Lots of love and links for Arsenal, Bayern Munich and today’s premier Champions League clash

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As Real Madrid and Manchester United became the big fire that sucked so much oxygen from the Champions League room last week, we may have given short shrift to another dandy Round-of-16 contest in the world’s best club competition.

Bayern Munich and Arsenal, similarly representing two of the better European brands, begin their home and away series today. (Kickoff is 2:45 p.m. on Fox Soccer Channel.)

Nothing will come easily today for the home team in north London, especially considering the wealth of attacking options open to Bayern München boss Jupp Heynckes and his Bundesliga leaders.

Bayern has been good lately (winning five of five in 2013) and outstanding on the road all season (winning 10 of 11 road matches this year in league play). Check out some of the other impressive numbers for Bayern this year.

Some European outlets are speculating Heynckes will leave Arjen Robben (pictured above) and Mario Gomez on the bench, deploying them as second-half game-changers if needed. Robben and Gomez on the bench!  Meanwhile, top Bundesliga striker Mario Mandžukić, who has seven goals in Bayern’s last five matches, will surely be around to give Arsenal’s back line everything it can handle.

The Germans are certainly mission-focused, still determined to make amends for last year’s blown opportunity; they advanced to the final but fell to Chelsea inside their own gleaming Bavarian arena.

In league play Heynckes’ club is sprinting away with the title, now 15 points clear of second-place Borussia Dortmund. And check out the stunning plus-50 goal difference! So many games have been lopsided affairs there is even worry in some corners that goalkeeper Manuel Neuer will need to shake some rust just to find tip-top form in this one. The big German ‘keeper hasn’t had much to do lately, posting five consecutive shutouts.

None of this means Arsenal doesn’t have a chance. Bayern’s do-all midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger reminded everyone of a certain English international who is having a wonderful campaign, bouncing back wonderfully from a big injury as Jack Wilshere has.

I don’t think one player makes the team but in his position he [Wilshere] is one of the best there is, he is a difficult player. … Wilshere is very dynamic, he has a very good left foot and he has a really good eye for the way he views the players around him. Those are his strong qualities.”

Finally, we mentioned something yesterday of the mounting pressure on Arsene Wenger; Champions League represents the proud club’s final chance at a title this year, and it’s difficult to fancy the Gunners chances with the likes of Bayern, Barcelona, Manchester United, Real Madrid and others still hanging around.

Watch the clip in this link (or just read the text) for more evidence of the building heat. Wenger got quite snippy with some members of the local press yesterday.

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

Adam Davy/PA via AP
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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