EURO 2016 preview: Qualifying resumes for England, Spain, Germany, Italy

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Don’t look now, but the 2016 European Championship is barely 15 months away. As EURO 2016 approaches nearer and nearer, qualifying for next summer’s tournament resumes this weekend with all of Europe’s big guns back in action.

Use the below full schedule of games and rundown of each and every group to get yourself ready for this weekend’s EURO 2016 qualification action.

EURO 2016 qualifying schedule — Friday

Group C

Macedonia vs. Belarus
Slovakia vs. Luxembourg
Spain vs. Ukraine

Slovakia (12 points) currently sit atop the group with Spain, the two-time defending champions, and Ukraine (both on 9) hot on their heels, and the top three sides still all left to play each other once or twice. The winner of Friday’s first showdown of the second- and third-placed sides will keep the pressure on Slovakia, as well as stay out of the playoff round for the time being.

 

Group G

Liechtenstein vs. Austria
Moldova vs. Sweden
Montenegro vs. Russia

Austria (10 points) currently lead Group G, with teams two through four — Sweden, Russia, Montenegro and Lichtenstein — all separated by a measly two points. Montenegro vs. Russia (3rd and 4th, level on 5 points) is the Group G game of the week with both sides winless since Matchday 1 back in September.

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Group E

England vs. Lithuania
Slovenia vs. San Marino
Switzerland vs. Estonia

With a perfect 12-for-12 points tally thus far, England are in commanding control of Group E with Switzerland, Slovenia and Lithuania (6 points) all tied for second. Friday’s opponent, Estonia (4), upset Slovenia on Matchday 1, but have taken just a single point from their last there group games. Another victory for Roy Hodgson’s men, and we’ll have to start keeping tabs on England’s “magic number” for EURO 2016 qualification.

EURO 2016 qualifying schedule — Saturday

Group H

Bulgaria vs. Italy
Azerbaijan vs. Malta
Croatia vs. Norway

Following Croatia and Italy’s (10 points) 1-1 draw back in November, the two Group H giants are on course for EURO 2016 qualification with only Norway (9) threatening to take one of the two automatic qualification places in Group H. Croatia and Italy play one another on Matchday 6, in June, meaning a Croatian victory over Norway could put both sides four points clear of everyone else.

Group A

Netherlands vs. Turkey
Kazakhstan vs. Iceland
Czech Republic vs. Latvia

Call it a World Cup hangover, or call it a new-manager effect — whatever you call it, the Dutch (6 points) are struggling at the moment, following two away defeats (Czech Republic and Iceland) dropping Guud Hiddink’s side to third place in Group A. Friday’s Netherlands vs. Turkey (4) matchup sets up nicely as the who can challenge the Czechs and Iceland for automatic qualification showdown.

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Group B

Belgium vs. Cyprus
Andorra vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina
Israel vs. Wales

Wales (8 points) are in good position to qualify for their first major tournament since 1976 after draws with Group B giants Belgium and Bosnia-Herzegovina on Matchdays 2 and 4. On Saturday, they face current leaders Israel (9, from three games) in Haifa with not only a chance to go top of the group, but maintain three- and six-point leads on the aforementioned group favorites at the halfway mark.

EURO 2016 qualifying schedule — Sunday

Group I

Portugal vs. Serbia
Albania vs. Armenia

Either one of Portugal (6 points) or Serbia (4) could go top of Group I with a victory on Sunday, as leaders Denmark (7), the only side to have played four games in this five-team group, are idle.

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Group D

Georgia vs. Germany
Scotland vs. Gibraltar
Ireland vs. Poland

Speaking of World Cup hangovers, the 2014 winners, Germany (7 points), find themselves in third place heading into Matchday 5. Die Mannschaft are heavy favorites against Georgia, though, and with first- and second-placed Poland (10) and Ireland (7) facing off on Sunday, don’t be surprised to see Joachim Low’s men start their march toward the top spot in Group D.

Group F

Northern Ireland vs. Finland
Romania vs. Faroe Islands
Hungary vs. Greece

The group without a traditional “giant” is certainly a fun one. Romania (10 points) currently lead Northern Ireland (9) and Hungary (7) by a slim margin, though they unquestionably have the easiest Matchday 5 matchup of them all. On the other end of the group, Greece, 2014 World Cup knockout-round qualifiers and EURO 2004 winners, have just one point from four games. It’s do-or-die time for a new boss, Argentine manager Sergio Markarian, and his side with just 18 points left to play for.

USMNT looks toward Olympic qualifying

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NEW YORK (AP) USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter will be looking toward Olympic soccer qualifying when the senior national team plays Costa Rica on Saturday in an exhibition at Carson, California.

Thirteen of the 22 players on the American roster are eligible for Olympic qualifying, which is limited to players under 23. The U.S. men failed to reach the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and they are in a difficult qualifying group that includes Mexico and Costa Rica.

“It’ll be nice to give them an opportunity to perform in front of a crowd in a real international game,” Berhalter said during a telephone conference call on Monday.

Twelve players have no previous international experience. The U.S. has used 74 players in 30 matches since the 2017 loss at Trinidad and Tobago that ended the Americans’ streak of seven straight World Cup appearances, and 36 players have made debuts: 24 under interim coach Dave Sarachan and 12 under Berhalter, who was hired in December 2018.

“We think this age group is talented for the Olympic age group and we’re excited to see how they navigate through the qualification process and then eventually build the group for the Olympics” Berhalter said.

Olympic qualifying runs from March 20-30 and the U.S. will be coached by Jason Kreis. Since clubs are not required to release players to under-23 teams, top Americans Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent and Sergino Dest are not likely to be available. Major League Soccer starts Feb. 29, and its coaches may be reluctant to provide players.

“We’re going to need a lot of cooperation from Major League Soccer, and I know that’s difficult given the early stage of their season,” Berhalter said.

If the U.S. does qualify for the Olympics, it would be able to add three players over the age limit. But clubs could decline to release players.

“It would be nice to field our strongest team in the Olympics. We’re just not sure that’s going to happen,” Berhalter said.

Veterans on the roster this weekend include forwards Gyasi Zardes and Paul Arriola, defender Aaron Long and midfielder Sebastian Lletget. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid could make his first appearance since a June 2018 exhibition at Ireland.

On other topics:

-Berhalter did not sound overly concerned about Pulisic’s adductor injury. The Chelsea midfielder has not played since Jan. 1 and is not likely to return until Feb. 17 at the earliest. “He played a lot of games in a short period of time over Christmas,” Berhalter said. “He’s a young player playing at an extremely competitive level and it takes a physical toll on your body. And him coming to terms with that is something that’s normal for the process of adapting.”

-On the best position for Adams, who has appeared at right back and right wing for RB Leipzig: “We see him primarily as a central midfielder. We always have seen him as a central midfielder. But we know that when we when we need to be flexible, he can play that position, as well. We think right now the right back position is filled with depth, and he’ll be most suited in our system in central midfield.”

-On the possibility of Long transferring from the New York Red Bulls to West Ham: “It obviously could be a potential big change in where he’s competing and what level he’s playing at. … That would be a step up for him.”

-Jesus Ferreira, a Colombian-born forward who received U.S. citizenship last month, may not be eligible to play this weekend pending the completion of paperwork.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Tottenham sign Lo Celso, close in on Bergwijn

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Tottenham Hotspur have signed Giovani Lo Celso from Real Betis, triggering a clause which turns his loan into a permanent transfer.

Lo Celso, 23, arrived on loan this summer and after injuries disrupted his first few months in England he has settled in very nicely in recent weeks.

The Argentine playmaker has signed a contact through 2025 and is the direct replacement for Christian Eriksen who is Inter Milan bound.

Spurs are also closing in on a deal for Steven Bergwijn as PSV Eindhoven left the winger out of training and he has flown to London for a medical.

Bergwijn, 22, is a rising star in the Dutch Eredivisie and according to our partners at Sky Sports he will join Tottenham for $32.5 million, rising to $35 million with add-ons.

With Christian Eriksen’s move to Inter Milan set to be completed on Tuesday, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has brought in a younger, promising attacking player to help freshen up the attack alongside Lo Celso.

Tottenham have got their dominoes in order and now they are ready to fall.

Bergwijn is highly-rated and scored 16 goals in a struggling PSV side last season and has six goals to his name in 29 appearances in all competitions so far in 2019-20. He has recently broken into the Dutch national team and is regarded as one of the top young wing talents in Europe.

This is exactly the kind of transfer Spurs need to be making. Mourinho loves to have tricky and direct wingers in his teams to feed off a central striker and Bergwijn is on the up and is hungry to prove himself in England. It makes total sense with Eriksen on his way out for about $22 million, so it could be yet another shrewd bit of business from Levy and Co.

Aside from Bergwijn there is a push for a striker to arrive on a short-term deal with Harry Kane out injured until April, but given the form of Heung-Min Son, Lucas Moura and Dele Alli in attack, perhaps Mourinho and Levy will resist the urge to bring in a short-term solution up top.

Krzysztof Piatek, Willian Jose, Edinson Cavani and many others have been mentioned as potential stop gaps for Kane but the fluid movement of Son, Moura and Alli could be the way to go in attack. With Bergwijn added to the mix alongside the January loan addition of midfielder Gedson Fernandes, Spurs are getting younger and things have been freshened up quite nicely by Mourinho.

All things considered, not a bad window for Spurs, as they sit six points off the top four with 14 games to go and are still in the FA Cup and now have a plan without Kane for the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds and the final months of the season.

Solskjaer coy on Man United transfers; Alexis to return

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was coy when asked about possible transfer for Manchester United in the final days of the January window and revealed that Alexis Sanchez will return this summer.

Speaking ahead of their League Cup semifinal second leg against rivals Man City on Wednesday (City lead 3-1 from the first leg), Solskjaer was asked about a possible deal for Bruno Fernandes and if United will do any other business before the window shuts on Friday.

“I haven’t got any updates for you on transfers, I think it was a wasted question,” Solskjaer told a reporter. “I haven’t got anything to say now.”

Pushed further about what type of players United could sign, Solskjaer was asked if the club are now ‘thinking outside of the box’ amid reports they could sign strikers Odion Ighalo and Islam Slimani.

Solskjaer bemoaned the January window and how difficult it is to do business and shocked everyone as he revealed that Sanchez will be welcomed back with open arms in the summer when his loan with Inter Milan ends.

“Well, we’ve got players here we are working hard to get back and if there is something out there then the club are pursuing that and looking at it. Of course, it is the difficult window, it has always been,” Solskjaer said. “I can’t remember how many good ‘uns or deals we’ve brought in January. Henrik [Larsson] was good, Nemanja [Vidic] and Patrice [Evra] were two good ones. Henrik as a loan. Alexis… It is hard because some of the clubs don’t want to lose their players. Alexis will come back in the summer and prove you all wrong.”

“At the moment it doesn’t look like it, no,” Solskjaer added when asked about outgoings, while he added that Nemanja Matic may not be fit for the League Cup semifinal at Man City and Marcos Rojo is very unlikely to be sold.

It seems likely that United will not do any business in the final days of the window as Solskjaer looked frustrated but put on a brave face.

United are said to be $26 million short of matching Sporting Lisbon’s valuation of Fernandes and even though the Portuguese playmaker would make a big difference for them in the final months of the Premier League season, it seems unlikely the player they’ve chased since last summer will arrive at Old Trafford.

This news will no doubt be frustrating for United but given Mason Greenwood‘s recent displays, perhaps Solskjaer will place extra faith in the 18-year-old to fill the void left by Marcus Rashford over the next six weeks or so. It is either that or bring in a more experienced striker on loan for the rest of the season and that doesn’t seem to slot in with United’s new philosophy of developing young British talent.

Chelsea issue positive Pulisic injury update

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Chelsea have issued a positive injury update on Christian Pulisic as the USMNT star could be back quicker than expected from an adductor injury.

Blues boss Frank Lampard told Pro Soccer Talk last week that Pulisic would likely be back in mid-February during the latter part of the winter break.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

However, via the club website Lampard has now suggested that Pulisic could have an outside chance of playing some part in their huge top four battle against Leicester City this Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

“Aiding that push in the not-too-distant future will be Christian Pulisic, who Lampard thinks will be back in training in the middle of the week although the Leicester City game on Saturday might come too soon,” Chelsea revealed.

This is really good news for Pulisic and Chelsea as the west London club have missed his creativity in the final third in recent games against Newcastle United (a defeat) and Arsenal (a home draw when playing against 10 men for over an hour).

Chelsea admitted they’ve missed Pulisic as the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Willian were shut down rather easily out wide in their disappointing recent results.

“Yeah, a game like today (against Arsenal) could have been a good one where he would have been helpful for us because he was playing well for a patch. But other people have to stand up in those situations,” Lampard said.

Pulisic has been out since Jan. 3 with what Lampard described as a “nasty” injury to his adductor in training and that injury blow came after Pulisic had a slight hamstring issue over the festive period.

In his first season in the Premier League Pulisic has scored five goals and added two assists, with the Pennsylvanian native taking time to settle but he’s now become an integral part of the Chelsea squad.

He has something different compared to Lampard’s other attackers and his time out injured has actually reinforced just how important he is to this Chelsea team.