Round of 16 Women’s World Cup preview: France vs. Korea Republic

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FRANCE vs. KOREA REPUBLIC

When: Sunday, 4 p.m., EDT
Where: Olympic Stadium, Montreal
TV: Telemundo, NBCDeportes.com
Team records: France 2-1-0 (winner Group F); South Korea 1-1-1 (second in Group #)
Best performance at World Cup: France 2011 (semifinalist); South Korea 2015 (first appearance in knockout stage)

Key players:
France – Elodie Thomis: Thomis did not get the start against Colombia, which was a bit strange, but not too alarming in a tournament with so many games in a short period. But Mexico had no answer for her down the French right side and she has the potential to make Lee Eunmi’s day miserable on the Korean left, especially if Yoon Dukyeo sticks with his 4-2-3-1. Does he bring back Jeon Gaeul to try to help, or does that set up his side too defensively and give France too much of the ball? Questions, questions.
Korea Republic – Ji Soyun: We’ve seen glimpses of the player who dominated with Chelsea in England, but we have not gotten the whole package yet out of her, her decision making has been a bit slow, and that has cost South Korea a couple of good scoring chances. But she’s capable, and if South Korea is going to burn France on the counter (which they might have to), there aren’t many in the world you’d rather have with the ball that Ji So-yun.

Under the radar key players:
France – Amandine Henry: OK, maybe she’s not so unheralded after her wonder goal against Mexico, but her primary duty is playing a holding midfield spot, and she has done that superbly for France recently, perhaps better than anyone in the world. She’ll have to work hard to find Ji Soyun when France does lose the ball (which may not be too often, but still). In the French 4-4-2, she has a lot of area to cover to prevent counters, and she may be tested a time or two. There’s no reason to think she won’t be equal to the task.
Korea Republic – Cho Sohyun: The Korean captain has given her team a bit of an edge from her holding midfield spot, not afraid to make tackles and even scoring a massive goal against Spain in the game that helped Korea Republic advance. She turns 27 next week and is one of the most experienced players on her team. She’ll likely be tasked with chasing a lot on Sunday, and it will up to her to keep her concentration and her self-control, hoping her team will follow her lead.

Inside the numbers:
1 — Number of goals Korea Republic had scored at the World Cup before scoring four in its last two matches. The only other appearance they had was also in North America, 2003, where the Koreans were outscored 11-1 in three games and left without a point.

Random stat: France has out-shot its opponents in the group stage by an astounding 56-7 mark (even in the loss to Colombia, it was 21-3 for France), while Korea Republic has been out-shot 41-31 so far (only having more shots than Costa Rica). So it stands to reason that France will have plenty of the ball in this one, but that likely won’t come as a surprise to the South Koreans, either.

Breaking it down:
This really doesn’t look like a good matchup for Korea, although if you’ve never been this far before, who cares, right? The one problem France may run into is just having possession for the sake of possession. It’s hard to see Korea Republic being so unprepared that they allow Thomis free reign like Mexico did, and so – like against Colombia – it may be tough to break them down. They were fortunate against England to get an early goal and bizarrely, England never really tried to play, so France just knocked the ball around for 70 minutes.

Korea Republic has some things going for it, though, namely Ji Soyun and Cho Sohyun, who are more than capable of catching France on the counter with the help of someone like Kang Yumi. They did it to Spain to tie the game and have shown the ability to attack quickly when they can. Kim Jung-mi has had her moments in goal and the defense has not looked terrible (Costa Rica managed to score twice on two shots on goal). You also many remember that Korea Republic held the United States scoreless in the last friendly prior to the World Cup.

Still, France appears to have too many weapons here. As much as they can keep the ball, they are also very dangerous on set pieces with Laura Georges and Wendie Renard able to get forward and wreak havoc. With a full-strength squad (even if Philippe Bergeroo keeps Louisa Necib on the bench) and it’s poor match out of the way, this seems like a relatively easy French victory.

Prediction: France 2-0

Chicharito tells father MLS move is “beginning of my retirement”

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Major League Soccer has been fighting the notion that it is a “retirement league” for the better part of the last decade. The business strategy of bringing on European stars in the twilight of their careers is sensible to garner interest in the league, and often those players have gone on to set records and become stars.

Still, many use the label as a derogatory mark, and that has resulted in a significant PR hurdle for the league on several occasions. It has cropped up again just days after Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez signed for the LA Galaxy at 31 years old.

Chicharito was confirmed to be a new LA Galaxy player on Tuesday, and he went on record to say that he was coming to the league to be competitive. “It [MLS] is a very attractive league that is growing, even if some do not want to accept it,” Hernandez told beIN Sports. “Some say I am playing here because I will retire or just have fun. They are completely wrong.”

Well, unfortunately for Chicharito, he is one of those people. On the vlog Naked Humans centered around Chicharito and those in his life, the Mexican striker was seen calling his father to tell him the news of signing with the Galaxy. On the call, which was released in Wednesday’s episode around the 26-minute mark, Chicharito seemed initially trepidatious to tell his father the news. “It’s almost certain I am going to LA,” he began. When his father began to be supportive by asking, “So?” Chicharito responded to explain his palpable sadness. “Everything is ok everything is perfect dad, it’s only that, well it’s like the beginning of my retirement, you know?”

Hernandez went on to clarify a bit later, but not by much. When father protested, saying “no it isn’t!” But Chicharito went on to explain a bit further, saying, “No dad, try to understand me…what I mean is that we are saying goodbye to a career that we put a lot of effort into, and we worked, and I know you guys also feel it and we’re going to look at the bright side and it’s going to be amazing. But whether we like it or not, we are retiring from the European dream.”

Those do not sound like the words of a player who is excited to enter into a new chapter of his career, but instead seem to sound like those of a downtrodden former player riding off into the sunset resigned to his fate. It’s possible some of this was lost in translation, but overall Chicharito seems to be consoling himself and talking himself into the decision more than actually hoping to reassure his father on the phone.

Hernandez signed for the Galaxy on Tuesday from Spanish club Sevilla, joining as the highest paid player in Major League Soccer. He will go head-to-head with fellow Mexican striker Carlos Vela of LAFC in the cross-town rivalry, hoping to challenge Vela’s single-season MLS goalscoring record set last season.

Report: Man United board continues support of Solskjaer

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The ugly 2-0 loss to Burnley on Wednesday deepened Manchester United’s woes this season and yet again exposed the significant holes in the Red Devils’ squad.

[ RECAP: Man United 2-0 loss to Burnley ]

Despite the negativity surrounding the defeat, however, it appears that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s managerial job is safe for now at Manchester United. According to a report by Sky Sports, the Manchester United board continues to hold support for Solskjaer as they look desperately for consistency at the position. The report states that the club is “not even considering” a managerial change at this point, and that both the players and board “remain fully behind Solskjaer.”

The Red Devils have struggled mightily to recapture the glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson since his retirement, and while the team yearns to back a manager through a rebuild like Liverpool has with Jurgen Klopp, the retooling at Manchester United has been far bumpier. The club hired Solskjaer first in December of 2018 as interim manager in the wake of Jose Mourinho’s departure, but then permanently after smashing initial success.

[ MORE: Solskjaer says Man United “mentally tired” in Burnley loss ]

Since his permanent signing, however, the club has won just 11 of its 32 Premier League matches dating back to late last season. The attacking threat has been promising at times but overall inconsistent, while the defense proves consistently porous at the worst possible times. Shockingly, they have won consecutive league matches just twice during that stretch, both coming recently with wins over Spurs and Manchester City in early December before a pair over Newcastle and Burnley through the festive period.

Many fans have heaped blame not on Solskjaer but instead at the feet of Ed Woodward, club chief executive who has ushered Manchester United into a financial golden age but has also flopped hard as head of recruitment. The club has reportedly attempted to bring aboard a Director of Football to assist in player recruitment and lift the weight off the shoulders of Woodward who does not have a sporting background, but so far has yet to pull the trigger, leaving the business executive aboard as the so far unsuccessful head of personnel.

As results continue to spiral downward, however, more pressure has reached Solskjaer’s doorstep, with the club investing significant financial might this summer to bring on the likes of Harry Maguire, Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka plus the continued development of youngsters Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, and Scott McTominay to mixed results. Rashford and McTominay have blossomed this season into some of the best in the league, but Lingard has seen his growth stunted while Andreas Pereira and Anthony Martial also look to have hit a developmental wall.

Injuries have also taken a toll, with midfielder Paul Pogba a significant missing piece for much of the season due to a foot problem and both McTominay and Rashford have been hit by knee and back injuries respectively.

All told, Solskjaer has had little to work with in terms of available talent, and it’s not like he is underperforming given the quality of the squad. However, despite official blame yet to be publicly placed at the feet of Woodward or his bosses, it appears that the board is yet to make Solskjaer a scapegoat for the club’s league struggles. Manchester United sits fifth in the Premier League table, six points back of Chelsea for the final Champions League spot and a massive 30 points behind leaders Liverpool. They have qualified for the Champions League just twice in the last five seasons, and both those times failed to reach past the Round of 16. For a once powerful club, the rot runs deep at the moment, and while Solskjaer is safe for now, he will be wise to remain cognizant of the dangers over his shoulder.

Leicester City’s Rodgers: ‘Good news’ on Vardy injury

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Brendan Rodgers says there’s good news when it comes to the injury suffered by Jamie Vardy in Leicester City’s 4-1 blowout of West Ham United on Wednesday.

Vardy hurt his glute in the win, temporarily returning to the match after treatment from the trainer but ultimately subbing off before halftime.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

“It wasn’t his hamstring, so that’s good news for us,” Rodgers said, via The Leicester Mercury.

“He just felt a twinge in his glute, so we just have to wait and see on that in the next day or so. Thankfully his hamstring is okay and he just felt some pain in his glute, so we will have to assess that over the next few days.”

Vardy has a Premier League-best 17 goals, one more than Man City’s Sergio Aguero.

He was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho, who assisted one of Ayoze Perez’s two goals on the day. Perez’s seven goals are second on Leicester, while James Maddison‘s six are third.

Iheanacho has six goals and three assists in 485 minutes and there’s reason to believe he can feast off Leicester’s playmaking if Vardy needs a match or two to heal.

Whether he can fill Vardy’s shoes in the long-term is a big question, especially as Leicester aims to return for the Champions League.

Transfer rumor roundup: Willian Jose to Spurs, Bournemouth after Croatian CB

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London could get itself another Willian.

Willian Jose, 28, was left out of Real Sociedad’s squad at his request on Wednesday, with the club Tweeting that he’d prefer not to play until his situation is resolved.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Jose Mourinho said he would not comment on another team’s players, but Willian Jose could help Spurs bridge the gap to Harry Kane‘s return.

Willian Jose has been a double-digit scorer for Real Sociedad in La Liga for the previous three seasons, and is well on his way to another 10-goal campaign. He’s got eight goals in 20 matches this season.

Bournemouth needs defensive help, and is reportedly rivaling Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers for Portuguese giant Toni Borevkovic.

The 22-year-old Croatian has one goal in just over 3000 minutes with the side since arriving from domestic side NK Rudes.

He’s averaging 1.3 interceptions, .9 tackles, and 3.3 clearances per game in league play.

Rio Ave sits seventh in Portugal’s top flight and is managed by former Premier League boss Carlos Carvalhal.