World Cup Today: USA’s hopes on the line, as all eight teams can still advance

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Wednesday say Argentina and Nigeria advance from Group F at the World Cup, while France and Switzerland made it out of Group E.

Argentina had Lionel Mess to thank (who else?) as they overcame Nigeria 3-2, as Bosnia beat Iran to dash the Middle Eastern nations hopes of making the last 16. Elsewhere France and Ecuador drew 0-0 but the French still topped the group, while Switzerland hammered Honduras 3-0 thanks to a Xherdan Shaqiri hat trick.

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

Two more group finales are in store on Thursday, as the U.S. face Germany in their crucial Group G finale. The USA know that a win or draw would guarantee their spot in the last 16, but a defeat vs. Germany and a big win for either Portugal or Ghana in the other game could scupper the Americans’ chances. As for Group H, Belgium is already through, but will Algeria, Russia or Korea join them?

Everything is on the line.

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MATCH 45: Portugal vs, Ghana
Location: Estadio Nacional, Brasilia
Time: Noon ET
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Cheater’s Guide
Portugal and Ghana are both hoping they rack up a big win and that the USA loses heavily to Germany. If that happens the victor here will go through to the knockout stages. A draw is useless to either side. Expect a humdinger in Brasilia.

What they’re saying
Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo on his teammates: “Maybe we’re an average team … We have a very limited team and we are not at the best level. This does not enable you to beat top teams. There are no miracles. We knew we would have a tough group, with perhaps teams better than us … I’m not a hypocrite, I never thought we could win the tournament.”

History
The two nations have never met.

Premier League Players
Portugal: Nani (Manchester United)

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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MATCH 46: USA vs. Germany
Location: Arena Pernambuco, Recife
Time: Noon ET
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source: AP
The U.S. will have to stop the likes of Muller and Podolski on Thursday.

Cheater’s guide
Both teams need just a point to seal qualification through to the last 16 of the World Cup. Simple… right?

What they’re saying
USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann on his team playing for the draw: “‘I don’t think that we are made for draws, really, except if it happens like tonight (vs. Portugal) – two late goals, last seconds. I think both teams go into this game and they want to win the group.”

History

These two have met twice before at the World Cup. Germany won 2-0 in 1998, when Klinsmann scored the second, and infamously 1-0 in the 2002 quarterfinals.

Premier League players
United States:
 Brad Guzan (Aston Villa); Tim Howard (Everton); Geoff Cameron (Stoke City); Jozy Altidore (Sunderland
Germany: Per Mertesacker, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski (All Arsenal), Andre Schurrle (Chelsea), 

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

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MATCH 47: Korea vs. Belgium
Location: Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo
Time: 4pm ET
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Cheater’s Guide

source:
Belgium are already through to the last 16 after two wins from two.

Belgium is already through to the knockout stages but has the chance to guarantee top spot with a point against Korea. As for Korea, they must win and hope Russia and Algeria play to a draw.

What they’re saying

Belgium coach Marc Wilmots on people criticizing his sides defensive play so far: “Pretty, pretty, pretty makes no one happy. We are tactically very disciplined and we have needed to be patient. It’s not about being beautiful – but about being effective.”

History

This will be the fourth time these sides have met, with Belgium winning two and drawing one of the last three. They met in the 1990 and 1998 World Cup finals, a 1-0 win for Belgium and 1-1 draw respectively.

Premier League players

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

South Korea: Yun Suk-Young (Queens Park Rangers), Park Chu-Young (Arsenal).

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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MATCH 48: Algeria vs. Russia
Location: Arena da Baixada, Curitiba
Time: 4pm ET
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Cheater’s guide
Both teams have one point so far from the World Cup, however if they win here and Korea lose to Belgium, the victor will make it to the last 16.

What they’re saying

Algeria’s manager Vahid Halilhodzic after they beat Korea: “The fans never gave up on me, and it’s made me feel warm inside. But the press – the press lost confidence in Vahid. This is a gift for everyone except for you. I know you’re sad tonight but this is how it is. There are things that have provoked such animosity in Vahid. So many lies. You have attacked my own family. My pride, my honour, no one has the right to touch those things but I have not won a battle for myself. The Algerian people have never given up on me and have expended a lot of energy, and this is a small reward.”

History

They have only met once before, a 2-2 friendly draw in 1964.

Premier League players

Algeria: Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City), Nabil Bentaleb (Tottenham Hotspur)

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Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

[ MORE: Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho transfer ]

The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

[ MORE: LA Galaxy send Van Damme back to Belgium ]

But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.