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UEFA World Cup qualifying: Spain, Italy meet in massive group stage tilt

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Something about Spain and Italy being drawn in the same World Cup qualifying group doesn’t feel right.

Yet if there’s a bonus to the UEFA draw, it’s knowing that two world superpowers will stage a pair of critical WCQ matches with the intensity of a final.

While two nations from each group remain alive after group play, only one gets an automatic berth in Russia 2018. The other faces the “anything goes” nature of a home-and-home tie with another second-place finisher for the right to go to the 2018 World Cup.

[ WATCH: Cazorla, Ozil commentate Arsenal replay ]

Thursday brings us the first of those, as the Italians host Spain at Juventus Stadium in Turin. Their rivalry is splendid, and we can easily recall the 2-0 win by Italy in the EURO Round of 16 in June.

The Italians may had a start to uncapped AC Milan center back Alessio Romagnoli, the 21-year-old who may be the future of the team’s defense but would be deputizing for Giorgio Chiellini next to, theoretically, Leonardo Bonucci.

That could mean bodying up on Diego Costa or sticking with Alvaro Morata, though the Italians have more experience with the latter thanks to the Real Madrid man’s loan to Juventus last season.

The return leg is not until Sept. 2, 2017, so a loser could be staring at the result for almost a full year. And if finishing second feels like little risk to you, just talk to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo. Those two world stars squared off in a second-place playoff knowing one of the world’s most dynamic talents wouldn’t get to go to a World Cup.

Thursday’s UEFA World Cup qualifiers
All matches at 2:45 p.m. ET

Austria vs. Wales
Moldova vs. Serbia
Ireland vs. Georgia
Italy vs. Spain
Liechtenstein vs. Albania
Macedonia vs. Israel
Iceland vs. Finland
Kosovo vs. Croatia
Turkey vs. Ukraine

Report: Chelsea would let Juventus hire Sarri for $7m fee

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Maurizio Sarri looks set for a second-straight offseason of “Will Chelsea or won’t they?”

One year after needing the Blues to sort out the removal of Antonio Conte and compensation with Napoli, Sarri could now be moving back to Italy.

[ MORE: Man Utd nears $20m signing ]

But Chelsea won’t make any decisions on his future until after the Europa League Final in Baku next week, and reportedly would let him leave for Juventus if the Serie A side pays a $7 million fee.

Sarri also criticized the Blues’ preseason trip to America, and Matt Law’s report says the manager is fine to stay in England but may want to return to Italy. Roma is also searching for a manager.

Chelsea’s playing style under Sarri drew criticism from supporters but the Blues are in the Europa League Final, finished third in the Premier League, and came within penalty kicks of beating Manchester City to the League Cup title.

Maybe the cigarette-chomping Sarri isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but his success on the table and tournaments with a transfer ban looming was pretty solid. Chelsea could do much worse.

Man Utd set to add $20m Swans winger James

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Manchester United’s first signing of the summer will be a Welsh international forward, but not that one, presuming the clubs sort out the transfer fee.

Swansea City winger Daniel James has agreed to terms with United, according to Sky Sports.

The 21-year-old is expected to cost Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s men about $20 million.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

James scored five times with 10 assists for Graham Potter in all competitions this season, totaling 2800 minutes for Swans.

Only Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish was fouled more per game than James, who was taken to the turf 2.7 times per match. He mostly played on the left wing this season.

Twice-capped by Wales, James turns 22 in November. How long will it take him to make the jump from Championship star to Premier League contributor?

Martinez names Kompany in Belgium squad

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Roberto Martinez is going to suit up a manager as Belgium fights to qualify for EURO 2020.

Okay, okay, that manager is Anderlecht player-manager Vincent Kompany, mere days removed from sealing a domestic treble for Manchester City.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Kompany, 33, has been called up by Belgium for the first time since November. He has 87 caps with four goals for the Red Devils, and perhaps the nickname will be a little less awkward now that he’s not a member of the Premier League’s “noisy neighbors.”

Here’s what Martinez had to say about Kompany’s inclusion.

“In modern football it is not easy to combine the job of player and coach,” Martinez added. “In England they have a tradition of that but less and less because the job of coach has become enormously demanding. We must give him time. We will support him in everything he does.”

Belgium is in a qualifying group with Russia, Cyprus, Scotland, Kazakhstan, and San Marino, and should waltz into the tournament.

USMNT dates to host Cuba, Canada revealed

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MIAMI (AP) The United States will host Cuba on Oct. 11 and Canada on Nov. 15 in the first CONCACAF Nations League.

CONCACAF said Tuesday that the Americans, seeded in Group A, will play at Canada on Oct. 15 and at Cuba on Nov. 19.

Sites have not been determined.

Other Nations League groups are:

B – Bermuda, Mexico, Panama

C – Martinique, Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago

D – Costa Rica, Curacao, Haiti

The top team in each League A group advances to the semifinals in March, and the last-place team is relegated to League B.

The U.S. intends to play exhibitions on the September FIFA dates for national teams.

More AP soccer: and