Americans Abroad Preview: Jozy hopes to face Howard

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Jozy Altidore will hope Gus Poyet allows him the chance to score on his USMNT teammate Tim Howard as Sunderland host Everton in Premier League action.

Sunderland has struggled mightily, winless since February 1st and without a point in their last four. Altidore has been on the bench for much of that, starting just one of the club’s last four matches, and appearing in two.

Howard and Everton, on the other hand, are flying high. The Toffees have won their last seven in a row, and are in control for the final Champions League spot if they can finish out the season strong.

The two clash at the Stadium of Light Saturday live online at 10:07am ET on NBC Sports Live Extra.

Stoke City will sweat the status of Geoff Cameron who was removed at halftime of last week’s loss to Chelsea with an injury. They host Newcastle at 10:07am ET on NBC Sports live extra.

Brad Guzan looks to rebound with Aston Villa after their loss to Fulham, traveling to Crystal Palace on Saturday at 10:07ET.

Down in the Championship, Bolton remain mid-table, with Tim Ream set for another 90 minutes with the team unbeaten in their last five. Duane Holmes looks for more than garbage time for Huddersfield Town at third-placed Derby, where Zak Whitbread has been an unused substitute for 16 matches in a row.

Oguchi Onyewu came off early in Sheffield Wednesday’s match last weekend with a back or rib strain, but no word has come through since it was reported he would have a scan.  Sheffield host Blackburn on Saturday.

Elsewhere across Europe…

AZ Alkmaar has three Eredivisie matches left to catch Heerenveen three points ahead in sixth. They needed a goal and assist from Aron Johannsson to pull out a draw last week, and now they’ll get 17th-placed NEC Nijmegen on Sunday.

With one win in their last six, Juan Agudelo is seriously struggling at FC Utrecht. The striker was a halftime substitute in last week’s 4-1 loss to ADO Den Haag, and still has not scored in nine club matches.  Utrecht are five points ahead of the drop with three matches to go, including Sunday against SC Heracles Almelo.

In Germany, Julian Green is out for some time with a partial dislocation of his shoulder he suffered on international duty. John Anthony Brooks and Fabian Johnson both get Sunday fixtures.  Brooks and Hertha Berlin get struggling Bayer Leverkusen, and Johnson looks to make it five straight full 90’s when Hoffenheim hosts FC Augsburg.

Terrence Boyd returns from a yellow card suspension for Austria’s Rapid Vienna, hosting FC Trenkwalder Admira. Rapid are second in the table, and with first place SV Salzburg a mile out of reach, they’re just looking to fend off Austria Vienna five points back in third.

Liga MX features mostly on Saturday, with Jose Torres on a red card suspension for the Tigres match against Hercules Gomez, Joe Corona, and the rest of the Tijuana bunch.

Puebla’s DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco are in action Sunday against America. They managed just a 0-0 draw with Atlas last weekend after the big hullabaloo over Puebla’s refusal to release the American pair for international duty.

Two Americans have played already today. Jermaine Jones and Besiktas _____________. Sacha Kljestan and Anderlecht __________ vs. KSC Lokeren in a major top of the table matchup.

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina squad

Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.

Modric urges humility after big win, stunning goal (video)

AP Photo / Ricardo Mazalan
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There are few teams who’ve looked as strong as Croatia at the World Cup in Russia.

[ RECAP: Argentina 0-3 Croatia ]

Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.

The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.

Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”

Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”

That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni. 

Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.

“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”

Croatia smashes disheveled Argentina

AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan
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Ante Rebic, Luka Modric, and Ivan Rakitic have Croatia in the knockout rounds and Argentina on the verge of World Cup disaster.

Croatia scored a trio of second half goals, one aided by a Willy Caballero howler, in a 3-0 win in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday.

Argentina will enter its final match against Nigeria on the outskirts of the knockout rounds regardless of how Nigeria-Iceland ends on Friday.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Ivan Perisic forced a big save out of Wily Caballero for an early Croatia corner kick that came to nothing.

Messi had a chance stopped inside of 10 minutes, then started a play that Dejan Lovren blocked for a corner in the 13th.

Enzo Perez missed an open goal off a poor Croatia giveaway in the 30th minute.

There were a pair of fouls not out of place on a red card lowlight reel, one for each team, but neither resulting in a sending off.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Croatia took the lead through Caballero’s gaffe and Rebic’s smash in the 54th.

Argentina nearly answered moments later. After a mazy Messi dribble, Argentina regained possession in the 64th minute, spearheaded by a Gonzalo Higuain run that led to a corner.

Croatia came close to making it 2-0, as Mario Mandzukic couldn’t turn a flick on frame and instead saw it glide into the outside of the goal.

Then Modric put the match to bed as the clock hit 80, an absolute beauty. Another huge defensive mistake allowed Mateo Kovacic to cue up Rakitic for the third.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

WATCH: Caballero blunder punished as Rebic rip puts Argentina on ropes

AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin
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Willy Caballero has made one of the bigger blunders in recent World Cup history.

His Argentina side needs at least a point from Thursday’s match-up with Croatia, and the match remained scoreless into halftime.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

But 10 minutes after the break, Caballero flubbed a clearance in a big way.

The Argentina goalkeeper then could only watch as Ante Rebic kept his composure to blast a side volley into the goal.

It was a fine finish, to be sure, but not possible without such a terrible gaffe.