Christian Benteke – fresh and poised to re-sign with Aston Villa

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According to manager Paul Lambert, Aston Villa fans shouldn’t worry about Christian Benteke burning out. Whether the Belgian striker will sign a new deal with the club remains to be seen although things are looking up the West Midland’s club.

From the moment he arrived at Villa Park last August Benteke has been terrific. Having signed a four year deal from Genk for $10.7m (£7m) the 22 year old has racked up 15 goals in 29 league games and 19 in all competitions. Manager Paul Lambert has repeatedly hailed Benteke’s work ethic, attitude and contribution to a Villa squad that entered the season in desperate need of offensive output. In Benteke, as well as Austrian striker Andreas Weimann who Lambert brought up from Villa’s youth ranks after signing from Rapid Vienna at age 16, Lambert has found lightning in a bottle.

The key is not letting that energy escape – whether through fatigue or transfer. Lambert remains convinced that despite the 44 matches that Benteke has played for club and country, the hulking striker isn’t running out of energy anytime soon. “He played for Genk before our season started, he’s played every game for the national team, and then played for ourselves,” Lambert said. “But he doesn’t look tired at all. The big guy has been terrific.”

Benteke has been so terrific that many pundits projected him the target of a move to a big club that could provide a sizeable pay raise and a bigger stage to perform. Tottenham, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal were all rumored to be interested. Worries concerning such a move subsided on Tuesday when reports emerged the striker will engage in talks this week over a lucrative new contract to keep him at Villa. Benteke told manager Paul Lambert that he wants to stay with the Villains to continue playing regular football thereby providing him with the best chance to stay in Belgium’s squad for the 2014 World Cup.

Villa are believed to be preparing a package that would add an additional year onto Benteke’s contract (currently due to end in 2016) and to raise his salary from £20,000 per week to £40,000 per week. A similar move is believed to be in the works with Weimann after Lambert revealed that he had owner Randy Lerner’s backing to tie down his young strike force.

For Lambert, doing so is his top priority. “I don’t want to go back to square one,” the manager said. “These are only young guys in their early 20s, they still have so much to learn and so much to prove. That is what you want — to work with guys to keep them progressing.”

The Villains, currently 16th in the table and two points from the drop, will look to continue their progression to safety this weekend when they take on Fulham at Villa Park.

Iran names initial squad for World Cup

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Jalal Hosseini and Vouria Ghaffouri have both been left off Iran’s provisional 24-man squad for the World Cup.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz did not say why Hosseini, a Persepolis defender, and Ghaffouri were not included.

There was space for midfielders Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi, however. Both played with Greek club Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv in August 2017. Iran does not recognize Israel and its supreme leader has threatened the country in the past. Both Shojaei and Hajsafi missed matches with the national team after the game.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh, a 24-year-old forward who plays in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar, is also in the squad, which was announced Sunday.

In the midfield, Queiroz chose Saeid Ezatolahi, although the Amkar Perm player will miss the team’s first World Cup match because he was given a red card in a game against South Korea in qualifying.

Nottingham Forest midfielder Ashkan Dejagah was also chosen.

Goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh of Portuguese club Maritimo made the squad. His father, Ahmadreza Abedzadeh, was Iran captain and goalkeeper at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Iran will play in Group B at the World Cup with Portugal, Spain and Morocco. The team will play warm-up matches in Turkey and Greece before heading to Russia.

Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo)

Defenders: Ramin Rezaeian (KV Oostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Al Saad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Seyed Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal)

Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (Olympiakos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds FK), Ali Gholizadeh (Saipa)

Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiakos), Mahdi Taremi (Al-Gharafa Sports Club), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (SC Heerenveen)

Six Premier Leaguers named to Argentina, but no Icardi

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Argentina’s World Cup roster features a number of the usual suspects, particularly up front, but Serie A’s top goalscorer has been surprisingly left off the list of 23.

[ MORE: Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan ]

Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s squad was made official on Monday, which includes the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

The Albiceleste won’t be taking Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi though, which has raised some questions about the decision.

Icardi led all scorers in Italy’s top flight this season, scoring 29 goals in 34 Serie A matches, while Paulo Dybala edged out the final striker spot in the Argentina squad.

Dybala is teammates with Higuain at Italian giants Juventus.

Meanwhile, six Premier League players were named into the South American nation’s squad, including goalkeepers Sergio Romero (Man United) and Willy Caballero (Chelsea), as well as Nicolas Otamendi (Man City), Marcos Rojo (Man United) and Manuel Lanzini (West Ham).

Men in Blazers POD: FA Cup recap, UCL final preview and more

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Rog and Davo recap a spite-fueled, snear-filled, peak Phil Jones FA Cup Final, preview this weekend’s Champions League tilt between Liverpool and Real Madrid and eulogize Big Sam… gone the opposite of too soon. Plus, World Cup rosters and MLS.

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Long-term absentee Santi Cazorla will leave Arsenal

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Santi Cazorla hasn’t played a match for the Gunners since suffering a gruesome Achilles injury back in October 2016.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Spanish Chelsea trio ]

And unfortunately for the Spaniard, Cazorla won’t feature for Arsenal again after six years at the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal released a statement on Monday revealing the veteran midfielder won’t return to the club in 2018/19, which isn’t unexpected given the extent of his injury.

In his time with the Gunners, Cazorla made 180 appearances in all competitions for the club, and helped Arsenal win two FA Cups.

Cazorla was also a member of the Spanish national team squads that won back-to-back UEFA EURO competitions in 2008 and 2012.