Round 3: USA-Japan Women’s World Cup final a familiar matchup

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Japan and the United States will meet for the third straight time in a major women’s soccer championship final on Sunday to decide the winner of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Japan advanced to the final on Wednesday with a 2-1 victory over England. A heartbreaking stoppage-time own goal by Laura Bassett sent the reigning World Cup champions Japan through to the final again. The United States advanced to the final on Tuesday with a 2-0 victory over world No. 1 Germany.

[LAULETTA: Sampson consoles, praises Bassett after crushing loss]

In 2011, Japan shocked the world by winning the Women’s World Cup four months after an earthquake and tsunami killed over 15,000 people. Japan’s national team heroically rallied a nation at that World Cup to defeat hosts Germany in the quarterfinals for one of the biggest upsets of all time. Then Japan defeated the favored United States in the final, twice rallying from behind to force penalty kicks.

The United States got the upper hand a year later at the London Olympics, beating Japan in the gold-medal game to earn a third consecutive Olympic gold medal and fourth in five Olympic Games.

Sunday brings a highly-anticipated round three.

“In order to be the best team in the world at the World Cup, you have to beat the best teams,” U.S. forward Abby Wambach said. “We just beat the No. 1 team in the world in Germany and now we face Japan, another team that we have so much respect for. They have an amazing team and they’re the reigning World Cup champions so I think it’s going to be a fantastic final. Everyone will have to bring their ‘A’ game and whoever finishes their chances the most will come out on top. Hopefully it will be us.”

[KASSOUF: Ellis nails tactics for U.S. vs. Germany  |  Johnston recovers from mistake]

In a twist from how things stood just a week ago – when Japan looked like the world’s best team against the Netherlands and the U.S. struggled to beat Colombia in the round of 16 – the Americans will enter the final as favorites after a convincing semifinal victory over world No. 1 Germany.

Fluent play so often defines Japan, but the Americans – usually the more physical side that labors through games to earn results – put on a show against Germany, controlling the midfield and creating chances from the opening whistle. It was Japan who had to put in an almost American-like effort to resiliently hold off England, a winning mentality that is a testament to how much Japan has progressed in four short years.

So U.S. coach Jill Ellis and Japan coach Norio Sasaki square off in what should be an interesting tactical battle in the final. Ellis has shown her mettle over the past two games, turning around an underachieving U.S. team and, even if by force due to player suspensions, rediscovering the American mojo.

Sasaki has long proven he’s a mastermind, pulling all the right strings so precisely that Japan has won all six games played at this World Cup by exactly one goal.

Will the roles revert on Sunday?

“The team which is very powerful and has simple tactic, we may not be good at playing against that,” Sasaki said via translator on Wednesday. “But the final will be the final, and there is nothing beyond that, so we shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes. I’d like to send the players to the pitch with this strong will.”

Japan’s only victory in 31 all-time meetings against the United States came in that 2011 World Cup final. They beat the Americans at their own game, twice rallying from behind. And Japan was a team of fate then, with a nation behind it for very serious aforementioned reasons. Only Germany has ever successfully defended a World Cup titles, winning the 2003 and 2007 tournaments.

This time around, the Americans believe that fate is on their side, with what is expected to be a pro-U.S. crowd (much like it has been all tournament) just over the border in Vancouver.

On Sunday, either the U.S. will become the first nation to win three Women’s World Cups, or Japan will join the U.S. and Germany with two titles each.

The past two finals between these two teams have been epic. Get ready for more of the same on Sunday.

Ranking the Ballon d’Or finalists

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The Ballon d’Or finalists for 2019 were announced by France Football on Monday, and there has been plenty of discussion not only about players included in the shortlist or those that missed out, but who deserves to win the highest award in the game.

So, who does?

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With seven players from Liverpool, five from Man City and the usual suspects in Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi all nominated, some stars left out include Harry Kane, Neymar and N’Golo Kante to name a few.

Below we rank the finalists, 30-1, in terms of who we think are the best players.

Feel free to do the same in the comments section below.


30. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
29. Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)
28. Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid)
27. Marquinhos (PSG)
26. Donny van de Beek (Ajax)
25. Heung-Min Son (Tottenham)
24. Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona)
23. Riyad Mahrez (Man City)
22. Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)
21. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
20. Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona)
19. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)
18. Sergio Aguero (Man City)
17. Dusan Tadic (Ajax)
16. Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)
15. Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
14. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)
13. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
12. Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus)
11. Bernardo Silva (Man City)
10. Alisson (Liverpool)
9. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
8. Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)
7. Frenkie De Jong (Barcelona)
6. Kylian Mbappe (PSG)
5. Raheem Sterling (Man City)
4. Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
3. Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)
2. Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
1. Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool)

Xhaka slams “bulls***” criticism of Arsenal

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Arsenal have been targets for a lot of criticism recently.

Granit Xhaka is usually at the center of it.

The Gunners captain came out all guns blazing after they lost 1-0 at Sheffield United on Monday, as he addressed Patrice Evra‘s comments that Arsenal are “babies” and always will be due to their mentality.

“We have to stop about mental [strength] bulls*** like this. For me, it is the same whether you play home or away – you have to win and show big character and a good game and not to always find the same excuse,” Xhaka said. “A lot of people they speak too much. It is not the first time he has spoken something about us. I have a lot of respect for him as he was a great player but you have to be careful what you say. But it is not only him – a lot of people speak a lot of bulls*** about us. It’s always the same.

“For me it is strange as they were in the same situation as us, they were players as well. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is not always good but every week they speak bulls*** like this every week. I tell you the honest truth, I’m not interested in what people say and speak. We have to speak in our group to improve things and work hard and not listen to these people.”

Xhaka and Arsenal have only lost twice this season, 3-1 at Liverpool and 1-0 at Sheffield United.

But aside from being fifth in the table and two points outside the top four, pressure is being placed on Unai Emery and his squad as they’ve narrowly beaten Bournemouth, Burnley, Newcastle and Aston Villa so far. Their performances aren’t instilling confidence in anyone that they can seriously push for a top four finish this season.

Has much changed under Emery in the past 15 months? Nope. This is pretty much the same Arsenal team making the same old mistakes and looking vulnerable away from home. Nothing new here. Sure, some new players have arrived, but David Luiz, Pepe and Sokratis have all been hit and miss so far and it has been left to Matteo Guendouzi and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to try and rescue the Gunners each and every week.

Emery was supposed to change their style of play, develop them into a stronger team defensively and improve their chances of challenging for trophies once again.

None of that has happened, and it doesn’t look closer to happening. That is why the critics are circling around the Gunners. Monday was the perfect opportunity to prove their mentality had changed and they are a stronger, more balanced team under Emery. They aren’t and something drastic will have to change for them if Emery is going to win over the fans, and pundits, once again.

Ronaldo not ready for retirement: ‘Age is just a number’

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Cristiano Ronaldo reassured Juventus supporters and his legions of fans worldwide that at 34 he’s not ready for retirement yet.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule

“Age is just a number. It does not mean that at 34, 35, 36 you are at the end of your career,” Ronaldo said at a news conference ahead of Juventus’ Champions League match against Lokomotiv Moscow on Tuesday. “I can show that with my performances, how I play, the way I play, the way I still feel good, sharp, thinking about the game, more mature. This makes the difference.”

In the second season of a four-year deal at Juventus, Ronaldo had sparked concern among his fans when he said in an interview published a few weeks ago that he was starting to enjoy seeing himself “outside of football, so who knows what will happen in the next year or two?”

Ronaldo recently scored his 700th goal as a professional while on international duty with Portugal and has been nominated for a record sixth Ballon d’Or award – which would break his tie of five with Lionel Messi.

But Ronaldo said he’s more interested in winning a treble with Juventus.

“We want to win Serie A, we want to win the Cup, the Champions League,” he said. “Juventus should think big. … We are going to try to win all the trophies, we know it will be difficult, especially the league and the Champions League, but I think it is possible. Everything is possible.

“In terms of individual, I have nothing to say as this is individual. It is not the most important thing,” Ronaldo added. “The most important is the collective awards. If you win the collective awards you have more chance to win the individual awards. … The Golden Ball is for me in second place.”

While retirement may not be on Ronaldo’s mind yet, family time is a big part of his life now.

“To win games, to score goals, to enjoy myself, to arrive home and see my kids happy and say, `Congratulations daddy for scoring a goal.’ That makes me happy,” he said. “This is my motivation to come to train, for the games, to entertain people and the fans with my passion.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

Carragher apologizes to Evra over Suarez t-shirts

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Jamie Carragher has apologized to Patrice Evra after Liverpool wore t-shirts in support of Luis Suarez in 2011.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The day after Suarez was banned for eight games by the English Football Association, who found him guilty of racially abusing Evra, Liverpool’s players put on t-shirts with Suarez on the front and back during their warm up in a Premier League game against Wigan Athletic.

Carragher and Evra were both analysts for our partners at Sky Sports in the UK on Monday Night Football for the clash between Sheffield United and Arsenal, and discussed the current problems with racism in the game.

“There is no doubt we made a massive mistake; that was obvious,” Carragher said.

Liverpool’s former vice-captain asked Evra how he felt regarding the situation with Suarez, and the former Man United, Juventus and Monaco left back revealed his disgust at the way the situation was handled.

“When I saw it I was like, this is ridiculous. This is unbelievable,” Evra said. You put your own club in danger when you do those things. You always have to support your player because he is from your team but this was after the ban. If it was before and we were waiting for the sanction, I would understand. What message do you send to the world? Supporting someone being banned because he used some racist words.”

Click play on the video above for the full discussion between Carragher and Evra.