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EURO 2016 preview, Group B: England, Russia, Wales, Slovakia

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England

Rollicked through qualifying to avoid repeating the ignominy of missing the 2008 tournament. Made the semis of the 1996 tournament.

Game schedule:

June 11 — vs. Russia at Stade Velodrome in Marseille
June 16 — vs. Wales at Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens
June 20 — vs. Slovakia at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Etienne

Star player: Harry Kane. We knew he could finish, but this Premier League showed he’s a fine playmaker who can dominate a game.

This is the year: The attacking depth of England is out of this world, and the pressure put on defenses by Jamie Vardy, Ross Barkley and Dele Alli will be something to behold.

But you have to stop teams: Joe Hart may have to shine behind a suspect group of center backs. Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill can do a job, but if it falls to John Stones after this season at Everton? Knockout rounds at home.


Russia

In the days of the Soviet Union national team, there were four finals and a title (1960). Under Russia, the nation has failed to qualify once, been bounced at the group stage thrice… and gone to a semi (2008).

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 21: Artyom Dzyuba and Aleksandr Kokorin of FC Zenit St. Petersburg celebrate after scoring a goal during the Russian Premier League match between FC Dinamo Moscow and FC Zenit St. Petersburg at the Arena Khimki Stadium on May 21, 2016 in Moscow, Russia.  (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)
Artyom Dzyuba and Aleksandr Kokorin of FC Zenit St. Petersburg (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)

Game schedule:

June 11 — vs. England at Stade Velodrome in Marseille
June 15 — vs. Slovakia at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille
June 20 — vs. Wales at Stadium Municipal in Toulouse

Star player: Artyom Dzyuba — The 27-year-old Zenit striker averages a goal every other appearance for country, and scored 15 goals in the Russian League this year.

Why Russia can make a sneaky run: All but one of the players plays in Russia, and many play together on the giants of the league. Chemistry will not be an issue.

That’s one old back line, though: The defense is wise, but can it handle the pace of a Gareth Bale or Raheem Sterling?


Wales

Wales has been to one World Cup (1958), but this is their Euro debut.

Wales’ Gareth Bale (David Davies/PA via AP)

Game schedule:

June 11 — vs. Slovakia at Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux in Bordeaux
June 16 — vs. Wales at Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens
June 20 — vs. Russia at Stadium Municipal in Toulouse

Star player: Gareth Bale. The ex-Spurs man makes everyone around him, from Aaron Ramsey to Joe Allen, more dangerous.

If Bale keeps winning spirit in Wales, the two-time UEFA Champions League victor could be talking about a surprise deep run in France.

The depth, though, of this tricky group means failing to pick up three points against Slovakia in the opener could spell doomsday.


Slovakia

First Euro. Made the World Cup in 2010, but failed to qualify in 2010.

TRNAVA, SLOVAKIA - MARCH 25:  Marek Hamsik of Slovakia runs with the ball during the international friendly match between Slovakia and Latvia held at Stadion Antona Malatinskeho on March 25, 2016 in Trnava, Slovakia.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Marek Hamsik of Slovakia (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Game schedule:

June 11 — vs. Wales at Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux in Bordeaux
June 15 — vs. Russia at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille
June 20 — vs. England at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Etienne

Star player: Marek Hamsik. The Napoli man is capable of literally anything with the ball in his control.

Why not? Unbeaten in eight, Slovakia has knocked off Germany, Switzerland and Iceland during the stretch. Captain Martin Skrtel stands behind a readied attack.

This a brutal group, and Slovakia can’t afford to slip up once. Expecting to emerge from the group stage is a lofty plan.


Who’s going through, who’s going home: England and Russia go through but nothing is decided until the final day.

Marquee match: The Wales and England match on June 16 in Lens is a must-watch.

Top players to watch: 

  1. Gareth Bale, Wales
  2. Harry Kane, England
  3. Marek Hamsik, Slovakia
  4. Aaron Ramsey, Wales
  5. Jamie Vardy, England

CCL wrap: Atlanta United, Cruz Azul advance

CONCACAF Champions League
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The underdogs did not have their days on Tuesday in the CONCACAF Champions League.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

MLS side Atlanta United and Liga MX mainstays Cruz Azul cruised to second legs win at home to clinch places in the quarterfinals.

Cruz Azul 4-0 (6-1 agg.) Portmore United

Bringing a pair of away goals from Jamaica, the Liga MX hosts just needed to put this one on ice early.

Orbelin Pineda did that in the 22nd minute, and Cruz Azul struck thrice in the second half to win in a landslide.

Atlanta United 3-0 (4-1 agg.) Montagua

It was all about the Martinezes in Georgia, as Pity sandwiched a pair of goals around Josef’s 61st minute tally to send the Five Stripes into the next stage.

All the goals showed calm under pressure, but Pity’s first was gorgeous football. He also assisted Josef’s goal in Honduras during the first leg.

Remaining Round of 16 second legs

NYCFC v. San Carlos (5-3) — 6 p.m. Wednesday
Montreal Impact v. Deportivo Saprissa (2-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tigres UANL v. Alianza (1-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Club America v. Comunicaciones (1-1) — 10 p.m. Wednesday
Seattle Sounders v. Olimpia (2-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday
LAFC v Leon (0-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday

Coronavirus: Italy may lift ban on sporting events by Monday

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MILAN (AP) The Italian government could lift its ban on sporting events by Monday in areas affected by the coronavirus if the number of cases stabilizes.

The outbreak forced a number of sporting events to be called off throughout the country this past weekend, including four Serie A matches in the north of Italy.

This week, the ban on sporting events was extended from Lombardy, Veneto and Piedmont – the areas hardest hit by the outbreak – to also include the regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Emilia Romagna and Liguria, until March 1.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

“If, as I hope, the statistics don’t give us different signs then maybe already by Monday these measures won’t be continued,” Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said. “But it’s only Tuesday today and we have to wait and see what happens over the next few days. The health of the Italian citizens is the most important thing.”

Italy reported a 45% increase in the number of coronavirus cases Tuesday, from 222 to 300. Ten people have died, all of them elderly or suffering from other ailments.

“Obviously, I can’t say I’m not worried because I don’t want anyone to think we’re underestimating this emergency,” Premier Giuseppe Conte said before meeting with visiting World Health Organization representatives. “But we trust that with the measures we have implemented, there will be a containing effect in the coming days.”

Italy has closed schools, museums and theaters in the two regions where clusters have formed and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicenter of the Veneto cluster, Vo’Euganeo.

Serie A matches this weekend are set to be played behind closed doors, including Juventus’ key match against Inter Milan. That game is not only potentially crucial to the title race but also sees the return of former Juventus coach Antonio Conte.

Inter’s Europa League match at home to Ludogorets on Thursday will also take place without any fans allowed in.

Serie C canceled all games in two leagues which have teams in the north. Volleyball and rugby games were also suspended nationwide through next weekend.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation suspended all of its events throughout the country for an entire week, although it said that “for now” next weekend’s World Cup ski races in La Thuile in the Valle d’Aosta region were still set to go ahead. Those races are operated by the International Ski Federation, which has already canceled races this season in China that were slated to test the course for the 2022 Beijing Games.

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

El Tri winger Jurgen Damm headed for MLS this summer

Jurgen Damm
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This season’s Liga MX invasion of MLS continues with Jurgen Damm announcing that he’ll leave UANL Tigres this summer after five years with the club.

TUDN has the destination as Atlanta, though previous reports have linked Damm to the LA Galaxy is the spot.

And MLSSoccer.com scribe Tom Bogert says the Houston Dynamo have his “discovery rights” (which remains the worst concept in the entire league).

Reports emerged over the past 48 hours that the El Tri man was headed for an MLS club.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 12-times capped winger has one goal for Mexico, but has not been capped since Oct. 2018. He has spent his entire career in Liga MX.

Damm spent the early part of his career with Tecos and Pachuca, but has been with UANL Tigres since 2015.

He won four league titles with UANL, as well as the 2018 Campeones Cup.

Ex-Arsenal man Gnabry: “London’s still red” after Bayern beats Chelsea

Serge Gnabry
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Ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry still has love for the club.

Gnabry tweeted that “London is still red” after he scored twice for Bayern Munich in a 3-0 beating of Chelsea on Tuesday in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

This after scoring four times against Spurs in a previous Champions League group stage match and Tweeting that “North London is Red.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

So what’s with the London form?

“I’ve got a lot of friends here,” Gnabry said after the game. “A lot of them were in the stands tonight, and it seems they give me a lot of good power.”

Gnabry only scored once during his time in England with Arsenal and West Brom but is a bona fide star in the Bundesliga.

With a three-goal advantage over Chelsea heading to Munich for a second leg, however, he’s not got his head in the clouds.

“Three goals ahead gives us a little bit of confidence, but we need to be prepared for the second leg. We can’t take it not seriously enough. … We’ve seen it last year with Liverpool beating Barcelona, so we have to be careful. We have to go into the second leg with all of our focus.”

Gnabry now has 51 goals and 29 assists in four seasons since returning to Germany from Arsenal. Not terrible production for a player the Gunners offloaded to Werder Bremen for under $6 million in 2016.

What color will London be when Chelsea buys him next year? We kid, we kid…