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Top Billing in South America: Argentina vs. Uruguay

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Lionel Messi is back for Argentina. And Luis Suarez is expected to return for Uruguay.

The two Barcelona teammates should be the focus on Thursday in South America’s most high-profile World Cup qualifier.

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With four rounds of qualifying remaining, Brazil has already advanced to Russia and leads the group with 33 points. The five-time World Cup winners are followed by Colombia (24), Uruguay (23), Chile (23), Argentina (22) and Ecuador (20). Peru and Paraguay have 18 points, and little chance to advance. Bolivia and Venezuela have been eliminated.

In addition to Brazil, three more teams will claim the remaining automatic berths, and one more South American team could also reach Russia in a playoff.

A look at the key games:

URUGUAY-ARGENTINA

Messi is back from a one-game ban for insulting a match official. It was originally four matches, but the Argentine soccer association appealed successfully.

That’s good news for coach Jorge Sampaoli, who will be on the bench for his first official game in charge. Without Messi, Argentina lost to Bolivia 2-0 in its last qualifier in March.

Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez also needs Suarez. He has a right-knee injury, which Tabarez said will be evaluated in the run-up to the match.

With or without Suarez, Tabarez knows “it will be a very, very difficult match.”

Sampaoli replaced Edgardo Bauza in early June and has coached friendly wins over Brazil and Singapore. Sampaoli has left Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain out of the side, going instead with Paulo Dybala, who is seen as Messi’s heir on the national team.

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Tabarez is remaking the Uruguay side, which has been about the same since finishing fourth in the 2010 World Cup and the 2011 Copa America. New faces include Federico Valverde, Mauricio Lemos and Gaston Pereiro.

“It’s not just another game coming up,” Uruguay defender Diego Godin said. “It’s a classic, and we know who we’re playing.”

VENEZUELA-COLOMBIA

Colombia attacking midfielder James Rodriguez is out with a right thigh injury. His new club, Bayern Munich, has allowed him to travel, under the condition that he doesn’t play. He could be available for the Sept. 5 qualifier against Brazil.

The match takes place in San Cristobal, Venezuela, in the midst of the South American country’s deepening social and economic crisis.

Argentina-born coach Jose Pekerman should be able to get by without Rodriguez. Venezuela has only six points from 14 matches.

“Venezuela playing Colombia is always played as if your life depends on it,” Colombia winger Juan Guillermo Cuadrado said.

Colombia will rely on Radamel Falcao, who has scored seven goals for French club Monaco in only four games.

BRAZIL-ECUADOR

Brazil has advanced, winning eight straight qualifiers under coach Tite.

Tite will have Neymar, fresh off his record-breaking transfer to Paris Saint-Germain. The player most watched will be winger Philippe Coutinho, who has yet to play a minute with Liverpool. The English club says Coutinho has been out with a back injury. Meanwhile, Coutinho has been linked in a move to Barcelona to replace Neymar.

Ecuador needs a victory in the match in the southern city of Porto Alegre to stay in the race.

“It’s a tough challenge,” Ecuador coach Gustavo Quinteros said. “But Ecuador has shown when it plays well, it can beat anybody.”

CHILE-PARAGUAY

Chile’s hopes in Santiago against Paraguay probably ride with Alexis Sanchez, who played his first minutes of the season in Arsenal’s 4-0 loss to Liverpool. Sanchez missed the first two matches with an injury.

PERU-BOLIVIA

Peru and Bolivia play the other match with neither team going anywhere. Peru will be without captain and top scorer Paolo Guerrero, who is suspended. He is eligible for the next match against Ecuador.

Zuniga reported from New York.

Source: MLS rejected deal that would’ve brought Ousted to LA Galaxy

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TAM has become a great discussion in Major League Soccer, allowing teams to acquire more top-caliber players, but it appears in one instance the mechanism could actually hurt a player’s chances of being re-signed.

[ MORE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Portuguese midfielder Geraldes ]

Pro Soccer Talk has learned through an MLS league source familiar with the situation that the LA Galaxy had a deal in place to acquire Vancouver Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted using Targeted Allocation Money (TAM), however, the league rejected that offer.

The 32-year-old took to Twitter on Friday, stating that a total of three teams offered him a contract using TAM, however, none of them were able to be executed.

It was announced back on Nov. 7 that Ousted would not return to the Whitecaps for the 2018 season, after spending nearly four-and-a-half years with the Canadian side.

Additionally, Ousted was scheduled to be one of the players eligible to be selected in Friday’s MLS Stage 1 Re-Entry Draft, but he has since been “forced to opt out.”

There are several ways a player can qualify to participate in the first stage of the Re-Entry Draft, and with Ousted having played over three MLS seasons and being over the age of 23, that previously ruled him eligible.

Under MLS’ current TAM rules and regulations, Ousted would have had to have been making at least $480,625 in 2017 in order for the veteran goalkeeper to qualify for a TAM offer.

That number is scheduled to increase for the next season, with the maximum budget charge set at $504,375 in 2018.

Ousted was only making roughly $378,933 in 2017, with a base salary of $360,000, per the MLS Players’ Union website.

In order for an MLS club to sign Ousted at this stage would require them to go above and beyond his option for next season, which as the goalkeeper states in his second tweet would be a “gamble.”

Below are the ways MLS has declared it possible for clubs to use TAM in order to sign or re-sign players.

Prince William’s dilemma: Royal Wedding clashes with FA Cup final

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The date for the Royal Wedding between Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle has been set and there’s a bit of a dilemma for Prince William: it’s on the same day as the 2017-18 FA Cup final on May 19, 2018.

Why does that matter?

William has been the president of the English Football Association for the last 10 years and he, along with other members of the Royal Family, usually attend the showpiece final at Wembley and hand out the trophy to the winning team.

Not this time.

With the date confirmed on Friday for the Royal Wedding takes place at Windsor Castle on May 19, specific times have yet been announced for the ceremony. Could that mean a late dash from the wedding to hand out the trophy at Wembley for Prince William? If his beloved Aston Villa make the final, maybe it’s not out of the question…

In a statement to the BBC, the FA had the following to say about the “fixture clash” in May:

“Everyone at The FA is delighted for HRH Prince Harry and Megan Markle with the announcement of their wedding at Windsor Castle next year. Saturday May 19 promises to be a wonderful day with a special royal occasion followed by English football’s showpiece event, the Emirates FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium. With millions coming together to watch both events at home and around the world, it will be a day to celebrate.”

The life of a royal isn’t all fun and games…

Guardiola eyes January deals after winning Manager of Month

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Scary news: Manchester City are looking to improve in the January transfer window.

Pep Guardiola confirmed on Friday that Premier League leaders Man City will look to buy a new central defender in January.

City, currently on a record-breaking 15-game winning run and sitting 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League table, have Nicolas Otamendi, Vincent Kompany, Eliaquim Mangala and John Stones as their center backs, but both Stones and Kompany have been out injured recently.

Speaking to the media ahead of City’s clash with Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com), Guardiola revealed he is keen to add defensive reinforcements.

“We speak about (January signings) with the club and Txiki Begiristain (the club’s director of football),” Guardiola said. “We have just three guys in central defense. We don’t want to sign someone for a few months. We want to sign them for years and we have to make sure it’s the right guy.”

Who could come in?

Virgil Van Dijk and Jonny Evans were both linked with moves to Man City in the summer and it is an area of the pitch City clearly want to add in. Southampton have said that van Dijk will not be leaving this season but if a massive offer arrives in January then it may be tough for the struggling Saints to turn it down this time after VVD wanted to push through a move to Liverpool in the summer.

As for Evans, he is playing week in, week out at West Brom but his future remains far from clear with Arsenal and Man City both looking to add the former Manchester United center back in the summer.

Aside from transfer talk, Guardiola was also named the Premier League Manager of the Month for November earlier on Friday, with the Spaniard winning the award for the third-straight month.

Only Antonio Conte had achieved that feat in PL history before but City’s boss isn’t getting ahead of himself as many have already handed his team the 2017-18 Premier League title.

“Tomorrow is an important game. Spurs are so tough. Last season and this season. Nothing is going to change – we are not going to win the Premier League tomorrow, we are not going to lose it either,” Guardiola said. “It’s important to play better, that is the most important thing. The record will always stay there until one day it is broken. I am happy not with the results but the way we play. Statistics are good but I have the feeling we can be much, much better.”

Gulp. City being better than they already are? That is a scary thought…

Mourinho: Eric Bailly out; United may look to buy in January

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Jose Mourinho has revealed that Eric Bailly requires ankle surgery and will be out for up to three months for Manchester United.

The Ivorian center back has been missing since early November after suffering the injury on international duty.

Bailly, 23, hasn’t recovered as quickly as United would have liked and his injury is more serious than originally thought.

“He [Bailly] goes to surgery, the decision is made,” Mourinho told MUTV. “I don’t say (he’s out) for the rest of the season but it’s for the next two or three months.”

United have plenty of options at center back with Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo all around, but all three have been out with injuries during this season. That said, Bailly is by far United’s most consistent and reliable defender and having him out until February or March is a big blow for Mourinho.

As for the January transfer market, Mourinho may not go and buy a replacement for Bailly but he did hint at perhaps doing some business in the January even though he isn’t the biggest fan of the mid-season window.

“Not a big defender of the January market,” Mourinho said. “There are players and situations you have the chance to do and you shouldn’t lose them. I don’t like January market just to buy.”

United have been linked with a January move for Antoine Griezmann but Mourinho refused to comment on speculation linking the French international with a move to Old Trafford.

Griezmann looked set to move in the summer with United, Barcelona and PSG all interested in signing the striker, but with his manager at Atleti, Diego Simeone, saying that he will now be able to leave Atletico if the right offer comes in, surely United will be looking at bolstering their attack if the right deal can be done.

Buying in January, especially for a player of Griezmann’s caliber, usually comes at a premium but what if he has a great summer with France at the 2018 World Cup? His transfer value would surely rocket then.

With the Red Devils 11 points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City, they will need something special to claw back points in the second half off the campaign. Griezmann’s arrival would make everyone sit up and take notice, even if United don’t exactly need to boost their attacking talent.

Simply put: if a player of Griezmann’s caliber becomes available, as it appears is the case, you need to pull out all of the stops to try and sign him.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan‘s future at United appears to be over, so maybe if they can move the Armenian playmaker on and free up some cash to bring in Griezmann (a good friend of Paul Pogba) then a deal can be done. With Atleti not qualifying for the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League, it appears the Spanish club are willing to let Griezmann leave after he handled the summer of transfer speculation admirably and remained with the La Liga outfit during their transfer embargo and move to a new stadium.