Friday’s Field of Play: England, Argentina, Mexico

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True, Friday is a sleepy day in world soccer, but thankfully for those of us who didn’t quite get enough mid-week, this Friday looks particularly active:

English Premier League

  • Two of the best stories of the Premier League season meet at the Liberty Stadium in Wales, and with fifth place (and possibly the table’s last European spot) on the line for Newcastle, these are three needed points. Swansea, sitting 11th, is firmly in that not-going-anywhere spot in the standings. The Magpies? Tied for the fifth with Chelsea, and only five points behind Arsenal and Tottenham for an honest-to-goodness Champions League spot. With Swans having lost two of their last three at home, three on the road isn’t so far-fetched. (11:30 a.m. ET)

Belgian Pro League

  • Last week, we talked about the importance of Anderlecht’s match with Kortrijk. The Purple and White suffered a shocking draw at home, leaving them only one point ahead of Club Brugge. Now Sacha Kljestan and Co. (where I get my shirts) are in Liege to face Standard while Brugge visits Kortrijk on Sunday. It’s not must win for Anderlecht, as there’s still a long way to go in Belgium’s second phase, but if they stumble, Anderlecht could end the weekend in a rare chasing role. (2:30 p.m. ET)

Argentine Primera Division

Two of the Primera’s top four kick off the Clausura weekend against stragglers:

  • Fourth-place Arsenal welcomes bottom-dwelling Olimpo to Sarandi in a matchup that could cure their scoring ills. While allowing a league-low five goals through eight rounds, Arsenal’s only scored nine times. Riding a four-match winning streak into Friday’s game, Arsenal should expect a few more goals against the league’s worst defense, Olimpo having conceded 19 times. (6:10 p.m. ET)
  • Goals aren’t a problem for Vélez Sarsfield. Only Boca Juniors have scored more often in the tournament, Vélez’s 14 goals equaling the number that Independiente have generously conceded.  Playing at home, expect Vélez to get the result, sending them temporarily top. (8:15 p.m. ET)

Mexican Primera Division

  • Last week’s win by Estudiantes had to send a shiver through Atlas. No, the win wasn’t over Atlas (it was over Chivas), but t was a reminder that Tecos – sitting bottom Mexico’s relegation chart – aren’t dead yet. And they’re going to catch anybody, it’s going to be Atlas. Right now, the gap is five points, but given Atlas hasn’t won since February, the four games left in the tournament could be too many. While Friday at third-place Morelia doesn’t look like the place to break the slide, they have to start winning sometime. Else, the Segunda calls. (9:10 p.m. ET)

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images
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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE