South American World Cup Qualifying: Finally, the real Argentina is stepping up

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Argentina was a bit of a joke during qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. The continent’s most talented squad (thanks in part to Dunga’s selection policies with Brazil) spent much of qualifying on the brink of elimination. Who would have thought bringing in Diego Maradona to coach the team would be their saving grace, though the Argentine icon’s managerial naivete cost the Albiceleste in South Africa.

Two years and two head coaches later, Argentina looks set to compete with Uruguay for the top spot in CONMEBOL. Not that the honor means much. With four of the tournament’s nine teams earning spots along side Brazil in World Cup 2014, first is as good as fourth.

For Argentina, a team looking to justify its place amongst the continent’s elite, finishing atop the South American table may mean something. The team is looking to reclaim some prestige lost last summer, when rival Uruguay won Copa America on Argentine soil. On the back of last cycle’s turmoil (and the Uruguyans’ success in South Africa), Argentina is in danger of losing their place as Brazil’s offset.

It says something about the depths to which Argentina has fallen that their continental standing’s now a secondary concern. Since Alejandro Sabella took over for Sergio Batista after the Copa debacle, it’s been back to basics: Figure out how to get the most out of the country’s talent.

In the previous cycle, the mix in midfield was so ineffective that their wealth of attacking stars could not be utilized. Only after that issue is addressed can Argentina worry about how far they’ve fallen behind Uruguay.

That’s why Saturday’s result was so encouraging.

All matches took place over the weekend.

Argentina 4-0 Ecuador

ARG: Sergio Aguero 20′, Gonzalo Higuain 30′, Lionel Messi 32′, Angel Di Maria 76′

At the end of the last qualifying cycle, Argentina needed goals from Martin Palermo and Mario Bolatti to clinch a spot in South Africa. Now (finally), the guys who are supposed to be scoring are getting the ball. And the results are as you’d expect: Big goal totals at home against opponents Argentina is expected to dominate.

With the win, Sabella has Argentina at the top of CONMEBOL qualifying. More important, he’s on the verge of addressing the team’s first, bug issue. Having produced two four-goal performances in five games, Sabella seems to be figuring out how to get the most out of his immense attacking talent. Soon, he can worry about Brazil and Uruguay.

The only bad news: Aguero was booked for diving. The yellow card means he’ll miss Argentina’s upcoming qualifier against Paraguay. I guess they’ll just have to find a way to get by with Messi, Higuain, and Ezequiel Lavezzi.

source:  Uruguay 1-1 Venezuela

URU: Diego Forlan 38′, VEN: Salomon Rondon 84′

Uruguay remains the only undefeated team in qualifying, even after their first stumble. With 10 points through four games, they’re averaging as many points-per-match as tournament-leading Argentina, making this result easy to write off. Although Oscar Washington Tabarez might chide his team for being lulled into a false sense of security (the match saw few scoring chances), the result is more noteworthy for Venezuela’s accomplishment than Uruguay’s failing.

Venezuela have never qualified for a World Cup (the only CONMEBOL nation to hold that dubious honor), thought they did made a semifinal appearance in last year’s Copa. In a cycle that could see six South American teams make the finals, the Vinotinto expect to make history.

While it’s still early, a point in Montevideo means something. Not only does it give Cesar Farias’s side a result where they would have expected nothing, it shows they can get points on the road against the tournament’s toughest competition. If that truly is the case, there’s no reason Venezuela shouldn’t qualify for Brazil 2014.

Bolivia 0-2 Chile

CHI: Charles Araguiz 45+3′, Arturo Vidal 83′

Bolivia is the tournament’s worst team, but they canget results in the altitude of La Paz, making this more than an obligatory result for Chile. La Roja also kept a clean sheet, a significant accomplishment for a team that had allowed 10 goals in their first four qualifiers.

There is a more subtle story that may be of interest. Charles Araguiz, in his fifth appearance for the national team, scored his first senior level goal. A part of Chile’s highly successful Universidad de Chile side, Araguiz was one of four La U players to start for Claudio Borghi. If Universidad can translate any of their club success to the national team, Chile could be in line for another World Cup appearance.

Peru 0-1 Colombia

COL: James Rodriguez 52′

I’m going to preface my Colombia thoughts by admitting I may be reading too much into this result; however, this victory highlights two very important differences between this Cafeteros side and the one that disappointed last cycle. First, FC Porto’s James Rodriguez is ready to embrace stardom, something that will help balance out what had previously been a forward-heavy side. Second, head coach José Pekerman gives Colombia somebody who can engineer these kinds of results.

For Peru, the result’s a big wake up call. The worst team in qualifying for 2010, Peru had modest hopes of success this cycle, having reached the semis of 2011’s Copa. Although Sergio Markarian had seen his team lose two of their first three qualifiers, those loses came on the road. Now, however, Peru has dropped points, and they didn’t drop them to a continental power.

Markarian can point to a rash of injuries as reason for the result, but if Peru has aspirations toward nicking one of the last qualifying spots, they need to find a way to claim points in these matches (no matter the obstacles).

Pos. Nation GP Pts Diff.
1 Argentina 5 10 +7
2 Chile 5 9 -1
3 Uruguay 4 8 +6
4 Venezuela 5 8 0
5 Colombia 4 7 +1
6 Ecuador 4 6 -1
7 Paraguay 4 4 -3
8 Peru 4 3 -3
9 Bolivia 5 1 -6

Manchester United release statement as Mason Greenwood charges dropped

Greenwood
Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images
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UPDATE (Feb. 2, 2023): Manchester United forward Mason Greenwood has seen charges of attempted rape and assault against him dropped, just over a year after he was arrested and later suspended indefinitely by the Premier League club.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it was no longer realistic to convict Greenwood after the “withdrawal of key witnesses and new material that came to light.”

Greenwood, 21, was arrested in January 2022 after a woman released disturbing photos and audio alleging physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the England national team forward.

[ MORE: Chelsea signs Enzo Fernandez in record deal ]

“We are aware of images and allegations circulating on social media,” United said after his arrest in January 2022. “We will not make any further comment until the facts have been established. Manchester United does not condone violence of any kind.”

Greenwood was then kept in custody into February as police conducted an investigation and released on Feb. 3, 2022. Greenwood has remained suspended by United.

Manchester United statement on Mason Greenwood

United released a statement on Thursday after learning that the charges were dropped:

“Manchester United notes the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service that all charges against Mason Greenwood have been dropped.

“The club will now conduct its own process before determining next steps. We will not make any further comment until that process is complete.”

Greenwood has six goals and two assists in 24 matches for United this season and has 129 senior appearances for the club after coming through its academy. He’s earned one cap for England.

Manchester United vs Crystal Palace: How to watch, stream link, team news

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Manchester United looks to keep climbing up the Premier League table when its hosts improving Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Saturday (watch live, 10am ET online via Premier League on Peacock).

United won all three of its cup matches since a Jan. 22 setback at Premier League leaders Arsenal, and now face Palace before two matches with Leeds

STREAM LIVE MANCHESTER UNITED vs CRYSTAL PALACE

Palace hasn’t won in 2023, though the Eagles managed back-to-back draws with Manchester United and Newcastle in their past two matches. Both of those were at Selhurst Park.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Manchester United vs Crystal Palace.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


How to watch Manchester United vs Crystal Palace live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET, Saturday
Online: Premier League on Peacock


Key storylines & star players

Man United’s lost Christian Eriksen through April but acted quick and in impressive fashion with the loan addition of Marcel Sabitzer from Bayern Munich. Desperate for playing time and a more attacking role than what was asked of him by Bayern, the Austrian star may be just what the doctor ordered even before Eriksen went down. This is a hard-edged player with plenty of attcking firepower to boot.

Palace, of course, is still all about their creative players, as Wilfried Zaha, Michael Olise, Eberechi Eze, and Odsonne Edouard can deliver the goods with just a half-chance, but look out for Deadline Day adds Albert Sambi Lokonga, on loan from Patrick Vieira’s former team Arsenal, and Naouirou Ahamada, who they hope will add a needed ball progressor in the heart of the pitch.


Manchester United team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Christian Eriksen (ankle), Donny van de Beek (knee), Mason Greenwood (suspension – MORE) | QUESTIONABLE: Jadon Sancho (undisclosed), Anthony Martial (undisclosed), Diogo Dalot (thigh), Luke Shaw (illness), Scott McTominay (undisclosed)

Crystal Palace team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Wilfried Zaha (hamstring), Joachim Andersen (calf), Nathan Ferguson (undisclosed), James McArthur (groin)

Everton vs Arsenal, live! How to watch, stream link, team news

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The first match of the Sean Dyche era at Everton is a visit from the leaders, as Arsenal visits Goodison Park on Saturday (watch live, 7:30am ET on USA Network and online via NBCSports.com).

Dyche has been out of work since his time ended at Burnley last April, but he’ll have instant familiarity with Dwight McNeil, James Tarkowski, and Michael Keane.

So how’s it been around the club as he prepares to take hold of a team that isn’t Burnley for the first time since, thumbs through calendars… still thumbing…2011!

STREAM LIVE EVERTON vs ARSENAL

“A new voice, training ways, going about your business, building a bit of rapport,” Dyche said. “I had a good chat with a few players, not in an office kind of chat but speaking to them generally. Their careers, life, how they’re feeling, I always thought if you affect their lives you’ll affect their performance. It’s hard to do visa-versa, I’ve been honest with them. I’ve been down that, we did a Q+A session, I just wanted their feedback. What was the feedback? After that I shared it back with them, this is what we fed back ,what do you think? Gives us a chance to open it up a bit. We need to get to the truth of them, what we can offer, best thing to do is ask them – simple as that. Giving our feel, a different feel to understanding, that’s all. Hopefully they’ll respond and flourish. We’ve got to work, it can’t all be fluff, plenty of hard work this week.”

Former Everton star Mikel Arteta leads Arsenal into the affair with a five-point lead on Man City and a match-in-hand, but it’s also the first match since Arsenal fell 1-0 to City in an FA Cup match considered by many to be a first test for the leaders’ title hopes.

Everton sit 19th in the Premier League table, ahead of last-place Southampton by five goals in the goal difference column.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Everton vs Arsenal.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


How to watch Everton vs Arsenal live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 7:30am ET, Saturday
TV Channel: USA Network
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com


Key storylines & star players

Is this what Dwight McNeil has been waiting for after stop-start usage from Frank Lampard? He’s one of the key pieces to monitor when team news arrives Saturday.  Everton hasn’t played since Jan. 21, when it rolled out a 5-4-1 in a 2-0 loss to West Ham. Dyche hasn’t used five at the back since 2019, but this Arsenal team, man…

Arsenal enters having navigated the absence of Gabriel Jesus pretty darn nicely, thank you very much. Will Eddie Nketiah keep feasting off the playmaking of Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka?

Let’s just say Everton’s new manager bounce is going to have to include Flubber.


Everton team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Michael Keane (knee), Nathan Patterson (knee), Andros Townsend (knee) | QUESTIONABLE: Ben Godfrey (knee), James Garner (back)

Arsenal team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Gabriel Jesus (knee), Reiss Nelson (thigh), Mohamed Elneny (knock) | QUESTIONABLE: Thomas Partey (chest), Emile Smith Rowe (thigh)

Chelsea vs Fulham, live: How to watch, stream link, team news, more

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Chelsea hosts Fulham on Friday for its first match since January 21, which is also its first match since breaking the British transfer record to purchase Enzo Fernandez from Benfica (watch live, 3pm ET on USA Network and online via NBCSports.com).

Fernandez may even feature for Chelsea, according to boss Graham Potter, who is coming off a 1-0 win over Palace and a nil-nil with Liverpool. All told, Chelsea could utilize a half-dozen of the nine players they signed in the January window.

STREAM LIVE CHELSEA vs FULHAM

So how has Chelsea been dealing with its long layoff? Here’s Graham Potter on Friday at the team’s training ground:

“We did some off-the-pitch activity, a bit of leadership and teamwork outside of this environment. But mostly it’s been training and working on the team and how we want to play. Of course, we’ve been integrating new players and getting injured players up to speed. So it’s a bit of everything really.”

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Chelsea vs Fulham.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


How to watch Chelsea vs Fulham live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 3pm ET, Friday
TV Channel: USA Network
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com


Key storylines & star players

Watch out for Chelsea, because the crew is getting healthier. To be fair, it’s difficult to have more injuries than Chelsea has had this year, but we digress. Ben Chilwell, Reece James, Raheem Sterling, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are all ready to go, though Graham Potter said none of them are ready for 90 minutes. Wesley Fofana is close to a return, but should miss out, while Joao Felix could make his return. So, yeah, we could see Felix, Mykhailo Mudryk, and Raheem Sterling on the pitch at the same time. Zoom, zoom, Fulham.

Marco Silva’s Cottagers have cooled off, at least in terms of results, since beating Chelsea at Craven Cottage on Jan. 12, the game in which Felix earned his red card. 1-0 losses to Newcastle and Spurs, forgivable, were followed up with a FA Cup draw with Sunderland. If Fulham can get through this, there’s a more forgiving run of fixtures ahead with a Sunderland replay, Forest, Brighton, Wolves, and Brentford. But is anything forgiving any more in the Premier League? Aleksandar Mitrovic, as usual, looms as a key piece of Fulham’s hopes.


Chelsea team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: N’Golo Kante (hamstring), Christian Pulisic (knee), Wesley Fofana (knee), Edouard Mendy (shoulder), Armando Broja (knee), Denis Zakaria (thigh)

Fulham team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Neeskens Kebano (achilles)