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Where does the ‘Group of Death’ escape rank in US World Cup history?

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With at least one more date left in the 2014 World Cup, where does the performance of the United States currently slot when ranked with the nation’s previous output at the world’s biggest tournament?

This is the United States’ 10th tournament and, while there’s room for improvement, let’s see where we should consider the accomplishment of escaping Group G.

10. France 1998 — Tasked with a group including Germany, Yugoslavia and Iran, the Yanks went out and promptly lost all three matches. That featured a 2-1 loss to Iran which found the States only goal of the tournament coming in the 87th minute from Brian McBride. Bad things, man. Bad things.

9. Italy 1934 — You might think a “one-and-done” where the States got smashed 7-1 by Italy is worse than France 1998, but reading up on the tournament makes you feel like if there was ever a fixed champion, it was these hosts under Benito Mussolini.

[ RELATED: Top five US performers during Group G play ]

[ RELATED: Three things we learned from USA-Germany ]

[ RELATED: Convinced? Klinsmann’s personnel moves keyed US advance ]

8. Germany 2006 — In another tough group, with Ghana, Italy and the Czech Republic, the Yanks did manage a draw against 10-man Italy. But remember, the US was coming off a quarterfinal run in 2002 and opened the tourney with a 3-0 beatdown by the Czechs.

7. Italy 1990 — With due respect to tournaments where the States did earn a point or more, this was the US first tourney in four decades and — after a 5-1 thumping from Czechoslovakia — the group settled in for a respectable 1-0 loss to the hosts and a 2-1 loss to Austria. Could’ve been way worse.

source: Getty Images6. South Africa 2010 — The group was branded “England Algeria Slovenia Yanks” by the English press, and the US still barely made its way out. Given a gift by English goalkeeper Rob Green, the Yanks needed Michael Bradley heroics to draw Slovenia — sorry Maurice Edu — before needing Landon Donovan’s stoppage time goal to get them by Algeria and into the group’s top spot… which they failed to use to their advantage in a match-up against Ghana instead of Germany (who beat England 4-1). Fun tournament, but not even top-half material because…

5. Brazil 1950 — the Yanks punked England!! After years of not participating, the Three Lions arrived and were expected to dominate the field. In the States’ last World Cup for 40 years, the Americans opened with a 3-1 loss to Spain. But then came “The Game of Their Lives“, where a hearse driver and bunch of non-professional players beat England 1-0. A final 5-2 loss to Chile stings the overall ranking but the US beat their forefathers’ fathers. Not too shabby.

4. USA 1994 — Yes, hosting helps most teams and they needed an ultimately-tragic own goal to get their only win of the tournament, but the Yanks made it out of the group with a draw against Switzerland. The third-place group performance kept them above fellow No. 3 finishers Russia and South Korea, and the States held Brazil into the 72nd minute before a Bebeto goal eliminated them. Brazil won the tournament, and it was just the States’ second back on the stage after a 40-year absence.

3. Brazil 2014 — Bear with me here: the States were given a 36 percent chance to get out of the group, and did it. They exorcised some World Cup demons by beating Ghana in thrilling fashion. They drew Portugal, outplaying the No. 4 ranked team in the world — fair ranking or not — before conceding a late equalizer from a Cristiano Ronaldo cross. They were thoroughly outplayed in losing to Germany 1-0 but have emerged to the Round of 16. Is that better than barely escaping Group E.A.S.Y. and failing to beat Ghana in 2010? We think, “Yes.”

2. Uruguay 1930 — A splendid later tournament and the fact that this was the first World Cup conspire to keep the Yanks’ third-place finish out of our top spot. The US used four goals from Bert Patenaude to spring 3-0 wins over Belgium and Paraguay before being knocked out, 6-1, by Argentina en route to being awarded third thanks to either:

A) Yugoslavia refusing a third-place game.

or

B) FIFA ranking the US performance as superior.

1. South Korea/Japan 2002 — This quarterfinal run was magical, starting with the 3-2 upset of Portugal to set the States up for a knockout round run. The real glory, however, came in the match that relegates a third-place finish to the second-best tournament: beating Mexico “dos-a-cero” to send El Tri out of the tournament. If only 20-year-old Landon Donovan could finish and HOW WAS TORSTEN FRINGS ALLOWED TO HANDLE A BALL ON THE GOAL LINE?!?!?!?!?

Agree? Disagree? Think beating England should be No. 1? And what would it take to propel the 2014 into the Top Two?

Lionel Messi discusses his Barcelona future

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 11:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on during the Copa del Rey round of 16 second leg match between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club at Camp Nou on January 11, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi has addressed speculation linking him with a move away from the only club he has ever known.

[ MORE: Who are title favorites? ]

Messi, 29, has been at Barcelona since the age of 13 and the Argentine superstar has won every possible trophy with the Catalan giants, plus has been crowned the World Player of the Year on five occasions.

Time for a new challenge?

Reports had suggested that Barcelona have wanted to start talks over a new contract with Messi for quite some time but with just 18 months left on his current deal, Messi and his representatives are yet to hold talks.

“I have always said that Barcelona has given me everything and I am here for as long as they want me to be,” Messi said in Coach magazine.

Hmm.

Messi also spoke about his former manager and mentor, Pep Guardiola, and his challenging start to life in the Premier League as manager of Manchester City.

“It is a very competitive league, last season showed that, so it makes it very difficult to predict,” Messi added. “Of course Pep is a very successful coach, he will be adjusting to the league, but I am sure that he will be successful.”

Will Messi be part of Pep’s success at City?

It is obvious Barca will want him to stay but if a huge offer comes in for Messi from Man City this summer, or others in the Premier League, then surely he will think twice about it.

If Pep can coax Messi to join him at City, who can clearly afford him, then it would be another glittering star in their attacking line. That said, if Guardiola is going to be successful then he’ll have to add plenty more quality in defense as City currently sit 10 points off leaders Chelsea with 17 games to go in the PL season.

Loss to Sevilla quickly puts Real Madrid’s Zidane on the defensive

SEVILLE, SPAIN - JANUARY 15:  Head Coach of Real Madrid CF Zinedine Zidane looks on prior to  the match against Real Madrid CF during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on January 15, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid’s first loss after a 40-game unbeaten streak was enough to put coach Zinedine Zidane on the defensive.

Two days after Madrid’s unbeaten record was halted by a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in the Spanish league, Zidane was forced to defend some of his players against criticism from fans and local media.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

Most comments were aimed at goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who failed to stop Sevilla’s injury-time winner on Sunday. Navas got to Stevan Jovetic‘s long-range shot but was unable to keep the ball from going in.

“He’s having a really good season,” Zidane said on Tuesday. “You can always ask for more, but if up until now we had gone 40 games without losing, it’s for a reason, and he has been there all the way.”

There have been calls for Zidane to give reserve goalkeeper Kiko Casilla a chance, but the coach said there was “no need to go over this again.”

Zidane also dismissed talk about signing a new goalkeeper.

“These are rumors,” he said. “We are focused on what we are doing this year. Whatever happens next I’m not interested and it’s not the time to talk about it. The three goalkeepers we have are important, they’re doing well and I’m very happy with them. I don’t want to change anything we’re doing.”

[ MORE: How Sevilla hope to break up the Madrid-Barca duopoly ]

Zidane defended forward Karim Benzema, who lost possession near midfield in a mistake that led to host Sevilla’s winner on Sunday.

“Everyone can say and write what they want,” Zidane said. “On a field, playing 90 minutes, you can’t do everything right. There is talk of lack of concentration, but we only had five bad minutes and that happens in football.”

Benzema also missed a chance to score from close range in the game, but a few days earlier it was the French striker who netted in stoppage time in a Copa del Rey match against Sevilla to help Madrid set the Spanish unbeaten record.

Zidane downplayed the end of Madrid’s unbeaten streak. The club hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat at Wolfsburg in the Champions League in April.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

“These things happen,” he said. “Nothing is going to change in what I’m going to do. Those who are not Real Madrid fans will want us to lose, but we must be ready and think that what we’re doing is fine. We lost a game, something that happens, and now we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Madrid hosts Celta Vigo on Wednesday in a first-leg match in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

Celta has won all four matches this year.

“I am not surprised by Celta’s record because they’re a very good team, they fight and play very good football,” Zidane said. “It’ll be another complicated match for us.”

FA fines Man City’s Sagna over “10 against 12” Instagram message

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Scott Arfield of Burnley (L) tackles Bacary Sagna of Manchester City (R) during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnley at Etihad Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) The English Football Association has fined Manchester City defender Bacary Sagna 40,000 pounds (around $50,000) for an Instagram post about a referee.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Sagna posted a photo with the caption “10 against 12.. but still fighting and winning as a team” on the social network site following City’s 2-1 win against Burnley on Jan. 2.

Sagna later amended the post to read “still fighting and winning as a team” after a match that saw referee Lee Mason send off midfielder Fernandinho.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

The FA also warned Sagna about his future conduct.

Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over in-limbo Matip

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Joel Matip of Liverpool and Andre Ayew of West Ham United compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
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Few footballing sagas will ever reach heights of absurdity comparable to that of the Joel Matip/Liverpool versus Cameroon/FIFA battle currently raging, as the Reds defender finds himself “ineligible” to play for his club due to an international call-up 18 months after announcing his international retirement.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

PST’s Joe Prince-Wright summed up the situation quite well, in full, right here. An excerpt:

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Fast forward a few days, and Jurgen Klopp and Co. have no further clarity regarding the situation. It’s so unclear, in fact, that Klopp said on Tuesday he may select the 25-year-old during one of two remaining games this week, and hope for the best — quotes from the Guardian:

“As you can imagine, we are in a lot of talks. We’ve done transfers quicker than this. It’s already long term but now it’s getting really tense on our side. We’ve tried everything but at the end I have to make the decision. Of course I have to ask [Liverpool’s lawyers] but the decision is for me to make. I could put him in the lineup. I don’t think the referee is going to say: ‘Stop, stop, you cannot go on the pitch.’ But I will do it when it’s OK from our point of view. Of course I need advice — I’m not a lawyer.”

“Most of the time in life you know if you do this, then you get this. But it’s not 100 percent clear what happens [if Matip plays]. We try everything to win football games. If this can happen — out of the tournament or whatever — then we have to decide about the risk. He’s ready to play for us and that makes it difficult.”

What an utter disaster of a situation Cameroon have intentionally created here.