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Copa America, EURO Today: Final spots up for grabs; Argentina to learn final opponent

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The knockout rounds bracket for EURO 2016 will be set after Wednesday’s play concludes, as will Argentina’s opponent for the Copa America Centenario final (as well as the USMNT’s enemy in the third place game).

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Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic could say goodbye to the tournament with losing performances on Wednesday, and for Ibra it would be the final international of his career.

 

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Essential reading: The morning after: Boiling down the U.S. loss to Argentina. … The Yanks admitted they were blown away by Argentina’s game. …

ICYMI: Ronaldo threw a reporter’s microphone into a lake. … Here are nine different angles of Messi’s goal. … Three things we learned from USMNT-Argentina & player ratings.


EURO 2016, Game 33: Iceland vs. Austria

When: Wednesday, Noon ET

Where: Stade de France in Saint-Denis

Live updates: NBCSports.com

Historic draws could be undone if Iceland loses to Austria on Wednesday, but the latter side could be reeling after cruising through qualifying and earning the dark horse label only to pick up a lone point through two games. A draw would be enough to ensure at least third place for Iceland. Austria needs to win.


EURO 2016, Game 34: Hungary vs. Portugal

When: Wednesday, Noon ET

Where: Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon

Live updates: NBCSports.com

Hungary is onto the knockout rounds, while Portugal’s fate is far from settled heading into the match against its stubborn opponents. Cristiano Ronaldo’s side has been flustered with just two points, and he’ll face the Leicester-like tactics and efficiency of Hungary.


EURO 2016, Game 35: Italy vs. Ireland

When: Wednesday, 3 p.m. ET

Where: Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Villeneuve-d’Ascq

Live updates: NBCSports.com

Italy is through after beating Belgium and Sweden, while Ireland is still seeking the win that would lift them above the other two teams in the group. Irish assistant manager Roy Keane has cautioned that his side will do anything to get by, and Italy knows a thing or two about chippy play, too. Expect fireworks.


EURO 2016, Game 36: Sweden vs. Belgium

When: Wednesday, 3 p.m. ET

Where: Allianz Riviera in Nice

Live updates: NBCSports.com

A draw won’t be enough to put Sweden in the top third-place teams, so Zlatan and company will need to go for it against a Belgium side that would do well to close up shop (but probably won’t).


Copa America, Game 30: Chile vs. Colombia

When: Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Soldier Field in Chicago

Live updates: NBCSports.com

The reigning champs are coming off a 7-0 thumping of Mexico while Colombia needed kicks to get past Peru. We’d still expect an electric atmosphere and equally charged run of play between these two. Must watch status = close to achieved.

Sadio Mane injury update

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An injury update has arrived on Sadio Mane after the Liverpool winger was subbed off in the first half of their 2-1 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Thursday.

Mane, 27, is Liverpool’s leading goalscorer this season and the Senegalese star has taken his game to a new level.

Asked for an update on Mane’s fitness, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp confirmed the details and that the Premier League leaders will assess the damage further.

“Sadio is a real shame he had to go off,” Klopp said. “Hopefully it’s not too bad – just a muscle tweak, but we will see tomorrow.”

Asked about their gruelling schedule coming up before their mid-season player break in mid-February, Liverpool’s boss basically confirmed that Mane will not play in the FA Cup fourth round this weekend.

“That is tough and it’s probably without Sadio,” Klopp said when asked about their FA Cup trip to Shrewsbury on Sunday.

Klopp was then about the pressure of being 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League table and look nailed on to win their first league title in over 30 years, Klopp shrugged it off but mentioned that the next week will take a big toll on his players.

“I didn’t think about it, I know we play Sunday at Shrewsbury, I know we play Wednesday at West Ham and I know we play Saturday,” Klopp said. “That’s three games in seven days which is a lot. We lost Sadio Mane and that’s the pressure I think about. All the rest is no pressure.”

Mane has spearheaded Liverpool’s title procession this season and there seems to be no real need to rush him back from a hamstring injury.

With the damage done and Liverpool’s Premier League title all but secured, Klopp should focus on having him fit for their upcoming UEFA Champions League knockout games. That should be the focus as the likes of Divock Origi, Takumi Minamino, Curtis Jones and Xherdan Shaqiri can step in for Mane.

Liverpool cannot replace Mane, especially given his form this season, but given the comfortable situation they find themselves in there’s no need to risk losing him for an extended period of time.

Javier Hernandez explains retirement comments

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Javier ‘Chicharito‘ has explained comments he made about his move to the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer as he mentioned the word ‘retirement’ in his YouTube reality show which featured him talking about his move to LA.

That’s right, using the words retirement and MLS in the same sentence will unleash an unreal level of fury among the most ardent supporters of North America’s top-flight.

Chicharito, 31, was shown in tears as he spoke with his parents on the phone about his move to the Galaxy and it appears his comments have been blown out of proportion as he was speaking about the end of his European journey as he returns to North America.

“It’s so simple. I think all over the world, but in my country, we love and we are, like, obsessed with drama and excess,” Hernandez said. “They don’t really listen to what I said at the beginning of the retirement (comment). This retirement could last 10 years. That word is strong for them when I mention (retirement), but it’s just the beginning of that. Hopefully this beginning is going to last so long.”

Drama? LA? Soccer? Surely not…

Hernandez has issued some much-needed perspective on this topic. Is he heading towards the end of his career? Well, folks, water is wet. Anybody who tries to say MLS is not a great place for stars from Europe to see out the final years of their careers is in denial. There is still a place in MLS for huge names to raise the profile of the league and have a swansong while they are paid handsomely.

MLS isn’t dominated by those type of players anymore but we’ve all seen the success David Villa, Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane had and more recently Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney.

Yes, Hernandez probably should have not used the word ‘retirement’ but it was taken out of context and even if he now realizes he’s in the final years of his career he seems hellbent on enjoying them in the USA as he tries to restore the Galaxy’s status as the elite club in MLS.

Chicharito is keeping it real and we salute him for that. Anybody who has a serious problem with his comments should probably just go back to yelling at the clouds.

Chicharito seizes chance to be center of the Galaxy

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Carson, Calif. — Javier Hernandez has been to the top of the soccer world. He spent the last 10 years in Europe’s top leagues, winning trophies and representing some of the biggest clubs.

Yet from Manchester United to Sevilla, the Mexican striker better known as Chicharito often struggled to get consistent playing time.

Whether his path was blocked by Wayne Rooney‘s brilliance or a manager’s lack of confidence in him, Hernandez rarely got to show his full talent. When he wasn’t fighting injuries, he often served as a key backup instead of a centerpiece.

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That’s the main reason the 31-year-old Hernandez agreed to return to North America with the LA Galaxy, who introduced their latest superstar acquisition Thursday.

Chicharito is the center of the Galaxy now, and he is thrilled.

“I just want to play,” Hernandez said in his distinctively rapid bilingual delivery. “This league and this team, it’s giving me that opportunity (to show) that I’m one of the best players around the world. That’s why they want me to be here, to try to improve this league and this team. … It’s a win-win-win-win. I know I’ll be on the pitch most of the time if I keep working hard for the club. I’m going to be doing what I loved since I was in the belly of my mother.”

With Chicharito playing in only nine games so far this season for Sevilla, the timing was finally perfect for this long-rumored combination of player and club.

While the Galaxy made major improvements and reached the playoffs last season behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s franchise-record 30 goals, they desperately needed another topflight striker at the center of coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s attack when Ibrahimovic chose to return to Europe. Unlike most Major League Soccer clubs, the Galaxy have the money to go get elite talents, even in the January transfer window.

Hernandez is well aware of the five-time MLS champions’ history of landing world-class players, reeling off his own list of favorites: “Robbie Keane. Steven Gerrard. Giovani Dos Santos. Jonathan Dos Santos. Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Landon Donovan. David Beckham, that’s the most iconic one, obviously. And then my name is over those. I’m just so blessed and so humble that I can be a part of all this.”

The speedy, shifty Chicharito likely fits Barros Schlelotto’s style even better than the hulking Zlatan, and the Argentine coach worked aggressively behind the scenes to land Hernandez.

While Chicharito’s European career got off to a strong start at Manchester United under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, he repeatedly struggled elsewhere when managers clearly didn’t believe in his abilities.

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“More than anybody, Guillermo was involved in making it happen,” said Galaxy general manager Dennis Te Kloese, who has known Chicharito since the player’s childhood. “In the end, it had to do with Javier’s interest in being a part of this organization because he’s going to be in a team and with a coach who has a lot of trust in him.”

That clearly wasn’t always the case in Hernandez’s European career. After four years in Manchester, Chicharito spent one season at Real Madrid and two more at Bayer Leverkusen, followed by two seasons back in the Premiership at West Ham. He scored goals at every stop, but never landed a permanent, consistent role matching his importance to the Mexican national team.

“I think what makes a lot of the world-class players even better is (how) they get used to their circumstances,” Chicharito said. “That’s something that I think I can bring. I want to show them that I’ve never been a selfish player – even though strikers are going to be in front of everyone, and I’m probably going to take the shot. I’m completely motivated.”

The top goal-scorer in the history of the Mexican national team already knows Los Angeles from many trips representing El Tri, which is invariably treated as the home team at the Rose Bowl by California’s massive Mexican-American population. Chicharito was greeted at the airport by hundreds of noisy fans when he arrived with his young family Wednesday night.

“I’ve been playing in this country since I was 16 years old,” Chicharito said. “I’ve won a lot of games here, and I’ve been treated with a lot of value and respect. I want that, and it’s coming from the best club in the USA. They came to get me, and that speaks of what they think of me.”

While the MLS is an undeniable step back in overall exposure and competition, Hernandez knows he will deal with even more scrutiny on his home continent from the fans and Spanish-language media based in Los Angeles.

That extra scrutiny has already started: When Chicharito’s YouTube reality show released an episode Wednesday in which Hernandez told his father that moving to the Galaxy was “like the beginning of my retirement,” fans and critics immediately seized on the term often used to denigrate MLS.

Chicharito explained himself with a smile before he held aloft his Galaxy jersey and formally began his next chapter.

“In my country, we love and we are, like, obsessed with drama and excess,” Hernandez said, clarifying that he only meant he had finished the European portion of his career.

“They don’t really listen to what I said at the beginning of the retirement (comment). This retirement could last 10 years. That word is strong for them when I mention (retirement), but it’s just the beginning of that. Hopefully this beginning is going to last so long.”

Simeone has no plans to leave Atletico Madrid despite setbacks

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It might seem insane, the idea that anyone other than Diego Simeone would manage Atletico Madrid any time soon.

And if the 49-year-old Argentine manager comes available, the market for his services is going to be active.

Simeone was answering questions about his future following Atleti’s stunning 2-1 loss to third-tier Cultural Leonessa in the Copa del Rey’s Round of 32 on Thursday.

“I have the desire to work like every day since I arrived,” Simeone said, via Marca. “The penalties or the extra time in the Champions League didn’t change me, nor will going out in this round. I have an important squad and results will come soon.”

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Simeone has led Atleti to a La Liga crown, two Europa League titles, and a pair of Champions League finals.

He’s a three-time La Liga coach of the year, and Atleti has finished Top Three in all of his seasons at the club except 2011/12. He was hired in December of that year and won Europa.

The third-place run is at risk this season, and not because Simeone hasn’t been able to marshal his back line (Come on, obviously). The club has struggled to find goals without Antoine Griezmann, though massive signing Joao Felix has shown signs. After Alvaro Morata’s 10 goals, only Angel Correa (5) and Felix (4) have more than two.

Hence all the Edinson Cavani talk. And the Alexandre Lacazette talk.

If Simeone were to be looking for a job, it would be interesting to see how many jobs would almost instantly become available.