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Giovani Dos Santos on a new season with the Galaxy, El Tri, and more

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It’s a new year, and that means a fresh start for Giovano Dos Santos.

2017 was a trying year for the 28-year-old. In his second full season with the LA Galaxy, the Mexican star battled injuries and poor form as his MVP-level production from 2016 dropped to scoring just six goals to go with three assists (he had 15 goals and 13 assists in 2016).

There were some worried that Dos Santos, and his brother Jonathan, a holding midfielder for the Galaxy, would drop in form so far that they wouldn’t be able to make as much of an impact with the Mexican National Team.

[MORE: North American bid “afraid” to lose 2026 World Cup]

But after some time off during the winter, Giovani Dos Santos appears fresh and ready to go with a re-vamped LA Galaxy side and for the green, red and white of El Tri.

“I feel we have a really strong team this year,” Dos Santos told PST as part of the Pepsi Generations global soccer campaign. “We’ve been training together for almost two months already, I think the chemistry between everyone is getting better every single day. As a Galaxy player, we know the responsibility and expectations are always high for this team.”

Last season, the Galaxy missed the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade as the team couldn’t overcome a rash of both long-term and short-term injuries. Robbie Rogers and Sebastian Lleget missed nearly the entire season, while the likes of Dos Santos, Baggio Husidic, Gyasi Zardes, and Daniel Steres all missed significant time due to injuries.

Sigi Schmid was brought in midway through the season but even he couldn’t keep the Galaxy in the playoff picture.

“It’s difficult to explain what happened last year,” Dos Santos said. “Of course expectations are always high for us but I think it was a learning year for everyone. The past is in the past, we learn from it and we’re ready to take over this year.”

With the new year comes a lot of new faces, as well as others returning from injury. The Galaxy signed Giovani’s brother Jonathan last summer and then over the offseason they rebuilt the team’s spine, signing goalkeeper David Bingham, midfielder Perry Kitchen and striker Ola Kamara to go with other role players.

Those moves paid dividends in the first week of the MLS season, with the Galaxy knocking off the Portland Timbers 2-1.

Dos Santos called it a “dream” to be playing again at the club level with his brother, as the pair did together in the Barcelona youth ranks and at Villarreal.

“It’s been incredible to be together with my brother again, to share a moments together in our careers and our lives,” Dos Santos said, noting Jonathan lives with him in Los Angeles. “It’s our dream to be together so we feel blessed to be together again.”

The pair will be spending plenty of time this year together on and off the field, not only in the Galaxy shirt but also the green, white and red of Mexico.

In the prime of his career, assuming he stays healthy, Dos Santos will be expected to make a massive impact for Mexico at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, with El Tri opening up against defending World Cup champion Germany before taking on South Korea and Sweden.

Expectations are sky high for El Tri this summer, with a crop of players who won FIFA youth tournaments in the past finally coming into their prime as well as a number of high-profile players excelling overseas. While Dos Santos has ventured back to North America, the likes of Carlos Salcedo, Hrving “Chucky” Lozano and Jesus “Tecatito” Corona are beginning their European journeys and are expected to help bring Mexico over the fifth-game wall it’s failed to overcome in the past.

Amazingly, despite all the success of El Tri in CONCACAF and even on the world stage, Mexico has never made it past the quarterfinals.

“Obviously we’re going to go to the World Cup with the best expectations,” Dos Santos admitted. “We’re going to go game by game, hopefully we can get through.

“I think we have great players and a great squad,” Dos Santos added. “This is the most important year for the national team, we have the World Cup coming and I’m so excited for it.”

Although he’s left his European career behind for the project of winning a title in MLS, Dos Santos still keeps his eye on his former club in the Premier League, Tottenham, as well as a coach who he never worked with directly but knew from his time in Barcelona.

With the eight-hour time difference between London and Los Angeles, Dos Santos can’t watch many games live, but he said when he gets a chance, he tunes in to the Premier League. He said he’s been particularly impressed with Manchester City this year.

“I was in the first team when he was there,” Dos Santos said, referring to Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola. “I think he’s a great coach and he deserves all the success he’s having now.”

Being an El Tri star, Dos Santos has continental appeal, and he’s making use of that. Dos Santos is part of the 2018 global “Pepsi Generations” soccer campaign, joining forces with former teammate Lionel Messi along with U.S. Women’s National Team star Carli Lloyd, Tottenham’s Dele Alli and Real Madrid pair Marcelo and Toni Kroos.

“I’m really excited to be in this campaign with such an iconic brand like Pepsi around the world and to be able to be alongside with such great players like Messi, Marcelo and Kroos is a blessing,” Dos Santos said.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 11 — England, Colombia back in action

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Day 11 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Sunday, with England back in action and in need of three points — and a resounding win — to keep pace with Belgium in Group G.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Following Belgium’s 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia — the same side that England beat in stoppage time earlier in the week — on Saturday, the Red Devils have positioned themselves perfectly to win the group with a draw against the Three Lions on Thursday. England need a five-goal victory at 6-1 or higher to the finish top of the group following a draw on the final day.

Then, it’s a pair of Group H fixtures, kicked off with Japan (1st) versus Senegal (2nd) — both of whom won their first game — followed by Poland (3rd) versus Colombia (4th).

Below is Sunday’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 – Sunday, June 24

Group G
England vs. Panama: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group H
Japan vs. Senegal: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Colombia: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

FIFA opens case against Xhaka, Shaqiri for celebrations

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FIFA’s disciplinary committee opened disciplinary proceedings against Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri for politically charged goal celebrations during their 2-1 World Cup win over Serbia in Kaliningrad.

[ MORE: The meaning behind Xhaka, Shaqiri’s eagle celebration ]

FIFA also said Saturday it has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian Football Association for crowd disturbance and the display of political and offensive messages by Serbian fans. FIFA also is reviewing statements that Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic made after the match.

Xhaka and Shaqiri celebrated their goals by making a nationalist symbol of their ethnic Albanian heritage. Both of their families come from Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The Polish Football Association was fined $10,100 and given a warning by FIFA’s disciplinary committee for a banner that the governing body deemed political and offensive. The banner was displayed during Senegal’s 2-1 win over Poland on Tuesday in Moscow.

The committee also opened disciplinary proceedings against the federations of Argentina and Croatia for crowd disturbances during Croatia’s 3-0 win Thursday at Nizhny Novgorod.

Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion”

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At 1-0 down, they were headed for elimination in the group stage (with a game still to play); once level at 1-1, they faced yet a steep hill to climb on the final day of the group stage; after Toni Kroos scored his stunning 94th-minute winner, Joachim Low could finally exhale and imagine himself managing the German national team for another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Sweden at the 2018 World Cup was, for most intents and purposes, a worrying performance for the defending world champions. Fortunately for Low and Co., the one place in which their comeback dramatic victory was a raging success is the only one that matters: the Group F table, where Die Mannschaft currently (somehow) sit second and control their own destiny — quotes from the BBC:

“This was a thriller, full of emotion, right up until the final whistle. Brandt hit the goal post just three minutes before the end too. We took out a defensive player and brought on an attacking player because we knew had to bring on everything we had to turn it round.

“We had a couple of great chances — Mario Gomez’s header being one of them. The last couple of minutes were full of drama but those matches exist in football. We’ve had these situations in other tournaments as well. For the viewers that’s part of the attractiveness of football.”

“Something I did appreciate today was that we didn’t lose our nerve, we didn’t panic after going a goal down. We kept a level head and said we needed to make quick passes and tire the Swedes out to open up spaces.

“We didn’t score a couple of good chances but we never lost hope we could win the match and I think the goal scored in stoppage time had a bit of luck involved but it did show the belief we had in ourselves.”

There’s still plenty of work to do for one of the most popular pre-tournament favorites — there’s a little matter of needing to beat, or at the very least, best Sweden’s result against Mexico — but that can wait until tomorrow, because Saturday unexpectedly became all about survival.

Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination

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Germany dodged a fatal bullet on Saturday, coming back from a goal down to Sweden to steal a 2-1 victory at the 2018 World Cup and keep their world title defense alive… barely.

For all of 16 minutes — plus halftime — the Germans were in line to be eliminated with one Group F game still to play, but ultimately, Ola Toivonen‘s unlikely opener was canceled out by Marco Reus in very short order after the restart, and Toni Kroos broke Swedish hearts in the 94th.

Put another way, Joachim Loew survives to manage another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Sweden felt massively aggrieved to have not been awarded a penalty kick in the 17th minute, when Jerome Boateng took out the legs of Marcus Berg as he bore down on an out-rushing Manuel Neuer. The combination of leg-to-leg contact and a strong push in the back appeared an obvious error for the video-assistant referee to right a wrong, but the call never came.

The opening goal was the direct result of a careless giveaway by Kroos near the center circle, and needed just three touches and two passes to cut through the German defense and spring Toivonen behind Antonio Rudiger. The finish, a perfectly weighted dink — perhaps aided by the slightest of deflections by Rudiger — left Neuer with no chance (WATCH HERE).

Then, with the final touch of the first half, Berg glanced a header from a free kick that was destined to his the inside netting at the far post, but Neuer redefined the phrase “at full stretch” to keep the scoreline 1-1.

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

That save proved invaluable for Joachim Loew’s side, as Marco Reus pulled the defending world champions level less than three minutes into the second half. Timo Werner dribbled to the endline and cut the ball back toward the penalty spot, and Reus got on the end of the deflected cross and struck it home with his knee. A semblance of order restored.

Bedlam ensued in the final 15 minutes, as Boateng was sent off for a second yellow card and Neuer lost his footing while scrambling across the face of goal to make a save, only narrowly preserving the 1-1 scoreline. Robin Olsen one-upped Neuer in the 88th minute, rising to his crossbar to punch Mario Gomez’s header just over.

In the fourth of five minutes of second-half stoppage time, Kroos became the hero. From a nearly impossible angle on the left side of the penalty area, Kroos rolled the ball forward to Reus on the restart, creating an ever so slightly wider angle from which to curl his shot toward the far post. It worked to perfection.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Germany (3 points) will finish group play against fourth-place South Korea (0 points) on Wednesday, while Sweden (3 points) will face Mexico (6 points), who had clinched their place in the knockout rounds until Germany’s late winner.