Manuel Pellegrini talks title ambitions, Manchester City vs. AC Milan, US tour

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Going into his second season as a manger in the Premier League, Manchester City’s boss Manuel Pellegrini is preparing his squad for back-to-back titles by spending preseason in the USA. In his debut campaign in England, the 60-year-old Chilean delivered a League Cup and a PL title as he stamped his mark on English soccer in style.

[RELATED: Full U.S. tour schedule]

This summer City are Stateside, as they continue to promote their new team in Major League Soccer, New York City FC, plus get themselves ready for the new PL season which begins on August 16. On Wednesday City hammered Sporting Kansas City 4-1 at Sporting Park, as a mixture of stars and youngsters beat the reigning MLS Cup champions to lift the “Champions Shield.”

Pellegrini and his squad have been training in New Jersey before traveling to Pittsburgh to face Italian giants AC Milan in the Steel City on Sunday. City’s preseason preparations will then continue to be cranked up a notch as they face Liverpool at Yankee Stadium on July 30, then Olympiakos in Minneapolis on August 2 before potentially playing in the final of the International Champions Cup in Miami on August 4.

Speaking to reporters via a conference call on Saturday, Pellegrini had the following to say on the Citizens’ U.S. tour so far, how he plans to approach Sunday’s match, title ambitions and much more.

On how the tour has been so far…

I am very happy. We are working very well here, first in Kansas and now in New Jersey. The game against Sporting Kansas was very useful and tomorrow against AC Milan we hope to continue the same way we have so far.

On the importance of playing a top quality opponent like AC Milan…

Both teams are in preseason but it is an important match because we are in the International Champions Cup. I think it is most important to continue what we are doing. In this program we have a friendly match against AC Milan. We know they have a new manager and they are perhaps starting a new way of playing. I hope the game tomorrow will be a good game for both teams.

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Pellegrini believes his side have a great chance of winning the PL title once again.

On the importance of winning vs. giving players minutes and chance to impress…

It is always important to win. When we start the game tomorrow our minds will be focused on winning that game. I think the preparation around the game is important but it is important for us to win.

On how huge this preseason is for Stevan Jovetic…

Stevan is a very important player for our team. There have been a lot of rumors about him leaving our team but nothing is there.

On the young players coming through at Man City…

We have a lot of young players here and the likes of Scott Sinclair and Kelechi Iheanacho played well against Kansas City. It is a very important chance for them to show what they can do in our squad. This moment is their moment because we just had five players arrive back from the World Cup yesterday, we have another five or six players who have not arrived yet. The young players are working very hard and they must take their chance when it arrives.

On the likes of Man United, Chelsea strengthening over the summer…

I think every year you have five or six teams in the Premier League who are very strong. This year Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United are bringing in new players but I think we have a strong squad and we are having a good preseason. We also need three or four players to improve our squad so we will see throughout the year which teams are better but I continue to think we have a very strong squad and have a great opportunity to win the title again.

Sweden players, coaches left fuming after last-minute loss

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A last-minute goal. A non-called penalty. A disrespectful celebration.

Sweden had a lot to be upset about when the final whistle blew on Saturday.

[ MORE: Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion” ]

The Swedes were within seconds of holding defending champion Germany to a draw, and moving into good position to advance to the round of 16 at the World Cup, when Toni Kroos scored deep into stoppage time to give Germany a 2-1 come-from-behind victory.

“I’m sorry that we didn’t get at least one point,” Sweden coach Janne Andersson said. “But I’m not blaming anyone tactically or analyzing too much right now, there are so many emotions going around. This is probably the heaviest conclusion that I’ve experienced in my career.”

Kroos’ goal from a set piece came in the fifth and final minute of injury time. The draw would have kept Sweden ahead of Germany in Group F and needing only a draw against Mexico in the last match.

[ MORE: Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination ]

“It was just bad luck,” Sweden forward John Guidetti said. “Now we need to try to find a way to win the last match. In a few days we play again and we have to win it. It’s simple.”

Germany, which is tied with Sweden on points and goal difference, will play against South Korea in the final round.

“We still have an excellent opportunity to qualify,” Andersson said. “Now we have to clean up, tidy up after this game. We’re going to do that.”

The Swedes were leading Germany at halftime thanks to Ola Toivonen’s goal in the 32nd minute at Fisht Stadium. They felt they could have been ahead even earlier if the referee had called a penalty when Marcus Berg appeared to be fouled inside the area with a clear chance to score. There was no formal video review called for.

“If we have the (VAR) system, it’s very unfortunate that he (the referee) can feel so secure in the moment that he doesn’t go and have a look at the situation,” Andersson said.

He and the Swedish players said they also couldn’t understand why Germany decided to celebrate near their bench.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“You shouldn’t celebrate in front of our bench the way they did, that’s disrespectful,” Guidetti said. “You can celebrate with your own fans. Don’t celebrate in front of our bench like that. That’s why they apologized, because they knew they did something wrong.”

Andersson said he was “very annoyed” by seeing the Germany team “running in our direction and rubbing it in our faces by making gestures.”

“We fought hard for 95 minutes,” he said. “And when the final whistle blows, you shake hands.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 11 — England, Colombia back in action

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Day 11 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Sunday, with England back in action and in need of three points — and a resounding win — to keep pace with Belgium in Group G.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Following Belgium’s 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia — the same side that England beat in stoppage time earlier in the week — on Saturday, the Red Devils have positioned themselves perfectly to win the group with a draw against the Three Lions on Thursday. England need a five-goal victory at 6-1 or higher to the finish top of the group following a draw on the final day.

Then, it’s a pair of Group H fixtures, kicked off with Japan (1st) versus Senegal (2nd) — both of whom won their first game — followed by Poland (3rd) versus Colombia (4th).

Below is Sunday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Sunday, June 24

Group G
England vs. Panama: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group H
Japan vs. Senegal: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Colombia: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

FIFA opens case against Xhaka, Shaqiri for celebrations

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FIFA’s disciplinary committee opened disciplinary proceedings against Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri for politically charged goal celebrations during their 2-1 World Cup win over Serbia in Kaliningrad.

[ MORE: The meaning behind Xhaka, Shaqiri’s eagle celebration ]

FIFA also said Saturday it has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian Football Association for crowd disturbance and the display of political and offensive messages by Serbian fans. FIFA also is reviewing statements that Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic made after the match.

Xhaka and Shaqiri celebrated their goals by making a nationalist symbol of their ethnic Albanian heritage. Both of their families come from Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The Polish Football Association was fined $10,100 and given a warning by FIFA’s disciplinary committee for a banner that the governing body deemed political and offensive. The banner was displayed during Senegal’s 2-1 win over Poland on Tuesday in Moscow.

The committee also opened disciplinary proceedings against the federations of Argentina and Croatia for crowd disturbances during Croatia’s 3-0 win Thursday at Nizhny Novgorod.

Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion”

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At 1-0 down, they were headed for elimination in the group stage (with a game still to play); once level at 1-1, they faced yet a steep hill to climb on the final day of the group stage; after Toni Kroos scored his stunning 94th-minute winner, Joachim Low could finally exhale and imagine himself managing the German national team for another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Sweden at the 2018 World Cup was, for most intents and purposes, a worrying performance for the defending world champions. Fortunately for Low and Co., the one place in which their comeback dramatic victory was a raging success is the only one that matters: the Group F table, where Die Mannschaft currently (somehow) sit second and control their own destiny — quotes from the BBC:

“This was a thriller, full of emotion, right up until the final whistle. Brandt hit the goal post just three minutes before the end too. We took out a defensive player and brought on an attacking player because we knew had to bring on everything we had to turn it round.

“We had a couple of great chances — Mario Gomez’s header being one of them. The last couple of minutes were full of drama but those matches exist in football. We’ve had these situations in other tournaments as well. For the viewers that’s part of the attractiveness of football.”

“Something I did appreciate today was that we didn’t lose our nerve, we didn’t panic after going a goal down. We kept a level head and said we needed to make quick passes and tire the Swedes out to open up spaces.

“We didn’t score a couple of good chances but we never lost hope we could win the match and I think the goal scored in stoppage time had a bit of luck involved but it did show the belief we had in ourselves.”

There’s still plenty of work to do for one of the most popular pre-tournament favorites — there’s a little matter of needing to beat, or at the very least, match Sweden’s result against Mexico — but that can wait until tomorrow, because Saturday unexpectedly became all about survival.