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EURO 2016 preview, Group F: Ronaldo, Portugal favorites against relative new boys

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Portugal

Sixth-straight final, and seventh overall. Twice a semifinalist, including the 2012 tournament.

Game schedule

Star player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) — You know about this fella? Good at soccer.

[ EURO PREVIEWS: Group A | B | C | D | E ]

Ronaldo’s club championship mettle translates to the international stage, as Portugal wins its first two matches, rests its players for the third and then follows Ronaldo to the title.

But just like the World Cup, Ronaldo’s supporting cast lets him down. Pepe takes a red card, Nani misses a PK, and Iceland snares a knockout slot.


Iceland

First major tournament

Game schedule

REYKJAVIK, ICELAND - OCTOBER 10: Kolbeinn Sightorsson (1st R) of Iceland celebrates scoring the opening goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifier match between Iceland and Latvia at Laugardalsvollur National Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Reykjavik, Iceland. (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images).
Kolbeinn Sightorsson (1st R) of Iceland (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images).

Star player: Kolbeinn Sigþórsson (Nantes) — The 26-year-old ex-Ajax man has been prolific for his country.

The Icelandic team is a bit of an unknown entity, and its creative play and tactical acumen could cause problems for the other teams in the group.

But like the others in the group outside of Portugal, advancing in tournament play will be tricky due to the newness of it all.


Austria

Second Euro, the first being a group stage-only endeavor in 2008.

Game schedule

VIENNA, AUSTRIA - MARCH 29: Ozan Tufan of Turkey (L) competes for the ball with David Alaba of Austria during the international friendly match between Austria and Turkey at Ernst-Happel-Stadium on March 29, 2016 in Vienna, Austria. (Photo by Christian Hofer/Getty Images)
David Alaba of Austria Photo by Christian Hofer/Getty Images)

Star player: David Alaba (Bayern Munich) — Quick, versatile and energetic, Alaba could finally get deserved accolades free from his Bayern ‘mates.

Dominant in qualifying, Austria is buoyed by confidence and a relatively soft group, moving onto the knockout rounds.

Aiming to be an upstart team, Austria falls flat and finishes third in the group thanks to a game Iceland squad.


Hungary

Third Euro, but first in 44 years.

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - OCTOBER 11: Krisztian Nemeth of Hungary in action during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifing match between Holland and Hungary at Amsterdam Arena on October 11, 2013 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Krisztian Nemeth of Hungary (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)

Game schedule

Star player: Balázs Dzsudzsák (Bursaspor) — Hungary’s 29-year-old captain dictates his team from the middle of the park.

If Group F decides to take the plucky Hungarians lightly, the disciplined unit can surprise and contend for the second slot.

Unfortunately, the lack of experience combined with an entertaining group of attacking teams should spell doom for the Nemzeti Tizenegy.


Who’s going through, who’s going home: Austria and Iceland go through, slipping past Portugal and Hungary.

Marquee match: Iceland vs. Portugal, June 14 in Saint-Etienne.

Top players to watch:

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
  2. David Alaba, Austria
  3. Gylfi Sigurdsson, Iceland
  4. Joao Moutinho, Portugal
  5. Kolbeinn Sigþórsson, Iceland

DC United acquires Julian Gressel from Atlanta

Atlanta United trades for Julian Gressel
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How much is Major League Soccer’s best assist man worth?

About $750,000.

DC United paid Atlanta United that fee in allocation money for the rights to Julian Gressel, who had been at a contract impasse with the club who drafted him in 2017.

That fee could hit $1.1 million in incentives, and even so could be a bargain.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Gressel was due to make around $133,000 this season and wanted an improved deal from Atlanta given his massive production since becoming the eighth overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.

That salary is less than hundreds of players, most of them nowhere near Gressel’s impact. Nineteen Atlanta United players made more than him last season, so it’s understandable that the 26-year-old wanted to get paid.

We don’t know what he was asking, or why Atlanta wouldn’t get there. From MLSSoccer.com:

“If we really wanted to, we could have had him play on $130,000 this season, extend him a bona fide offer at the end of the season and (we’d still own his MLS rights),” said Atlanta United vice president Carlos Bocanegra. “We’re also trying to do the right thing for a guy who has given so much to the club and is really just a good kid all around.”

It’s a weird one, given what the club’s been paying others.

Gressel arrived at Providence College from Eintracht Bamberg and immediately started delivering for the Big East side. He finished his four years with 30 goals and 26 assists and All-American status.

There was some adapting to MLS, but he’s gotten better with every season. He scored 10 goals with 13 assists in all competitions last season.

Spurs chairman reportedly met with Real Madrid about Gareth Bale

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As a neutral, the idea of Gareth Bale rejoining Tottenham Hotspur would be a delight to our Premier League matchday viewing.

Obviously this applies to Spurs fans to the nth degree, especially after a dull 0-0 with Watford at the weekend.

In the short-term, Bale would be a terrific stopgap as Spurs struggle to find themselves without Harry Kane in both the PL and Champions League.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

In the long-term, Bale and Heung-Min Son on the wings of Harry Kane would be enough to make any PL power trio blush (unless Liverpool really does add Timo Werner).

A report out of Spain says Real Madrid president Florentino Perez met with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy about several things including the availability of Bale.

The Welsh star has been long admired by Jose Mourinho, and of course knows Spurs well having become a superstar after arriving from Southampton.

Bale is 30 and his wages would easily top Spurs’ pay list. His 21 goals and nine assists in the 2012/13 Premier League season join his 19 and 11 in 2015 La Liga as his top league seasons.

Spurs host Norwich City on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

Guardiola praises Laporte, “the best left central defender in the world”

Pep Guardiola praises Aymeric Laporte
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Manchester City kept its first clean sheet of 2020 on Tuesday, posting a 1-0 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

It took the two-time reigning Premier League champions six tries to get there, the previous zero coming against this same Blades side at the Etihad Stadium.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

City manager Pep Guardiola was quick to give credit to a returning hero, as center back Aymeric Laporte returned to the fold for the first time since Aug. 31.

The club was 3W-1D at that point. They went 12W-2D-5L without him.

Here’s Guardiola, from the Manchester Evening News:

“It’s incredible,” Guardola said. “We have missed him a lot, he’s the best left central defender in the world. Imagine the best teams in the world lose their best central defender. We miss him a lot because he’s a specialist left foot where our buildup. He is fast, strong in the air.”

“He has something that we don’t have in the squad. His left foot and many actions to build up to make it quicker and better – we don’t have it, not because the other ones are not good but he has the only left foot as a central defender and for the way we want to play that is so important. His character and mentality and winning, he has all the attributes. For me, when he is fit he is the best left central defender in the world.”

If you read that as a little bit of an explanation for City being 13 points off Liverpool, you’ve similar eyes to us.

Pep is asking how Liverpool would look without Virgil Van Dijk, how Real Madrid appears when Sergio Ramos is out.

It’s not the be-all, end-all, but as I wrote when Laporte went down, this is the key piece to their defending efforts as well as where they begin possession.

We’re also grateful that Guardiola didn’t drop some sort of, “He’s like a January transfer addition,” statement (at least as far as we’ve read.

Chelsea admit they miss USMNT’s Pulisic

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LONDON — Since USMNT star Christian Pulisic was injured in training in the first week of January, Chelsea have lost against Newcastle, drawn with Arsenal and blown away Burnley.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

In the two games where they’ve dropped points they’ve missed Pulisic’s genius in the final third with both Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi easily shackled by Arsenal in their London derby. Chelsea admitted as much when speaking after the 2-2 draw against Arsenal on Tuesday, an Arsenal side who played with 10 men for over 60 minutes of the game.

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk about Pulisic’s adductor injury and if they missed him during the draw against Arsenal, downbeat Chelsea boss Frank Lampard noted that Pulisic, 21, was “playing really well” before his injury.

“Yeah, a game like today could have been a good where he would have been helpful for us because he was playing well for a patch. But other people have to stand up in those situations,” Lampard said.

When will Pulisic be back?

Lampard confirmed he is making good progress but will not be fit until after the mid-season player break in February, which means he will miss their FA Cup trip to Hull City this Saturday and their clash at Leicester City on Feb. 1. He may not be back until Feb. 17 when they host Manchester United in the Premier League, which means in total he will have been out for a period of six weeks.

“In terms of when he’s back, it is not going to be a week, it is probably be the other end of the early February break but he is getting better and he isn’t far away,” Lampard said.

Speaking to Pro Soccer Talk pitch-side at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta, who scored their late second goal which looked like being the winner, lavished praise on Pulisic when asked about his absence over the last week.

“Christian is a magnificent player. Since he joined us in the summer he has shown us his potential and we know that he can make the difference at any time. Whenever a player is injured it is not good for a team because we lose potential and I hope to have him back soon,” Azpilicueta said.

Chelsea’s skipper is expecting big things from Pulisic when he does return to fitness, as the fourth-place Blues now have just a six-point cushion to those outside of the top four and have played a game more.

It seems like everyone at Chelsea hopes the USMNT star can rejuvenate their attack in the final months of the season.

“After coming to Europe as a young boy to Germany, he came to Chelsea and it is one step forward, playing for Chelsea every game, fighting to win and fighting for trophies,” Azpilicueta said. “In my role I’ve tried to help in settle into the city and the club. He has a brilliant attitude. Always trying to improve. I am sure he will become bigger and bigger.”