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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’S FORM

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.

WINNING RUNS

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.

KNOWN FOES

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

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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More midweek action is coming up in the Premier League. Let the festive fun continue.

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The full TV schedule for this weekend is below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Tuesday
2:45 p.m. ET: Burnley vs. Stoke City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:45 p.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Huddersfield Town vs. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM

Wednesday
2:45 p.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Manchester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
2:45.m. ET: Southampton vs. Leicester City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:45 p.m. ET: Newcastle United vs. Everton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: West Ham United vs. Arsenal – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Liverpool vs. West Brom – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Brighton & Hove Albion – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Premier League notes: Wanyama, Bolasie return after long layoffs, Sakho injured

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Two Premier League clubs saw a pair of players return to the field after long spells on the sidelines.

Tottenham revealed that Victor Wanyama took part in training on Monday for the first time since suffering a knee injury in late August, which has kept him off the field since then. Wanyama started in both of Tottenham’s first two fixtures of the season before the injury.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

At the same time in the northwest of England, Yannick Bolasie returned to the field for Everton’s reserves for the first time since suffering a torn ACL last December against Manchester United. Everton manager Sam Allardyce hinted recently that Bolasie could even make the first team subs bench before the end of the calendar year as he continues his rehab.

(more…)

Report: Sporting KC on verge of signing French midfielder Croizet

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Sporting Kansas City could be adding some European flair to its midfield this offseason.

According to multiple reports, the MLS club is in negotiations to sign French midfielder Yohan Croizet, who currently plays for Belgian first division side KV Mechelen. Croizet, who reportedly cost Mechelen a transfer fee worth more than $1 million, has started all 15 games he’s played for his side this season but has been substituted off on seven occasions and Mechelen are currently struggling in the league, sitting in 13th place with 18 points from 18 games.

Croizet hasn’t played since November 17, and appears on his way out.

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Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes, a Hungarian-American, is no stranger to the European market and has brought over plenty of diamonds in the rough from Europe to star with Sporting KC. Some previous examples, though in different positions from Croizet, include current winger Gerso, Krisztián Németh, Uri Rosell, and Aurelien Collin.

It will be interesting to see where Croizet plays in the Sporting KC side should it sign him, and how he works with Benny Feilhaber, who is turning 33-years old in January.

Arsenal lands Ostersunds in Europa League draw

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Arsenal will face a team with an English connection in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32.

The Gunners were paired with Swedish side Ostersunds in the Europa League knockout stage draw Monday, with matches set to be played on February 15 and February 22. Ostersund are managed by Englishman Graham Potter, who played in the Championship and lower in England before starting his managerial career with Ostersunds in 2010 in the fourth tier of Swedish soccer.

[READ: UCL draw+analysis]

Ostersunds surprised many earlier this year winning the Swedish Cup to qualify for the Europa League, and then advanced out of a group that included Hertha Berlin and Athletic Bilbao.

It represents an interesting draw for Arsenal, which will have to balance the squad during a tough February. The weekend prior to the first-leg match is the second leg of the North London derby against Tottenham, and following the second match with Ostersunds is a showdown with Manchester City.

Here’s a look at how the rest of the draw shook out: