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USMNT-Mexico preview: Long odds at Azteca

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The Mexican national team presents a massive challenge to the United States, especially at Azteca, but the Yanks have some unusual advantages ahead of Sunday’s contest.

For one thing, El Tri has to prepare for next week’s Confederations Cup and joins the USMNT as teams playing on only three days rest.

But Mexico is also limited by a quartet of injuries, including impactful players Andres Guardado, Miguel Layun, and old American nemesis Rafa Marquez.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up versus Mexico? ]

That’s not enough to level the playing field, even in the thin air of Azteca, but it’s a start for an American side known if anything for its relentless work rate and endurance.

The rivalry remains lopsided — Mexico has 38 wins and 14 draws in 66 matches — and El Tri has consecutive wins in big matches since ending its six-match winless run against the U.S.

The 2015 CONCACAF Cup was far worse than the 3-2 score line indicates, and Marquez’s late winner in November’s World Cup qualifier in Columbus was a fair winner as Mexico ended the Yanks’ Dos a Cero hex in the Hex.

Forget the rivalry for a second, one which stretches across years, and focus on form. Mexico is doing quite well since its disappointing Copa America Centenario ended with a loss to Ecuador.

While the ensuing Gold Cup win was more referee-aided than dominant, it kicked off an incredible run that boasts a record of 23W-9D-2L.

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

All-time leading goal scorer Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is obviously a major threat, but just been a part of what’s been working for Mexico. El Tri has 11 goals in 2017, and nine different players have hit the score sheet.

It was a 3-5-2 in Thursday’s 3-0 win over Honduras, and Mexican center back Oswaldo Alanis was a menace. The 28-year-old Guadalajara man was credited with six takeaways, scored a goal, and missed on only two of 45 passes.

Will Bruce Arena consider a matching three-back outfit? It would be experimentation of the highest order, but also coming in a match in which few expect three points. More likely, does the U.S. boast the incisive passing help break down that five-man midfield?

With a long trip to Russia and a place in the World Cup almost secure — Mexico has a seven-point lead on fourth place Panama — there’s a very slight possibility the Yanks can catch Mexico looking ahead to Portugal, New Zealand, and hosts Russia in the Confederations Cup. It’s just one of many things the Americans need to succeed in Sunday’s brutal test.

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE