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CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying preview

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Have to hand it to CONMEBOL, which makes sure their World Cup qualifying day always has a match moving for seven and a half hours.

It’s Matchday 15 for South America, the first of four days left for five perennial World Cup qualifiers to find their way to one of three automatic spots on the table. Outside of Colombia, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador, this week marks the last chances for Peru and Paraguay to edge their way into the conversation.

Let’s take a look at the table before we go any further.

[ MORE: Four keys for the USMNT ]

Brazil — 33 pts (qualified)
Colombia — 24 pts
Uruguay — 23 pts
Chile — 23 pts
Argentina — 22 pts
Ecuador — 20 pts
Peru — 18 pts
Paraguay — 18 pts
Bolivia — 10 pts (eliminated)
Venezuela — 6 pts (eliminated)

The Top Four teams go to Russia automatically, with the fifth place team facing either the Solomon Islands or, more likely, New Zealand for a place in the World Cup.

Brazil is already in, but won’t be resting on its laurels given the competition for places in the roster. Players like David Luiz, Alex Sandro, and Douglas Costa aren’t even in the squad for Thursday’s match with sixth-place Ecuador in Porto Alegre.

Ecuador could find itself as low as eight with a loss to Brazil, should Peru beat already-eliminated Bolivia in Lima (likely) and Paraguay snare three points in Chile (far from it).

The Chileans will be feeling the heat should they not get a win over Paraguay. A trip to Bolivia is next, but home to Ecuador and away to Brazil is a tough way to finish qualifying.

Uruguay is the only team to face both Bolivia and Venezuela, which gives it a distinct advantage. If it can manage a win over Argentina on Thursday, it would but them on a clean path to Russia.

The Argentine side would avoid a brutal final day in Ecuador if it could pick up a win in Montevideo. With Venezuela and Peru coming to Argentina next, La Albiceleste would have a solid chance to clinch a spot in Russia before Matchday 18.

CONMEBOL qualifying Thursday schedule
Venezuela vs. Colombia, 5 p.m. ET
Chile vs. Paraguay, 6:30 p.m. ET
Uruguay vs. Argentina, 7 p.m. ET
Brazil vs. Ecuador, 8:45 p.m. ET
Peru vs. Bolivia, 10:15 p.m. ET

Remaining opponents
Brazil – Ecuador (H), Colombia (A), Bolivia (A), Chile (H)
Colombia – Venezuela (A), Brazil (H), Paraguay (H), Peru (A)
Uruguay – Argentina (H), Paraguay (A), Venezuela (A), Bolivia (H)
Chile – Paraguay (H), Bolivia (A), Ecuador (H), Brazil (A)
Argentina – Uruguay (A), Venezuela (H), Peru (H), Ecuador (A)
Ecuador – Brazil (A), Peru (H), Chile (A), Argentina (H)
Peru – Bolivia (H), Ecuador (A), Argentina (A), Colombia (H)
Paraguay – Chile (A), Uruguay (H), Colombia (A), Venezuela (H)
Bolivia – Peru (A), Chile (H), Brazil (H), Uruguay (A)
Venezuela – Colombia (H), Argentina (A), Uruguay (H), Paraguay (A)

Pep: Hart’s future uncertain, will play in preseason

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Joe Hart has returned to Manchester City after spending last season on loan at West Ham, and his future is very much up in the air as it stands.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola was asked about Hart’s situation at the pre-match press conference prior to City’s International Champions Cup match against Borussia Dortmund. He confirmed they are shopping the English veteran. “We’re going to try and make a solution for Joe,” Guardiola told reporters, “but if not then he is with us. He’s one of the best professionals I’ve ever seen but at this moment he is with us.”

Guardiola also confirmed that Hart would play in the preseason game against Dortmund. Starting goalkeeper Ederson is not on the roster for the US preseason tour, having returned from participation in the 2018 World Cup with Brazil, although he didn’t play as he served as Alisson’s backup.

The former #1 England goalkeeper, Hart has struggled mightily in recent seasons. He last played a full Premier League season back in 2015/16, starting 35 games for Manchester City. However, he lost his place the following year and was loaned to Italian top flight club Torino. He had mixed success during his one year in Italy and was loaned out to West Ham last campaign with Ederson and Claudio Bravo entrenched at his parent club. Hart only made it half the season before losing his starting spot for the Hammers, replaced by Adrian. That saw him lose not just starting job with the England national team but his place in the squad, forcing Gareth Southgate to take a trio of inexperienced goalkeepers to the World Cup, leading to the emergence of Jordan Pickford.

West Ham returned Hart to Manchester City at the end of the season, and here he sits in limbo again. Hart has just one more year left on his contract, but according to the Manchester Evening News, wants to leave this season on a permanent deal anyway.

Tomorrow, Hart will get the opportunity – albeit a small one – to showcase himself to potential suitors. If he gets another chance to play in the ICC (Manchester City plays Liverpool and Bayern Munich before heading home to England), he will have another opportunity to plead his case.

Report: Leicester to pluck Danny Ward from Liverpool

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With the announcement of Alisson’s signing on Thursday, Liverpool has spent over $200 million this summer, but it seems they’ve already begun to trim the squad and even out the net spend by a bit.

According to the Liverpool Echo, the Reds have agreed to sell 25-year-old goalkeeper Danny Ward to Leicester City, with the clubs agreeing to a $16.2 million fee. The report also states the deal includes a 20% sell-on fee, meaning Liverpool will receive 20% of any transfer fee Leicester City receives for Ward during the life of his next contract.

[ MORE: Alisson signs for Liverpool ]

Ward has spent the last six seasons with Liverpool after signing from small non-league club Wrexham in 2012 as a 19-year-old. However, he has played more games for the Welsh international team (4) than he has for Liverpool (3). Previously stuck behind Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius, the arrival of Alisson meant the club needed to make room.

Leicester City already has Kasper Schmeichel firmly entrenched between the sticks. However, especially after a stellar 2018 World Cup with Denmark where he was considered among the top choices for the Golden Glove award, Schmeichel is a wanted man and 31 years old and a contract with three more years remaining, Schmeichel’s time at King Power Stadium could be limited.

The addition of Ward at the very least would allow Schmeichel some time off. The Dane was stretched thin last season as not just the Premier League starter but also used in a few cup games with only Eldin Jakupovic behind him. Now, it’s realistic that Ward could receive time in Cup competitions, leaving Schmeichel to rest up for league games.

Reports: Conte to sue Chelsea over how firing was handled

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According to reports in Italy, and backed up by those in England, Antonio Conte is planning to sue Chelsea over the way the club handled his exit this summer.

Chelsea is reportedly planning to pay Conte the rest of his salary in full, but the reports state that the Italian is unhappy how long it took the club to confirm his exit, leaving him unable to secure a job commiserate with his experience level for this coming season.

The 48-year-old is set to receive nearly $12 million as compensation for the final year of his now-terminated contract, but is looking for additional damages given the timing of his departure. Despite the writing clearly on the wall, Conte had weeks of silence from the club, before being pulled back to London to begin pre-season training with the squad for just four days before he was then let go.

Upon his release, Conte released a relatively benign statement thanking the club, the fans, the staff, and the players, but notably did not thank the board or owner Roman Abramovich.

Things between Chelsea and Conte have been testy for some time now. It was reported earlier last month – before Conte was officially let go – that Chelsea was planning to withhold payment of Conte’s remaining salary and sue the Italian for costing the club money for former striker Diego Costa. Costa told the media he received a text message from Conte while on international duty last summer that he was no longer wanted at the club. If true, the club could have argued that Conte botched the situation and cost the club a significant amount of money. However, it seems the club has – for now – decided not to pursue the lawsuit, with reports stating that Conte is set to receive his salary in full.

WATCH: Jurgen Klopp crashes Alisson’s first Liverpool interview

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Jurgen Klopp has had quite the summer, and it’s just become even better.

Liverpool officially acquired Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson for a world-record transfer fee, and with the former Roma netminder filling his first obligations in Red, things didn’t go exactly as the club’s media staff had planned. While sitting down for his first interview with the club staff to be used in the official release, Jurgen Klopp couldn’t resist crashing the party to say hello.

[ MORE: Alisson to Liverpool official ]

The language barrier made things a bit awkward, as did the rolling cameras, but it’s pretty clear both sides are quite happy with the recent developments, with smiles all around. Take a look:

Klopp asked if Alisson was in the middle of his post-World Cup vacation, which he confirmed as true, but smartly followed up with “But now I am working.”

We’re sure they’ll catch up on a more complete basis privately later, but it was pretty cool to see their first interaction caught on camera.