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EURO 2016 preview, Group D: Until someone beats ’em, Spain runs Europe

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Spain

They win. A lot. Aiming for a threepeat, and a fourth overall title.

Game schedule

Star player: Sergio Ramos — The Real Madrid star, along with Barca rival Gerard Pique, is a terror in the air at both ends.

[ EURO PREVIEWS: Group A | B | C ]

Spain will win the whole thing again because until someone knocks them from their continental perch — with all respect to Germany’s World Cup win — we’ll favor their midfield, experience and chemistry.

If an inexperienced strike force fails to take its chances, Spain could be knocked out of the group stage by some tough, battling defensive units.

Bonus fun fact: Spain’s qualifying record since 1996? 45-5-5.


Czech Republic

Have been to all six tournaments, with a runner-up and semifinal stops among them.

Game schedule

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - OCTOBER 13:  Petr Cech of the Czech Republic in action during the Group A, UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying match between Netherlands and Czech Republic held at Amsterdam Arena on October 13, 2015 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Petr Cech of the Czech Republic (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Star player: Petr Cech (Arsenal) — The Czechs are in a rough patch of late, but the longtime Premier League goalkeeper will come in handy during tournament play.

They’ll succeed as the overlooked team of Group D, with the guile of Jaroslav Plašil and Tomas Rosicky guiding them onward.

But this group could be too much to handle for a team who’s best tournament players are well into their 30s.


Turkey

Semifinalists in 2008, Turkey has qualified for its fourth tournament in six tries.

Game schedule

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - OCTOBER 10:  Hakan Calhanoglu (L) of Turkey celebrates his goal with his team-mate Arda Turan (R) during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group A Qualifier match between Czech Republic and Turkey at Letna Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Prague, Czech Republic.  (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)
Hakan Calhanoglu (L) of Turkey celebrates his goal with his team-mate Arda Turan (R). (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)

Star player: Arda Turan (Barcelona)– Fresh after sitting out the first half of the club season, the Barca man could give Turkey a big edge in the middle of the park.

Buoyed by the steel and skill of midfielders Turan and Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Turkey hits sides with lightning precision to make another deep run.

It’s more likely that an inexperienced batch of goalkeepers will have its share of problems with a very good set of Group D attackers.


Croatia

Twice quarterfinalists, Croatia has qualified for five of six Euros.

Game schedule

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - MARCH 26:  Luka Modric of Croatia in action during the International Friendly match between Hungary and Croatia at Groupama Arena on March 26, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
Luka Modric of Croatia (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)

Star player: Luka Modric (Real Madrid). He gets his chance to shine as the clear cut star of the Vatreni, as part of a terrific midfield with Ivan Rakitic.

Their grit and experience will serve them well in Group D, where Spain, Turkey and the Czech Republic provide no nights off. And they’re in-form, too, unbeaten in eight.

It’s going to be very difficult to survive Group D, and that could take the energy out of the group when it hits the group stage.


Who’s going through, who’s going home: Spain and Croatia advance, leaving Czech Republic and Turkey as hard-luck losers.

Marquee match: Spain and Croatia on June 21 should decide the group, and who has a far better path to the final.

Top players to watch:

  1. Gerard Pique, Spain
  2. Sergio Ramos, Spain
  3. Luka Modric, Croatia
  4. Petr Cech, Czech Republic
  5. Arda Turan, Turkey

Atletico Madrid temporarily cuts player salaries by 70 percent

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Atletico Madrid says it has reached an agreement with its players and coaching staff to reduce their salaries by 70 percent while competitions are stopped during the coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: FIFA extends men’s age limit for Tokyo Olympics due to virus ]

Atletico announced the agreement on Thursday and said it is temporarily suspending the jobs of club employees.

Atletico had previously said it would need to take such a drastic step but had yet to reveal the details.

A job suspension under Spanish law allows a company to greatly reduce its labor costs by having workers stay at home while guaranteeing they will go back to their positions when conditions improve.

[ MORE: UEFA threatens Belgian league with European expulsion ]

The Spanish club added that some of the money saved by the players’ salary cuts will be given to its other employees who will be furloughed.

Barcelona recently announced it had come to a similar agreement with its players.

Both clubs said that such cost-saving measures were necessary to ensure their financial stability due to the loss in revenue during the stoppage of competitions.

CONCACAF postpones Nations League finals, Gold Cup qualification

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CONCACAF announced on Friday that the 2019-20 Nations League finals and the opening rounds of 2021 Gold Cup qualification have been postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: UEFA threatens Belgian league with European expulsion ]

The Nations League finals — featuring the U.S. men’s national team, Mexico, Costa Rica and Honduras — were previously scheduled to take place in Houston and Dallas in early June. CONCACAF says the semifinals and final will be rescheduled for a later date.

The seconds round of Gold Cup qualifying was previously scheduled to be made up in June — following their postponement in March, with four two-leg ties featuring largely Caribbean and Central American nations. Those, too, will be rescheduled for a later date.

Given the ongoing public health situation, and following consultation with FIFA regarding the international football calendar, we have made the decision to suspend the CONCACAF Nations League finals, which was scheduled for June 4-7, 2020 in the Houston and Dallas areas.

The event, which includes the Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico and USA men’s national teams, will be rescheduled to take place at a later date in venues to be determined. This will be confirmed following further discussions with FIFA regarding the remaining international windows in the football calendar, and will obviously be subject to public health authorities deeming it safe for professional sports events to resume.

FIFA extends men’s age limit for Tokyo Olympics due to virus

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GENEVA — FIFA has extended the age limit for the men’s soccer tournament at the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics due to the coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: UEFA threatens Belgian league with European expulsion ]

The amended Olympic rule on Friday retains the “players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997” standard for the Tokyo Games following a one-year postponement agreed last week by the International Olympic Committee and Japanese authorities.

It means players eligible for the intended under-23 tournament in 2020 can still play in Japan at age 24 next year. Men’s soccer kicks off ahead of the July 23, 2021 opening ceremony in Tokyo.

FIFA also postponed two women’s age-group World Cups due this year in Central America and India, and confirmed no international games for men and women will be played in the early June dates protected for national team call-ups.

Soccer’s world body said “health must always be the first priority and the main criteria in any decision-making process, especially in these challenging times.”

The Olympic decision was made by a FIFA panel of soccer officials worldwide, created to address the soccer shutdown during the health crisis.

The 16 men’s teams at the Tokyo Olympics next year can also select three over-age players in their rosters. A stellar lineup includes Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Spain.

Two women’s World Cup tournaments — the Under-20s hosted by Panama and Costa Rica in August and September, and the Under-17s in India in November — are postponed. No new dates were announced.

[ MORE: Report: Serie A could resume training May 2, games late in month ]

Until the COVID-19 outbreak, national team games scheduled in June included the 2020 European Championship, World Cup qualifying games in South America and Asia, and qualifiers for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.

After Euro 2020 was postponed for one year, UEFA hoped to schedule playoff games in June to confirm the last four places in a 24-nation lineup. Those playoffs were postponed indefinitely this week.

World Cup qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar now face uncertain scheduling in a congested calendar in Europe, South America and Asia.

FIFA said on Friday it would “organize bilateral discussions” with continental governing bodies “to finalize a revised match schedule pending health and safety developments.”

FIFA plans to direct hundreds of millions of dollars from its cash reserves to support a global emergency fund, and has agreed to appoint one official from each of the six soccer continents to coordinate the work.

Arsenal want season completed ‘to maintain integrity’ of PL

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Arsenal remain in support of finishing the 2019-20 season in order to “to maintain the integrity” of the competition, despite Friday’s unanimous vote that the Premier League cannot resume at the start of May as previously hoped due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: UEFA threatens Belgian league with European expulsion ]

The Gunners, who currently sit ninth in the PL table with 10 games left to play (one more than the majority of clubs around them), were five points back of fifth-place Manchester United for qualification to next season’s UEFA Champions League thanks to Manchester City’s two-year European ban.

In a statement released on Friday, Arsenal reiterated their stance that the current season should be played to completion rather than called to completion at things stand or abandoned altogether.

We are in full support of the objective for all remaining domestic league and cup matches from the 2019-20 season to be played, in order to maintain the integrity of each competition.

We also fully agree with the principle that any return to action will only be with the full backing of government and when medical guidance allows.

The restart date is under constant review as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic develops and we continue to work together with all stakeholders through this very challenging time