England handed tough draw as Italy, Uruguay, Costa Rica stand in their way

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Asked before the draw what teams he wanted to avoid, England manager Roy Hodgson said he had no preference.

But he did earmark one thing: “no games in Manaus” was the cry from the Three Lions boss… and is if by magic England’s opening group game against Italy will be take place in… Manaus.

Tucked away deep into the Amazon rainforest, temperatures will be increibly hot in June and the 99 percent humidity is unlike anything the English players will have ever faced. That said, at least they will be facing another Northern European team there, instead of a South American outfit.

England will also face Luis Suarez and his talented Uruguayan side as Hodgson’s men will have a tough task to make it out of their Group. The one saving grace is that they’ll face CONCACAF’s Costa Rica, however that will be no easy task as U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann let Hodgson know straight after the draw.

So, overall it was one of the worst draws England could get in terms of strength, however despite their one mammoth trip up to Manaus for the first game, the other two matches take place down on the coast near their base in Rio de Janiero, as they take on Uruguay in Sao Paolo and Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte. Logistically, it wasn’t that bad.

For as long as I can remember, England fans have gone into every major tournament believing they can win it, and are then knocked back down to earth with a thud after yet another penalty shootout defeat in the knockout stages. That’s usually how it goes. But ahead of this World Cup, there’s no overriding sense of expectancy for England’s players to achieve greatness and be strolling around the Copacabana with World Cup winners medals round their neck after the tournament is over.

That’s a good thing. The pressure is off.

But Group D provides a stern test for Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and England’s other stars. First up they’ll have a shot at revenge by facing an aging Italian side who they already beat in Bern in a friendly, since they lost on penalties in the Euro 2012 quarterfinals. Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon and others will be having one last crack at the World Cup, and it may be a tournament too far for many of them. England could beat Italy quite handsomely if they set themselves up right in Manaus and alter their high-pressure style.

Then there’s Uruguay and Suarez to contend with as the nation that finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup is sure to be a strong test, especially on their home continent and with a talented group headlined by Suarez and Edinson Cavani. England will have to be on their guard against La Celeste but the Uruguayans aren’t as solid at the back as they were at the last World Cup, so that’s something England’s strikers can exploit.

Finally, Costa Rica. This game could be pointless if England fail in their tough match ups with Italy and Uruguay first, but more than likely they’ll need a result against the Ticos to go through and this could be pivotal. Like Uruguay they are very good going froward with the likes of Alvaro Saborio and Bryan Ruiz lethal in and round the box but they are suspect at the back and I expect England to handle them with ease.

But then again, it’s the World Cup and anything can happen. That’s why we love it so much. England won’t love the group they’ve been placed in but they have to deal with it now.

Then again, how does that old saying go: “if you want to win it, you have to beat everyone…” Something like that. England are by no means the favorites, but low optimism and expectancy could actually work in their favro for once.

Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

Fixture schedule

14 June 15:00 Fortaleza Uruguay v     Costa Rica
14 June 21:00 Manaus England v              Italy
19 June 15:00 Sao Paulo Uruguay v         England
20 June 12:00 Recife Italy v     Costa Rica
24 June 12:00 Natal Italy v        Uruguay
24 June 12:00 Belo Horizonte Costa Rica v         England

Josef Martinez scores 2 more in win, including sensational solo work

AP Photo/John Minchillo
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Josef Martinez scored his 25th and 26th goals of the MLS season, and if he challenges his MLS record of 31, he may also stare down soccer royalty.

The Venezuelan striker scored two more on Wednesday in a 2-0 defeat of FC Cincinnati in Ohio to give him goals in 15-straight league contests.

He now has 76 goals in 80 MLS games, which is good.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

On the season, he’s six goals shy of matching the Major League Soccer record he set with last season’s 31 regular season goals.

According to MLSSoccer.com, he’s six games shy of tying Lionel Messi’s world record for consecutive league matches with a goal.

Even that’s a little tricky: Messi scored in 21-straight games in which he was eligible for selection, but 19-straight before missing two matches for injury. In that remarkable run of 21, he also had a run of six-straight braces.

It’s not really worth it to attempt to compare the two streaks: If Martinez gets to 21 (or even 19), it’s amazing stuff and worth celebrating on a worldwide level. Everyone has a bad game every now and again, but Martinez still finds the score sheet in ’em.

Look at the magician’s tricks he used for this one, including a back heel first touch and two freeze-frame cut moves. That’s not even mentioning the finish.

USWNT announces final matches of World Cup-winning year

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CHICAGO (AP) The Women’s World Cup champion U.S. team will wrap up 2019 with matches against Sweden and Costa Rica.

U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that the U.S. will face Sweden in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 7 and Costa Rica in Jacksonville, Florida, on Nov. 10.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

The team is wrapping up its World Cup victory tour next month with matches against South Korea on Oct. 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and on Oct. 6 in Chicago.

Coach Jill Ellis is stepping down following the match in Chicago after leading the team to a pair of consecutive World Cup titles.

The United States is 15-1-2 this year and currently riding a 14-game winning streak.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Report: Mane to get big raise, Liverpool contract through 2025

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Liverpool’s Senegalese sensation looks set to stay at Anfield deep into his 30s.

Sadio Mane is in talks with the Reds hierarchy over a new deal that will run through 2024-25, and pay him more than $15 million per season.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

Mane, 27, currently has a deal through 2023, but surely wouldn’t mind a raise. And Liverpool will be happy to tie him down on Merseyside a bit longer.

He’s scored six times in seven matches this season, also grabbing an assist. That’s on a better pace than his 26 goals and five assists over 50 appearances in 2018/19.

Mane has 70 Premier League goals at the moment. Do you tip him to eclipse 100 while still at Anfield? 125?

Europa League preview: Man Utd, Wolves, Arsenal begin group stage

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The Europa League begins its group stage on Thursday, with the three Premier League combatants taking on clubs from Kazakhstan, Portugal and Germany.

Manchester United’s kids are gonna get some playing time when Astana visits Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Teenager Mason Greenwood and 21-year-old Axel Tuanzebe will start, and Sergio Romero will be between the sticks.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

And the Manchester Evening News notes that Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes could also start at Old Trafford, meaning the veterans in the fray will be quite important.

Enter Fred, the forgotten $68 million man from Shaktar Donetsk. The 23 minutes he played last week versus Leicester City account for his lone time on the pitch this season.

Here’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:

“I’m sure we’ll see more and more of Fred. We spoke about it earlier, he’s had some great games in midfield with Scott against PSG and Arsenal, for example, and we’re just waiting for that to flourish.”

Fred had an odd record under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season, barely in the squad when the team started hot but trusted against PSG and Barcelona in the Champions League.

Speaking of little-used midfielders, Arsenal boss Unai Emery is getting a little grief for leaving Mesut Ozil behind for the Gunners’ trip to Germany for a big match with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Ozil made his first start of the season in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Watford at the weekend, playing 71 minutes and departing with the club up 2-1.

So why not even bring him abroad? Rest.

“Because we are going to play another match on Sunday,” Emery said, via The London Evening Standard. “My decision is because he played and also I’m thinking tomorrow the focus and the first 11 and after that I decided who are the players who can be the best for tomorrow and also the players not and that is Sokratis and Mesut.”

Sokrastis Papastathopoulos is also out, having played a big role in the embarrassing performance at Watford.

There have been tough times for Wolves as well, who sit in the relegation zone after five matches of the Premier League season.

They’ve been quite good in Europa League, though, dispatching a pair of minnows before winning both legs against Serie A side Torino.

Why the inconsistency? It’s not fixture congestion, according to Ruben Neves:

“I don’t think fatigue has anything to do with it, Neves said, via The Birmingham Mail. “We’re all top players, we’re used to it, we’re used to playing a lot of games in quick succession. I don’t think the Europa League has (anything) to do with our position in the Premier League. Obviously, we haven’t had the start that we’ve wanted, but it’s been a beautiful journey into the Europa League. This is a historic moment for Wolves and we’re going to do our best in this competition.”

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men are in Portugal to meet Braga, one of three tricky opponents in Besiktas and Slovan Bratislava.

Full slate

12:55 p.m. ET
CFR Cluj v. Lazio
LASK v. Rosenborg
Getafe v. Trabzonspor
PSV Eindhoven v. Sporting Lisbon
Basel v. Krasnodar
APOEL Nicosia v. Dudelange
Copenhagen v. Lugano
Standard Liege v. Vitoria SC
Qarabag v. Sevilla
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Arsenal
Rennes v. Celtic
Dynamo Kiev v. Malmo

3 p.m. ET
Wolfsburg v. Oleksandriya
Espanyol v. Ferencvaros
Rangers v. Feyenoord
Porto v. Young Boys
Slovan Bratislava v. Besiktas
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Wolfsberg
Partizan v. AZ Alkmaar
AS Roma v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Gent v. Saint-Etienne
Manchester United v. Astana
Wolves v. Braga
Ludogorets Razgrad v. CSKA Moscow