Love and links for Wednesday’s Manchester United-Real Madrid clash in Champions League

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As this is the most talked about match in world soccer since … uh … the European Champions final last summer, perhaps? … let’s not wait until Wednesday to begin properly obsessing over mighty Manchester United vs. regal Real Madrid.

Hoping to keep the calm, Sir Alex Ferguson kept his side in Manchester for an extra day, not flying into the Spanish capital until Tuesday.

When the Red Devils did get off their plane, Paul Scholes wasn’t with them. United’s veteran midfielder is still not fully recovered from a January knee injury collected in his team’s 4-1 FA Cup win over Fulham. Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Young are with the club, however, which strengthens the English giant’s defense.

Speaking of English soccer …

Things are looking a wee bit bedraggled around the globe’s most-watched league. There is increasing argument that the English Premier League is not, actually, the globe’s standard bearer anymore. (Remember how Eva Longoria was once the hottest girl on the planet? Yeah … same thing.)

That’s why it is so important for Manchester United and Arsenal to push through this round, to help spit-shine an luster that seems to be on the fade. That’s the conclusion of this piece at EPL Talk.

Come to think of it, Chelsea’s surprise win in the 2012 competition does seem like more and more of a fluke as time moves on, doesn’t it?

The teams navigated their UEFA-mandated pre-match press obligations Tuesday. (Love me some press obligation.) Jose Mourinho is clearly not too tense about things. How about this brilliant response when asked about potentially replacing Ferguson one day at Old Trafford:

No … I believe we will finish our careers at the same time, him at 90 and me at 70.”

Good one, Jose.

Meanwhile, as you would expect, Ferguson is keeping everyone laser-locked on the bigger picture. United may be dashing away with the Premier League title, and may be in position to have one of those very special seasons … but the wily Manchester United overlord (looking rather angelic in the photo above) is good about reminding himself and everyone else that his team has accomplished absolutely zilch at this point:

We have a good chance [this season], but the acid test is tomorrow and we have to get through that if we want to win it. The intention of Manchester United is always to try to win and to score, which can sometimes lead to chaos. We have to balance that with a sense of responsibility and make sure we don’t leave the door open.

“It won’t be 0-0 tomorrow. There will be goals and the game can of course live up to expectation. It’s unfortunate we are meeting as early as this – we would have preferred it to have been in the final at Wembley.”

There’s more from today’s news conference at the link directly above.

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