World Cup Today: U.S. can advance with a win over Portugal

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WORLD CUP TODAY: SUNDAY, JUNE 22

So, what happened yesterday? First, Argentina and Iran fought out what looked to be a goalless draw, only for Lionel Messi to score the winner in injury time. Next came Germany, who everyone expected to win handily after beating Portugal 4-0. Instead they played out a thrilling 2-2 draw with Ghana. Finally, Nigeria knocked out Bosnia and Herzegovina with a lone goal and a questionable offside flag.

And, of course, we all know what today is – the chance for the USMNT to progress to the knockout stages. But first, there’s two other intriguing matches to get through, so get yourself comfortable.

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MATCH 30: BELGIUM VS. RUSSIA
Location: Estádio Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro
Time: Noon ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s Guide
Belgium started slow in their first match, going into the break down a goal. Marc Wilmots elected to make changes for the second half, and his more attacking lineup fought back to beat Algeria 2-1. Russia, too, had to battle for a point, fighting back to a 1-1 draw after goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev’s blunder allowed South Korea the opening goal.

What they’re saying

Vincent Kompany, who hopes to be fit for the match, on playing in the hallowed Maracanã stadium: “Playing at the Maracanã is an honour, a source of pride. With Wembley, it’s the most mythical stadium in the world. I’ve already achieved lots of my childhood dreams. This is another one. I think that all the players, Belgian and Russian, will share the same extraordinary feeling here.”

History
Russia may not be favorites going into this match, but they’ve got a slight historical edge, with four wins to Belgium’s three. The two sides have also drawn once.

Premier League Players
Belgium: 
Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal); Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea); Kevin Mirallas (Everton); Simon Mignolet (Liverpool); Vincent Kompany (Manchester City); Marouane Fellaini, Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United); Nacer Chadli, Mousa Dembélé, Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham)

Did you know: every player in the Russia squad plays their club soccer inside the country?

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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MATCH 31: SOUTH KOREA VS. ALGERIA

Location: Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre
Time: 3pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide
In South Korea’s first game, Lee Keunho scored thanks to a major howler from the goalkeeper, but Russia fought back to ensure both sides left with a point. Algeria took a surprising lead against Belgium and looked strong throughout, but they couldn’t overcome Wilmots’ second-half substitutions, and would up losing 2-1. Should both sides come out of their shells a bit, this could be a fun one to watch.

What they’re saying

Sofiane Feghouli, scorer of Algeria’s goal against Belgium, thinks his side should still be hopeful: “We held out for 70 minutes against one of the strongest nations at the World Cup. We learned a lot from the game. As a young side, we’ve got nothing to lose. It’s always disappointing to lose, but we need to take note of the positive aspects, especially in the way we played as a unit. We fought hard, demonstrating great teamwork, and that’s why I still think we can reach the Round of 16.”

History
The two sides have met just once, with South Korea winning 2-0.

Premier League players
South Korea:
 Park Chu-Young (Arsenal); Ki Sung-Yueng (Swansea); Yun Suk-Young (Queens Park Rangers)
Algeria: Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City); Nabil Bentaleb (Tottenham)

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MATCH 32: UNITED STATES VS. PORTUGAL

Location: Arena Amazônia, Manaus
Time: 6pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide
Portugal were already down 2-0 by the time Pepe gave Thomas Müller a loving head-nuzzle, so it was no trouble at all for Germany to down them 4-0. Clint Dempsey impressed for the United States, scoring within 30 seconds and playing nearly an hour with a broken nose. Ghana equalized late, but John Brooks came back with a goal to give the U.S. the 2-1 victory.

What they’re saying
Clint Dempsey believes the U.S. brought the 12th Man to Brazil: “To be able to have that feeling of feeling that you’re at home is pretty special, especially when I remember playing games in the States when I first got in the national side, where you’d be playing and they’d have more fans than you even in your home country. So now things are starting to change and the fact that we are here in Brazil, and playing in these different stadiums, you feel like you have that home-field advantage. It shows how far the game has come in the States.”

History:
The U.S. and Portugal are dead even: two wins each, one draw, and five goals scored by each side. Will the balance tip in favor of one team today?

Premier League players
United States:
Brad Guzan (Aston Villa); Tim Howard (Everton); Geoff Cameron (Stoke City); Jozy Altidore (Sunderland
Portugal: Nani (Manchester United)

MLS players
United States:
Michael Bradley (Toronto FC); Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo); Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy); Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake); Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes); Clint Dempsey, DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders); Matt Besler, Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Jota takes super sub to new level in Wolves win

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Sometimes the phrase “game changer” is used a bit too loosely, but there’s no debating Diogo Jota fit the bill to a ‘t’ on Thursday.

Wolves scored four times in 11 minutes, three coming courtesy Jota, as the Premier League side buried Besiktas 4-0 in Europa League play on Thursday.

Jota entered in the 56th minute, scored in the 57th, and completed his hat trick in the 68th.

[ MORE: Who can Wolves draw in UEL? ]

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men had already clinched a place in the knockout rounds before the match day, and finish one point below Braga in Group K.

Jota has five goals in five days after scoring twice against Brighton on Sunday. The 23-year-old had an up-and-down season to start but has been mostly good over the past half-dozen games.

He has 37 goals in 107 matches with Wolves, including nine in all competitions this season. He scored nine times last season after a 17-goal campaign in the Championship.

Leander Dendoncker had Wolves’ other goal, with the day’s assists going to Oskar Buur, Joao Moutinho, and Pedro Neto.

 

Who can Premier League clubs draw in Europa League?

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Group winners Arsenal and Manchester United will avoid a loaded batch of seeded teams, while runners-up Wolves can draw a bevy of powerful teams in the Europa League Round of 32.

Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo can find himself drawn against former club Porto, but also could have to match wits with Ajax’s Erik ten Hag, Inter Milan’s Antonio Conte, or Red Bull Salzburg’s Jesse Marsch.

[ MORE: Man Utd pounds AZ ]

Speaking of Marsch, the Salzburg boss could go from meeting Liverpool to squaring off with Steven Gerrard and Rangers.

Gerrard could also, of course, go up against hated playing days’ rival Manchester United.

Seeded teams
Ajax
Arsenal
Basel
Benfica
Braga
Celtic
Espanyol
Gent
Inter Milan
Istanbul Basaksehir
LASK
Malmo
Manchester United
Porto
Red Bull Salzburg
Sevilla

Unseeded teams
APOEL Nicosia
AZ Alkmaar
Bayer Leverkusen
Club Brugge
Copenhagen
CFR Cluj
Eintracht Frankfurt
Ludogorets Razgrad
Olympiacos
Rangers
Roma
Wolfsburg
Wolves
Shakhtar Donetsk
Sporting Lisbon

Who can Premier League teams draw in the Round of 32?

Arsenal: APOEL Nicosia, AZ Alkmaar, Bayer Leverkusen, Club Brugge, Copenhagen, CFR Cluj, Ludogorets Razgrad, Olympiacos, Rangers, Roma, Wolfsburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sporting Lisbon

Manchester United: APOEL Nicosia, Bayer Leverkusen, Club Brugge, Copenhagen, CFR Cluj, Eintracht Frankfurt, Ludogorets Razgrad, Olympiacos, Rangers, Roma, Wolfsburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sporting Lisbon

Wolves: Ajax, Basel, Benfica, Celtic, Espanyol, Gent, Inter Milan, Istanbul Basaksehir, LASK, Malmo, Porto, Red Bull Salzburg, Sevilla

Four-star Manchester United wins Europa League group

Manchester United Mata Greenwood
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Manchester United is in fine feather and showing it, smashing AZ Alkmaar in a stylish 4-0 win at Old Trafford in Europa League play on Thursday.

Juan Mata had a goal and set up two others, while Mason Greenwood scored twice after Ashley Young opened the scoring in a group-claiming victory.

[ MORE: Saka leads Arsenal comeback ]

United wins the group with 13 points, conceding just twice in six matches.

The Red Devils have won three-straight matches, as AZ joins Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the loss column. Up next is a Sunday visit from Everton in the Premier League before Wednesday’s League Cup quarterfinal visit from Colchester United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer handed starts to James Garner, Brandon Williams, and Axel Tuanzebe, bringing youngsters Ethan Laird and Tahith Chong off the bench.

Greenwood, 18, now has six goals in 22 senior appearances, while Mata, 31, gets on the score sheet for the first time this season.

For his career, the award-winning Spaniard is doing okay, though: 125 goals and 149 assists in 542 senior appearances.

Ljungberg hails ‘amazing’ teen Saka after game-changing performance

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Arsenal phenom Bukayo Saka‘s big day spurred the Gunners to a top seed in the Europa League knockout rounds.

Arsenal went behind on two deflected goals in the second half’s first 25 minutes, but Saka answered with a goal and an assist in three minutes to take a point from Belgium in a 2-2 draw at Standard Liege.

[ RECAP, VIDEO: Standard Liege 2-2 Arsenal ]

Saka was at the heart of it of all good things Arsenal, the 18-year-old handed plenty of responsibility. despite his tender age.

“He was amazing,” said interim manager Freddie Ljungberg. “He was a bit upset with me before the game that he had to play wing-back and full-back. He’s a tremendous talent.”

Saka had four key passes to go with his goal and assist, winning six of eight duels while producing two tackles and an interception.

Ljungberg said Arsenal hasn’t sent its young players on loan enough, though that hardly applies to Saka given he was 17 until September.

The injured Gunners used Konstantinos Mavropanos, Emile Smith-Rowe, Joe Willock, and Reiss Nelson in the Starting XI, and brought Gabriel Martinelli off the bench.

“I feel sorry for our young players,” he said. “A lot of them haven’t been on loan, they’ve not had that exposure to men’s football. Some of them made mistakes but they’ll learn from those mistakes and won’t do them again.”

Smith-Rowe was loaned to RB Leipzig last season and Nelson starred on loan at Hoffenheim. Mavropanos played first team football for Greek Super League side PAS Giannina in his late teens.

Arsenal joins Premier League sides Wolves and Manchester United in the knockout rounds, having lost the Europa League final to rivals Chelsea at the end of last season.

The Gunners beat West Ham on Monday and host Manchester City at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday.