SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 19: England manager Roy Hodgson looks on during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between Uruguay and England at Arena de Sao Paulo on June 19, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Roy Hodgson’s asked about resigning, but England should keep calm and carry on

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During what’s sure to be a difficult period of soul-searching, I’d like to offer this open letter to my friends in England:

Dear Friends:

You’re already doing it. Just calm down. It’s just not that bad.

Sincerely,

-rf

What’s this all about? Consider these headlines, all based on England head coach Roy Hodgson’s reaction after today’s match against Italy.

  • The Telegraph: Roy Hodgson vows not to quit despite England World Cup defeats by Uruguay and Italy
  • The Daily Mail: Roy Hodgson won’t quit after England lose to Uruguay to stand on verge of World Cup elimination
  • The Independent: ‘I will not resign,’ says Roy Hodgson after 2-1 loss left England on the brink of exit
  • The Guardian: Roy Hodgson insists he will not resign as England manager after defeat

You get the picture. At some point today, after Luis Suárez’s late goal sent England to a second straight 2-1 loss, Hodgson was asked if he would step down. He said “no,” and with good reason.

England is not one of the most talented nations in the world, yet as implied by the question (and reaction after today’s result), expectations are unreasonably high. Regardless of their group’s depth or the performances of transcendent talents like Andrea Pirlo and Luis Suárez, England fans expect their team to get out of the group. Never mind England only gave up six shots on target over 180 minutes, and forget about the transitional state of a team that will be stronger at Euro 2016 than it was in Brazil. England hadn’t been eliminated in a group stage since 1958, until now.

All of which is a very narrow view of the Three Lions. Having only lost two competitive matches since Cesare Prandelli took over four years ago, Italy is a proven commodity, one that again showed their quality on Saturday in Manaus. And while Uruguay struggled in World Cup qualifying, the team is a 2010 World Cup semifinalist and the reigning South American champions, achievements that speak to La Celeste’s quality in major tournaments.

source: AP
After 75 minutes against Uruguay, England was even, 1-1. A second goal from Luis Suárez left the Three Lions without a point after two matches at the 2014 World Cup. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

What about Hodgson’s team suggests England should necessarily overcome these foes? They’re certainly capable of beating either team, but closes losses shouldn’t be surprising, either. How are Hodgson’s results so unreasonable?

That’s not to say Hodgson is beyond scrutiny, because there are a series of small decisions which may have made the difference. Why is this Steven Gerrard guaranteed a spot? Or, seemingly, Danny Welbeck, for that matter? Why was Adam Lallana dropped when it was unclear whether Wayne Rooney or Raheem Sterling was the player to use wide? And ultimately, why is England probably going home after the opening round?

Ultimately, it all comes down to that last question, one that’s as frustratingly presumptuous as it straight-forward. England can play with Italy, but over a given 90 minutes, a 2-1 loss is a reasonable outcome. Same with Uruguay, especially on a day when Luis Suárez scores on both of his team’s shots on target. If Andrea Barzagli mistimes his lunge, or Joe Hart stays big on Suárez’s late shot, things turn out different. That’s not to say England deserved those results (they don’t), but it highlights the thin margins in Group D.

Ultimately, Hodgson needs to figure out ways for his team to create and prevent chances. His selection influences how those plans play out, but even in that regard, Hodgson has limited options.

So when people see England had five shots on target to Italy’s four, and six shots on target to Uruguay’s two, how can people justify implying he should resign? Hodgson didn’t head the ball off the post in today’s first half, but be did draw up the play that gave Wayne Rooney the opportunity to do so. And while he didn’t create those first half counterattacking chances against Italy, he did select the attackers that put those plays into motion.

Granted, Hodgson could have recognized the limits of his players and put in a different plan. He could have recognized that a player like Rooney was not going to be as efficient as Suárez. Still, in both of his team’s games, Hodgson put his players in a position to win. They just didn’t take advantage of their opportunities.

Hodgson played a part in England’s exit, no doubt, but so did Italy. So did Suárez. So did a tough draw, and so did his attacker’s missed chances.

But should Hodgson fall on the sword because of things beyond his control? In England, that becomes the demand, but it’s one that’s built from unreasonable expectations. If England can keep calm and carry on, this team should be fine going forward.

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.

Gary Neville under pressure as Valencia without a win in nine

EIBAR, SPAIN - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Gary Neville of Valencia CF reacts during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and Valencia CF at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
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Gary Neville was appointed manager at Valencia on December 2. He is still yet to win a La Liga match.

After falling 1-0 to Real Betis on Sunday, Neville is now winless in nine league matches at Valencia as pressure grows on the new boss.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Some have called for Neville to step down from his position, as the club has fallen from 8th to 13th and now sit just four points clear of the drop.

However, the former Manchester United legend has said he has been judged too quickly and will work hard to turn things around.

I said before I came that I would be judged in five months. I have been judged in six weeks.

There’s no doubt that at times like this everyone needs to stay together.

Everyone suffers. It’s just not going for us at the moment. I continue to work, I continue to have belief.

Conversations with the owners are between me and the owners. We have to turn it round quickly, I understand that. It is hard to explain the defeat. It will turn.

Not only has Neville struggled in La Liga play, but he has also seen Valencia bounced from the Champions League and saw his side smashed 7-0 by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinal.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

Valencia’s next league match is on Saturday against Espanyol, who sit three points below Valencia and haven’t won a match since December. If Neville fails to win again, there could be some real trouble at the Mestalla.

PSG down Marseille 2-1 for ninth-straight Le Classique win

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 21:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic #10 of Paris Saint-Germain is congratulated by teamamte Maxwell #17 after Ibrahimovic scored a goal in the second half against AFC Fiorentina during the International Champions Cup at Red Bull Arena on July 21, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.Paris Saint-Germain defeated ACF Fiorentina 4-2.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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France’s biggest rivalry has been quite one-sided, as Paris Saint-Germain defeated Marseille 2-1 on Sunday to take their ninth-straight Le Classique.

Marseille’s last win over PSG in Ligue 1 play was in November of 2011.

[ MORE: Juve win 14th straight ]

PSG got off to a dream start in Sunday’s Classique as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the opening two minutes to give the Le Parisiens an early lead. It was Zlatan’s league-leading 21st goal of the season.

On loan from Newcastle, Remy Cabella equalized for Marseille in the 25th minute. Cabella scored on a brilliant individual effort, taking the ball from his own half on a solo run to the PSG box before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.

[ RELATED: Lewandowski’s agent confirms contract talks with Bayern Munich ]

However, PSG pushed on and claimed the win thanks to a 71st minute goal from Angel di Maria, who has been impressing in his first season in Paris. With eight goals and ten assists in Ligue 1 play, only Zlatan has been involved in more goals than di Maria.

Through 25 matches, PSG hold a ridiculous 24-point lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table.