Colombia's James Rodriguez (10) celebrates with teammate Colombia's Pablo Armero, right after scoring during the group C World Cup soccer match between Japan and Colombia at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba, Brazil, Tuesday, June 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Early look: Colombia faces Uruguay, Greece takes on Costa Rica in World Cup’s Round of 16

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Four more places have booked in World Cup 2014’s knockout round. Here’s an early snapshot of the two match ups that were set with Tuesday’s results:

Colombia vs. Uruguay
Group C winner vs. Group D runner-up
Where: Rio de Janeiro
When: Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern

[ MORE: Rodríguez fuels Colombia | Uruguay eliminates Italy ]

Leading men: We’ve sang James Rodríguez’s praises throughout the day, so rather continue fawning over one of the best players in the tournament, all me to point you to this post on him and Neymar as well as the recap from today’s win over Japan. Coming in at halftime, Rodríguez turned the game on its ear.

For Uruguay, this is where I’d normally say something about Luis Suárez, how he’s one of the four or five players on the planet that can win a game on his own, and tactics could go out the window if he’s on his game. But our friend Luis has a little impulse control problem. You may have heard about it.

As a result, Uruguay needs a new leading man. Perhaps it will be Paris Saint-Germain’s Edinson Cavani. Maybe Diego Forlán, the best player at the last World Cup, will give Father Time the slip for two weeks. Regardless, somebody needs to step up.

Supporting stars: For Uruguay, it’s Diego Godín. The veteran defender has carried over his play from a Spanish title-winning season at Atlético Madrid, helping La Celeste limit England and Italy to one goal over the last 180 minutes. He also shouldered home the game-winner in his team’s 1-0 victory over the Azzurri.

With the Cafeteros, there’s a small army of talented attackers who’ll vie to benefit from Rodríguez’s playmaking. Teofilo Gutíerrez started the team’s first two games at striker, but Jackson Martínez, Adrián Ramos, Victor Ibarbo, and Juan Cuadrado could all play significant roles. Though Colombia has a headlining star, the cast is an ensemble.

Strengths: Uruguay is able to slow a game down, stay strong at the back, and allow games to be defined by its talented attack, even though it’s often unclear how exactly they’re making the connections. For Colombia, as you can tell by the cast of attackers, the team will score goals. José Péckerman’s side averaged three goals per game in the opening round.

Weaknesses: If you pack that Uruguayan midfield back, they have to rely on the likes of Forlán and/or Nicolas Lodeiro to get the team out of its own half. If that doesn’t work on Saturday, Suárez’s absence will loom especially large. For Colombia, there’ve been no weaknesses through three games, but quality in defense and the ability to control play in midfield were questions coming into the tournament.

Early expectations: Particularly with Suárez out, the Colombians will be favored. They finished above La Celeste in qualifying. They’re stronger going into the knockout round.

Three narratives you will hear in the buildup:

  • Uruguay is nothing without Suárez. Just don’t worry about that Cavani guy over there.
  • This is Colombia’s best team since the ill-fated side the went to USA 1994.
  • South America’s depth has been on display at this World Cup … though CONMEBOL also put five teams into 2010’s knockout round.

To the winner: It will be an all-South America quarterfinal. Brazil and Chile face-off in the adjacent pod.

source: AP
Greece’s Giorgos Samaras celebrates with teammates during the group C match between Greece and Ivory Coast. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Costa Rica vs. Greece
Group D winner vs. Group C runner-up
Where: Recife
When: Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern

[ MORE: Draw leaves Ticos top of Group | Samaras wins it late ]

Leading men: Thanks to strong play in front of him, Keylor Navas hasn’t been too stressed in Costa Rica’s goal, but as we saw against England, that may be changing. If it does, the Levante goalkeeper will be up to the challenge. Navas was one of the top goalkeepers in Spain last season.

Greece is a side devoid of stars, but because of his ever-present nature, attacker Georgios Samaras has become the face of the team. Though he only has nine goals in 77 international appearances, he’ll be the danger man on his team’s counterattacks. With a goal and an assist on Tuesday, he’s had a part in both of his team’s World Cup goals.

Supporting stars: At 35 years old, Kostas Katsouranis is one of two players in the team (along with Giorgos Karagounis) who were part of Greece’s 2004 European Championship squad. While he’s in the twilight of his career, he’s still a vital part of Fernando Santos’s midfield. Set to return from a one-game, red card suspension, Katsouranis will slot back into the heart of his team’s formation.

For Costa Rica, Joel Campbell will be familiar with his Greek counterparts, having spent last season on loan from Arsenal with Olympiacos. Joining him in attack, Bryan Ruiz’s versatility should help los Ticos break down a notoriously stalwart defense.

Strengths: Greece is defense and little else. Even the damage they do going forward almost always starts in the back. The team’s built its reputation on its ability to hold out.

Likewise, Costa Rica’s strength is in defense, with the Ticos’ five-man back line leaving the team amongst among the worst in the tournament in terms of shots per game (9.3) and possession (42.5). Those numbers, heavily influenced by the quality of Costa Rica’s opposition, don’t reflect the team’s willingness to be more confrontational than their Round of 16 opponents. They’ll defend, but they won’t be as quick to recede into their shell.

Regardless, one of these teams will have to move out of its comfort zone.

Weaknesses: For Costa Rica, between a solid defense and capable scorers is a midfield that’s lackluster but this tournament’s standards. Celso Borges and Yeltsin Tejada have been as solid as their teammates thus far, but against that renown Greek defense, Borges may struggle to create chances for Campbell and Ruiz.

For Greece, there’s no reliable scorer in a team which, short on creativity, is reliant on set pieces and counter attacks for goals.

Early expectations: Nobody anticipated this matchup, so there are no expectations. These are two teams that were expected to finish last in their groups.

Three narratives you will hear in the buildup:

  • Greece’s spots in the knockout rounds at Euro 2012 and Brazil 2014 aren’t about soft groups. No, no, no. It’s about team ethic and sums that are bigger than their parts, and … well, really easy groups, too. (You won’t hear that last part.)
  • Costa Rica’s quality debunks the notion of a thin CONCACAF (just don’t look too hard at Honduras).
  • Defense, not the combination of defense and offense, wins championships.

To the winner: Either the Netherlands or Mexico. Does CONCACAF dare to dream a place in the semifinals?

Men In Blazers podcast: Leicester, Spurs continue to defy the odds

Men In Blazers - Sept. 22
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Rog and Davo break down Leicester City’s 3-1 win at Manchester City, marvel at Spurs going second in the table, and talk about the headlines surrounding the mid-table clash between Chelsea and United.

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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VIDEO: Previews of all 10 Premier League games in Week 26

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You ready for the weekend? It’s only Thursday, but of course you are.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Week 26 of the 2015-16 Premier League season promises to be a pivotal one at both ends of the table with seven games on Saturday and three on Sunday.

[ MORE: Latest PL standings

In the 10 videos below yours truly takes a look at the key headlines, news, injuries and more on each PL game.

Enjoy.


Arsenal vs. Leicester City, Sunday (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Aston Villa vs. Liverpool, Sunday (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Bournemouth vs. Stoke City, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra)

Crystal Palace vs. Watford, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra)

Chelsea vs. Newcastle United, Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra)

Everton vs. West Brom, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Norwich City vs. West Ham, Sunday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra)

Man City vs. Tottenham, Sunday (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Sunderland vs. Man United, Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra)

Swansea City vs. Southampton, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra)

Ahead of huge top four showdowns, who are the title favorites?

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This weekend is massive. Huge. Monumental.

[ VIDEO: Arsenal-Leicester preview ]

In terms of the Premier League title race having two games between all of the current top four means one thing: bedlam.

Following the Arsenal vs. Leicester City (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) and Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) encounter, we should be provided with a much better idea of where the title is heading.

[ VIDEO: Man City-Tottenham preview

Then again, if Arsenal beat Leicester and Man City draw with Spurs, there will be just five points between all four teams. With 13 games to go this is tight and tense and the most open title race we’ve had in decades. It is also awesome.

[ MORE: Arsenal to play in 2016 MLS All-Star Game ] 

Let’s take a look at all four title contenders and try to see who has the best chance of winning this thing on May 15.


Leicester City
Current position: 1st (53 points)
Biggest plus: No pressure, they were meant to be relegated
Biggest negative: None of their current squad have ever been in this situation. How will they cope?
Key man: Jamie Vardy – A few off days in front of goal recently for the PL’s main man. If he regains his touch, the Foxes will win it.
3 key games: Feb. 14 at Arsenal, Apr. 30 at Man United, May 15 at Chelsea
Strength of remaining schedule (1 is weak, 10 is tough): 2/10 – The best of any of the title contenders, on paper, and no cup games.


Tottenham Hotspur
Current position: 2nd (48 points)
Biggest plus: Mauricio Pochettino. He’s met every major challenge head on.
Biggest negative: Having the FA Cup and Europa League to contend with. Relatively small squad compared to the rest.
Key man: Harry Kane – If he can hit yet another purple patch, combined with Spurs’ solid defense, then that will be huge.
3 key games: Feb. 14 at Man City, Mar. 5 vs. Arsenal, Apr. 9 vs. Chelsea
Strength of remaining schedule: 3/10 – A very soft run-in for Spurs between now and the end of the season.


Arsenal
Current position: 3rd (48 points)
Biggest plus: They have the biggest squad and with Cech in goal their defense looks very settled.
Biggest negative: How many times have we been here before? Have to get over mental barrier, plus UCL and FA Cup to focus on too.
Key man: Alexis Sanchez – Hasn’t quite hit top form since returning from his hamstring injury. Can he hit top gear during crunch time?
3 key games: Feb. 14 vs. Leicester City, Mar. 5 vs. Tottenham, May 7 at Man City
Strength of remaining schedule: 6/10 – Probably the toughest out of all the contenders. Really need Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to pull through.


Manchester City
Current position: 4th (47 points)
Biggest plus: Strongest squad and Vincent Kompany should be returning soon. That, and wanting to send Pellegrini out on a high.
Biggest negative: Guardiola arriving means plenty of uncertainty. If Aguero or Kompany go down injured, title run could be over.
Key man: Vincent Kompany – City will always score goals with Aguero, Sterling, Silva and De Bruyne but they need Vinny back. Big time.
3 key games: Mar. 2 at Liverpool, Mar. 20 vs. Man United, May 7 vs. Arsenal
Strength of remaining schedule: 5/10 – Marginally easier than Arsenal’s because they play United and the Gunners at home. Still. Very tough.


 

Arsenal named as 2016 MLS All-Star Game opponent in San Jose

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  Mesut Ozil (C) of Arsenal celebrates scoring his team's second goal with his team mates Hector Bellerin (L) and Aaron Ramsey (R) during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Emirates Stadium on December 28, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Arsenal is coming to San Jose, California.

On Thursday it was announced that the Premier League giants will take part in the 2016 MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium, home of the San Jose Earthquakes.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

The decision to play against another PL opponent makes it the ninth time that’s happened and MLS’ best will have faced seven different PL clubs in Fulham, Chelsea, West Ham United, Everton, Manchester United, Tottenham and now Arsenal.

The venue for the 2016 ASG will be San Jose’s splendid, yet slightly compact, Avaya Stadium and the game will take place on July 28 at 9 p.m. ET.

[ VIDEO: Arsenal-Leicester preview

Gunners fans in North America hoping to get tickets for the clash will have to act fast as the ‘Quakes home only holds 18,000 people, but there will be another chance to watch Arsenal play as they will face Chivas Guadalajara at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. on July 31.

Safe to say Arsene Wenger won’t need to don his famous long padded jacket for matches in California this July…

As well as seeing Arsenal stars Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Petr Cech, Olivier Giroud and more, the chance to watch young U.S. international Gedion Zelalem in action will excite many. That said, with the game coming late in July, plenty of Arsenal’s top stars may be on extended breaks due to their exertions for their national teams at the 2016 European Championships and the 2016 Copa America Centenario also being staged in North America.