World Cup team preview: Japan

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Getting to know…Japan: Owners of five consecutive World Cup berths, Japan is loaded with attacking talent but seems to come up short too many times when the bright lights are on.  They’ve never made it past the Round of 16, but have slowly progressed with each passing World Cup.

Since Japan began seriously competing on the international stage in 1988, they’ve won a record five Asian Cups and thusly made five appearances in the Confederations Cup.  Unfortunately, it seems that – again – the big stage is their nemesis.

The team most recently faltered in last year’s Confederations Cup, losing all three matches against Brazil, Italy, and Mexico – a scary harbinger of what could come of this World Cup if the team isn’t ready.  However, their group stage draw is favorable, and they remain Asia’s best hope for a good showing in Brazil.

Record in qualifying: Japan finished a disappointing second in their first group stage of Asian qualifying behind Uzbekistan, but it was enough to advance them to the final round, where they qualified automatically by topping their group ahead of Australia and Jordan. Over the course of qualifying, they picked up eight wins, three draws, and three losses.

A look at Group C: Japan has an uphill battle ahead, but advancement isn’t completely out of the question with the group they were given.  They just need to beat out Greece and Ivory Coast, both of which have clear weaknesses which could potentially lead to underperformances.

Colombia is the group favorite, but even they are prone to defensive mistakes, and Group C could be one of the more intriguing storylines to watch early in the World Cup for sure.  If the Japanese can come together as a unit and play to every player’s potential, it’s possible they could find themselves in the knockout round.

Game Schedule:

14 June, 21:00 ET, Recife: Ivory Coast vs. Japan
19 June, 18:00 ET, Natal: Japan vs. Greece
24 June, 16:00 ET, Cuiaba: Japan vs. Colombia

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Keisuke Honda, paired with Shinji Kagawa up front, can help the Japanese attack carry the team.

Star player: Keisuke Honda

Sure, Shinji Kagawa plays for Manchester United, but without Keisuke Honda, Japan would be utterly doomed. A recent addition at AC Milan, the 27-year-old attacking midfielder has become the most important player for his national team.

His style is perfect for Serie A, and while he still needs time to settle in after his mid-season switch, he can now play his usual role for the national team, which is not only chance creator but chance finisher.

With 53 caps and 20 goals to his name for Japan, Honda is in his prime and ready to lead the way for the Japanese to a surprise finish.

Manager: Alberto Zaccheroni

The sixth foreign manager in Japan’s history, the Italian won Serie A with AC Milan in 1999 and is known for his propensity for a 3-4-3 formation.    However, it wouldn’t appear that we will see his trademark this summer, having left out the proper players for the system, including wing-back Tsukasa Shiotani.

After a troubling finish to his Milan tenure, plus very short stops at Juventus, Lazio, Torino, and Inter, Zaccheroni signed on for the Japanese squad in 2010, leading them to an Asian Cup win in 2011.  Japan then became the first nation to officially qualify for Brazil, back in June of 2013.

Zaccheroni is known as a tactical genius, but is often unwilling to modify his techniques to fit his players. It will be interesting to see how he lines the team up in the World Cup knowing his favorite formation is likely a no-show.

Secret Weapon: Passing and creativity

It’s not exactly a secret, but with Kagawa and Honda together in the midfield, and Yasuhito Endo there as well, the midfield is gushing with creativity. Unfortunately, that leads to a bit of a leakage at the back, with an inexperienced back line and little help from the midfielders.

But with that trio of talent leading the way, striker Yoshito Okubo and young attacker Yoichiro Kakitani should have plenty of chances on goal.  Kick TV’s preview video described Japan’s style as “cracked out tiki-taka” and their fast pace can often catch teams off guard. Just try not to cringe when things go wrong at the back.

Prediction: The key for Japan will be trying to outscore the opponent, and a lot hinges on their defense being not terrible.  If Southampton’s Maya Yoshido, Inter’s Yuto Nagatomo, and Schalke’s Atsudo Uchida can hold things together, Japan could surprise the Ivory Coast and Greece. However, it appears they may need some help as well, including a string of bad results for both of the aforementioned countries, other Japan may have too big of a challenge ahead.

Reaction to Premier League return on June 17

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Our partners in the UK, Sky Sports, have confirmed that the 2019-20 Premier League season will restart on June 17 and the reaction to that news has been one of relief and delight across the globe.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The Premier League is holding in-depth meetings with all 20 clubs on Thursday to determine the potential restart date, among many other matters, and June 17 has emerged as the date games will return.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic the Premier League season was suspended on March 13 with 92 games remaining, and when the season restarts on June 17 it will have been 100 days without a game in England’s top-flight.

It is believed that the clubs want the Premier League season to be finished by August 1, so clubs can then focus on the FA Cup and European action in the Europa League and Champions League, while the 2020-21 season can then resume in early September.

All players and staff at Premier League clubs will be tested twice a week during the strict return to training protocols put in place, with contact training now allowed after a return to small-group training was a success. The third round of COVID-19 testing saw a slight rise in positive tests compared to the last, as a total of 2,752 COVID-19 tests have now been carried out on Premier League players and staff with a total of 12 positive results.

Here’s a look at the reaction from key figures across the soccer world to the news the Premier League season will restart in less than three weeks’ time.

You beauty.

Bundesliga schedule for Matchweek 29

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The return of German soccer has been hugely successful and the Bundesliga schedule for Matchweek 29 is locked and loaded and below are details on how you can watch the games in the USA.

Dust off your lederhosen, fill that stein to the brim and make sure you know which young American stars to keep an eye on. Live sports is back.

[ LIVE: Bundesliga scores ] 

Bayern Munich are top of the table with a seven-point lead after their big win at Borussia Dortmund, while RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach have all dropped points as their title bids have faltered.

Given that Bayern look likely to secure an eighth-straight title, there is an epic scramble for European qualification. The top four in Germany qualify automatically for the UEFA Champions League group stage and that means one of the five teams mentioned above as title contenders will miss out, while Wolfsburg, Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin are surging and Schalke and Freiburg have struggled in the Europa League spot.

Below is the full Bundesliga schedule for this week, as the fourth round of games to restart the campaign is a beauty, while there are also details on how you can watch on TV in the USA.

Bundesliga schedule

  • TV Channels: FS1, FS2
  • Stream Live: Via Fox Soccer
  • USMNT players to watch: Gio Reyna, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Alfredo Morales, Josh Sargent

Friday, May 29

2:30 p.m. ET: Freiburg v. Bayer Leverkusen

Saturday, May 30

9:30 a.m. ET: Hertha Berlin v. Augsburg
9:30 a.m. ET: Mainz v. Hoffenheim
9:30 a.m. ET: Schalke v. Werder Bremen
9:30 a.m. ET: Wolfsburg v. Eintracht Frankfurt
12:30 p.m. ET: Bayern Munich v. Fortuna Dusseldorf

Sunday, May 31

9:30 a.m. ET: Borussia Monchengladbach v. Union Berlin
12 p.m. ET: Paderborn v. Borussia Dortmund

Monday, June 1

2:30 p.m. ET: Cologne v. RB Leipzig

Barcelona ready to sell six players this summer

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According to the latest news out of Barcelona, the Catalan giants are ready to rework their squad and want to sell up to six players to fuel their transfer plans.

Those players being sold are Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets… just kidding. Of course not.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

According to a report from the Daily Mirror, Barca have made Rafinha, Arturo Vidal, Jean-Clair Todibo, Nelson Semedo, Junior Firpo and Moussa Wague available for permanent transfers. Wague is currently on loan at Nice, while Todibo is on loan at Schalke and Rafinha at Celta Vigo. Ousmane Dembele is another player who has been consistently linked with a move away from the Nou Camp too, as he continues to be hampered by injuries.

Why the huge exodus? It is believed Barcelona want to sign Lautaro Martinez from Inter Milan and Miralem Pjanic from Juventus to spruce up their squad under relatively new manager Quique Setien, who only arrived in mid-January.

It is believed Inter boss Antonio Conte is a big fan of Vidal, but any deal for the Chilean midfielder would reportedly be separate for a deal for Martinez. The Argentine striker has been sensational for the Italian giants so far this season and is said to have been in close contact with Messi about a move to Barcelona.

As for Pjanic’s potential arrival, what does that mean for Ivan Rakitic? He has just one year left on his current Barcelona contract and seems relaxed about his future but Pjanic plays in a very similar position to the Croatian playmaker.

One thing is for sure, Barcelona need to freshen up this squad and there is plenty of transfer news floating around when it comes to ins and outs. They are just ahead of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga and Real have certainly had a huge overhaul over the last 12 months with Vinicius Jr., Eden Hazard, Brahim Diaz, Ferland Mendy, Rodrygo and Luka Jovic all arriving at different times.

Barcelona’s old guard remains intact with Messi, Busquets, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba as instrumental as ever but there’s no doubt Setien will want to strengthen his squad as they aim for Spanish and European glory next season and beyond.

With plenty of talk about Barcelona’s financial situation and the huge contracts that Messi, Suarez and Antoine Griezmann in particular have, offloading this many players suggests they have to cut their cloth accordingly in order to bring in top talent.

Setien will be hoping he can offload as many players as possible reshape this Barcelona squad which is still incredibly talented but has a few glaring needs.

Premier League to restart on June 17

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The 2019-20 Premier League season will restart on June 17, Sky Sports confirmed on Thursday.

The Premier League is holding in-depth meetings with all 20 clubs and, among other matters, and June 17 has emerged as the date games will return. Due to the coronavirus pandemic the Premier League season was suspended on March 13 with 92 games remaining.

Other reports also indicate clubs and the league have agreed on that date, which is five days later than the original placeholder date suggested last month. It has been reported the two games in hand, Man City v. Arsenal and Aston Villa v. Sheffield United, could be played on June 17 so all teams are on 29 games played, then the rest of the games would kick off on June 19-21.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

It is believed that the clubs want the Premier League season to be finished by August 1, so clubs can then focus on the FA Cup and European action in the Europa League and Champions League, while the 2020-21 season can then resume in early September.

Other reports suggest that a sticking point remains neutral stadiums as police forces in the UK want certain high-profile games to be played at neutral stadiums over fears of fans congregating outside home stadiums. However, it is believed the majority of games could be played at home stadiums as normal.

More details will no doubt filter out in the coming hours, while the meeting is also set to discuss the plan for possible curtailment if playing the remaining games of the 2019-20 season is not possible. The schedule for how games will be played will also be discussed, with five games back-to-back on both Saturday and Sunday reported as a possibility.

All players and staff at Premier League clubs will be tested twice a week during the strict return to training protocols put in place, with contact training now allowed after a return to small-group training was a success.

The third round of COVID-19 testing saw a slight rise in positive tests compared to the last, as a total of 2,752 COVID-19 tests have now been carried out on Premier League players and staff with a total of 12 positive results.

All 20 Premier League clubs have agreed to return to contact training in stage two of the ‘Project Restart’ plan, as the main focus is to agree on a Premier League restart date that managers and players can now focus on.