Women’s World Cup — what we learned on Day 8

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Statistics and analytics are a huge part of sports in the modern age, and rightfully so, but sometimes one comes across that stops you in your tracks and makes you say, “Huh?”

On Saturday, after Spain came within inches (maybe three) of picking up an equalizer in stoppage time against Brazil, it was this: “Last time Brazil conceded a goal in the group stage of a World Cup: 9/27/2003 vs. France.”

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That game was played at RFK Stadium, which is still in existence (barely), and it was Marinette Pichon who equalized in the 92nd minute for France (if you’re an old-timer like me, you may remember her from the WUSA) in her last World Cup appearance. Marta was 17 at that World Cup, and Brazil – whose defense has already been referred to as shaky this year, and whose center backs had a combined 24 caps coming into this World Cup – has eight straight clean sheets in the group stages. Currently, host Canada and Brazil are the only two of the 24 teams at the tournament not to allow a goal.

There surely is some luck involved here, like Silvia Meseguer’s shot with time running out was left by Brazil goalkeeper Luciana, only to see it hit the inside of the post, somehow avoid Luciana, and carom out. I was as critical as anyone about the Brazil defense four years ago at the World Cup when they seemed extremely disorganized, and – while it hasn’t been as bad to me this time around – I’m inclined to say the same now.

But there it is in black and white. Brazil goals conceded in last eight group stage matches: 0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0. Case closed, no?

Perhaps we should give young Rafaelle and Monica their due, they do look very strong and athletic, while their partners on the outside – Fabiana and Tamires – have shown the same strength and an ability to get forward as well. Luciana has had to make exactly two saves in two matches (according to FIFA), and maybe the team in front of her deserves plenty of credit for that as well.

In fact, maybe Brazil deserves a little more recognition historically. The last time they actually lost a group stage match at a World Cup? June 9, 1995 to Germany. Marta had just turned nine and although probably pretty good, was not in the team quite yet.

The United States has a #ScoretoSettle, and don’t we know it by now, but Brazil has had more than its share of disappointment at the World Cup, too. Obviously, four years ago they were seconds from the semifinal only to have it snatched from them by the United States. In 2007, they conquered the U.S. emphatically, but lost to Germany in the finals on a pair of second-half goals. Four years before that, it was Sweden that upended them on their way to the finals.

Women’s soccer history as it relates to Brazil could be much, much different with a little luck at the end of the tournament rather than the beginning. Will they be relegated to the same fate this time around? They are inexperienced, but much has been made of their residency and camaraderie in the lead-up to Canada, so it’s not probably not wise to discount them completely as some have done. They do still have Marta, too, after all.

France have work to do:  France have now played twice, scored only one goal, and somehow sit 3rd in Group F despite beating England in the match that was supposed to decide who finished 1st.  The question for Phillippe Bergeroo and his side is whether the 2-0 loss to Colombia embolden them to start playing for each other or if it will sufficiently shock them to where they are not a serious factor the rest of the tournament.

[ MORE: STUNNER — Colombia upset France, 2-0 ]

It is clear they can defend, attack, and win the midfield battle, but through two matches they have not done enough in the final third nor did they make enough supporting runs while trying to pull a goal back against Colombia.  The knock on France coming in was their lack of experience on the big stage and so far they seem to be playing like they’re not quite ready.  Perhaps they will get their confidence back against Mexico.

– Dan Lauletta

Spain might have gotten off the hook:
Sitting on one point through two games is not an enviable place to be, particularly with a feisty South Korea team remaining for its third game. But the way the group has broken down, Spain will likely finish second with a win (unless Costa Rica beats Brazil). Spain played a very good match against Brazil, especially in the final half hour, but will have to find some way to finish if they want to advance and be a threat from there.

[ RELATED: Kassouf: USWNT’s defense the difference thus far at WWC ]

Starting striker Natalia Pablos had a glorious chance on a breakaway in just the seventh minute, but barely even got a shot off. The same went for Vero Boquete later, and Spain had a few other good build-ups that led to nothing. However, as we’ve seen, sometimes one goal can make a team feel much more comfortable, so we shall see.

– Ray Curren

Mexico disappointing again:  Mexico will not finish as the worst team at this World Cup, but if they fail to beat France they will be out of the event and left to ponder a third World Cup without a trip out of the group stage or even a single victory.  Considering that it was less than five years ago they upset the United States in qualifying and that sending players to NWSL was supposed to bolster the program it has been a disappointing run for Mexico.  They can turn it all around by beating France on Wednesday but they’re not playing like a team ready to put a second straight upset on one of the world’s best teams.

– Lauletta

Speaking of taking advantage of opportunities: Karla Villalobos, who is joined on the Costa Rican roster by her 15-year-old sister Gloriana (who actually has more caps, too), had a wonderful goal and a better celebration in the 89th minute after her goal gave Las Ticas their second straight draw Saturday. Amazingly, Costa Rica has scored on all three shots it has put on target so far at the World Cup, but their results have been far from lucky, Costa Rica had been threatening to equalize for a while before actually doing so.

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

Even a second-string Brazil will be a tall order on Wednesday, but even so, the days of the United States beating everyone by seven goals in CONCACAF appear to be over, and the third automatic berth from the region going forward (assuming the allocations stay the same) may be Costa Rica’s to lose, not Mexico’s, especially with all the young players on the field for the Costa Ricans.

– Curren

England can actually attack:  Did you see the second England goal? Was that not a lovely display of attacking soccer that ended with Karen Carney heading in an Alex Greenwood cross? You have to wonder what might have happened had they tried that against France.  They are now in position to win the group of they beat Colombia and do not lose any goal differential to France.  One of Mark Sampson’s objectives should be to see if Eniola Aluko can snap out of the funk that dogged her through much of the Mexico match or if he is better off finding an alternative on the left side.

– Lauletta

Colombia has already done plenty:  Colombia and Thailand—maybe Cameroon—are the countries that will have great stories to tell their grandchildren even if nothing else goes right the remainder of the tournament (ironically Colombia’s win might have put Thailand out of the knockout rounds).  Most of their players are not full-time, which makes their win over France something akin to the 1980 Miracle on Ice win for U.S. men’s hockey over the Soviet Union.  They are very likely going to be playing at least one knockout match and actually have a chance to win the group of they can do it again when they play England.  But the biggest gain for Colombia will be if Saturday’s result leads to more support back home ahead of the Olympics and the next World Cup.

– Lauletta

Tough luck for Korea Republic: Korea Republic played well against Brazil and had a few chances to double its lead in the early portion of the second half, but they didn’t do so and paid the price. Their fate now rests on beating Spain, and they showed Saturday they may have the firepower to do it, but Spain is due to score against someone and it might be the Koreans. It also means that either Vero Boquete or Ji Soyun would be eliminated before the knockout stages, which is a shame for two of the world’s best players. But, hey, at least they were here, right?

– Curren

VIDEO: Cristiano Ronaldo scores stunning goal for Juventus v. Lyon

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Cristiano Ronaldo amazing goal video? Cristiano Ronaldo amazing goal video.

Yep, we’ve all been here before.

Ronaldo, 35, smashed home an unstoppable shot to put Juventus ahead on the night and level on aggregate against Lyon ini the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg, as the Portuguese superstar scored his second of the game in style.

Season after season, Ronaldo does this time and time again as he’s now scored 37 goals in all competitions for Juventus this season. He’s 35. This just isn’t normal and all of those who doubted Ronaldo’s move to Juventus should watch him deliver week in, week out and be made to eat their words.

As for this game, he turned it on its head as things did not start well for Juventus at all.

After Memphis Depay scored an early penalty kick to put Lyon ahead in Turin, that meant Juventus had to win at least 3-1 on the night to reach the Champions League quarterfinals.

Ronaldo scored a penalty just before half time to make it 1-1 and the comeback was on, then this stunning strike made it 2-1 on the night to Juventus and set up a grand finale.

Watch on in awe as Ronaldo cut in from the right and smashed home with his ‘weaker’ left foot. Safe to say that Ronaldo will have a sore back after carrying Juventus.

LIVE, Man City-Real Madrid, Juventus-Lyon: How to watch, team news, updates

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Manchester City – Real Madrid should be an absolute classic in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg on Friday (start time, 3pm ET) at the Etihad Stadium, while Juventus – Lyon should be a beauty too as the Italian giants must overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg in France.

Both games are locked at 1-1 at half time and set up for classic second halves.

Pep Guardiola and Man City have a 2-1 lead from the first leg in Madrid back in late February before the coronavirus pandemic paused play, as Kevin de Bruyne put in a masterful display in the Santiago Bernabeu to give City the edge. Since then Man City have had their Champions League ban overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and Real have won La Liga as Zinedine Zidane’s side were in imperious form after the restart.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

With midfield and attacking stars set to dazzle on both teams, this is not a game you want to miss as the quarterfinal stage onwards will be held in Lisbon, Portugal. Man City are favorites to win the Champions League, their holy grail, but the most successful team in the history of the competition stands in their way.

Check out the latest Manchester City – Real Madrid team news, betting odds, how to watch and stream, score prediction and more below, as live updates on both games will be available by clicking on the link above.


Team news

Man City are without the injured Sergio Aguero and the suspended Benjamin Mendy is suspended, as Fernandinho starts at center back with Phil Foden starting ahead of Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva and David Silva.

 

Real Madrid are without Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez who are in Madrid, while captain and legendary center back Sergio Ramos is suspended from the first leg and is replaced at center back by Militao.


What they’re saying

Man City midfielder Rodri is full of confidence ahead of facing Real: “I am really confident. They are a great team and they can beat you, because they are Real Madrid, but we have to show them we are a better team. We showed them at their home, but we need to be ready because you never know what is going to happen. We have to be focused. They are the greatest team in La Liga and they have shown that this year. We need to do our best to get to the next round.”

Raphael Varane on Real’s big-game experience being key: “We’re aware of the excellent work we’ve done over the past few years. It doesn’t happen often. We try to remember those days to keep working hard and try to take something out of that experience. We know that little things can make a difference in games like this. We’ve got a lot of experience in these big matches, so we can feel confident. We’re just as determined as before. Our goal is to win, and that’s partly due to the DNA of this club. We always want to put the past aside, move on and win.”


Odds and ends (full Champions League odds)

The bookies believe hosts Manchester City (-139) are the favorites but beware of a Real Madrid side (+320) with nothing to lose and everything to gain, especially with Hazard, Benzema and Rodrygo looking so good in recent weeks. The tie at +340 looks like the best bet here.


Prediction

This is a really tough one to call. Man City were superb after the restart in the Premier League but lost to Southampton and Chelsea, plus lost to Arsenal in the FA Cup semifinal. Defensive issues remain the key problem for Guardiola and Real’s star attacking lineup could expose that weakness. Real Madrid have been better defensively and ground out wins galore on their way to winning La Liga, but Zidane’s boys have to go for this and that will leave plenty of gaps at the back, especially without Ramos. I’m going to go for a 2-2 draw which will just see Man City squeeze through.


How to watch, stream Manchester City – Real Madrid

Date: August 7
Location: Etihad Stadium, Manchester – Round of 16 second leg (Man City lead 2-1 from first leg)
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: Here at NBCSports.com

Chelsea reveal Pulisic injury update

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The latest Christian Pulisic injury news has arrived and it is not as bad as it could have been, but not great either.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

In the FA Cup final last Saturday, Pulisic, 21, scored a superb opener at Wembley as he dazzled for Chelsea early on but right at the start of the second half he raced clear of the Arsenal defense, again, but injured his right hamstring and was in agony before he took a shot.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg game at Bayern Munich on Saturday (they trail 3-0 from the first leg), Lampard confirmed that the latest Pulisic news is that he’s expected to be out for six weeks with his hamstring injury.

“We will get him fit and ready, if he misses the first one or two games, then we can wait for a firing Christian like he was from restart,” Lampard told reporters.

The latest Pulisic injury news means he will likely miss the whole of preseason and the opening few weeks of the 2020-21 Premier League season, as the new season kicks off on Sept. 12 due to the quick turnaround and the delays following the coronavirus pandemic.

When Pulisic came off injured against Arsenal, Chelsea missed him badly as they ended up losing the FA Cup final and the USMNT star being injured was a big reason for that defeat.

Right now Christian Pulisic is the first name on the team sheet for Chelsea and he was named as one of the nominees for the Premier League young player of the season during his debut campaign in England, plus he was one of the best players in the league since the restart.

It is good to hear Lampard said he will not rush Pulisic back, as it was clear for all to see how much more impactful and dynamic he was after having a few months rest. Before joining Chelsea he had played for many years straight as he played for the USMNT during the summers and with Borussia Dortmund.

Chelsea need Pulisic to be fit and firing if they’re going to improve on their fourth-place Premier League finish this season.

Fulham’s U.S. owner reveals plan for Premier League return

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Fulham are back in the Premier League and their US owner, Shahid Khan, has discussed his plan for the Cottagers being back in the big-time.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Due to travel restrictions American billionaire Khan, who also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL, wasn’t present in the UK for Fulham’s 2-1 Championship playoff final win against Brentford earlier this week.

However, he released an open letter on Fulham’s website outlining his delight, as well as the plan for transfers and how the west London club will look for the 2020-21 season.

“Be assured that we will be a team, in its truest sense, moving forward,” Khan said. “We will be unafraid to improve and add pieces to our lineup, but not at the expense of the spirit and soul of a squad that bled, battled and sacrificed to return Fulham to the Premier League. Building a squad can be a tricky proposition for a newly promoted club, and that is especially true this year with the start of the season already nearly upon us. Turnover in football is inevitable. But, this club has Premier League experience and our players, as well as our young and promising head coach, love Fulham Football Club. There is a lot to like in this team today, and just as much to like in our future.”

That seems like Khan will not be sanctioning big-money transfers like he did two summers ago when Fulham were promoted to the Premier League. His son, Tony, oversaw a huge squad overhaul as the Cottagers reportedly spent close to $150 million on new players.

Fulham brought in 15 new players (nine permanently and six on loan) ahead of the 2018-19 season and gutted their promotion-winning team. They were relegated after having three managers in charge during the campaign, as Scott Parker became the caretaker head coach for the final few months and then took over permanently and led them to promotion straight back to the Premier League in his first full season as a manager.

It’s safe to say Fulham will do things a little differently this time around and add a few key players here and there, while try make the loan deals for Harrison Reed and maybe Harry Arter permanent ones. The main area they need to strengthen is in defense and if they can do that, they will be much better equipped to take on the Premier League than they were in 2018-19.

As for possible funds to spend this time around: Remember, Craven Cottage is currently being renovated and it will be spectacular when finished, but given the money spent to do that and the financial uncertainty around the game right now, very few clubs will be splashing huge sums of cash this summer. Fulham are better off adding extra quality where they can to a stable, committed squad of players, instead of wholesale changes.

Given the shorter turnaround time between winning promotion and kicking off in the Premier League, staying in the top-flight will be even tougher than last time. But ahead of the 2018-19 season you had a ‘this big spending could go one of two ways’ feeling about Fulham. Now, it is more predictable. They will likely be competitive and it is easy to see them staying up, although a top 10 push would probably be out of the question.

It will be fun to see if Fulham have learned from their last spell in the Premier League and this message from their owner seems like they have.