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
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

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)

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”