Lyon, Marseille reclaim spotlight for one week in France

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The extent to which Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco dominated this summer’s Ligue 1 headlines meant the circuit’s former titans, Lyon and Marseille, were not only pushed out of the spotlight but off the stage entirely. An especially detailed mainstream account of Ligue 1’s state might allude to the battle for third, the league’s final UEFA Champions League spot, but unless you went to a France-dedicated blog or followed the right people on Twitter, you were unlikely to hear much talk of Lyon or Marseille.

Which, of course, is a shame. Marseille is one of (if not the) largest clubs in France, while Lyon won seven straight titles the last decade. From 2001 to 2011, at least one of the clubs finished in the league’s top two. Though it was Bordeaux that eventually broke Lyon’s title run in 2008-09, it was Marseille that was always considered the most likely usurper – the club with the history, prestige, and resources to make France a two-team league, if they got their act together.

Marseille eventually claimed a title in 2009-10, but fast-forward three years, and France is finally on the verge of becoming that two-horse race. Only now everybody’s focusing on PSG and Monaco, leaving those not so far off days of Lyon dominance and OM potential in another era.

For one weekend, however, OL and Marseille (who finished third and second last year, mind you) turned back the clock, posting convincing victories on Ligue 1’s opening weekend. While the results may not be enough to get people outside of France excited for something other than PSG dominance and Monaco intrigue, there may be no better time to convince potential fans there’s something beyond the league’s big two; particularly after a weekend where the Parisians disappointed and Monaco still looked within reach.

The round started Friday in Montpellier where the two latest champions met at the Stade de la Mosson. An early goal from Remy Cabella left PSG down at halftime, though a second half score from left back Maxwell (starting over big summer acquisition Lucas Digne) allowed the Parisians to salvage Laurent Blanc’s debut.

PSG started slow last year, with draws in their first three matches warning us against reading too much from their August results. (More on Blanc later tonight.)

On Saturday, while Monaco played out a convincing 2-0 win at Bordeaux, it was a former Girondins player that stole the show for Lyon. Yoann Gourcuff, who’s move to OL has seen random flashes dot a three years of bust-worthy performance, was the weekend’s best player. The France international set up two goals and did a Juninho impression on a third, leading Lyon to a 4-0 win over Nice. While the show only fueled speculation he could jump to Lorient to join his father (who coaches the team), it gave Lyon fans one night of joy in during this troublesome Gourcuff era.

On Sunday, Marseille looked set to best Lyon’s act, scoring twice at Guingamp in the first four minutes, three times by the 18th. André-Pierre Gignac, ready to affirm his last year under Didier Deschamps was indeed an aberrational one, scored in the second minute, while former Lille winger Dimitri Payet scored twice on his OM debut. Though Marseille created a couple other clear good chances in the first half, they eventually let off the gas, allowing their hosts a goal before going on to a 3-1 victory.

It’s worth remembering Marseille got off to a blistering start last year, too. Regardless, on Sunday this year’s squad proved as potent in real life as their attack implied on paper, with Payet’s presence balancing a group that already had André Ayew, Mathieu Valabuena, and “APG”. Though their defense looked generous on Mustapha Yatabaré’s  second half goal, Marseille have enough talents to make even the likes of Monaco slightly envious. And with players like Alexandre Lacazette, Clement Grenier, Maxime Gonalons and Gueïda Fofana, the same could be said for Lyon.

That, however, is unlikely to capture many imaginations when the big spenders bring in the likes of Edinson Cavani and Radamel Falcao, but until Monaco can show they’ve forged a team from their lavish parts, we may want to hold of ceding second place to the Red-Whites. At least, let’s wait until after Monaco visits Marseille on Sept. 1 before making the Big One (PSG) into a duopoly.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 10 — All eyes on Germany

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Many of the favorites in the 2018 World Cup have disappointed, but until Argentina fell 3-0 to Croatia on Thursday, Germany was the only one to suffer a defeat.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Die Mannschaft fell to Mexico in their opening match, with El Tri carving up the German midfield on the counter. Now, Joachim Low has had ample time to make the adjustments needed to go for victory as the Germans take on Sweden as they chase a spot in the knockout stages among Group F.

Meanwhile, Mexico looks to prove they’re not a one-hit wonder as they take on South Korea in Rostov. Juan Carlos Osorio has received plenty of praise – and rightly so – for his tactics in the upset victory, and that leaves El Tri with a chance to clinch a spot in the knockout stage with a win.

Before all that Group F craziness, Belgium takes the field in the morning against Tunisia as they look to follow up its comprehensive 3-0 victory over Panama in the opening round. A victory for the Red Devils would not only book a place in the knockout round, but also eliminate Tunisia from contention.

Below is Saturday’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 – Saturday, June 23

Group F
South Korea vs. Mexico: Rostov-on-Don, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Germany vs. Sweden: Sochi, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group G
Belgium vs. Tunisia: Moscow, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Kluivert junior leaves Ajax for Roma in $21m transfer

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ROME (AP) — Roma signed Justin Kluivert, the son of former Milan and Barcelona forward Patrick, from Ajax on Friday for a fee that could rise to 18.75 million euros ($21.8 million).

The 19-year-old Dutch international forward has agreed a five-year contract with Roma.

“I’m very happy. I’m at an incredible club,” Kluivert said. “I cannot wait to start. I believe that Roma is the ideal team for my growth, which will allow me to play at the highest levels.”

Kluivert junior made 56 appearances and scored 13 goals for Ajax. He has one cap for the Netherlands.

He joins Roma for an initial 17.25 million euros ($20.1 million) and performance-related clauses could see the price rise by 1.5 million euros.

Ricketts family, owner of the Chicago Cubs, interested in purchasing AC Milan

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The Ricketts family, who purchased a controlling stake in the Chicago Cubs back in 2009, have interest in further pursuing ownership in financially troubled Italian club AC Milan.

According to a family statement, “The Ricketts family brought a championship to the Chicago Cubs through long-term investment and being great stewards of the team … They would bring this same approach to AC Milan.”

First reported by the Chicago Tribune, the news of the Tom Ricketts’ interest in the team comes on the heels of news that current owner Li Yonghong had failed to meet a Friday deadline for a $37 million loan payment. According to reports, the missed payment means that Li will cede control of the club to Elliott Management, who loaned the Chinese businessman the money to complete his initial purchase of the club last April.

The Chicago Sun-Times also reported the family’s interest in the club, and quoted their source as saying, “The Ricketts put together the management team, resources and training facilities [for the Cubs]. [They did] everything you need top to bottom to be successful.”

Ricketts has plenty of history in soccer ownership, having previously been a part of the group that owned English club Derby County before selling back in 2015. This May, Ricketts also announced he was leading an investment group that is looking to bring a USL expansion team to Chicago.

Forbes values AC Milan at $612 million – a massive 26% 1-year decline – and ranks them the 17th most valuable soccer club in the world. That valuation could be further on the decline, as the storied club missed out on Champions League qualification for the fifth straight year, although they qualified for their second straight Europa League appearance with 6th place finish in last year’s Serie A table, eight points behind Lazio in fifth.

AC Milan also faces heavy sanctions from UEFA regarding Financial Fair Play, although those fears could be eased with the financially-troubled Li selling the club.

The Ricketts family’s wealth comes largely from investment banking, with Tom’s father J. Joseph Ricketts having founded Ameritrade back in 1975. Tom is estimated by Forbes to be worth $1 billion, while his father has an estimated net worth of $2.1 billion.

Xhaka, Shaqiri display controversial goal celebrations in win over Serbia

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A seemingly innocuous goal celebration performed by both Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri has thinly veiled, politically charged undertones and could potentially land the pair in FIFA disciplinary proceedings following Switzerland’s 2-1 win over Serbia.

Both displayed a bird hand signal as they celebrated scoring goals, and considering their pre-match comments, post-match social media posts, and ethnic backgrounds, those were clearly meant to represent the double-eagle symbol in the middle of the Albanian flag.

This is a complicated political scenario, but it could be considered by FIFA to be politically provocative. Shaqiri is Albanian, born in Kosovo before moving to Switzerland with his parents and three siblings when he was just a year old. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008 and is not recognized as a sovereign nation by Serbia. Xhaka is of Albanian descent, and his father previously participated in a demonstration against the communist Yugoslavian rule in Kosovo that landed him a lengthy jail sentence. Albania and Serbia have a particularly tumultuous relationship, with their leaders meeting for the first time in over 60 years in 2014, which caused tempers to flare.

Following the match, Xhaka posted a picture of his celebration on his Instagram story, with the caption in Albanian roughly translated to, “Here you go Serbia, this is why they call me Granit Kosovo!” He deleted the post, and replaced it with an image of his celebration side-by-side with Shaqiri’s, with the slightly more cryptic caption, “We did it, bro!” in English.

FIFA is wildly against any type of political demonstration or involvement in the world of soccer. The governing body has punished individual nation federations in the past for government involvement, while political demonstrations on the field are fiercely frowned upon.

Switzerland captain and new Arsenal signing Stephan Lichtsteiner came to the defense of his two teammates after the match. When asked about the celebrations, he said to Goal.com, “We had a lot of pressure, it was not an easy game for us. We have a lot of Albanians, so there is a lot of history between Serbia and Albania. It was a very tough game for them mentally.”

“It was good. Why not? This is the history for them,” Lichtsteiner continued. “The war between them was so difficult. I spoke to the father of one of our players who is Albanian, and he told me about this history. This is more than football. This is more than football because they have this period, this war that gave them both big problems. I understand them. I think it’s normal, it’s part of their life. There was also big provocation ahead of the game from them [Serbia], so I think it’s normal.”

Shaqiri could be in especially hot water. The Stoke City midfielder wore boots with the flags of Switzerland and Kosovo. He has made it clear in the past that he values his roots, saying, “I was born in Kosovo, but I grew up in Switzerland. I live both mentalities, it’s not a big difference.”

Switzerland finishes its World Cup group stage round with a match against Costa Rica on Wednesday in which a win would secure a spot in the knockout stage.