Wednesday international preview: For the degenerate soccer-watcher in all of us

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Let’s say you don’t have to go to work tomorrow. What would you do with your day? Get all those errands done? Finally clean up the house? Maybe this will be the year you get your taxes gone before April 15?

Probably not. Call it a hunch, but I’m since you’re the type of person that comes to ProSoccerTalk, you’re much more likely to sit around all day and watch soccer. Cup of Nations, World Cup Qualifying, or just run of the mill friendlies – it doesn’t matter. Since national teams don’t get together that often, hardcore soccer addicts are going to try to cram in as match possible.

So let’s entertain that. Let’s assume you’ve got a couple of displays in front of you and can access any game you want. Let’s also assume that your better half, little ones, and pets completely leave you alone. Which matches would you watch? Which matches should you watch?

Starting very early in Asia, here are PST’s recommendations.

All times Eastern. Please consult your physician before trying to watch all these games.

5:20 a.m. – Japan vs. Latvia (Kobe)

If you’re going to make Wednesday into a marathon, skip that highly anticipated 4:30 a.m. Nepal-Pakistan kickoff, sleep an extra hour, and see Asia’s best team host one of Europe’s worst. At 102nd in the world (for whatever FIFA rankings are worth), Latvia’s not going to be much of a challenge for the Samurai Blue, but for a chance to see what Asia’s best is building for the next World Cup, this might be worth an extra cup of coffee. Alberto Zaccheroni has his team eight points up on the competition in Asia. Only one point short of qualifying, this team is already starting to look toward Brazil 2014.

Players to watch: Japan: Shinji Okazaki (right, F, Stuttgart), Shinji Kagawa (M/F, Manchester United, Keisuke Honda (M/F, CSKA Moscow)

9:00 a.m. – South Korea vs. Croatia (London)

For what could be one of the best-played games of the day, the key for both coaches is to see their teams taking the match seriously. Croatia head coach Igor Stimac, new to the position, saw his team stumble at home to Switzerland in their last friendly. Korea’s Choi Kang-hee will be using the match to evaluate how to approach the final four matches of the team’s qualifying cycle.

Players to watch: Croatia – Luka Modric (M, Real Madrid), Dejan Lovren (D, Lyon), Darijo Srna (RB, Shakhtar); South Korea – Ki Sung-yeung (M, Swansea City), Son Heung-min (F, Hamburg), Park Chu-Young (F, Celta de Vigo)

source: Getty Images10:00 a.m. – Mali vs. Nigeria (Durban)

The day’s first Cup of Nations semifinal should be the round’s best match, the two teams’ skill-plus-style combination likely to produce a fluid, entertaining affair. Nigeria’s semifinal spot came at the expense of tournament favorites Cote d’Ivoire while the Malians reached the final four after a penalty kicks victory over the hosts.

Players to watch: Mali – Seydou Keita (right, M, Dalian Aerbin), Modibo Maiga (F, West Ham United), Mohamed Sissoko (M, Paris Saint-Germain); Nigeria – John Obi Mikel (M, Chelsea), Victor Moses (W, Chelsea), Emmanuel Emenike (F, Spartak Moscow)

12:00 p.m. – Chile vs. Egypt (Madrid)
The coaches are the focus for this one. For as much admiration Bob Bradley’s garnered during a turbulent time in Egyptian soccer, he is starting to see more criticism of the team’s on-field performances. In recent matches against Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, the Pharaohs lost by a combined 7-2. For Chile, former Universidad de Chile head coach Jorge Sampaoli is set for his third match in charge, with La Roja set to resume World Cup Qualifying in March.

Players to watch: Chile – Alexis Sanchez (F, Barcelona), Humberto Suazo (F, Monterrey), Arturo Vidal (M, Juventus); Egypt – Mohamed Aboutrika (M, Bani Yas), Gedo (F, Hull City), Mohammed El-Nenny (Basel)

1:00 p.m. – Spain vs. Uruguay (Doha)

The match means nothing (except €4 million the Spanish federation banks for playing it in Qatar), but each team’s brought up almost all of their big names. Xavi, Xabi, and Iker are out, but the rest of the Spanish stars are here, giving players like David Villa, Alvaro Negredo and Pedro Rodriguez a chance to nail down Spain’s striker spot. Expect an entertaining though not particularly intense match. It’s being played in Doha, after all.

Players to watch: Spain – Andres Iniesta (M, Barcelona), Sergio Busquets (M, Barcelona, Sergio Ramos (D, Real Madrid); Uruguay – Luis Suarez (F, Liverpool), Edinson Cavani (F, Napoli), Diego Godin (D, Atletico Madrid)

1:30 p.m. – Burkina Faso vs. Ghana (Nelspruit)

One of Africa’s legendary sides faces a team making their first semifinal appearance, with Burkina Faso’s Stallions hoping to slide on their glass slippers on Wednesday against the Black Stars. Ghana is the new tournament favorite (with the elimination of Cote d’Ivoire), but having reverted to type slightly in the quarterfinals, it remains to be seen whether the Ghanaians allow themselves to be draw into a coin flip they could lose.

Players to watch: Burkina Faso – Alain Traore (F, Lorient), Jonathan Pitroipa (W, Rennes), Bakary Kone (D, Lyon); Ghana – Asamoah Gyan (F, Al Ain), Kwadwo Asamoah (M, Juventus), Wakaso Mubarak (W, Espanyol)

source: Getty Images2:30 p.m. – England vs. Brazil (London)

It’s England. It’s Brazil. So it’s a big deal, right? Given the other games on the Wednesday’s schedule, I’m having trouble justifying too much excitement for this one, even if it’s going to be Ashley Cole’s 100th cap. Slowly, he’s catching up to Beckham’s 115. We’ll see if he can hold Leighton Baines off long enough.

Players to watch: Brazil – Neymar (right, F, Santos), Ronaldinho (M, Atletico Mineiro), David Luiz (D, Chelsea); England – Wayne Rooney (F, Manchester United), Steven Gerrard (M, Liverpool), Joe Hart (G, Manchester City)

2:30 p.m. – Netherlands vs. Italy (Amsterdam)

Louis van Gaal’s continued Oranje makeover will be reflected in his lineup on Wednesday. The omission of a player like Wesley Sneijder isn’t surprising, but players like John Heitenga and Nigel de Jong are also finding it difficult to re-establish their place in this team. The likes of Adam Maher, Stefan de Vrii and Bruno Martins Indi are likely to see time against a talent-rich Italian attack.

Players to watch: Netherlands – Robin van Persie (F, Manchester United), Kevin Strootman (M, PSV), Ron Vlaar (D, Aston Villa); Italy – Mario Balotelli (F, Milan), Andrea Pirlo (M, Juventus), Gianluigi Buffon (G, Juventus)

3:00 p.m. – France vs. Germany (Paris)

This is a great test for both sides. While Joachim Löw may take this chance to look at some players who don’t normally make his starting XI (perhaps giving Rene Adler a start in goal for Manuel Neuer), Germany has still reached a level where they should expect to go on the road and perform well even against the France’s world (and even in a friendly). France have gotten results from Spain and Italy in their last two matches. Another strong performance will further consolidate the team behind Didier Deschamps.

Players to watch: Germany – Mesut Ozil (M, Real Madrid), Philipp Lahm (D, Bayern Munich), Thömas Müller (F/M, Bayern Munich); France – Karim Benzema (F, Real Madrid), Franck Ribery (W, Bayern Munich), Hugo Lloris (G, Tottenham)

4:00 p.m. – Honduras vs. United States (San Pedro Sula)

Steve’s got you covered on this one:

source: Reuters9:00 p.m. – Panama vs. Costa Rica (Panama City)

Panama’s the newcomer to this level of the tournament (the one team in the final round that didn’t qualify for 2009’s Hex), but as they showed at the 2011 Gold Cup, they’ve got the players to qualify for Brazil. One of the keys will be getting three points at home instead of settling for draws. Against an experienced Ticos team, Julio Valdés will need to make his team rises to the occasion. By the opening whistle, Panama’s players need to realize the stakes. Slipping in round one could come back to haunt them in November.

Players to watch: Panama – Blas Perez (right, F, FC Dallas), Gabriel Gomez (M, Junior), Felipe Baloy (D, Santos Laguna); Costa Rica – Bryan Ruiz (F, Fulham), Alvaro Saborio (F, Real Salt Lake), Michael Umaña (D, Saprissa)

9:30 p.m. – Mexico vs. Jamaica (Mexico City)

This could get ugly. Jamaica would have a hard time matching up with El Tri under normal circumstances, but this is the Hex opener, on the road, against a Mexico team that has gone beyond winning. This team is starting to push itself for results. They not only want three points from these games, they want to perform in a way that puts them in a conversation with the world’s best. Unless something fluke-y happens early, this should be a multi-goal victory for the tournament favorites.

Players to watch: – Giovani dos Santos (F, Mallorca), Javier Hernandez (F, Manchester United), Hector Moreno (D, Espanyol); Jamaica – Rodolph Austin (M, Leeds United), Nyron Noseworthy (D, Watford), Jason Morrison (M, Aelesunds)

Sargent describes how it felt to score first Bundesliga goal

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Less than 12 months after signing his first professional contract, Joshua Sargent accomplished his dream of playing in the Bundesliga. Seconds later, he was on the scoreboard.

Just 88 seconds after coming on, Sargent provided a header to put the ball across the goal line and score his first Bundesliga goal in a Werder Bremen 3-1 win over Fortuna Dusseldorf. Sargent found the back of the net again two weeks later, against strong opposition in RB Leipzig.

[READ: “Pity” Martinez pictured in New York]

Following a short trip back to his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, Sargent joined up with his teammates in South Africa for some warm-weather training during the Bundesliga winter break.

Sargent is looking for another taste of first team action as Werder Bremen resumes the Bundesliga season at Hannover on Saturday. Should Sargent continue to get regular minutes for either or both the Werder Bremen first or second teams, expect him to get another call-up to the U.S. Men’s National Team for its European-based friendly matches in March.

‘Pity’ Martinez arrives in U.S., even with no official ATL UTD announcement

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Atlanta United hasn’t officially announced the signing of Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, but the talented Argentine attacker is in the U.S. now anyway.

Martinez posted a selfie of himself at Times Square in New York City, likely getting his first taste of anonymity after a star-studded run with River Plate in Buenos Aires.

[READ: Bielsa admits to spying all his “rivals”]

Following the rescheduled second leg of the Copa Libertadores final, Martinez and River Plate both confirmed to media post game that he was departing River Plate for Atlanta United, but despite this, the MLS club still hasn’t made the new official on their end. It’s unclear what the hold up is, whether it is transfer fee, agents fee, or Designated Player related. For the record, the LA Galaxy announced in December that it was re-signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic to a Designated Player contract, knowing all along that they couldn’t start the next MLS season with more than three DPs.

Previous reports out of Argentina have stated that Martinez’s transfer to Atlanta United could cost the club as much as $14 million including the base transfer fee to River Plate, agents fees, and potential add-ons.

A year ago, Atlanta United announced its club record signing, Ezequiel Barco, then-19, during the MLS Superdraft, but there was no Designated Player announcement at the league’s annual weekend symposium this year. Atlanta United has a challenge on its hands if Miguel Almiron isn’t sold to Europe this offseason. Under current MLS rules, it can’t have more than three players signed to Designated Player contracts.

Perhaps it could loan Barco, who struggled at times last season, or loan Martinez elsewhere, because Josef Martinez seems a lock to be in Atlanta for the foreseeable future.

Either way, Pity Martinez’s arrival in the U.S. could be a sign that an announcement could come soon from Atlanta United.

Reports: Chelsea edging closer to signing Higuain

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The transfer window appears to be heating up as we head towards the close in the next two weeks, with the first of many dominoes about to fall.

According to The Telegraph and reports out of Italy, Chelsea have now made an official offer to Juventus for Gonzalo Higuain, who is currently on-loan with AC Milan. If confirmed, the report states that Chelsea will effectively take over Higuain’s loan for six months, and then the Premier League side will have the option to keep Higuain on loan for another 12 months or buy him outright.

[READ: Derby County stuns Southampton in FA Cup]

Higuain and Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri have history, as Higuain had arguably his best club season under the Italian manager at Napoli. Higuain scored 36 goals in Serie A, by far the top scorer in the league in 2016, which led to a $102.6 million move north to Juventus. However, it’s been an up and down time in the North of Italy for the Argentine. He scored 24 goals with Juve in his first year with the club but finished with just 16 last year before the Italian giants signed Cristiano Ronaldo, which effectively meant Higuain had to look for a new home.

News that a deal is close to completion is a big turnaround from a few weeks back, when even as Higuain struggled at Milan, the two sides didn’t seem close to breaking apart, and Juventus reportedly was insistent on recouping some of their transfer fee. However, following the Italian Super Cup on Wednesday, it appears both sides are ready to move on.

Higuain coming to Chelsea may be the first domino to fall. With Sarri getting his preferred striker, that frees up Alvaro Morata to return to his native Spain, although he’s reportedly set to join Atletico Madrid, instead of his former side Real Madrid. In addition, Chelsea has been shopping Michy Batshuayi, the top target for AS Monaco, where he would reunite with Thierry Henry, his former assistant coach with the Belgian National Team. The Telegraph reported that Chelsea wanted to recoup some of the $51.5 million it spent on Batshuayi but at this point, it’s looking more likely that he’ll move to Monaco on-loan or for a cut-rate fee, with his current loan to Valencia likely to be terminated shortly.

In Italy, the next domino to fall is Genoa’s Krzysztof Piątek, who is set to take Higuain’s place at AC Milan. Piatek has been the revelation of Serie A this season, with the Polish international scoring 13 Serie A goals in 19 games, just one goal behind Ronaldo. It’s unclear what the transfer fee will be for Genoa – Piatek joined the club last summer – but it’s likely to be a big one considering the premium on goals these days.

Once Higuain moves and the dominoes fall, we’ll see how it affects the rest of the Premier League, with other players becoming available as the transfer window enters its final weeks.

Henry’s Monaco draws 1-1 with Vieira’s Nice in French league

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PARIS (AP) Old friends Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira had to split the points as Monaco drew 1-1 with French Riviera rival Nice on Wednesday in a scrappy match featuring three video reviews.

Winger Allan Saint-Maximin put Nice ahead in the 30th minute and 17-year-old defender Benoit Badiashile equalized shortly after halftime, becoming the youngest scorer in the French top flight this season. Badiashile’s header from a corner was deemed to have crossed the line by the use of goal-line technology.

[MORE: Ligue 1 scores, schedule]

Henry and Vieira are in their first seasons coaching in France, but they go way back and hugged warmly before kickoff.

Living next to each other in London, they blossomed with Arsenal and were part of the famed “Invincibles” side which went a whole season unbeaten in the Premier League. The Frenchmen also won the 1998 World Cup and the European Championship in 2000, as well as playing together in the 2006 World Cup final.

Having started their illustrious careers as teenagers on the French Riviera – Henry with Monaco and Vieira with Cannes – they have come full circle as coaches.

Monaco had chances through Aleksandr Golovin and Rony Lopes, only for Nice to strike against the run of play following a sloppy mistake from Youssef Ait Bennasser. After he gave the ball away in midfield, Saint-Maximin took it off him easily and shrugged off defender Jemerson before shooting confidently past goalkeeper Diego Benaglio.

The goal was awarded before being checked and confirmed by referee Benoit Bastien using VAR. Moments before the interval, he consulted VAR again to send off Nice striker Ihsan Sacko for a late challenge on defender Benjamin Heinrichs.

“There’s a lot of frustration and questions about the decisions. The red card is very harsh,” Vieira said. “It wasn’t a dangerous action and it had a negative impact on us.”

Bastien used VAR for the third time to award a penalty in the 75th, ruling that Badiashile impeded right back Youcef Atal when images suggested Atal initiated contact with Badiashile before tumbling down.

Benaglio guessed correctly to keep out Saint-Maximim’s spot kick. Monaco almost won it near the end when Radamel Falcao hit the post with a curling effort.

“A point isn’t enough for us, but we could have been sat here talking about a defeat,” Henry said. “I have no opinion about the VAR, those are their decisions. Diego saved the penalty – so much the better for us.”

Monaco has not won at home this season and is 19th – only one point ahead of last-place Guingamp, which beat Rennes 2-1 at home.

OTHER MATCHES

VAR also played a key role elsewhere as Saint-Etienne equalized with a penalty in a 2-1 home win against Marseille.

Referee Antony Gautier awarded the penalty in the 56th after goalkeeper Steve Mandanda upended forward Wahbi Khazri.

Gautier then changed his mind after the linesman signaled Khazri was offside when receiving the pass, but further confusion ensued as he then consulted VAR and re-awarded the penalty, which was confidently tucked away by Khazri.

There was no debating Khazri’s late winner, struck ferociously from 20 meters past Mandanda. It was his 12th league goal of the season and leapfrogged Saint-Etienne over Lyon into third place ahead of their local derby on Sunday.

Netherlands midfielder Kevin Strootman headed Marseille ahead early on from Florian Thauvin‘s excellent cross. The defeat increases the pressure on ninth-place Marseille and its coach Rudi Garcia after a string of poor performances have left fans disgruntled and angry.

In other matches, forwards Moussa Dembele and Nabil Fekir netted late on as Lyon rallied to draw 2-2 at Toulouse.

Nimes moved into 11th spot after winning 1-0 at home to Nantes.