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Tighter than expected: Talking points after Germany’s draw with Ghana

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Call it the Group of Death if you want, but after Ghana tripped up Germany in Fortaleza, Group G at this year’s World Cup is all about opportunity. Four teams, all vulnerable in their own way, are challenging our notions of order and predictability, bringing some welcome uncertainty to what some saw as a top-heavy group:

  • Germany is the best team on paper, but although they controlled more of the ball on Saturday, Ghana were just as good.
  • Yet that Ghana team fell to a U.S. side that didn’t concede the opportunities they saw against the Germans. Though the Black Stars eventually found a way, they also gave up two goals en route to a 2-1 loss.
  • And that U.S. team that looked so solid against Ghana? Unfortunately, the wasn’t much more than that organized approach. Can the team generate enough chances to force their way into the knockout round?
  • And Portugal? Who knows, but their toughest game may be behind them, and in Cristiano Ronaldo, they still have one of the two best players in the world. They may collapse under the absences of Pepe, Fabio Coentrão, and Rui Patricio, but they also have the talent to take six points in their final games.

That’s the chaotic state of Group G after today’s match in Fortaleza. Here’s three other takeaways from the 2-2 result:

[ MORE: Klose equalizer salvages result for Germany ]
[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

1. The gap is smaller than we thought – Germany were the clear group favorites — they are the clear group favorites — but as we’ve been reminded throughout Brazil 2014, the gap between the titans and the pack just isn’t that big. Perhaps that’s because of the increasingly demanding European season. Maybe it’s the challenges of a tournament in a large country with varying climates. Regardless, huge pre-tournament favorites like Argentina, Brazil, and Spain have been proven flawed, if not outright overrated.

Today, Germany joined that group, but the credit needs to go to Ghana. In the first half, we saw what the potential of that German attack, but a series of strong plays from defender John Boye helped keep the favorites off the board. As bad as Boye was against the U.S., he was that valuable on Saturday.

Boye wasn’t the only player who stepped up. André Ayew won a one-on-one battle with Shkodran Mustafi on Ghana’s opening goal, while a great play from Sulley Muntari allowed the Milan midfielder to create a turnover and set up Asamoah Gyan’s 63rd minute finish. Late in the match, Jonathan Mensah and Kwadwo Asamoah made penalty box stops as Germany fought through their fatigue and pressed for a winner.

Germany played well on Saturday, but so did Ghana. The gap between the two teams was just smaller than we thought.

2. Löw’s fullback lament – Germany has attacking talent that rivals any nation in the world, but they’ve slowing become the European Argentina. For all the danger they pose going forward, there are serious questions at the back, where the national team remains vulnerable.

Particularly with Philipp Lahm playing in the middle, those problems are at full back. Jerome Boateng, more comfortable in central defense, started at right back. Benedikt Höwedes, more comfortable in central defense, started at left back. When Joachim Löw made a change at half time, bringing in Shkodran Mustafi for Boateng at halftime, it cost him. The Lazio defender was beaten for Ghana’s first goal.

Löw has often lamented his lack of options at full back, but he has alternatives. With Bastian Schweinsteiger an option in the middle, perhaps Lahm can be moved back to his natural position.

Or maybe defense is just a flaw the Germans have to overcome. Regardless, as Ghana showed throughout Saturday’s 90 minutes, Löw’s team remains vulnerable at the back, making it even more important they maintain control of the ball.

3. It wasn’t ideal, but things are still breaking nicely for the U.S. – A Germany win could have dealt Ghana a mortal blow, but things continue to look up for the U.S. With a win tomorrow, they secure a place in the knockout round.

That fate would have been the same with a Germany win, however, so how does today’s draw change the States’ picture? Ghana, now capable of getting to four points, will be alive on Thursday, no matter what. Plus, Germany has something to play for against the U.S. There’s no scenario that puts the Germans through before they kick off in Recife.

The upside for the States? They have a viable route to claiming first in Group G. Two points will put them into the knockout round, but four points win the group. Instead of Belgium in the round of 16, the U.S. could face Algeria, Russia, or South Korea …

… provided they get there at all. As today’s result in Fortaleza reminds us, nothing’s guaranteed in this year’s World Cup.

City Council approves plans for new Los Angeles soccer venue

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LOS ANGELES (AP) The City Council has approved plans to build a $250 million stadium for Major League Soccer’s expansion Los Angeles Football Club.

[ MORE: Can MLS teams begin to create separation in Week 10? ]

The council voted 12-0 Friday to move forward with a 22,000-seat stadium on the site of the old Sports Arena next to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and USC.

The 15-acre complex is also slated to include a conference center, restaurants, 140,000 square feet of plazas and streetscapes, and a soccer museum.

At its center would be the home to the new MLS team when it makes its debut in 2018.

LAFC is owned by Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan, American venture capitalist Henry Nguyen and a celebrity-studded list of investors including Magic Johnson, Tony Robbins, Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra.

Barcelona reportedly seeking out Nice winger Hatem Ben Afra

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Lost in the 2015-16 campaign has been Nice attacker Hatem Ben Afra.

[ MORE: Leicester can provide more magic at home vs. Everton ]

While Paris Saint-Germain has stolen the spotlight in France for much of this season, the former Newcastle midfielder has been nothing short of special for Les Aiglons.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s PL picks are in for Week 37 ]

That has left La Liga giant Barcelona contacting the 29-year old Frenchman over his services, according to Nice president Jean Pierre Rivere.

Rivere told France 3 he wouldn’t mind Ben Afra exiting the club:

“I would be very happy for him and for Nice if this move comes off,” Rivère said. “You do not reject Barcelona, but it is up to him to decide. If I was a player and Barcelona was offered to me I would not ask questions, I would go! But it is not yet done according to what I am told.”

In 32 appearances this season for Nice, Ben Afra has notched 17 goals and added five assists. He ranks third in goals, only behind PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexandre Lacazette of Lyon.

Barcelona could very well be the frontrunners to acquire the talented attacker, but several European sides have also expressed interest in Ben Afra. Premier League clubs Chelsea and Liverpool, as well as AC Milan have also been named as potential suitors.

[ MORE: What do other PL teams have to say about Leicester? ]

Ben Afra’s age may be a bit of a concern for the Blaugrana though, in addition to the fact that this current season is the only time in his career that he has tallied double-digit goals. The Lyon academy product could provide solid depth to Barcelona’s attack should a deal get finalized.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Everton

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  • Leicester simply playing for home pride
  • Everton seek top-10 finish

Leicester City host Everton on Saturday from the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) in hopes of providing its fans with a season-capping victory, after winning the Premier League title on Monday.

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By now everyone has seen Christian Fuchs‘ video of the Leicester players in celebration mode, but there are still two games left to play. The match against Everton may be more about pride than anything else, but it can still represent an important feat for the club and serve as a true celebration in front of their home supporters.

Jamie Vardy‘s return will provide the fans with yet another moment to applaud and you’d expect the Leicester forward to want to add to his 22 PL goals.

[ MORE: Norwich in desperate need of three points vs. Manchester United ]

The Foxes will be met by an Everton side that don’t really have anything to play for either. Toffees manager Roberto Martinez will surely be looking for a win with his job on the line, however, it’s left to be seen whether or not he can actually maintain his position. Everton has finished in the PL top 10 each of the last eight seasons, and a finish outside of that mark would be a huge setback for the club.

What they’re saying…

Ranieri on his team competing: “Inside me there are two people. One is a very aggressive, I want to win, I won the Premier League but now I want to win on Saturday.”

Martinez on Leicester not letting up: “I’m sure any sort of celebration could affect you in the long term if you had to face a difficult month. In a 90-minute game where the stadium is going to be an historic environment, I’m sure that can only be positive for the home team.”

Prediction

The title is already theirs but why wouldn’t Leicester win this match? The KP Stadium will be rocking into the night and the Foxes will come away with a convincing 3-0 win against Everton.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Premier League Preview: Norwich City vs. Manchester United

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  • Norwich sit two points out of 17th place
  • United in battle with West Ham for Europe
  • Canaries are losers of three straight

Norwich City host Manchester United from Carrow Road on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) as the Canaries seek Premier League safety with two weeks remaining.

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With their season on the line, Norwich is facing desperation as they meet Manchester United. The Canaries posted just one win in four matches in April, leaving them 19th in the PL. While neither Newcastle nor Sunderland were able to create separation between themselves and Norwich, a win against United is a necessity with three games left to play.

Goals have come at a minimum this season for the Canaries, leaving Nathan Redmond and Dieumerci Mbokani in need of a big game. Each player has notched five goals this season for the side.

[ MORE: Ranieri’s on-field changes as manager have propelled Leicester ]

Disappointment has surrounded United for much of the 2015-16 season, however, the Red Devils still have important matches to play down the stretch. That starts with Norwich. Sitting four points behind fourth place Manchester City and holding a game in hand, Louis Van Gaal‘s club can close the gap on the Citizens with a strong performance on Saturday.

What they’re saying…

Neil on match’s importance: “Everybody knows the situation, so I don’t think it is going to have massive difference in terms of how we would approach the game or they (relegation rivals) would approach the game. What it does do is apply pressure to their game, but there will be pressure on that anyway. They will recognise and we recognise that all the teams need to win games to stay in the division.”

Van Gaal on injury struggles: “I always talk about facts, not about hypothetical circumstance and activities. I can only say that in the end of November we had first position, after that we had a big decline.”

Prediction

Despite playing in front of a feisty home crowd at Carrow Road and picking up a 2-1 victory early this season against United, the Canaries chances aren’t too optimistic. Norwich hasn’t scored in three straight matches, all of which were losses. With United still playing for something I don’t expect the Red Devils to drop this match. Give United the points on the road, 3-1, leaving Norwich to rely on Aston Villa and Chelsea to pick up wins.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

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