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Five things learned from internationals

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With a plethora of international friendlies taking place across globe on Friday, we learned plenty about where the teams heading to the 2018 World Cup are it in their preparation for the big dance in Russia this summer.

[ MORE: International wrap

In case you weren’t scouring the globe at obscene hours to stay in touch with all the action, we were.

Here’s what we learned.


South American teams in fine fettle

CONMEBOL went five for five on Friday with wins for Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru and Colombia. There is no doubt that South America will once again dominate at the World Cup this summer. Brazil dealt easily with Russia without Neymar as Miranda, Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho scored in the second half as they continue their fine run. Argentina didn’t start Lionel Messi or Sergio Aguero against Italy at the Etihad Stadium but ran out 2-0 winners with goals from Maneul Lanzini (his first for his nation) and Ever Banega getting the job done. Plenty of starters were rested at the 2014 runners up look incredibly strong. Plus, they don’t have to worry about losing out to Chile like they have in the last two Copa America tournaments.

Uruguay’s stars shone against the Czech Republic with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani on target in China, while Colombia’s fine comeback in France stole the show. Trailing 2-0 with 26 minutes gone, Colombia scored two late goals via Radamel Falcao and Juan Quintero to grab the victory in Paris. A fit Falcao will make a huge difference to Los Cafeteros’ chances of getting past the last eight this time out. Peru, who will be at their first World Cup since 1982 this summer, completed a fine showing for the five CONMEBOL teams who qualified the World Cup this summer as they beat Croatia 2-0. For those who are still shocked that Chile won’t be going to the World Cup this summer, these results prove just how strong South America has become.


England mature in 3-4-3 formation

Okay, the 1-0 win in Amsterdam was against a very poor Netherlands outfit who are in transition, haven’t qualified for the last two major tournaments and Ronald Koeman has a massive rebuilding job on his hands. But still, England were extremely impressive. The way Gareth Southgate‘s men moved the ball around in a 3-4-3 formation proved they are developing well and Kyle Walker as a right-sided center back was a revelation. Without the injured Harry Kane, the Three Lions did lack a bit of cutting edge up front but Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford were so dangerous on the break and the main takeaway was the balance of this team and the composure on the ball of the defenders. Jesse Lingard (who scored his first international goal), John Stones, Jordan Henderson and Jordan Pickford all staked their claims for a starting spot this summer as England are unbeaten in seven games and haven’t conceded in their last five, including the last three against Germany, Brazil and Holland. Whisper it: England could be the darkhorses this summer.


Germany, Spain the real deals

The class of these two teams suggests that they will go far this summer. The reigning World Cup champs equalized through Thomas Muller’s stunning goal after Rodrigo popped up (after Andres Iniesta’s perfect pass) to put Spain ahead early on in a high tempo, high quality encounter. This is just the kind of tune-up both teams needed as Joachim Low and Julen Lopetegui have an embarrassment of riches at their disposal. Both teams were close to full strength and this underlined their status as favorites to win the World Cup this summer. Germany haven’t lost in their last 22 games, while Spain hasn’t lost in 17 as the past two World Cup champs have not only got veterans in fine form but are also bringing through the next wave of talent. Also, Germany have Manuel Neuer to return from injury, while Spain will rely on Diego Costa getting back to his best to spearhead their attack this summer. Still, this was a hugely impressive display from both teams as Spain host Argentina in Madrid next week and Germany play Brazil in Berlin. Those four teams are surely the current favorites to win it all.


Ronaldo remains red-hot as Egypt impress

23 goals in his last 12 games for club and country. 23. Cristiano Ronaldo is in fine form after a slow start to the season where many questioned if he had turned the corner and had entered the final stretch of his legendary career. Not so fast. Portugal’s man main throughout his career, Ronaldo, now 33, popped up twice in stoppage time in Zurich, Switzerland to seal a comeback 2-1 win against an impressive Egypt side. Mohamed Salah (of course) got Egypt’s goal as the Pharaohs look forward to their first World Cup since 1990 and are set to be the darlings of the tournament this summer. Yet Ronaldo spoiled their party on Friday as he scored two bullet headers for the reigning European champs, with the winner looked at by VAR but correctly allowed. Will Ronaldo retire after the World Cup this summer? Portugal will hope he can go on for at least another four years and at this rate he will continue to deliver up until, and during, the 2022 World Cup.


Mexico ticking over nicely

El Tri beat Iceland 3-0 on Friday as an experimental side proved just how strong they are with Juan Carlos Osorio making plenty of changes as Mexico strolled to victory in front of 68,917 fans in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. Marco Fabian struck a beautiful free kick in the first half and Miguel Layun added two goals after the break to beat Iceland, with The Vikings heading to its first-ever World Cup this summer as the smallest nation to ever quality. For Mexico, they will be hoping to continue their development under Osorio as the oft-maligned coach has won 30 of his 45 games in charge since taking over in 2015. Not bad, Juan Carlos. El Tri had Javier Hernandez, Hirving Lozano, Hector Herrera and Carlos Vela all on the bench as they will all likely play against Croatia on Tuesday in Texas. For Mexico, their World Cup opener against Germany is their toughest game of the group stage but Osorio must be pleased with the options at his disposal and the performance of goalkeeper Jesus Corona to keep out Iceland, who did create chances with direct play, was impressive. Mexico is humming along nicely as it heads to the World Cup aiming to make the knockout rounds once again.

PSG signs defender Thilo Kehrer from Schalke

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PARIS (AP) French champion Paris Saint-Germain has signed defender Thilo Kehrer from German club Schalke on a five-year contract.

PSG gave no financial details but Kehrer reportedly cost 37 million euros ($42 million).

[ MORE: Europa League wrap ]

The 21-year-old German helped Schalke finish second in the Bundesliga last season. He also helped Germany’s under-21 team win last year’s European Championship.

Kehrer is seen as an eventual replacement for 33-year-old central defender Thiago Silva, who has been with PSG since 2012.

He will be working under German coach Thomas Tuchel, who is bringing more young players into the team.

Kehrer says “I am going to meet some extraordinary teammates and work with a coach that has done a great job in Germany in recent years.”

NDOYE RETURNS

Cheikh Ndoye has returned to his former club Angers on loan from second-tier English side Birmingham.

The 32-year-old midfielder, who has made 27 international appearances for Senegal, joined Birmingham last year on a three-year deal.

He played 40 games last season, but with Birmingham reportedly under pressure to comply with Financial Fair Play regulations, he was loaned out and thus reduced the club’s wage bill.

Ndoye captained Angers from 2015-2017.

Last weekend, Angers opened its first-division campaign with a 4-3 home loss to Nimes.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Dyche: “Strength of character” got Burnley past Istanbul Basaksehir

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Burnley manager Sean Dyche has his team one round from the Europa League group stage after another clutch goal from Jack Cork.

And the intense Clarets boss knows its down to their dogged work.

[ MORE: Europa League wrap ]

“The strength of character of the players is so important and before extra time I was talking to my group and they were all focused on me,” Dyche said. “I looked at theirs and there were bodies everywhere and two players catching eyes with their manager.”

“We have to do what we have to do to win games and we’ve never hidden from that. But in extra time I thought we were running all over them fitness-wise and therefore our play improved.”

Burnley moves onto play Olympiacos in the playoff round, and advancing past the Greek side would give them six more matches including three home dates at Turf Moor.

The Clarets bought Matej Vydra, Joe Hart, and Ben Gibson this summer. Ex-Middlesbrough defender Gibson made his Burnley debut on Thursday and  Hart has been sensational in posting three clean sheets in as many matches. Vydra is yet to debut.

Burnley’s status as a Europa League qualifier through Premier League play is about as impressive as anything this side of Leicester City’s miracle title run. The longer this goes on, the more strain it puts on their season, but it’s improbable to root against them.

Burnley drew Saints in its Premier League opener, and hosts Watford on Sunday.

Americans Abroad in 2.Bundesliga: Parker joins Green on Furth

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When it comes to Americans Abroad, few leagues have as many active USMNT-eligible players than Germany’s second tier.

Maybe it’s a knock-on effect of Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT tenure, but seven players with American blood have taken part in matches over the first two weekends in 2.Bundesliga (four with U.S. connections have not).

[ MORE: Europa League wrap ]

Julian Green has yet to find the goal for Greuther Fuerth, but not for lack of trying. Only one player in the league is averaging more than his four shots per game.

U.S. eligible forward Shawn Parker signed with Greuther Fuerth on Wednesday.

Like Green, American-born goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm has collected four points with club Holstein Keil this season, keeping a clean sheet.

U.S. U-19 midfielder Kevin Lankford is in his third season with Heidenheim, and has made a start and a sub appearance in his two appearances.

2.Bundesliga

Julian Green, Greuther Fuerth — 2 matches, 153 minutes, eight shots
Next: Saturday vs. Paderborn

Joe Gyau, Duisburg — 1 appearance, 10 minutes
Next: Friday at Darmstadt

Terrence Boyd, Darmstadt — 2 appearances, 10 minutes
Next: Friday vs. Duisburg

Ken Gipson, Sandhausen — 1 appearance, 26 minutes
Next: Friday at Bochum

Kenneth Kronholm, Holstein Keil — 2 appearances, 180 minutes, clean sheet
Next: Sunday at Jahn Regensburg

Kevin Lankford, Heidenheim — 2 appearances, 1 start, 83 minutes
Next: Sunday at Dresden Dynamo

Jann George, Jahn Regensburg — 2 starts, 175 minutes
Next: Sunday vs. Holstein Keil

Yet to appear: McKinze Gaines, Darmstadt; Lennard Maloney, Union Berlin; Mario Rodriguez, Dynamo Dresden; Andrew Wooten, Sandhausen; Shawn Parker, Greuther Fuerth.

Top Premier League storylines for Week 2

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Week 2 of the Premier League season brings another gigantic match-up, with Arsenal following up its visit from Manchester City by traveling across London to face lively foe Chelsea.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

All that and four more things to watch closely this weekend in England and Wales.

New managers Emery, Sarri helm big London rivalry
Chelsea vs. Arsenal — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC [ STREAM ]

Antonio Conte‘s probable hopes that Chelsea would be a shambles without him didn’t look true when the Blues bashed Huddersfield Town at the John Smith’s Stadium on opening weekend, while some extreme Arsenal fan hopes that their stumbles were simply down to Arsene Wenger were washed away in a haze of Man City ball possession.

Now Chelsea has a chance to soak the Gunners’ early season in misery, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Arsenal will know they can make opening weekend a thing of the past by joining the Blues on three points with a big away win.

London Derby tests Kane’s August record
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Fulham — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN
[ STREAM ]

Harry Kane still hasn’t scored in August, and Fulham allowed a pair of goals in their return to the Premier League last weekend against Palace. The Cottagers have enjoyed Wembley recently in earning promotion through the playoffs, and new player Jean Michael Seri — a reported Spurs target before joining Fulham — looked exceptional in the loss to Palace.

Ryan Sessegnon of Fulham battles with Kieran Trippier of Tottenham Hotspur during an FA Cup fifth round match in 2017 (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Will Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds keep roaring at Selhurst Park?
Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Liverpool has won four-straight matches at Selhurst Park, but its record against Palace overall isn’t phenomenal over the last half-decade. That said, Jurgen Klopp’s men are clearly favorite to catch Manchester City if anyone can, and getting wins from matches like this is what contenders do along the way to Titletown.

Take two for Leicester and Wolves
Leicester City vs. Wolves — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold
 [ STREAM ]

Ruben Neves of Wolves announced his entry into the Premier League with a super performance in Wolves’ 2-2 home draw with 10-man Everton at the Molineux, but the one point gained somehow feel less than expected from the newly-promoted side. Leicester was outplayed by Manchester United in its opener, and will hope the King Power Stadium is what will kickstart their season… and maybe help save Claude Puel‘s job as Foxes’ manager.

The Premier League returns to Cardiff with a perceived six-pointer
Cardiff City vs. Newcastle United — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN
[ STREAM ]

Neil Warnock’s Bluebirds couldn’t get the job done at Bournemouth in Week One and their “doable” three-match stretch to restart life in the Premier League will feel really rough if they cannot land a point or better against Rafa Benitez‘s Newcastle.

This is Newcastle’s best chance at three points over the first month, and the Magpies could be staring at zero points through four matches if they fail to get the job done in Wales (which is a long way from St. James’ Park).