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World Cup Today: Germans and Portuguese and Yanks, Oh my!

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WORLD CUP TODAY: MONDAY, JUNE 16

You may not be aware of this fact, so please read these words carefully to avoid the repercussions of shock: the United States begins its 2014 World Cup this evening with a match against Ghana.

Before we get to the Group of Death, how about a hand for Sunday’s competitors? Switzerland used a stoppage-time goal to complete its comeback over Ecuador, France took advantage of some typical Honduras physicality to win 3-0 over its 10-man CONCACAF foes, and Lionel Messi was Lionel Messi to lead Argentina past Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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MATCH 13: GERMANY VS. PORTUGAL
Location: Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador
Time: Noon ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide: Much of the match — and Portugal’s tournament — rides on the health of Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the best player in the world. Even if Germany tasked with facing a healthy CR7, the Portuguese will have deal with perhaps the deepest team in the entire tournament. Germany has a history of winning, while Portugal has been inconsistent at best but did manage a 4th place finish in 2006.

What they’re saying:
Portugal coach Paulo Bento on Cristiano Ronaldo: “Having the best player in the world in our squad does not make it mandatory for us to win the World Cup. I have said this before to the people of Portugal. There have been times when we have had the world’s best player and not even qualified for the World Cup.”

History:
Portugal has only beaten Germany once in their last 10 match-ups, the win coming in the 2000 European Championships. Overall, Germany boasts the advantage at 9W-5D-3L.

Premier League players:
Germany: Per Mertesacker (Arsenal), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Andre Schurrle (Chelsea), Lukas Podolski (Arsenal),
Portugal: Nani (Manchester United)

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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source: APMATCH 12: IRAN VS. NIGERIA 
Location: Arena da Baixada, Curitiba
Time: 3pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide: Some are looking at this match as a breather in between the two intense Group G matches, but Nigeria will look to pick up three points to put some heat on Bosnia and Herzegovina in the perceived battle for second place in Group F. A win for Iran would be a major moment for the nation, whose only World Cup win is their 1998 win over the United States.

What they’re saying:
Nigeria head coach Stephen Keshi: “For the Iran game we have to be focused. We have to concentrate and do our job. We’re not going to take Iran lightly because they’re not going to take us lightly. So we have to go out with everything that we have. This squad is probably a year-plus old, it’s a new team. Most of the players are young.

“In two years’ time we can be much better. I pray that Vincent Enyeama, [Joseph] Yobo and [John] Obi Mikel will bring all their experience. Youth is good, but if we can combine youth and experience that will be great for us.”

History:
Nigeria beat Iran 1-0 in a January 1998 friendly.

Premier League players:
Iran: None
Nigeria: John Obi Mikel (Chelsea), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Peter Odemwingie (Stoke City)

Major League Soccer players:
Iran: Steven Beitashour (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Nigeria: None

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source: Getty ImagesMATCH 14: GHANA VS. UNITED STATES
Location: Arena das Dunas, Natal
Time: 6pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide: If the US has “dos a cero” against Mexico, Ghana has “2-1” against the United States. The Americans look to kick off their World Cup by exorcising previous tournament demons in a “must-win” if progressing to the knockout rounds is going to happen. Ghana is confident of making it three tournaments in-a-row against the USMNT.

What they’re saying:
United States attacker Clint Dempsey: “Ghana is a good team. They’ve done well in the past two World Cups, but at the same time, anytime you come to a World Cup, it’s always a fresh slate. You need to prove to the rest of the world that you’re a quality side and that you’re developing the game in your home country and moving in the right direction.

“I think our preparation has been very good. We’re excited about the opportunity to play against Ghana, which is a top team. But at the same time, if we play with the best of our ability, we have the quality to go far in this tournament, and that’s what we’re focused on.”

History:
Ghana has defeated the United States in two matches, both at the World Cup and both by 2-1 score lines.

Premier League players:
Ghana: None
United States: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Tim Howard (Everton), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City)

Major League Soccer players:
Ghana: None
United States: Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy), Matt Besler (Sporting KC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

MLS Preview: Conference leaders meet as Philly head west to Colorado

COMMERCE CITY, COLORADO - APRIL 02:  Dillon Powers #8 of Colorado Rapids controls the ball against the Toronto FC at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on April 2, 2016 in Commerce City, Colorado. The Rapids defeated Toronto FC 1-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The weekend is nearing, which means another full slate of ten matches across Major League Soccer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

With Sporting KC and D.C. United kicking things off on Friday night, Saturday is jam-packed with eight matches before the league’s youngest clubs NYCFC and Orlando wrap up the action on Sunday.

Colorado Rapids vs. Philadelphia Union — Saturday, 9:00 p.m. ET

There’s not a misprint on the table, Colorado and Philadelphia are both at the top of their conferences. After sitting near the bottom of MLS for the past two seasons, Colorado has shocked everyone, currently leading the league in points (27) with the fewest goals conceded (9). On Saturday, the Rapids put their perfect 6-0 home record on the line when they host the Union, who currently lead the East by two points.

New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC — Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET

Coming off of a massive 7-0 win in the Hudson River Derby against NYCFC, the Red Bulls will look to continue trending upwards when they host Toronto FC. Two of the preseason favorites to top the Eastern Conference, both sides are currently tied on points, although the Red Bulls have a game in hand. For Toronto, Sebastian Giovinco will be keen to prove Antonio Conte wrong after being left out of the Italy squad for EURO 2016 after the Italian boss talked down upon MLS.

[ MLS: Standings | Stats | Schedule ]

Montreal Impact vs. Los Angeles Galaxy — Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET

Didier Drogba has scored in each of his last three starts, a streak he will look to keep alive against the Los Angeles Galaxy this weekend. While Drogba will be looking to score, Montreal must make sure their defense is in top form as the Galaxy have scored a league-high 25 goals through 11 matches.

Elsewhere around MLS

Sporting KC vs. D.C. United — Friday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Houston Dynamo — Saturday, 6:00 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew SC vs. Real Salt Lake — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
New England Revolution vs. Seattle Sounders — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. Portland Timbers — Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET
San Jose Earthquakes vs. FC Dallas — Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET
New York City FC vs. Orlando City SC — Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET

Cantona claims ethnicity played role in Benzema, Ben Arfa France snubs

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 14:  Former Footballer Eric Cantona of France speaks during a press conference at the Shanghai Grand Theatre prior to the  Laureus World Sports Awards  on April 14, 2015 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images for Laureus)
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Eric Cantona has made the headlines again, this time making some bold claims against France national team manager Didier Deschamps.

Cantona, a former Manchester United legend and French international, questioned whether Deschamps excluded Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa from the team due to their North African origins.

[ MORE: Skrtel set to leave Liverpool ]

Speaking to The Guardian, Cantona calls Benzema and Ben Arfa two of France’s best footballers, both of whom will not be playing for the national team this summer.

Benzema is a great player. Ben Arfa is a great player. But Deschamps, he has a really French name. Maybe he is the only one in France to have a truly French name. Nobody in his family mixed with anybody, you know.

So I’m not surprised he used the situation of Benzema not to take him. Especially after [French Prime Minister Manuel Valls] said he should not play for France. And Ben Arfa is maybe the best player in France today. But they have some origins. I am allowed to think about that.

One thing is for sure – Benzema and Ben Arfa are two of the best players in France and will not play the European Championship. And for sure, Benzema and Ben Arfa, their origins are north African. So, the debate is open.

Cantona’s view doesn’t hold much merit as Deschamps did not even have the option of selecting Benzema, the country’s active leading goalscorer. The Real Madrid striker is suspended by the federation, embroiled in a blackmail sex-tape scandal involving French teammate Mathieu Valbuena, who was also left off the EURO roster.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine the Champions League final ]

France is an extremely diverse nation with a large North African population, Benzema of Algerian descent and Ben Arfa’s father a former Tunisian international. Both players were born in France and have received prior call-ups under Deschamps, with Cantona’s quite ridiculous comments likely to cause a stir before the EURO.

FA Cup will no longer have quarterfinal replays

HALIFAX, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09:  The FA Cup is seen prior to the FA Cup First Round match between FC Halifax and Bradford City  on November 9, 2014 in Halifax, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Starting in 2017, the FA Cup will no longer have replays in the quarterfinal round.

The decision was made in an effort to combat the congested English fixture list, which has been a topic of debate for years now.

[ MORE: Lukaku wants out at Everton ]

This season, Manchester United defeated West Ham in a quarterfinal replay before going on to win the competition.

In a statement released by the FA, these changes aim to add drama to the matches while eliminating an extra matchday needed for replays.

The revamped competition will see eight clubs battle it out over one weekend with each tie to be played to a finish on the day, adding to the drama and impact the competition has enjoyed in recent years.

Other new initiatives will be explored to ensure The FA Cup retains its status and appeal. These plans also form part of The FA’s commitment to help ease English football’s congested fixture schedule.

There will still be replays in the earlier rounds of the tournament, which allows lower level clubs the opportunity to earn a nice financial boost should they force a second match at a Premier League ground.

The Premier League is the only top league in Europe that does not take a winter break, a schedule that has been criticized by multiple managers, including Jurgen Klopp.

Judge hears arguments on US women’s team strike rights

HARRISON, NJ - MAY 30:  The United States team poses for a team picture before the match against the South Korea during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on May 30, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO — A federal judge in Chicago has heard arguments whether the world champion U.S. women’s soccer team has the right to strike for improved conditions and wages before this year’s Olympics.

Lawyers for the U.S. Soccer Federation told Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman at a Thursday hearing that a no-strike clause is implied in a still-valid 2013 memorandum with players.

[ MORE: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

But a lawyer for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association balked at that claim. Jeffrey Kessler said the federation had “screwed up” by not securing a no-strike clause in writing and can’t argue three years later that such a provision is implied.

The union wants the option to strike before the Olympics start in August, but hasn’t said it will. Many players have voiced concern over gender equity in soccer.