World Cup 2014 Groups of Death: From Deadly to Deadliest

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In what’s being billed as the toughest and deepest World Cup ever, 12 nations in particular could lay claim to their group being the despised “Group of Death.” Whether you want to substitute another awful word for death or not, there’s no debating industrious bouts of group play in the following paths.

GROUP OF DEATH: Group B (Netherlands, Chile, Spain, Australia)
Combined FIFA ranking: 84

Chile’s the wild card here. They’re a nation that’s rarely kept off the scoresheet and add a certain scare factor for even clubs as talented as Spain and the Netherlands. The Dutch went 9-1 in qualifying while Spain’s only qualification hiccups were draws versus Finland and France. Australia has to be feeling a great deal of hard luck. The Socceroos recently suffered twin 6-0 defeats versus Brazil and France and their “signature wins” of 2013 are Jordan and Costa Rica.

Those who love to claim rigged groups have a lot to chortle about when it comes to a rematch of the 2010 World Cup final. So who’s the favorite between Netherlands and Spain to win the group? Well, Spain went on to win the 2012 Euro while the Dutch lost all three matches in group play and did not advance.

GROUP OF DEADLY DEATH: Group D (Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy)
Combined FIFA ranking: 57

We covered the long, storied rivalry between Italy and England in a different post, but that’s just the appetizer. Group D will find Luis Suarez going against the nation who hosts his domestic team. La Celeste boast World Cup titles from long ago (1930, 1950) and South American teams certainly have an advantage on European competition. They may have just squeaked into the World Cup, but Uruguay came within penalty kicks of a Confederations Cup win over the Italians last summer. England and Uruguay have twice played in the World Cup, each winning while Uruguay holds a 4-2 goals advantage. That was long ago, however.

Costa Rica is UNCAF’s strongest nation and boasts victories over both the United States and Mexico in qualifying, the latter coming when El Tri needed it most. A January friendly against Chile will be a good pre-test for Costa Rican fortunes.

GROUP OF DEADLIEST DEATHLY DEATH: Group G (United States, Germany, Portugal, Ghana)
Combined FIFA ranking: 45

Wow. Just plain wow. If you’re an American fan, you’re looking at the “worst” team in your group as a team that’s defeated you in consecutive World Cups (though admittedly the States are much stronger ahead of 2014). Portugal may not be the feared monster of other World Cups, but they have perhaps the world’s top attacking weapon, Cristiano Ronaldo to attack the Americans most glaring uncertainly — defending.

The silver-lining in this dark, dark cloud for all three teams is what awaits those who emerge from the group (see here). And to up the ante on courting controversy, FIFA surely would’ve planned a Jurgen Klinsmann versus his home nation (photo above) if they were drawing up the perfect World Cup group.

The group’s Opening Day projects to be its most important, as Portugal and Germany get the highest profile match out of the way while Ghana and the U.S. work for three points they’ll absolutely need if they want to advance. One thing’s for sure: All four of these teams made it out of their groups in 2010, but only two can advance to the knockout round in 2014.

Leeds defender Jansson joins Malmo fans outside Stamford Bridge

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Sometimes, soccer players can be accused of being too disconnected from the fans who travel across their country to support their side. But not Pontus Jansson.

The Leeds defender traveled to London Thursday evening to join Malmo fans as they marched, sang, and chanted outside Stamford Bridge. It’s unclear if Jansson actually went into the stadium for the Europa League match, but what is clear is that he’s never lost his affection for his boyhood club. He even led some supporters in one of the Swedish club’s chants.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Jansson joined Malmo’s youth academy in 2006 and made his professional debut for his hometown side in 2009, playing in Sweden until 2014. Jansson has been a regular for Leeds each of the last three seasons since joining from Torino.

Like thousands of other Malmo fans, he probably figured this was his best chance to see a European away game of his favorite club close by. So there he went from Leeds to London to join the Malmo fans.

Premier League sets start date for 2019-2020 season

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Mark it down.

The Premier League announced that the 2019-2020 season will begin on Saturday, August 10. That’s just 90 days after the 2018-2019 season will finish on May 12.

In addition, the Premier League is continuing with closing their summer transfer window before the start of the season. August 8, at 5 p.m. local is the next transfer deadline day.

Additional news about next season’s schedule is expected to be announced in the coming months.

Manchester United opened the 2018-2019 season on Friday, August 10 with a 2-1 win over Leicester City.

Arsenal, Chelsea cruise into Europa League Round of 16

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Arsenal looked right at home back in the friendly confines of the Emirates Stadium.

After losing twice on the road this month, including a surprise 1-0 defeat last Thursday to BATE Borisov, Arsenal took care of business at home. The Gunners defeated BATE, 3-0 on the night (3-1 on aggregate), with goals from centerbacks Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulous, while BATE’s Zakhar Volkov scored an own goal early to tie the scoreline between the two legs.

[READ: Premier League Power Rankings]

South of the Emirates Stadium, Chelsea built on their 2-1 aggregate lead over Malmo FF with a resounding 3-0 win. Malmo finished with ten men and the game was highlighted by goals from Callum Hudson-Odoi and a Ross Barkley free kick.

With the wins, both Premier League sides advance to the Europa League Round of 16. The draw for the Round of 16 will be held on Friday, with matches taking place March 7 and 14.

Arsenal took an unexpected lead in the fourth minute of the match. A seemingly harmless cross from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was somehow turned into his own net by BATE centerback Zakhar Volkov. After some shaky moments early, Arsenal settled in and controlled the match, leading to the go-ahead goal. Granit Xhaka played the first of his two assists as Mustafi got on the end of a corner kick to head the ball in for a goal.

In the 60th minute, Sokratis’ header off a corner kick put the game away and allowed Arsenal fans to relax for the final half-hour of play.

Chelsea, meanwhile, didn’t get the early goal like Arsenal but didn’t end up needing it.

Maurizio Sarri sat Jorginho, David Luiz and Marcos Alonso and it led to a better defensive performance, albeit Malmo isn’t a world beater. Olivier Giroud opened the scoring in the 55th minute with a tap-in after great work from N’Golo Kante and Willian. It was Giroud’s sixth Europa League goal this season.

Barkley delighted the Stamford Bridge crowd with a terrific free kick from the edge of the box in the 74th minute and Hudson-Odoi put the cherry on top with a right-footed strike ten minutes later.

Former Premier League midfielder Diarra leaves PSG, announces retirement

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PARIS (AP) Veteran midfielder Lassana Diarra announced his retirement on Thursday, hours after he terminated his contract with French league leader Paris Saint-Germain by mutual agreement.

The 33-year-old Frenchman joined PSG in January 2018 and his contract was set to expire in June. Diarra’s career ends after 15 years and many high profile stops. He played for Arsenal, Chelsea and even Portsmouth in England, as well as spending three strong seasons with Real Madrid.

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Le moment est venu de « raccrocher les crampons » comme on dit . Pour le football , j’ai beaucoup donné . Grâce au football , j’ai énormément reçu . Le sport de haut niveau est une véritable école de courage , de persévérance et de respect . Il ne s’agit pas de faire l’unanimité mais d’honorer , en professionnel , avec volontarisme et loyauté la confiance que l’on vous accorde . Je ne dis pas que j’ai tout fait parfaitement mais je l’ai fait avec coeur , passion et bienveillance . Merci à tous ceux et toutes celles qui m’ont encouragé tout au long de ma carrière sportive . Une pensée pour les clubs , entraîneurs , éducateurs et coéquipiers qui ont fait partie de mon quotidien pendant toutes ces années . Je n’oublie pas ma première sélection avec la France en 2007 . Porter le maillot de la sélection nationale est le rêve de tous les footballeurs . Je tourne donc la page mais je n’oublie rien . Je vais continuer à œuvrer avec enthousiasme , détermination et sincérité dans mes nouveaux projets . Amitiés LASS

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After Real Madrid, Diarra became a journeyman, playing two seasons in Russia and part of a season in the United Arab Emirates. With PSG, Diarra made 10 league appearances last season under former coach Unai Emery, and has made only three in the league this season in Thomas Tuchel’s team.

Diarra made 34 appearances for France and was a regular starter during the qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup.