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

Ronaldo scores 700th goal for club and country

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Cristiano Ronaldo achieved yet another personal milestone in his star-studded career on Monday evening with a simple penalty kick goal.

With his 72nd minute strike, Ronaldo tallied his 700th goal for club and country in his career. It’s an incredible achievement, and one indicative of his incredible goal-scoring exploits and his long career.

Ronaldo was already leading all active players globally in terms of goals scored, so his 700th is only adding to the list. His former club nemesis, Lionel Messi, still sits a reported 28 goals behind him, according to Soccerway. After them, LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the closest, and he has “only” 542 goals.

The Portuguese icon becomes the sixth male player to score 700 goals in his career. The others include Pele, Romaro, Josef Bican, Ferenc Puskás, and Gerd Muller.

Ronaldo made his debut for Sporting Lisbon in the 2002-2003 season as a 17-year-old and quickly was snapped up by Man United and Sir Alex Ferguson, where he transitioned from a tricky winger to a clinical striker who couldn’t stop scoring.

The 34-year-old has scored 40-or-more goals on three occasions in his career and he scored 25-or-more goals in all nine years he was at Real Madrid. For Portugal, he’s now scored an incredible 95 goals in all competitions. He had 15 goals in World Cup qualifying alone for the 2018 campaign.

Watch the video of Ronaldo’s breaking goal below. Unfortunately for him, Portugal fell, 2-1 to Ukraine.

Southgate, England players sound off on racist abuse

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England took care of business in Monday’s 6-0 thrashing of Bulgaria, but the Three Lions had to endure some horrendous racist abuse from the crowd during the game.

The match was paused on two occasions I’m the first half by the match officials after racist chanting could be heard from a section of supporters, and a large group of Bulgarian fans were ejected towards the end of the half. However, racist abuse continued during the match from small pockets of fans in the stadium.

[READ: England v. Bulgaria delayed after racist abuse from stands]

“I have to say that the officials were on to everything very quickly,” England manager Gareth Southgate told ITV after the match. “We reported everything immediately when we heard things, we had constant communication with the fourth official and the referee. I was in contact with the players, all the way through the first half in particular, and then again at halftime.

”We know it’s an unacceptable situation, and I think we’ve managed to make two statements. By winning the game, but also we’re raised the awareness of everybody to the situation. The game was stopped twice, I know for some people that won’t be enough, but we as a group were on board with that process.”

Raheem Sterling, who scored a brace in the win, also sounded off on social media, as did former England and Arsenal star Ian Wright.

Ultimately, UEFA and the match officials followed the protocol, but the sad part about this is that England and the officials had a plan for racist abuse, and it was predictable that it would happen.

In a statement after the game, the FA confirmed they would be asking UEFA to investigate what happened. However, any punishment is too little, too late for the players who endured the abuse.

Kane, Sterling star as England rout Bulgaria

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On a night where racist abuse from the stands in Bulgaria marred the overall spectacle, England’s players produced an incredible result and spectacle for the visiting fans, with all things considered.

Harry Kane scored once and assisted on three others as England rolled over Bulgaria, winning 6-0 on Monday evening in the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria. Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley both scored a brace for the Three Lions and Marcus Rashford’s thunderbolt from a tight angle gave England the opening goal it needed.

[READ: USMNT looks to build from win v. Canada]

The blowout result was the perfect response after England had suffered its first loss in qualifying for a decade, losing on Friday, 2-1 at the Czech Republic. The six goals England put past Bulgaria was also the fourth time out of six games that England had scored at least five goals in a match. The only other time, aside from the defeat, was a 4-0 win last month at Wembley Stadium over Bulgaria.

It took just seven minutes for England to get on the board. Barkley found Rashford down the left wing, and after turning a defender with a cross-fake, Rashford cut back from goal and whipped a strike that flashed past Bulgarian goalkeeper Plaman Iliev and in for a goal.

Kane, who has earned some criticism for not scoring as much recently as in the past, showed he was more than a goal-scoring No. 9. Combining with Raheem Sterling like he did so well at the 2018 World Cup, Kane in the 20th minute played a great pass into Sterling’s feet in the box. The Manchester City winger did the rest, crossing to a wide-open Barkley at the back post for a tap-in.

Kane again played provider in the 32nd minute, floating to the right and delivering an-inch perfect cross right to the penalty spot with his left foot. Barkley was there to meet it with a glancing header to score and put the game to rest.

Despite dealing with horrendous racist abuse from the crowd and two pauses in the game, England continued to attack and were rewarded when Kane set up Sterling for another tap-in moments before the halftime break.

Kane and Sterling connected again for another goal before in the 85th minute, Kane finally got his finish to send Bulgaria packing.

Considering the events in the stadium, it’s a triumphant win for England. However, they still must win at least one more game before automatic qualification to Euro 2020 is assured, as Kosovo beat Montenegro, 2-0 on Monday as well to stay within touching distance of England and the Czech Republic.

Racist abuse delays England v. Bulgaria qualifier

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England raced out to an impressive 4-0 lead at Bulgaria by halftime, but the wonderful attacking display was marred by horrendous incidents from the crowd.

The match in the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria was stopped on two occasions with announcements being made to ask sections of the crowd to stop their abusive language. This comes with the stadium already serving a partial stadium closure due to racist chanting from the crowd in previous qualifiers.

Below is UEFA’s protocol on how to intervene in these situations, and what transpired from lead writer Joe Prince-Wright.