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

AT HALF: Martial, Rashford team up for impressive opener

Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images
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Manchester United has a stylish opening goal in its quest to go a perfect 2-for-2 in Premier League play.

After quality passing in traffic ended with Marcus Rashford slipping a through ball in to both Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial, the Frenchman bolted a ball into the upper reaches of the net.

[ STREAM: Wolves – Man Utd ]

To be honest, Rui Patricio had little recourse.

The goal is Martial’s second of the season, and United is 45 minutes away from moving atop the league.

Report: Barcelona will make Neymar loan offer

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The most expensive player in the world may be going back to his old club…on loan.

According to a report by ESPNFC, Barcelona will make an official approach for Neymar on a loan with an option to buy next summer, similar to the switch Philippe Coutinho made from the Camp Nou to Bayern Munich earlier today. In fact, the report specifically states that Barcelona will look to copy Bayern’s approach of a one-year loan with a fee ($9.4 million for Coutinho’s loan) plus all wages paid, followed by an option to buy ($133 million).

Barcelona prefers this approach as they have already racked up a massive transfer bill this summer, spending over $220 million on the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong, Junior Firpo, and Neto.

While there have been numerous reports of potentially creative offers for Neymar over the past few weeks that mention players included in a swap deal, the ESPNFC report specifically states no players will be included in any current or future deal for Neymar either in the terms of the loan or as part of the option to buy. While Barcelona considered this approach in the past, Paris Saint-Germain was reportedly not interested in any players Barca offered, other than Coutinho. They apparently made an official offer already, ponying up $89 million plus Coutinho and Ivan Rakitic, but that was turned down.

The ESPN report does state that Coutinho’s loan to Bayern is seen by those close to Neymar as “a huge setback” as the Brazilian’s camp saw Coutinho as the key to making the deal happen, given that Barcelona is unwilling to put up a straight cash offer this summer. Unnamed Barcelona officials are also quoted in the report as stating that a for a potential Neymar deal, “it will be complicated,” but they are hopeful of progress.

The option to buy in Barcelona’s offer has reportedly not been decided upon as of yet, although previous reports have stated that PSG is unlikely to consider an offer that does not net them back what they paid for Neymar two years ago, to the tune of $245 million.

Watch Live: Wolves v. Man United

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Manchester United travels to Monlieux to take on their boogy team as Wolverhampton Wanderers look to make it four straight without a loss against the Red Devils across all competitions (Watch live, 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

The last time Manchester United beat Wolves was in 2012 when they won 5-0 at Monlieux in a season that saw Wolves eventually relegated. They were winless in all three matches against Wolves last season, including two in Premier League action and one in domestic cup play. To end that drought, they’ll need to break a Wolves streak of eight consecutive top-flight matches unbeaten at home, making their midlands ground a fortress of late.

WATCH WOLVES v. MAN UNITED LIVE ONLINE HERE

To help snap the streak, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has handed winger Daniel James a full debut, coming into the side in place of Andreas Pereira as the only change from the team that topped Chelsea 4-0 to begin the season. Juan Mata stays stuck on the bench, while Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, and Anthony Martial all spearhead the attack alongside James. Paul Pogba again partners with Scott McTominay in midfield to reprise a duo that was fabulous against the Blues. Alexis Sanchez remains out of the squad, although Solskjaer confirmed he is “close” to a return.

For Wolves, they deploy an unchanged side from the opening day draw with Leicester City. Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez are back leading the lines after being rested midweek for their Europa League win over Pyunik. Nuno again deploys a 5-3-2, with wingers Johnny and Matt Doherty serving as wing-backs along the three central defenders in Connor Coady, Wily Boly, and Ryan Bennett.


LINEUPS

Wolves XI: Patricio; Doherty, Bennett, Coady, Boly, Jonny; Dendoncker, Neves, Moutinho; Jota, Jimenez.
Subs: Ruddy, Neto, Cutrone, Gibbs-White, Saiss, Vinagre, Traore.

Man United XI: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Pogba, James, Lingard, Rashford, Martial.
Subs: Romero, Tuanzebe, Pereira, Mata, Matic, Greenwood.

Sokratis calls it “easier” to defend Liverpool than Burnley

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Arsenal has not fared well at Anfield the last few years, not at all. In fact, the Gunners haven’t shown up against the Reds at all the past two seasons, shipping 13 goals in their last four meetings with Liverpool, and 15 goals in their last four trips to Anfield.

Which made the words out of the mouth of Arsenal defender Sokratis about defending Liverpool even more surprising.

Following 2-1 win over Burnley this past weekend, Sokratis compared playing the Clarets to playing defending Champions League winners Liverpool, whom Arsenal visits this coming weekend. “It is a different game,” Sokratis said. “Maybe it is more easy, because you don’t have to fight a lot, but they also play football.”

Play football they certainly do. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino have all scored each of the last two times the Gunners visited Anfield, resulting in 5-1 and 4-0 drubbings. So…how does that figure to “more easy?”

“If they are on good day and you are having a bad day, it is hard,” Sokratis admitted. “In the end, we know that it is difficult and we respect Liverpool a lot. But I think the best [way] is to go and play our style of game. We will see what happens.”

When asked specifically about last season’s lopsided result, Sokratis believes that was a rare occurance. “The 5-1 last season…it was not the game to take five goals – [there was] the penalty kicks, we made mistakes,” he said. “I think this year will be different, but we have to improve of course from the work we do with the coach and his staff.”

Arsenal will have to avoid the mistakes this time around if they want to find an important three points. Even a draw would be helpful in the Gunners’ quest to attain Champions League qualification for the first time in four years. Sokratis would be wise not to take the Reds lightly.