Women’s World Cup — Day 4 Preview

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Tuesday is the final set of matches in the opening series so if the team you are following has not played yet, they’ll be on the schedule today.

Here is a look at Tuesday as Group E and Group F finally get underway:

Group F – France vs England
Tuesday, 1 p.m. EDT
Moncton Stadium, Moncton
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM

The choice match among the openers pits budding European powers, both of whom have legitimate designs on advancing to the latter stages of the World Cup.  The catch is that the group runner-up in all likelihood earns a softer start to the knockout stage than the winner, who probably gets Germany in the quarterfinals.

Speaking of quarterfinals, the last time these two met at this stage was in the quarterfinals of the last World Cup.  The epic match went to penalty kicks when then England coach Hope Powell asked for volunteers and was greeted by a series of dropped heads.  France won it but then lost their next two matches to finish fourth.  They played again in the group stage of Euro 2013 with France winning 3-0.  Powell was moved out of the coaching position after that match.

Group E – Spain vs Costa Rica
Tuesday, 4 p.m. EDT
Olympic Stadium, Montreal
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM (also on NBC Universo)

The last two of the eight teams making their World Cup debuts will get it on and both will have their eyes on playing on after the group stage.  And both could do worse than to emulate their men’s counterparts.  Spanish men pulled a Euro-World Cup-Euro triple from 2008 through 2012 and Costa Rica qualified to their first Women’s World Cup on the heels of their men reaching the quarterfinals.

Spain are led by the high-scoring duo of Veronica Boquete and Sonia Bermudez but could struggle to score if they have to dig into their depth.  Costa Rica’s best player has been Shirley Cruz who plies her trade in France at Paris Saint-Germain.  They also boast Raquel Rodriguez, a promising striker who will go from the World Cup to her senior season at Penn State.

Group F – Colombia vs Mexico
Tuesday, 4 p.m. EDT
Moncton Stadium, Moncton
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM (also on Telemundo)

The bottom two teams in Group F collide in a pivotal match with the winner knowing chances are reasonable to advance while the loser will be left to seek out points against France and/or England.

Colombia went to Germany four years ago and came home without a goal to show for it (they did earn a point in a scoreless draw against North Korea.)  They are back without a single player having celebrated her 30th birthday and few that play outside Colombia.  Many that do are still at the college level.  Mexico struggled to get out of CONCACAF qualifying nearly going belly-up after sandbagging against the United States in order to play Trinidad and Tobago in order to qualify.  It wound up taking extra time to sneak through and avoid a playoff against Ecuador.  Still Mexico has a decided edge in experience in this one.

Group E – Brazil vs Korea Republic
Tuesday, 7 p.m. EDT
Olympic Stadium, Montreal
WATCH LIVE ON NBCDEPORTES.COM (also on NBC Universo)

Perhaps it is poetic justice that Brazil be one of the final two teams to be seen at this World Cup.  Marta is widely considered the best player of her generation and despite playing in two Olympic finals and a World Cup final, she and Brazil do not have their names on any global trophies.  Now 29, and with many miles on her world class legs, it could be the end of the window in terms of World Cups.  Marta and her team were certainly on song when they ran circles around the United States last year.

South Korea played the U.S. more recently and held them to 0-0 in a match many observers thought they easily could have won.  They play a very technical game and are well organized, the latter being an absolute necessity against Brazil.

Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

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MADRID — This is uncharted territory for many Atletico Madrid fans.

Few other times in recent years have they seen their team struggle so much under Diego Simeone.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

Few other times have they seen their coach fail so often while trying to put the team back on track.

Atletico hit a new low under Simeone on Thursday when it was eliminated by third-division club Cultural Leonesa in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. The 2-1 loss in extra time was the team’s worst result in the cup competition since losing to third-tier club Albacete at the same stage in 2011-12.

Two days after that loss in 2011, Atletico hired the then-mostly unknown Simeone to replace Gregorio Manzano, a move that kick-started one of the club’s most successful eras and led to a Spanish league title, two Europa League trophies and two Champions League final appearances.

Atletico did go through difficult moments under Simeone, including when the team failed to advance past the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago.

“There were always complicated moments in past seasons, maybe after we didn’t make it in the Champions League, or when we lost in the Champions League finals,” Simeone said. “After being at the club for so long, things like this can happen, although they shouldn’t happen.”

There is a greater sense of urgency about the team’s struggles this time.

In addition to Wednesday’s embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination, Atletico lost the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid on Jan. 12, and already is eight points off the Spanish league lead after 20 matches.

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Before, there used to be a notion that Simeone would quickly turn things around and put the team back on track, but this time there aren’t many signs things will improve again soon.

Atletico has yet to impress since undergoing its biggest squad revamp under Simeone at the end of last season, when it lost Antoine Griezmann and other veteran players such as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin. Young Portugal forward Joao Felix, who arrived to replace Griezmann after a transfer from Benfica worth more than 120 million euros ($133 million), has yet to meet expectations.

More concerning, Atletico is not being nearly as effective as it used to be, when it always seemed to find a way to win matches despite not playing well.

The team remains solid defensively — it has the second-best defense in the Spanish league with 14 goals conceded — but it hasn’t been able to do much in attack recently.

“Everything is harder when you can’t score,” Simeone said.

Only seven teams have scored fewer goals than Atletico’s 22 in the 20-team standings.

Diego Costa has been mostly out injured, and Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Alvaro Morata haven’t done much in attack. Morata is the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, and no one else has more than five.

“We have to be humble enough to be self-critical,” Simeone said. “We need to keep working to try to be ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us. We have a very good squad and I’m sure that the results that we want will start arriving soon.”

Atletico biggest chance to rebound will come next month against European champion Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg will be on Feb. 18 in Spain.

Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong

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Jose Mourinho seems to be quite happy that the Premier League will implement its first-ever winter break next month, allowing players a bit of rest and recovery time during a marathon campaign, but says its timing makes the break almost worthless for clubs competing in European competitions.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

The next four weeks will play out as follows for Tottenham Hotspur: FA Cup against Southampton this weekend; PL fixture against Manchester City next weekend; the following weekend off which results in two weeks without a game; PL fixture against Aston Villa the following weekend; Champions League first leg against RB Leipzig three days later.

In Mourinho’s perfect world, that first round of PL fixtures following the break would be held a week earlier, leaving the seven English clubs competing in the Champions League and Europa League with a week and a half between games before setting out once again to chase European glory. Instead, Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea will all have a quick turnaround from PL action to UCL competition — quotes from the Guardian:

“It is what it is. I’m not happy that the break comes in the wrong moment. The break should be before the Champions League and, in the end, before the Champions League we don’t have the break. We have to play Aston Villa on the Sunday, playing [RB Leipzig three] days later. So we don’t really care about the break, honestly.”

Mourinho’s point is a solid one: if the winter break is going to exist — and it should — then why shouldn’t its benefits be maximized? Non-European sides — typically those with smaller squads — would still have the full two weeks between games, while those in Europe are able to better leverage their slightly larger squads with only 10 or 11 days between games — still a lengthy break relative to the rest of the season.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

It’s only the first year of the winter break in the PL, so perhaps hopefully they’ll receive Mourinho’s criticism — and that of any other managers — constructively.

Serie A: AC Milan extends unbeaten run since Zlatan’s arrival

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BRESCIA, Italy (AP) Ante Rebic scored his third goal in two matches, goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was superb and AC Milan won 1-0 at relegation-threatened Brescia on Friday to climb into the Europa League places in Serie A.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

Rebic, who scored twice in a win over Udinese last weekend, pounced on a loose ball directly in front of the goal following a cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 71st minute.

Since Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan over the holiday break, Milan is unbeaten with four wins and a draw across all competitions.

Donnarumma produced several difficult saves to deny Dimitri Bisoli and Ernesto Torregrossa.

Also, Milan fullback Theo Hernandez hit the crossbar in the closing minutes.

The Rossoneri moved up to sixth place, four points behind fifth-place Atalanta.

[ MORE: Solskjaer’s transfer update; positive on rebuild ]

“Our goal is to qualify for Europe,” Donnarumma said. “We’ve got to continue like this and not rest for a moment. There’s another big Italian Cup match coming up with Torino midweek and we want to reach the semifinals.

“We’ll take it one game at a time and try to keep this momentum going.”

Brescia was without Mario Balotelli, who was suspended for two matches after protesting a booking last weekend that ended up with the striker being sent off.

Brescia remained one point above last-place Genoa.

FA Cup: Sheffield Wednesday into 5th round; Derby headed for replay

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Sheffield Wednesday became the first club to reach the fifth round of the 2019-20 FA Cup by beating Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road on Friday.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

The Owls took a 1-0 lead into halftime after Morgan Fox squeezed his shot past the goalkeeper from a tight angle, and Sam Winnall put the EFL Championship side 2-0 up by slotting the ball home just before full-time. QPR pulled a goal back through Nahki Wells just moments later, but it wasn’t enough and the game finished 2-1.

It’s the second time in three seasons that Wednesday has reached the fifth round after doing so just twice in their previous 17 seasons.

[ MORE: Solskjaer’s transfer update; positive on rebuild ]

Elsewhere, fellow Championship side Derby County, featuring Wayne Rooney who played all 90 minutes, couldn’t see off League Two side Northampton Town and will be forced into the dreaded replay after struggling to a scoreless draw away from home.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.