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Argentina feels World Cup pressure; Brazil set to party

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SAO PAULO (AP) Argentina was the runner-up in the last World Cup. This time it’s under rising pressure just to qualify.

That pressure will be felt even more in its match Tuesday against Bolivia in the thin air of La Paz, which is located in the Andes at 3,650 meters (11,900 feet) altitude.

Argentina has not won a match there since 2005, upping the stakes a bit more.

[ MORE: Complete Panama-USMNT preview ]

Meanwhile, South American rival Brazil will gear up for possible early qualification if it beats Paraguay in Sao Paulo. To advance, the South American group leader needs a victory and a few other results to fall its way. But win or lose, Brazil is heading for the World Cup in Russia with five rounds of qualifying remaining.

Argentina cannot be so confident.

Second-placed Uruguay faces a winnable match at lowly Peru, and fourth-placed Colombia has a real test at fifth-placed Ecuador. Sixth-placed Chile welcomes last-placed Venezuela in Santiago, hoping to climb back into qualifying position.

With five rounds to go, Brazil has 30 points – more than enough to secure a spot in previous World Cups. Uruguay has 23 and Argentina 22.

With Brazil almost sure to advance – and Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru struggling at the bottom – that leaves six teams fighting for the three remaining automatic spots for Russia. Another South American team could also advance in a playoff.

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Argentina put on a poor performance on Thursday, but managed to beat Chile 1-0 in Buenos Aires after a controversial penalty was conceded and converted by Barcelona star Lionel Messi.

The visitors will miss suspended Barcelona midfielder Javier Mascherano, which is making coach Edgardo Bauza think of dramatic changes to the team.

Before the win against Chile and the loss of Mascherano, Bauza was considering a defensive 5-4-1 formation in La Paz, hoping to save his players’ energy and capitalize on the ball-holding Mascherano. Now he may be forced into a more offensive formation that relies less on counterattacking.

Bolivian coach Mauricio Soria, who spared some of his main players in the 1-0 defeat at Colombia on Thursday, said his team will not be intimidated by the Argentine stars and should push hard against them. His team will be rested and in familiar surroundings.

“We hope we can make them feel a lot of their fears,” Soria said.



After the impressive thrashing of Uruguay 4-1 in Montevideo, Brazil is so close to the World Cup spot that many players are already looking for new challenges as Brazil chases it sixth World Cup title.

For the spot to be assured, Brazil needs to beat Paraguay and see Venezuela overcome Chile in Santiago. Also, Colombia needs to get its first win at Ecuador in 20 years.

Even if the “official” qualification doesn’t come, there will surely be a party at Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo.

Coach Tite, who has won seven straight games in qualifiers since he took over in September, had his best days at Corinthians. He won two Brazilian championships, one Copa Libertadores, and the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup title after a 1-0 victory over England’s Chelsea in Japan.

Defender Fagner, also a Corinthians player, will replace suspended Dani Alves.

“I feel no pressure, I want to enjoy every moment of this,” Fagner told reporters.

If he doesn’t do well, Tite has already brought Sevilla’s Mariano for a test.



The Colombia vs. Ecuador match could be key to the aspirations of both teams: Colombia has 21 points, and Ecuador has 20.

The disappointing performance in the 1-0 victory over Bolivia on Thursday is making Colombia fans worry that their team might not qualify for the World Cup. The game in Quito promises to be even more complicated now that coach Jose Pekerman’s side has lost its best striker to injury. Luis Muriel had a right-leg injury and will likely be replaced by Miguel Borja or Carlos Bacca.

History does not favor Colombia: it has been 20 years since Colombia last beat Ecuador at the Atahualpa stadium.

Ecuador also has problems for the key clash. Striker Miller Bolanos and midfielder Christian Noboa will be out and their replacements are not yet set.

VIDEO: Las Vegas Lights introduce new mascot

Las Vegas Lights
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Las Vegas Lights FC is a team you will want to keep an eye on.

The newly-formed USL club are already getting crowds of close to 10,000 during their inaugural season, Freddy Adu on their roster, fiery Mexican coach Jose Luis Sanchez Sola (“Chelis” to you and I) as their Technical Director, plus plenty of interesting initiatives off the pitch, LV Lights are having a lot of fun as the first pro soccer club in Las Vegas’ history.

This proves it.

On Friday they unveiled their mascot “Cash the Soccer Rocket” and this was how they did it.

Bravo to the team behind-the-scenes in Sin City. Bravo.

Who are the quickest players in the Premier League?

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Just how quick are the fastest players in the Premier League?


Three of the top six highest speeds ever recorded have all been registered so far in the 2017-18 season.

Via stats released by the Premier League, Leroy Sane has clocked the fastest speed recorded by a PL player since the metric was first recorded in 2013-14.

Manchester City’s German winger reached a top speed of 35.48km/hr (22mph) this season, while Patrick Van Aanholt and Moussa Sissoko have also reached speeds this season which have seen them place in the top six since records began.

Below is a look at the top speeds for the season so far and the top speeds reached in the Premier League since 2013-14 campaign.

With Man City having both Sane and Kyle Walker in the top five this season, you can see the importance Pep Guardiola puts on speed despite all of the talk about City’s free-flowing possession. Crystal Palace also have two speedsters in the top 10 this season with both Wilfried Zaha and Patrick van Aanholt in the top six.

As for total sprints, Dele Alli leads the way (2,163 in 2017-18) with Christian Eriksen also in the top 10 and representatives from eight other clubs making up the top 10. Dele also has the record for the most sprints during a single season (2,621) which was recorded last season.

These stats are intriguing and for some reason I expected to see Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane way up the list in terms of the being the quickest, but they didn’t even make the top 10.

2017/18 Since 2013/14
Player Speed (km/hr) Player Speed (km/hr)
Leroy Sane 35.48 Leroy Sane 35.48
Patrick van Aanholt 35.42 Jamie Vardy 35.44
Moussa Sissoko 35.33 Kyle Walker 35.42
Antonio Rudiger 35.19 Patrick van Aanholt 35.42
Kyle Walker 35.16 Anthony Martial 35.40
Wilfried Zaha 35.14 Moussa Sissoko 35.33
Oliver Burke 35.13 Shane Long 35.31
Kiko Femenia 35.12 Carl Jenkinson 35.31
Laurent Koscielny 35.11 Modou Barrow 35.28
Jamie Vardy 35.09 Hugo Rodallega 35.27

Report: Man City, Man United join Neymar race

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Is Neymar heading to the Premier League?

Spanish outlet Mundo Deportivo is reporting that both Manchester City and Manchester United have joined Real Madrid in the race to try and sign Neymar, with the report stating that Real remain the favorites to sign the striker if he leaves Paris Saint-Germain.

The Brazilian superstar, 26, only joined PSG in the summer of 2017 from Barcelona for a world-record fee of $274 million but rumblings continue that he is unhappy with life in France and wants to either move back to Spain or, as it now appears, the Premier League.

Per the report, Man City and Pep Guardiola are huge fans of Neymar and are keen to sign him in the summer of 2019 with the commercial gain for signing such a star obvious. Manchester United are also said to be very interested in bringing Neymar to PSG, if he’s available.

When you think about where Neymar would fit into any of the three aforementioned squads, it would certainly suggest that other big names would have to depart for him to arrive.

But if you’re bringing in Neymar and spending the big bucks to pry him away from PSG, he’s going to be your main man.

At Man City he would perhaps play centrally with Sergio Aguero moved on in the next 12 months or so, with Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling supporting him in attack. At Manchester United he could play off Romelu Lukaku alongside Alexis Sanchez as both Manchester clubs would give him a chance to be the key man in a powerful attacking trio. The same will happen at Real Madrid, but Cristiano Ronaldo sticking around could complicate matters, while the futures of Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema seem to lie elsewhere beyond this season.

Sure, it may not be the same as Neymar playing alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez during their treble-winning season at Barca in 2014-15 for Neymar but he would have the chance to replicate that kind of partnership at both City and United, while at Real he’d likely be the gem in a massive attacking rebuild.

The only flip side to Neymar’s obvious talents on the pitch is the circus that comes with him off it. At PSG it is believed he already has way too much power at the club and his many advisers, plus his sponsorship commitments, could create plenty of distractions.

Is that a risk worth taking? Real, City and United would think yes as Neymar delivered 28 goals in 30 games in his debut season at PSG before having his season ended through injury as he now prepares to be fully fit for the 2018 World Cup this summer.

Real still appear to be the frontrunners to sign Neymar in 2019 and they hold the ace in this deal with Ronaldo perhaps ready to move on for the final years of his career. If PSG could get Ronaldo and serious cash from Real for Neymar, they have to do that deal, right?

‘Welcome to Zlatan’: Ibrahimovic makes play for LA’s heart

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Zlatan Ibrahimovic has really always belonged in Hollywood.

The powerful 6-foot-5 Swedish forward has loomed above soccer for nearly two decades, captivating the world with his sublime physical talent and uniquely outrageous personality. He has scored hundreds of majestic goals, won dozens of trophies and scuffled with a few teammates on his journey from Malmo to Milan to Manchester.

When Ibrahimovic officially landed with the LA Galaxy on Friday, he announced his arrival in a new nation with classic, theatrical, Zlatan-esque style.

“Los Angeles, welcome to Zlatan,” read the caption on a social media video featuring Ibrahimovic and a lion.

“Dear Los Angeles, You’re welcome,” said the back page of the Los Angeles Times sports section, with Ibrahimovic’s signature at the bottom of the mostly blank sheet.

Ibrahimovic has been labeled as both a beloved hero and an arrogant villain during his career of high-scoring exploits, but most everyone would agree he is the very definition of a star. The ponytailed 36-year-old could capture the attention of the world’s entertainment capital in a way that even David Beckham couldn’t manage.

“After 20 years in Europe, playing for the best clubs in the world with the best players in the world, I decided it’s time to move to a different continent,” Ibrahimovic said in an interview distributed by Major League Soccer. “Move over to the U.S., try the MLS. For me, there was no question about it. Galaxy was the team, and I chose them. They didn’t need to choose me. I chose them, and I come to do exactly what I’ve been doing the last 23 years: Winning.”

He’ll start next week, when the Galaxy formally welcome him to Los Angeles just three games into their 2018 MLS season. If he feels comfortable immediately, he could even debut in a derby against their new archrival Los Angeles FC on March 31.

The Galaxy are coming off a last-place MLS finish after winning a paltry eight league games last season, but Ibrahimovic doesn’t expect the five-time league champions’ woes to linger with him leading the line.

“I want to accomplish as much as possible,” Ibrahimovic said. “Wherever I went, I won, so I’m coming with this objective. I come to win. I want to win. I think it’s in my DNA that I’m winning trophies. It’s not luck.”

Ibrahimovic hasn’t played since Dec. 26 for Manchester United, which released him from his enormous contract for the move. Yet he returned swiftly after injuring a ligament in his right knee last April, and he said he has been “training very hard” for months.

“I need to play,” Ibrahimovic said. “I’m like a little child that you give candy for the first time, and he’s looking for candy all the time, so that is what I need. I need to play, and I want to play, so I’m hungry to play, because it has gone too long now that I haven’t felt involved in the game.”

Ibrahimovic also showed his motivation in the financial aspects of his move. He isn’t one of the Galaxy’s three designated players, instead taking a two-year deal paid with targeted allocation money – $3 million total, according to numerous reports – to fit into the Galaxy’s payroll structure.

Instead of banking a much fatter check from a European club, Zlatan appears determined to show his abilities in person to millions of new fans on a continent where soccer support has grown steadily for a generation.

Ibrahimovic’s move also should energize the Galaxy, who will mix him into coach Sigi Schmid’s intriguing collection of international talent. While French winger Romain Alessandrini and Mexican forward Giovani Dos Santos might not provide the same level of service as Paul Pogba, the Galaxy starters are among the best players in MLS, and Ibrahimovic must learn how to connect with them.

Ibrahimovic also confirmed he hasn’t ruled out a return to the Swedish national team for the World Cup this summer despite retiring from the international game in 2016, saying that “the door will always be open.”

“But I think the main focus now is Galaxy,” Ibrahimovic said. “I settle in. Get to know my new teammates. Get to know the club. Get to know the city. When I feel comfortable there, you take the next step.”