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2017 Confederations Cup: Group A preview

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We are just a few days away from the start of the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, so it’s time to take a look at the four teams competing in Group A.

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Here’s what you need to know ahead of the tournament kicking off.

[ MORE: Full schedule, stadiums, streams 


Group A

Russia
How they qualified: As hosts of the 2018 World Cup next summer. Simple.
FIFA ranking: 64
Star player: Igor Akinfeev – Captain and goalkeeper is a fine shot-stopper and the main man for the hosts.
One to watch: Aleksandr Golovin – CSKA Moscow midfielder is being tracked by Arsenal and has the attributes to make the step up.
Manager: Stanislav Cherchesov – Vastly experienced coach has been in charge for less than a year and has been set a target of reaching the 2018 World Cup semifinals. A very, very tough task.
Chance of winning: 20% – The hosts may do better than most expect, but getting out of this group as one of the top two is still a struggle.

New Zealand
How they qualified: They beat Papa New Guinea on penalty kicks after a 0-0 draw in the 2016 OFC Nations Cup Final.
FIFA ranking: 95
Star player: Chris Wood – Top scorer in England’s second-tier at Leeds United, the powerful forward could be set for a move to the PL. A proper handful. 19 goals in 49 games for the All Whites.
One to watch: Ryan Thomas – He plays for PEC Zwolle in Holland and is a creative, fast attacking player who should supply Wood with plenty of chances.
Manager: Anthony Hudson – Young English coach has long been lauded as one of the brightest in the game. Just 36 years old, this could be his big moment but New Zealand are the heavy underdogs.
Chance of winning: 5% – Tough to see them getting out of this group, especially without the injury Winston Reid.

Portugal 
How they qualified: Through their shock win at EURO 2016 last summer, their first-ever major trophy.
FIFA ranking: 8
Star player: Cristiano Ronaldo – Yeah, not a surprise. After leading Real Madrid to back-to-back Champions League titles, a La Liga crown and a EURO 2016 title with Portugal in the past 12 months, Ronaldo is hungry for more goals and glory.
One to watch: Andre Silva – After completing his big money move to AC Milan, Silva is ready to shine. He has seven goals in eight games for Portugal.
Manager: Fernando Santos – Experienced Portuguese boss who led the team to a superb defensive display at EURO 2016.
Chance of winning: 40% – Will progress from the group easily.

Mexico
How they qualified: By winning the 2015 Gold Cup they had a one-off CONCACAF Cup game against the USA (2013 Gold Cup winners) in November 2015 which they won 3-2 after extra time, thus making them champs of CONCACAF and sealing a Confederations Cup spot.
FIFA ranking: 14
Star player: Hector Herrera – Seems to get better each and every year and he will drive El Tri on from midfield.
One to watch: Hirving Lozano – Man City are rumored to be interested in signing the youngster and if the winger has a fine tournament, plenty more top clubs in Europe will take a chance on his mercurial talents.
Manager: Juan Carlos Osorio – Meticulous and disciplined, Osorio will make Mexico tough to beat and they have the attacking talent to counter quickly.
Chance of winning: 30% – Should progress from the group, then anything else is a bonus.


Game schedule
June 17: Russia vs. New Zealand – 11 a.m. ET – Saint Petersburg
June 18: Portugal vs Mexico – 11 a.m. ET – Kazan
June 21: Russia vs. Portugal – 11 a.m ET – Moscow
June 21: Mexico vs. New Zealand – 2 p.m. ET – Sochi
June 24: New Zealand vs. Portugal – 11 a.m. ET – Saint Petersburg
June 24: Mexico vs. Russia – 11 a.m. ET – Kazan


Benzema: ‘I’m F1’ quality compared to ‘go-kart’ Giroud

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It would appear that Karim Benzema lives for exactly two things in life: scoring goals and creating/participating in very public drama.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Benzema, who hasn’t feature for France’s national team since he was allegedly involved in a scandal to blackmail teammate Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape in 2015, slammed compatriot forward Olivier Giroud as the “go-karting” alternative to his own “F1” quality.

His main gripe with Giroud doesn’t appear to actually be with the player himself, but the fact the two get compared to one another so frequently. In Benzema’s absence from Les Bleus, Giroud has been the main beneficiary, leading many to wonder if the team could have reached greater heights with Benzmea in the team instead — quotes from Sky Sports:

“You shouldn’t confuse F1 and go karting and that’s me being kind. On to the next topic. I’m not talking about him [Giroud] anymore. I just know that I’m F1.

“He has his career, he does what he wants and scores the goals that he wants to score. He’s in his corner and I’m in mine, I’m not thinking about him. If we’re talking about playing style, his suits France well.

“It’s good because there are fast players like (Kylian) Mbappe and (Antoine) Griezmann who play out wide or feed off the centre-forward. When Giroud is up front, he’s a handful for defenses, which gives the other two plenty of space to show what they can do.

“He occupies defenders and it works. It might not be brilliant to watch and you won’t say, ‘Wow, that was incredible.’ Does everyone like that style of play? I don’t know, but it suits France well.”

Giroud: 39 goals (third-highest) in 97 appearances for France. Benzema: 27 goals in 81 appearances.

Guardiola: ‘We will come back stronger, kinder … and a bit fatter’

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Through all of the innumerable challenges and tragedies the world is currently facing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is doing his best to not only help the fight back in his native Spain, but also give everyone a chance to smile and laugh at their own expense.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Guardiola, who last week donated $1.1 million to fight the virus in Catalonia, released a video message of encouragement and hope on Monday — encouraging everyone to stay inside, and hopeful of returning to a sense of normalcy in short order:

“We miss football. We miss the life that we had a few days ago but now is the time to listen, to follow our scientists, doctors and nurses.

“You are my football family and we are going to do everything possible to make you feel better. We’ll come back from this stronger, better, kinder … and a little bit fatter. Stay inside, stay safe.”

Germany’s UCL clubs pledge support for cash-strapped clubs

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DUSSELDORF, Germany — Four German soccer clubs have pledged a combined $21.9 million to support other teams struggling to stay afloat after games in the country were suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen will forgo $13.7 million in as-yet undistributed TV money and add another $8.2 million from their own funds. All four clubs played in the Champions League this season, giving them extra income.

The German Football League, which oversees the top two divisions, will decide how the money is distributed. The league has previously said it fears many clubs could face financial collapse if games can’t resume.

“In these difficult times, it’s important that the stronger shoulders support the weaker shoulders,” Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said on Thursday.

It’s the latest in a string of gestures to help those in need in German soccer. Players at clubs including Bayern, Borussia Monchengladbach and second-tier Karlsruhe have agreed to voluntary pay cuts to help other staff.

[ MORE: Tottenham offer stadium to help with coronavirus effort ]

Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said clubs had a responsibility to keep other teams running in what could be a long period without income from ticket sales and sponsors.

“We have always said that we would show solidarity if clubs, through no fault of their own, should run into difficulties that they can no longer overcome themselves,” Watzke said in a statement.

“BVB is currently having a major impact on society through a wide range of initiatives. And naturally we are prepared to help out other professional football clubs if it is ultimately a matter of cushioning the financial effects of the pandemic.”

Transfer rumor roundup: Sancho to Man Utd; Madrid’s Haaland backup plan

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A roundup of all of Monday’s biggest transfer rumors, including those involving Premier League clubs…

[ MORE: Tottenham offer stadium to help with coronavirus effort ]

Jadon Sancho is a virtual lock to leave Borussia Dortmund and return to the PL this summer, and the 20-year-old winger will almost certainly command a transfer fee of more than $150 million just three years after signing from Manchester City for just $10 million. Today, it’s Manchester United who are rumored as frontrunners for Sancho’s services, based upon reports that Sancho has “unofficially confirmed” he will choose to join Man United when the transfer window opens.


Updating a transfer rumor from last week, Real Madrid are still very much in on another Dortmund starlet, Erling Haaland, but that doesn’t mean they’re putting all of their eggs in one basket. Los Blancos are reportedly eyeing Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a former Dortmund man himself, as a backup option should Haaland remain at Dortmund or land elsewhere this summer. Aubameyang, who’ll turn 31 this summer, isn’t likely to move for less than $60 million, which could prove a stumbling block.


If the rumors are to be believed, this summer will be a costly one for Man United, who are also interested in Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez. The price tag on the 25-year-old? Close to $170 million. It would seem unlikely that United could afford Niguez (at that price) without getting $100 million (at least) for Paul Pogba.


Another current Arsenal (and former Dortmund) player, midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, hopes to turn his loan to Roma into a permanent move this summer. Arsenal are expected to ask $22 for the 31-year-old, but the Serie A side is hoping to pay closer to $12 million instead.