UEFA World Cup Qualification roundup – England get the help they need

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There were some decisive matches today as Europe’s qualifying for Brazil 2014 is nearing a close.  Many groups have just one or two rounds left, so the races are shaping up.

If you’re unaware of how UEFA’s World Cup qualifying works, there are nine groups of 6 teams each (except one which has 5).  The top team in each group qualifies automatically, and the next highest eight teams then play a two-leg playoff round for four spots.  Thus a total of 13 teams make it to Brazil.

For an up-to-date look at the groups, here’s FIFA’s site.

Portugal 1-0 Russia

Helder Postiga scored early and Portugal withstood a vicious Russia assault down the stretch to take over control of Group F.  The result is massive for Portugal, who were propelled from third to first in the table.  Cristiano Ronaldo and company have 14 points which leads Russia by 2 and Israel by 3.

Montenegro 0-4 Ukraine

A match with huge reverberations for England, the Group H leaders fell when 10-men Ukraine scored a goal against the run of play, and then Montenegro themselves were reduced a man down when Vladimir Vokov received his second yellow in the 74th minute, and then dropped to nine men Savo Pavocevic befell the same fate.  Ukraine doubled their lead through Dnipro Dnipropetrivsk’s Yevhen Konoplyanka to sink the Falcons, and defender Artem Fedetskyy added a third.

England still trails Montenegro by 2 points in the group, but now they will have a game in hand to make up the ground.  Ukraine is one point back of England in third.

Moldova 1-1 Poland

Also helping the Three Lions in Group H, Poland were held to just a point, keeping them 3 back of England.  Borussia Dortmund’s Jakub Blaszczykowski put Poland up early, set up by Robert Lewandowski, but Moldova’s Eugen Sidorenco drew level before the break and they held tight from there.

Austria 2-1 Sweden

In a massive result for Austria, they stayed tight on second place in Group C after defeating Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden.  David Alaba converted a penalty in the 26th minute and Marc Janko doubled the lead just 6 minutes later.  Johan Elmander gave Sweden a lifeline eight minutes before the death but it wasn’t enough.

Germany has a firm grip on Group C with 16 points, but that second spot will be crucial for the team that wants to have a chance in a playoff.  Coming into the match, three teams (Austria, Sweden, and Ireland) were all tied for second with 8 points, but now it’s just Austria and Ireland with 11.

Ireland 3-0 Faroe Islands

A hat trick from LA Galaxy’s very own Robbie Keane also kept Ireland in the hunt for that second spot.  Keane became Ireland’s most capped player in the process. Their goal differential is way less than Austria’s though so they’ll need some outside help to make the playoff round in Group C.

Albania 1-1 Norway

The Norwegians fought from a goal down to grab a valuable point, but still have work to do for a playoff spot in Group E.  The draw gives Norway a 2-point deficit for second place held by Albania, with Iceland sandwiched in between.  Switzerland remain in first place 3 points ahead of Norway.

Iceland 2-4 Slovenia

A heartbreaking result for Iceland, they fell from 2-1 up and could not capitalize on Albania’s misstep, and instead find themselves in a dire position a point down of Albania for second place instead of two up in Group E.  The game started at a blistering pace, with the scoreline 2-2 by the 30th minute before things shut down.  Bostjan Cesar of Serie A’s Chievo Verona was the hero for Slovenia, scoring in the 60th minute to secure the victory, and Rene Krhin gave Slovenia a 2-goal advantage late.

The group is still wide open, with just three points separating the top 4 spots (Switzerland, Albania, Iceland, Norway in that order).

Liechtenstein 1-1 Slovakia

Slovakia rescued a valuable point to keep pressure on Greece for second place in Group G. Jan Durica leveled the match in the 73rd minute to make sure not all was lost.  A loss for Slovakia would have surely ended their hopes for the second spot.

Lithuania 0-1 Greece

A goal from Bologna’s Lazaros Christodoulopoulos allowed Greece to pull away from Slovakia for second place in Group G.  All three points put them three up in second place with a game in hand.  They’re still 3 points behind Bosnia-Herzegovina for first.

Latvia 0-5 Bosnia-Herzegovina

Nothing really to see here. The Group G leaders grabbed an easy 3 points after Latvia’s Aleksandrs Fertovs was sent off in the 10th minute.  Five different goalscorers bagged goals for B-H, including Edin Dzeko who scored the fifth and final goal in the 82nd minute.  They’re now 3 points ahead of Greece.

Belgium 2-1 Serbia

Belgium capitalized on a slipup by Croatia to take sole possession of first place in Group A as they beat third-place Serbia on goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Marouane Fellaini.  De Bruyne’s goal is his third international goal for the Belgians, all coming in qualification for Brazil. For Fellaini it’s his seventh, with the previous one coming against the Americans this week in a friendly.

Croatia 0-1 Scotland

Group A bottomfeeders Scotland are unable to qualify, but they did their best to play the part of spoiler.  Ranked #4 in the world, Croatia were unable to keep pace with Belgium for first place in Group A after Norwich’s Robert Snodgrass scored midway through the first half to lead Scotland to victory.

Czech Republic 0-0 Italy

In a disappointing result for both countries, the Czechs and Petr Cech are all but eliminated now, and Italy have lost their game advantage over second-place Bulgaria in Group B.  Italy do move to 4 points ahead in first, but a win would have wrapped up the group’s top spot.  Already struggling to find a goal, Mario Balotelli was sent off in the 72nd minute after his second yellow. He wasn’t too happy about it.

Finland 1-0 Belarus

Group I, the only 5-team group in the qualification, is pretty much over for the lower teams as Spain and France battle for first and second.  Finland’s win keeps them in the hunt with 8 points, 2 behind France and 3 back of Spain.

Projected lineups: Man City v. Man United

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A feisty Manchester Derby takes center stage at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) as Man City and Man United need the points for their respective title and top four bids.

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With key players missing or injury doubts for both teams, there is plenty of debate about who will line up for Man City and Man United.

Below we look at how Pep Guardiola and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should set up their teams and give our own analysis of the situation.


Man City

—– Ederson —–

— Walker — Stones — FernandinhoAngelino

—- Rodri —- Silva —-

—- Bernardo —- De Bruyne —- Sterling —-

—– Jesus —–


Man United

—– De Gea —–

— Wan-Bissaka — Lindelof — Maguire — Young —

—- McTominay —- Fred —-

— James — Lingard — Rashford —

—– Martial —–


Analysis: Man City have a few big decisions to make in defense, with either John Stones or Nicolas Otamendi expected to partner Fernandinho at center back, with Otamendi likely to get the nod after playing against Burnley in midweek. At full back Pep has been rotating his options with Angelino maybe edging ahead of Mendy, while Walker seems to be winning the battle with Cancelo. For now. Midfield picks itself with Rodri the holder and Kevin De Bruyne playing ahead of him, but the big decisions is who out of David Silva and Ilkay Gundogan starts alongside Rodri. Up top Riyad Mahrez is pushing Bernardo Silva for a start with Raheem Sterling on the other flank and Gabriel Jesus continuing up top with Aguero out injured.

Given their injury issues, which have eased a little, Man United’s lineup choices are a little simpler. De Gea will have Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire and probably Young ahead of him, while McTominay’s return in midfield is a big boost and he will likely line up with Fred. Up top they are sweating on the fitness of Anthony Martial who missed the midweek win against Tottenham and is questionable to start, but Rashford, Lingard and James are expected to start behind either Martial or Mason Greenwood.

Brendan Rodgers signs new contract at Leicester

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Brendan Rodgers has been rewarded for his incredible start to the 2019-20 season with Leicester City, with the club extending his stay in charge by three-and-a-half years to 2025.

The Northern Irishman has signed a new five-and-a-half year contract with the Foxes, as he’s led them to second place in the table through the opening 15 games of the Premier League season as they’ve won seven in a row.

Rodgers had been linked with the vacant position at Arsenal in recent days and seemed to confirm that there was a release fee of $18 million in his old Leicester contract. It is believed that clause has either been removed or the amount has been increased substantially.

Rodgers spoke to the media about his decision to sign a new deal with the Foxes and believes there is plenty more to come as they aim to secure a return to the UEFA Champions League.

“It’s something we’ve been speaking about for a few weeks. I’m delighted to commit the next five-and-a-half years to here,” Rodgers said. “I was honored that the club was happy with our work since we came in. I’ve got a great team here at the stadium and the training ground. My commitment is to the players and the team. The key thing for me was the potential here at Leicester City. Since we came in we’ve identified a way of playing that improves the players and gets results.”

After joining Leicester from Celtic in February in a midseason move which was lambasted by many, Rodgers has 17 wins from 26 Premier League matches in charge with Jamie Vardy, James Maddison, Caglar Soyuncu, Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans in particular playing superbly since he arrived at the King Power Stadium.

Rodgers has the Foxes playing with an increased swagger on the ball but they have also kept their ruthless streak as Vardy has scored in each of his last seven goals (netting nine times in that run) and leads the PL with 14 goals this season.

It may be too much for Leicester to push Liverpool all the way for the Premier League title this season — they are currently eight points behind the league leaders — but with Rodgers locked down to a new deal and so many young players in incredible form, the future is very bright for the Foxes.

Leicester seem set to become genuine top four contenders for the next few seasons, at least, and locking Rodgers into this deal sets everything up.

Chelsea transfer ban reduced after appeal

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Chelsea will be able to sign new players in January after their transfer ban from FIFA was reduced to one transfer window after their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was successful.

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The Blues had previously been banned for two transfer windows, summer 2019 and winter 2020, for 150 rule breaches involving 69 academy players over a period of several years, but they will now be able to sign new players from Jan. 1 when the next transfer window opens.

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard was obviously delighted with the outcome, as he can now reinforce his young squad and has plenty of cash in the bank after a no-spend summer (the deal for Christian Pulisic was sealed last January and Mateo Kovacic arrived permanently after his loan move saw a clause triggered which made it a permanent move).

“It’s a positive outcome for us,” Lampard said. “It allows us the potential to look at the market going forward. So I’m pleased from a footballing level. It was never my business to get involved in the reasons why or the legal side of it.”

Which areas should Chelsea strengthen in now they can buy again? And which players will be their top targets?

It is clear that left back is an area where Lampard will want to add a new starter as both Marcos Alonso and Emerson Palmeri are fine as back ups neither have made the position their own this season. Up top is another key location where Lampard will look to strengthen as Olivier Giroud seems to be on his way out of Stamford Bridge and that would leave just Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi as the options at center forward.

Elsewhere, Chelsea look pretty set, although a new center back could be handy but isn’t necessary given the fact that Kurt Zouma and Fikayo Tomori have both been superb for most of this season and Andreas Christensen is also around with Cesar Azpilicueta also able to slot in at center back with Reece James developing well at right back.

After 12 months without spending and having transfer fees from the sale of Eden Hazard, David Luiz and Tomas Kalas and many other fringe players which brought in an incredible $180 million, Lampard will have money to spend.

The big question now is: Given Chelsea’s great start to the season as they sit in the top four with their young team progressing together as a group, do they risk bringing in new additions to potential upset the team spirit? Is it better to wait until the summer when the likes of Pedro and Giroud, and maybe Willian, could all leave Stamford Bridge?

Larentowicz re-signs with Atlanta United for 16th MLS season

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ATLANTA (AP) Midfielder Jeff Larentowicz will be returning to Atlanta United for his 16th season in Major League Soccer.

The team announced Thursday it has re-signed the 36-year-old free agent, who has been with United since the team’s debut in 2017.

Larentowicz has the second-most appearances in MLS history (418) and ranks third in starts (386). He had 40 goals and 23 assists in his career, which began with New England in 2005 and also includes stints with Colorado, Chicago and LA Galaxy.

Larentowicz helped Atlanta win the MLS Cup in just its second season. He had 27 league appearances and 15 starts in 2019 , when United captured the U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup.

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