World Cup Today: Can Sunday actually be better than Saturday?

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WORLD CUP TODAY: SUNDAY, JUNE 29

Today, we must not be afraid to ask the question: is there any way Sunday’s matches can match the thrill of those played on Saturday? In the first match of the knockout rounds, Brazil and Chile played out a 1-1 draw, ultimately taking the game to penalties. Brazil scored three, Chile two, and the hosts advanced amidst Chile’s tears.

It looked as though there was no possible way Colombia and Uruguay could top that game. And perhaps in terms of drama, they couldn’t. But the beautiful goals scored were enough to compensate: James Rodríguez turning, volleying in off the crossbar, then scoring the second through a sidefooted shot after a wonderfully worked team move. Que bonita!

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MATCH 51: NETHERLANDS VS. MEXICO
Location: Estádio Castelão, Fortaleza
Time: Noon ET
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Cheater’s Guide
Netherlands announced their intent to dominate at this tournament with a 5-1 thumping of Spain, followed by a fun back and forth with Australia, which eventually resulted in a 3-2 win for Holland. Knowing that they could top the group with just a draw, the Dutch sat back in their final game, but still managed to run out 2-0 winners over Chile.

Mexico struggled in their first match, sort of: they had two goals (incorrectly) ruled out as offside in the first half. But eventually the flag stayed down, and they came away with a 1-0 win over Cameroon. El Tri were then able to hold Brazil to a goalless draw, before ending the group stages with a convincing 3-1 victory over Croatia.

What they’re saying
Andres Guardado explains why Mexico have conceded just one goal thus far: “To be honest, the key to our defending has been the fact we’re all doing our bit – it’s not just down to the keeper and the defender. [Forwards] Oribe [Peralta] and Giovani [dos Santos] really help out and if the ball gets past them, us midfielders are ready to step in and, after that, there’s our back five. And finally you haveMemo Ochoa, who’s playing really well, as the last line of defence.”

History
The two sides have met six times, with Holland taking the slight edge: three wins to Mexico’s two. Both sides have scored eleven goals, though, so there’s that.

Premier League Players
Netherlands:
Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa); Robin van Persie (Manchester United); Tim Krul (Newcastle); Jonathan de Guzmán, Michel Vorm (Swansea)
Mexico: Javier Hernández (Manchester United)

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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MATCH 52: COSTA RICA VS. GREECE

Location: Arena Pernambuco, Recife
Time: 4pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide
Costa Rica have been quite the surprise this World Cup, absolutely thrilling CONCACAF supporters. First they beat Uruguay, and not just by one goal: la celeste fell 3-1. Next up, a 1-0 win over Italy, then a goalless draw with England. Costa Rica may not be the most thrilling team to watch in the tournament, but they’re certainly much more solid than most had been willing to give them credit for.

Speaking of the inability to thrill, the ticos’ opponents are Greece, who managed to defy the odds and advance, despite not scoring until the 42nd minute of their third game. The Pirate Ship first lost 3-0 to Colombia, putting to shame the idea of their fantastic defensive abilities. Greece then sat back to earn a goalless draw against Japan, before coming from behind to beat Ivory Coast 2-1, with the help of a last-minute penalty.

What they’re saying
Los Ticos technical assistant Luis Marin says it’s vital Costa Rica score first: “It’s crucial for us to score early in the game, especially as Greece are known to tighten up at the back once they score. But we know it’s going to be a tough game all round. Although they lost to Colombia 3-0, the goals they conceded were down to simple mistakes. Greece are also potent on the counter-attack.”

History
They’re about to write it.

Premier League players
Costa Rica:
Joel Cambell (Arsenal)
Fulham fans will be paying attention to Greece for Giorgos Karagounis and Kostas Mitroglou, and Costa Rica for Bryan Ruiz, but alas, Fulham are not really in the Premier League anymore, are they? Sorry guys.

MLS players
Costa Rica:
 Giancarlo González, Waylon Francis (Columbus Crew); Roy Miller (New York Red Bulls)

Brazil’s Ronaldinho confirms retirement and plans farewell

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SAO PAULO (AP) World Cup and 2005 Ballon D’Or winner Ronaldinho confirmed on Wednesday his retirement from football. The 37-year-old’s last professional football match was in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

The Brazilian’s brother and agent announced the player’s decision on Tuesday. Ronaldinho confirmed the decision one day later in an Instagram post.

“After almost three decades dedicated to football, I say goodbye to my biggest dream. A fulfilled dream,” the playmaker said. “I did what I love the most as a professional for 20 years and another 10 years in the academy. I lived this child’s dream intensely.”

Obrigado Sr. meu Deus, por esta vida que me deste, família, amigos e minha primeira profissão!!! Após quase três décadas dedicadas ao futebol, me despeço do meu maior sonho, sonho realizado!!! Fiz o que mais amei profissionalmente por 20 anos, e 10 como formação de base. Vivi intensamente este sonho de criança, cada instante, viagens, vitórias, derrotas, a resenha, hino nacional, a caminhada no túnel, vestiário, entrada em campo, as chuteiras que usei, as bolas boas e ruins, homenagens que ganhei, os craques que joguei, os que admirei e joguei e os que só joguei no play, mas admiro até hoje! Enfim tudo foi incrível!!! Meu pai e minha família me apoiaram muito pra chegar até aqui, foi um trabalho em equipe. Chegamos ao fim da primeira etapa com uma história bonita pra contar… Vocês me conhecem, e sabem bem que sou tímido e não tenho o costume de falar muito, mas tenho que dizer a vocês muito obrigado, de coração, de alma lavada, pois fiz o que amo com a ajuda de todos, treinadores, preparadores, comissões inteiras, dirigentes, torcida a favor e contra, o motorista do ônibus, o roupeiro, o gandula, o árbitro e a imprensa. Obrigado, construímos juntos esta história, sem vocês nada seria possível… No mês de março faremos um anúncio de como será esta despedida e os próximos passos. Por enquanto, aqui vai meu muito obrigado ⚽. Aquela frase famosa “gracias vieja” por ser a minha fonte de inspiração por tanto tempo e companheiros de muitas vitórias!!! Obrigado a todos pelas mensagens e carinho!!! Um abraço forte, fui muito feliz fazendo deste esporte a minha vida e profissão.

A post shared by Ronaldo de Assis Moreira (@ronaldinho) on

Ronaldinho, who had his best club moments at Barcelona, thanked teammates, coaches and fans for his career. He also praised the football with a reference to Real Madrid’s legendary player Alfredo di Stefano (1926-2014).

“Thanks, old woman, for being my biggest source of inspiration for so long,” Ronaldinho said.

“You know me and you know that I am shy, I am not used to speaking much. But thank you all from the bottom of my heart.”

Ronaldinho said he will announce details of the farewell in March.

On Tuesday his agent Roberto Assis told the Associated Press that Ronaldinho’s plans include being a football ambassador for Barcelona, doing charity and working with music.

Ronaldinho’s decorated career also includes one Champions League victory with Barcelona in 2006 and two FIFA player of the year Awards in 2004 and 2005.

He played 101 matches and scored 35 goals for Brazil from 1997 to 2013. At the Camp Nou, Ronaldinho was an integral member of a squad that took Barca back to the limelight. The Brazilian played 207 games for the Catalans and gave 94 goals and 61 assists to the team.

Ronaldinho’s club career also includes Gremio, Flamengo and Atletico Mineiro in Brazil, Paris Saint-Germain in France, AC Milan in Italy and Queretaro in Mexico.

Several clubs and players around the world are still praising Ronaldinho for his football legacy, including his former teammate and protegee Lionel Messi.

“I learned a lot by your side. I’ll forever be grateful to you for making everything so easy when I joined the first team,” Messi said in his social media channels.

“I was lucky enough to share many things with you and I’m really happy about that because, as well as being a star out on the pitch, you’re an excellent person and that’s the most important thing. Although you’ve decided to retire, football will never forget your smile,” the Argentine said.

Three-time World Cup winner Pele also gave praise to the retiree.

“You brought a smile to everyone’s face, Ronaldinho. I hope you glide through life, like you glided through tackles,” Pele said.

Gerard Pique signs news Barcelona deal

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Gerard Pique has signed a new contract at Barcelona which keeps him at the club until 2022.

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Pique, 30, joined Barcelona in 2008 from Manchester United after leaving his boyhood club Barca in 2004 to join United’s youth team.

The new release clause in Pique’s contract is $610 million, with the Spanish international set to spend the rest of his career at the Nou Camp. The center back, who has won 25 major trophies with Barca, was delighted to nail down his future to his hometown team.

Pique has played in 422 games for Barca and scored 37 goals with the flamboyant defender a mainstay for much of the last decade.

Breaking out of the back line with surging runs and assured passing, Pique will go down as one of the greatest defenders in Barcelona and Spain’s history when he hangs up his boots.

In a team where the supreme attacking talent is always praised, it’s easy to overlook the achievements of Pique and his fellow defenders in the Catalan capital. However, there’s no doubt his composure on the ball, reading of the game and ability in the air makes him one of the top center backs on the planet.

Wenger: Sanchez likely to leave for Man United

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Alexis Sanchez’s move to Manchester United is close to completion.

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Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has confirmed that Sanchez is “likely to leave” for Jose Mourinho’s side, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan thought to be heading in the opposite direction plus a sizable transfer fee.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday ahead of Arsenal’s clash with Crystal Palace on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com), Wenger revealed the deal for Sanchez is almost complete.

“I worked on transfers for 30 years so it is likely to happen, but at any moment it can break down,” Wenger said. “As long as it’s not over the line you have to accept it may not happen, these kind of things are not guaranteed. I have no problem with Sanchez’s attitude. He was in training fully committed. He is 29 years old and the next contract will of course be very important to him.”

So, there you have it. Sanchez to United is happening and with the numbers being mentioned, it’s easy to understand why he will leave. Sanchez will be paid $19.2 million per year, after tax, and he will also receive a $27.7 million signing-on fee and his agent will get $13.8 million.

United will get a new star No.7 in his prime and Sanchez getting a fresh start and being hungry to impress will certainly be music to the ears of Mourinho. Whether or not the Chilean international will have the same impact as Eric Cantona, who joined United in his late 20’s and helped led them to multiple PL titles, remains to be seen, but this deal does remind you of that circumstances. One player doesn’t make a team but a special player like Sanchez can make a heck of difference overall.

Wenger also spoke about the possibility of Mkhitaryan being part of the deal and it seems he is very keen on signing the Armenian international who almost joined the Gunners in the summer of 2016 before joining United instead.

“I like the player. We played many times against him when he was at Dortmund. He appreciated the quality of our games. The wages would not be a problem,” Wenger said.

It seems like everyone will be happy with this deal. Of course, Arsenal wanted Sanchez to stay and that’s why they didn’t sell him to Manchester City in the summer. Wenger couldn’t persuade him to sign a new deal and now, less than six months before he leaves on a free, they are getting a decent chunk of change and playmaker who, on his day, can unlock any defense in the world.

For United, Mkhitaryan is out of favor under Mourinho and they will get him off their wage bill, while they also get Sanchez in his prime and get one over on Man City where everyone thought he would end up.

All in all, this tricky situation seems to have worked out best for everyone, especially Sanchez and his agent.

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.