PST’s Second-Choice Team of the Year (Because what’s the PFA, anyway?)

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The Professional Footballers’ Association released its Team of the Year on Sunday, an XI full of top-end talent. The question: could we put together a team to rival a unit that rolls out Petr Cech, Gary Cahill, Luke Shaw, Vincent Kompany, Seamus Coleman, Steven Gerrard, Adam Lallana, Yaya Toure, Eden Hazard, player of the year Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge?

Well you know we’re going to try…

Goalkeeper: Loads of respect to Cech, but there have been plenty of brilliant keepers in the Premier League this year that could’ve been named to the post. Bad teams don’t get love in these award team, so we can dismiss Sunderland’s Vito Mannone, who has been strong for a bad, bad Black Cats team. I also think Asmir Begovic of Stoke might be the best keeper in the league, but a Potters player would be a bit of a headscratcher, no? Let’s stick top of the table: Tim Howard (Everton) and Wojciech Sczezsny (Arsenal). I won’t let any American bias make this decision for me, so we’ll defer to the mighty Squawka scores and crown the Gunners keeper as our No. 1. To be fair to Cech, he was heads and tails above the competition from New Year’s Day onward.

Defenders: Plenty of room for consternation here, as British buzz dominates the PFA’s team. We’ll start there, too, plugging in diminutive defender Leighton Baines of Everton. After that we’ll go decidedly “off the island,” with Arsenal’s “BFG” Per Mertesacker next to nail-eating Liverpool center back Martin Skrtel. The latter was strong in the air and toward the goal for the Reds, bagging a pair of braces in the new year. If we’re looking for a true team we need to leave out Hull’s strong English center back Curtis Davies, Cardiff City’s Steven Caulker and Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny. We’ll go with Serbian star Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea.

Midfielders: So. many. choices. We’ll start with crafty Frenchman Samir Nasri of Manchester City. I choose Nasri over David Silva mainly because the latter only appeared in 24 matches (Silva was one of only two midfielders to have a higher possession Squawka score than Nasri). I left out Michael Carrick for injury reasons as well; You could argue his absence hurt Manchester United as much as any other player (You’d be wrong: it was RVP. But I digress). We’ll take a serious look at Jordan Henderson of Liverpool despite his awful tackle in the final moments against City; the former Sunderland player has been a revelation. I’m going to wave back to my “have to be top of table” comments here — especially with the liberty I’m taking at forward — as Mile Jedinak of Crystal Palace has been an absolutely fantastic defensive midfielder in the Eagles resurgence. We’ll plug Everton’s Kevin Mirallas on the right side. As for the left, it’s a bit of a beggar’s spot but I’ve loved Christian Eriksen of Spurs. His crosses are marvelous.

Forwards: This is a team of the year, which unfortunately precludes us from choosing the super dangerous Sergio Aguero of Manchester City. If you were to head back to December and tell the world he wouldn’t be in the team of the year, it’d be shocking. I suppose we have to be honest and call Wayne Rooney a striker despite his box-to-box play, so he gets one of our bids. That leaves a real struggle for me: Swansea City’s Wilfried Bony, Everton’s Romelu Lukaku and Southampton’s Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez each did a job for the teams. Frankly, I love the year Bony had a bit under the radar at Swansea, with not a heck of a lot of quality balls getting to him. And he didn’t build up his 15 goals against chumps alone; Bony scored at Arsenal, at Everton, at Liverpool and in Europe. He also bested City twice at home. Not bad.

PST’s “Second-Choice” Team of the Year
GK: Wojciech Sczezsny, Arsenal
LB: Leighton Baines, Everton
CB: Per Mertesacker, Arsenal
CB: Martin Skrtel, Liverpool
RB: Branislav Ivanovic, Chelsea
LM: Christian Eriksen, Tottenham
CM: Jordan Henderson, Liverpool
CM: Samir Nasri, Manchester City
RM: Kevin Mirallas, Everton
ST: Wayne Rooney, Manchester United
ST: Wilfried Bony, Swansea City

Reina faces hearing over links with trio connected to mafia

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ROME (AP) Outgoing Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina has been summoned to a hearing at the Italian football federation over his association with people with links to the mafia.

Reina, along with Paolo Cannavaro and Salvatore Aronica, is to face the FIGC’s disciplinary committee after an investigation by Naples’ anti-mafia department.

It is reportedly one of the reasons why Napoli decided not to renew Reina’s contract, with the former Liverpool goalkeeper set to move to AC Milan on a free transfer.

The FIGC says Reina “has had and continues to have inopportune association and friendship with Gabriele Esposito, Francesco Esposito and Giuseppe Esposito.” It adds that that includes holidays and “an exchange of favors.”

Cannavaro, who had two spells with Napoli, retired at Sassuolo last year. Aronica also spent several years at the southern club before joining Palermo in 2013.

Iran names initial squad for World Cup

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Jalal Hosseini and Vouria Ghaffouri have both been left off Iran’s provisional 24-man squad for the World Cup.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz did not say why Hosseini, a Persepolis defender, and Ghaffouri were not included.

There was space for midfielders Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi, however. Both played with Greek club Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv in August 2017. Iran does not recognize Israel and its supreme leader has threatened the country in the past. Both Shojaei and Hajsafi missed matches with the national team after the game.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh, a 24-year-old forward who plays in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar, is also in the squad, which was announced Sunday.

In the midfield, Queiroz chose Saeid Ezatolahi, although the Amkar Perm player will miss the team’s first World Cup match because he was given a red card in a game against South Korea in qualifying.

Nottingham Forest midfielder Ashkan Dejagah was also chosen.

Goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh of Portuguese club Maritimo made the squad. His father, Ahmadreza Abedzadeh, was Iran captain and goalkeeper at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Iran will play in Group B at the World Cup with Portugal, Spain and Morocco. The team will play warm-up matches in Turkey and Greece before heading to Russia.

Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo)

Defenders: Ramin Rezaeian (KV Oostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Al Saad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Seyed Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal)

Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (Olympiakos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds FK), Ali Gholizadeh (Saipa)

Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiakos), Mahdi Taremi (Al-Gharafa Sports Club), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (SC Heerenveen)

Six Premier Leaguers named to Argentina, but no Icardi

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Argentina’s World Cup roster features a number of the usual suspects, particularly up front, but Serie A’s top goalscorer has been surprisingly left off the list of 23.

[ MORE: Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan ]

Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s squad was made official on Monday, which includes the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

The Albiceleste won’t be taking Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi though, which has raised some questions about the decision.

Icardi led all scorers in Italy’s top flight this season, scoring 29 goals in 34 Serie A matches, while Paulo Dybala edged out the final striker spot in the Argentina squad.

Dybala is teammates with Higuain at Italian giants Juventus.

Meanwhile, six Premier League players were named into the South American nation’s squad, including goalkeepers Sergio Romero (Man United) and Willy Caballero (Chelsea), as well as Nicolas Otamendi (Man City), Marcos Rojo (Man United) and Manuel Lanzini (West Ham).

Men in Blazers POD: FA Cup recap, UCL final preview and more

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Rog and Davo recap a spite-fueled, snear-filled, peak Phil Jones FA Cup Final, preview this weekend’s Champions League tilt between Liverpool and Real Madrid and eulogize Big Sam… gone the opposite of too soon. Plus, World Cup rosters and MLS.

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