Eden Hazard and (maybe) Hulk: Chelsea makes their play for third place

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Before we get to the summer’s most anticipated European soccer signing, allow me to give you a brief synopsis of the day on Twitter: People complain the entire day about mixed messages from (soon to be former) Lille awesome-o Eden Hazard (the word “troll” is prominently used); Hazard finally announced (above) and people refuse to believe him (maybe he means any all-time winner); some of the least funny jokes ever ensue; Lebron James comparisons begin.

As a peripheral member of the mainstream media, I offer this: We are not funny, but we wish we were. On days like this, Twitter is no more useful than sitting at a local bar at 9 p.m. after the editors at your local rag take solace in alcohol (or maybe that was just my experience as an editor).

Now, the news:

source: Getty ImagesHazard to Chelsea: Spectacularly good talent set for mildly surprising move

Eden Hazard seems intent on joining Chelsea. After over year’s worth of speculation linking the Belgian wunderkid to the club, “the champion’s league [sic] winner” beat out Manchester City and Manchester United to sign the best player in Ligue 1.

Some background: Hazard was much sought after last year but said he would give then-league champions Lille one more year. In the middle of the season he said he would move to England, with the two Manchesters thought well-positioned to get his signature. Chelsea, however, went and won Champions League and (more importantly) secured their spot in next year’s tournament. And London’s only a two hour flight to Brussels.

City supposedly offered Hazard a salary of over $18 million per year. United’s offer wasn’t close, but the fact that they stayed in the race showed Hazard’s interests went beyond money. Expect Chelsea’s wages to fall between City’s offer and the near-$12 million the Red Devils put forth.

How good is this guy? Really good. The final transfer fee could end up anywhere between $38 and $62 million (depending on the details and how those details are reported).  The season before last (2010-11), he posted seven goals and 10 assists in Ligue 1, winning player of the year. This year, he had 20 goals and 15 assists. Obviously, he won player of the year again.

He increased his goalscoring by nearly 200 percent the year after being voted the league’s best player. That, in addition to the demand generated by the three pursuing clubs, have driven both the wages and transfer fee.

Where will he play for Chelsea? Anywhere in the front four, though he’ll probably settle in on the left. In the André Villas-Boas-era, that was Juan Mata’s spot, but since Mata has been deployed centrally. Though Hazard can play through the middle, he’s not a Premier League number nine, nor is he likely to see time on the right after Hulk arrives in London.

Incredible Verdão: Hulk could cash in on name, move to Chelsea

Oh, did I mention Hulk? That’s right. Speculation has reached a boiling point surrounding Porto’s fortunately nicknamed striker, a man who has been linked with Chelsea for longer than Hazard. He was also linked with a lol-tastic, $80 million bid from Russia’s Anzhi Makhachkala – the same team that bought Samuel Eto’o.

No, this one is nowhere as certain as Hazard’s move, so everything below is pure speculation, but …

Who knows how much Hulk will cost, but the prices floating around seem more linked with his name than his play. Those prices: Sometimes you’ll see numbers far north of $50 mllion.

The Brazilian forward is a very good player but probably not one of the top 20 strikers in the world; however, he’s almost always cited by rumors as being an elite capture. He’s not.

Hulk has a thunderous left foot, has scored 57 goals in two years for Porto, but there are some questions. He plays as a right forward but doesn’t project as a very good winger. Despite his size (a barrel chested 5’11”), he does not play as a strong number nine. His production also dipped after Porto sold Radamel Falcao, yet he’s likely to be very expensive (at least, in terms of transfer fee).

Ideally, you would have a right back who can provide width while Hulk cuts onto his left foot. Branislav Ivanovic is not that guy, but Ramires overlapping from midfield? That could work.

Hulk should be a good Premier League player. But you don’t pay $50 million for a good Premier League player.

Despite Hulk’s shortcomings (and the high price Chelsea’s likely to pay for them), Chelsea is a much-improved team, should they acquire him and Hazard. It’s not enough to catch City or a healthy United, but it is enough to distance them from Arsenal or Spurs …

Provided they hire a coach.

Sweden players, coaches left fuming after last-minute loss

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A last-minute goal. A non-called penalty. A disrespectful celebration.

Sweden had a lot to be upset about when the final whistle blew on Saturday.

[ MORE: Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion” ]

The Swedes were within seconds of holding defending champion Germany to a draw, and moving into good position to advance to the round of 16 at the World Cup, when Toni Kroos scored deep into stoppage time to give Germany a 2-1 come-from-behind victory.

“I’m sorry that we didn’t get at least one point,” Sweden coach Janne Andersson said. “But I’m not blaming anyone tactically or analyzing too much right now, there are so many emotions going around. This is probably the heaviest conclusion that I’ve experienced in my career.”

Kroos’ goal from a set piece came in the fifth and final minute of injury time. The draw would have kept Sweden ahead of Germany in Group F and needing only a draw against Mexico in the last match.

[ MORE: Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination ]

“It was just bad luck,” Sweden forward John Guidetti said. “Now we need to try to find a way to win the last match. In a few days we play again and we have to win it. It’s simple.”

Germany, which is tied with Sweden on points and goal difference, will play against South Korea in the final round.

“We still have an excellent opportunity to qualify,” Andersson said. “Now we have to clean up, tidy up after this game. We’re going to do that.”

The Swedes were leading Germany at halftime thanks to Ola Toivonen’s goal in the 32nd minute at Fisht Stadium. They felt they could have been ahead even earlier if the referee had called a penalty when Marcus Berg appeared to be fouled inside the area with a clear chance to score. There was no formal video review called for.

“If we have the (VAR) system, it’s very unfortunate that he (the referee) can feel so secure in the moment that he doesn’t go and have a look at the situation,” Andersson said.

He and the Swedish players said they also couldn’t understand why Germany decided to celebrate near their bench.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“You shouldn’t celebrate in front of our bench the way they did, that’s disrespectful,” Guidetti said. “You can celebrate with your own fans. Don’t celebrate in front of our bench like that. That’s why they apologized, because they knew they did something wrong.”

Andersson said he was “very annoyed” by seeing the Germany team “running in our direction and rubbing it in our faces by making gestures.”

“We fought hard for 95 minutes,” he said. “And when the final whistle blows, you shake hands.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 11 — England, Colombia back in action

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Day 11 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Sunday, with England back in action and in need of three points — and a resounding win — to keep pace with Belgium in Group G.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Following Belgium’s 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia — the same side that England beat in stoppage time earlier in the week — on Saturday, the Red Devils have positioned themselves perfectly to win the group with a draw against the Three Lions on Thursday. England need a five-goal victory at 6-1 or higher to the finish top of the group following a draw on the final day.

Then, it’s a pair of Group H fixtures, kicked off with Japan (1st) versus Senegal (2nd) — both of whom won their first game — followed by Poland (3rd) versus Colombia (4th).

Below is Sunday’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 – Sunday, June 24

Group G
England vs. Panama: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group H
Japan vs. Senegal: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Colombia: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

FIFA opens case against Xhaka, Shaqiri for celebrations

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FIFA’s disciplinary committee opened disciplinary proceedings against Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri for politically charged goal celebrations during their 2-1 World Cup win over Serbia in Kaliningrad.

[ MORE: The meaning behind Xhaka, Shaqiri’s eagle celebration ]

FIFA also said Saturday it has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian Football Association for crowd disturbance and the display of political and offensive messages by Serbian fans. FIFA also is reviewing statements that Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic made after the match.

Xhaka and Shaqiri celebrated their goals by making a nationalist symbol of their ethnic Albanian heritage. Both of their families come from Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The Polish Football Association was fined $10,100 and given a warning by FIFA’s disciplinary committee for a banner that the governing body deemed political and offensive. The banner was displayed during Senegal’s 2-1 win over Poland on Tuesday in Moscow.

The committee also opened disciplinary proceedings against the federations of Argentina and Croatia for crowd disturbances during Croatia’s 3-0 win Thursday at Nizhny Novgorod.

Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion”

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At 1-0 down, they were headed for elimination in the group stage (with a game still to play); once level at 1-1, they faced yet a steep hill to climb on the final day of the group stage; after Toni Kroos scored his stunning 94th-minute winner, Joachim Low could finally exhale and imagine himself managing the German national team for another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Sweden at the 2018 World Cup was, for most intents and purposes, a worrying performance for the defending world champions. Fortunately for Low and Co., the one place in which their comeback dramatic victory was a raging success is the only one that matters: the Group F table, where Die Mannschaft currently (somehow) sit second and control their own destiny — quotes from the BBC:

“This was a thriller, full of emotion, right up until the final whistle. Brandt hit the goal post just three minutes before the end too. We took out a defensive player and brought on an attacking player because we knew had to bring on everything we had to turn it round.

“We had a couple of great chances — Mario Gomez’s header being one of them. The last couple of minutes were full of drama but those matches exist in football. We’ve had these situations in other tournaments as well. For the viewers that’s part of the attractiveness of football.”

“Something I did appreciate today was that we didn’t lose our nerve, we didn’t panic after going a goal down. We kept a level head and said we needed to make quick passes and tire the Swedes out to open up spaces.

“We didn’t score a couple of good chances but we never lost hope we could win the match and I think the goal scored in stoppage time had a bit of luck involved but it did show the belief we had in ourselves.”

There’s still plenty of work to do for one of the most popular pre-tournament favorites — there’s a little matter of needing to beat, or at the very least, match Sweden’s result against Mexico — but that can wait until tomorrow, because Saturday unexpectedly became all about survival.