Women’s World Cup Day in Review: Worries for Canada? Dutch impressive in win on Day 1

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To award a penalty or not award a penalty? That is the question asked of soccer matches pretty much since the sport was invented.

In the opener of the 2015 World Cup, host Canada – who had looked flustered and frustrated most of the afternoon – was glad that Ukrainian referee Kateryna Monzul answered “yes” in stoppage time, saving Canada a slightly embarrassing draw to open matters.

On replay, you can’t blame Monzul for her decision, Zhao Rong had her arm up and contact with substitute Adriana Leon was extended. But China, who conceded just four shots on goal in the contest (including the penalty), likely deserved a point. Deserve, however, in a short tournament, often doesn’t have as much to do with it as we might believe.

[MORE: Complete coverage of 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup]

There was, of course, another game in Group A on Saturday night, and this time it was New Zealand’s Hannah Wilkinson who appeared to be bundled over by the Netherlands’ Lieke Martens in the penalty area late in the second half. However, Mexican referee Quetzalli Alvarado emphatically waved play on. The replay showed she was probably wrong, but that’s little comfort for the Ferns, who fell 1-0 (on Martens’ wonderful strike), and are now 0-9-1 lifetime at the World Cup.

Two calls. Two different outcomes, and two different results. Such is life. What else did we learn from the opening day of Canada 2015?

1) China is improved, but they may not score much
Wang Fei is excellent in goal, and coach Hao Wei has the young Chinese (the oldest player on the roster is 26) extremely organized, but they were a bit offensively challenged even before top scorer Yang Li was lost for this tournament due to injury. Now it’s just going to be a struggle. Still, Wang Lisi came within a few inches on a free kick of giving China the lead in the first half and if they can steal a goal or two against New Zealand (or the Netherlands), 3 points and a solid goal differential should allow them to advance and be an extremely tough second round game for someone like Germany.

2) Canada should be worried, but not too worried
John Herdman won’t be happy his team struggled so much offensively, and they will likely need a little more from Christine Sinclair’s supporting cast of Melissa Tancredi, Joelle Filigno and Sophie Schmidt. But Herdman likely set up this tournament for the Canadians to ease into it and play their best soccer in the knockout stages. So, even though it was ugly, Herdman got what he was after. And he’ll be happy to see people like Kadeisha Buchanan (who should have been Woman of the Match in my humble opinion) play extremely well. Other youngsters like Ashley Lawrence and 17-year-old Jessie Fleming should get better as the tournament progresses. So even if Canada had zero corner kicks and looked nothing like a contender on Saturday, they have plenty of time to get there in the next few weeks. Well, maybe not plenty, but some.

3) The Netherlands has some entertaining players
We were warned about 18-year-old phenom Vivianne Miedema, but the other players in the Dutch front four — Danielle van de Donk, Martens and Manon Melis — showed some real skill and ingenuity, especially when they could get going on the counter. It was Martens who eventually scored (the only goal from the run of play on the day), but like their men’s team, the Netherlands really knocked the ball around well. At least in the first half ….

4) But New Zealand’s physical play dominated the second half
In fact, the game ended 50-50 in possession, with the Ferns having 59 percent possession in the second half. It looked like a hockey game at times, not only because of the physical play (poor Dutch goalkeeper Loes Geurts, who played college soccer at Western Illinois, was on the ground a few times and had her face full of turf pellets for much of the contest), but because the Netherlands could not get out of their own end. They got away with it today (and three points should allow them to advance already), but against better teams, the Netherlands will need to get out of trouble much better.

5) Fatigue on artificial turf
Much has obviously been made of the artificial surfaces and their effect on the game, and it remains to be seen how quickly players can recover in a tournament that will require the winner to play seven matches. However, turf could have a factor on in-game fatigue as well. It wasn’t scorching hot in Edmonton on Saturday, but it was warm, and it is much hotter on turf than it would be on grass at the same temperature. China and the Netherlands each looked very tired at the end of their respective games, and we’ll see if other teams suffer a similar fate as the tournament progresses.

Leicester City’s Rodgers: ‘Good news’ on Vardy injury

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Brendan Rodgers says there’s good news when it comes to the injury suffered by Jamie Vardy in Leicester City’s 4-1 blowout of West Ham United on Wednesday.

Vardy hurt his glute in the win, temporarily returning to the match after treatment from the trainer but ultimately subbing off before halftime.

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“It wasn’t his hamstring, so that’s good news for us,” Rodgers said, via The Leicester Mercury.

“He just felt a twinge in his glute, so we just have to wait and see on that in the next day or so. Thankfully his hamstring is okay and he just felt some pain in his glute, so we will have to assess that over the next few days.”

Vardy has a Premier League-best 17 goals, one more than Man City’s Sergio Aguero.

He was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho, who assisted one of Ayoze Perez’s two goals on the day. Perez’s seven goals are second on Leicester, while James Maddison‘s six are third.

Iheanacho has six goals and three assists in 485 minutes and there’s reason to believe he can feast off Leicester’s playmaking if Vardy needs a match or two to heal.

Whether he can fill Vardy’s shoes in the long-term is a big question, especially as Leicester aims to return for the Champions League.

Transfer rumor roundup: Willian Jose to Spurs, Bournemouth after Croatian CB

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London could get itself another Willian.

Willian Jose, 28, was left out of Real Sociedad’s squad at his request on Wednesday, with the club Tweeting that he’d prefer not to play until his situation is resolved.

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Jose Mourinho said he would not comment on another team’s players, but Willian Jose could help Spurs bridge the gap to Harry Kane‘s return.

Willian Jose has been a double-digit scorer for Real Sociedad in La Liga for the previous three seasons, and is well on his way to another 10-goal campaign. He’s got eight goals in 20 matches this season.

Bournemouth needs defensive help, and is reportedly rivaling Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers for Portuguese giant Toni Borevkovic.

The 22-year-old Croatian has one goal in just over 3000 minutes with the side since arriving from domestic side NK Rudes.

He’s averaging 1.3 interceptions, .9 tackles, and 3.3 clearances per game in league play.

Rio Ave sits seventh in Portugal’s top flight and is managed by former Premier League boss Carlos Carvalhal.

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

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Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho: Spurs don’t have attacking depth, but do have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
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In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

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Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.