South American World Cup Qualifiers set to impress

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With each country having two to three World Cup qualifiers remaining the action is heating up in South America.

With Brazil automatically qualified as hosts, four direct qualifying spots and one play-off spot remain in the balance.  Let’s take a look at all the qualifying action going on in South America and remember to check back with NBC Sports Pro Soccer Talk for plenty of coverage on all the international games.

Uruguay vs. Colombia

The marquee match of the night pits high-flying Colombia against Uruguay at Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario.

A single point will be enough for second place Colombia to book their tickets to Brazil but even if Radamel Falcao & Co. lose, they can still qualify for the World Cup if Bolivia upend Ecuador. Expect Jose Pekerman’s squad to play for the former but points don’t come easy for Los Cafeteros in Uruguay as they haven’t drawn there since 2001 and haven’t won there since 1973.

After a slow start to qualifying Uruguay have gotten it together of late, winning two straight for the first time since the process began. In fifth place and just two points shy of Ecuador, La Celeste will be keen on taking all three points to snap up the final direct qualifying berth of the region. Making that happen will be a team effort, however, as Diego Forlan is doubtful with injury while Diego Lugano and Diego Godin are both out on suspension.

Bolivia vs. Ecuador

Fourth place Ecuador will be hard pressed to earn a positive result against bottom-dwellers Bolivia so they can avoid losing that coveted fourth place to Uruguay. Despite La Paz being a difficult place to play La Tricolor have performed quite well on Bolivian soil, winning their last eight straight.

A victory on Tuesday would not only ward off Uruguay but could thrust Ecuador into third place over Chile, who have the night off. Don’t expect too much fight from the home side in this one as Bolivia have already been eliminated from the competition.

Venezuela vs. Peru

With both sides in must-win territory, Venezuela and Peru should be a cracker of a match.

Sixth place Venezuela will be knocked out if Uruguay better their result but if La Vinotinto avoid such a fate they can stay alive with a victory over seventh placed Peru. Venezuela have beaten Peru the last three times the sides met on Venezuelan soil and haven’t lost there since 1977. After managing only one point in their last three matches, however, Venezuela will need to improve their form if Brazil is in their future.

Paraguay vs. Argentina

The final match to kick-off in the region means that first place Argentina may have already qualified before kick-off. If either Uruguay or Ecuador lose, Argentina is through and could change the complexity of the tie with Paraguay. If neither of those scenarios occur then Argentina’s entry into Brazil will require a victory in Asuncion.

The Uruguay/Ecuador scenario could also decide Paraguay’s fate before kick-off but if neither pans out then eight place La Albirroja still stand a fighting chance. They’ll need all three points to make it happen but doing so is the only way to preserve a fifth placed finish and intercontinental play-off. And yes, Lionel Messi will be playing.

Ronaldo staying at Real Madrid: “See you next year”

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MADRID (AP) — For a third straight year, Real Madrid are celebrating a European title with their fans.

Madrid brought the Champions League trophy home on Sunday and paraded it through the streets of the Spanish capital as thousands of fans saluted the newly crowned champions.

[ MORE: Ronaldo hints at Real Madrid exit | Bale does the same ]

Madrid was back in Spain after winning its 13th European title with a 3-1 win over Liverpool in Kiev on Saturday.

Players and team members participated in a ceremony at a local cathedral. After this they met with the city mayor and community president before addressing fans from a terrace at the Puerta del Sol square, one of Madrid’s main locations.

“It has become a routine to be here,” captain Sergio Ramos said. “Hopefully it will continue for many years.”

Cristiano Ronaldo, who after the final hinted he could be leaving Madrid, heard fans asking him to stay at the club.

“Thank you for all of your support,” Ronaldo told the crowd. “We made history, it’s time to be happy.”

The team then got on an open bus and paraded with the trophy until reaching the club’s traditional celebration spot, the Plaza de Cibeles, where fans had been waiting for the champions for hours.

[ UCL FINAL: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

The players chanted “Campeones, Campeones” and “We Are Kings of Europe” along with the fans. Ramos and Marcelo carried the trophy across the walkway set up over the plaza’s fountain and draped the statue of the goddess Cibele with a Spain flag that carried Madrid’s name on it. Ramos also put a team scarf around the goddess’ head to huge cheers from the crowd as the song “We Are The Champions” was played.

The next stop was due to be the team’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, where nearly 80,000 fans were expected to attend a ceremony honoring the European champions.

The stadium was packed on Saturday with fans watching the match on eight big screens set up at midfield. Confetti blasted from a stage behind the screens when the players lifted the trophy in Ukraine.

Thousands had already made it to the Plaza de Cibeles right after the game in celebrations that lasted into the early hours of Sunday.

Madrid has won the Champions League in four of the last five years. It had beaten Juventus last season, and city rival Atletico Madrid in finals in 2014 and 2016.

Preview: USMNT hosts Bolivia in shadows of World Cup hype

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With the rest of the world’s premier soccer nations gearing up for next month’s World Cup in Russia, the U.S. men’s national team is set to host fellow non-qualifiers Bolivia in a futile friendly at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Penn., on Monday (6:30 p.m. ET), the Yanks’ fourth time out since that infamous night in Trinidad.

[ MORE: Ben Olsen confirms D.C. United’s interest in Wayne Rooney ]

Five days later (Saturday, June 2), they’ll face Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, followed by a trip to Lyon, France, to face World Cup-bound Les Bleus (June 9).

Youth movement continues

Once again, the likes of Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard — senior figures for the last decade-plus — are nowhere to be found as Dave Sarachan completes his sentence tenure as interim head coach following Bruce Arena’s resignation in November. Back for the first time is 19-year-old Christian Pulisic, native of nearby Hershey, Penn., who with 20 caps is the joint-most veteran member (Joe Corona) of the squad.

Average age of the 22-man roster: 22.8 years old.

“As I’ve talked about throughout this process, the theme is to offer opportunity to this younger generation of talented players that have potential down the road with the program,” Sarachan said this week. “We’ve had first-time call-ups in every camp since November, and this is another extension of that. We’re going into the Bolivia game with newer faces along with a few familiar players as well.”

[ MORE: Ronaldo hints at Real Madrid exit | Bale does the same ]

Youngsters forging careers in Europe

The just-completed 2017-18 season was a promising, encouraging one for a number of American youngsters — some not named Pulisic, even — plying their trade for a number of sides around Europe.

22-year-old defender Matt Miazga completed his second season on loan to Vitesse, made 36 appearances between August and May (43 in all competitions), and played a pivotal part in the Eredivisie side qualifying for next season’s Europa League. Come this August, he’ll be hoping to impress Antonio Conte(‘s successor) and win his place in the Chelsea squad.

19-year-old midfielder Weston McKennie made 22 Bundesliga appearances (13 starts), plus another three in the DFB Pokal cup competition, for second-place Schalke. After undergoing surgery for a knee injury in January, McKennie returned in March to reclaim a full-time spot in the gameday squad and a semi-regular place in the starting lineup.

21-year-old forward Andrija Novakovich, another Yank out on loan (from Reading) this season, bagged 21 goals in 37 league appearances for second-division Dutch side Telstar en route to an appearance in the promotion playoffs. Novakovich made his USMNT debut against Paraguay in March.

20-year-old defender Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur) saw first-team action this season while on loan to Championship side Sheffield Wednesday; 21-year-old defender Erik Palmer-Brown signed for Premier League champions in January and spent the final four months of the season on loan to Belgian side Kortrijk; 18-year-old forward Tim Weah made his first-team debut for Paris Saint-Germain in March and made his first Ligue 1 start earlier this month.

[ UCL FINAL: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

Potential lineup

—– Hamid —–

—- Lichaj —- Miazaga —- Zimmerman —- Villafaña —-

—- Gooch —- McKennie —- 

—- Rubin —- Pulisic —- Weah —- 

—- Novakovich —-

Neymar appears in good shape after Brazil training week

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TERESOPOLIS, Brazil (AP) Neymar has finished his first full week of training with Brazil in apparent good shape ahead of the upcoming World Cup after foot surgery.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Real vs. Liverpool ]

The striker continued his recovery Saturday in Brazil’s last training session on home soil before setting camp in London on Monday.

Brazilian football confederation footage shows Neymar passing and dribbling at high speed in training that was closed to the media.

The Brazilian has been recovering from right foot surgery in March.

Brazil players will be off duty until Sunday morning. They travel to London hours later.

Heartbroken Karius issues apology to Liverpool

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Liverpool’s disappointing result in Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final can be chalked up to many factors, but all anyone will ever remember is Loris Karius‘ performance… and the goalkeeper knows it.

[ MORE: Bale brace guides Real Madrid to third straight UCL title ]

Karius issued this series of tweets on Sunday, declaring his disappointment from the team’s 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid, as well as an apology to the supporters and his entire club.

Of the two errors Karius made, the Real Madrid equalizer from Karim Benzema was certainly the more glaring.

After receiving the ball on a routine grab, Karius rushed his distribution from goal while Benzema read the play perfectly and stepped in front of the throw to get a foot on the ball.

The ball then deflected into the back of the Liverpool net, and changed the complexion of the match drastically.

While Karius’ mistakes cannot, and won’t, go unnoticed, the Reds were still reeling from Mohamed Salah‘s gruesome shoulder injury in the first half — which leaves the Egypt international’s availability uncertain for the summer’s World Cup in Russia.