World Cup Preview Group D: Balance leaves no clear favorite as Costa Rica joins England, Italy, Uruguay

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One of the most difficult packs to predict at the 2014 World Cup, Group D has three teams who could finish first or tumble to third. Between England, Italy, and Uruguay, Group D’s contenders have seven World Cups and 10 world titles, a collection of honors that ensures one impressive résumé will be cast aside with 15 other teams that fail to make the knockout round.

On the edge of that trio, CONCACAF qualifier Costa Rica will try to play spoiler, but with their group-mates seeing battles with the Ticos as an opportunity for needed points, the four-time qualifiers are long shots to make a second knockout round.

Here’s a quick look at Group D, which begins play on June 14 (click on country name for full preview)

Uruguay: The 2010 World Cup semifinalists and 2011 South American champions feature two of the best attackers in the tournament, though Luis Suárez’s health (knee injury) makes it unclear if or when he’ll join Edinson Cavani up top. Diego Forlán, Gastón Ramirez, and Cristian Rodríguez will have to pick up the slack.

Costa Rica: Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell give the Ticos two threats going forward, but without an injured Álvaro Saborío, Costa Rica’s attack won’t be 100 percent. A midfield of led by Celso Borges will be hard-pressed to protect the defense in a talented group.

England: Consistent scoring from Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney would give a team with no clear weaknesses the punch it needs to get through. Solid if unspectacular both in midfield and defense, the Three Lions are capable of playing mistake-free soccer over 90 minutes.

Italy: A team built around veteran distributor Andrea Pirlo will need another attacker to complement Mario Balotelli up top. At the back, a defense leveraging Juventus’ veteran stalwarts could be hard-pressed to keep up with Sturridge or a healthy Suárez.

Who’s going through: The consensus from the panel is Uruguay and Italy, leaving an England team with second round talent left to reconcile a harsh first round exit.

Who’s going home: Costa Rica and England, but if Suárez isn’t healthy, and if Italy plays to its talent instead of Cesare Prandelli’s impressive results, the Three Lions could make a their fifth straight knockout round.

Marquee match: England versus Italy on the group’s first day will captivate, but June 19th’s meeting between the Three Lions and Uruguay will prove more important. If Uruguay takes care of business in game one against Costa Rica, a win over England could punch their ticket for the second round. England may need a result to maintain control of their own destiny if it can’t beat Italy to open their tournament.

Top players to watch:

5. Wayne Rooney, England

4. Edinson Cavani, Uruguay

3. Mario Balotelli, Italy

2. Andrea Pirlo, Italy

1. Luis Suárez, Uruguay

Mourinho: No one will want to draw Spurs in Champions League

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Jose Mourinho says his team selection was about “taking in information” on Tottenham Hotspur’s depth, and he wasn’t terribly bothered by Bayern Munich’s 3-1 win in Germany.

The Spurs boss, however, says the seeded teams in Monday’s UEFA Champions League draw should be terribly bothered at the concept of drawing the reigning finalists.

[ MORE: Who can PL teams draw in UCL? ]

“I think from the teams that finished second, I think the teams that finish first they wish they don’t play against us,” he said, via Football.London.

“I think we are one of the strongest teams from the second group. I know we are a country which goes through a crazy period and leaves marks on players and their conditions. But by February I will understand my players better and we will be more ready.”

Mourinho said he thinks the 3-2 score line that could’ve arrived had Heung-Min Son not been denied by Manuel Neuer would’ve been a more fair representation of the match, with both sides leaving out key players but Bayern’s side decidedly stronger.

And he hopes Spurs supporters will forgive him leaving Harry Kane, Jan Vertonghen, and Dele Alli behind after a big win at the weekend.

“The fact we played so well the last time, 5-0, allowed me to come here and risk what happened. I’m happy with the decisions I made and I hope the supporters understand what I did. Internally we understand.”

Say what you will about Mou, and he’s lost his share of elimination games, but his acumen will have the opposition more worried than his players (and that’s even with the knowledge that the majority are former finalists).

He’s not wrong.

Who can Premier League clubs draw in the Champions League knockout rounds?

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All four Premier League entrants join a quartet of La Liga squads to comprise half of the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds field.

Atletico Madrid and Atalanta scored the final two berths with wins on Wednesday, giving us the 16 teams left in the race to meet in Istanbul on May 20.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Serie A and the Bundesliga have three teams in the final 16, with Ligue 1 putting two in the fray.

Teams can neither be drawn against teams from their own domestic league nor UCL group.

Seeded teams

Barcelona
Bayern Munich
Juventus
Liverpool
Manchester City
Paris Saint-Germain
RB Leipzig
Valencia

Unseeded teams

Atalanta
Atletico Madrid
Borussia Dortmund
Chelsea
Lyon
Napoli
Real Madrid
Tottenham Hotspur

Who can PL sides draw?

Chelsea: Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig

Liverpool: Atalanta, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Lyon, Real Madrid

Manchester City: Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Lyon, Napoli, Real Madrid

Tottenham Hotspur: Barcelona, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig, Valencia

Bayern Munich tops Spurs 3-1 behind Davies, Coutinho

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Ryan Sessegnon scored his first Spurs and Champions League goals as Tottenham Hotspur rested many of its top players in a 3-1 loss to Bayern Munich in a group stage dead rubber on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Kingsley Coman, Philippe Coutinho, and Thomas Muller scored for group-winning Bayern, who got an absolute star show out of 19-year-old Canadian left back Alphonso Davies.


Three things we learned

1. Spurs depth gets valuable time: Being a dead rubber, both teams left key components out of the fray or at least the Starting XI. Jose Mourinho left Harry Kane, Dele Alli, and Jan Vertonghen out of the 18 and both Heung-Min Son and Davinson Sanchez on the bench. That didn’t stop his men from a strong showing in a very difficult venue, though Bayern rested David Alaba and put Robert Lewandowski and Leon Goretzka on the bench to start the match.

2. Coutinho beats old nemesis again: The longtime Liverpool man was at his very best on Wednesday, and his wonderful second-half goal means he’s now scored against Spurs for Liverpool, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich (also assisting against the North Londoners while with Inter Milan). That’s also because his 14 matches against Spurs are the most he’s played against one club in his senior career.

3. Canadian super show from Davies: Alphonso Davies turned 19 just over a month ago but already looks a man in his prime. He registered an assist and hit the post in addition to making seven successful dribbles and winning five tackles, also completing almost 90 percent of his passes. There are shades of teammate David Alaba in his game. That’s high praise, but Davies potential may be higher than the Austrian.

Man of the Match: Davies was absolutely electric at left back. It’d be too easy to give it to Coutinho, who was just as good, and like Spurs manager we relish the chance to be contrarian.


Early chances were there for both sides, Paulo Gazzaniga the busier of the keepers and making a fine save on Benjamin Pavard.

Serge Gnabry tried to find Philippe Coutinho through a sea of defenders, but his pass bounded off Moussa Sissoko and onto the path of back-post residing Coman for the opener.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Spurs leveled the score in the 20th minute when Sessegnon collected a deflected shot and buried it past Manuel Neuer.

Sissoko led a rush but couldn’t get cross over the fray as Spurs looked better money for a second goal.

Then Joshua Kimmich saw a yellow card for standing firm as Giovani Lo Celso wandered into him.

Bayern had the better of the final 15 minutes of the half, when Muller was in prime position to deposit Alphonso Davies’ rebound off the goal post.

Coutinho tried to put the match to bed in stoppage time, but his blazing shot from distance was touched off the bar by Gazzaniga.

He’d get his goal via another audacious shot, this time zipping a lay-off from Alphonso Davies through traffic and inside the far post.

Heung-min Son had a late breakaway saved by Neuer.

Saint-Maximin absence to ask more of struggling Almiron, Joelinton

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Newcastle United lightning bolt Allan Saint-Maximin is going to miss a month with a hamstring injury suffered late in the Magpies’ 2-1 defeat of Southampton at St. James’ Park.

The ebullient Saint-Maximin played deep into the match despite a minor injury, and was on of the main reasons Newcastle won. He helped set up the winning goal, but left the stadium on crutches.

That left Steve Bruce questioning his decision to keep “ASM” in the match.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Now the electric Frenchman is set to miss fixtures against Burnley, Crystal Palace, Manchester United, Everton, Leicester City, and an FA Cup third round match versus either Boston United or Rochdale.

Saint-Maximin’s absence will hurt Newcastle all-around, but especially when its counter-attack tries to take down bigger sides. His 4.5 dribbles per match makes him one of just three players in the Premier League with more than 3.1 (Adama Traore and Wilfried Zaha).

Ultimately, though, this could provide struggling Joelinton more looks at performing on the wing opposite of Miguel Almiron. The Brazilian will have to work center forward at times as Andy Carroll certainly can’t go every game, and Dwight Gayle, Christian Atsu, and Yoshinori Muto could also be asked to play prominent roles.

And, of course, this will demand much more from industrious but sloppy Miguel Almiron, whose expected goal total is 2.5 (he has zero).