If FIFA wants to avoid another Brazil-Colombia, it picked the right man for Tuesday’s semifinal

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After Friday’s game against Colombia, Brazil’s rough tactics have come into focus, but consider their broader record at this year’s World Cup. In five games, they’ve “out-fouled” their opponents three times. Among the times they came up short was the tournament’s opening game, where the Selecao was only whistled for five infractions. Brazil’s yet to commit over eight fouls more than their opponents.

Given what happened in the quarterfinals, however, Germany head coach Joachim Löw’s worried the tend is heading in a more dangerous direction. Brazil drew 31 whistles on Friday (to Colombia’s 23) and committed six offenses against Colombia’s best player, James Rodríguez. Combine the numbers from the 120 minutes they played in the Round of 16 against Chile, and the host nation has committed 59 fouls in their last two games.

[ MORE: Preview: Expectations weigh heavy on tournament favorites as Brazil faces Germany ]

That’s the source of today’s pre-match gamesmanship form Löw, who expressed his hope that Tuesday’s official exercises more control of the match. From Sky Sports:

“I hope the referee, Mr Rodriguez from Mexico, will clamp down on things. That physical energy in the match against Colombia went beyond the limits in Europe. When I saw that match….in Europe, 22 players wouldn’t have ended that match.

“There were brutal fouls. People blocking opponents however they could. It was really exaggerated. That’s what we saw on the pitch, so I hope these really brutal and crude fouls are stopped, …

“The actual playing time was only 38 or 39 minutes, there were so many breaks in play. I don’t think players and fans like the match being constantly stopped.

“Players have been warned what would earn them a yellow or a red card but you saw in the Colombia match many fouls from behind which were really dangerous for the players. You have to protect the players when you’re a referee.”

To Löw’s credit, he didn’t resort to calling Brazil dirty or extending his “brutal” description beyond last Friday’s game. In the wake of Neymar’s injury, there’s been a lot of retrospective danger about the teams’ tactics. Löw stops short of dissociating Brazil’s behavior from that strange, heightened occasion.

There is, however, some reason to believe Brazil’s trending in the wrong direction. As games have become more important, the numbers hint Brazil has been more willing to embrace a more cynical style. Consider the escalation of fouls committed from game one to five: 5, 13, 19, 28, 31. As the stakes increased, so did Brazil’s willingness to test the rules.

That test is likely to fail on Tuesday, though. In Marco Antonio Rodríguez, Brazil and Germany have drawn one of CONCACAF’s strictest referees, somebody who’s more likely to err on the side of a dismissal than let game leave his control.

A 17-year Liga MX league veteran, Rodríguez (nickname “Chiquimarco”) has gained a degree of fame because of his resemblance to a child Count Dracula character from Mexican television, something fans probably wouldn’t care about if his officiating style wasn’t so distinct. When Rodríguez is assigned to a match, players must be careful. You never know when he will decide to crack down, and hard.

After all, this is a man that double-fists yellow cards. See 0:54, below:

In that way, Löw is probably already preaching to the choir, to the extent that Rodríguez is even listening. Still, it’s interesting to consider whether FIFA, after reviewing Brazil’s last match, decided the Mexican official is the man to reverse the Selecao’s tend.

If “who, we won’t want this” was followed by the question “how do we fix this,” Chiquimarco would be the obvious answer.

Conte drops hint about his plans for attacking unit

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LONDON — Antonio Conte‘s decision to play a fluid front three of Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro worked extremely well against Barcelona in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw on Tuesday, but will he use that trio again in big games coming up?

[ MORE: Conte’s tactical masterclass ]

For the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash at Stamford Bridge, Conte left his two recognized strikers, Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud, on the bench and opted for Hazard centrally with Pedro and Willian close by in wide roles.

Hazard went close twice, Willian twice hit the post before scoring Chelsea’s goal via a pass from Hazard and Pedro chased down Barca’s defense and helped set the tempo for a fine display which should have seen Chelsea win by at least two goals.

[ MORE: Three things learned from Chelsea-Barca

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk after the draw with Barca if he was happy with Hazard’s play in a false nine helped out by Willian and Pedro, Conte seemed to suggest that front three will be Chelsea’s attacking unit moving forward.

“I think our three strikers played very well, a fantastic game,” Conte said. “Willian, he played really well against Hull [in the FA Cup] and he scored twice and in the last three games we scored eight times and seven goals we scored with Pedro, Willian and Hazard. I think that they’re working very well. We must be pleased for the game, not for the final result.”

With huge games coming up against both Manchester clubs in the next few weeks in the Premier League, plus the second leg at Barcelona on Mar. 14, it appears Conte may well go with the in-form trio to create as much havoc as possible for opposition defenders.

Hazard in a false nine is an intriguing situation to unravel as the Belgian is almost certainly better suited to playing in a wide role or as a No.10 just off a targetman such as Giroud or Morata, but in this 3-4-2-1 system he has the freedom to interchange with Pedro and Willian and to roam across the forward line.

Having Giroud or Morata as Plan B seems to be Conte’s plan moving forward and against teams such as Man City, Man United and Barcelona, it may well suit Chelsea best to keep things tight defensively and unleash their speedy, tricky trio on the break.

Conte’s tactics to not start with an out-and-out striker may be questioned by many but if it works half as well as it did on Tuesday, expect Hazard, Willian and Pedro to be Chelsea’s go-to guys in a season-defining few weeks for the reigning PL champs as they aim to cement their spot in the top four, reach the FA Cup semifinal and advance in the Champions League.

Blatter: 2026 World Cup should be in Morocco

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Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has backed Morocco’s 2026 World Cup bid as he hit out at the joint-bid between the USA, Mexico and Canada.

The 81-year-old claims that joint bids for a World Cup are to be “rejected” after the 2002 World Cup and with voting for the 2026 hosts to take place on June 13 in an expedited process, it appears Morocco is gaining some traction among FIFA’s 209 member associations as the only alternative to a North American bid.

The U.S., Mexico and Canada bid to host the first-ever expanded 48-team tournament still seems to be the overwhelming favorite, but will comments like this help or hinder Morocco’s bid?

Blatter, the disgraced former long-time leader of world soccer’s governing body, is currently banned from all soccer related activity for six-years after being charged regarding a $2 million payment made between himself and the former UEFA President, Michel Platini.

Here’s the message Blatter sent out via Twitter, as the Swiss official is reportedly launching an appeal against his current ban which came after he announced he would step down as FIFA president in 2015 following several high level officials being charged with corruption by U.S. officials.

It is also worth noting that Blatter is still concerned about being extradited to the USA amid the ongoing FBI investigation into widespread corruption in the organization and doesn’t travel outside of Switzerland or Russia.

Brazil’s Gremio wins Recopa Sudamericana in penalty shootout

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PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) Brazil’s Gremio has won the Recopa Sudamericana, beating Argentina’s Independiente 5-4 in a penalty shootout Wednesday night.

The two-legged final ended 1-1 on aggregate, with no goals scored after 120 minutes in the second.

The winners of last year’s Copa Libertadores overcame the holders of Copa Sudamericana after goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe stopped the last penalty of the series, taken by Independiente’s striker Martin Benitez.

The Recopa is played between the champions of South America’s two most important tournaments.

Independiente played most of the match down to 10 players after defender Fernando Amorebieta was sent off after 38 minutes.

The Brazilians made most of the pressure until the end of extra time, but failed to score.

Gremio also won the Recopa in 1996.

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

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The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.