Januzaj not promised Belgium slot for World Cup, so what are his odds?

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Adnan Januzaj has made the preliminary squad for Belgium’s World Cup appearance this summer, which is no surprise. After all, head coach Marc Wilmots courted the Manchester United youngster for a very long time and surely assurances were given that he’d have every chance to make the team were the 19-year-old to choose Belgium as his international side (which he did, of course).

That doesn’t mean he’s a lock to make the side, Wilmots said.

From SkySports:

“I’ve put no pressure on them, but after my contract extension, a few weeks ago, they’ve called me to say they’d made up their mind and it is a wonderful thing.

“Adnan chose a country where there’s a lot of competition. The more competition, the better. But he has no guarantees – who knows me, knows I never give them.”

What are the odds Januzaj emerges from the 26- or 27-man squad to find himself repping Rode Duivels in their first World Cup since 2002?

Well, his ability as a winger or advanced middleman give him multiple options, and perhaps Christian Benteke’s injury could prod Wilmots into using him as a striker (Everton’s Romelu Lukaku and PSV’s Zakaria Bakkali are the only true strikers to earn recent call-ups besides Benteke).

If past World Cup rosters are a guide, there will likely be 9-11 midfielders in the mix. Several Belgians have dozens of caps and have been called up in the last year.

It’s either difficult or impossible to imagine Januzaj slotting ahead of Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas, Nacer Chadli, Marouane Fellaini, Kevin De Bruyne, Radja Nainggolan, Dries Mertens, Axel Witsel or Mousa Dembele. There are also 21-year-olds Thorgan Hazard (Waregem) and Maxime Lestienne (Brugge), injured Porto star Steven Defour and 93-times capped 37-year-old Timmy Simons (Brugge).

Januzaj has to be hoping his versatility — he can play both right or left and perhaps striker — will get him the nod. And to me that’s the way he slides into the roster. Because if Wilmots only saw him as a midfielder, he’d only have hope as the “bring him for experience” player (which is possible, too).

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

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


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Halted World Cup flip-throw heard around the world

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Milad Mohammadi knew the time was right for something special, but special isn’t always good.

And good is a subjective term. Cause to us this is very good, Milad.

The Iranian national team defender failed with a flip-throw bid in the final moments of a 1-0 loss to Spain on Wednesday at the World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

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

And this wasn’t like he illegally flipped or broke some other rule. No, like a kid trying an audacious jump into the deep end, Akhmat Grozny star Mohammadi just bailed and climbed in from the side (so to speak).

The kiss, the look skyward, the headbutt… all integral parts of a wonderful World Cup moment.

Renard, Morocco ‘very proud’ of unlucky national team

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If you would’ve told Morocco fans or their manager, Herve Renard, that they’d outshoot and outpossess both Iran and Portugal at World Cup, their next question would probably be, “So do we need to do against Spain to win Group B?”

Alas, Morocco lost a pair of 1-0 decisions to become the first team knocked out of the 2018 World Cup.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The Lions of Atlas fell to Iran in their opener on a stoppage time own goal after carrying 64 percent possession and a 13-8 advantage in shot attempts, then lost to a Cristiano Ronaldo fourth minute goal on Wednesday despite a 16-10 shot advantage and 53 percent of the ball.

“I’m very proud of the performance and I am very proud of my players, I’m very proud of this country,” Renard said.

With no hope of advancing to the next round, the manager is finding the experience bittersweet. From RTE:

“What I am sure of at this moment is that the entire Moroccan people is proud of this team. Of course it’s easier to play with a player who has one chance and he puts it away. But we are in Morocco.

“We have quality players. Despite the ups and downs of the game, we should have been more effective. Because, like in the first game, we had plenty of chances. I won’t blame anyone. That’s football. It’s always those who know how to be present in the box, the most gifted players, who make the difference. We took a lot of risks and we didn’t get our reward.”

It’s unlikely Morocco will hold either of those statistical advantages against Spain, especially a Spanish side yet to qualify, but there is plenty to like from the tournament aside from poor finishing quality.

But the performances of 19-year-olds Amine Harit (Schalke) and Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid) — not to mention Hakim Ziyech (25, Ajax) — seem to hint at a promise for 2022. And Renard’s men can still play spoiler for Spain, which is no small shockwave.