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McGovern set to cash in on his European Championship heroics

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PARIS (AP) Michael McGovern gave all he had in the game of his life at the European Championship, and got plenty in return.

After defying Germany again and again in a 1-0 loss, the Northern Ireland goalkeeper was given: The shirt of his admiring opposite number, Manuel Neuer; an ovation of applause by teammates in the locker room; and a place for his team in the round of 16.

McGovern can also now expect a lucrative personal reward for showcasing his talent on the biggest stage of an unheralded career.

The 31-year-old is a free agent next week when his contract with struggling Scottish club Hamilton expires.

[ MORE: USMNT loss, the morning after ]

And his future earning power was given a real boost after McGovern saved Northern Ireland from a German beating on Tuesday that could have sent the team home from its first major tournament in 30 years.

Instead, his team advanced among the best third-placed sides because its goal difference tally of zero is better than Turkey and Albania who have minus-2.

“We’ll see what happens,” McGovern said after his standout day at Parc des Princes. “Playing at this level is something I relish and I love it at Hamilton.

“But I want to play at as high a level as I can and my contract is up in two weeks, so hopefully my agent will be speaking to a few clubs.”

Before Euro 2016, newly promoted Rangers was in line to sign a player who should now get offers from clubs in England.

[ MORE: Gulati cares about third place game ]

A one-handed block from Mario Goetze’s shot early in the second half was truly world-class, and a diving save to push away a late Mario Gomez header ensured Northern Ireland’s hard-working defense did not concede a morale-sapping second goal.

Only Gomez’s side-footed shot in the 30th minute, after Thomas Mueller’s clever run and pass drew McGovern out of position, got through.

“I don’t what kind of day he had, but he fished everything out,” Gomez said.

McGovern’s unexpected impact is such that Germany’s World Cup-winning coach Joachim Loew was asked if he knew of the `keeper who was playing in only a 14th international match.

“Of course I have heard of him before,” Loew said through a translator. “He has kept goal brilliantly and shown great reflexes. Three or four times he was completely alone in his goal, he put in a great effort.”

In just the first half-hour, McGovern was fast off his line to block and smother shots by Mueller, Goetze and Mesut Ozil.

[ USMNT-Argentina: Match recap | Three things]

A total rout seemed possible – like the 8-1 thrashing McGovern and Hamilton took in January from Celtic, the club where he spent seven years without ever playing a first-team match.

“Michael’s not stupid. He’s played in a team this season that fought for their lives in the Scottish Premiership,” Northern Ireland coach Michael O’Neill said. “He makes a lot of saves every week.”

The coach said his No. 1’s display against Germany simply continued a “fantastic” tournament.

“The players gave him a round of applause when he came in the dressing room and, when that happens, you don’t really need the manager to say any more,” O’Neill said.

By the time Northern Ireland plays Germany again in October – in a 2018 World Cup qualifying match at Hannover – O’Neill expects McGovern to be at a higher-profile club.

“How he has progressed in the last 18 months is phenomenal,” the coach said. “He’s worth at least 15 points a season to his club, no doubt.”

Leicester City’s Rodgers: ‘Good news’ on Vardy injury

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Brendan Rodgers says there’s good news when it comes to the injury suffered by Jamie Vardy in Leicester City’s 4-1 blowout of West Ham United on Wednesday.

Vardy hurt his glute in the win, temporarily returning to the match after treatment from the trainer but ultimately subbing off before halftime.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

“It wasn’t his hamstring, so that’s good news for us,” Rodgers said, via The Leicester Mercury.

“He just felt a twinge in his glute, so we just have to wait and see on that in the next day or so. Thankfully his hamstring is okay and he just felt some pain in his glute, so we will have to assess that over the next few days.”

Vardy has a Premier League-best 17 goals, one more than Man City’s Sergio Aguero.

He was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho, who assisted one of Ayoze Perez’s two goals on the day. Perez’s seven goals are second on Leicester, while James Maddison‘s six are third.

Iheanacho has six goals and three assists in 485 minutes and there’s reason to believe he can feast off Leicester’s playmaking if Vardy needs a match or two to heal.

Whether he can fill Vardy’s shoes in the long-term is a big question, especially as Leicester aims to return for the Champions League.

Transfer rumor roundup: Willian Jose to Spurs, Bournemouth after Croatian CB

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London could get itself another Willian.

Willian Jose, 28, was left out of Real Sociedad’s squad at his request on Wednesday, with the club Tweeting that he’d prefer not to play until his situation is resolved.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Jose Mourinho said he would not comment on another team’s players, but Willian Jose could help Spurs bridge the gap to Harry Kane‘s return.

Willian Jose has been a double-digit scorer for Real Sociedad in La Liga for the previous three seasons, and is well on his way to another 10-goal campaign. He’s got eight goals in 20 matches this season.

Bournemouth needs defensive help, and is reportedly rivaling Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers for Portuguese giant Toni Borevkovic.

The 22-year-old Croatian has one goal in just over 3000 minutes with the side since arriving from domestic side NK Rudes.

He’s averaging 1.3 interceptions, .9 tackles, and 3.3 clearances per game in league play.

Rio Ave sits seventh in Portugal’s top flight and is managed by former Premier League boss Carlos Carvalhal.

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

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Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho: Spurs don’t have attacking depth, but do have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
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In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.