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World Cup Today: U.S. can advance with a win over Portugal

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WORLD CUP TODAY: SUNDAY, JUNE 22

So, what happened yesterday? First, Argentina and Iran fought out what looked to be a goalless draw, only for Lionel Messi to score the winner in injury time. Next came Germany, who everyone expected to win handily after beating Portugal 4-0. Instead they played out a thrilling 2-2 draw with Ghana. Finally, Nigeria knocked out Bosnia and Herzegovina with a lone goal and a questionable offside flag.

And, of course, we all know what today is – the chance for the USMNT to progress to the knockout stages. But first, there’s two other intriguing matches to get through, so get yourself comfortable.

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MATCH 30: BELGIUM VS. RUSSIA
Location: Estádio Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro
Time: Noon ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s Guide
Belgium started slow in their first match, going into the break down a goal. Marc Wilmots elected to make changes for the second half, and his more attacking lineup fought back to beat Algeria 2-1. Russia, too, had to battle for a point, fighting back to a 1-1 draw after goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev’s blunder allowed South Korea the opening goal.

What they’re saying

Vincent Kompany, who hopes to be fit for the match, on playing in the hallowed Maracanã stadium: “Playing at the Maracanã is an honour, a source of pride. With Wembley, it’s the most mythical stadium in the world. I’ve already achieved lots of my childhood dreams. This is another one. I think that all the players, Belgian and Russian, will share the same extraordinary feeling here.”

History
Russia may not be favorites going into this match, but they’ve got a slight historical edge, with four wins to Belgium’s three. The two sides have also drawn once.

Premier League Players
Belgium: 
Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal); Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea); Kevin Mirallas (Everton); Simon Mignolet (Liverpool); Vincent Kompany (Manchester City); Marouane Fellaini, Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United); Nacer Chadli, Mousa Dembélé, Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham)

Did you know: every player in the Russia squad plays their club soccer inside the country?

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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MATCH 31: SOUTH KOREA VS. ALGERIA

Location: Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre
Time: 3pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide
In South Korea’s first game, Lee Keunho scored thanks to a major howler from the goalkeeper, but Russia fought back to ensure both sides left with a point. Algeria took a surprising lead against Belgium and looked strong throughout, but they couldn’t overcome Wilmots’ second-half substitutions, and would up losing 2-1. Should both sides come out of their shells a bit, this could be a fun one to watch.

What they’re saying

Sofiane Feghouli, scorer of Algeria’s goal against Belgium, thinks his side should still be hopeful: “We held out for 70 minutes against one of the strongest nations at the World Cup. We learned a lot from the game. As a young side, we’ve got nothing to lose. It’s always disappointing to lose, but we need to take note of the positive aspects, especially in the way we played as a unit. We fought hard, demonstrating great teamwork, and that’s why I still think we can reach the Round of 16.”

History
The two sides have met just once, with South Korea winning 2-0.

Premier League players
South Korea:
 Park Chu-Young (Arsenal); Ki Sung-Yueng (Swansea); Yun Suk-Young (Queens Park Rangers)
Algeria: Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City); Nabil Bentaleb (Tottenham)

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MATCH 32: UNITED STATES VS. PORTUGAL

Location: Arena Amazônia, Manaus
Time: 6pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide
Portugal were already down 2-0 by the time Pepe gave Thomas Müller a loving head-nuzzle, so it was no trouble at all for Germany to down them 4-0. Clint Dempsey impressed for the United States, scoring within 30 seconds and playing nearly an hour with a broken nose. Ghana equalized late, but John Brooks came back with a goal to give the U.S. the 2-1 victory.

What they’re saying
Clint Dempsey believes the U.S. brought the 12th Man to Brazil: “To be able to have that feeling of feeling that you’re at home is pretty special, especially when I remember playing games in the States when I first got in the national side, where you’d be playing and they’d have more fans than you even in your home country. So now things are starting to change and the fact that we are here in Brazil, and playing in these different stadiums, you feel like you have that home-field advantage. It shows how far the game has come in the States.”

History:
The U.S. and Portugal are dead even: two wins each, one draw, and five goals scored by each side. Will the balance tip in favor of one team today?

Premier League players
United States:
Brad Guzan (Aston Villa); Tim Howard (Everton); Geoff Cameron (Stoke City); Jozy Altidore (Sunderland
Portugal: Nani (Manchester United)

MLS players
United States:
Michael Bradley (Toronto FC); Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo); Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy); Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake); Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes); Clint Dempsey, DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders); Matt Besler, Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

El Tri striker Pulido fought kidnappers, used cell phone to call police

HYERES, FRANCE - JUNE 01:  Alan Pulido (no.19) of Mexico celebrates his goal during the Toulon Tournament Final between  Mexico and Turkey at Stade Perruc on June 1, 2012 in Hyeres, France.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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More details have been released regarding Alan Pulido’s kidnapping in Mexico.

The Mexican international and Olympiakos striker was taken at gunpoint early Sunday morning in Tamaulipas. He was then freed on Monday after a police “rescue operation.”

Seen leaving the police station with a bandaged hand, officials have now given information on how Pulido was injured.

[ MORE: PSG defender Aurier arrested ]

The 25-year-old striker cut his hand while punching through a glass pane in an attempt to escape. Officials also said Pulido fought his kidnapper, doing enough to grab a cell phone and notify police of his whereabouts.

From BBC News:

State prosecutor Ismael Quintanilla said the masked gang had taken Pulido to a house in Ciudad Victoria where he eventually found himself alone with one of his abductors.

“They traded blows. He takes it [the phone] and calls [emergency number] 066. It all happened very quickly,” Mr Quintanilla told Imagen radio.

An official report of the calls Pulido made to the emergency operator, obtained by the Associated Press, revealed that he threatened and beat the kidnapper while on the phone, demanding to be told where they were.

In one of the calls, Pulido said police were outside and starting to shoot so he described what he was wearing to avoid being mistaken for a kidnapper.

A wild situation, but the most important thing is that Pulido is safe while one arrest has been made.

Juanfran pens letter to Atleti fans after missing penalty in UCL final

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28:  Juanfran of Atletico Madrid shows his dejection during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Atletico Madrid lost to Real Madrid in the Champions League final for the second time in three years this Sunday, falling 5-3 on penalty kicks.

After losing the 2014 final in extra-time, Atleti forced a shootout this time around, although Juanfran‘s miss allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to score the game-winning penalty for Real.

[ MORE: Simeone considering Atletico future ]

Juanfran, whose shot beat Keylor Navas but hit the post, had scored the game-winning penalty against PSV Eindhoven to advance to the quarterfinal.

The only player to miss his penalty in the final, the veteran right-back penned an emotional letter thanking Atleti fans for their support, which was posted to the club’s website.

Hello Atléticos,

I have asked the club to address all of you with this letter to tell you everything I feel.

I will never forget your displays of affection when I came to ask for your forgiveness. Seeing my tears reflected in the faces of the thousands of Atléticos that packed that end of the stadium helped me cope with the tremendous sadness I felt in those hard times. As well as the support of my teammates, coaches, and all the people that makes this big family.

I also want to thank you for always believing in us and, above all, for proving that being an Atlético is something very special, different, and that our heart beats stronger than any other.

Two years ago, I told you that we would return to a final, now, I tell you that Gabi, our captain, will lift the Champions League sooner or later, and we will celebrate it all together in Neptuno.

Despite starting his career with Real Madrid, Juanfran is adored by Atleti supporters, having made more than 250 appearances for the club since joining in 2010. Having played the full 120 minutes in the 2014 final loss as well, this result was crushing for the defender.

[ VIDEO: Akinfenwa leaves Wimbledon with epic interview after winning promotion ]

Juanfran still believes Atleti will be back, and they’ve proven over the past few seasons that they are one of the elite clubs in Europe. If the club can hold on to the likes of Juanfran and their world-class backline, he may have a third shot to win the Champions League.

VIDEO: “The Beast” leads Wimbledon to promotion; leaves club with epic interview

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Adebayo Akinfenwa’s time at AFC Wimbledon may be over, but he will never be forgotten.

The striker scored a penalty kick at Wembley on Monday deep into stoppage time to seal Wimbledon’s promotion to League One after a 2-0 win over Plymouth Argyle.

Headed to League One for the first time in club history, the win caps off a remarkable rise for Wimbledon that started in the ninth-tier of English football back in 2002.

[ MORE: Pellegrini rues Pep announcement ]

Akinfenwa, a journeyman striker in England’s lower leagues, has gained cult-hero status due to his large frame, listed at 5-foot-11-inches and weighing in at over 220 pounds, earning him the nickname “The Beast.”

Speaking to Sky Sports amid the promotion celebrations, Akinfenwa asked for other managers to shoot him a text as his contract expires with Wimbledon this summer.

It’s what dreams are made of. I’m more tired now running around [celebrating] than I was the whole game, but it’s a beautiful feeling.

Sidebar, I think I’m technically unemployed. So any managers, hit me up on the WhatsApp and get me a job.

There ain’t no better way to leave this club than to leave them promoted, it’s beautiful. For all them who said I was too big to play football, come on now.

Akinfenwa also joked about his late-match penalty, in which he was seen wrestling the ball away from teammate Callum Kennedy. When asked about the situation, Akinfenwa responded “It was just set up too beautifully, and I’m bigger than Cal, so Cal was unlucky. I’m sorry Cal K, I love you though.”

Saints to offer Shane Long new deal as Liverpool, Spurs show interest

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 08:  Shane Long of Southampton is chased down by Kyle Walker of Tottenham Hotspur during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton at White Hart Lane on May 8, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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After scoring ten Premier League goals this season, Shane Long looks set to be rewarded with a new contract at Southampton.

Despite having two years remaining on his current contract, multiple reports state he will get a new deal to fend off interest from Liverpool and Tottenham.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s EURO 2016 coverage ]

Spurs’ boss Mauricio Pochettino was in Dublin this past weekend to watch Long play for Ireland, where he was pictured sitting with the player’s agent Pat Dolan. The Saints’ striker scored Ireland’s only goal in a 1-1 draw against the Netherlands.

Liverpool had also reached out to Southampton back in January about a possible move for Long, and it is believed Jurgen Klopp is quite fond of the Irish striker.

[ MORE: Klinsmann aiming for top-four finish at Copa America Centenario ]

Having already inked Virgil Van Dijk, James Ward-Prowse, and Fraser Forster to new deals, Southampton will be eager to lock up Long before EURO 2016 kicks off.

Likely to be the top striker for Ireland at the tournament, a good showing for Long on Europe’s biggest stage could lead to even more interest in the 29-year-old.