Arrigo Sacchi cautious about Neymar at Barcelona, evokes Ibrahimovic

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When Arrigo Sacchi speaks, it’s worth a listen, particularly if he’s willing to prognosticate as to how the most celebrated transfer of the summer will do upon his European debut. But contrary to how these quotes were widely packaged, the Milan legend doesn’t do that here. No, he’s not comparing Neymar’s move to Barcelona to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s, a transfer that ended with the Swedish icon moving back to Italy after one season. That’s how Sacchi’s comments are being sold, but that’s just not the case.

Instead, all Sacchi’s is doing is noting there are a wide array of possibilities for Neymar’s immediate future. Because Barcelona are such a style-driven team, it’s possible the young Brazilian could fail to fit in. And if so, then yes, he could end up like Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Or Dmytro Chygrynskiy. Or Alex Song, or any of a number of players that haven’t meld with Barcelona as well as originally expected.

(Also worth noting: Barcelona is not the only club in the world that occasionally fails to see a transfer live up to expectations, though their dogmatic approach does leave them more susceptible to this happening.)

So while there are a number of interpretations online that summarize these quotes with something like ‘Neymar could fail like Ibrahimovic,’ it’s worth noting Sacchi never makes a direct comparison. His words (as complied by Sambafoot):

“I don’t know how Neymar will do at Barcelona,” Sacchi was quoted as saying by Marca, as reported on Goal.com.

“At Barca, the style of play is more important than anything else. We will have to wait and see if Neymar fits in.

“All I’m saying is that you don’t know how something will pan out. Just look at what happened with Ibrahimovic.

“He had all the talent to play at Barca, yet in the end he did not fit in with the rest of the players.”

We’ve written before about Neymar at Barcelona. It seems like a good fit, though all of Sacchi’s caveats still apply. In addition, with so much talent at the Nou Camp, the margin for error’s even smaller. If you’re not cutting it, there’ll be somebody right behind you.

That said, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Neymar are obviously entirely different players. A number nine, Ibrahimovic was being brought in precisely because he wasn’t a typical Barcelona player. He was somebody that gave Pep Guardiola an option to play a more direct game, when needed. He was always more likely to fall flat than most, if stylistic fit is the biggest barrier.

But his failure in Cataluyna may be more attributable to a personality conflict with his coach and the evolving tactics of the team (Lionel Messi’s move to being a player who plays centrally). Even not being able to drive the cars he wanted seemed to be a big deal to “Ibra”. His was a complex situation, one that transcended mere stylistic concerns.

Neymar’s situation is entirely different. Likely to be played wide left and used as an alternative to what Barcelona tries to accomplish through Messi, his game doesn’t have to be as tightly integrated stylistically to the players who play through the middle. Even if that changes — if Neymar does find himself playing more and more through the middle — he possesses more ability to play Barcelona’s style than anybody who’s been brought in, short of Cesc Fabregas and Jordi Alba.

Nobody knows how Neymar will do in Barcelona, so we can all agree with Sacchi’s skepticism. But if stylistic concerns and comparisons to Ibrahimovic are the root of somebody’s concern, they probably shouldn’t be too worried about Neymar’s future with Barça.

VIDEO: Portugal lead Iran at HT; Spain 1-1 Morocco

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We’re through the first 45 minutes of Monday’s Group B finales at the 2018 World Cup, and things are happening. A quick rundown…

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos combined to commit a disastrous gaffe at midfield, resulting in a goal for Khalid Boutaib in the 14th minute. At this point, Spain would have finished second, behind Portugal, and headed to the far more difficult side of the knockout bracket.

Five minutes later, it was Iniesta who, with a little help from some slightly lesser geniuses, unlocked the Moroccan defense to set up Isco for an emphatic finish. La Furia Roja moved back to the top of the group, on goals scored.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

In the afternoon’s other game, Portugal and Iran appeared destined for a 0-0 scoreline at halftime, until Ricardo Quaresma unleashed a stunning, outside-of-the-foot curler from outside the box to beat the goalkeeper and put Portugal ahead — both on the day, and in the table. As things currently stand, Portugal would win the group and Spain would finish second.

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 4

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In the fourth episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England players have been preparing for their next match in an unusual way, Argentina has a huge meltdown, and more.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Click play on the video above to watch the fourth episode in full.

Atlanta leads way with six All-Star Fan XI selections

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It may be hard to believe with all the World Cup festivities going on, but the Major League Soccer season is nearly halfway over.

[ MORE: Toronto FC’s 2018 has been far from their cup-winning 2017 ]

And that means it’s almost All-Star time.

The MLS All-Stars will continue their recent tradition of facing a European superpower in August, with Juventus being welcomed to the United States in early August.

But, which players from MLS will we see in action?

Last season’s expansion sweetheart Atlanta United leads the way in the fan voting with six players from the Eastern Conference side voted into the Fan XI, including attackers Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, Darlington Nagbe and Josef Martinez.

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender/captain Michael Parkhurst also made the team from Atlanta.

In all, only five clubs were represented based on the Fan XI, with the LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Los Angeles FC’s Carlos Vela and Laurent Ciman, Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi and Portland Timbers star Diego Valeri each rounding out the squad.


Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United)

Defenders: Michael Parkhurst (Atlanta United), Laurent Ciman (Los Angeles Football Club), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Miguel Almirón (Atlanta United), Ezequiel Barco (Atlanta United), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers)

Forwards: Josef Martínez (Atlanta United), Zlatan Ibrahimović (LA Galaxy), Carlos Vela (Los Angeles Football Club – EA SPORTS™ “More Than a Vote” Challenge)

Saudi Arabia steals late win over Egypt in Group A finale

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Saudi Arabia pulled off a late 2-1 win against Egypt on Monday in their Group A finale, as the two nations ended their 2018 World Cup run in the group stage.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Salem Al Sawsari scored in the fifth minute of second half stoppage time to give the Saudis a late winner in the match, as the attacker struck the post in the dying moments before the ball crossed the line.

The Pharaohs took the lead in the 22nd minute, after a tremendous run from Mohamed Salah and lob over the Saudi Arabia goalkeeper.

Salah has two goals at the World Cup for Egypt, who were already eliminated heading into Monday’s match.

Saudi Arabia was granted a chance to equalize prior to halftime, however, goalkeeper Essam El Hadary brilliantly stopped Hattan Bahebri’s penalty kick in the 41st minute to preserve the Egypt advantage.

El Hadary became the oldest player in World Cup history to appear in a match at the age of 45.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

The Egypt keeper wasn’t as lucky the second time around though, with Salmon Al Faraj converting a penalty kick in the 51st minute.

Saudi Arabia finishes group play in third place on three points, while Egypt goes winless in its three matches.