Injuries to defenders may force Belgium to improvise against the United States

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Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen, two potential starters in defense for Belgium, continue to be troubled by injuries that could sideline the pair for the Red Devils’ round of 16 match-up against the United States, according to reports out of Brazil. With two other Belgian defenders already ruled out, choices along the back are becoming depleted for head coach Marc Wilmots, who has had to consider employing two of his midfielders at fullback on Tuesday in Salvador.

Kompany, largely considered amongst the best defenders in the world, didn’t play against South Korea on Thursday while resting a groin injury. Also the team’s captain, the 28-year-old center back is considered questionable against the U.S.

Vermaelen suffered a hamstring strain warming up for Belgium’s second group game last Friday and had to be removed after 45 minutes. He also was rested against the Koreans but would be an option at left back should be prove healthy enough to take part.

Second choice fullback Anthony Vanden Borre is out for the rest of the competition after cracking his fibula, while Laurent Cimen is also unavailable for the team’s second round match. Among the four healthy options for Wilmots, there are no natural fullbacks, though Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen can play on the flanks.

Compensating for the lack of depth and flexibility, Wilmots has had to consider other options. From reporting by Reuters:

“I’m happy we have had an extra day’s rest because we won our group,” […]

“We still have four days. I hope most of them will be fit then.”

[…] “(Nacer) Chadli can play at right back and (Mousa) Dembele on the left of defence. I don’t see a problem. But I hope that as many as possible are available,” he told reporters.

Fullback was never an area of strength for the Belgians, who posted a perfect record in Group H largely playing central defenders out wide. With a player of Kompany’s athleticism potentially missing, that gambit takes on new risk. If opponents can take advantage of mistakes from somewhat out-of-position players, there may not be a player of Kompany’s caliber to cover.

The degree to which that’s a problem with Alderweireld and Vertonghen is debatable. Both get enough time at fullback to be comfortable at the positions. The real issue is the lack of depth. If anybody along the back four goes down (or, gets dismissed), Wilmots may be forced to consider one of his more improvised solutions.

If Kompany can play, however, the Belgian starting XI will be close to full-strength when the team kicks off against the U.S. Over 120 minutes, however, 11 may not be enough.

NZ women’s coach placed on leave after player complaints

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) The coach of New Zealand’s women’s football team has been placed on leave pending an investigation of complaints about his conduct from members of the national team.

[ MORE: Senegal holds off late Poland charge for Group H win ]

The complaints centered around tactics Andreas Heraf used in a recent home international against Japan and his comments to media after that match. Players reportedly objected to the defensive nature of Heraf’s tactics in the 3-1 loss.

New Zealand Football chief executive Andy Martin said at a news conference on Wednesday that his organization had received a letter from the New Zealand Professional Footballers Association, containing letters of complaint from 13 national team members.

Defending his approach at a news conference after the match, Heraf said the New Zealand players would never have the “quality” to compete with a team of Japan’s ability and might have lost 8-0 if they had not adopted a defensive style.

Further reports have emerged of player concerns about Heraf’s behavior, including allegations of bullying.

Martin was repeatedly questioned at the news conference about when New Zealand Football first had notice of the players’ concerns about Heraf. He insisted he was not aware of any problems until the letter from the NZPFA containing the players’ complaints was released on Monday.

In a statement, New Zealand Football Chairman Deryck Shaw said player welfare was “of utmost importance.”

“We hold player welfare as a matter of utmost importance and that is why we are conducting a thorough, independent review. We want to ensure we better understand these issues in an objective review. There is no place for inappropriate behavior of any kind with New Zealand Football.”

Ronaldo’s early tally gives Portugal win over Morocco

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It was far from a convincing performance, but manager Fernando Santos and Co. came away with their first win at the World Cup and now sit in the drivers’ seat in Group B.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Portugal earned a narrow 1-0 win over Morocco on Wednesday, after Cristiano Ronaldo’s early header proved to be the difference.

Santos’ group now sits atop Group B with four points, while Morocco is eliminated after losing its first two matches.

It took just four minutes for Portugal to break the deadlock, with Ronaldo once again at the center of the Portuguese attack.

The Real Madrid man brilliantly latched onto a header at the near post off of a corner kick, giving Ronaldo his fourth goal at this World Cup (seventh goal overall).

Morocco did well to insert its presence in the match following the early goal, but various chances from Medhi Benatia and Hakim Ziyech weren’t enough to break past Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio.

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The African side also had a legitimate appeal for a penalty kick in the first stanza, however, referee Mark Geiger opted to play on despite the Moroccan protest.

Morocco continued its pressure in the second half, and Patricio was forced to make an incredible save in the 57th minute when Younes Belhanda headed a cross towards the far corner.

Portugal will close out Group B play on June 25 against Iran, while Morocco takes on Spain

Arena says there’s no reason for Pulisic to leave Dortmund

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Christian Pulisic has been the subject of transfer talks for some time now after becoming an instant star at Borussia Dortmund, but one of the U.S. Men’s National Team’s former coaches says it might be wise for him to stay put; at least for now.

MORE: Ronaldo scores fourth goal in World Cup ]

Former USMNT boss Bruce Arena spoke about Pulisic, who has had rumors of moves to Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United surrounding him recently.

Arena cited consistent playing time as the main reason why Pulisic may want to consider holding off on a transfer for now.

“I think Christian is in a great place. Dortmund has a very good reputation for developing players.

“In his couple years there with the first team, he’s done very well. Hopefully, he can continue to do that, be consistent at the club level, and if he does that, he’s going to be a real plus for the national team program.

“Any move Christian makes in the future, it’s important he goes to a club where he plays on a regular basis. There’s no point in him leaving Dortmund and going to a club where he doesn’t get the kind of minutes he needs to continue to develop.”

Pulisic has spent three seasons at Dortmund, scoring 12 goals in all competitions during that span.

Video: Ronaldo scores fourth goal, gives Portugal early lead

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He has four goals in less than two matches, and Portugal is off to another flying start courtesy of their star forward.

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Cristiano Ronaldo gave the Portuguese a 1-0 lead against Morocco in the fourth minute after brilliantly heading home a corner kick.

The Real Madrid star gave Portugal a similar spark at the beginning of their 3-3 draw against Spain in their first Group B match when Ronaldo drew, and scored a penalty kick inside of the opening three minutes.

Is there anything this man cannot do?