2014 World Cup team preview: Iran

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Getting to know…Iran: This is the fourth World Cup for Iran (1978, 1998, 2006), who have yet to make it out of the Group Stage and have won only one of the nine matches they’ve played in the tournament (a 2-1 victory over USA in 1998). This side, managed by 61-year-old Portuguese manager Carlos Queiroz, are a defensively staunch group that at times puts 10 players behind the ball to absorb pressure before trying to nab opponents on the counter. Of the 32 teams in the World Cup, the Persian Stars are pegged by many to finish at or towards the bottom but not if players like Jalal Hosseini, Javad Nekounam, Ashkan Dejagah and Reza Ghoochannejhad have anything to say about it.

Record in qualifying: Qualified first in Group A of Asian Football Confederation, beating out South Korea for the top spot. In eight matches, Iran took 16 points, scoring eight goals and conceding only two.

What group are they in?: Group F with Argentina, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Nigeria

Game schedule:

16 June, 16:00, Curitiba – Iran vs. Nigeria
21 June, 13:00, Belo Horizonte – Argentina vs. Iran
25 June, 13:00, Salvador – Bosnia & Herzegovina vs. Iran

source: APStar player: Javad Nekounam

The 33-year-old defensive midfielder plays his club ball at Al-Kuwait SC and brings a wealth of international experience (140 caps) to the side. After a strong performance in the 2006 World Cup, Nekounam was in-demand throughout Europe and signed with La Liga outfit Osasuna where he would spend six seasons registering 149 appearances and 24 goals. Since then the powerful destroyer enjoyed a two year spell at Esteghlal before transferring to Kuwait this past January. A possession-based player who relies on simple short passes and combination play to charge forward, Nekounam captained Iran through World Cup qualifying by scoring four times, including the winner against South Korea to secure the top spot in AFC.

Manager: Carlos Queiroz

Perhaps best known as Sir Alex Ferguson’s trusted assistant at Manchester United, Queiroz has managed Iran since 2011. He became coach of the Persian Stars after spending two years as boss of Portugal, with whom he brought to the Round of 16 in the 2010 World Cup. Queiroz is known for his defensive, counter-attacking system, and is a well-traveled manager having coached a variety of international and club sides including Sporting Lisbon, South Africa, New York MetroStars, Nagoya Grampus Eight and Real Madrid, among others.

Secret weapon: Ashkan Dejagah

Premier League fans will be familiar with Fulham’s rampaging winger (above, right), who left his mark on numerous matches this season by scoring a number of impressive goals. Powerful, pacy and possessing a vicious shot, Dejagah is a game-changer in the truest sense of the word. With Iran’s formation and scheme, expect Dejagah to occupy the right wing where his teammates will look to spring him on the counter-attack. Look for Dejagah to link up with Ghoochannejhad as the side’s lone striker or to simply over-power opponents on his own and have a go. Don’t be surprised if the World Cup serves as a stage for the 27-year-old to be snapped up by a top-tier club as Fulham settle for life in the Championship.

Prediction: A point would be an achievement. Getting out of the Group Stage, a miracle. At best Iran could snag a 0-0 draw with Nigeria or Bosnia & Herzegovina but look for Argentina to make the Persian Stars their whipping boys.

Picking a 2019 Rugby World Cup team based on your PL club

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Okay, we know the balls are shaped slightly differently, but there is plenty of shared history between soccer and rugby and the 2019 Rugby World Cup kicks off this Friday across NBC Sports.

WATCH 2019 RUGBY WORLD CUP

Barring in mind you’ll be able to watch every single game live from the World Cup in Japan via NBC Sports Gold and across the NBC family of channels, now is a good time to brush up on your rugby knowledge.

Let’s make it as easy as we can for you.

Below we take a look at which of the 20 World Cup nations is most similar to one of the 20 PL clubs.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

If you’re looking to watch the World Cup but don’t know which team to support, this will help you out, as all you have to find the PL club you support and, hey presto, you have a team for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.


Argentina = Everton
A team which is usually the ‘best of the rest’ in world rugby. Yep, Toffees fans can sympathize with being just good enough to be included in the big conversations but never quite getting over the line. This year could be different, though. Argentina and England are expected to advance from their pool, as France aren’t as good as they’ve been in past World Cups. Opportunity knocks for Argentina.

Australia = Chelsea
Both have had success in the past but both are just on the outside looking in when it comes to the favorites. Australia, like Chelsea, have plenty of inexperienced players heading into this World Cup. Could be a good outside bet to cause a few shocks and will always be in the conversation at the business end of the tournament.

Canada = Brighton
Canada are in the midst of a rebuild after struggling at the 2015 World Cup. Brighton are in the midst of a rebuild after just staying up in the Premier League last season.

England = Liverpool
The second favorites, for many, to win the World Cup, there is a lot of excitement around this England side. Like Liverpool, historically they are always up there, but a new approach from the eccentric Eddie Jones has brought about good results. Like Jurgen Klopp, an exciting team has a charismatic leader. This could be the year for both of these teams…

Fiji = Aston Villa
Upstarts who have a fine heritage in the game, Fiji have arrived after big recent wins against France and Wales. Villa have returned to the big time and are expected to say, and this tournament provides Fiji with a perfect chance to secure their best-ever finish at a World Cup. Semi Radradra is to Fiji what Jack Grealish is to Aston Villa.

Georgia = Burnley
Placed in a tough pool, nobody expects anything from Georgia. They are the heavy underdogs and have never made the knockout rounds of a World Cup. Burnley know all about being the underdogs, and Georgia are a physical side who make it tough for opponents. Yep, this comparison works perfectly.

France = Leicester City
Much-changed France have been overlooked by many, but they have the young talent to succeed. Leicester have a plan and identity and even though this season may not be their year to break into the top four, there is potential for them to do it. France will be lucky to get to the semifinals, but if they do, they are very unpredictable under Jacques Brunel.

Ireland = Man United
They possess so many talented players and although they are currently ranked as the top team on the planet, Ireland a real Jekyll and Hyde team. Like Man United, they are well-supported and will be there or thereabouts, but many aren’t backing them to succeed. This time.

Italy = Southampton
Always around, and capable of causing upsets, both Italy and Southampton fly under the radar. Like Saints, this Italian side has a small core of key players and they cannot afford any injuries. If they make it out of the group stage it would be a big achievement, and if Saints finish in the top 10 that would be comparable.

Japan = Wolves
A team aiming to join the big boys, Japan and Wolves have a lot in common. Japan won three of their pool games in 2015 but agonizingly failed to make the quarterfinals. Hosts Japan will have a lot of expectation on them this time around, while Wolves’ expectations levels have also increased. Can they deliver?

Namibia = Bournemouth
One of the smallest nations at the World Cup, Namibia have defied the odds to reach seven-straight World Cups. How much longer can they keep doing that? Bournemouth are now regulars in the PL, as Eddie Howe has worked similar miracles. Both minnows don’t get the respect they deserve, but how long will their fairytales last? And can they finally step up to the next tier?

New Zealand = Man City
The undisputed favorites to win, both teams seem too strong for their opponents. Dynasties have been produced as a string of superstars are well-drilled and hungry for continued success. Like Man City, New Zealand are going for the three-peat after winning the 2011 and 2015 World Cups on home soil and then in England. The All Blacks are stacked.

Russia = Norwich City
The Russians only qualified due to Romania and Spain breaking rules, and they are expected to be battered in the World Cup. Like Norwich, nobody gives them a chance. But we all know how Norwich have fared so far. If Russia can secure one win in pool play this will be deemed a huge success.

Samoa = West Ham
They have the squad to prevail, but so many changes behind-the-scenes has led to chaos for Samoa. Sound familiar, West Ham fans? Both teams have the potential to disrupt the big boys but haven’t come close to doing so in recent years. Talented, but more structure needed.

Scotland = Newcastle
Capable of beating anyone, Scotland and Newcastle are very good when it all slots together. But that only happens rarely. Sleeping giants, they are even close geographically. For all of the passion of their fans, there has been little to shout about in recent times. Neither team has a Plan B.

South Africa = Tottenham
A contender, for sure, but can they put it all together to lift the trophy? Tottenham have struggled with that in recent years, and although South Africa won the World Cup in 1995 and 2007, those are their only two finals in history. Both teams a little too inconsistent right now.

Tonga = Crystal Palace
A team always punching above their weight and modest resources, Tonga can cause upsets, just like they did when beating France at the 2011 World Cup. Crystal Palace love to play the underdogs too, and are willing to dig deep in a solid, defensive system. Tealusa Veainu is the speedy star of this Tonga side, and just like Wilfried Zaha for Palace, they need him to shine in key moments.

Uruguay = Sheffield United
This Uruguay side have totally overhauled their team since the last World Cup in England, and that mirrors what Chris Wilder has done at Sheffield United. A totally new playing style has arrived for Uruguay, as they’ve ditched the defensive style for being fluid and exciting to watch. That slots in with the Blades’ identity where overlapping center backs are kings. A work in progress. Fun to watch.

USA = Watford
Well, rugby in the U.S. is clearly on the up. This is the best-ever team from the USA but they have been placed in a very tough pool alongside England, Argentina and France. Watford have the best-ever team right now, but have they also reached the proverbial glass ceiling? Capable of upsets, the U.S. will have to rack plenty of them up to make it to the last eight for the first time in their history. AJ MacGinty runs the show for the Eagles, jus as Gerard Deulofeu keeps Watford moving forward.

Wales = Arsenal
Warren Gatland is leaving after this tournament, and like Arsene Wenger for Arsenal, he brought sustained success for Wales. But all good things come to and end. Unlike Wenger, Gatland will be hoping to go out on top and this Welsh side have the potential to do just that after their Six Nations’ success. They don’t have the biggest squad depth in some key areas (Arsenal fans will sympathize with that) but when their best lineup is out there, they can beat anybody.

Arsenal bests Eintracht Frankfurt behind teen hero Saka

Photo by Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Bongarts/Getty Images
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Arsenal got its Europa League campaign off to a pleasant if uneasy start, riding a deflected first half goal and solid goalkeeping before breaking out late for 3-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt at the Commerzbank-Arena on Thursday.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Joe Willock scored the early marker, while newly-minted 18-year-old Bukayo Saka capped a strong performance with a late insurance marker and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang put it to bed.

American defender Timothy Chandler was a second half sub for the Bundesliga hosts.


Three things we learned

1. Goalkeeper matters huge: Even as underrated Bernd Leno got a night off, Arsenal got a big performance from its goalkeeper. Eintracht took double the shots of its visitors over the first hour of play. Emiliano Martinez made his season debut and was very, very good for the Gunners. He played just one Europa League match last season and spent half the year with Reading on loan, but the 27-year-old looks in line for more experience this season and even played a role in Arsenal’s second goal.

2. Young stars shine: Willock was very good in the win, and produced several nice chances, but it’s fair to say that his goal was a good deal of Fortune. Saka’s big day was even brighter. The 18-year-old was a menace for most of the day, and scored a deserved goal late off a Nicolas Pepe feed. Saka then forced the turnover that led to Aubameyang’s goal, Arsenal’s third.

What a hit for his goal, too.

3. Emery deploys star subs: Unai Emery knows a bit about winning this competition, and he took out Willock and Smith-Rowe in order to protect the lead late (He also put in Ainsley Maitland-Niles for Sead Kolasinac, who was on a yellow card). He deployed fire power in Nicolas Pepe and Dani Ceballos, which was unlikely a welcome site for the hosts.


Martinez was exceptional in posting his clean sheet, needing many big moments in the first half to allow Arsenal its 0-0 score line before fortune smiled upon the Gunners.

Willock’s shot took a mean turn off Eintracht mainstay center back David Abraham to produce a halftime lead (see video below Thing No. 3).

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

The floodgates opened late, doubtlessly aided by a second yellow card dished out to Eintracht’s Dominic Kohr.

Martinez’s day went to the wire, tipping a Danny da Costa ball away before denying Filip Kostic with less than 10 minutes on the clock.

He then started the play that led to Arsenal’s second goal, finding Pepe for a long dribble en route to Saka’s career milestone. He turned 18 just two weeks ago.

It was a day to remember for Saka and one to forget for Abraham, as the teen stripped the Eintracht captain of the ball before making a silky pass to Aubameyang.

UEL, LIVE — Man Utd, Wolves face Kazakh, Portuguese opposition

Photo by Oliver Hardt - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images
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The Europa League group stage begins play on Thursday, with Arsenal in Germany and taking care of 10-man Eintracht Frankfurt.

A younger Arsenal took the lead on a deflected shot from Man of the Match candidate Joe Willock, before Bukayo Saka took the MOTM mantle with a late goal and assist.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

Manchester United and Wolves are set to kick-off their respective matches against Astana and Braga at 3 p.m. ET.

Lineups are out for both sides. United will be very young against Kazakh side Astana ahead of a Sunday visit to West Ham United, while Wolves start Raul Jimenez and Patrick Cutrone up top versus Braga.

Full slate

12:55 p.m. ET
CFR Cluj v. Lazio
LASK v. Rosenborg
Getafe v. Trabzonspor
PSV Eindhoven v. Sporting Lisbon
Basel v. Krasnodar
APOEL Nicosia v. Dudelange
Copenhagen v. Lugano
Standard Liege v. Vitoria SC
Qarabag v. Sevilla
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Arsenal
Rennes v. Celtic
Dynamo Kiev v. Malmo

3 p.m. ET
Wolfsburg v. Oleksandriya
Espanyol v. Ferencvaros
Rangers v. Feyenoord
Porto v. Young Boys
Slovan Bratislava v. Besiktas
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Wolfsberg
Partizan v. AZ Alkmaar
AS Roma v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Gent v. Saint-Etienne
Manchester United v. Astana
Wolves v. Braga
Ludogorets Razgrad v. CSKA Moscow

Top Premier League storylines: Week 6

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Of the seven Premier League sides to handle midweek Europeans challenges, only two face-off and that predictably is the hallmark of the weekend in England.

[ MORE: Silva to Inter Miami? ]

What else is cooking? Smell the aromas of the weekend ahead, below.


How will Frank Lampard attack Liverpool?

  • Chelsea v. Liverpool, Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The Blues’ 5-2 defeat at Wolves last week did not help spin a win over Valencia in the Champions League, and Frank Lampard’s next chance to make a statement comes against a team that is perfect in PL play and finds itself licking its wounds from a subpar performance at Napoli. Can a very fresh Christian Pulisic make the difference for Chelsea? Will Callum Hudson-Odoi take the positive vibes from his new contract and solid PL2 appearance into the fray?


Will Fernandinho help stabilize Man City against improving Watford?

  • Man City v. Watford, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN

City went to Ukraine and blanked Shakhtar Donetsk with Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho at center back, and the Brazilian center midfielder says he’s been preparing for his possibility for some time. If Watford looks anything like it looked in a 2-2 draw with Arsenal, we could see a very decent test for City’s back line.


Weary Spurs get top-half test from Leicester City

  • Leicester City v. Tottenham Hotspur, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Inconsistent Tottenham meets a Leicester City side with Top Six ambitions, licking its wounds from a 1-0 loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford which probably deserved a point. Spurs aren’t feeling great following another blown 2-0 lead in a big spot away from home. How will they react in Leicester?


Will Solskjaer’s midweek rest risk reap rewards on Sunday?

  • West Ham United v. Manchester United, Sunday, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is set to hand heavy minutes to youngsters and second-choice players against Kazakh side Astana on Thursday at Old Trafford. Will that pay off when trying to stop Sebastien Haller, Felipe Anderson, and Manuel Pellegrini‘s Irons on Sunday morning?


Early season six-pointer at St. James’ Park

  • Newcastle United v. Brighton and Hove Albion, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Look, it’s Week Six and normally we’d say anything can happen in a Premier League season, but let’s be reasonable: If you’re looking at the teams for Newcastle and Brighton, this result will matter as many as any down the stretch in determining Premier League status for 2019/20.