World Cup Today: Only one of 8 teams out of it in Groups E & F

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How’d you like to win your first two matches of World Cup and not be guaranteed a place in the knockout round? It’s extremely unlikely, but that’s the predicament facing France on Wednesday despite outclassing Switzerland and Honduras to open its tournament and boasting a plus-6 goal differential.

Still, the French should be through barring a three-goal stomping from Ecuador coupled with Switzerland running roughshod over Honduras. And with four matches on tap today, we’ll have to shift our focus from Tuesday’s action and controversy, which saw:

Luis Suarez’s third bite take the focus away from Uruguay’s advancement over Italy.

England’s snoozer of a draw against Costa Rica.

Greece playing the snake-in-the-grass to near-perfection in ouster of Ivory Coast

Colombia reinforcing its status as title threats with a 4-1 thumping of Japan

[ MORE: How will U.S. lineup vs. Germany ]
[ MORE: Soccerly covers the World Cup ]

Two more group finales are in store on Wednesday. Let’s take a look at what’s in store:

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MATCH 43: Nigeria vs. Argentina
Location: Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre
Time: Noon ET
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Cheater’s Guide
The Soccerly headline says that Argentina is out to prove they are more than just Lionel Messi, who turned 27 on Tuesday, but they haven’t needed anything additional than Leo so far. Argentina is through and will win the group with a tie or better. Nigeria is also through with a draw.

What they’re saying
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella on Messi: “Whenever there is a player like Messi, there’s a dependence. We are trying to improve but dependence always exists. We have to try to take the pressure off him between all of us because we are a team. But for a great player there is always pressure at a World Cup.”

History
Argentina holds a 4-1-1 advantage, including a 3-for-3 mark at World Cups 2010, 2002 and 1994.

Premier League Players
Nigeria: John Obi MikelVictor Moses (Chelsea); Peter Odemwingie (Stoke City)
Argentina: Manchester City has three representatives: Pablo Zabaleta, Martín Demichelis and Sergio Agüero.

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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source:  MATCH 44: Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Iran
Location: Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador
Time: Noon ET
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Cheater’s guide
BNH is out, while Iran still advance with a win, a Nigeria loss and a better goal differential (Iran’s is currently -1, Nigeria’s +1). With the two teams having drawn 0-0, there’s also the chance of lots being drawn if the matches both finish 1-0.

What they’re saying
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz on the match’s importance: “This is our World Cup final, it’s as simple as that. We didn’t come here to win the trophy. Nobody expected that from Iran, but we raised our expectations and we raised our dreams. We want to play the match with one goal in mind: to fulfil our dream of reaching the last 16.”

History
BNH has not won in five attempts against Iran with at least three goals scored in each match (Iran outscoring them 16-7).

Premier League players
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Asmir Begović (Stoke City); Edin Džeko (Manchester City)

MLS players
Iran: Steven Beitashour (Vancouver Whitecaps)

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source: AP

MATCH 41: Honduras vs. Switzerland
Location: Arena da Amazônia, Manaus
Time: 4pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide
Believe it or not, Honduras is not out of this thing yet. It would take a crazy dose of CONCACAF magic, as the Central Americans will need to win and see Ecuador lose to France by margins that erase a goal differential of four. Switzerland needs to win and see Ecuador lose as well, though the erasing of goal differential is easier than Honduras’ task.

What they’re saying
Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka: “We have a better team and more quality than Honduras. And I think we deserve to go through to the Round of 16. We’re utterly determined to make it, and we’ll show it against Honduras.”

History
Met once at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where they drew 0-0.

Premier League players
Honduras – Maynor Figueroa (Hull City), Wilson Palacios (Stoke City)
Switzerland – Philippe Senderos (Aston Villa)

MLS players:
Honduras – Victor Bernardez (San Jose), Boneik Garcia (Houston), Marvin Chavez (Chivas USA), Jerry Bengtson (New England).

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source: Getty ImagesMATCH 42: Ecuador vs. France
Location: Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte
Time: 4pmn ET
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Cheater’s guide
Ecuador needs to win and hope Switzerland doesn’t absolutely destroy Honduras in Manaus. France wins the group with a draw, and it would take a grievous and historical loss to eliminate them as well (And what if they had Ribery?!?)

What they’re saying
Ecuador’s Christian Noboa on the match: ““It’s like a final for us and we’re hoping to win it and make our people happy. We can beat France. That’s why we’re here at the World Cup, because every team is capable of beating anyone else. We’ve seen that in the other games, and there isn’t much difference between sides now.

History
The two nations have never met.

Premier League players
Ecuador – Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)
France – Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle), Bacary Sagna (Manchester City), Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Moussa Sissokho (Newcastle), Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Loic Remy (QPR).

MLS players
Ecuador – Oswaldo Minda (Chivas USA)

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Rankings the comeback potential of Champions League sides

UEFA Champions League
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Maybe Group H of the UEFA Champions League was very soft.

Chelsea and Valencia are in massive holes after 90 minutes of the Round of 16, and third-place Ajax is a 2-0 hole in its Europa League tie.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The other six teams’ disadvantages after one leg range from tricky to barely existent.

Let’s rate which teams have the best chances to climb back and earn a spot in the quarterfinals.

8. Chelsea (down 3-0 to Bayern Munich after home leg)

Robert Lewandowski’s injury hurts the Bavarians, but not three goals worth of hurt. And Serge Gnabry has been the one sounding death knells for London clubs.

7. Valencia (down 4-1 to Atalanta after away leg)

The away goal combined with the Serie A side’s relative inexperience in the competition gives Valencia a bit more hope than Chelsea.

6. Napoli (level at 1 with Barcelona after home leg)

On the plus side, Gennaro Gattuso’s men are level. That said, they allowed an away goal to Barca and have to go to the Camp Nou against a side yearning to make better UCL memories.

5. Real Madrid (down 2-1 to Man City after home leg)

Who knows what Pep Guardiola will launch at the Etihad Stadium, but giving him two away goals and a lead opens up his playbook? As for Zinedine Zidane, it was all so one dimensional at the Bernabeu. What’s he have cooking?

4. Tottenham Hotspur (down 1-0 to RB Leipzig after home leg)

Spurs have better UEL experience than their second leg hosts, though the striker problems looms over Jose Mourinho’s plans.

3. Liverpool (down 1-0 to Atletico Madrid after away leg)

It’s easy to imagine the Reds’ rebounding, and even Atleti will doubt its potential to keep Liverpool off the scoreboard at Anfield.

2. Paris Saint-Germain (down 2-1 to Borussia Dortmund after away leg)

Dortmund’s allowed plenty of goals this season, and PSG’s attack is stacked.

1. Juventus (down 1-0 to Lyon after away leg)

It’s difficult to imagine Juve playing as poor as they did Wednesday when they head back to Turin. The Old Lady knew something was wrong in warm-ups. They’ll address it, but can they keep Lyon off the board?

 

Europa League preview: Arsenal, Wolves, Man Utd look to advance

Europa League
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Fifteen places remain up for grabs in the Europa League’s Round of 16 after Steven Gerrard’s Rangers handled Braga in Wednesday’s lone second leg.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Notable names Porto, Benfica, and Ajax enter their second legs with hills to climb, while the three Premier League teams have varying degrees of advantage.

Manchester United v. Club Brugge

United enters the second leg at Old Trafford with an away goal advantage after the 1-1 draw in Belgium.

Luke Shaw says the Red Devils are driven by a desire to play for silverware, and the UEL joins the FA Cup as their lone opportunities to claim trophies this year.

“It is a massive ambition for me,” said Shaw, via The Manchester Evening News. “I was there for the Europa League final, and the feeling, even though I wasn’t on the pitch, was a feeling I have not felt and I wanted more of. I wasn’t involved and that is what is pushing me on even more to get into this final, and others. We should be in finals and we should be in all competitions until the end. We are very confident at the moment.”

Arsenal v. Olympiacos

The Gunners claimed a 1-0 result in Greece, and know a draw will be enough to bring Mikel Arteta‘s men to the Round of 16.

The manager was asked what’s different about his Gunners, now back in contention to qualify for Europe via the Premier League table.

“I think the team is progressing well, the club is in a better place,” Arteta said, via Football.London. “We are getting much more unity on the sections of the club and as well a great energy back from the fans every time we play at the Emirates and away from the Emirates. There are a lot of positive things but there are still things to improve individually, collectively and as a club and we are in that process at the moment.”

Espanyol v. Wolves

Wolves rang up a four-goal advantage at the Molineux, and that may give Nuno Espirito Santo a chance to use his depth for a rare time this season.

The boss has counted on players like Conor Coady, Rui Patricio, and Raul Jimenez in all tournaments, and he admits that it’s worn on the squad.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve not suffered,” said Espirito Santo via Wolves’ site. “It’s been tough with a tight schedule, very demanding on the players and I think the credit is on them – the way they compete, the way they prepare themselves to compete, but it’s tough, very tough. … The credit is for the players, it’s for the staff, but the players buying, believing and working very hard, is what makes things go well.”

Look out for Diogo Jota if he plays; The Wolves star has five goals in his past two matches.

Thursday’s second legs

12:55 p.m. ET kickoffs
Istanbul Basaksehir (1-3) v. Sporting Lisbon
Gent (0-1) v. Roma
Malmo (1-2) v. Wolfsburg
LASK (1-1) v. AZ Alkmaar
Porto (1-2) v. Bayer Leverkusen
Espanyol (0-4) v. Wolves
Basel (3-0) v. APOEL Nicosia

3 p.m. ET
Manchester United (1-1) v. Club Brugge
Celtic (1-1) v. Copenhagen
Benfica (1-2) v. Shakhtar Donetsk
Red Bull Salzburg (1-4) v. Eintracht Frankfurt
Inter Milan (2-0) v. Ludogorets Razgrad
Ajax (0-2) v. Getafe
Sevilla (1-1) v. CFR Cluj
Arsenal (1-0) v. Olympiacos

Juventus ‘could tell something wasn’t switched on’ in Lyon

Juventus
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Juventus’ obsession with winning another European Cup has the club on edge after a 1-0 first leg loss to Lyon on Wednesday in the first leg of the Round of 16.

Stalwart defender Leonardo Bonucci, defender Danilo, and manager Maurizio Sarri were less than pleased with the performance.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Bonucci was spotted yelling at substitute midfielder Blaise Matuidi in warm-ups, and that was a prelude to a poor performance from most of the team.

“I didn’t tell Matuidi off, I told him the team includes those who are on the bench and we must all be ready to contribute,” Bonucci said, via Football-Italia. “I could tell something wasn’t switched on with the XI starters either. We’ve got to sort this out, as these are the things that make the difference.”

Sarri, the system man, is quite upset with his players after what he said was a lightning-fast training session on Tuesday.

“I don’t know why, I cannot get the players to understand the importance of moving the ball quickly,” said the flummoxed ex-Chelsea man. “This is fundamental, we’ll keep working on it and sooner or later this concept will get into their heads.”

Sarri was happier with the ball movement in the second half, and will expect Juve to do the same in its home second leg.

Danilo had a decent day in the loss. He didn’t sugar coat the performance.

“We cannot just gift the first half to the opposition in such an important tournament. We are aware that we did that and need to work harder,” Danilo said.

Guardiola ‘so proud’ of Man City comeback; KDB, Jesus react to tactics

Pep Guardiola
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Pep Guardiola was grinning widely after his tactical moves set up Manchester City in a 2-1 comeback win over Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.

“I’m so proud,” Guardiola said. “This is the first step. It’s not over. We can enjoy the moment.”

Why wouldn’t he be smiling? Guardiola became the first manager to win Champions League games at the Bernabeu with two different teams, and did it during one of the most controversial periods in club history.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

What was different? Well, Guardiola played Kevin De Bruyne as a sort of second striker and took center forward Gabriel Jesus and deployed him as a left-sided midfielder.

“In the four years we are here with Pep, sometimes there are some surprises,” De Bruyne said. “Even the players don’t really know before the game starts what we need to do. Some were good. We had some lesser moments but in a quality game like this you’re gonna struggle but we fought really well together.”

Jesus had it even weirder, playing as a sort of left midfielder or even wingback with plenty of responsibility going back and forward.

The Brazilian said he has some experience playing wide, but — again — you have to be ready for the full Pep Guardiola experience.

“I can remember my time in the Palmeiras academy and I play like a winger and then become a striker,” he said. “But I go to the pitch to help my team-mates. It doesn’t matter if I have to run back or forwards. I have to help my team-mates. We are learning a lot. We have to play different positions sometimes.”

Guardiola knows the second leg is going to be tough, as Real will put everything into attack.

“When we were better, we conceded a goal,” Guardiola said, via the BBC. “When they were better, we scored a goal. That’s football. I remember the quarterfinal a few seasons ago at Anfield when we played incredibly well and they scored all their shots on target.”

Real will be without center back Sergio Ramos, who was sent off late, while Man City could be missing its best center back. Aymeric Laporte subbed off in the first half.