World Cup Today: Sunday builds to mouth-watering finale

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WORLD CUP TODAY: SUNDAY, JUNE 15

Three matches grace our televisions today, and while they all have something to offer, none are as drool-inducing as the last one of the day, when we get to watch Lionel Messi begin his quest for a World Cup title.

All three games today have a clear favorite and a clear underdog, but if we’ve learned anything so far in this World Cup, it’s expect the unexpected.

Yesterday Costa Rica went out and shocked Uruguay, as CONCACAF continues to perform well in Brazil.  Ivory Coast also came back from a 1-0 deficit against Japan after looking lackluster for much of the first half.

The moral of the story is there are no pushovers in the World Cup, something we should have expected coming in, but still our minds tend to offer us doses of expectations such as “team x should run over team y.”

That is hardly the case, unless of course you’re the defending champions, whose besting by the Netherlands on Friday still resonates in the back of our minds.

Yesterday did its best to write its own story, as the busiest slate of the month-long journey also gave us Italian solidity with a convincing 2-1 win over England that featured a winner from none other than Super Mario.

One game that was never in doubt was yesterday’s opener, when Colombia made a statement by thoroughly dominating a defensively solid Greece side 3-0.

source: AP
Xherdan Shaqiri remains the most recognizable name in a very young Switzerland squad.

MATCH 9: SWITZERLAND vs ECUADOR
Location: Estadio Nacional, Brasilia
Time: 12:00pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide:
Group E begins with an intriguing matchup between two relative unknowns. Switzerland won its European qualifying group, but the group was nothing to boast about, consisting of such powerhouses as Iceland, Slovenia, Norway, Albania, and Cyprus. This Swiss team has changed much since then, and the world still doesn’t know what to make of their young squad. However, they have done what top teams do against inferior competition, and that’s amounted to just one loss in their last 18 matches over the past two years. Ecuador knows that they don’t have to face group favorites France until the final round, meaning a pair of wins here and against Honduras could send them through before even facing its toughest test.

What they’re saying:

“We began the revolution in 2011 when we brought in younger players,” Said Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said at the stadium yesterday. “We have a very strong younger generation and we also have young, yet experienced, players. In that sense we have a better mix and in human terms the team is better suited to each other. We are a bit more creative going forward and in defence we are still well organized.”

They’re really, really young.

History:
This is the first time the two sides will meet.

Premier League players:
Switzerland – Philippe Senderos (Aston Villa)
Ecuador – Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)

MLS players:
Switzerland – None
Ecuador – Oswaldo Minda (Chivas USA)

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

 

source: AP
Karim Benzema (left) will lead France without Franck Ribery, who was replaced by Real Sociedad’s Antoine Grizemann (right).

MATCH 10: FRANCE vs. HONDURAS
Location: Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre
Time: 3:00pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide:
The Group E matchup of the day with a more expected outcome, we get our first look at France sans Franck Ribery.  Keep an eye on Antoine Griezmann, who has replaced Ribery in the starting lineup. The highly coveted 23-year old winger has  burst onto the scene since Ribery’s exclusion, making the most of his opportunity in the pre-Cup friendlies for France. For Honduras, the 33rd team in FIFA’s rankings, they’re just looking to make noise.  The hope of advancement may not be entirely there, but crazier things have happened, and in essentially a throwaway game to start, they could look to leave it all on the table with nothing to lose.

What they’re saying:
Hondurans felt incredibly disrespected by a TV program played in France called “The Miserables of Honduras.” Honduran journalist Copan Alvarez:

“It is true that this story was very badly received in the country. Not for the content, as it is told is a good reflection of the reality of our football and our society, but for the title. The word “miserable” insulted some.”

History:
None.

Premier League players:
France – Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle), Bacary Sagna (Manchester City), Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Moussa Sissokho (Newcastle), Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Loic Remy (QPR).
Honduras – Maynor Figueroa (Hull City), Wilson Palacios (Stoke City)

MLS players:
France – none
Honduras – Victor Bernardez (San Jose), Boenik Garcia (Houston), Marvin Chavez (Chivas USA), Jerry Bengtson (New England).

 

source: Getty Images
Manchester City teammates Edin Dzeko (left) and Sergio Aguero will be on opposite sides at the Maracana.

MATCH 11: ARGENTINA vs BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
Location: Estadio Maracana, Rio de Janeiro
Time: 6:00pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide:
Looking at the power of the Bosnian side, it’s easy to forget the country is making its World Cup debut this summer. As a reward? They’re handed Argentina in its opener, one of the most storied countries in this event. But even they have plenty of question marks, and many of them surround Lionel Messi. Will Messi, in the prime of his career, finally produce the form he has so often displayed at Barcelona for his country? Can he get over the hump? Will he cement his place alongside Diego Maradona as an Argentinian legend, or will he simply be that guy who was really good in Spain? The journey of Messi, Sergio Aguero, and the star-studded squad begins with about as tough a test as they could have asked for, a Bosnian squad boasting its own set of stars in its first-ever World Cup.

What they’re saying:
“It is hard not to feel honoured when important people compare you with Maradona – he’s the best there’s ever been,” said Lionel Messi. “My message, though, is please don’t compare me with him yet. He won a World Cup for our nation, and until I’ve managed to do the same the comparisons are not something I welcome or accept. I know I have a responsibility, especially as captain, to the people of Argentina but I try not to let that pressure get to me. I approach every game – it doesn’t matter if it is a Champions League final or a World Cup game – as I did as a child … and that is to have fun.”

He’s saying all the right things, now can he perform on the field?

History:
They’ve met twice, with Argentina winning both matchups.

Premier League players:
Argentina – Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City), Martin Demichelis (Manchester City), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
Bosnia-Herzegovina – Asmir Begovic (Stoke City), Edin Dzeko (Manchester City)

Texas-born Dempsey at home 1 goal from record, 1 win from Final

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ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Clint Dempsey is back in his home state of Texas, one goal away from a national scoring record for the United States team that is one win from playing in another CONCACAF Gold Cup final.

The Americans play a semifinal game Saturday night against Costa Rica in a stadium synonymous with American football – the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, the Cotton Bowl and where the first College Football Playoff championship game was played three seasons ago.

That is only about 180 miles from Dempsey’s hometown of Nacogdoches.

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“It’s always great to be home and play in front of family and friends, especially for a big game,” Dempsey said Friday. “I have a lot of great memories of playing in Dallas as a kid, and I’m proud to represent Nacogdoches. Being from there made me who I am today.”

Dempsey, one goal from matching Landon Donovan’s American record of 57 national team goals, wasn’t part of soccer’s only Gold Cup games at the $1.2 billion AT&T Stadium.

In a 2013 semifinal game there when the Americans were on the way to their fifth Gold Cup championship, they beat Honduras 3-1. Donovan scored twice in that game – his 55th and 56th goals for the national team – and assisted on the other goal. About two months later, Donovan scored his final goal in a World Cup qualifier win over Mexico.

Within a week after Costa Rica beat the U.S. team 4-0 in World Cup qualifying last November, Jurgen Klinsmann was out as the U.S. coach and Bruce Arena was rehired to the position he had been fired from a decade earlier.

[ WATCH: Coutinho’s super goal vs. Leicester ]

Costa Rica coach Oscar Ramirez said Friday that Arena has seemingly had a positive impact on the U.S. team.

“They look more relaxed in terms of what they’re doing on the field,” Ramirez said through an interpreter.

This U.S. roster for the Gold Cup knockout rounds also is much different than the one that played in Costa Rica eight months ago – not just the change at coach. Only five players from that game that are set for this semifinal game – Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi.

“That’s in the past,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t think about that game. … This is just another game. It’s another opportunity for us to see what we’re made out of.”

Altidore, Dempsey, Bradley, Darlington Nagbe, and goalkeeper Tim Howard were all added to the lineup before a 2-0 win over El Salvador in the quarterfinal on Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

Dempsey set up Eric Lichaj‘s goal in extra time before halftime to make it 2-0 against El Salvador. Dempsey also fed Gyasi Zardes for a breakaway, though that apparent goal didn’t count after he was ruled offside.

That game was Dempsey’s 135th appearance for the national team, trailing only Cobi Jones (164) and Landon Donovan (157) on the U.S. list.

[ MORE: Why PSG’s Alexis-Neymar pursuit makes (relative) sense ]

Dempsey isn’t the only player with Texas ties with the U.S. team. Three players from FC Dallas, the MLS team that plays its home games about 40 miles away from the big stadium in Frisco, are on the roster: Kellyn Acosta, Matt Hedges and Jesse Gonzalez.

Acosta, the homegrown midfielder who turns 22 next week, was recently named to the MLS All-Star team. He was born in nearby Plano, Texas, and signed by FC Dallas five years ago.

“It’s definitely a proud moment, to get to represent my community, play before my friends and family,” Acosta said. “To be back in my hometown, I’m definitely excited about it.”

Notes: Costa Rica is trying to get to its first Gold Cup final since 2002, when it lost 2-0 to the Americans. “Obviously, we want to look for that reward, that happiness, and go after that,” Ramirez said. “We have a difficult team in front of us.” … The United States’ nine goals are the most in this Gold Cup, while Costa Rica has allowed only one in its four games.

Why PSG’s Alexis, Neymar pursuit fits in a (relatively) smart space

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Paris Saint-Germain’s run of four Ligue 1 titles ended last season, a campaign which also saw exciting league-winners Monaco go two rounds further into the UEFA Champions League.

Monaco looks set for a step back this season, with Bernardo Silva off to Man City and Tiemoue Bakayoko signing for Chelsea. Kylian Mbappe could join Monaco’s list of departures, and reports say Man City had a bid accepted for Benjamin Mendy.

[ EXCLUSIVE: Strootman talks Roma w/ PST ]

While Monaco is loading up on young talent again, PSG clearly sees its chance to surge back into the title seat and Les Parisiens may just make themselves European favorites as well if they can pry Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal and Neymar from Barcelona.

That would be a South American trident nearly as potent as the one Neymar current shares with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi at Barcelona, and the Brazilian would not be second or third fiddle.

PSG has so far been relatively quiet this summer, with the addition of Dani Alves the lone new buy. Aside from money, how was Alves lured to Paris over Man City and a reunion with Pep Guardiola? The idea of a reunion with Neymar and several Brazilian mates — Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Lucas Moura — may’ve been enough and surely that conversation would’ve happened between the two Barca stars.

The French side has to make a big chance at some point soon, unless they’ve been able to unload their money bags and actually buy a fountain of youth. Thiago Motta is 34, Blaise Matuidi 30, Silva 32, and Edinson Cavani 30.

It’s calculated aggression from PSG to splash cash in hopes of rivaling Real Madrid, Juventus, and Barca in pursuit of the UCL title. The Neymar move weakens one of those rivals. If Marco Verratti isn’t part of a swap deal, the signings of Sanchez and Neymar would meet the Italian star’s ambitions well up the road.

De Boer: West Brom was out to injure Palace star Zaha

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No shrinking violet, new Crystal Palace boss Frank De Boer was left fuming at West Bromwich Albion players following the PL Asia Trophy third place match on Saturday in Hong Kong.

While the focus could’ve been on Luka Milivojevic‘s gorgeous free kick (watch here), De Boer couldn’t get past the hard fouls aimed at his key attacker.

[ EXCLUSIVE: Strootman talks Roma w/ PST ]

West Brom gave away the free kick that led to the aforementioned goal by chopping down Zaha, and the foul was not an isolated incident.

From the BBC:

“They were looking for him, to injure him,” said De Boer.

“He’s one of the exciting players in the league. I don’t want to think he’d be out for two weeks or months.”

De Boer is no stranger to rough play, so this is not coming from a soft place. We doubt it’s going to change anything from Tony Pulis‘ men, though.

Chelsea hammers Arsenal 3-0 in Beijing (video)

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Chelsea struck twice early and Michy Batshuayi put the cherry on top as the Premier League champions cruised past Arsenal 3-0 in Beijing on Saturday.

The Blues started a lineup they’d use on any occasion in the PL, while Arsenal had unproven prospects Cohen Bramall and Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the XI.

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Willian‘s quick goal put the Blues up 1-0 at the Bird’s Nest, and Batshuayi scored the second and third. Both were pretty classy, especially the second.

Marcos Alonso did the lion’s share of the work to produce the second chance for Batshuayi, who is threatening to carry over his fine late season form to this campaign. What a smash.