Three key battles that could decide US vs. Belgium showdown

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With the USA’s crunch round of 16 clash fast approaching, here are three battles to keep an eye on during Tuesday’s match in Salvador.

You’ll likely be familiar with Belgium’s squad, as a whole host of their players ply their trade in the Premier League and the U.S. have played Belgium twice in friendlies over the past three years.

[ RELATED: How will USA line up vs. Belgium? ]

[ RELATED: Altidore fit for U.S. ]

Let’s break it down and look at three duels that could be crucial in sending either nation into the last eight.

Tim Howard vs. Romelu Lukaku

Teammates at Everton over the past season, Howard has already warned his U.S. teammates of Lukaku’s power. The Chelsea forward has been superb in loan spells at West Brom and Everton in the past two seasons, scoring 32 goals in 66 Premier League games. His pace in behind means the U.S. will be wary about keeping a high line, but his hold up play is also second to none. U.S. central defenders Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler will have to keep a close eye on Lukaku, but it’s likely that Howard will have to come up with another stellar display to keep the Belgian giant at bay. Howard knows Lukaku’s tendencies after training with him day in, day out and should have an ace up his sleeve in that regard. Belgium’s players have spoken of their respect for Howard, and if the U.S. is going to advance they will need their ‘keeper to get the better of the man he knows so well from his club team.

source: AP
Kompany’s fitness is in question, as skipper will have to lock down Dempsey.

Clint Dempsey vs. Vincent Kompany

Coming into this match there are question marks surrounding Kompany’s fitness which is incredibly good news for the USA. Man City’s captain has been in fine form so far this tournament as Belgium have conceded just one goal in three games. He did have injury problems throughout the 2013-14 campaign, but Kompany captained Man City to the PL title and always seem to pop up with important goals and play well when it mattered. He’s a man mountain. It is likely to be a clash of the skippers up top, as Dempsey will lead the U.S. attack in Jozy Altidore’s continued absence through injury. During this World Cup Dempsey has scored twice, looked sharp and is willing to put his body on the line for the cause. He will need to be psychical against Kompany and co. if he can be the outlet the U.S. will badly need to ease the Belgian pressure. It will be a thankless task for Dempsey up top on his own but if he gets a sniff at goal, you’d fancy him to take it. Dempsey is in no mood to mess around at this World Cup. This will be a battle between two supreme warriors.

Eden Hazard vs. Fabian Johnson

From warriors to speedsters, Hazard holds the key to Belgium’s success. Voted the PFA Young Player of the Year in the Premier League after his dazzling displays for Chelsea, Hazard hasn’t got going for Belgium in Brazil. Floating around both flanks, he’s looked sluggish and his usual trickery has evaded him. Many are calling for the Belgian star to have a breakout game vs. the U.S. to finally announce himself on the world stage. The man who’ll likely be charged with stopping him is Fabian Johnson. One of the USA’s star performers so far, the German-American has shone at right back after previously being deployed in more attacking roles by Klinsmann. Johnson must be disciplined against Hazard and resist the urge to bomb on and attack at every opportunity. If he gives Hazard a yard of space to wriggle free in and around the box, it could be curtains for the USA’s hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals.

Wenger: Arsenal “complacent, had no ideas” in Ostersunds loss

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Perhaps Sunday’s League Cup final had already reached the forefront of their minds, but Arsene Wenger admonished his players, whom he said were “complacent, not focused” and “had no ideas” for much of Thursday’s Europa League defeat, at home, to Swedish side Ostersunds.

[ MORE: Premier League TV schedule | Man United vs. Chelsea ]

The Gunners advanced to the round of 16 on the back of their 3-0 first-leg victory last week, but Wenger was understandably displeased by the effort he saw and expressed such feelings in no uncertain terms, before quickly easing up and praising the fact they were able to pull back a goal against the current fifth-place team from Sweden — quotes from the BBC:

“We were not at the races in the first half,” said Wenger, who saw his side booed off at half-time and full-time. I think in the second half it was much better and we should have scored a few goals.

“In the first half, we were in trouble and in danger because we were complacent, not focused and were open every time we lost the ball. We had no ideas with the ball and that’s why we were in trouble.

“We responded very well because we did the job to qualify, but that’s what we have to take from the night and that’s all.”

With Arsenal now trailing fourth-place Chelsea by eight points (and seven back of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur), winning the Europa League might just be the Gunners’ last chance at qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

Batshuayi racially abused by Atalanta fans

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Borussia Dortmund striker Michy Batshuayi says he was subject to racist chants from Atalanta fans during a Europa League game in Italy.

The Belgium international, on loan from Chelsea, tweeted:

Dortmund advanced to the round of 16 by drawing 1-1 to beat Atalanta 4-3 on aggregate on Thursday.

The game was played at Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia because Atalanta’s home stadium is unsuitable for UEFA games.

There have been several incidents of racism at Serie A matches this season.

Whitecaps defender Tim Parker being tracked by several teams from East

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Tim Parker’s next destination could very well be closer to his hometown, however, other MLS sides are in hot pursuit of the U.S. Men’s National Team defender.

[ MORE: CCL recap — FC Dallas falls, Club America struts its stuff ]

The Vancouver Whitecaps center back has been the subject of trade speculation recently, and Pro Soccer Talk has learned that Parker has turned down a new contract with the Cascadia side that would have kept the 24-year-old in Canada for at least three more seasons.

Multiple sources have told PST that the deal Parker rejected was worth over $1.4 million in totality. Metro New York’s Kristian Dyer was the first to report the story.

Parker was subject to make roughly $99,000 in 2017, according to the MLS Players Union, although he’s expected to receive a significant increase with any new deal that he signs. On an average basis, Parker would have made over $400,000 annually had he signed a new contract with the Whitecaps.

A New York-native, Parker has been looking to return to the East Coast after spending three seasons with the Whitecaps. The former Saint John’s University standout was selected in the first round by the Whitecaps in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, after spending all four years with the Red Storm on the collegiate level.

Sources can also confirm that D.C. United and the Montreal Impact have emerged as the leaders to obtain Parker’s services if a deal is struck with the defender, although a move to the New York Red Bulls hasn’t been ruled out.

The Red Bulls have shown interest in the young defender for some time — and would be the preferred destination for the player — given Parker’s New York roots. A combination of allocation money and a player would likely be needed from the Red Bulls if the Eastern Conference side proved to be serious about pursuing Parker.

D.C. has managed to acquire significant allocation money over recent years, particularly GAM, which would prove to be essential in signing Parker. Ben Olsen’s defense has been built around USMNT center back Steve Birnbaum — who arrived in 2014 — but an addition of Parker would surely benefit a D.C. back line that conceded 60 goals in 34 regular season matches a season ago.

Meanwhile, a move for the Impact would be logical given the fact that the Canadian side lost center back Laurent Ciman this offseason when the Belgian international was traded to expansion side Los Angeles FC.

Police officer dies after fan violence before Bilbao-Spartak Moscow

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BILBAO, Spain (AP) A Spanish riot police officer died of cardiac arrest after clashes involving Russian soccer fans before a Europa League match on Thursday between hosts Athletic Bilbao and Spartak Moscow, raising concerns less than four months before the World Cup in Russia.

Basque Country authorities in northern Spain said the officer died in hospital after the confrontations outside San Mames Stadium in the city of Bilbao, which will host matches in the 2020 European Championship.

Police also said a Russian man was injured but the extent of his injuries was not immediately disclosed. Five people were arrested – three Russian nationals and two Spaniards.

The identity of the dead officer was not immediately disclosed.

Spartak won the match 2-1 but Athletic advanced 4-3 on aggregate.

Earlier Thursday, German police arrested a Russian suspected of seriously injuring a British soccer fan during the European Championship in France two years ago.

The trouble in Spain erupted ahead of the round-of-32 match in the second-tiered European club competition.

Police were escorting some Spartak fans into the stadium but a stray group allegedly started igniting fireworks and throwing flares and objects toward Athletic supporters and police officers.

The fighting spread onto the streets near the stadium and police struggled to restore order. Many fans were seen trying to run away from the trouble as fireworks exploded all around.

There was concern ahead of the match because of the reported presence of `Ultra’ Russian fans in Bilbao, and a large police force was deployed to try to prevent fan trouble.

Six year ago a fan died in Bilbao in clashes after a match between Athletic and German club Schalke.