Muslim holy month forcing tough decisions from World Cup’s Islamic players

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Mesut Özil’s had to made his decision. So has Karim Benzema. If Yaya Touré’s team was still active, he’d have a hard choice to make, too, as does every other Islamic player still participating in this year’s World Cup. With the religion’s holy month upon us, players are having to choose strictly observing their religious beliefs or doing what’s best for themselves on the field.

During Ramadan, which started today, Muslims are expected to fast during daylight hours for 30 days. No food. No drink. Not even water.

Those who practice the religion typically wake up early to nourish themselves for the day. For others, there are exceptions. Children, the elderly, those who are ill, or women who are pregnant can all nourish themselves as needed, as can travelers. Various interpretations of Islam hold Ramadan should not interfere with your health.

But what about a soccer player that may run six miles in a day? And what if those miles are in the middle of Brazilian humidity? Should players sacrifice, or does their profession create a health concern?

For Özil, a starter for the German national team, the job creates an exception.

“Ramadan starts on Saturday, but I will not take part because I am working,” he said, as reported by NBC News. Touré, likewise, said he would not be fasting during Brazil 2014.

“Fasting? Have you seen the weather?” Touré told United Arab Emirates outlet The National. “I would die.”

According to NBC News, experts side with Touré, noting the dehydration that comes with fasting can lead to heat illness, heat stroke, and an inability to focus. FIFA’s expert, however, disagrees:

Still, Jiri Dvorak, FIFA’s chief medical officer, told a media briefing this week that players observing the fast should not suffer any deterioration in their physical condition.

“We have made extensive studies of players during Ramadan, and the conclusion was that if Ramadan is followed appropriately, there will be no reduction in the physical performances of players,” Dvorak told reporters.

Gravani wasn’t aware of any research that examined players in the field, but she said that lab work has shown that if players maintain their diets at night they can perform well during some exercise routines.

Hopefully the Muslim players in Brazil consider the opposing view. Those players are present on the rosters of Algeria, Belgium, France, Germany, Nigeria, and Switerzland (if not more) and can’t afford to buy into a rosy view.

“We need to discuss it among ourselves,” Algeria’s Djamel Mesbah said, as reported by the Associated Press. “It’s clear that our religion is very important for the team, so we will talk about it and see how to go forward.”

Even short of the most deleterious effects, the dehydration associated with fasting can increase the potential for muscle cramping and tears. With many considering the players on travel away from their homes, however, some of the World Cup’s biggest stars may be able to reconcile their religious commitments with the demands of Brazil.

NBC News has a full writeup on the issue, one where athletes appear to be leaning toward breaking their fast while active in Brazil.

Texas-born Dempsey at home 1 goal from record, 1 win from Final

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ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Clint Dempsey is back in his home state of Texas, one goal away from a national scoring record for the United States team that is one win from playing in another CONCACAF Gold Cup final.

The Americans play a semifinal game Saturday night against Costa Rica in a stadium synonymous with American football – the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, the Cotton Bowl and where the first College Football Playoff championship game was played three seasons ago.

That is only about 180 miles from Dempsey’s hometown of Nacogdoches.

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“It’s always great to be home and play in front of family and friends, especially for a big game,” Dempsey said Friday. “I have a lot of great memories of playing in Dallas as a kid, and I’m proud to represent Nacogdoches. Being from there made me who I am today.”

Dempsey, one goal from matching Landon Donovan’s American record of 57 national team goals, wasn’t part of soccer’s only Gold Cup games at the $1.2 billion AT&T Stadium.

In a 2013 semifinal game there when the Americans were on the way to their fifth Gold Cup championship, they beat Honduras 3-1. Donovan scored twice in that game – his 55th and 56th goals for the national team – and assisted on the other goal. About two months later, Donovan scored his final goal in a World Cup qualifier win over Mexico.

Within a week after Costa Rica beat the U.S. team 4-0 in World Cup qualifying last November, Jurgen Klinsmann was out as the U.S. coach and Bruce Arena was rehired to the position he had been fired from a decade earlier.

[ WATCH: Coutinho’s super goal vs. Leicester ]

Costa Rica coach Oscar Ramirez said Friday that Arena has seemingly had a positive impact on the U.S. team.

“They look more relaxed in terms of what they’re doing on the field,” Ramirez said through an interpreter.

This U.S. roster for the Gold Cup knockout rounds also is much different than the one that played in Costa Rica eight months ago – not just the change at coach. Only five players from that game that are set for this semifinal game – Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi.

“That’s in the past,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t think about that game. … This is just another game. It’s another opportunity for us to see what we’re made out of.”

Altidore, Dempsey, Bradley, Darlington Nagbe, and goalkeeper Tim Howard were all added to the lineup before a 2-0 win over El Salvador in the quarterfinal on Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

Dempsey set up Eric Lichaj‘s goal in extra time before halftime to make it 2-0 against El Salvador. Dempsey also fed Gyasi Zardes for a breakaway, though that apparent goal didn’t count after he was ruled offside.

That game was Dempsey’s 135th appearance for the national team, trailing only Cobi Jones (164) and Landon Donovan (157) on the U.S. list.

[ MORE: Why PSG’s Alexis-Neymar pursuit makes (relative) sense ]

Dempsey isn’t the only player with Texas ties with the U.S. team. Three players from FC Dallas, the MLS team that plays its home games about 40 miles away from the big stadium in Frisco, are on the roster: Kellyn Acosta, Matt Hedges and Jesse Gonzalez.

Acosta, the homegrown midfielder who turns 22 next week, was recently named to the MLS All-Star team. He was born in nearby Plano, Texas, and signed by FC Dallas five years ago.

“It’s definitely a proud moment, to get to represent my community, play before my friends and family,” Acosta said. “To be back in my hometown, I’m definitely excited about it.”

Notes: Costa Rica is trying to get to its first Gold Cup final since 2002, when it lost 2-0 to the Americans. “Obviously, we want to look for that reward, that happiness, and go after that,” Ramirez said. “We have a difficult team in front of us.” … The United States’ nine goals are the most in this Gold Cup, while Costa Rica has allowed only one in its four games.

Why PSG’s Alexis, Neymar pursuit fits in a (relatively) smart space

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Paris Saint-Germain’s run of four Ligue 1 titles ended last season, a campaign which also saw exciting league-winners Monaco go two rounds further into the UEFA Champions League.

Monaco looks set for a step back this season, with Bernardo Silva off to Man City and Tiemoue Bakayoko signing for Chelsea. Kylian Mbappe could join Monaco’s list of departures, and reports say Man City had a bid accepted for Benjamin Mendy.

[ EXCLUSIVE: Strootman talks Roma w/ PST ]

While Monaco is loading up on young talent again, PSG clearly sees its chance to surge back into the title seat and Les Parisiens may just make themselves European favorites as well if they can pry Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal and Neymar from Barcelona.

That would be a South American trident nearly as potent as the one Neymar current shares with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi at Barcelona, and the Brazilian would not be second or third fiddle.

PSG has so far been relatively quiet this summer, with the addition of Dani Alves the lone new buy. Aside from money, how was Alves lured to Paris over Man City and a reunion with Pep Guardiola? The idea of a reunion with Neymar and several Brazilian mates — Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Lucas Moura — may’ve been enough and surely that conversation would’ve happened between the two Barca stars.

The French side has to make a big chance at some point soon, unless they’ve been able to unload their money bags and actually buy a fountain of youth. Thiago Motta is 34, Blaise Matuidi 30, Silva 32, and Edinson Cavani 30.

It’s calculated aggression from PSG to splash cash in hopes of rivaling Real Madrid, Juventus, and Barca in pursuit of the UCL title. The Neymar move weakens one of those rivals. If Marco Verratti isn’t part of a swap deal, the signings of Sanchez and Neymar would meet the Italian star’s ambitions well up the road.

De Boer: West Brom was out to injure Palace star Zaha

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No shrinking violet, new Crystal Palace boss Frank De Boer was left fuming at West Bromwich Albion players following the PL Asia Trophy third place match on Saturday in Hong Kong.

While the focus could’ve been on Luka Milivojevic‘s gorgeous free kick (watch here), De Boer couldn’t get past the hard fouls aimed at his key attacker.

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West Brom gave away the free kick that led to the aforementioned goal by chopping down Zaha, and the foul was not an isolated incident.

From the BBC:

“They were looking for him, to injure him,” said De Boer.

“He’s one of the exciting players in the league. I don’t want to think he’d be out for two weeks or months.”

De Boer is no stranger to rough play, so this is not coming from a soft place. We doubt it’s going to change anything from Tony Pulis‘ men, though.

Chelsea hammers Arsenal 3-0 in Beijing (video)

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Chelsea struck twice early and Michy Batshuayi put the cherry on top as the Premier League champions cruised past Arsenal 3-0 in Beijing on Saturday.

The Blues started a lineup they’d use on any occasion in the PL, while Arsenal had unproven prospects Cohen Bramall and Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the XI.

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Willian‘s quick goal put the Blues up 1-0 at the Bird’s Nest, and Batshuayi scored the second and third. Both were pretty classy, especially the second.

Marcos Alonso did the lion’s share of the work to produce the second chance for Batshuayi, who is threatening to carry over his fine late season form to this campaign. What a smash.