountaineers nearly drew even in the 81st minute on a shot by Heather Kaleiohi that was stopped on a diving save by goalkeeper Sammy Prudhomme.

The Mountaineers outshot USC 21-8 and held a 9-1 edge in corner kicks.

The Trojans joined North Carolina (21 titles), Notre Dame (3) and Portland (3) as the only multiple winners of the College Cup.

USC won its 126th national team title on the same day its men’s water polo team lost 10-8 to Cal in the NCAA final just 45 miles away in Berkeley.

West Virginia, in its first College Cup final, was hoping to claim its first NCAA title in any sport besides its co-ed rifle team, which has won 18 national titles.