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Favorites Portugal, Mexico meet early in Confederations Cup

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KAZAN, Russia (AP) Two of the top contenders for the Confederations Cup title are meeting early in the tournament, with Portugal and Mexico making their Group A debut on Sunday in Kazan.

[ MORE: Mexico’s Guardado set to join Los Angeles FC ]

It will be European champion Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo in top form, taking on Gold Cup winner Mexico in a game that is likely to decide the group winner.

Ronaldo was making the headlines on Friday because of a report that said he wants to leave Real Madrid and Spain following allegations that he defrauded the country’s tax authorities.

The Portuguese sports daily A Bola published a front-page story Friday saying that Ronaldo was upset with the accusations made against him and that his decision was “irreversible.”

“It’s a high-profile match,” Mexico forward Hirving Lozano said. “It’s good that we get to play it right now, in our first game. Both teams have great players, it will be a tough match.”

Germany is the top-ranked team in the eight-nation Confederations Cup, at No. 3, but it came to Russia with a second-string squad that has only three players from the team that won the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Chile is ranked fourth, but lacks the same tradition as Portugal and Mexico and has struggled in South American qualifying.

Host Russia, ranked 63rd in the world, opens Group A play on Saturday against New Zealand in St. Petersburg. Group B has Germany, Chile, Australia and Cameroon.

The Confederations Cup is the main warm-up event for the 2018 World Cup. It is played by the continental champions plus the host nation and the World Cup winner.

Here are other things to watch when Portugal faces Mexico:


Ronaldo was peaking when he ended his season with Real Madrid, and now is looking to continue his good form with the national team in Russia.

“Ronaldo is motivated,” young Portugal forward Andre Silva said. “He is taking this competition very seriously and is fully focused on training and on the match against Mexico.”

Ronaldo has scored 18 goals in his last 11 matches, including two in Portugal’s 3-0 win at Latvia in a European World Cup qualifier last week, the team’s last match before the Confederations Cup opener against Mexico.

Two weeks ago, he had also scored twice in the Champions League final to lead Madrid to its second consecutive title in the European club competition.

Ronaldo has scored 11 goals in five games with Portugal this season.

A good performance at the Confederations Cup will virtually secure him a fifth world player of the year award, equaling Lionel Messi.


Portugal has won six of its last seven games, with the only setback coming in a 3-2 loss against Sweden in a friendly in March. With a team well balanced by coach Fernando Santos, Portugal outscored opponents 28-4 during that streak, with five clean sheets.

Mexico has won five of its last six matches, with a 2-1 home loss to Croatia in a friendly in May.

Portugal is making its debut in the Confederations Cup, while Mexico is playing in the intercontinental competition for the seventh time. The Mexicans won the title in 1999.

Portugal won 2-1 the only time it faced Mexico in an official match, in the group stage of the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The teams drew 0-0 in a friendly in 1969, and in 2014 Portugal won 1-0 in another exhibition match.


Mexico’s squad has three players who have close connections to Portugal.

Defender Miguel Layun and midfielder Hector Herrera play for FC Porto, while forward Raul Jimenez plays for Benfica.

Portugal doesn’t have any player on its squad playing for Mexican clubs. Ten of its players are with Portuguese teams.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Key newcomers for USMNT friendly

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While the excitement potential is high amongst big club USMNT call-ups like PSG’s Tim Weah and Everton’s Antonee Robinson, there are several other relative newcomers who are facing a more acute focus.

So yes, of course, we’re most excited to see the young guns fire away, but a few others will be under the microscope for different reasons.

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Paraguay is leaving some big names behind — Dario Lezcano, Jesus Medina, Edgar Benítez — but won’t be using as “B” or “C” of a squad as the USMNT. Key defenders Junior Alonso (Lille) and Gustavo Gomez (AC Milan) will be staring down the U.S. attack, while Atlanta United star Miguel Almiron will try his luck against the Yanks’ backs.

  1. The goalkeepers — With full respect to Bill Hamid and his five caps, the trio of backstops who could play against Paraguay are unknown entities on the senior international level. There are reasons to be excited about Alex Bono (Toronto FC) and Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew) going against Los Guaraníes — and Hamid, too — and standing behind a young and untested group of center backs should give plenty of chances to make a name for whoever is chosen (If Sarachan is more “woke” this go-round, it’ll be multiple keepers).
  2. Andriya Novakovich — The Telstar striker is checking all the boxes: 6-foot-4, productive on the youth level, and now succeeding overseas. The 21-year-old has 17 goals on loan from Reading in the Dutch second tier. While that’s far from a “Woah” figure considering the top-tier in the Netherlands isn’t exactly a defensive hot bed, it’s intriguing for Tuesday in North Carolina.
  3. Rubio Rubin — We’re hopeful Sarachan goes with a 4-4-2, which would allow both Rubin and Novakovich to get runs next to Bobby Wood. Rubin is seeing some time at Liga MX side Club Tijuana after his European adventure stalled following a hot start for Utrecht. He had an assist in CONCACAF Champions League play against Red Bulls this month.
  4. Tyler Adams — Speaking of that match, the Red Bulls got a goal from Adams. It’s fair to say he’s got the chance to be as special a player as Schalke youngster Weston McKennie (and would apparently like to join his USMNT teammate overseas). Adams and McKennie together could legit be an engine room for years. Will that begin on Tuesday?
  5. Cameron Carter-Vickers — The 20-year-old center back has shown resilience in England. His hot start to life at Sheffield United, on loan from Tottenham, cooled enough to have him sent back to North London, but Carter-Vickers has rebounded to become a key part of Ipswich Town’s back line. With 22-year-old Matt Miazga the only clear center back on the roster and older than him, CCV can quiet a lot of doubters.
  6. Kenny Saief — This guy has excited at nearly every turn since bursting onto the scene with Gent via the Israeli national team, and an injury cost him some momentum with the USMNT. Now healthy and on loan with Anderlecht, the same side which refined the fire of Sacha Kljestan, the once-capped Florida-born man is as intriguing as ever.

Season strugglers: Some ignominious PL performances

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Tuesday found us breaking ties on our “Most Impactful Premier League Summer Buys” rankings by digging through some advanced statistics sites.

In doing so, something struck us: We rarely if ever check out which players are faring the worst when it comes to those next level numbers.

Ah, the international break: Good for off-the-wall posts.

[ MORE: Alonso, Pedro have Morata’s back]

At the risk of kicking a player while he’s down, here are some negative numbers that stand out from the pack.

Of the 358 players who’ve played at least 10 Premier League matches, Joe Hart is having the worst season of the bunch according to Squawka. That’s a bit misleading due to how the site’s metrics operate, considering eight of the bottom 20 players are goalkeepers (and several, like Jonas Lossl and Jordan Pickford, are having outstanding campaigns).

So the unfortunate honor goes to Swansea defender Martin Olsson, who edges James McClean of West Brom for the infamy. Since the site does heap numbers on players by action accumulated, perhaps it’s better to single out the per-game and per-90 strugglers. Olsson and McClean are still very much near the bottom, but surprisingly Yannick Bolasie is the worst per game, and Swansea’s Wayne Routledge is having the least effective season per 90 minutes.

As for WhoScored, its metrics are hammering forwards, with Lys Mousset, Andre Gray, and Benik Afobe at the back of the back (ahead of McClean, again, who is a multi-site struggler).

These stats aren’t perfect, of course, and I like the idea of having McClean on my squad. But there are some other odds stats in the pack.

 These players might want to pass their next opportunity to the keeper. Of players with 10 or more shot attempts this season, Adam Lallana (11), Renato Sanches (12), Lewis Cook (14), and Dale Stephens (15) have failed to put a single shot on target.

— Of the 81 players who’ve tried their luck 30 times or more, these are the worst accuracy rates

— For perspective, Harry Kane has put 56 percent of his league-leading 162 shots on target, while second place man Mohamed Salah is 61 percent of 118.

— Defensive errors also can be increased significantly by the times a player is put under pressure by his team, which is why goalkeepers are high on Squawka’s list. Take them out, and you get a list with Spurs’ Eric Dier up top. Two of his six errors have led to goals against Tottenham, with Zanka (Huddersfield Town), Alfie Mawson (Swans), Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), and Shane Duffy (Brighton) next with four errors.

Xabi Alonso denies Spanish accusations of tax fraud

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The list of players pursued by Spanish authorities crying tax fraud is starting to resemble a pretty good team,

Call it The Longest Yard: La Liga.

[ MORE: Alonso, Pedro support Morata ]

Xabi Alonso is being accused of not paying taxes on his image rights while a player at Real Madrid, joining Radamel Falcao, Neymar, Lionel Messi, Luka Modric, and Cristiano Ronaldo as World XI-caliber players who’ve faced legal troubles in Spain.

Jose Mourinho even had to travel to Spain earlier this season to face accusations from a Spanish court. Those found guilty have found punishment other than jail time.

Alonso denies any wrongdoing, according to Sky Sports:

Prosecutors say he defrauded the Spanish state of £1.75m between 2010 and 2012 and called for the same sentence to be applied to Alonso’s financial advisor Ivan Zaldua Azcuenaga and the administrator of consultancy shell company, Ignasi Maestre Casanova.

Iraq hosts friendly tournament after 3-decade FIFA ban

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BAGHDAD (AP) Iraq is hosting a friendly soccer tournament this week, with Syria and Qatar.

It comes just days after FIFA lifted a three-decade-long ban on Iraq hosting international competitions.

[ MORE: Best PL summer buys ]

An Iraq-Qatar match is to start Wednesday evening in the southern city of Basra.

FIFA lifted the ban on Monday for Iraqi cities of Basra, Karbala and Irbil, considered to be the safest in Iraq – but not the capital, Baghdad, which still sees frequent militant attacks.

Iraq’s minister of youth and sports, Abdul-Hussein Abtan, congratulated the Iraqi people following FIFA’s move and said it would change how Iraq is viewed in the region and beyond.

While the ban was in place, Iraq was still able to host friendly games and tournaments.