Confederations Cup Preview: Nigeria v. Uruguay

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After the all-out destruction that Spain has imparted on Confederation Cup darlings Tahiti, it will be nice to drink in a proper football match, which is exactly what we will get when Nigeria and Uruguay meet later today.

Nigeria come into the match having pummelled Tahiti 6-1 by virtue of a Nnamdi Oduamadi hat-trick, goals by Uwe Echiejile and Nicolas Vallar, and an own-goal by Jonathan Tehau. The Super Eagles did well to keep their focus on the match and get the job done following what were some unusual circumstances departing from Africa, where the team had been refusing to travel due to player bonus discrepencies.

But the mess got itself sorted, Nigeria made it to Brazil with one day to spare and mananger Stephen Keshi’s men looked comfortable in the victory, although it was difficult to tell how hard the players were taking it given their opponents’ talent and inexperience.

With the Tahitian hammering, Nigeria find themselves atop Group B on goal difference over Spain but would be foolish to rely on that cushion ahead of the clash with Uruguay. Keshi plans on making changes to his back four in an attempt to bottle-up La Celeste‘s strikeforce of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez.

With a result tonight, Nigeria will take their unbeaten run total to 19 games, with the last defeat coming 13 months ago when they fell to Peru 1-0 in Lima. South American opponents have proved difficult for the Super Eagles to overcome, having won only three times in 17 international contests.

A victory tonight, however, will render that history meaningless and would put Nigeria through to the semi-finals.

Uruguay comes into the match off a 2-1 loss to Spain where the scoreline was more flattering than the performance. Uruguay manager Óscar Tabárez will not have been happy with his side’s performance as they looked disinterested and slow for large portions of the contest. Cavani was completely ineffective while Suarez was relatively quiet until his thunderous 30 yard free-kick found the top corner in the 88th minute.

If Uruguay are to turn things around on Thursday they will need their midfield to dramatically improve it’s movement on and off the ball. Walter Gargano and Diego Perez have to do better in transition to close the gaps between the midfield and forward lines and to improve the link-up play with Cavani and Suarez.

If the Liverpool and Napoli frontmen can not get it done, expect the timeless Diego Forlan to come in and take the match by the scruff of the neck. “We knew before coming to Brazil that our most important game was against Nigeria and nothing has changed because we lost to Spain,” Forland said.

A victory for Uruguay will put them in prime position to advance to the semi-finals while defeat could mean curtains for Tabárez.

The match kicks-off tonight at 6:00pm on ESPN in the United States and 11:00pm on BBC3 in the United Kingdom.

Iniesta joins Japanese club Vissel Kobe

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TOKYO (AP) Former Barcelona playmaker Andres Iniesta was introduced as the newest member of Japanese club Vissel Kobe on Thursday, a poorly kept secret that’s been rumored for weeks.

Iniesta appeared before a packed news conference at a central Tokyo hotel on Thursday along with Kobe’s billionaire owner, Hiroshi Mikitani.

[READ: Earnie Stewart being considered for U.S. Soccer post]

“I’m pleased to announce,” Mikitani said, “that Andres Iniesta will be signing up play with Vissel Kobe after his historic career at Barcelona.”

Iniesta signed his contract as Mikitani watched, and then spoke through an interpreter.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but Japanese media are reporting he will earn $30 million annually on a three-year deal.

“For me this is a very special day,” the Spaniard said. “This is an important challenge for me. My family is excited to come to Japan and we are very pleased. There were many offers. Other clubs showed interest. But I decided to sign with Vissel Kobe because the project presented to me was impressive.”

Mikitani is also the CEO of Barcelona sponsor Rakuten, a Japanese online retailer.

Iniesta held up the team’s red shirt with his famous No. 8 on the back, and his name written across the bottom.

Iniesta previously had said he would probably retire from international soccer after Spain plays at this year’s World Cup in Russia.

The 34-year-old Iniesta scored the winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final. He also was a key part of Spain’s two European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

He announced last month he would leave Barcelona after 16 seasons. His last match for the Spanish club was on Sunday against Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

Vissel Kobe is in sixth place after 15 games in the J-League. It signed Lukas Podolski last year, but the German striker is out until the end of June with an injured calf.

Yaya Toure talks future, wants to play with Paul Pogba

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There is very little debate: Yaya Toure is his own special case.

The longtime Manchester City midfielder does what he wants, flies his own flag, has the worst agent in the game, and is pleased or dismayed in unusual ways.

[ UCL: What would Real 3-peat mean? ]

Toure, 35, has been linked with a move to NYCFC now that he’s leaving Man City, but the Ivorian still wants to play two more seasons for a Champions League or Europa League club.

And he wants to get together with Paul Pogba. You can see where this is going… (from The Manchester Evening News):

“Pogba is the same size, power – but different in the way he wants to go. Technically as well, the ability to score goals as well. It is a player I want to play with, to be honest, just to teach him some things.”

That must mean both are going to Paris Saint-Germain because… Yaya at Manchester United? No way, right? Right? Even with last year’s reports from his — again — terrible agent that it was an option, that still seems too villainous.

“I don’t rule big teams out. The big teams are very important for me. What they want to achieve, the way they want to go, for me is very important. … I want to go somewhere I can win and achieve. It’s going to be hard one day to play against City, but I have to do that. It is part of my job.”

Toure later said he was “no good in an office,” which had us thinking, well, what if they properly celebrated your birthday, Yaya?

WATCH: Miami United midfielder unleashes Open Cup laser

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Tomas Granitto, have yourself an extra plate at the postgame buffet.

The Miami United midfielder scored a gorgeous goal in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over fellow NPSL side Jacksonville Armada in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup’s third round.

[ MORE: 3 Key Battles for UCL Final ]

Complete with aesthetically-pleasing post-ping, the former El Salvador U-20 player laid into a 25-yard shot to open the scoring in Florida.

Granitto, 24, has played for Timbers 2, Swope Park Rangers, FC Edmonton, since leaving NCAA side Florida Gulf Coast.

Rondon wanted by Atleti, Inter Milan, and West Ham

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The big boys are looking to Salomon Rondon as a bargain striker.

Yes, $22 million is a bargain in the striker market these days.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

West Brom’s Venezuelan international, 28, stands 6’2″ and has a relegation release clause that is reportedly interesting Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid, and West Ham United.

Atleti and Inter are in the Champions League next season, but Rondon played for new West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini at Malaga, posting 25 league goals in two seasons.

He’s scored 24 goals in three Premier League seasons at West Brom, almost a quarter of the 104 produced by the Baggies.

He also picked up three assists this season as the target man for Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew, and Darren Moore (and was fouled more often than any other Baggie (Baggy?)).

Rondon and Marko Arnautovic next to each other would be a real handful for PL defenses. Then again, maybe he’ll stay loyal to West Brom and set the Championship scoring record next season.