Ten biggest surprise players of the 2014 World Cup

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The relative successes of Lionel Messi, Manuel Neuer and Arjen Robben were not shocking to followers of the world’s game, but several players turned the wattage up on their stars during the World Cup in Brazil.

Let’s take a look at ten players who surprised the world over the past month (We’re going to go with positive surprises because, golly, that’s the type of folks we strive to be):

10. Jermaine Jones, United States — This could’ve been a spot for DeAndre Yedlin, but the fact remains that the electrifying youngster did his work off the bench while Jones played his best matches as an American player. In fact, you could justifiably say that Jones’ tournament more or less cemented some doubters of the “Jurgen Knows Best” crowd.

9. Hector Herrara, Mexico (above right) — We know, El Tri fans, he’s a star. But who had him pegged to be one of the best midfielders in the entire tournament? The 24-year-old Porto man was dynamite.

[ MORE from our 2014 World Cup review ]

8. Juan Cuadrado, Colombia — Again, when you’re an important player for a club like Fiorentina — in a league that isn’t all about foreigners — it’s not a massive surprise. But he provided flair and toughness for the Colombia run.

7. Enner Valencia, Ecuador — A shorter tournament than he would’ve liked, but the new West Ham man now had 7 goals in 13 caps and is coming off a season in Pachuca that saw him net 18 times in 23 matches.

6. Daley Blind, Netherlands (also above right) — The 24-year-old Ajax man sends in mesmerizing crosses and knows how to get stuck in as well.

5. Giancarlo Gonzalez, Costa Rica — Even the fans in Columbus may’ve been surprised by how well the Crew defender, 26, performed at the tournament. Gonzalez was a massive part of a CRC back line that allowed just two goals in five matches: an Edinson Cavani penalty and a Sokratis Papastathopoulos goal.

4. Mathieu Valbuena, France — At a generous 5-foot-6, Valbuena was a diminutive terror for the French side. At times, he was simply a blue blur that Switzerland and Honduras could not handle. At age 29, did anyone expect the Marseille bet to shine so brightly?

3. Memphis Depay, Netherlands — The youngster prefers to be called Memphis due to his father’s lack of interest in his rearing, and the man performed like a Beale Street star. Just 20, Memphis’ best season for PSV was his 14-goal campaign this season. And his World Cup goals against Australia and Chile were his first as a Dutch international.

2. Keylor Navas, Costa Rica — His biggest honor of the last five years was being named La Liga player of the month in April, so perhaps club form keyed the 27-year-old’s performance at the tournament. There’s no denying that the 58-times capped keeper, perhaps set for Bayern Munich, was at-worst the second-best keeper at the tournament.

1. James Rodriguez, Colombia — We had James at No. 57 in our pre-tournament rankings, and that now seems absurdly-low. But remember: James only had five international goals before the World Cup, and his single-season best for club was 14 at Porto in 2012. Something tells us he’ll have a better chance to shine with Monaco or somewhere else this season.

Honorable mention: Ahmed Musa (Nigeria), Sergio Romero (Argentina), Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico), Serey Die (Ivory Coast), Gary Medel (Chile), DeAndre Yedlin (United States), David Ospina (Colombia), Islam Slimani (Algeria)

Watch Live: Arsenal v. Brighton, Sheffield Utd v. Newcastle

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Matchweek 15 of the 2019-20 Premier League season wraps up on Thursday, with two more midweek clashes featuring two mid-table sides, and two more from much nearer to the relegation zone, in action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ] 

First up, PL new boys (and 9th-place side) Sheffield United will host 14th-place Newcastle United, who sit just two points outside the relegation zone ahead of kickoff. 45 minutes later, 10th-place Arsenal will host 16th-place Brighton & Hove Albion in Freddie Ljungberg’s first home game as Arsenal interim manager.

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The schedule for Thursday’s two games is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


2:30 p.m. ET: Sheffield United v. Newcastle United [STREAM]
3:15 p.m. ET: Arsenal v. Brighton & Hove Albion [STREAM]

Atleti escapes major punishment for fans’ Griezmann threats

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid escaped major punishment Wednesday after its fans made threatening chants against former player Antoine Griezmann during last weekend’s La Liga match against Barcelona.

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

The Spanish league had denounced the club after some fans chanted “Die Griezmann” in Sunday’s match, won by Barcelona at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid.

The Spanish soccer federation said it would fine Atletico $333 because the game was disrupted, but it did not cite the chants against Griezmann. The fine was prompted mainly because fans threw objects — including an umbrella — onto the field.

The Spanish league had denounced the club to the federation’s anti-violence committee, saying about 2,000 fans from Atletico’s “ultras” section made the chants for about 20 seconds before the start of the second half, and again later in the game.

[ MORE: Ole gushes over “the best performance Rashford has had under me” ]

Griezmann left Atletico for Barcelona at the end of last season in a transfer worth more than $132 million.

The France forward was jeered nearly every time he touched the ball at the Metropolitano on Sunday. It was his first match at Atletico’s stadium since leaving the club.

Klopp to take first team to Club World Cup, leave youth for EFL Cup

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Jurgen Klopp has chosen his strongest possible Liverpool squad to take to the Club World Cup later this month, leaving a reserve- and youth-laden team behind to compete in the EFL Cup during the same period.

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

Liverpool will head to Doha, Qatar, for the Club World Cup, where they’ll play their semifinal fixture against one of Monterrey (Mexico), Al-Saad (Qatar) or Hienghene Sport (New Caledonia) on Dec. 18. The day prior, on Dec. 17, the Reds will also play away to Aston Villa in the quarterfinals of the League Cup. With the club’s star-studded first team in Qatar, progression to the semifinals of the League Cup will be down to a team full of teenage prospects.

Only defender Joel Matip and midfielder Fabinho, both of whom are currently injured and unavailable, were left out of the Club World Cup squad.

[ MORE: Ole gushes over “the best performance Rashford has had under me” ]

Players suffering from illness or injury prior to Liverpool’s first Club World Cup game can be replaced in the squad up to 24 hours before kickoff.

Liverpool’s Club World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: Alisson, Adrian, Andy Lonergan

Defenders: Virgil Van Dijk, Dejan Lovren, Joe Gomez, Andrew Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold

Midfielders: Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner, Naby Keita, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott, Neco Williams

Forwards: Firmino, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Xherdan Shaqiri, Rhian Brewster, Divock Origi

Hazard has muscle tear, could miss El Clasico

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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid midfielder Eden Hazard has a more serious right-leg injury than the bruise that was first diagnosed, and it could rule him out of El Clasico against Barcelona on Dec. 18.

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

Madrid said Thursday that new tests found a micro-tear of a muscle that had gone undetected since the injury occurred on Nov. 26 in a 2-2 draw with Paris Saint-Germain.

Hazard joined Madrid from Chelsea this year on a club-record transfer of $113 million, plus add-ons. He missed the first three games of the season after injuring a thigh muscle in the preseason.

[ MORE: Ole gushes over “the best performance Rashford has had under me” ]

Madrid said it will also likely be without left back Marcelo for Saturday’s home game against Espanyol because of a muscle injury.

Madrid is in second place in the Spanish league behind Barcelona on goal difference.