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Brazil on verge of landing World Cup berth for Russia

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SAO PAULO (AP) The only team to play in every World Cup is about to qualify for the next one.

Brazil could ensure its spot at the 2018 tournament in Russia with a victory at Uruguay on Thursday. Depending on other results, however, the five-time champions may have to wait until next week when they face Paraguay in Sao Paulo.

Either way, Brazil’s turnaround has been rather spectacular. Just over 2+ years ago, the Brazilians were humiliated at home in a 7-1 loss to Germany in the World Cup semifinals.

The difference has been coach Adenor Leonardo Bacchi – known at Tite (pronounced Chi-Chi) – who took over last year after Dunga was fired. In six qualifying matches under Tite, Brazil has won all six.

Brazil leads the 10-team South American qualifying group with 27 points from 12 matches. Uruguay is four behind and in good shape to take the second of four automatic World Cup berths. A fifth South American team can also advance through a playoff.

But after Brazil and Uruguay, the race for the other qualifying spots is wide open with only six matches remaining.

Ecuador and Chile have 20 points each and Argentina has 19, followed by Colombia with 18, Paraguay with 15 and Peru with 14. At the bottom, Bolivia has seven points and Venezuela has five.

Neither Brazil nor Uruguay will be able to count on their top strikers for the match. The hosts will be without suspended Barcelona forward Luis Suarez, and the visitors will miss injured Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus, who has a broken toe on his right foot.

Brazil winger Douglas Costa is also out with an injured knee and will be replaced by Palmeiras winger Dudu.

Brazil, however, will have Barcelona striker Neymar, and he can turn any match at any moment.

“If I had a formula, I wouldn’t tell you. But I confess I don’t have one,” Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said. “I have the sense, from what I see in every match, that many other coaches still haven’t found the secret, and neither have the players who go against Neymar.”


Two-time champion Argentina faces a tough match against Chile in Buenos Aires on Thursday.

The Argentines will be without defender Pablo Zabaleta, who has an injured left leg.

After the match against Chile, Argentina plays at Bolivia, where it will battle the thin air in La Paz. The Bolivian capital is located at 3,600 meters (11,900 feet) and is always a treacherous venue for visiting teams.


In other matches Thursday, it’s: Colombia vs. Bolivia; Paraguay vs. Ecuador; and Venezuela vs. Peru.

On March 28, it’s: Bolivia vs. Argentina; Ecuador vs. Colombia; Chile vs. Venezuela; Brazil vs. Paraguay; and Peru vs. Uruguay.

Liverpool fans without tickets warned, as Roma pledges support

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There was a terrible incident in Liverpool on Tuesday when a Reds supporter was set upon by Roma fans and left in critical condition.

Sean Cox, 53, was attacked outside a pub before Liverpool’s 5-2 UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg win over AS Roma.

[ MORE: LFC 5-2 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

Liverpool has released its plans to keep supporters safe should they be among the 5,000 with tickets in Rome on Wednesday (via, pledging the “most comprehensive safety and security advice.”

The club has taken the exceptional measure of requesting an extraordinary meeting in the Italian capital, which will take place on Friday April 27. … At the behest of Liverpool, club officials will join AS Roma, UEFA and the relevant Italian police and security services to discuss specific ongoing concerns.

Merseyside Police chief superintendent Dave Charnock backed up Roma’s police demand that Liverpool fans without tickets skip the trip to Italy. According to the BBC, Liverpool was asked to put fans names on their tickets to the game.

“While we understand and appreciate that many Liverpool fans will want to travel to Rome, I would encourage fans who do not have tickets to not travel,” he said.

AS Roma, for its part, posted a photo of Cox with the statement, “His recovery and the safety of all fans attending football matches, is the only thing that matters now.”

Report: Gerrard on Rangers shortlist ahead of Old Firm Derby

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Could Steven Gerrard‘s first foray into management come against his old manager and in one of the most heated derbies in the world?

The BBC is reporting that the Liverpool legend is on the shortlist for Rangers as the Glaswegian side prepares to hire a new manager in its bid to reverse Celtic domination of the Scottish Premiership and the Old Firm Derby.

[ MORE: Fulham, NFL owner to buy Wembley? ]

Brendan Rodgers has engineered a marvelous run of form for Celtic, who went unbeaten in the league last season. Rodgers is also a sought-after managerial candidate for bigger jobs in Europe, and may not be at Celtic if and when Gerrard is hired by its rivals.

Either Celtic or Rangers have won the Scottish top flight title dating back to 1984-85, when champions Aberdeen were led by some guy named Alex Ferguson.

Rangers are facing a Manchester United moment this weekend, traveling to Celtic Park for a Sunday derby against Celtic which would see their rivals clinch the Premiership with a win.

Celtic has a 10-point lead on Rangers and Aberdeen, and is extremely likely to win its seventh-straight Premiership title. The record for most consecutive Scottish titles is nine, shared by Celtic (1966-74) and Rangers (1989-97).

Sweden announces Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not return for World Cup

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s public flirtation and seeming committal to returning to the Swedish national team for the World Cup was a big tease.

Whether it’s his call or not is up for debate.

The Swedish Football Association reports that it’s spoken with Ibrahimovic and the 35-year-old LA Galaxy striker has declined the chance to return to the fold.

[ MORE: Fulham, NFL owner to buy Wembley? ]

Sweden’s sporting director Lars Richt says Ibrahimovic has not changed his mind on international retirement despite his own words.

Sweden’s current team may have a role in that.

We imagine Richt and Sweden may be cushioning the blow for Ibrahimovic, especially if national team goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson is speaking on behalf of a team vibe when he speaks of Zlatan being “an individualist” who could ruin Sweden’s team-first concept.

Report: Fulham, NFL owner Khan agrees $700m price for Wembley

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Fulham owner Shad Khan also owns a National Football League team, and could have two top-flight teams from different nations playing in England soon.

For Fulham, the Cottagers are currently very much in the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League and at the least will have a chance at qualifying through the playoffs.

[ MORE: TFC loses CCL Final in PKs ]

For the Jaguars, who have rarely needed all the seats in their stadium, it could mean a move to London if Khan goes through with what’s being reported as an accepted $700 million bid to buy Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium was also built with the design to host NFL games.

Here’s how ProFootballTalk’s Michael David Smith puts a bow on it (on one of the biggest days of the NFL calendar, nonetheless):

So it’s possible that there could soon be two iconic soccer stadiums in London with strong NFL ties, one which was built with NFL games in mind, and another that is owned by an NFL owner. The league is pouring serious resources into London.

It seems unlikely Khan would move Fulham from Craven Cottage, but there are other repercussions of this move for soccer in England.

There’s the potential for the England national team to no longer utlizie a permanent home, and the FA Cup and League Cup both potentially requiring new or rotating venues for their final rounds.

A lot to monitor here, and we’ll surely have all the details as they emerge from Khan’s crew.