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2017 Confederations Cup: Group A preview

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We are just a few days away from the start of the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, so it’s time to take a look at the four teams competing in Group A.

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Here’s what you need to know ahead of the tournament kicking off.

[ MORE: Full schedule, stadiums, streams 


Group A

Russia
How they qualified: As hosts of the 2018 World Cup next summer. Simple.
FIFA ranking: 64
Star player: Igor Akinfeev – Captain and goalkeeper is a fine shot-stopper and the main man for the hosts.
One to watch: Aleksandr Golovin – CSKA Moscow midfielder is being tracked by Arsenal and has the attributes to make the step up.
Manager: Stanislav Cherchesov – Vastly experienced coach has been in charge for less than a year and has been set a target of reaching the 2018 World Cup semifinals. A very, very tough task.
Chance of winning: 20% – The hosts may do better than most expect, but getting out of this group as one of the top two is still a struggle.

New Zealand
How they qualified: They beat Papa New Guinea on penalty kicks after a 0-0 draw in the 2016 OFC Nations Cup Final.
FIFA ranking: 95
Star player: Chris Wood – Top scorer in England’s second-tier at Leeds United, the powerful forward could be set for a move to the PL. A proper handful. 19 goals in 49 games for the All Whites.
One to watch: Ryan Thomas – He plays for PEC Zwolle in Holland and is a creative, fast attacking player who should supply Wood with plenty of chances.
Manager: Anthony Hudson – Young English coach has long been lauded as one of the brightest in the game. Just 36 years old, this could be his big moment but New Zealand are the heavy underdogs.
Chance of winning: 5% – Tough to see them getting out of this group, especially without the injury Winston Reid.

Portugal 
How they qualified: Through their shock win at EURO 2016 last summer, their first-ever major trophy.
FIFA ranking: 8
Star player: Cristiano Ronaldo – Yeah, not a surprise. After leading Real Madrid to back-to-back Champions League titles, a La Liga crown and a EURO 2016 title with Portugal in the past 12 months, Ronaldo is hungry for more goals and glory.
One to watch: Andre Silva – After completing his big money move to AC Milan, Silva is ready to shine. He has seven goals in eight games for Portugal.
Manager: Fernando Santos – Experienced Portuguese boss who led the team to a superb defensive display at EURO 2016.
Chance of winning: 40% – Will progress from the group easily.

Mexico
How they qualified: By winning the 2015 Gold Cup they had a one-off CONCACAF Cup game against the USA (2013 Gold Cup winners) in November 2015 which they won 3-2 after extra time, thus making them champs of CONCACAF and sealing a Confederations Cup spot.
FIFA ranking: 14
Star player: Hector Herrera – Seems to get better each and every year and he will drive El Tri on from midfield.
One to watch: Hirving Lozano – Man City are rumored to be interested in signing the youngster and if the winger has a fine tournament, plenty more top clubs in Europe will take a chance on his mercurial talents.
Manager: Juan Carlos Osorio – Meticulous and disciplined, Osorio will make Mexico tough to beat and they have the attacking talent to counter quickly.
Chance of winning: 30% – Should progress from the group, then anything else is a bonus.


Game schedule
June 17: Russia vs. New Zealand – 11 a.m. ET – Saint Petersburg
June 18: Portugal vs Mexico – 11 a.m. ET – Kazan
June 21: Russia vs. Portugal – 11 a.m ET – Moscow
June 21: Mexico vs. New Zealand – 2 p.m. ET – Sochi
June 24: New Zealand vs. Portugal – 11 a.m. ET – Saint Petersburg
June 24: Mexico vs. Russia – 11 a.m. ET – Kazan


Watch Live: Swansea host Manchester United

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Swansea City welcome Manchester United to the Liberty Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Jose Mourinho’s side aiming to stay top of the Premier League table.

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Yes, it’s early days, but the Red Devils were imperious in their thumping 4-0 win against West Ham United to open their season. Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic dominated and Mourinho’s men are now a powerful, well-oiled machine.

As for Swansea, they struggled at Southampton but came away with a draw, however the main storyline surrounding the South Wales side this week has been losing Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton for over $60 million. Paul Clement will have to act fast to spend that cash wisely, but there is no doubt the Swans will miss their Icelandic playmaker.

In team news Swansea bring in Kyle Bartley and Roque Mesa as they line up in a 3-5-2 formation with Jordan Ayew and Tammy Abraham up top.

Man United are, unsurprisingly, unchanged.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski; Fernandez, Bartley, Mawson; Naughton, Mesa, Fer, Carroll, Olsson; Ayew, Abraham. Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, van der Hoorn, Fulton, Narsingh, Routledge, McBurnie.

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Jones, Blind; Matic, Pogba; Mkhitaryan, Mata, Rashford; Lukaku. Subs: Romero, Lindelof, Smalling, Fellaini, Herrera, Lingard, Martial

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.