World Cup Today: Only one of 8 teams out of it in Groups E & F

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How’d you like to win your first two matches of World Cup and not be guaranteed a place in the knockout round? It’s extremely unlikely, but that’s the predicament facing France on Wednesday despite outclassing Switzerland and Honduras to open its tournament and boasting a plus-6 goal differential.

Still, the French should be through barring a three-goal stomping from Ecuador coupled with Switzerland running roughshod over Honduras. And with four matches on tap today, we’ll have to shift our focus from Tuesday’s action and controversy, which saw:

Luis Suarez’s third bite take the focus away from Uruguay’s advancement over Italy.

England’s snoozer of a draw against Costa Rica.

Greece playing the snake-in-the-grass to near-perfection in ouster of Ivory Coast

Colombia reinforcing its status as title threats with a 4-1 thumping of Japan

[ MORE: How will U.S. lineup vs. Germany ]
[ MORE: Soccerly covers the World Cup ]

Two more group finales are in store on Wednesday. Let’s take a look at what’s in store:

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MATCH 43: Nigeria vs. Argentina
Location: Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre
Time: Noon ET
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Cheater’s Guide
The Soccerly headline says that Argentina is out to prove they are more than just Lionel Messi, who turned 27 on Tuesday, but they haven’t needed anything additional than Leo so far. Argentina is through and will win the group with a tie or better. Nigeria is also through with a draw.

What they’re saying
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella on Messi: “Whenever there is a player like Messi, there’s a dependence. We are trying to improve but dependence always exists. We have to try to take the pressure off him between all of us because we are a team. But for a great player there is always pressure at a World Cup.”

History
Argentina holds a 4-1-1 advantage, including a 3-for-3 mark at World Cups 2010, 2002 and 1994.

Premier League Players
Nigeria: John Obi MikelVictor Moses (Chelsea); Peter Odemwingie (Stoke City)
Argentina: Manchester City has three representatives: Pablo Zabaleta, Martín Demichelis and Sergio Agüero.

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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source:  MATCH 44: Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Iran
Location: Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador
Time: Noon ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide
BNH is out, while Iran still advance with a win, a Nigeria loss and a better goal differential (Iran’s is currently -1, Nigeria’s +1). With the two teams having drawn 0-0, there’s also the chance of lots being drawn if the matches both finish 1-0.

What they’re saying
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz on the match’s importance: “This is our World Cup final, it’s as simple as that. We didn’t come here to win the trophy. Nobody expected that from Iran, but we raised our expectations and we raised our dreams. We want to play the match with one goal in mind: to fulfil our dream of reaching the last 16.”

History
BNH has not won in five attempts against Iran with at least three goals scored in each match (Iran outscoring them 16-7).

Premier League players
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Asmir Begović (Stoke City); Edin Džeko (Manchester City)

MLS players
Iran: Steven Beitashour (Vancouver Whitecaps)

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source: AP

MATCH 41: Honduras vs. Switzerland
Location: Arena da Amazônia, Manaus
Time: 4pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide
Believe it or not, Honduras is not out of this thing yet. It would take a crazy dose of CONCACAF magic, as the Central Americans will need to win and see Ecuador lose to France by margins that erase a goal differential of four. Switzerland needs to win and see Ecuador lose as well, though the erasing of goal differential is easier than Honduras’ task.

What they’re saying
Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka: “We have a better team and more quality than Honduras. And I think we deserve to go through to the Round of 16. We’re utterly determined to make it, and we’ll show it against Honduras.”

History
Met once at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where they drew 0-0.

Premier League players
Honduras – Maynor Figueroa (Hull City), Wilson Palacios (Stoke City)
Switzerland – Philippe Senderos (Aston Villa)

MLS players:
Honduras – Victor Bernardez (San Jose), Boneik Garcia (Houston), Marvin Chavez (Chivas USA), Jerry Bengtson (New England).

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source: Getty ImagesMATCH 42: Ecuador vs. France
Location: Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte
Time: 4pmn ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide
Ecuador needs to win and hope Switzerland doesn’t absolutely destroy Honduras in Manaus. France wins the group with a draw, and it would take a grievous and historical loss to eliminate them as well (And what if they had Ribery?!?)

What they’re saying
Ecuador’s Christian Noboa on the match: ““It’s like a final for us and we’re hoping to win it and make our people happy. We can beat France. That’s why we’re here at the World Cup, because every team is capable of beating anyone else. We’ve seen that in the other games, and there isn’t much difference between sides now.

History
The two nations have never met.

Premier League players
Ecuador – Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)
France – Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle), Bacary Sagna (Manchester City), Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Moussa Sissokho (Newcastle), Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Loic Remy (QPR).

MLS players
Ecuador – Oswaldo Minda (Chivas USA)

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Benitez happy to stay at Newcastle if he “has the tools to compete”

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Rafa Benitez is approaching something vaguely resembling sainthood in the northeast of England — with the Newcastle United-supporting portion, at least — but his future remains in doubt as the end of the current Premier League season draws nearer and the next one approaches.

[ MORE: Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the year award ]

Benitez and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley have endured an unhappy working relationship for much of Benitez’s 25 months at the club. The Spaniard was true to his word, though, when he stuck around another season after being relegated from the PL in 2016, then again after winning promotion on the Magpies’ first attempt, but he’ll be faced with the same dilemma again this summer, even after guiding Newcastle to a mid-table finish (they currently sit 10th with five games left to play).

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

If he’s not given assurances that he’ll be handed the necessary funds to properly strengthen his squad during the upcoming summer transfer window, the 58-year-old could very well walk away and leave Ashley to play the part of all-too-familiar villain. Or, as Benitez put it this weekend, Ashley could fork over “the tools to be capable of competing” and make everyone, from the manager to the fans, happy — quotes form the Guardian:

“If they [Ashley’s representatives] want to talk to my people [about a new contract,] they can talk. The main thing is to be sure we share the same ambition.

“I want to win games and I want to win trophies and I want to have the tools to be capable of competing. At the same time, I like to improve players, coach players, follow a business plan, a realistic business plan in modern football. I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.

“We have to be sure to have all the tools to compete and achieve what we want to achieve because Newcastle is a massive football club and we want it to reach its potential.”

Of course, the perfect scenario for everyone involved would have been for any one of the numerous takeover bids to have gone through during the last two years, but as was most recently evidenced earlier this year, Ashley and the Toon can’t seem to quit each other just yet.

MLS: Timbers end NYCFC’s unbeaten start; Seattle get 1st win

Serena Morones/The Oregonian via AP
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Sunday was a very good day for a pair of green-clad Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, as the former put to end the unbeaten start of the best team in MLS, while the latter picked up their first win of 2018…

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundupOther MLS Things — The Archive ]

Portland Timbers 3-0 New York City FC

Through their first seven games, NYCFC were almost inarguably the best team in MLS (aside: how much better is their opening-day walkover of Sporting KC looking these days?), but Patrick Vieira’s side might as well have not even shown up to Providence Park on Sunday. Chalk it up to “it’s only one game,” or “these things happen in MLS,” or “NYC to Portland is a long trip for Russian clubs,” or any other credible rationale you prefer, but they were nothing more than 11 passengers for the whole of 90 minutes.

A quick look at the defending on all three of Portland’s goals…

Vieira was right at halftime, when he said his side was lacking intensity and aggression, and that it’d be nigh impossible to get back into the game in the second half if they continued to play that way. Spoiler: it was, because they did.

Just as I’ll not be rushing to judgment over NYCFC’s no-show performance, I’m not yet buying into the idea that Portland have figured things out defensively on the back of one clean sheet (their first of the season).

Seattle Sounders 3-1 Minnesota United

Speaking of firsts, Seattle are the proud owners of points — as in, more than one point — after putting three past Minnesota but almost fatally failing to kill the game off after going 2-0 up. I’m not sure what any defender in black is doing on this sequence…

Alas, Gustav Svensson, Will Bruin and Jordy Delem were far more clinical with their chances than the Loons…

Still, though, Seattle were completely helpless when it came time to grab control of the game while in a commanding position. Osvaldo Alonso is nowhere near the player he once was, which is a massive problem against teams that set up to counter-attack, as Minnesota did on Sunday. It doesn’t help that Roman Torres and Chad Marshall are the plodding center backs behind him.

The obvious answer to the midfield problem is to play Cristian Roldan deeper, alongside Alonso as they did en route to winning MLS Cup in 2016, but injuries to a number of key attackers have forced him into a de facto no. 10 role for the time being. These things will work themselves out with a bit of time, I suppose.

Full MLS scoreboard

Sporting Kansas City 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (Friday) — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
New York Red Bulls 1-2 Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England Revolution
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union
Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado Rapids
LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta United

Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the Year award

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) Mohamed Salah has been voted Player of the Year by his fellow professionals in English football in recognition of an incredible scoring return to the Premier League with Liverpool.

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

The Egypt forward collected the Professional Footballers’ Association award at a ceremony in London on Sunday, two days before Liverpool’s Champions League semifinal first leg against Roma.

It is a reunion with the Italian club he left in the offseason for 42 million euros (then $47 million). The hefty fee appeared to be a gamble for Liverpool but now represents a real bargain.

The former Chelsea player has scored 41 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool – enabling him to beat Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne in second place to the PFA award.

Tottenham striker Harry Kane was third.

[ MORE: Man City thrash Swansea in pursuit of points record ]

“It’s a big honor,” Salah said. “I’ve worked hard and I’m very happy to win it.”

Salah is preparing to lead Egypt into its first World Cup in 28 years and he is the first player from the North African nation to win English football’s top individual prize.

“Hopefully I’m not the last one,” he said. “I’m very proud to win and I’ve worked very hard.”

Salah’s impact has been more remarkable given his underwhelming 2014-15 season at Chelsea before being offloaded by then-manager Jose Mourinho. He went on loan to Fiorentina in early 2015 and Roma in 2016, and then on a permanent basis to Roma in August 2016.

Scoring 15 goals and setting up 11 more for Roma convinced Liverpool to bring Salah back to a second spell in England.

[ MORE: Liverpool draw West Brom in final tune-up before UCL semis ]

His goal at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday was his 31st in the league this season, tying the scoring record in a 38-game campaign held by Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Shearer and Luis Suarez.

Suarez was the last Liverpool player to be crowned player of the year by the PFA in 2014 before moving to Barcelona.

It’s a sign of his remarkable impact that Salah secured the award with third-place Liverpool and that none of Manchester City’s newly crowned champions won the accolade.

But City winger Leroy Sane was voted PFA Young Player of the Year.

The PFA women’s player award went to Chelsea forward Fran Kirby, while Lauren Hemp of Bristol City secured the young player prize.

CONCACAF cancels women’s U-17 tournament due to violence

CONCACAF
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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) CONCACAF has canceled the rest of its 2018 Women’s Under-17 Championship following violence in Managua, Nicaragua, where the tournament began Thursday.

The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football made the announcement Sunday. The tournament was to have determined the region’s qualifiers for the Under-17 World Cup in Uruguay, which starts Nov. 13.

More than two dozen people have been killed since Wednesday according to the independent Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, though the government had acknowledged only nine dead. Dozens of shops in Managua were looted during protests and disturbances sparked by government social security reforms.

The U.S. opened Friday with a 4-0 win over Costa Rica and had been scheduled to play Bermuda on Sunday and Canada on Tuesday.