Chelsea move in to scupper Tottenham’s Willian deal

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With Brazilian midfielder Willian in London ahead of a proposed $45 million transfer to Tottenham Hotspur, everyone thought this one was pretty straightforward…

But hold on a minute.

Late on Thursday night, details of Chelsea launching an audacious last-minute bid for Anzhi Makhachkala Willian emerged. And this morning in his weekly press conference, José Mourinho has stated that Willian has picked Chelsea over Tottenham.

What a twist.

In a room somewhere in the InterContinental Hotel on Park Lane, Willian has been making a pretty hasty pro-con list between Spurs and Mourinho’s Chelsea. But he may not have a say in this as Chelsea have reportedly matched and perhaps bettered Spurs’ massive bid. So a move to the Blues looks set to happen.

(MORE: Tottenham closing in on $45 million Willian capture?)

Will the Blues really sneak in under Tottenham’s noses to grab the player many believe to be Gareth Bale’s direct replacement?

I wouldn’t rule this one out. This is Mourinho and Chelsea we’re talking about. The club have proved over the last decade that if Chelsea want to sign a player, they make it happen, regardless of whether or not another London side and Premier League rival has all but sealed the deal.

This new twist leaves 25-year-old Willian in a tricky situation but ultimately he has no say in it. Chelsea’s Russian owner, Roman Abramovich, has apparently contacted Anzhi’s owner with the bid and Chelsea have been after Willian since 2012 when he played for Shakthar Donetsk.

Liverpool were also interested in the attacking midfielder, who can either play out on the left or through the middle, but Brendan Rodgers’ men gave up the chase a long time ago.

Mourinho’s last-ditch attempt to snatch Willian from Tottenham’s grasp is an incredibly gutsy move. But that’s business, and this is business in the world’s most famous and lucrative league. Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas won’t be happy about it, not least because he was Mourinho’s assistant scout at Chelsea for several years and remains good friends with the Chelsea manager.

But there’s certainly no love lost in the race for Willian, and if Mourinho can nip in and grab the tricky Brazilian before his buddy AVB, then so be it. Do they need a new winger? With Eden Hazard, Oscar, Kevin de Bruyne, Victor Moses and many other international players already able to play out wide, it’s a bit of a strange one.

But obviously Mourinho sees it as an area he needs to improve following the solid, yet unspectacular wins against Hull City and Aston Villa to open the season.

There’s still 10 days until the transfer deadline arrives, but it will take some doing to top this saga.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’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 – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Halted World Cup flip-throw heard around the world

AP Photo/Sergei Grits
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Milad Mohammadi knew the time was right for something special, but special isn’t always good.

And good is a subjective term. Cause to us this is very good, Milad.

The Iranian national team defender failed with a flip-throw bid in the final moments of a 1-0 loss to Spain on Wednesday at the World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

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

And this wasn’t like he illegally flipped or broke some other rule. No, like a kid trying an audacious jump into the deep end, Akhmat Grozny star Mohammadi just bailed and climbed in from the side (so to speak).

The kiss, the look skyward, the headbutt… all integral parts of a wonderful World Cup moment.

Renard, Morocco ‘very proud’ of unlucky national team

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If you would’ve told Morocco fans or their manager, Herve Renard, that they’d outshoot and outpossess both Iran and Portugal at World Cup, their next question would probably be, “So do we need to do against Spain to win Group B?”

Alas, Morocco lost a pair of 1-0 decisions to become the first team knocked out of the 2018 World Cup.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The Lions of Atlas fell to Iran in their opener on a stoppage time own goal after carrying 64 percent possession and a 13-8 advantage in shot attempts, then lost to a Cristiano Ronaldo fourth minute goal on Wednesday despite a 16-10 shot advantage and 53 percent of the ball.

“I’m very proud of the performance and I am very proud of my players, I’m very proud of this country,” Renard said.

With no hope of advancing to the next round, the manager is finding the experience bittersweet. From RTE:

“What I am sure of at this moment is that the entire Moroccan people is proud of this team. Of course it’s easier to play with a player who has one chance and he puts it away. But we are in Morocco.

“We have quality players. Despite the ups and downs of the game, we should have been more effective. Because, like in the first game, we had plenty of chances. I won’t blame anyone. That’s football. It’s always those who know how to be present in the box, the most gifted players, who make the difference. We took a lot of risks and we didn’t get our reward.”

It’s unlikely Morocco will hold either of those statistical advantages against Spain, especially a Spanish side yet to qualify, but there is plenty to like from the tournament aside from poor finishing quality.

But the performances of 19-year-olds Amine Harit (Schalke) and Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid) — not to mention Hakim Ziyech (25, Ajax) — seem to hint at a promise for 2022. And Renard’s men can still play spoiler for Spain, which is no small shockwave.