Giroud returns to Montpellier, Schalke goes to Greece – UEFA Champions League Group B preview

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Montpellier vs. Arsenal

La Mosson, Montpellier, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

Four months after leading Montpellier to one of the more improbable European titles in recent memory, Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud returns to La Mosson for a match that’s bound to inspire mixed feelings.

“I spent a beautiful, wonderful season there last year when we were champions and won the title,” Arsenal’s new 25-year-old striker told Arsenal Player. “It will be difficult for me to play against Montpellier, because there is a lot of emotion …”

It’s unclear how that emotion will manifest in the crowd. Getting $19.5 million for him this summer, Montpellier received a windfall for a player who was in the French second division two years ago. The fans, however, could see the departure as a player quickly abandoning a club that helped him become a star.

“I hope to receive a good reception from the Montpellier fans, because I finished the top goal scorer there last season and worked hard for the title,” Giroud said. “I think the reaction will be good, but there may be some people who will boo maybe. It is always like this.”

More: Group A Group B Group C Group D

This all assumes Giroud plays. He’s yet to score in a competitive match since moving to Arsenal, something which leaves manager Arsene Wenger uncertain as to whether the former MHSC man will start.

“I felt that he is under much pressure at the moment and sometimes to get a little breather is good,” Wenger said, having left Giroud out of his starting XI this weekend against Southampton, a decision that could portend to Giroud starting on Tuesday.

Wenger is one person who will not be on the field at La Mosson. The Arsenal boss starts serving the first of a three-match touchline ban incurred for confronting officials after the Gunners’ elimination to Milan in last year’s knockout stage. Still fuming over the suspension, Wenger labeled UEFA “clueless.”

What he’ll miss is a battle between two clubs with vastly different Champions League resumés. Montpellier is making their first appearance in the competition. Arsenal is making their 15th straight, having progressed to the knockout round in 12 consecutive seasons.

Further tilting the scales, Arsenal has never lost at a Ligue 1 club in Champions League. They’ve also yet to lose this season in England, while Montpellier took four rounds to record their first Giroud-less win.

Olympiacos vs. Schalke 04

Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

Like Arsenal and Montpellier, Olympiacos and Schalke have never met, so if we’re looking for insight into how these teams match up, we’ll need coincident results. Last season, German champions Borussia Dortmund were drawn into Olympiacos’s Champions League group and proceded to lose 3-1 on their trip to Piraeus. Arsenal would fall to an identical score, and with Olympiacos 3-0-0 out of the gate in Greece (with a +6 difference), there’s no reason to think the Greek champions have taken a step back.

Schalke is off to a hot start of their own, earning seven points from their first three games. Having already posted seven goals, concerns over the loss of Raúl’s 15 may prove unwarranted (the Spanish icon got hooked up with direct deposit with Al Sadd in Qatar). Lewis Holtby, Julian Draxler and Jermaine Jones, who combined for seven goals last season, have already found net four times. Huub Stevens has scarcely needed new acquisitions Ibrahim Afellay and Tranquillo Barnetta.

The question is whether Schalke can hold up at the back. Having only allowed two goals thus far, the team may be slightly improved on last year (when Christoph Metzelder got half the starts ahead of Christian Fuchs). Olympiacos’ Rafik Djebbour may provide their stiffest test to date. The 28-year-old Algerian has started the Greek season with four goals.

Atlanta leads way with six All-Star Fan XI selections

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It may be hard to believe with all the World Cup festivities going on, but the Major League Soccer season is nearly halfway over.

[ MORE: Toronto FC’s 2018 has been far from their cup-winning 2017 ]

And that means it’s almost All-Star time.

The MLS All-Stars will continue their recent tradition of facing a European superpower in August, with Juventus being welcomed to the United States in early August.

But, which players from MLS will we see in action?

Last season’s expansion sweetheart Atlanta United leads the way in the fan voting with six players from the Eastern Conference side voted into the Fan XI, including attackers Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, Darlington Nagbe and Josef Martinez.

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender/captain Michael Parkhurst also made the team from Atlanta.

In all, only five clubs were represented based on the Fan XI, with the LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Los Angeles FC’s Carlos Vela and Laurent Ciman, Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi and Portland Timbers star Diego Valeri each rounding out the squad.


Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United)

Defenders: Michael Parkhurst (Atlanta United), Laurent Ciman (Los Angeles Football Club), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Miguel Almirón (Atlanta United), Ezequiel Barco (Atlanta United), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers)

Forwards: Josef Martínez (Atlanta United), Zlatan Ibrahimović (LA Galaxy), Carlos Vela (Los Angeles Football Club – EA SPORTS™ “More Than a Vote” Challenge)

Saudi Arabia steals late win over Egypt in Group A finale

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Saudi Arabia pulled off a late 2-1 win against Egypt on Monday in their Group A finale, as the two nations ended their 2018 World Cup run in the group stage.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Salem Al Sawsari scored in the fifth minute of second half stoppage time to give the Saudis a late winner in the match, as the attacker struck the post in the dying moments before the ball crossed the line.

The Pharaohs took the lead in the 22nd minute, after a tremendous run from Mohamed Salah and lob over the Saudi Arabia goalkeeper.

Salah has two goals at the World Cup for Egypt, who were already eliminated heading into Monday’s match.

Saudi Arabia was granted a chance to equalize prior to halftime, however, goalkeeper Essam El Hadary brilliantly stopped Hattan Bahebri’s penalty kick in the 41st minute to preserve the Egypt advantage.

El Hadary became the oldest player in World Cup history to appear in a match at the age of 45.

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

The Egypt keeper wasn’t as lucky the second time around though, with Salmon Al Faraj converting a penalty kick in the 51st minute.

Saudi Arabia finishes group play in third place on three points, while Egypt goes winless in its three matches.

Uruguay tops Russia & Group A with perfect record

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The host nation looked strong in its opening two matches, but they ran into a far superior side on Monday.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Uruguay finished atop Group A with a 3-0 win over Russia in Samara, behind goals from Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and an own goal from Russia’s Denis Cheryshev.

With the victory, the South Americans win Group A with nine points, while Russia finishes runners’ up with six points.

Suarez gave the Uruguayans the lead after just 10 minutes, when the Barcelona man struck via a free kick on the edge of the penalty area.

The goal for Suarez is his second of the World Cup, which leads Uruguay.

The lead was quickly doubled in the 23rd minute, when Diego Laxalt unleashed a shot from distance that took a wicked deflection and went beyond goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.

Laxalt’s effort hit Russia attacker Denis Cheryshev before gliding towards the near post for the own goal.

The fortunes for Russia just got worse as the first half wore on, and the hosts were reduced to 10 men just beyond the hour mark when Igor Smolnikov was sent off after picking up his second yellow card.

Meanwhile, it had been a disappointing start to the World Cup for Edinson Cavani, but the PSG man finally got a goal for his country in the late stages of the match to extend the lead to 3-0.

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

Uruguay will face the runner up in Group B, while Russia will await the Group B winner in the Round of 16.

El Tri star Lozano staying focusing amid Barcelona rumors

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Hirving “Chucky” Lozano was a player everyone needed to pay attention to heading into the 2018 World Cup, and through two matches, the El Tri star has been every bit the price of admission for his country.

[ MORE: Group scenarios heading into the final group stage matches ]

Mexico sits atop Group F with six points at the moment, and much of the team’s success can be attributed to Lozano’s endless motor and creative attacking vision when he finds space down the wing.

The PSV Eindhoven attacker has been linked with various big clubs, including La Liga giants Barcelona, but that hasn’t halted Lozano’s pursuit of guiding Mexico to an unprecedented run at the World Cup.

“The important thing is to focus on the next [Mexico] game, do as well as possible and go step by step,” Lozano said.

Despite winning their first two games, El Tri needs at least a point in its final Group F match to ensure qualification without any complications.

Mexico will take on Sweden on Wednesday, as Juan Carlos Osorio’s side aims to remain perfect in the group stage.

Meanwhile, Andres Guardado — who has been a mainstay of the Mexican national team for years — only confirmed the work ethic of his teammate and hopes that a dream move becomes a reality for Lozano in the near future.

“It makes me very proud to say he is a kid that is very centered, despite everything he is going through,” said Guardado after Saturday’s 2-1 win over South Korea. “He is conscious that he has to continue like he’s not achieved anything.”

“He’s the same kid I met the first time he came with us,” continued Guardado. “Hopefully he stays like that and the rumors about a possible transfer to a big team become reality. It would be marvelous, he’s a great teammate.”