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Time for Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo to swap?

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Okay, so we’ve seen a mega swap deal in the Premier League in January with Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and who says it can’t happen between two megastars?

[ MORE: Tottenham come of age

Ahead of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg clash on Wednesday, reports continue to link Neymar with replacing Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid and the theme within all of them is clear: Real Madrid are incredibly confident of signing the Brazilian star this summer.

Could the duo swap places this summer? Think about it.

Not the craziest idea, but of course with Neymar 26 and Ronaldo 33 years old, you’d expect Ronaldo plus cash to be heading to PSG if Neymar, their $265 million prized signing from Barcelona last summer, is ever allowed to leave.

The crux of the reports regarding Neymar moving to Real point to his belief that he won’t win the Ballon d’Or if he remains at PSG. Neymar has been a star for PSG since his huge move from Barca, scoring 7  goals in 27 games and adding 14 assists in his first season in the French capital.

He is the main man, just as he wanted to be at Barcelona but found himself stuck behind Lionel Messi and even Luis Suarez. If he moved to Real in the summer, would he be the main man at the Santiago Bernabeu?

Ronaldo, who has been the main man for Real for the past decade after leading them to three European titles, has been linked with a move away from the Spanish capital multiple times over the past 12 months due to unhappiness. This season he’s scored 23 goals in 28 games in all competitions which is a little low by his own lofty standards and Real’s poor form has coincided with Ronaldo’s dip.

Rumblings continue that a summer of huge upheaval is planned at Real as Zinedine Zidane’s side falter in La Liga, despite winning the league last season and two-straight UCL titles. You get the sense this is the end of an era with not only Ronaldo discussed in potential outgoings but also Gareth Bale, Keylor Navas, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric.

Are all of those deals lined up so Neymar can arrive and be the new star of the show?

Ronaldo heading back to Manchester United for the final years of his career has always seemed like the smart bet but given the success of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at PSG at a similar stage of his career, perhaps Les Parisiens’ would be willing to do this deal considering the commercial income which would also arrive?

There’s also the problem regarding UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules as PSG have yet to officially sign Kylian Mbappe from Monaco for $220 million, but they will do in the summer when his season-long loan ends. Can they afford to have the world-record fee for Neymar and then the blockbuster deal for Neymar with regards to FFP? It’s clear that will cause problems.

It is also clear that Neymar isn’t fussed with rocking the boat and doing what he feels is best for his own personal career. Just 12 months after his huge move to PSG from Barca, we will see him make an even bigger move back to Spain to join Real Madrid?

Wednesday’s showdown in the Santiago Bernabeu will be about much more than Real Madrid vs. PSG. It will be a glimpse of the current (Ronaldo) and perhaps the future (Neymar) of the most successful team in European history.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Halted World Cup flip-throw heard around the world

AP Photo/Sergei Grits
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Milad Mohammadi knew the time was right for something special, but special isn’t always good.

And good is a subjective term. Cause to us this is very good, Milad.

The Iranian national team defender failed with a flip-throw bid in the final moments of a 1-0 loss to Spain on Wednesday at the World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

And this wasn’t like he illegally flipped or broke some other rule. No, like a kid trying an audacious jump into the deep end, Akhmat Grozny star Mohammadi just bailed and climbed in from the side (so to speak).

The kiss, the look skyward, the headbutt… all integral parts of a wonderful World Cup moment.

Renard, Morocco ‘very proud’ of unlucky national team

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If you would’ve told Morocco fans or their manager, Herve Renard, that they’d outshoot and outpossess both Iran and Portugal at World Cup, their next question would probably be, “So do we need to do against Spain to win Group B?”

Alas, Morocco lost a pair of 1-0 decisions to become the first team knocked out of the 2018 World Cup.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The Lions of Atlas fell to Iran in their opener on a stoppage time own goal after carrying 64 percent possession and a 13-8 advantage in shot attempts, then lost to a Cristiano Ronaldo fourth minute goal on Wednesday despite a 16-10 shot advantage and 53 percent of the ball.

“I’m very proud of the performance and I am very proud of my players, I’m very proud of this country,” Renard said.

With no hope of advancing to the next round, the manager is finding the experience bittersweet. From RTE:

“What I am sure of at this moment is that the entire Moroccan people is proud of this team. Of course it’s easier to play with a player who has one chance and he puts it away. But we are in Morocco.

“We have quality players. Despite the ups and downs of the game, we should have been more effective. Because, like in the first game, we had plenty of chances. I won’t blame anyone. That’s football. It’s always those who know how to be present in the box, the most gifted players, who make the difference. We took a lot of risks and we didn’t get our reward.”

It’s unlikely Morocco will hold either of those statistical advantages against Spain, especially a Spanish side yet to qualify, but there is plenty to like from the tournament aside from poor finishing quality.

But the performances of 19-year-olds Amine Harit (Schalke) and Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid) — not to mention Hakim Ziyech (25, Ajax) — seem to hint at a promise for 2022. And Renard’s men can still play spoiler for Spain, which is no small shockwave.

Queiroz: Iran has one ‘match point’ left in World Cup group stage

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Iran manager Carlos Queiroz isn’t going to let his tournament be defined by one win or one loss, especially with a massive moment on the horizon.

Iran fell 1-0 to Spain on Wednesday, days after defeating Morocco in its World Cup opener. Team Melli was denied its equalizer despite VAR review thanks to an offside, and failed in several other bids to level the score.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Now Queiroz and his men need a win over Portugal to qualify for the first knockout stage in its five World Cup history.

“We showed that we were ready to suffer and ready to compete. I felt we deserved a better result. There’s no doubt Spain play wonderful, stylish football but I thought we deserved more for the way we played.

“But congratulations to Fernando Hierro and Spain. We will learn a lot from this game. If you think of it like tennis, we had one match point today and we will have another against Portugal. Everything is still open. We are still alive and still dreaming.”

What chance do you give Iran of getting over on Portugal, who only topped a dominant Morocco side via a terrific designed play executed to perfection by Cristiano Ronaldo?

The odds are in Portugal’s favor, if only for its experience in tight games on massive stages. Well, perhaps the better “if only” would be to say if only for Ronaldo. Either way…