Associated Press

U-17 World Cup semifinals feature 3 powerhouses, one minnow

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On Wednesday morning, the final of the U-17 World Cup will be decided. In contention are three familiar faces and one very unfamiliar one.

Mali stands among habitual powerhouses Spain, Brazil, and England as the African nation looks to find a stunning path to the U-17 World Cup final. They will take on Spain in the semis, opposite a mouth-watering matchup between the electric young England side against a Brazil squad that took down Germany in the quarterfinals.

England will have its hands full with tournament favorite Brazil with a 7:30 a.m. ET kick from Kolkata. The young South American squad boasts wins over Germany and Spain already, and they have conceded just two goals all competition. Their attacking talent is incredibly balanced, with Santos product Lincoln running the show in attacking midfield. Internacional striker Brenner is his target man up front, while Cruziero’s Gabriel Brazao holds things down between the sticks, conceding just a penalty and an own-goal so far this tournament. Their captain is Palmeiras center-back Vitao, who ranked #16 on Sports Illustrated’s Top 20 Under 20 list, and he will lead the charge for Brazil’s first U-17 World Cup trophy since 2003.

England will be up to the task. They dispatched the United States in the quarterfinals thanks to a hat-trick from Liverpool youngster Rhian Brewster, who has recently joined the Reds after spending much of his youth development at Chelsea. They have been prolific most of the time, but a 0-0 performance against Japan in the Round of 16 (where they won in penalties) leaves them vulnerable against a stifling Brazil defense. They will need to muck up the midfield, where Brazil makes its hay, in order to have a chance in the match. That might fall to Manchester City youngster Phil Foden, along with the more defensive-minded Tashan Oakley-Boothe of Spurs development.

What makes the Mali and Spain matchup – scheduled for 10:30 a.m. ET in Navi Mumbai – so intriguing is that both teams lost their very first game of the competition. They have both recovered in spectacular fashion, with Spain finishing second to Brazil in Group D, while Mali finished second to Paraguay in Group B. Despite their early slip, the two sides have been spectacular.

Mali has outscored opponents 13-3 since their opening match loss, including a five-goal output against Iraq in their first knockout match. 17-year-old striker Lassana Ndiaye has been spectacular, tied for the tournament lead with five goals and the only man standing of the other two individuals level with him. On the other end, goalkeeper Youssuf Koita has made 19 saves, although he has just one clean sheet to show for it. This team has been here before, as runners-up at the 2015 World Cup, but their knockout path in that run included North Korea, Croatia, and Belgium.

They take on Spain who has been exactly what you’d expect from the European giants. After falling by a single goal to Brazil in the opening match, they have dispatched opponents by a combined 11-2, holding a pair of clean sheets in group stage matches but looking somewhat beatable in knockout games against France and Iran. Nevertheless, they have spectacular talent, led by captain and leading goalscorer Abel Ruiz, a striker in the Barcelona youth system. Another Barcelona youth product Sergio Gomez is a dangerous attacker down the left flank. This should be a match of stunning attacking quality and fabulous future talent.

Both matches will prove to be of delicious intrigue, with the stars of the future set to make their mark on the international stage.

Juventus goalkeeper Szczesny to have offseason knee surgery

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Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny will undergo knee surgery this offseason, but he will be available for the final match of the season against Sampdoria, manager Massimiliano Allegri confirmed on Saturday.

The Polish international has been the first-choice goalkeeper for much of the year for Juve, but has occasionally ceded time to 26-year-old Mattia Perin.

Allegri said that Szczesny will need “keyhole surgery,” likely another term for an arthroscopy, lending belief that he is either struggling with a torn meniscus or just generally needs his knee cleaned out. Given that speculation, it’s unlikely the surgery will cause him to miss any time at the start of next season. The 29-year-old has been a warrior for most of his career, staying clear of serious injuries throughout his time with both Arsenal and Juventus.

Juve has already confirmed its ninth straight Serie A title, but the club has limped down the stretch of the season, without a win over its last four matches. Prior to the late-season slide, Szczesny had been the goalkeeper to secure the best results, with Perin between the sticks for both of Juve’s two losses on the year and Szczesny dropping just four points all season, but the Polish international has been the one in goal for the four-game slide that includes three draws and a loss.

Allegri also announced that Cristiano Ronaldo will be held out of the season finale on Sunday and will not make the trip with the squad for the road game, instead resting for international duty this summer. “It is right for others to play now,” Allegri said.

“After that, we can all go to the beach, I’ve been told to put sun cream on my head. Now let’s go for a drink,” Allegri said, joking about his extremely short hair to end the press conference.

PSG extends manager Thomas Tuchel through 2021

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No wonder Thomas Tuchel was in such a jovial mood regarding his job security yesterday.

Paris Saint-Germain announced on Saturday that it has handed manager Thomas Tuchel a one-year contract extension, pushing the expiration of his contract to the summer of 2021. The addition extends his initial two-year deal he signed last summer when he joined the club after leaving Borussia Dortmund.

The news is somewhat surprising given that Tuchel had come under fire for PSG’s struggles down the stretch of the season, first with the club’s elimination from the Champions League in the Round of 16, and then for the failures down the stretch of the domestic campaign. It took weeks to formally clinch the league title as the team skidded through April, and the club fell to Stade Rennes in the final of the Coupe de France. Still, according to a number of reports, the deal was signed back in March making the end to the season irrelevant.

The German boss was able to joke about his future after PSG’s season-ending defeat to Stade de Reims on Friday, laughing at reporters who asked about his job security heading into the summer, “Honestly, I am worried… I get the impression that everybody knows something that I do not!”

Less than 24 hours later, news of his extension was official. “The entire Paris Saint-Germain family is delighted to see Thomas Tuchel extend his contract ,” said PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi. “For a year now, Thomas has been bringing fantastic energy every day, not only to players, but to the entire club.”

Ultimately, PSG won the Ligue 1 crown handily, ending the season with a 16-point cushion. The first half of the season was an unmitigated success, starting the league season on a 14-match winning streak and not suffering a single loss until early February. They also performed well in the Champions League, losing just once in a very difficult Group C that featured Liverpool, Napoli, and Red Star Belgrade. The costly slip came against Manchester United where they fell 3-1 in the second leg at home despite a 2-1 first-leg advantage.

Tuchel’s extension also comes with its head-scratchers, as the German was critical of club hierarchy after Friday’s defeat. He hit out at the front office for allowing Neymar to leave the club early to join up with the Brazilian national team, with the 27-year-old suspended for the final match of the year. “No, Neymar has not been released,” Tuchel said when asked about Neymar’s absence from the squad. “In any case, he has not by me. It is not a sporting thing, so I do not know. You will have to ask the club.”

“Correct, this season has had its problems,” Tuchel continued later. “The goal moving forward has to be to stay more focused. That goes for the team, as well as the club. We must be stricter and pull in the same direction to achieve our goals.”

RSL’s Savarino downs Atlanta United in 94th minute

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Atlanta United dropped its second straight match, this time in gut-wrenching fashion, as Jefferson Savarino scored a 94th minute winner to hand Real Salt Lake a 2-1 win over Frank De Boer‘s bunch.

Josef Martinez appeared to have rescued Atlanta with his 78th minute equalizer, cancelling out Sebastian Saucedo’s first-half opener, but Savarino struck a blistering stunner from outside the box with the minimum three minutes of added time already passed. Savarino used straight muscle to shield a charging Leandro Gonzalez Pires off the ball, and the strike punished Brad Guzan for creeping just inches too far towards his near post.

The late winner redeemed a Real Salt Lake defense that fell asleep just a fraction too early on Martinez’s goal, as a low cross from Franco Escobar should have been easily dealt with, but the Venezuelan waited for the right moment and pounced in front of a snoozing Justin Glad to poke home the delivery.

While the two sides split the possession, RSL out-shot Atlanta and held the lead most of the way after Bofo put them in front just past the half-hour mark. The 22-year-old was given way too much space just outside the top of the box and placed a curler past Guzan for the opener for his second goal in two weeks.

The win gave RSL its third straight victory in what has become a streaky season. The campaign so far features two winning streaks and two losing streaks through 13 matches, with just one draw among the group. For Atlanta, the second straight loss leaves them stuck in fourth, squandering the chance to pass third-placed Montreal who sits a just point ahead.

LA Galaxy moves third in West with 1-0 win over Orlando

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A Jonathan dos Santos howitzer was enough to give the LA Galaxy a 1-0 win over Orlando City at home to move them into third place in the Western Conference standings.

The win not only boosted the Galaxy back up the standings but also stopped a brutal four-game losing skid that had threatened to erase the fabulous winning start to the season. It marks the club’s first clean sheet since a 0-0 draw with Minnesota United in late April.

The winner came in the 19th minute, a blast for his second goal of the season and first since mid March.

The clean sheet did not come easily. Dave Bingham stopped a Nani penalty in the 32nd minute after dos Santos tackled Sebastian Mendez in the area. Perry Kitchen – off the bench for his 2019 debut – was on hand to clear off the line after Bingham whiffed on a 68th minute Sacha Kljestan cross, while Bingham came up big three minutes later to stop a header by Chris Mueller off a corner.

Los Angeles’s victory moves them to 25 points, one behind Seattle who has a game in hand, and two ahead of Houston who has played three fewer games. For Orlando, they remain on 15 points, good for 10th in the East.