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
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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
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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)

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alex Sanchez this weekend ]

The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alexis Sanchez over the weekend ]

The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

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The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

[ MORE: Chicharito talks heating up with LA FC ]

On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.