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Leicester 0-0 Southampton: Saints lose chance to gain relegation ground

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Leicester City and Southampton finished scoreless at the King Power Stadium on Thursday, as the latter failed to pick up three critical points in a heated Premier League relegation race.

The best opportunity on the day likely came in the second half when Marc Albrighton‘s brilliant volley was deflected over the crossbar by Saints keeper Alex McCarthy.

[ MORE: Chelsea tops Burnley with Moses’ second-half strike ]

Southampton boasted many of its regulars as they prepare to stave off being dropped down to the Championship next season, although Mark Hughes‘ side features in a big FA Cup semifinals clash over the weekend against Chelsea.

Chances were at a minimum in the opening stanza, with Leicester the more dominant of the two sides in attack, although it didn’t amount to much on their various counterattacking opportunities.

Kelechi Iheanacho threatened early on for the Foxes, coming close in the 15th minute with a strike that narrowly missed the far corner. This came briefly after he followed up on his own blocked attempt moments prior.

The Saints now sit four points behind 17th place Swansea City, while Leicester remains in eighth place — trailing Arsenal and the top six by 10 points.

FIFA closes racism case from U-17 World Cup final

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA closed a racism investigation Thursday that involved a Spain player and an England opponent from the Under-17 World Cup final.

FIFA said its disciplinary panel dismissed the charge against the Spanish player because of a “lack of sufficient evidence that could corroborate the English player’s claim.”

It is the third recent case of a high-profile allegation of racist abuse of black players being closed without action.

The latest ruling, from England’s 5-2 win in India last October, followed “a thorough investigation,” FIFA said.

In March, UEFA ended two investigations because of a lack of verifiable evidence.

Those claims were made by Borussia Dortmund forward Michy Batshuayi against Italian club Atalanta, and Liverpool youth forward Rhian Brewster against a Spartak Moscow opponent.

Brewster also played in the Under-17 World Cup final, scoring the first goal in England’s comeback after trailing 2-0 in the first half.

“Despite the absence of a sanction, which can only be imposed on the basis of clear evidence, the disciplinary committee would like to restate FIFA’s unequivocal, zero-tolerance stance against all forms of discrimination,” the soccer body said in a statement.

In other rulings announced Thursday, FIFA imposed fines totaling more than $1.25 million.

The Laos soccer federation was fined 690,000 Swiss francs ($712,000) for several breaches of rules governing the eligibility of players to represent a national team.

Benfica and Sporting Lisbon were among five clubs found guilty of breaking rules which prohibit third-party investors having a stake in players’ transfer rights, and misuse of FIFA’s international transfer registration process.

Benfica was fined a total of 165,000 Swiss francs ($170,000) in two cases and Sporting was fined 110,000 Swiss francs ($114,000). In Spain, Celta Vigo was fined 65,000 Swiss francs ($67,000) and Rayo Vallecano was fined 55,000 Swiss francs ($57,000). Qatari club Al Arabi was fined 187,500 Swiss francs ($194,000).

Walker: England need a “miracle” to win World Cup

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There’s nothing quite like positive thinking…

Then again, this is the English national team we are talking about.

[ MORE: England to host USMNT ]

With Gareth Southgate‘s side once again waltzing through qualification to a major tournament, it appears the Three Lions squad are keeping their feet firmly on the ground despite a growing sense that they could be a darkhorse at the 2018 World Cup this summer.

Manchester City and England right back Kyle Walker is having none of that.

Walker spoke to TalkSport on Wednesday and had this to say when asked about England’s chances at the World Cup in Russia.

“I hope we can go as far as we can go, but we need to be realistic. To win the World Cup is going to be a miracle, but we have got the players to do it,” Walker said. “A lot of us play in probably the best league in the world. We’ve got the players to do it, but have we got the experience going further along in competitions? No we haven’t. Not in recent years. We need to be realistic. There are a lot of good teams out there and our record in tournaments has not been fantastic.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations inside the camp – England haven’t won a knockout game for God knows how many years, so for us to go there and win a knockout game, that would be a step in the right direction.”

Tell it how it is, Kyle…

Seriously, where are we with this England team? It feels like in the past few tournaments they’ve gone from potential semifinalists (EURO 2012), to shambles (2014 World Cup) to darkhorses (pre-EURO 2016) and then back to shambles (post-EURO 2016).

And so the cycle continues.

England has a squad of hugely talented players and it does appear that Southgate is picking horses for courses in a fluid 3-4-3 formation, rather than simply selecting the biggest names and upsetting the balance of the team. That was the problem with several England managers in the past but now they have a balance and they are tough to break down with Walker converted to a right-sided center back and a squad of players who are dynamic in attack and comfortable on the ball, even if their goalkeeping issue is yet to be resolved.

Walker has this spot on. England need to first get out of their group which includes Belgium, Tunisia and Panama and that should be doable with the Three Lions facing Belgium in their final Group G game. Then it’s all about the knockout rounds and, like France in the 2014 World Cup, reaching the quarterfinals with a young, hungry side would be seen as success and a significant step in the right direction.

Walker and his teammates will have to deal with growing expectation, and pressure, if England get out of their group and win their Round of 16 game, but it seems like they’re comfortable with flying under the radar which is in stark contrast to the levels of expectation at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

You can’t class England as an underdog due to the talent at Southgate’s disposal

England confirm friendly against USA

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England will host the U.S. men’s national team at Wembley Stadium in November.

The Three Lions confirmed the friendly on Wednesday, with the game to take place on Thursday, November 15 at the home of world soccer.

England and the USMNT haven’t played since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when they drew 1-1 in the group stage, while the last time they met on English soil was in 2008 when John Terry and Steven Gerrard scored in a 2-0 friendly win at Wembley.

The Italian national team announced a friendly with the USMNT at a neutral venue for Nov. 20, but U.S. Soccer have yet to confirm they will play in either game.

Under interim head coach Dave Sarachan they are unbeaten in three friendlies with draws against Portugal and Bosnia and a narrow win against Paraguay in March.

The USMNT face Bolivia in Chester, Penn. on May 28, before heading to Europe to play the Republic of Ireland on June 2 and France on June 9 in friendlies before the 2018 World Cup starts.

That tournament in Russia is, of course, the first World Cup since 1986 that the USMNT won’t be at.

Sarachan is expected to stay in charge for the USMNT games through June and then U.S. Soccer will appoint a new head coach after the 2018 World Cup when plenty of candidates could become available.

West Ham 1-1 Stoke: Carroll denies Potters joy in London

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Everything was there for the taking for the Potters, but a late goal from the hosts could prove crucial for Stoke’s chances of survival.

West Ham United and Stoke finished 1-1 at the London Stadium on Monday evening, after Andy Carroll‘s late heroics denied the Potters all three points.

Carroll, who came in as a late substitution, brilliantly volleyed home a ball from Aaron Cresswell in the 90th minute.

Peter Crouch capitalized on Hammers goalkeeper Joe Hart‘s miscue in front of goal, and pounced on a rebound to give the Potters the victory.

For Crouch, the finish gives him the title of all-time leading goalscorer for Stoke in the Premier League.

Hart spilled a shot from Xherdan Shaqiri that came in from the top of the box, while the veteran Englishman was properly positioned to make West Ham pay for the error.

Chances were far and few in the opening stanza, however, Stoke keeper Jack Butland made a massive stop in the first half on Marko Arnautovic when the ball struck the face of the England international.

Stoke moves level on points (28) with 18th place Southampton, however, the Potters still sit five points behind Swansea City in the relegation race with four matches to play.

Meanwhile, the Hammers sit seven points clear of the bottom three, and have an extra game in hand.