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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)

Thibaut Courtois committed to Chelsea despite links to PSG

WATFORD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 03:  Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Chelsea at Vicarage Road on February 3, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Thibaut Courtois has denied reports he could leave London for Paris Saint-Germain this summer after a disappointing season at Chelsea.

The 23-year-old goalkeeper missed a large portion of the season through injury and failed to regain his top form when healthy as the Blues struggled throughout the year.

With a new manager in Antonio Conte taking over in June, some believed Courtois would be sold to allow the Italian to bring in a goalkeeper of his choice.

[ MORE: Atletico Madrid reach UCL final ]

Despite recent reports linking Courtois with a transfer to PSG that would make him the most expensive goalkeeper in the world, the Belgian international does not fancy a move to France.

Speaking to French newspaper Le Parisien, Courtois said he is happy at Chelsea and will “100-percent” be back at Stamford Bridge next season.

I have never had any contact with PSG. I have played a lot against PSG recently – twice last season, again this season in a friendly and twice more in the Champions League this year.

They are a good club who win their league easily. Me, I like playing in England. Paris is a very good club but I am happy at Chelsea.

I have a contract for three years, so I will say 100 per cent [be staying at Chelsea]. Rumours affect any club where things are going badly. People think the top players want to leave because they are not in the Champions League.

Those words show quite a change from Courtois’ opinion a few months ago, when he cast doubt over his Chelsea future.

At just 23, Courtois has already made more than 200 appearances in his career for Atletico Madrid and Chelsea. Although he did not have a standout season this year, Courtois has shown his talent as a potential top-five goalkeeper in the world and Conte would be wise to keep him.

Former CONMEBOL president has petition to stop extradition rejected

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ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) Paraguay’s top court has rejected a petition by Nicolas Leoz, the former head of the South American football confederation, to halt his extradition to the United States.

Leoz is being held under house arrest in Paraguay. He is accused of receiving millions in bribes and kickbacks and was among dozens of top officials indicted in the FIFA corruption scandal.

[ FOLLOW: Leicester City’s miracle ]

Leoz’s lawyer Ricardo Preda told The Associated Press that his petition was turned down, but that he would continue to appeal against the extradition.

Leoz was the head of CONMEBOL from 1986 until 2013 when he resigned, and was replaced by Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay.

Figueredo is under house arrest in Uruguay on similar charges. Figueredo was replaced by Juan Angel Napoul of Paraguay, who is under house arrest in Miami.

Cristiano Ronaldo back healthy for Real Madrid; will play vs. Man City

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 03:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid warms up during a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg between Real Madrid and Manchester City at Valdebebas training ground on May 3, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has confirmed that Cristiano Ronaldo is “100-percent” for Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal match against Manchester City.

Ronaldo missed the first leg at the Etihad while recovering from a thigh injury, which ended a scoreless draw.

[ MORE: UCL semifinal preview ]

The Champions League’s all-time leading scorer with 93 goals, Ronaldo has not featured for Real since suffering the injury in a La Liga match against Villarreal on April 20.

Real Madrid had the better of chances in the first leg in Manchester, but Joe Hart’s heroics stopped Zidane’s side from grabbing an all-important away goal. However, Ronaldo’s absence was clearly visible and his return is a massive boost for Real.

[ RELATED: Atletico Madrid eliminate Bayern Munich, advance to UCL final ]

Even if Ronaldo is not 100-percent fit as Zidane claims, his inclusion in the lineup is still vital for Real’s success. A threat in so many different aspects of the game, his presence alone can throw off opposing defenses, leaving more time and space for his teammates to expose a City back-line that has its flaws.

Premier League chairman: Leicester City made mugs of all of us

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 03:  Leicester reacts to Leicester City's Premier League Title Success on May 03, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore has been around football for a long time, but even he can’t explain Leicester City’s miraculous title run.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Leicester coverage ]

With the Foxes now officially champions of England, Scudamore hailed the achievement as “the biggest sporting story ever.”

Speaking to BBC Sport, the Premier League’s top exec said Leicester’s run has silenced all the bookmakers and critics who said it could never happen, but that he wouldn’t want it any other way.

It’s probably the biggest sporting story ever and the biggest sporting achievement ever.

Nobody saw it coming and even when it was halfway through the season nobody said it could be sustained.

We don’t know what the future holds because we’ve all become completely hopeless at predicting anything, including the bookmakers and everybody else – because this one nobody saw coming.

It’s made mugs of all of us and that is just the most fantastic feeling.

If the bookmakers had it as a 5,000-1 event, you would imagine you should achieve these type of things once every 5,000 years. It gives us 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years of being able to say: ‘Leicester 2016. Just remember Leicester 2016.’

Pegged as pre-season favorites for relegation, Leicester defied the odds (5,000-1 odds) and claimed the most unlikely of championships. A top executive with the Premier League since 1999, even Scudamore had to admit he had a bit of egg on his face.

[ VOTE: What is the top moment from Leicester’s fairytale run? ]

Scudamore may not have believed in the Foxes, but few outside the city really did. One thing the chairman did have right though, is that we will all remember ‘Leicester 2016.’