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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

***

MATCH 48: Algeria vs. Russia
Location: Arena da Baixada, Curitiba
Time: 4pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

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)

***

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)
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)
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)
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.

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling roughly 40 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.