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Score predictions for 2018 World Cup playoffs

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Just nine places are up for grabs ahead of the 2018 World Cup and six of those spots will be decided by the winners of two-legged playoffs.

The other three spots will be sewn up in the final round of games in the African (CAF) qualifying region.

Four playoffs take place around the UEFA region this week, while Honduras do battle with Australia and Peru square off with New Zealand for a place in the tournament in Russia next summer.

Below is a look at the six playoffs over the new few days with a score prediction and winner selected for each series.


UEFA

Denmark vs. Republic of Ireland (First leg, Nov. 11; Second leg, Nov. 14)
Ireland are the slight favorites here, especially given the fact that they have vast experience in these playoff situations and also that they play the second leg at home in Dublin. That said, Denmark must not be underestimated with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings and Kasper Schmeichel organizing the defense. Ireland’s ability to grind out results is impressive and I think they’ll just get the job done to qualify for their first World Cup since 2002. 2-1 on aggregate to the Republic of Ireland.


Northern Ireland vs. Switzerland (First leg, Nov. 9; Second leg, Nov. 12)
The first leg is so key in this game. Northern Ireland’s supporters create one of the best atmosphere’s in world soccer on the international stage and Windsor Park will be rocking in Belfast. Scoring goals could be an issue for Michael O’Neill’s side but they have a solid defensive core and the experience of Jonny Evans and Steven Davis is key. That said, the Swiss won nine of their 10 qualifying games but lost out on automatic qualification on goal difference to Portugal. Xherdan Shaqiri, Breel Embolo and Haris Seferovic will be the danger men and Switzerland may have just too much firepower for Northern Ireland. 3-1 on aggregate to Switzerland.


Croatia vs. Greece (First leg, Nov. 9; Second leg, Nov. 12)
A huge clash as regional rivals do battle. Given the quality of their squad, Croatia should ease past Greece. But given their stubborn displays in recent major tournaments, we all know how tough this Greek side can be to break down. Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic will be the key men for Croatia and they’ll look to end Greece’s hopes in Zagreb in the first leg. Kostas Mitroglou is Greece’s main man up top and he will give Dejan Lovren a tough time over two games. 4-1 to Croatia on aggregate.


Sweden vs. Italy (First leg, Nov.10; Second leg, Nov. 13)
This will be a tight, tense series between two teams who love to defend. The first leg in Stockholm will be all about Italy defending and trying to hit the Swedes on the break with the likes of Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne. Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen aren’t the most prolific of strikers on the international stage (any chance of a comeback, Zlatan!?) but Sweden finished above the Netherlands in qualifying for a good reason and impressed in their recent home win against France. This is not a vintage Italy side and Gianluigi Buffon will be a little concerned that his international career may finish on a low. The upset is on. 2-1 to Sweden on aggregate. 


ASIA-CONCACAF

Honduras vs. Australia (First leg, Nov.10; Second leg, Nov. 15)
The first leg in San Pedro Sula will be an eye-opener for the Socceroos who edged past Syria in extra time over two legs to set up this clash with CONCACAF’s fourth-place team, Honduras. Tim Cahill is struggling with an injury for Australia with Aaron Mooy and Mile Jedinak set to play in central midfield and scrap it out ahead of the second leg in Sydney. Honduras will be hoping to take a lead to Australia with them for the second leg and with the vast experience of Maynor Figueroa and Boniek Garcia, they will stay calm and look to feed off the incredible home crowd. 3-2 to Honduras on aggregate.


CONMEBOL-OCEANIA

New Zealand vs. Peru (First leg, Nov.11; Second leg, Nov. 15)
There’s no doubt that Peru are the heavy favorites for this game but the All Whites, led by a talented young coach in Anthony Hudson, will look to keep it tight and play direct to Burnley’s Chris Wood up top. Winston Reid will skipper New Zealand and lead the defense by example in Wellington during the first leg. As for Peru, well, they impressed mightily in CONMEBOL qualifying and came agonizingly close to sealing World Cup qualification (for this first time since 1982, no less) automatically. Jefferson Farfan and Andre Carrillo will be the danger men in attack as Ricardo Gareca’s men will relish taking New Zealand back to Lima for the second leg. 3-1 to Peru on aggregate.

Small clubs cross fingers for World Cup windfalls

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TORCY, France (AP) The ideal scenario for the club where Paul Pogba played football as a kid might go something like this: The France midfielder shines so brightly at the World Cup that a money-no-object club – for argument’s sake, let’s say Real Madrid – decides that it cannot live without him and pays a nine-figure fee to shake him loose from Manchester United.

[ MORE: Mourinho’s tactics gift Chelsea FA Cup win ]

US Torcy, the amateur club in the east Paris suburbs where Pogba’s photo still hangs proudly in the canteen serving fizzy beer and fresh croissants, could then sit back and wait for a fat check from Madrid to land in its bank account.

Not all the money that will change hands after the World Cup, as clubs trade players who distinguish themselves on football’s biggest stage, will line the pockets of selling clubs, agents and the players themselves. A little slice – far too little, some argue – of the likely deluge in post-World Cup transfer fees will also trickle down to football’s grassroots, to unpretentious, volunteer-run clubs like Torcy where kids take first steps toward their big dreams of making a career in football.

Pogba’s move from Italy to Manchester in August 2016, after he burnished his star credentials in France’s run that summer to the final of the European Championship, was like hitting the jackpot for Torcy. Because Pogba spent a year at Torcy in his formative years, FIFA’s transfer rules entitled the club to 0.25 percent of the then-world record fee of 105 million euros ($116 million) United paid to Juventus. The windfall for Torcy was about 300,000 euros ($330,000).

Torcy’s president, Pascal Antonetti, won’t discuss the exact amount, citing a non-disclosure agreement he says he signed with United. But the money was enough to buy three new minibuses to transport Torcy’s players to matches and training. The club now also allows itself the luxury of getting hotel rooms for its teams when they play away from Paris, so they’re not exhausted by travel on the day of their games. And it has kept some of the money in reserve, just to be safe.

“The club is protected from an eventual financial problem, just so long as we don’t get delusions of grandeur and spend the money recklessly,” Antonetti said in an interview with The Associated Press on a recent weekend when the club hosted a two-day cup competition for kids’ teams from around Europe, among them Manchester City, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and other famous clubs.

“We won’t be buying cars for each of our senior players in the first XI, for example,” he added. “We’ve kept our head on our shoulders and our feet on the ground.”

These so-called “solidarity” payments recompense clubs for training and educating players who later, as professionals, become valuable, money-spinning commodities. FIFA’s transfer regulations stipulate that when a player contracted with one club moves to another club in another country, up to 5 percent of the fee must be set aside and distributed to clubs that nurtured him, from ages 12 to 23.

In Pogba’s case, United paid not only Torcy, where he played for a year at age 13, but also his first boyhood club, US Roissy-en-Brie, also in the east Paris suburbs where Pogba grew up. The club says it received about 400,000 euros and has spent some of it on two new minibuses, movable goals and other equipment.

Still, such payments to the grassroots represent only a drop in the ocean of money splashing around professional football. In 2017, spending on international transfers soared to $6.4 billion, FIFA says. But only a sliver of that – $64 million, or just 1 percent of the total – went to breeder clubs as solidarity contributions, according to FIFA’s report on the 2017 transfer market .

Antonetti, the Torcy president, is among those who say solidarity payments aren’t generous enough.

“We get only a tiny slice of a transfer like Paul Pogba’s,” he said. “The financial windfalls aren’t sufficiently redistributed.”

And not all the compensation that should be paid to training clubs actually reaches them, FIFA says. It says it has a task force looking at ways to make solidarity payments “more efficient and easy to administer.”

Still, there’ll be plenty of small clubs around the world crossing fingers that players they nurtured will shine in Russia, because a big transfer at the top of the football pyramid can be life-changing for clubs toward the bottom.

When Premier League champion Manchester City signed Aymeric Laporte in January from Bilbao in Spain, it paid 689,000 euros – about 1 percent of the total fee – to SU Agen, the club in the defender’s hometown in southwest France where he played to age 15.

Laporte didn’t make France coach Didier Deschamps’ World Cup squad . But his childhood club, previously loaded in debt, is now flush thanks to his transfer, its future assured, says its president, Jean-Claude Brunel.

The money is funding renovations to the club house, with a new television and a better kitchen, as well as a new minibus and uniforms for Agen’s players. Carefully managed, the remainder should ensure the club’s survival well into the next decade, Brunel said in a phone interview.

“It has allowed us to be serene and to look beyond tomorrow,” he said. “Before, we didn’t know what tomorrow would bring.”

John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Report: USMNT mid Tyler Adams nearing Red Bull Leipzig move

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A World Cup year always presents the opportunity for top-rated players to make big-money moves to new clubs across the globe, and one of Major League Soccer’s elite youngsters appears to already be in the mix for a transfer.

[ MORE: Luis Robles’ consecutive starts streak to end at 183 ]

U.S. Men’s National Team and New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams is reportedly close to signing with Red Bull Leipzig of the German Bundesliga, in a move that could occur as early as the summer transfer window.

Metro New York is reporting that a deal could be signed in “the next few days,” however, it remains unclear exactly when Adams’ move would take place.

The Red Bulls could aim to delay the transfer until after the MLS Cup Playoffs, which concludes with MLS Cup in early December, so that manager Jesse Marsch has Adams available throughout the postseason.

The Harrison side is right up among MLS’ elite clubs in 2018, currently sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference playoff table, while holding several matches in hand.

Once the move to Germany is finalized, Adams is likely to go on loan, with Red Bull Salzburg a destination being discussed.

Adams signed a Homegrown contract with the Red Bulls back in November 2015, and has been a regular in Marsch’s system since the 2017 season.

The 19-year-old midfielder scored his first professional goal for the Red Bulls during the 2015 International Champions Cup against Premier League giants Chelsea.

This news comes just a day after reports out of Germany suggested that Marsch, who is in his fourth season as Red Bulls manager, is being considered to replace Ralph Hasenhuttl at Red Bull Leipzig.

Ligue 1: Monaco, Lyon qualify for UCL; Weah’s first start for PSG

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PARIS (AP) — Memphis Depay scored a hat trick as Lyon came from behind to beat Nice 3-2 and qualify for the Champions League at the expense of Marseille in the French league on Saturday.

Lyon, which had a one-point lead over Marseille ahead of the last round, kept its lead intact and finished in third place behind Paris Saint-Germain and deposed champion Monaco. The first three teams in the French league qualified for the Champions League.

“Lots of joy tonight, everybody was very focused and motivated,” said Lyon forward Nabil Fekir, who is widely expected to leave the club this summer. “It caps an exceptional season.”

Alassane Plea scored Nice’s goals.

Depay scored all three goals in the second half.

Nice coach Lucien Favre confirmed he will leave the club in the offseason.


After losing the Europa League final to Atletico Madrid on Wednesday, Marseille missed out on the Champions League for the second time despite beating Amiens 2-1.

“We had a superb season but our efforts did not pay off,” Marseille top striker Florian Thauvin said.

Marseille ended fourth and will play the Europa League next season alongside Rennes and Bordeaux.


Monaco won at Troyes 3-0 and finished runner-up, 13 points behind PSG, which drew at Caen 0-0. The goalless draw guaranteed Caen stayed in the topflight while Troyes was demoted to the second division.

Monaco needed just one point to qualify for the Champions League but made sure it finished runner-up with a win. The Principality side was in complete control as Rony Lopes scored twice and Jordi Mboula sealed Troyes’ fate in added time.

Troyes finished 19th and joined last-place Metz in the second division.

Toulouse, which beat Guingamp 2-1, will have to win a playoff against a second-division club to remain in the topflight.

Elsewhere, Italian coach Claudio Ranieri won his last game in charge of mid-table Nantes, 1-0 over Strasbourg.


In the absence of Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe, PSG coach Unai Emery gave Timothy Weah — George Weah’s 18-year-old son — his first start in Caen.

Caen finished the season with only 27 goals, the worst total since Arles-Avignon was demoted with 21 in 2011.

Leicester splash $29M to sign Porto, Portugal RB Pereira

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The summer transfer window only opened on Thursday, and Premier League clubs are already handling their pre-World Cup business — perhaps in an attempt to avoid the post-tournament inflation of fees and wages.

[ MORE: Chelsea top Man United to win 8th FA Cup | Three things ]

Leicester City announced on Saturday that Porto and Portugal right back Ricardo Pereira is moving to the King Power Stadium for a fee of $29.5 million. Pereira, 24, was named to Portugal’s 23-man squad for next month’s World Cup in Russia, where a strong showing could have easily lifted his price tag closer to $40 million and added another $10,000 to his weekly wages.

Having been linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur just last summer — he seemed a natural replacement and reinvestment following Kyle Walker‘s move from Tottenham to Manchester City — ninth-place Leicester will rightly feel Pereira’s arrival is something of a massive coup for the club, given his considerable European experience — both in the Champions League and Europa League — so early in his career.

[ MORE: Conte’s tumultuous tenure at Chelsea (likely) ends with a trophy ]

Pereira previously played for current Leicester manager Claude Puel while on loan to Ligue 1 side Nice (2015-16 season), and has his new boss’s seal of approval.

“I’m delighted to have a player of Ricardo’s quality on board for next season,” Puel told the club website. “I remember him well from my time at Nice.”

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