Rio Ferdinand withdraws from England’s upcoming qualifiers

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The story here isn’t that Rio Ferdinand isn’t playing. His withdrawal due to fitness concerns was foreshadowed by Alex Ferguson this weekend. The story is more about how we got here, with the nine-month history of Ferdinand under England boss Roy Hodgson inverting on itself after today’s news.

Because of the particular way the 34-year-old has to manage his fitness (subtext: his bad back), Ferdinand isn’t prepared to accept Roy Hodgson’s recall to the England national team. He called the England boss today to explain the peculiarities of his situation, an explanation the Three Lions boss both bought and appreciated:

“I’m disappointed Rio will not be available but due to the detailed pre-planned training and medical programme he must follow it’s not possible,” said Hodgson. “However, I was pleased that Rio called and asked to meet with me. It was important to hear from him personally about the way he must manage his body between games.”

That must have been a remarkable conversation. Recall last summer, when Rio Ferdinand (above) shared his feelings that his exclusion from England’s Euro 2012 squad had less to do with health concerns than internal conflicts. Hodgson, heading into his first major tournament, decided to exclude Ferdinand while professing doubt about whether the veteran defender’s health would allow him to compete in a three-plus-week tournament. For Ferdinand, the exclusion had more to do with his inability to play with John Terry, who at the time faced charges on racially abusing Ferdinand’s younger brother, QPR defender Anton.

Fast forward nine months, and the tables are turned, even after Hodgson once mistakenly said Ferdinand would no longer be considered. John Terry’s retired from international duty, and thanks in part to Michael Dawson’s withdrawal from the upcoming qualifiers, Hodgson’s thin in the middle. And he’s now convinced Ferdinand’s fitness won’t be a problem.

source: Getty Images“This is not to say he cannot play back-to-back games – he can and has proven so,” Hodgson (right) said on Monday. “He’s out this time due to particular pre-planned details already in place for his programme.”

Ferdinand could meet England’s demands, but to do so, it seems he needs to be at a different point in his program. And not anticipating a callup to the national team, Manchester United’s staff probably outlined a routine assuming he’d have a week off. And that didn’t happen.

“The issue is not [the amount of games],” Alex Ferguson said this weekend.  “The issue is his whole preparation for football today. It involves treatment, it involves rest, it involves heavy days followed by some light days followed by some easy days.”

It sounds like the England callup just came at the wrong time, something Ferdinand had to explain personally.

So it is that Hodgson’s reach comes up empty-handed, but give the England boss some credit. Although he’s saying the right things and being convivial about the whole situation, Hodgson has ultimately been vindicated. It’s still questionable whether fitness concerns were the only reasons Ferdinand didn’t go to Euro 2012, but given health is keeping him out of the national team for San Marino and Montenegro, Hodgson would be justified in a “I told you so!”

But that’s not the Roy Hodgson we know.

“I must place on record how I was impressed with his commitment to playing for England,” Hodgson said. “I look forward to hopefully selecting him for squads in the future.”

The feeling is mutual.

“One thing I made clear was that my passion and commitment to represent my country is as strong as ever,” said Ferdinand. “It is disappointing that I won’t be able to play a part in the upcoming games but I told Roy that I want to continue to be available for England and I look forward to working with him in the future.”

It took a long time for them to come together, but Hodgson and Ferdinand are back on the same page. It puts the player back where he belongs – where should have been all along. We don’t see him in uniform this week, but there should be a time in the near future where we’ll see Ferdinand in all white once more.

Sweden players, coaches left fuming after last-minute loss

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A last-minute goal. A non-called penalty. A disrespectful celebration.

Sweden had a lot to be upset about when the final whistle blew on Saturday.

[ MORE: Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion” ]

The Swedes were within seconds of holding defending champion Germany to a draw, and moving into good position to advance to the round of 16 at the World Cup, when Toni Kroos scored deep into stoppage time to give Germany a 2-1 come-from-behind victory.

“I’m sorry that we didn’t get at least one point,” Sweden coach Janne Andersson said. “But I’m not blaming anyone tactically or analyzing too much right now, there are so many emotions going around. This is probably the heaviest conclusion that I’ve experienced in my career.”

Kroos’ goal from a set piece came in the fifth and final minute of injury time. The draw would have kept Sweden ahead of Germany in Group F and needing only a draw against Mexico in the last match.

[ MORE: Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination ]

“It was just bad luck,” Sweden forward John Guidetti said. “Now we need to try to find a way to win the last match. In a few days we play again and we have to win it. It’s simple.”

Germany, which is tied with Sweden on points and goal difference, will play against South Korea in the final round.

“We still have an excellent opportunity to qualify,” Andersson said. “Now we have to clean up, tidy up after this game. We’re going to do that.”

The Swedes were leading Germany at halftime thanks to Ola Toivonen’s goal in the 32nd minute at Fisht Stadium. They felt they could have been ahead even earlier if the referee had called a penalty when Marcus Berg appeared to be fouled inside the area with a clear chance to score. There was no formal video review called for.

“If we have the (VAR) system, it’s very unfortunate that he (the referee) can feel so secure in the moment that he doesn’t go and have a look at the situation,” Andersson said.

He and the Swedish players said they also couldn’t understand why Germany decided to celebrate near their bench.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“You shouldn’t celebrate in front of our bench the way they did, that’s disrespectful,” Guidetti said. “You can celebrate with your own fans. Don’t celebrate in front of our bench like that. That’s why they apologized, because they knew they did something wrong.”

Andersson said he was “very annoyed” by seeing the Germany team “running in our direction and rubbing it in our faces by making gestures.”

“We fought hard for 95 minutes,” he said. “And when the final whistle blows, you shake hands.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 11 — England, Colombia back in action

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Day 11 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Sunday, with England back in action and in need of three points — and a resounding win — to keep pace with Belgium in Group G.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Following Belgium’s 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia — the same side that England beat in stoppage time earlier in the week — on Saturday, the Red Devils have positioned themselves perfectly to win the group with a draw against the Three Lions on Thursday. England need a five-goal victory at 6-1 or higher to the finish top of the group following a draw on the final day.

Then, it’s a pair of Group H fixtures, kicked off with Japan (1st) versus Senegal (2nd) — both of whom won their first game — followed by Poland (3rd) versus Colombia (4th).

Below is Sunday’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 – Sunday, June 24

Group G
England vs. Panama: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group H
Japan vs. Senegal: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Colombia: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

FIFA opens case against Xhaka, Shaqiri for celebrations

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FIFA’s disciplinary committee opened disciplinary proceedings against Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri for politically charged goal celebrations during their 2-1 World Cup win over Serbia in Kaliningrad.

[ MORE: The meaning behind Xhaka, Shaqiri’s eagle celebration ]

FIFA also said Saturday it has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian Football Association for crowd disturbance and the display of political and offensive messages by Serbian fans. FIFA also is reviewing statements that Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic made after the match.

Xhaka and Shaqiri celebrated their goals by making a nationalist symbol of their ethnic Albanian heritage. Both of their families come from Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The Polish Football Association was fined $10,100 and given a warning by FIFA’s disciplinary committee for a banner that the governing body deemed political and offensive. The banner was displayed during Senegal’s 2-1 win over Poland on Tuesday in Moscow.

The committee also opened disciplinary proceedings against the federations of Argentina and Croatia for crowd disturbances during Croatia’s 3-0 win Thursday at Nizhny Novgorod.

Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion”

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At 1-0 down, they were headed for elimination in the group stage (with a game still to play); once level at 1-1, they faced yet a steep hill to climb on the final day of the group stage; after Toni Kroos scored his stunning 94th-minute winner, Joachim Low could finally exhale and imagine himself managing the German national team for another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Sweden at the 2018 World Cup was, for most intents and purposes, a worrying performance for the defending world champions. Fortunately for Low and Co., the one place in which their comeback dramatic victory was a raging success is the only one that matters: the Group F table, where Die Mannschaft currently (somehow) sit second and control their own destiny — quotes from the BBC:

“This was a thriller, full of emotion, right up until the final whistle. Brandt hit the goal post just three minutes before the end too. We took out a defensive player and brought on an attacking player because we knew had to bring on everything we had to turn it round.

“We had a couple of great chances — Mario Gomez’s header being one of them. The last couple of minutes were full of drama but those matches exist in football. We’ve had these situations in other tournaments as well. For the viewers that’s part of the attractiveness of football.”

“Something I did appreciate today was that we didn’t lose our nerve, we didn’t panic after going a goal down. We kept a level head and said we needed to make quick passes and tire the Swedes out to open up spaces.

“We didn’t score a couple of good chances but we never lost hope we could win the match and I think the goal scored in stoppage time had a bit of luck involved but it did show the belief we had in ourselves.”

There’s still plenty of work to do for one of the most popular pre-tournament favorites — there’s a little matter of needing to beat, or at the very least, match Sweden’s result against Mexico — but that can wait until tomorrow, because Saturday unexpectedly became all about survival.