2014 World Cup Team Preview: Spain

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Getting to know… Spain
If you don’t know Spain, the 2014 World Cup is likely your first – and you’re probably new to international soccer on the whole. La furia roja took top honors in the 2010 tournament in South Africa, then followed it up by beating Italy to become champions of Euro 2012. They also won Euro 2008, making them seem practically invincible.

It may surprise you to know, however, that Spain haven’t always been such high achievers. Prior to 2008, Spain’s last real success came in 1964, when they won the European Championship. It then took twenty years for them to reach the final, while in the World Cup, their greatest success before 2010 was making it to the Round of 16.

Record in qualifying
The World Cup holders were handed a fairly easy group for UEFA qualifying. Group I, the only group to feature just five teams, included Belarus, Finland and Georgia. France were really the only team to give Spain much trouble, hanging on until the death in their tie in Madrid. Persistence paid off, Olivier Giroud scored deep in extra time, and France came away with a point.

Spain’s only real shock in qualifying came last March, when Finland, against the run of play, equalized when ten minutes left to play. That left la roja two points behind France. But Spain went on to win their final four matches, including the reverse fixture against les bleus, and finish top of the group.

A look at Group B

Obviously the number 1-ranked team is going to be seeded, so you’d think that Spain would end up being able to take it easy in the group stages, easily clinching a place in the next round. Not so. Alongside Spain in Group B we have Holland, Chile and Australia. This group could very well be one of the most intriguing to watch.

Netherlands will be determined to extract a little revenge, seeing as Spain beat them in the final four years ago (and the oranje were so impotent in Euro 2012 that the two didn’t even meet). Chile is a solid side with some attacking flair – if they can get the ball, they can likely cause trouble for Spain’s defense. As for Australia, no one expects them to progress, but they could still make life difficult for la roja.

Game schedule

Friday, June 13 at 3 p.m. ET: Spain vs. Netherlands (Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador)

Wednesday, June 18 at 3 p.m. ET: Spain vs. Chile (Estadio do Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro)

Monday, June 23 at 12 noon ET: Australia vs. Spain (Arena da Baixada, Curitiba)

Star player
Naming the star on Spain’s squad is nigh near impossible. The majority play for Barcelona and Real Madrid, with a scattered few at Chelsea and both Manchester clubs. The least-known player is Ander Iturraspe, yet to be capped for his country, who plays for Champions League-bound Athletico Bilbao.

For Spain, it’s more about leaving the egos in the dressing room in order to come together on the pitch. The team needs to be in tune to play their tiki-taka, possessing, passing, pressing forward. The names of the men that get this done are almost instantly recognizable: Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, David Silva.

And, of course, they’re still hoping that Atlético Madrid star Diego Costa will be fit enough to make the trip – for all Spain have going for them, they still lack a little shine up front.

(READ MORE: SPAIN ANNOUNCE 23-MAN WORLD CUP ROSTER)

Manager
Vicente del Bosque was at the helm when Spain lifted the Cup in South Africa, he was there when they took top honors in Euro 2012, and he’s still there, ready to make the last-minute adjustments necessary to ensuring his side make a deep run in Brazil. Del Bosque’s respectful of his players, adored by the Spanish public and, yes, won the World Cup already. There’s not much to find fault with.

Secret weapon
The dazzling brilliance of their goalkeeping kit. Iker Casillas may have played zero La Liga matches this season, and Victor Valdes may be out with injury, but Spain should have no worries about the men between the sticks. They’ll be wearing a glowing light blue shirt, which will be further highlighted by the outfield players’ uniforms: for the first time, Spain will be wearing all red, rather than the traditional red-shirts-with-blue-tops ensemble.

Prediction
When filling out my bracket, I had Spain beating Belgium in the semi-finals…only to end up facing Brazil at the Maracanã. Sorry, la roja, I just don’t think you’ll lift two consecutive cups.

Of course, if Spain stumble and finish second in their group, they’ll meet Brazil right away, which means they could very well be set for an early exit.

Agree? Disagree?

West Ham holds Newcastle 1-1 at St. James’ Park

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David Moyes and West Ham did what few have done this year, taking a point away from St. James’ Park following a 1-1 draw with Newcastle United on Saturday.

The hosts led very early through Callum Wilson but West Ham got a reply from Lucas Paqueta, whose backflip celebration was the last goal of the match but not the last chance.

WATCH NEWCASTLE vs WEST HAM FULL MATCH REPLAY STREAM – LINK

Both teams missed goalmouth headers from Nayef Aguerd and Wilson, and either team could’ve come away with a win as the Magpies could not keep their energy and a midweek League Cup semifinal win over Saints while West Ham was off longer could’ve played its part.

Newcastle finishes the day fourth with 40 points, 10 back of Arsenal, while West Ham’s 19 points are one more than 18th-place Everton.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


Stars of the Show

Nayef Aguerd

Anthony Gordon

Lucas Paqueta

Sven Botman

Kieran Trippier

Declan Rice


What’s next?

Newcastle goes to Bournemouth in what will be an emotional day for Eddie Howe and Callum Wilson as former Cherries. That kicks off 12:30pm ET on Feb. 11.

West Ham gets Chelsea at home on Saturday before going to Tottenham for another big London derby on Feb. 19.


Newcastle vs West Ham score: Mad start at St. James’ Park has it 1-1

Callum Wilson goal video

Lucas Paqueta goal video


How to watch Newcastle vs West Ham live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 12:30pm ET, Saturday
TV Channel: NBC
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com


Key storylines & star players

The Magpies won’t have their best all-around player in influential Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes, and center forward Alexander Isak will miss out following a head injury suffered against Saints. Sean Longstaff will need to shine again after scoring twice against Saints.

As for West Ham, they have three attackers out but can look to Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen to continue upturns in form.


Newcastle team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Bruno Guimaraes (suspension), Alexander Isak (concussion), Javier Manquillo (undisclosed), Matt Targett (foot), Emil Krafth (knee)

West Ham team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Gianluca Scamacca (knee), Maxwel Cornet (calf), Kurt Zouma (thigh), Danny Ings (knee)

Wolves fire three past Liverpool as top-four miles away from Reds

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Liverpool can’t worry about its European positioning when it’s currently getting outfinished by relegation-threatened Wolves in a 3-0 affair at the Molineux on Saturday,

It’s the third meeting since early January between the sides following a 2-2 draw in the FA Cup and a 1-0 Liverpool win in the replay, and Wolves will feel they deserved the full three points in several ways.

WATCH WOLVES vs LIVERPOOL FULL MATCH REPLAY STREAM – LINK

A Joel Matip own goal after six minutes was worsened by Craig Dawson’s goal on debut for Wolves in the 12th minute, and Liverpool could not break down Julen Lopetegui’s defense despite Mohamed Salah’s best efforts.

Adama Traore tortured Liverpool’s lifeless defense to set up Ruben Neves’s 71st-minute goal, and the Molineux crowd was Ole-ing every last touch of a stoppage-time possession in utterly unpredictable fashion.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

The expected goals total was kinder to Liverpool, but that and the club’s current situation count for little more than a handshake; The Reds now sit 10 points outside the top four, the 10 next to their name wild given their status under Jurgen Klopp (even considered their terrible injury list).

Wolves entered the day in the bottom three and exits it in 15th with 20 points. That’s two points clear of the bottom three but the upward trajectory is real.


Lopetegui’s Wolves feast on wounded Reds

Injuries definitely start the story of this one, a 3-0 that was much closer on the xG scoreboard but just as divided in spirit.

Jurgen Klopp’s one-time mentality monsters looked mentality defeated, especially in front of either goal, as the boss exclaimed after the game — full comments below — that the club was lined up as directed but “passive, not active.”

Wolves, meanwhile, were very active, and Klopp would’ve wondered what might’ve been when Neves lashed in the third goal by darting between a collection of lined-up Liverpool backs to snap home the end product of Adama Traore’s robust work breaking the lines and conducting a trademark dribble.

The Reds have big holes by Darwin Nunez is snakebit in front of goal and Cody Gakpo may get there. At the moment, Liverpool’s entire attack seems to be, “Let’s hope Mo Salah cooks today.”

The Egyptian has been fine this year but nowhere near an even average day on Saturday. Thiago Alcantara was one of only a few to really show up in a loss that leaves the Reds fodder for Europa League qualification and not much else. Maybe the UCL route can open up for them.


Stars of the Show

Ruben Neves

Rayan Ait-Nouri

Matheus Nunes

Thiago Alcantara

Max Kilman

Wolves vs Liverpool
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Jurgen Klopp reaction: ‘I have no words for it’ (231 words later)

“Conceding early goals is not unfamiliar to us but the way we conceded them today was not acceptable. When you see the whole game, throughout the game in moments we played an outstanding game without scoring and a good away game without scoring, the third goal I don’t count because it was the first time they passed the halfway line in the second half. The other two goals, going into a game with all the things we said during the week and before the game then this is the start is horrible,” Klopp told BBC Match of the Day.

“You do yourself no favors in these moments, giving easy balls away. We were passive in the two goals, everything we wanted to do was be compact and active but we were compact and passive. I can’t explain it, I think why would you do that? But they did it anyway.

“The leadership [defensively] is missing but this is not my first explanation, I really think in the specific situation we could have and should have done better. We have to do better in these moments by not coming to this situation in the game so not chasing the game. We didn’t finish things off properly, we missed the last pass, the intensity we played at times was good but we have put ourselves in a really average position for the two goals.

“We better change it. That’s true, 100%. I have no words for it really, I’m sorry.”


What’s next?

Wolves will feel they can enter a purple patch with a trip to Southampton and a visit from Bournemouth on the next two Saturdays.

Liverpool has to snap to life quick: There’s a Merseyside derby at home to Everton, then Newcastle away followed by the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 vs Real Madrid.


How to watch Wolves vs Liverpool live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET, Saturday
Online: Premier League on Peacock


Liverpool own goal video: Wolves 1-0 Liverpool

Craig Dawson goal video: Debutant makes it 2-0 to Wolves with rare goal

Ruben Neves goal video: Adama Traore turns on style as Liverpool goes to sleep


Key storylines & star players

Winning games is about scoring goals and only two Wolves players have more than one. Daniel Podence has collected five, while Ruben Neves has four. Even more surprising, Wolves are still waiting on a goal from Raul Jimenez, Diego Costa, or injured Pedro Neto. Perhaps Matheus Cunha or Pablo Sarabia will chip in soon.

Liverpool has one win from its last three Premier League outings, but there’s a heaping helping of bad luck to their struggles. The Reds have 24 goals from open play and 20 allowed in that same situation. Their expected goals in those spots is 34.6 – 24. Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez have been especially unlucky despite combining for 12 goals and six assists on the season.


Wolves team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Pedro Neto (ankle), Sasa Kalajdzic (torn ACL), Boubacar Traore (undisclosed), Chiquinho (knee)

Liverpool team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Virgil van Dijk (thigh), Roberto Firmino (calf), Ibrahima Konate (hamstring), Luis Diaz (knee), Diogo Jota (thigh), Arthur Melo (thigh)

Tottenham vs Manchester City: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Manchester City can gut the gap to Premier League leaders Arsenal to just two points with a win over Tottenham in north London on Sunday (watch live, 11:30 am ET on USA Network and online via NBCSports.com). 

STREAM LIVE TOTTENHAM vs MANCHESTER CITY

Arsenal (50 points) were handed just their second defeat of the season on Saturday, beaten 1-0 away to Everton as Sean Dyche made his debut as Toffees manager. Now level on games played for just over 24 hours, Manchester City (45 points) are once again within striking distance, but Tottenham (36 points – 5th place) have given them fits in recent seasons, when few others could.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Tottenham vs Manchester City

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


How to watch Tottenham vs Manchester City live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 11:30 am ET, Sunday
TV channel: USA Network
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com


Key storylines & star players

When these sides met just two weeks ago, Tottenham found themselves 2-0 up at halftime and threatening to cause the Man City upset yet again, effectively handing rivals Arsenal a three-point boost in the title race. Then the second half kicked off, and the two-time defending champions poured in four games, including three in the first 18 minutes. Another fantastic half wasted by Tottenham, though it was typically a poor start followed by a frantic finish of their own. Harry Kane will pass Jimmy Greaves as Spurs’ all-time top scorer when he scores his next goal, taking his total in all competitions to 267. If Kane scores that goal in a Premier League fixture, the record goal will also be his 200th in the league.

Erling Haaland (25 goals) is the only player with more PL goals than Kane (16) this season, and though his numbers are certainly eye-popping, his arrival has clearly unsettled Pep Guardiola’s tactical system to some degree. A season ago, Manchester City conceded just 26 goals in 38 games (0.68 per game). This season, 20 goals in 20 games, up nearly a half-goal per game.


Tottenham team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Lucas Moura (calf) | QUESTIONABLE: Richarlison (adductor)

Manchester City team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: John Stones (thigh), Benjamin Mendy (suspension – MORE) | QUESTIONABLE: Phil Foden (foot)

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Kaoru Mitoma delivers (again) as Brighton breaks Bournemouth

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Kaoru Mitoma’s superstar turn has Brighton looking to the sky as the limit following a 1-0 win over stubborn Bournemouth at the Amex Stadium on Saturday.

Brighton held more than 70 percent possession and rifled off 20 shots but only one, Mitoma’s 87th-minute header of a Jeremy Sarmiento cross, beat Cherries’ goalkeeper Norberto Neto.

WATCH BRIGHTON vs BOURNEMOUTH FULL MATCH REPLAY STREAM – LINK

Mitoma has four goal and an assist in six appearances all competitions since Dec. 31 and four of those games are Brighton wins. The Seagulls are back into sixth place, two points off fifth-place Spurs with a match-in-hand, and give points behind Newcastle before the Magpies meet West Ham.

Bournemouth sits 19th, a point off safety and two points above 20th-place Saints.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


Bournemouth shows hope but Brighton keeps class

Kaoru Mitoma certainly looks to be comfortable in the Premier League, and who needs a 20-yard banger or intra-box juggle-and fire every week? This time Mitoma turned up with a late header for his show-stopper.

It was fitting for Brighton in this match with two goalkeepers who looked locked-in for zeroes, as the Seagulls are very much a team that’s kept mojo from Graham Potter to Roberto De Zerbi and is finding new wrinkles under the latter.

But Bournemouth can and should feel renewed optimism after new owner Bill Foley sanctioned moves for some badly needed flair players.

One of those, Dango Ouattara, looks downright dangerous, while Ivorian attacker Hamed Traore and Ghanaian striker Antoine Semenyo are proper alternatives to Kieffer Moore and injured Dominic Solanke.

When the Cherries get Marcus Tavernier back, the puzzle will be much closer to their best. How many pieces remain missing is what will dictate whether Bournemouth keeps its puncher’s chance to stay up.


Stars of the Show

Kaoru Mitoma

Joel Veltman

Norberto Neto

Robert Sanchez

Jordan Zemura


What’s next?

Brighton goes to Palace at 10am ET Saturday before Fulham pays a visit to the Amex one week later.

Bournemouth hosts old friends Eddie Howe, Callum Wilson, and Newcastle United at 12:30pm ET Saturday before going to Wolves a week later.


Kaoru Mitoma goal video: Brighton breaks through


How to watch Brighton vs Bournemouth live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10 am ET, Saturday
Online: Stream via Peacock Premium


Brighton team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Alexis Mac Allister (suspension), Jakub Moder (knee), Adam Lallana (undisclosed), Levi Colwill (undisclosed), Evan Ferguson (ankle)

Bournemouth team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: David Brooks (thigh), Lewis Cook (knee), Neto (thigh), Dominic Solanke (knee), Marcus Tavernier (thigh), Ryan Fredericks (undisclosed), Junior Stanislas (undisclosed)

Follow @AndyEdMLS