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Three key battles that could decide France vs. Portugal

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Hosts France will certainly be the favorite to hoist this year’s EURO 2016 title on home soil, however, Cristiano Ronaldo and co. have the opportunity to do something historic for Portugal.

[ MORE: Previewing the EURO 2016 final ]

Coming off impressive wins against Germany and Wales, Les Bleus and the Portuguese seek fairytale endings to what has been a tournament that has provided every bit of excitement and quality.

 [ MORE: Which Premier League players will play in EURO final? ]

Let’s take a closer look at three individual matchups that could decide France-Portugal.

Antoine Griezmann vs. Rui Patricio/Portugal backline

Six goals in as many games has quickly made Griezmann a legend among French circles for his brilliance at EURO 2016. Arguably the most active player for any team this summer, the Atletico Madrid striker needs just one more strong performance in order to hand France its first major title since 2000.

Portugal’s task defensively will be far from easy, especially with the supporting cast that Griezmann and France have at their disposal. With Pepe reportedly nearing a return for the Portuguese ahead of Sunday’s final, the team would receive a massive lift if the Real Madrid centerback can play. Nonetheless, it will be up to goalkeeper Rui Patricio and the rest of the backline to stifle Griezmann and hope Portugal’s attack takes care of business on the opposite end.

Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Bacary Sagna

Being able to rely on one of the best players in the world is a luxury most teams aren’t afforded. Luckily for Portugal, they have Cristiano Ronaldo to fall back on when the rest of the team’s attack isn’t clicking.

Over the years, we’ve seen both Ronaldo and Lionel Messi criticized for disappearing in the biggest matches on the international stage, but now, the former has the chance to give Portugal a title that has eluded them throughout the nation’s history.

While Bacary Sagna is no strange to big competition, consistently facing the top wingers and attackers in the Premier League, Ronaldo’s mix of pace and skill will be a test for the ages as the 33-year-old looks to shut down the Portuguese legend.

Didier Deschamps vs. Fernando Santos

Managers make the big money in the matches that count the most, and Sunday’s clash is about as big as it gets for both Deschamps and Santos.

France may have the deeper squad, boasting names like N'Golo Kante, Yohan Cabaye and Anthony Martial off the bench, however, Portugal will likely need to utilize its bench in order to come out on top.

Santos has several options such as Ricardo Quaresma and Joao Moutinho that can provide a spark, but it’s up to the coach to decide the best moments to infuse a different look into the match.

League One, League Two clubs vote to introduce salary cap

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Clubs in League One and League Two have voted to introduce a salary cap, “effectively immediately.”

[ MORE: Reports: Arsenal nearing agreement on new Aubameyang contract ]

Under the agreed proposal, clubs in England’s third tier, League One, will be allowed to spend up to $3.25 million (£2.5 million) per season on player salaries, while League Two sides will be limited at $2 million (£1.5 million).

The salary cap is, at least in theory, expected to create greater sustainability for lower-division clubs after a number of sides recently relegated from the Premier League and/or the Championship have endured great financial hardship and, in some cases, received hefty punishments for failing to maintain certain financial standards.

According to Sky Sports, discussions about a potential salary cap began back in March, prior to the shutdown, and canceling of the remainder, of the League One and League Two seasons due to COVID-19.

When calculating total salary spending, the salary cap will include not only weekly wages paid to players, but also bonuses, agent fees and image rights, among other mechanisms by which clubs have spent and — again, in far too many cases — lost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in recent years.

Per the English Football League, “any contract entered into on or prior to today’s vote will be capped at an agreed divisional average until that contract expires,” meaning clubs will not be forced to immediately shed contracts in order to comply with the newly implemented rule.

[ MORE: Report: Lille agree record fee for Canadian star Jonathan David ]

From the EFL’s statement, which can be read in full here, released shortly after the vote:

“The term ‘salary cap’ is an emotive one, creating the impression of a restrictive measure but we are clear in our view that this is neither the objective nor the likely effect of these changes to EFL Regulations. The financial impact of COVID-19 will be profound for EFL Clubs and today’s vote will help ensure Clubs cannot extend themselves to the point that could cause financial instability.

“Over the last two weeks the discussions amongst Clubs in both Leagues One and Two have been healthy and constructive, allowing us to reach a clear consensus today and I am pleased that the Clubs have determined to adopt the new approach. We will now work with all Clubs, the PFA and, where appropriate, other stakeholders to implement the new rules and continue our efforts to bring long-term sustainability to the EFL.

MLS is Back: Orlando City advances to final on Nani brace (video)

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) Nani scored a pair of first-half goals and Orlando City advanced to the MLS is Back tournament title match with a 3-1 victory over Minnesota United on Thursday night.

[ MORE: Report: Lille agree record fee for Canadian star Jonathan David ]

Orlando will play the Portland Timbers, who defeated the Philadelphia Union 2-1 in the other semifinal on Wednesday night, in the championship game on Tuesday.

Mason Toye pulled Minnesota within 2-1 with his first goal of the season in the 83rd minute, but the Lions withstood United’s attack down the stretch before Benji Michel’s goal late in stoppage time for the final margin.

“It was very satisfying for us because we worked the whole week just working as a team, making sure all the pieces were put together,” Michel said. “For us to be able to get the win was very, very good for us.”

Minnesota’s Chase Gasper had an early attempted that was pushed over the goal by Pedro Gallese. On the other end, Tesho Akindele’s chance off a cross from Ruan just barely sailed over the crossbar.

Nani gave Orlando the lead in the 36th minute, taking a long ball from Robin Jansson and shaking off defender Hassani Dotson before beating Minnesota goalkeeper Tyler Miller.

Some seven minutes later, the Portuguese winger who played for Manchester United made it 2-0 with a goal from distance.

[ MORE: Reports: Arsenal nearing agreement on new Aubameyang contract ]

There was some shoving between the two teams in the 73rd minute when Junior Urso’s foul resulted in a Minnesota free kick. Gallese came up big for the Lions, leaping to stop Raheem Edwards’ attempt.

“I thought we rushed everything,” Minnesota coach Adrian Heath said. “After the first 15 minutes, where we started the game really well, we needed an extra pass in the final third and we rushed it, we crossed it when there wasn’t anyone in the box. We made a lot of wrong choices in the final third tonight and that’s probably cost us dearly, I think.”

Heath was coach of Orlando City for four seasons before the team joined Major League Soccer in 2015. Heath led the Lions until July 2016, when he was fired.

Heath had not lost against his former club. The Lions are now led by Pareja.

Orlando finished 11th in the Eastern Conference last season with just nine wins.

“We have worked hard, and it has been, so far, difficult times for us. But the players just put all the excuses away, and then just kept going and going,” Pareja said. “And I think they’re happy. They’re playing with confidence and they accept each other and they understand this is day-by day. The guys who came from different countries, different clubs. They help us as well to gel.”

[ MORE: Champions League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions ]

Minnesota’s Romain Metanire and Kevin Molino both had hamstring injuries and were on the bench to start the game. United centerback Ike Opara – the reigning MLS Defender of the Year – did not join the team in Orlando because of a pre-existing condition.

Orlando’s Chris Mueller, whose arm in a sling after the team advanced on penalties following a scoreless draw against LAFC in the quarterfinals, was in the starting lineup.

Lions striker Dom Dwyer had surgery last week on his left knee as is expected to be out for up to six months.

The monthlong World Cup-style tournament has been played without fans at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World. Players have been sequestered at a pair of Disney resorts.

Champions League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League resume this week and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City and Chelsea still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League Round of 16 second legs will take place before mini tournaments begin.

Man City lead Real Madrid 2-1 from their first leg in Spain, while Chelsea trail Bayern 3-0 as they head to Germany for the return game. Man United are all but in the quarterfinals, while Wolves are favored to make the Europa quarters too.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Round of 16 at home venues; Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
Friday, August 7: Manchester City 1-1 Real Madrid (2-1)
Friday, August 7: Juventus 2-1 Lyon (0-1)
Saturday, August 8: Barcelona 3-1 Napoli (1-1)
Saturday, August 8: Bayern Munich 2-1 Chelsea (3-0)


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
Copenhagen 1-2 Istanbul Basaksehir
Wolves 2-0 Olympiakos
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Rangers
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 Wolfsburg
Basel 1-2 Eintracht Frankfurt
Manchester United 3-1 LASK
Inter Milan 3-0 Getafe
Sevilla 1-3 Roma


Champions League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
(-139) Manchester City v. Real Madrid (+320). Tie: +340
(-230) Juventus v. Lyon (+650). Tie: +340
(-150) Barcelona v. Napoli (+400). Tie: +300
(-250) Bayern Munich v. Chelsea (+650). Tie: +410

Quarterfinals (August 12-13)
(+200) Atalanta v. Paris Saint-Germain (+120). Tie: +285
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+133). Tie: 220

Outright winner
Manchester City (+350)
Bayern Munich (+365)
Paris Saint-Germain (+450)
Atletico Madrid (+700)
Atalanta (+950)
Barcelona (+1100)
RB Leipzig (+1500)
Juventus (+1700)


Europa League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
(+155) Copenhagen v. Istanbul Basaksehir (+180). Tie: +235
(-134) Wolves v. Olympiakos (+390). Tie: +260
(-162) Bayer Leverkusen v. Rangers (+410). Tie: +310
(+135) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Wolfsburg (+185). Tie: +265
(+155) Basel v. Eintracht Frankfurt (+155). Tie: +275
(-455) Manchester United v. LASK (+1200). Tie: +550
(-143) Inter Milan v. Getafe (+385). Tie: +285
(+110) Sevilla v. Roma (+270). Tie: +230

Outright winner
Manchester United (+160)
Inter Milan (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+700)
Wolves (+800)
Sevilla (+900)

Captain Coady: Wolves’ Europa League triumph ‘a night we won’t forget’

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Wolves, Europa League quarterfinalists! For the first time in 48 years, Wolverhampton Wanderers are through to the quarterfinals of a major European competition.

[ MORE: Report: Lille agree record fee for Canadian star Jonathan David ]

For a club that was competing in the third tier of English soccer just six years ago, it’s quite an incredible accomplishment and one that only serves to highlight the brilliant job that Nuno Espirito Santo has done since taking charge in the summer of 2017.

After the game, Wolves captain Conor Coady explained just how much it means to the club and how desperate he is to keep such a special run going — quotes from the BBC:

“It was really tough. We played against a top class side and we knew how hard it would be after going to Athens. I thought the lads were fantastic and we managed the game very well. It’s an incredible night for this football club and a night we won’t forget.

“It’s amazing and we are here as players to help the club improve. We love playing for the manager and we were able to frustrate them. We scored a great goal in the first half and that gave us the confidence to keep going. It’s a huge game coming against Sevilla next.”

Star center forward Raul Jimenez, who scored the game- and tie-winning goal on Thursday, heaped praise upon Espirito Santo for the belief and confidence he has instilled in the players, which he believes has played a massive part in sending Wolves Europa League quarterfinals-bound.

“He is a very important part of the team. He is a leader and at the end he said congratulations to me. That confidence he and the team gives to me, I try to give it back to them on the pitch.”