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Top Billing in South America: Argentina vs. Uruguay

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Lionel Messi is back for Argentina. And Luis Suarez is expected to return for Uruguay.

The two Barcelona teammates should be the focus on Thursday in South America’s most high-profile World Cup qualifier.

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With four rounds of qualifying remaining, Brazil has already advanced to Russia and leads the group with 33 points. The five-time World Cup winners are followed by Colombia (24), Uruguay (23), Chile (23), Argentina (22) and Ecuador (20). Peru and Paraguay have 18 points, and little chance to advance. Bolivia and Venezuela have been eliminated.

In addition to Brazil, three more teams will claim the remaining automatic berths, and one more South American team could also reach Russia in a playoff.

A look at the key games:

URUGUAY-ARGENTINA

Messi is back from a one-game ban for insulting a match official. It was originally four matches, but the Argentine soccer association appealed successfully.

That’s good news for coach Jorge Sampaoli, who will be on the bench for his first official game in charge. Without Messi, Argentina lost to Bolivia 2-0 in its last qualifier in March.

Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez also needs Suarez. He has a right-knee injury, which Tabarez said will be evaluated in the run-up to the match.

With or without Suarez, Tabarez knows “it will be a very, very difficult match.”

Sampaoli replaced Edgardo Bauza in early June and has coached friendly wins over Brazil and Singapore. Sampaoli has left Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain out of the side, going instead with Paulo Dybala, who is seen as Messi’s heir on the national team.

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Tabarez is remaking the Uruguay side, which has been about the same since finishing fourth in the 2010 World Cup and the 2011 Copa America. New faces include Federico Valverde, Mauricio Lemos and Gaston Pereiro.

“It’s not just another game coming up,” Uruguay defender Diego Godin said. “It’s a classic, and we know who we’re playing.”

VENEZUELA-COLOMBIA

Colombia attacking midfielder James Rodriguez is out with a right thigh injury. His new club, Bayern Munich, has allowed him to travel, under the condition that he doesn’t play. He could be available for the Sept. 5 qualifier against Brazil.

The match takes place in San Cristobal, Venezuela, in the midst of the South American country’s deepening social and economic crisis.

Argentina-born coach Jose Pekerman should be able to get by without Rodriguez. Venezuela has only six points from 14 matches.

“Venezuela playing Colombia is always played as if your life depends on it,” Colombia winger Juan Guillermo Cuadrado said.

Colombia will rely on Radamel Falcao, who has scored seven goals for French club Monaco in only four games.

BRAZIL-ECUADOR

Brazil has advanced, winning eight straight qualifiers under coach Tite.

Tite will have Neymar, fresh off his record-breaking transfer to Paris Saint-Germain. The player most watched will be winger Philippe Coutinho, who has yet to play a minute with Liverpool. The English club says Coutinho has been out with a back injury. Meanwhile, Coutinho has been linked in a move to Barcelona to replace Neymar.

Ecuador needs a victory in the match in the southern city of Porto Alegre to stay in the race.

“It’s a tough challenge,” Ecuador coach Gustavo Quinteros said. “But Ecuador has shown when it plays well, it can beat anybody.”

CHILE-PARAGUAY

Chile’s hopes in Santiago against Paraguay probably ride with Alexis Sanchez, who played his first minutes of the season in Arsenal’s 4-0 loss to Liverpool. Sanchez missed the first two matches with an injury.

PERU-BOLIVIA

Peru and Bolivia play the other match with neither team going anywhere. Peru will be without captain and top scorer Paolo Guerrero, who is suspended. He is eligible for the next match against Ecuador.

Zuniga reported from New York.

What to expect as U.S. kicks off U-20 World Cup

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Tab Ramos’ United States men’s national team may have a navigable U-20 World Cup group, but it doesn’t set-up nicely.

Not that supporters are ready to make excuses; The U.S. is expected to make a decent run over the next month in Poland.

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Timothy Weah, Paxton Pomykal, and the Baby Yanks meet Ukraine at 2:30 p.m. ET in their Group D debut, hopeful of a run past the quarterfinals. The Americans haven’t played three post-group stage matches since a fourth place finish in 1999.

A group win is imperative with loaded favorites France expected to win Group E and set for a spot on the other side of the knockout bracket.

Aside from Josh Sargent’s call-up to the full USMNT, the Yanks have every reason to be optimistic about their potential. The 21-man player squad breaks down to six players on German sides, 10 American-based players, two from the Netherlands, and one each from Portugal, Spain, and France.

Weah is probably the most exciting one of the bunch, having success at Celtic on loan from PSG and earning high praise from Neymar amongst others, but Pomykal is one of the best MLS products in some time as a center midfielder.

Both Pomykal and Chris Durkin are getting significant minutes at the Major League Soccer level, while Mark McKenzie has nearly 20 with the Philadelphia Union as a senior player.

Beyond that are exciting strikers Sebastian Soto, who debuted for Hannover 96 this season, and Wolfsburg prospect Ulysses Llanez.

But the Yanks will look to Weah for that extra special something, the 19-year-old scoring six goals between PSG and Celtic this season.

Friday’s debut will be followed by a Monday match against Nigeria before Thursday’s tango witj Qatar.

Winning Group D means the third-place team from B, E, or F, while finishing second is a Round of 16 match-up with France, who boasts a number of high-end players already playing regularly at the highest levels of European soccer.

Everton adds keeper depth with Lossl

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Everton has added goalkeeping depth beyond Jordan Pickford.

Danish keeper Jonas Lossl will sign a three-year contract with the Toffees on July 1, staying in the Premier League after his release from Huddersfield Town.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup rewind ]

Lossl, 30, was initially on loan to the Terriers from Bundesliga outfit Mainz, but the deal was made permanent before last season.

The Dane had an outstanding loan campaign but wasn’t as strong this season as the Terriers were mowed down by Premier League competition and relegated to the Championship.

He was one of five players released by Huddersfield earlier this month.

Pickford also had a rough season between the sticks for Everton, but played all 38 Premier League matches for the club. Maarten Stekelenburg was his backup.

River Plate to sponsor car in Indy 500

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There will be a soccer presence at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500.

On Thursday, Club Atletico River Plate announced, along with car owner Juncos Racing that Kyle Kaiser’s No. 32 car will feature a River Plate logo on the front of the vehicle. Juncos Racing is named after founder Ricardo Juncos, an Argentine native and clearly a big River fan.

Per a press release from River Plate, it’s the first time a soccer team is sponsoring a car in the Indy 500, which takes place this Sunday, May 26.

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“As a River fan, I always wanted to have the logo of the Club in the car,” Juncos said in a press release.
“This race is very important for me. I am very happy and I believe that in the goal of River to expand into the Indy 500. From here to there will come positive things for both.”

Kaiser, just 23, is one of the new guys on the main IndyCar scene, especially after winning the IndyCar Lights title in 2017. It’s the racing equivalent of winning the Europa League. Unlike River’s reputation as one of the biggest clubs in South America, Kaiser just barely made it into the field all together, bumping former Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso out of the field by about one hundredth of a second.

While it’s cool to see a soccer team get involved in the Indy 500, a worldwide viewing event that’s also akin to a religious holiday throughout the state of Indiana, it’s another Buenos Aires club that really should have been the first to sponsor a car.

Racing Club, defending Argentine league champs, would have been terrific, Racing in Uruguay, or Racing de Santander in Spain. Perhaps one day in the future the three clubs can combine forces to sponsor an IndyCar event or a car competing in a race.

USSF, Relevant Sports clash in court over international matches

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NEW YORK (AP) A lawyer for a promoter asked a judge to order the U.S. Soccer Federation to sanction international league matches in the United States.

The USSF last month denied an application by Relevent Sports, a company partly owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, to have Ecuador’s Barcelona and Guayaquil clubs play on May 5 at Miami Gardens, Florida. The USSF cited an Oct. 26 announcement by FIFA that its ruling council “emphasized the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association.”

During a half-hour hearing Thursday before New York Supreme Court Justice W. Franc Perry, a lawyer for the USSF argued the court should not hear the dispute and it should be sent to arbitration.

Blair G. Connelly, the lawyer representing the USSF, said because Relevent’s application included its executive chairman, Charlie Stillitano, as the FIFA-licensed match agent requesting approval to stage the game, Relevent was bound by a provision in FIFA’s match agent regulations requiring any dispute with a national association be submitted to arbitration. FIFA’s rules specify such a case be heard by its player status committee, whose decision could be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.

“What they’re trying to do is outsource the court’s authority … to two bodies in Switzerland that don’t follow New York law and have nothing to do with it,” said Marc Litt, a lawyer for Relevent.

Connelly said the USSF’s decision could be overruled only if the court found it to be irrational. He also cited a 2007 decision by U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber in Illinois, who ordered a suit against the USSF by ChampionsWorld, a previous Stillitano-affiliated company, be stayed pending FIFA’s arbitration procedure.

“They are bound by the contracts their agent enters into on their behalf,” Connelly said.

Litt said FIFA never issued a formal regulation against international club matches in different countries and the USSF cited only a news release.

“Was U.S. Soccer irrational when it concluded that something that FIFA itself called a decision by its decision-making body was in fact a decision? We’re we crazy to think that? Was U.S. Soccer just in outer space?” Connelly said.

Litt claimed the USSF made its decision to protect Soccer United Marketing, an affiliate of the USSF and Major League Soccer.

“We believe that the only reason that they don’t want professional league matches that count in the United States is because that would damage Major League Soccer,” Litt said.

Relevent also attempted to stage the first Spanish La Liga match in the U.S., between Barcelona and Girona, at Miami Gardens on Jan. 26. That effort fell through following opposition from the governing body of Spanish soccer, the Real Federacion Espanola de Futbol, and the players’ union, the Asociacion de Futbolistas Espanoles.

Perry did not announce any decision.