World Cup Today: Four, that’s right, four, games to watch

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WORLD CUP TODAY: SATURDAY, JUNE 14

Can it get any better than Friday’s matches? One can only hope.

Things got off to a rather rough start on Day Two, when Mexico had two goals disallowed when the flag went up. The calls were so egregious that even USMNT fans started cheering El Tri, which should give you some idea of the tension charging through the field. But Oribe Peralta broke through around the hour mark, and Mexico came away with a 1-0 win.

Then things got very, very, very fun. Unless you are a Spain fan. Netherlands put not three, not four, but five goals past the defending world champions, leaving the majority of the world either giggling hysterically or wondering if they’d accidentally ingested some questionable substances. By the end, Iker Casillas was in tears, having failed to prevent Spain from falling 5-1.

It all wrapped up with one of the more balanced matches we’ve seen in the two short days of this tournament. It looked as though Australia were about to go the way of Spain, as Chile scored twice inside two minutes. The Aussies fought back, however, and up until the final minutes they looked good value for a draw. But Jean Beausejour put on in during added time, and Chile came away 3-1 winners.

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MATCH 5: COLOMBIA vs. GREECE
Location: Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte
Time: 12 noon ET
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Cheater’s guide:
Colombia, once everyone’s darlings, are going to have to prove that they’re more than just Radamel Falcao. Which, of course, they are, with los cafeteros set to start the likes of Juan Cuadrado, James Rodríguez and Teófilo Gutiérrez, with Jackson Martínez on the bench. Despite Greece’s dogged approach to defending, expect Colombia to be able to break through. Greece may not have conceded many in qualifying, but bear in mind they were drawn with Lithuania, Latvia and Liechtenstein.

What they’re saying:
“Since [the Euro 2004 win], the players have felt somehow comfortable playing in a particular pattern,” said Greece coach Fernando Santos. “Lately, we’ve been trying to progress from that pattern, but it’s very hard especially at national team level, since there aren’t many training sessions. We haven’t had much time to work as a group, so it’s not easy to change these patterns and the team’s habits.”

Translation: expect Greece to be their boring, defensive selves.

History:
The two sides have met once before, with Colombia beating Greece 2-0.

Premier League players:
Colombia: None
Greece: Does Kostas Mitroglu of recently relegated Fulham count?

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera believes his team can win the World Cup in Brazil again.

MATCH 6: URUGUAY vs. COSTA RICA
Location: Estádio Castelão, Fortaleza
Time: 3pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide:
Uruguay made it to the final four in South Africa, so they’ve got to be good, right? Except they’re more or less the same team, with four years added on. Oh, and Luis Suárez won’t be starting. But Costa Rica have been tipped by many to finish dead last, so expect la celeste to get the three points anyway.

What they’re saying:
Fernando Muslera, Uruguay’s goalkeeper, believes unity will be key: “I’ve never experienced such a united group. We are all friends, we all have the same objective, we all row in the same direction. We have already won a World Cup in this country and we hope we can do that again.”

That’s cool, Nando. But as that was over 60 years ago, I’m pretty sure your squad, although admittedly an aging one, has changed a bit.

History:
Uruguay has a definite advantage here, having won six and drawn two, scoring 15 goals to the Ticos’ 8.

Premier League players:
Uruguay: Luis Suárez (Liverpool) Gastón Ramírez (Southampton)

MLS Players:
Costa Rica: Giancarlo González, Waylon Francis (Colombus Crew), Roy Miller (New York Red Bulls)

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MATCH 7: ENGLAND vs. ITALY
Location: Arena Amazônia, Manaus
Time: 6pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide: The thing about these two sides is there’s no way to really imagine what might happen. It could be a dull goalless draw, as happened in Euro 2012. Italy crush England’s confidence with slick passing through the midfield and Mario Balotelli’s tendency to be in the right place at the right time. Or England could wear down the azzurriplaying patiently until breaking through with a late winner.

Or both sides could go all out and we could get a 4-3 goalfest, but that’s probably the one thing we can be confident won’t happen.

What they’re saying:
Then again, England captain Steven Gerrard seems convinced his side have destiny in their own hands: “It is not sit back and camp out on the edge of our box and see what happens. We have a game plan to go and attack with confidence and belief.

History:
This will be the two sides’ 25th meeting. Italy have a slight edge, with 9 wins, 7 draws and 8 losses.

Premier League players:
England: 22 of England’s 23 players are on Premier League clubs. The full squad list can be found here.

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MATCH 8: IVORY COAST vs. JAPAN
Location: Arena Pernambuco, Recife
Time: 9pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide: An attack-minded Japan is going up against a rather aging Ivory Coast squad – one that feels like it has one last chance to impress before the band gets broken up for good.

What they’re saying:
Maya Yoshida on how Japan’s previous experience in Brazil may help: “Brazil is the host of both the Confederations Cup and the World Cup, and we really got to experience this country, both on and off the pitch. Other than things such as the heat and the environment, we got to experience Brazil in areas outside football such as the food and life inside the hotel. I think the fact that we’ve experienced this country once already will make a huge difference.”

History:
The two sides have met three times, all in friendly conditions. Japan have won twice, Ivory Coast once.

Premier League players:
Ivory Coast: Wilfried Bony (Swansea City), Cheick Tioté (Newcastle), Kolo Touré (Liverpool), Yaya Touré (Manchester City)
Japan: Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Maya Yoshida (Southampton)

Martino angry at Corona absence from Mexico squad

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New Mexico boss Gerardo “Tata” Martino did not hold back when asked about Jesus “Tecatito” Corona’s absence from the Mexico squad for the upcoming international break.

Corona pulled out of the squad due to an ankle injury he has apparently been playing through at his club side Porto. Still, Martino said he wished for Corona to travel to San Diego to meet up with the squad despite the injury as he is hoping to meet as many of the players in person and get to know them better.

“On Sunday, I spoke with him twice, once early in the morning and the other in the airport,” Martino explained to Azteca Deportes. “In the morning, I manifested the idea that even with impossibility [of playing with] the injury he had, we needed him to be with the group to get to know each other, it being the first meeting we’d have had. He didn’t have to train or play if he couldn’t, but we needed him to be here. At first he said yes and then on midday on Sunday, he called to say he’d thought about it and that his ankle wasn’t right and that he preferred not to travel.”

While Martino said that ultimately the decision was Corona’s to make, he made sure to note that “he’s [Corona’s] done something wrong” and that “he knows there will be repercussions in the future.”

“No one goes gun in hand asking them to come in and when they decide not to come we move on and keep going with the group that does want to be here,” Martino explained.

The Mexico boss also succinctly described his decision to leave LAFC striker Carlos Vela out of the squad, saying simply, “I don’t meet up [with the players] to make pacts. I had to take a decision and name the squad list and in that list I decided that Carlos shouldn’t be in.”

Just two months ago, upon officially receiving the job, Martino had described Vela as a “world class player.”

FA to investigate after coin thrown towards Chelsea’s Barkley at Goodison

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The FA has announced it is launching an investigation into the claims that a coin was thrown in the direction of former Everton player Ross Barkley during his return to Goodison Park with current club Chelsea.

The announcement confirmed that the FA has reached out to both clubs to make them aware of the investigation and procure any relevant information they may have regarding the incident.

Everton also announced it is conducting its own investigation of the incident at its home park. “We are investigating the alleged incident and reviewing footage,” Everton said in a statement. “If anyone is found responsible for this or other such incidents, the club will take robust action.”

Barkley transferred to Chelsea in January of 2018, and this was his first match back in his old stomping grounds. Everton won the match 2-0 to reach the 40 point mark and also pile pressure on Blues manager Maurizio Sarri.

The alleged coin assault came just two days after the FA, Premier League, and EFL issued a joint statement reminding “all supporters to carefully consider their behavior” at the weekend’s games and “all games in the future.” The statement came after a number of high-profile crowd disturbances, including a fan who ran onto the field and attacked Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish, plus another pitch invader who shoved Manchester United defender Chris Smalling during a match against Arsenal.

Euro 2020 qualification set to begin Thursday

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With the international break upon us, qualification for Euro 2020 is set to begin, with 55 countries spread across 10 groups to determine who will make the final field of 24 that will take place in the main event in the summer of 2020.

As the group stage draws nearer, we take a look at the important matches that will begin qualification play through the first three competitive days of the international break in round one of qualifying.

Austria v. Poland

Bayern Munich teammates Robert Lewandowski and David Alaba will go head-to-head as Austria hosts Poland in Vienna. Lewandowski hasn’t scored for the national team since a pre-World Cup friendly last summer, and the visitors will be looking to put a poor World Cup behind them for good. As the two highest-ranked teams in Group G, there will be plenty of eyes on this match between two teams who haven’t met in over a decade.

Belgium v. Russia

The two favorites in Group I go head-to-head to kick off the competition as two teams fresh off happy World Cup memories clash in Brussels. Both of these teams failed to win their UEFA Nations League groups, meaning Euro qualification is their only method of entry into the final competition. Kevin De Bruyne misses out for Belgium, but the rest of the star-studded Belgian roster is intact. The Russians are looking for a new goalkeeper after the international retirement of Igor Akinfeev, and the three men called up to replace him have a combined 12 caps between them.

Slovakia v. Hungary

In surely one of the most hotly contested groups of Euro 2020 qualification, Slovakia and Hungary meet hoping to get the jump on one another as they compete with Croatia, Wales, and Azerbaijan for a slot in the final tournament. Hungary has not won a competitive road match since 2016, and they have scored just one goal against Slovakia in their last five tries. Marek Hamsik, fresh off his move to Chinese club Dalian Yifang, leads the lines for Slovakia in this critical match.

England v. Czech Republic

The two favorites in Group A meet to see if either side can get a leg up on the other four teams early. England will be without John Stones and Luke Shaw due to injury, but otherwise most first-choice players are fit. Jadon Sancho may get a chance to continue his stellar club form on the international level, while Callum Hudson-Odoi is with the squad as well. The Czech Republic called up just 18 players, including Burnley forward Matej Vydra, one of only five players on the squad with over 20 international appearances.

Portugal v. Ukraine

Group B has three main contenders, and two of them will meet on Friday looking for an early advantage. Cristiano Ronaldo is in great club form and was rested in the latest Juventus match as they lost for the first time all Serie A season. All the usual suspects are back for a ridiculously experienced Portugal team that hopes to defend its Euro 2016 title. The squad features five players with at least 50 caps, including three with over 100. Ukraine, meanwhile, is without the injured Andriy Yarmolenko who tore his Achilles back in October. Coach Andriy Shevchenko made the bold decision to leave experienced defenders Yaroslav Rakytskyi and Yevhen Khacheridi at home, with their 104 caps more than the entire defensive unit currently in the squad.

Spain v. Norway

An absolutely loaded Group F begins play on Saturday as Spain hosts Norway in Valencia. While Spain is considered the favorite for the group, the rocky and disappointing World Cup journey and spotty Nations League performances leaves them considered vulnerable heading into qualifying, and with Sweden, Norway, and Romania all considered contenders for that second spot, Luis Enrique’s squad will have to be on top of its game throughout. Enrique has left out Real Madrid struggler Isco as well as Atleti pair Koke and Saul in favor of greener players like Iker Muniain. On the other side, Norway boss Lars Lagerback has an inexperienced squad captained by West Brom midfielder Stefan Johansen.

FULL ROUND 1 SCHEDULE (all times Eastern)

Thursday, 3/21

Kazakhstan v. Scotland – 11am
Cyprus v. San Marino – 1pm
Austria v. Poland – 3:45pm
Belgium v. Russia – 3:45pm
Israel v. Slovenia – 3:45pm
Macedonia v. Latvia – 3:45pm
Netherlands v. Belarus – 3:45pm
Northern Ireland v. Estonia – 3:45pm
Slovakia v. Hungary – 3:45pm

Friday, 3/22

Bulgaria v. Montenegro – 1pm
Albania v. Turkey – 3:45pm
Andorra v. Iceland – 3:45pm
England v. Czech Republic – 3:45pm
Luxembourg v. Lithuania – 3:45pm
Moldova v. France – 3:45pm
Portugal v. Ukraine – 3:45pm

Saturday, 3/23

Georgia v. Switzerland – 10am
Gibraltar v. Republic of Ireland – 1pm
Malta v. Faroe Islands – 1pm
Sweden v. Romania – 1pm
Bosnia & Herzegovina v. Armenia – 3:45pm
Italy v. Finland – 3:45pm
Lichtenstein v. Greece – 3:45pm
Spain v. Norway – 3:45pm

Inter handed suspended sentence for more racist chants

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MILAN (AP) — Inter Milan has been handed a suspended sentence of having one of its stands closed for a match after its fans were again found guilty of racist chanting.

The Italian league says in a statement that “a significant percent” of supporters in the stand in question were heard racially abusing AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie during Sunday’s derby victory, in the seventh and 39th minutes of the first half.

The sentence will be suspended for a year but will be added onto any additional punishment if Inter’s fans commit more racist abuse during that period.

It is the second time this season that Inter has been sanctioned for racial abuse.

Inter was forced to play two games in an empty stadium in January after a Dec. 26 game at San Siro was marred by racist chants aimed at Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly.