Women’s World Cup Day 4 — Vero, Spain Debut

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The long awaited World Cup debut of Spain’s Vero Boquete, by any measure one of the best women’s soccer players of her generation, was a dud Tuesday, unfortunately.

But it’s hard to blame Boquete for Spain’s disappointing 1-1 draw with Costa Rica, most of the credit has to go to Las Ticas and their rookie coach Amelia Valverde, who only took over in January after Carlos Avedissian – the man who led Costa Rica to the World Cup by beating Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago last fall – left to take a position in his native Puerto Rico.

Unfortunately for all her greatness, Boquete was surrounded by Costa Ricans at every turn (as Richard Farley demonstrated on his Twitter feed). And they did it in a very modern, organized way. They didn’t hack her every time she got near the ball or man-mark her all over the field, they collectively knew where she was and cut off her space at every turn (primary credit likely going to holding midfielders Katherine Alvarado and Raquel Rodriguez).

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

Boquete did get loose a few times and even set up a couple of glorious chances for her teammates, but they were squandered. Unfortunately for Vero, she’s not the type of superstar who beats you with world-class speed or breathtaking individual runs, which doesn’t make her greatness any less extraordinary if you’ve watched her career, but this isn’t basketball or baseball where stars can often shine through whatever the defense throws at them.

And with Brazil and South Korea remaining, a couple more performances like this could see a disappointing short stay to the first World Cup appearance for the Spanish women.

-Ray Curren

Here are some other things we learned from Tuesday’s play in Groups E and F:

England cannot win the World Cup sitting in: It was not exactly a surprise that England played low pressure in their 1-0 loss against France, but it became clear the No. 6 team in the FIFA World Rankings has no chance to win the World Cup playing that style. The first half-hour saw Mark Sampson’s team concede almost every inch of turf to the French. Once they fell behind by a goal there was no choice but to take some changes but the English still went with low pressure and rarely created anything to offer much trouble to the French defense. The most troubling part is that sitting in created little to no traction on the counterattack. This could be different in their other group matches against Mexico and Colombia, but it won’t cut it once they get to the knockout stage and start seeing more teams like France. The catch-22 is the open secret that the runner-up in the group has a softer entry into the knockout phase than the winner so it is possible that Sampson held some cards in this one and did not pull out all stops to get the result.

-Dan Lauletta

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

Costa Rica is very young, but… Yes, Costa Rica has improved dramatically at youth levels and they are one of the most improved programs in the world, not just in CONCACAF. They started two teenagers in Melissa Herrera and Maria Barrantes, but the backline of Diana Saenz, Carol Sanchez, Wendy Acosta, and Lixy Rodriguez (who set up Costa Rica’s goal) average 26 years old (with Rodriguez being the youngest at 24). Goalkeeper Dinnia Diaz is also 27, while Shirley Cruz, who has led Costa Rica for so long, is now 29. Some credit also has to go to the American college system, which – at least for now – is one of the best training grounds for young women in the world. Several Ticas, including goal-scorer Raquel Rodriguez (Penn State) have played for Division I programs, and have looked organized and disciplined for the last couple of years in CONCACAF, and now have a point at the World Cup as well.

-Curren

Sarah Bouhaddi kept a clean sheet Tuesday but had a few too many adventures along the way (Getty Images)
Sarah Bouhaddi kept a clean sheet Tuesday but had a few too many adventures along the way (Getty Images)

Goalkeeping is an issue around the world: Every time Hope Solo makes a big save we hear the familiar refrain that, altogether now, “no one else in the world makes those saves.” That is usually something of an overstatement, but there is no doubt the United States enjoys a comfort with Solo in goal that many other teams do not have. France is very sound defensively but their keeper, Sarah Bouhaddi, was shaky. She made one extremely poor decision to come off her line and on another occasion somehow gave up a corner kick trying to pass off to a defender. Wind could have played a factor in trying to cut off the lofted ball but on television it never looked like she had a chance to get close. In the Mexico-Colombia match, Mexico scored after a series of punches by Colombian keeper Stefany Castano led two a pair of corners. One of them easily could have been caught cleanly, and both of them at the least could have been cleared beyond the 18. Instead Castano was caught off guard by Veronica Perez’s whipping cross/shot that went in for the goal. On the other side, Colombia nearly scored a goal when Mexico’s keeper Cecilia Santiago went up for a free kick but saw it glide through her hands before she was saved by the post. It feels like before the tournament is over, a goalkeeping miscue will play a role in deciding a result.

-Lauletta

[MORE: Colombia’s first World Cup goal earns draw with Mexico]

Brazil won’t be scared If you want to talk about inexperience in Group E, you have to include Brazil, which somehow has only eight players on its roster with World Cup experience. But in its opener, Brazil overwhelmed South Korea with high pressure and it was the ultimate veteran, 37-year-old Formiga, who took advantage, scoring one (becoming the oldest player in World Cup history to score) and setting up the other in a 2-0 win. Newcomers like center back Rafaelle were strong and physical from the opening kickoff, while Fabiana and Tamires had no trouble marauding down either wing with speed and strength and scaring the daylights out of the South Korean defense. In fact, Marta was able to sit back and let the action come to her for most of the game, rarely taking people on with the ball and content to be a playmaker.

-Curren

Brazil may not know much about itself until the knockout round There were some worrying moments in the second half when South Korea finally let go of the reigns and started sending numbers into the attack, particularly Ji Soyun – who, like Boquete, was a world-class player making her World Cup debut and could have used a little more support. With Formiga playing in midfield along with Thaisa (just 26 caps coming into the World Cup) and Andressa, who just turned 20, Korea did have some joy moving the ball around in the second half. I already mentioned Rafaelle, who picked up just her fourth cap Tuesday, who was paired with Monica (just 21 caps). If you’re a Brazil supporter, you can look at the glass half-full and say all these players will be able to get much needed experience. However, you can also look at it half-empty and say that rolling past Spain and Costa Rica won’t get Brazil ready for what could be a tricky knockout-round game against a team with some serious offensive weapons like Nigeria (Australia and Sweden are the other two options with the United States as a wild longshot).

-Curren

Pogba, Rashford, Kane, Son all declared fit

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Previously injured stars are set to return in force when the Premier League restarts, hopefully sometime in June, with Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane and Heung-min Son have all been declared fit.

Man United and Tottenham have been handed a huge boost in their bid to finish in the top four of the Premier League, as these star attackers would have likely missed the rest of the season had it finished as planned on May 17.

That said, as Jose Mourinho told our partners Sky Sports, being free from injury is one thing but being match fit is another.

“I cannot say in this moment they are ready to play because one thing is to recover from an injury, and another is to be ready to play football,” Mourinho said. “In Harry’s case, I think for about five months he hasn’t played, but all of them are not injured any more. They are training, and training is what it is at the moment, training has a lot of limitations. We cannot compete, we cannot do one versus one, we have to keep a certain distance, we cannot compete.”

“Harry Kane, Son, Bergwijn, Sissoko, all of them are fine. I think with a couple of weeks of normal training, when the authorities tell us we can train normally I think in a couple of weeks, the boys will be ready to play, of course not in the maximum of their potential, I think nobody can do that in this moment. For us, of course, it is a great feeling, because we finished the period with that defeat at Leipzig, where we were really, really in trouble to have 11 players, including attacking players, and in this moment (Erik) Lamela, Son, Dele (Alli), Harry Kane, Bergwijn, everybody is fit now.”

Mourinho will now be delighted that Premier League clubs have voted unanimously to resume contact training as he can step things up. With Spurs seven points off the top four as thing stand, they will need a storming finish to have any chance whatsoever of finishing in the top four. Can they do it? Sure. They face Arsenal, Leicester and Man United in their final nine games but the rest look pretty winnable.

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Speaking about Man United, they remain firmly in the top four hunt as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are just three points behind fourth-place Chelsea.

Asked about the availability of Pogba and Rashford, Solskjaer told MUTV that they are almost ready to roll.

“They’re looking good, they’ve joined training now and they’ve done everything the other boys have been doing. No reaction so far, touch wood,” Solskjaer said. “When we get started, it looks like we can have a full squad to choose from.”

Simply put: when the Premier League returns it will be with a full compliment of stars for the final nine games of the season.

That will be a sight to behold, as several stars will have been glad to have had time to recover so they can help their clubs at the business end of the season.

NWSL announce return; first pro league in US to restart play

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The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) will return to play on June 27 with a new exciting tournament, becoming the first professional sports league in the U.S. to announce a date to return to action.

Did somebody say tournament soccer? That’s right, things are about to get very fun in the NWSL season as the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup has arrived.

All nine NWSL clubs will feature, as a 25-game tournament will by held in Utah from June to July to mark the 2020 season.

Each NWSL club will play four games in a preliminary round in Herriman, Utah to determine seeding, with the top eight teams then moving on to the quarterfinals as the tournament will become a knockout competition.

The semifinals and final will then be held at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, with the Championship match to take place on July 26. The tournament is hosted by Utah Royals FC owner Dell Loy Hansen, as all housing, training, and competition needs for the league’s nine teams will be taken care of in Utah as an “NWSL Village” will be created to control the environment for players and staff.

NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird confirmed all games will be played in empty stadiums, while adding that they are excited to mark the return of pro soccer, and sports, in the USA.

“As our country begins to safely reopen and adjust to our collective new reality, and with the enthusiastic support of our players, owners, as well as our new and current commercial partners, the NWSL is thrilled to bring professional soccer back to the United States,” Baird said. “This exciting month-long tournament will showcase our league’s talented players and provide our fans the type of world-class entertainment they’ve come to expect from the NWSL.”

The NWSL were in preseason and due to start the 2020 regular season on April 18 but that was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Per the league statement, health and medical officials at each club have worked tirelessly over the last nine months to come up with a safety protocol.

“Each player, official, and essential staff member will be tested 48 hours prior to departure for Utah and upon arrival and will be subject to consistent testing, temperature readings, and symptom review throughout their stay in Utah.”

The NWSL is leading the way for professional soccer, and sports, to return to the US in some format this summer.

With the NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS all exploring similar options of hosting games in a tournament format in fixed, neutral sites, all eyes will be on the NWSL to see how they pull it off.

Premier League clubs vote for contact training return

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Premier League clubs voted unanimously to return to full contact training as a key step on the road to restarting the 2019-20 season arrived.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The league released a statement confirming that clubs are now allowed to return to contact training and said they are on track to restart the season when it is safe to do so.

It is hoped the Premier League could return as early as June 12 but it has been reported that date could be pushed back by at least one week with managers wanting more time to work on the fitness of their players after over two months off.

The Premier League season was suspended on March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This vote is a big, big step in the final 92 games of the season actually being completed as players and managers now appear comfortable with the strict safety protocols in place after a week back training in small groups at training grounds. Plus, if they are happy to resume contact training then they are essentially happy to resume games, as long as strict health and safety protocols remain in place.

Here is the statement from the Premier League in full:


Premier League Shareholders today voted unanimously to resume contact training, marking another step towards restarting the Premier League season, when safe to do so.

Squads are now able to train as a group and engage in tackling while minimising any unnecessary close contact.

The Premier League’s priority is the health and wellbeing of all participants.

Strict medical protocols are in place to ensure the training ground is the safest environment possible and players and staff will continue to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week.

Stage Two of the Return to Training protocol has been agreed following consultation with clubs, players, managers, the PFA, LMA and the Government.

Discussions are ongoing as work continues towards resuming the season, when conditions allow.


The Premier League confirmed over the weekend that from 1,744 tests on players and staff across the first two rounds of COVID-19 tests, eight positive tests have been recorded with players from both Watford and Bournemouth confirmed to have the virus.

Several Premier League stars and managers have revealed their angst about returning to training but those fears seem to have evaporated, for the most part, as contact training resumes.

What’s next?

Premier League clubs are due to meet on Thursday to discuss a possible restart date and a curtailment plan, just in case unexpected obstacles arise over the next few weeks.

Make no mistake about it, a return to contact training is a huge step forward for the Premier League restarting.

PSG’s Mbappe praises Klopp, Liverpool in recent interview

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This is going to delight the Anfield set.

Paris Saint-Germain mega striker Kylian Mbappe has admitted admiration for the way Liverpool plays, as conversations continue regarding his future.

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Mbappe, 21, may be the most valuable commodity in the world given his position, accomplishments, and skill set. For France, he has a World Cup to go with 34 caps, 13 goals, and 10 assists. For PSG and Monaco combined, he’s scored 117 goals and 65 assists in 180 appearances.

He doesn’t turn 22 until December.

But there’s long been a thought that the World Cup winner will eventually have to leave PSG to cement his legacy given the relatively shallow competition in the league.

“This season, Liverpool have been a machine in the Premier League,” he told The Mirror. “They have made winning look easy but the truth is that it is never easy. Performances like they have been having don’t just happen.

“To be as ruthless as they have been would come from lots of hard work in training and from having a very good manager.”

Liverpool fans will be nodding along, beckoning the center forward with arms extended and hands waving him to them.

Real Madrid has often been the rumored destination, and we’ve argued that there’s no fee too high for this player considering how many years he has ahead of him.

With transfer fees possibly ducking low this summer after a wake-up call from the coronavirus, could Liverpool upgrade its dangerous front three with one of the top center forwards in the game?

The fact that the Reds reportedly negotiated a percentage of jersey sales into their new apparel deal could help, because it’s easy to imagine red Mbappe jerseys all around the world.