Preview: Aston Villa vs. Liverpool

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  • Benteke scored 3 PL goals vs. Liverpool last season, more than any other player
  • Only Manchester United have beaten Villa more times than Liverpool’s 10 wins at Villa Park
  • Steven Gerrard has scored more goals against the Villans than any other team

Aston Villa and Liverpool will battle it out at Villa Park on Saturday at 12:30pm ET (watch live on NBC and via NBC Sports Live Extra) in England’s second city.

Villa have had an extremely good start to the 2013-14 campaign and were very unlucky to lose against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, just four days after their terrific 3-1 win against Arsenal at the Emirates last Saturday.

As for Liverpool, they outplayed Stoke City for pretty much the entire game at Anfield in the opening game of the Premier League season early last weekend, but almost threw three points away late on.

Daniel Sturridge’s first half strike proved enough for Brendan Rodgers’ men but a whole host of missed chances almost proved costly as newly acquired Belgian ‘keeper Simon Mignolet had to save a last-minute penalty to preserve the win.

This game should be a real battle but good to watch. Paul Lambert’s young Villa side like to stroke the ball around and they will be eager to impress their home fans. Villa have had an incredibly tough start to the season, but two wins from three games against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool would be a fantastic return.

While the Reds will be gunning to make an impression and win big at Villa Park. They are still without the suspended Luis Suárez and his fellow Uruguayan international Sebastien Coates, as the defender was ruled out of the entire season with a cruciate ligament injury. However their star man in the 1-0 win over Stoke was Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho cutting in form the left, Villa will have to keep a close eye on him.

For Villa Christian Benteke has already scored three goals in two games and will be a real handful for Kolo Toure and Daniel Agger. Injury wise for the home side, Nathan Baker look set to miss out with an ankle injury, while Ciaran Clark should return after a nasty face wound.

You can watch it all unfold live on NBC at 12:30pm ET and online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

What they’re saying

Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert: “We go into the Liverpool game with a lot of confidence. All you can ask is going into a game with a positive mindset that we can win. Brendan Rogers has a really good Liverpool side. We had two good games with them last season. I’m sure this will be no different. The two teams play football. We will see what happens. It will be a great occasion.”

Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge: They’re a good team, they’ve got good individuals and it’s not going to be an easy game for us. We won there last season, but it’s a new season now – they’ve got a point to prove, we’ve got a point to prove. It’s going to be a very good game for everyone to watch. But I’m going into the game with a positive attitude, just like all the boys are, and we’ll go out there and do our best.”

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers on Aston Villa: “They are very fast, energetic players. Andreas Weimann makes good runs and has a knack for a goal, it is about trying to control the counter-attack. But our focus is really on our own game. Our mind is very good at the moment. The players are continuing from last season and we just want to keep that going. We will go into this game with good confidence but expecting Aston Villa to be a good team and we’ll have to work hard to get a result.”

Prediction

If I had to stick my neck out on the line here, I would say a narrow Liverpool win. But it will be an incredibly entertaining game and I do expect to see plenty of goals. Villa will look to strike early and that may knock Liverpool off their stride, but if the likes of Steven Gerrard and Coutinho get on the ball, it could be game over for Benteke and co.

Sweden players, coaches left fuming after last-minute loss

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A last-minute goal. A non-called penalty. A disrespectful celebration.

Sweden had a lot to be upset about when the final whistle blew on Saturday.

[ MORE: Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion” ]

The Swedes were within seconds of holding defending champion Germany to a draw, and moving into good position to advance to the round of 16 at the World Cup, when Toni Kroos scored deep into stoppage time to give Germany a 2-1 come-from-behind victory.

“I’m sorry that we didn’t get at least one point,” Sweden coach Janne Andersson said. “But I’m not blaming anyone tactically or analyzing too much right now, there are so many emotions going around. This is probably the heaviest conclusion that I’ve experienced in my career.”

Kroos’ goal from a set piece came in the fifth and final minute of injury time. The draw would have kept Sweden ahead of Germany in Group F and needing only a draw against Mexico in the last match.

[ MORE: Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination ]

“It was just bad luck,” Sweden forward John Guidetti said. “Now we need to try to find a way to win the last match. In a few days we play again and we have to win it. It’s simple.”

Germany, which is tied with Sweden on points and goal difference, will play against South Korea in the final round.

“We still have an excellent opportunity to qualify,” Andersson said. “Now we have to clean up, tidy up after this game. We’re going to do that.”

The Swedes were leading Germany at halftime thanks to Ola Toivonen’s goal in the 32nd minute at Fisht Stadium. They felt they could have been ahead even earlier if the referee had called a penalty when Marcus Berg appeared to be fouled inside the area with a clear chance to score. There was no formal video review called for.

“If we have the (VAR) system, it’s very unfortunate that he (the referee) can feel so secure in the moment that he doesn’t go and have a look at the situation,” Andersson said.

He and the Swedish players said they also couldn’t understand why Germany decided to celebrate near their bench.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“You shouldn’t celebrate in front of our bench the way they did, that’s disrespectful,” Guidetti said. “You can celebrate with your own fans. Don’t celebrate in front of our bench like that. That’s why they apologized, because they knew they did something wrong.”

Andersson said he was “very annoyed” by seeing the Germany team “running in our direction and rubbing it in our faces by making gestures.”

“We fought hard for 95 minutes,” he said. “And when the final whistle blows, you shake hands.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 11 — England, Colombia back in action

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Day 11 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Sunday, with England back in action and in need of three points — and a resounding win — to keep pace with Belgium in Group G.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Following Belgium’s 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia — the same side that England beat in stoppage time earlier in the week — on Saturday, the Red Devils have positioned themselves perfectly to win the group with a draw against the Three Lions on Thursday. England need a five-goal victory at 6-1 or higher to the finish top of the group following a draw on the final day.

Then, it’s a pair of Group H fixtures, kicked off with Japan (1st) versus Senegal (2nd) — both of whom won their first game — followed by Poland (3rd) versus Colombia (4th).

Below is Sunday’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 – Sunday, June 24

Group G
England vs. Panama: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group H
Japan vs. Senegal: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Colombia: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

FIFA opens case against Xhaka, Shaqiri for celebrations

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FIFA’s disciplinary committee opened disciplinary proceedings against Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri for politically charged goal celebrations during their 2-1 World Cup win over Serbia in Kaliningrad.

[ MORE: The meaning behind Xhaka, Shaqiri’s eagle celebration ]

FIFA also said Saturday it has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian Football Association for crowd disturbance and the display of political and offensive messages by Serbian fans. FIFA also is reviewing statements that Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic made after the match.

Xhaka and Shaqiri celebrated their goals by making a nationalist symbol of their ethnic Albanian heritage. Both of their families come from Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The Polish Football Association was fined $10,100 and given a warning by FIFA’s disciplinary committee for a banner that the governing body deemed political and offensive. The banner was displayed during Senegal’s 2-1 win over Poland on Tuesday in Moscow.

The committee also opened disciplinary proceedings against the federations of Argentina and Croatia for crowd disturbances during Croatia’s 3-0 win Thursday at Nizhny Novgorod.

Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion”

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At 1-0 down, they were headed for elimination in the group stage (with a game still to play); once level at 1-1, they faced yet a steep hill to climb on the final day of the group stage; after Toni Kroos scored his stunning 94th-minute winner, Joachim Low could finally exhale and imagine himself managing the German national team for another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Sweden at the 2018 World Cup was, for most intents and purposes, a worrying performance for the defending world champions. Fortunately for Low and Co., the one place in which their comeback dramatic victory was a raging success is the only one that matters: the Group F table, where Die Mannschaft currently (somehow) sit second and control their own destiny — quotes from the BBC:

“This was a thriller, full of emotion, right up until the final whistle. Brandt hit the goal post just three minutes before the end too. We took out a defensive player and brought on an attacking player because we knew had to bring on everything we had to turn it round.

“We had a couple of great chances — Mario Gomez’s header being one of them. The last couple of minutes were full of drama but those matches exist in football. We’ve had these situations in other tournaments as well. For the viewers that’s part of the attractiveness of football.”

“Something I did appreciate today was that we didn’t lose our nerve, we didn’t panic after going a goal down. We kept a level head and said we needed to make quick passes and tire the Swedes out to open up spaces.

“We didn’t score a couple of good chances but we never lost hope we could win the match and I think the goal scored in stoppage time had a bit of luck involved but it did show the belief we had in ourselves.”

There’s still plenty of work to do for one of the most popular pre-tournament favorites — there’s a little matter of needing to beat, or at the very least, match Sweden’s result against Mexico — but that can wait until tomorrow, because Saturday unexpectedly became all about survival.