Women’s World Cup — what we learned on Day 12

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There were two big reasons the French women’s national team was able to gain a substantial following in the 2011 World Cup in their home country. One was their play, of course, they could knock the ball around with the best of them and were arguably the best technical squad in Germany before being unceremoniously dumped by the physical United States in the semifinals.

The other, however, might have been what happened the previous summer. The French men’s team, 1998 world champions (which they won at home), were among the names people threw out there as a sleeper in South Africa. They had plenty of talent, after all, names everyone had seen each weekend in the biggest European leagues and even the Champions League.

[ MORE: Complete Round of 16 matchups for Women’s World Cup ]

But what followed was perhaps the biggest meltdown in World Cup history. After an opening draw with Uruguay (who as it turned out went all the way to the semifinals), coach Raymond Domenech flat out lost control of his team. They lost to Mexico and were eliminated before they even took the field for their final match, returning to France disgraced.

A year later, the French women, playing beautiful team soccer, were impressing the world and many of those people (at least those who would give it a chance) who were so turned off 12 months before.

Fast-forward four years and France – to the horror of the French fans – had a potential fiasco on its hands in Canada. France was on the wrong end of perhaps the biggest upset in women’s soccer history against Colombia. Worse, the winning goal came after an obvious display of petulance by one of their most beloved players. Louisa Necib, apparently upset that teammate Jessica Houara was going to take a throw-in, threw the ball at her legs with enough force behind it to ricochet off her legs and back to Necib.

There were some things working in head coach Philippe Bergeroo’s favor that Domenech didn’t have, the most prominent being a forgiving group format in which 16 of 24 teams advanced. But still, Bergeroo had some work to do to get his team on the same page. The first question was answered when the lineups were announced. Necib would sit, replaced by youngster Amel Majri, who had only seven caps before Wednesday (although she does start for Lyon).

[ MORE: Complete Round of 16 matchups for Women’s World Cup ]

Still, as the game kicked off, we wondered: Might France be capable of imploding like its men’s team had done?

We only had to doubt them for 34 seconds. Elodie Thomis got to the end line almost off the opening kickoff, her cross got loose and Marie-Laure Delie headed it home. By the 13th minute, France led Mexico 3-0 on its way to a 5-0 pummeling.

And as it turned out, France ended the group stage where it expected to, on top of Group F. Les Bleues even lead the tournament in possession, and recorded an outrageous 56-8 shot differential in the process (in the loss to Colombia, they still outshot them, 21-3). They even got a favorable knockout-round draw against Korea Republic. After that, it will be Germany (probably), of course, and a very tall order. But maybe as a man who spent his share of time in France (most of which didn’t go so well), Thomas Paine once wrote, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”

Maybe France needed that adversity to come together and make its mark on the world stage. Only time will tell.

– Ray Curren

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

What else did we learn from Wednesday from Groups E and F?

Brazil rolling right along: If you put together a montage of group highlights there is a good chance it would not include anything from Brazil. Even Marta’s goal to take the all-time World Cup lead was from the penalty spot and did not get a whole lot of attention. But in a group filled with teams featuring incredible, attacking midfielders, Brazil rolled through without conceding a goal. Now comes the hard part, and Australia will be a tough out in the Round of 16, with Japan likely after that. At the last World Cup, Brazil showed an almost frightening inability to see out a United States team they were better than. Time will tell how good this version is and, if in position again, if they can close out tough matches.

– Dan Lauletta

England looked great. Then it didn’t: It’s still hard to keep up with Mark Sampson’s substitution and tactical patterns. England basically conceded the opener against France and only goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and Fara Williams started all three group stage matches. Still, his team responded Wednesday, with Karen Carney getting a fortuitous rebound and Williams burying a penalty to give England a 2-0 lead at the half over Colombia, all of which gave you great confidence they could beat Norway in the Round of 16 and maybe be a big factor in the weaker half of the bracket. Then they were outplayed in the second half and had to hold on for a 2-1 win. So who knows? At least Lianne Sanderson was able to get on the field (the last field player on her team to do so).

– Curren

Oh those chances: One of the best parts about this World Cup is that multiple teams that left their lots in the group stage are capable of giving the best teams in the world a run for it. It will not make Spain feel too much better that they are one of them after three matches worth of squandered chances left them 0-2-1. Many players were in tears after losing 2-1 to Korea Republic. And the match ended in particularly painful fashion. Sonia Bermudez hit the crossbar with a free kick that would have lifted Spain into a tie with Costa Rica so tight a drawing of lots would have been needed to decide who moved on. But with some more refined play in the final third Spain easily could have been moving on possibly even as group winners.

– Lauletta

Mexico continues to struggle: Let’s be honest, in a country that took its women’s soccer seriously, Leo Cuellar would be out of a job at this tournament as Mexico continues to sink not only in the world, but in CONCACAF, where they are now behind not just the U.S. and Canada but Costa Rica as well, with teams like Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti closer to Mexico than Mexico is to the top two. Yes, they were unlucky not to beat Colombia in the opener, but with a chance to go out fighting (and a chance to advance with a win at the start of the day), they showed nothing, and unlike Costa Rica, they don’t seem to have too many young players at the moment to build around. Even Cecilia Santiago struggled at this tournament.

– Curren

Korea pull it out late: As Korea Republic looked headed for the exits at halftime Wednesday night, one of the prevailing feelings had to be, “how could that team that took it to the United States a week before the World Cup finish the World Cup with only one point.” But then the Koreans dug in, attacked Spain as if their lives were at stake, scored twice in the second half, and held on for their first ever win at the World Cup. Their midfield play, when it is working, is truly something to behold and they seem to be following in the footsteps of their Asian sisters from Japan.

– Lauletta

Colombia is trending upward, but… Look, Colombia exceeded just about everyone’s expectations with four points and that upset of France is one they can hang their collective hats on pretty much forever. They are entertaining to watch and to see both Yoreli Rincon and Lady Andrade make a transformation from villain (at the previous international tournaments) to hero has been remarkable. With that being said, they have a tall, tall order against the United States in the second round, especially without goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda, who needlessly picked up a second yellow card late in Wednesday’s game. Anything can happen, but they’ve only put six shots on frame in three matches and scored on four. I think the percentages, fatigue, and the talent gap are due to end their run on Monday. But kudos nonetheless.

– Curren

Ticas offer hope: Costa Rica was so tough at World Cup qualifying and they showed it again on their first trip to the World Cup. They stole a stoppage time point from Korea Republic in their middle match and hung with an albeit not full strength Brazil team for most of 90 minutes. For Costa Rica they will leave Canada in the same boat as teams like Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Thailand, and even Colombia (who are still in the tournament). If they can get their national federation behind them, the sky is the limit. Last year wthereas a huge one throughout Costa Rica soccer so maybe the Ticas can find some support in that wave.

– Lauletta

Chicharito seizes chance to be center of the Galaxy

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Carson, Calif. — Javier Hernandez has been to the top of the soccer world. He spent the last 10 years in Europe’s top leagues, winning trophies and representing some of the biggest clubs.

Yet from Manchester United to Sevilla, the Mexican striker better known as Chicharito often struggled to get consistent playing time.

Whether his path was blocked by Wayne Rooney‘s brilliance or a manager’s lack of confidence in him, Hernandez rarely got to show his full talent. When he wasn’t fighting injuries, he often served as a key backup instead of a centerpiece.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

That’s the main reason the 31-year-old Hernandez agreed to return to North America with the LA Galaxy, who introduced their latest superstar acquisition Thursday.

Chicharito is the center of the Galaxy now, and he is thrilled.

“I just want to play,” Hernandez said in his distinctively rapid bilingual delivery. “This league and this team, it’s giving me that opportunity (to show) that I’m one of the best players around the world. That’s why they want me to be here, to try to improve this league and this team. … It’s a win-win-win-win. I know I’ll be on the pitch most of the time if I keep working hard for the club. I’m going to be doing what I loved since I was in the belly of my mother.”

With Chicharito playing in only nine games so far this season for Sevilla, the timing was finally perfect for this long-rumored combination of player and club.

While the Galaxy made major improvements and reached the playoffs last season behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s franchise-record 30 goals, they desperately needed another topflight striker at the center of coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s attack when Ibrahimovic chose to return to Europe. Unlike most Major League Soccer clubs, the Galaxy have the money to go get elite talents, even in the January transfer window.

Hernandez is well aware of the five-time MLS champions’ history of landing world-class players, reeling off his own list of favorites: “Robbie Keane. Steven Gerrard. Giovani Dos Santos. Jonathan Dos Santos. Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Landon Donovan. David Beckham, that’s the most iconic one, obviously. And then my name is over those. I’m just so blessed and so humble that I can be a part of all this.”

The speedy, shifty Chicharito likely fits Barros Schlelotto’s style even better than the hulking Zlatan, and the Argentine coach worked aggressively behind the scenes to land Hernandez.

While Chicharito’s European career got off to a strong start at Manchester United under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, he repeatedly struggled elsewhere when managers clearly didn’t believe in his abilities.

[ MORE: Premier League Club Power Rankings ]

“More than anybody, Guillermo was involved in making it happen,” said Galaxy general manager Dennis Te Kloese, who has known Chicharito since the player’s childhood. “In the end, it had to do with Javier’s interest in being a part of this organization because he’s going to be in a team and with a coach who has a lot of trust in him.”

That clearly wasn’t always the case in Hernandez’s European career. After four years in Manchester, Chicharito spent one season at Real Madrid and two more at Bayer Leverkusen, followed by two seasons back in the Premiership at West Ham. He scored goals at every stop, but never landed a permanent, consistent role matching his importance to the Mexican national team.

“I think what makes a lot of the world-class players even better is (how) they get used to their circumstances,” Chicharito said. “That’s something that I think I can bring. I want to show them that I’ve never been a selfish player – even though strikers are going to be in front of everyone, and I’m probably going to take the shot. I’m completely motivated.”

The top goal-scorer in the history of the Mexican national team already knows Los Angeles from many trips representing El Tri, which is invariably treated as the home team at the Rose Bowl by California’s massive Mexican-American population. Chicharito was greeted at the airport by hundreds of noisy fans when he arrived with his young family Wednesday night.

“I’ve been playing in this country since I was 16 years old,” Chicharito said. “I’ve won a lot of games here, and I’ve been treated with a lot of value and respect. I want that, and it’s coming from the best club in the USA. They came to get me, and that speaks of what they think of me.”

While the MLS is an undeniable step back in overall exposure and competition, Hernandez knows he will deal with even more scrutiny on his home continent from the fans and Spanish-language media based in Los Angeles.

That extra scrutiny has already started: When Chicharito’s YouTube reality show released an episode Wednesday in which Hernandez told his father that moving to the Galaxy was “like the beginning of my retirement,” fans and critics immediately seized on the term often used to denigrate MLS.

Chicharito explained himself with a smile before he held aloft his Galaxy jersey and formally began his next chapter.

“In my country, we love and we are, like, obsessed with drama and excess,” Hernandez said, clarifying that he only meant he had finished the European portion of his career.

“They don’t really listen to what I said at the beginning of the retirement (comment). This retirement could last 10 years. That word is strong for them when I mention (retirement), but it’s just the beginning of that. Hopefully this beginning is going to last so long.”

Simeone has no plans to leave Atletico Madrid despite setbacks

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It might seem insane, the idea that anyone other than Diego Simeone would manage Atletico Madrid any time soon.

And if the 49-year-old Argentine manager comes available, the market for his services is going to be active.

Simeone was answering questions about his future following Atleti’s stunning 2-1 loss to third-tier Cultural Leonessa in the Copa del Rey’s Round of 32 on Thursday.

“I have the desire to work like every day since I arrived,” Simeone said, via Marca. “The penalties or the extra time in the Champions League didn’t change me, nor will going out in this round. I have an important squad and results will come soon.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Simeone has led Atleti to a La Liga crown, two Europa League titles, and a pair of Champions League finals.

He’s a three-time La Liga coach of the year, and Atleti has finished Top Three in all of his seasons at the club except 2011/12. He was hired in December of that year and won Europa.

The third-place run is at risk this season, and not because Simeone hasn’t been able to marshal his back line (Come on, obviously). The club has struggled to find goals without Antoine Griezmann, though massive signing Joao Felix has shown signs. After Alvaro Morata’s 10 goals, only Angel Correa (5) and Felix (4) have more than two.

Hence all the Edinson Cavani talk. And the Alexandre Lacazette talk.

If Simeone were to be looking for a job, it would be interesting to see how many jobs would almost instantly become available.

PL Club Power Rankings: Week 24

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What are we supposed to do when the form table says there are about four teams playing well across the Premier League, and one conceded two stoppage-time goals to draw their last match?

It’s nutty, dear reader.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Liverpool is a team of destiny and Man City unbeaten in seven across all competitions. After that, there’s a lot of long exhalations and ponderous glances at the form table.

Things might get nutty in our first power rankings since Week 22.

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]

20. Norwich City — The Canaries have this awful penchant for getting no points when they should get one, and one when they should get three. The former happened against Spurs, and now they simply have to sweep Newcastle by winning at St. James’ Park in two weeks.
Last week: 20
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Spurs
Up next: 10 a.m. Feb. 1 at Newcastle United

19. West Ham United — All David Moyes does is win, he says, though he hasn’t done it since pounding moribund Bournemouth. No Felipe Anderson for a month is brutal.
Last week: 16
Season high: 5
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 4-1 at Leicester City
Up next: 2:45 p.m. ET Wednesday v. Liverpool; 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 v. Brighton
18. Brighton and Hove Albion — Losing to Bournemouth after drawing at home to Villa leaves the Seagulls just two points above the drop zone.
Last week: 12
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 3-1 at Bournemouth
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 at West Ham

17. Bournemouth — The Cherries faithful needed that. Now it needs health… and Jacob Bruun Larsen?
Last week: 18
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Won 3-1 v. Brighton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 v. Aston Villa
16. Burnley — They’re doing it again. They’re unkillable.
Last week: 17
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-0 at Manchester United
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Feb. 2 v. Arsenal
15. Watford — Going out of the FA Cup is probably a good thing.
Last week: 13
Season high: 13
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Aston Villa
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Everton
14. Aston Villa — A big win meets a big swing: Will Mbwana Samatta adjust seamlessly to the Premier League and give Jack Grealish some aid in attack?
Last week: 19
Season high: 6
Season low: 19
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Watford
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 at Bournemouth
13. Crystal Palace — Winless in five, though four were draws. Need health in a bad way after getting controlled by Saints at Selhurst Park.
Last week: 14
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 2-0 v. Southampton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 v. Sheffield United
12. Newcastle United — Getting a half-decade’s worth of good fortune in one season, and adding Nabil Bentaleb (for sure) and Valentino Lazaro (pending Friday medical) on loan-to-buy deals fill big holes. Watch the highlights from the match below and pretend you didn’t know the final score; Stunning turnabout.
Last week: 15
Season high: 11
Season low: 20
Last match: Drew 2-2 at Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 v. Norwich City
11. Manchester United — Ole Gunnar Solskjaer saw “very many positives” in a poor display versus Liverpool, then repeated his “biggest club in the world” trope after bumbling versus Burnley. He’s in an impossible spot without Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford and not a terrible boss, but he’s certainly not the right man for the job right now. Light into them!
Last week: 3
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Lost 2-0 v. Burnley
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Feb. 1 v. Wolves
10. Everton — The back line (and keeper) provided a point at West Ham, then gave away two versus Newcastle in what was otherwise a complete performance from Carlo Ancelotti‘s men. Otherwise.
Last week: 10
Season high: 5
Season low: 19
Last match: Drew 2-2 v. Newcastle United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 at Watford
9. Liverpool — Just kidding… wanted to see if you were still reading.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 2-1 at Wolves
Up next: 2:45 p.m. ET Wednesday at West Ham
9. Tottenham Hotspur — Family is good. A striker would be better.https://soccer.nbcsports.com/2020/01/21/sheffield-united-man-city-premier-league-aguero-de-bruyne-video/
Last week: 7
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Lost 1-0 v. Liverpool
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Feb. 2 v. Man City
8. Arsenal — Nicolas Pepe hasn’t been so good the past couple of weeks, but how about this for a number? His 62 successful dribbles are 39 more than anyone else on the team despite playing only 1,345 minutes. Unique.
Last week: 11
Season high: 4
Season low: 13
Last match: Drew 2-2 at Chelsea
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Feb. 2 at Burnley
7. Southampton — James Ward-Prowse is getting England talk, and he deserves it. Saints are flying.
Last week: 9
Season high: 7
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 2-0 at Palace
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 at Liverpool
6. Sheffield United — Again, how remarkable is it that the newly-promoted Blades are letdown from only getting a point from Man City and Arsenal?
Last week: 6
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 1-0 v. Man City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 at Crystal Palace
5. Chelsea — Judging from the Mixed Zone, Chelsea isn’t too worried about its disappointing draw with Arsenal. Will they be happy with a point at the King Power Stadium in two weeks?
Last week: 4
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Drew 2-2 v. Arsenal
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Feb. 1 at Leicester City
4. Wolves — What if Diogo Jota finished that late chance versus Liverpool? You’d have to think it would’ve been richly deserved for their second half. Willy Boly‘s return is better than any result, though, as he rejoined the bench after a long absence.
Last week: 8
Season high: 3
Season low: 17
Last match:Lost 2-1 v. Liverpool
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Feb. 1 at Man Utd
3. Leicester City — Jamie Vardy’s injury is a concern, but the Foxes’ four-star showing versus West Ham was a refreshing result.
Last week: 5
Season high: 2
Season low: 10
Last match: Won 4-1 v. West Ham
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Chelsea
2. Manchester City — How long will Sergio Aguero stay in Manchester? All of the goal records are asking after his super sub showing. He’s one behind Vardy in the Golden Boot race.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 6
Last match: Won 1-0 at Sheffield United
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Feb. 2 at Spurs
1. Liverpool — Just magnificent, this guy. The commitment and fitness he’s provoked from his men are simply stunning.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 2-1 at Wolves
Up next: 2:45 p.m. ET Wednesday at West Ham; 10 a.m. ET Feb. 1 v. Saints

2 Robbies podcast: Robbie Earle and Derek Rae talk Liverpool, Man Utd

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Robbie Earle is joined by Derek Rae to discuss the current state of Manchester United after their defeat to Burnley at Old Trafford (0:55), 10-man Arsenal fighting back to draw with Chelsea (11:55) and Liverpool’s historic run to start the season that just won’t seem to end (21:15).

Plus, Robbie and Derek share their thoughts on Sergio Aguero’s greatness at Manchester City (29:35), Tottenham under Jose Mourinho so far (35:05) and how things are shaping up at bottom in the fight for Premier League survival (37:35). Finally, Derek shares his Underappreciated Performers of the Premier League Season (41:55).

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]