Ward-Prowse issues Saints rallying cry

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SOUTHAMPTON — James Ward-Prowse is a living, breathing embodiment of the Southampton Way.

Coming through their famed academy, he has been at the club since the age of eight and has now been a key part of their first team since they were promoted back to the Premier League in 2012-13, as well as going on to become a full England international and being the long-time captain of the Three Lions’ U-21 side.

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But the current Southampton Way could soon include relegation from the Premier League with Saints two points from safety with eight games to go as new manager Mark Hughes prepares for an almighty scrap against the drop.

The first of those pivotal games comes at relegation rivals West Ham this Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com) with the Hammers just one place and two points above Southampton.

Speaking exclusively to Pro Soccer Talk, Ward-Prowse, 23, knows that this match at the London Stadium falls into the category of a “six-pointer” as Saints are running out of games against direct relegation rivals.

“This is a game that we need to win, for sure,” Ward-Prowse said. “We can’t afford to lose games or draw games because ultimately that’s going to cost us. It may not necessarily be a game of good football or who can play the best football, it is about who can win the game. That doesn’t matter if it’s a scrappy 89th minute goal or a blitzing 4-0 win. We have to win the game and make sure we are solid throughout.”

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Ward-Prowse was speaking at the launch of a Saints exhibition at Southampton’s SeaCity Museum, as a history of the club “We March On: Then and Now” was unveiled as past legends Matt Le Tissier, Mick Channon and others reminisced about the good old times. There was an FA Cup trophy on show and plenty of reminders about Southampton’s remarkable journey back through the leagues as they rose from third-tier of English soccer in a journey which started in 2009, bankrolled by the Libeherr family.

With Saints now securing fourth-straight top eight finishes in the Premier League, plus reaching the League Cup final last season and European action in each of the last two campaigns, Ward-Prowse knows that staying in England’s top-flight is the only thing they can focus on.

However they do it, Saints must stay up.

“It is game by game but we just need to be in the Premier League next season,” Ward-Prowse said. “It doesn’t matter how it comes and we want to play nice football, of course, but we find ourselves in a situation that we are in and we have to reevaluate where we are, where we need to be and what we have to do to get there. We are confident with the manager and the players we have that we can do that.”

As for the new boss, Hughes’ arrival already seems to have had a positive impact on the squad. They beat Wigan Athletic in a FA Cup quarterfinal in his first game in charge and will now play Chelsea in the semi at Wembley next month to try and book a spot in a second major cup final in as many years.

What has been the key message from Hughes so far?

“To be a bit more positive,” Ward-Prowse explained. “For us, we are a good team, and confidence wise over the last few weeks we’ve maybe not been at it but he’s encouraged us to take risks and he has reminded us of the quality that we have got. The training sessions have been intense, they’ve been sharp and there’s been a purpose. It is very exciting looking forward for us.”

With 13 draws this season, the most in the Premier League, Southampton seemed negative and sometimes scared to attack under former manager Mauricio Pellegrino who was replaced with Hughes earlier this month.

Aside from a relegation battle, Ward-Prowse revealed the FA Cup run to the final four has been a welcome distraction for the team.

After losing narrowly to Manchester United in the League Cup final last season, Ward-Prowse, stood close to the only major trophy Southampton have ever won (upsetting United as a second-tier team in the 1976 FA Cup final) is eyeing another trip to a final.

“It is. It gives us something to look forward to. It’s not been a great season so far for us but this gives us a bit of excitement and it is a great distraction. We are all very excited to play our part in what will hopefully be a successful cup run,” Ward-Prowse smiled. “It’s not a game based on three points and it is the magic of the FA Cup. Anything can happen. It’s a game that hopefully we can win to give our fans yet another day out at Wembley. You’ve seen some teams go on great cup runs throughout the years and we can take confidence from last year, the way we applied ourselves in the cup run against Arsenal away and Liverpool away and home particularly, we dominated those games. We can take that going forward.”

But the focus remains fully on staying up. Ward-Prowse, more than most, is well aware of what relegation from the Premier League means and that could perhaps point to his improved form in the opening months of 2018 after a self-confessed slow start to the current campaign.

Ward-Prowse has scored four goals and added two assists since the turn of the year (he hadn’t scored this season before Jan. 6), contributing to more goals than any other Southampton player in that span as he aims to dig them out of the relegation battle they’re in and also has one eye on sneaking into the full England squad for the World Cup this summer.

The local lad has seen how relegation impacts the people in the City of Southampton and those working for the club, and when Ward-Prowse was a youngster in the academy the club went into administration and started the 2009-10 season on -10 points in the third-tier of English soccer.

Back then they almost fell off the face of the earth before the Liebherr family saved Saints and started their journey back to the top-flight. The impact of relegation surely won’t be as drastic this time around, if it happens, but it is unsure how the new Chinese owners of the club, the Gao family, would respond to Southampton suddenly becoming a second-tier club.

Although wary of what relegation would bring, Ward-Prowse revealed his past experiences of struggle at Southampton spur him on to make sure the club doesn’t go through it again.

“You always have to be wary of those sort of things but those feelings spur us on as players to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Ward-Prowse said. “I’ve seen that happen here and I’m even more determined to play my part to make sure that doesn’t happen. The quality of the players we have got should get us out of the trouble we are in… I’ve got a bit  more of an emotional attachment to the club with the journey I’ve been on. I’ve seen the lows and the highs, I am desperate to play my part and I’m sure they [other players] are as well. If we can do that collectively then we will be fine.”

Watch Live: Brazil v. Mexico in U-17 World Cup final

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The 2019 U-17 World Cup final takes place in Bezerrão Stadium on Saturday as favorites Brazil host an inspired Mexico.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

With four goals and one assist, Kaio Jorge has been Brazil’s most productive attacking player this tournament, while Mexico’s and Los Angeles Galaxy’s Efrain Alvarez is hoping to end an incredible tournament in triumphant fashion.

History between both national teams in a U-17 World Cup final dates back to 2005, when LAFC’s Carlos Vela and Mexico routed Marcelo and Brazil 3-0 in Lima, Peru.

Click on the link above to watch the game live.


U-17 World Cup final
Brazil v. Mexico – 5 p.m. ET

England finishes EURO 2020 qualifying by beating Kosovo

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England’s 2020 European Championship qualification campaign wrapped up on Sunday with a slightly flattering 4-0 victory away to third-place, and playoff qualifiers, Kosovo.

[ VIDEO: Game stopped for racist chanting; player targeted later scores goal ]

Gareth Southgate‘s side was hardly at its best just three days after thrashing Montenegro and securing qualification to this summer’s tournament. They only led by a score of 1-0 through 78 minutes, before scoring a trio of late goals to put the game out of reach and rob the hosts of any potential moral victory.

Harry Winks opened the scoring, and his England account, in the 32nd minute. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain found Winks near the top of Kosovo’s penalty area and though Winks’ first touch appeared quite poor, every player in blue stopped and stood as the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder walked in on goal and coolly slotted the ball home to make it 1-0.

[ PREVIEW: Brazil v. Mexico in U-17 World Cup final ]

From that point forward, Kosovo enjoyed control of the game’s tempo and looked every bit the Three Lions’ equal. That is, until Harry Kane finished an open chance at the back post in the 79th minute and opened the floodgates.

Marcus Rashford added a third four minutes later, followed by another first England goal — this time, scored by Mason Mount — in the 91st.

England finishes EURO 2020 qualification with a record of 7W-0D-1L and a +31 goal differential, which is second only to Belgium who sit at +32 with one game still to play. England required Sunday’s victory to confirm its place as a Pot 1 team at the draw for the group stage.

Arsenal beat Spurs in front of WSL-record crowd of 38,262

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LONDON (AP) The first north London derby in the Women’s Super League produced a record crowd of 38,262 for the competition on Sunday when Arsenal claimed a 2-0 victory at Tottenham.

[ PREVIEW: Brazil v. Mexico in U-17 World Cup final ]

The newly fully professional side held out until the 66th minute when Kim Little struck for the champions and Vivianne Miedema extended Arsenal’s lead in the 82nd minute.

It was the first time Tottenham, in its first top-flight campaign, had staged women’s football at its main 61,000-capacity stadium, which opened earlier this year.

The crowd surpassed the 31,213 at Manchester City for the visit of Manchester United on the opening weekend of the season in September.

Tottenham hosted Arsenal on the first designated Women’s Football Weekend in England which also saw 23,500 at Anfield for Liverpool’s 1-0 loss to Everton.

[ MORE: Barcelona, Lionel Messi negotiating a new deal ]

Chelsea opened the season by hosting Tottenham in front of around 25,000 at Stamford Bridge.

League leaders Chelsea were back at their usual home of Kingsmeadow on Sunday. Maren Mjelde’s penalty sealed a 1-0 victory over promoted Manchester United in front of 4,790 fans – a WSL record crowd for a game not played in a large stadium usually used by the men’s team.

VIDEO: Dutch 2nd-division game stopped for racist abuse; player later scores goal

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A Dutch second-division game between Den Bosch and Excelsior was temporarily stopped on Sunday due to suspected racist chanting and Nazi salutes performed by some of Den Bosch’s fans.

[ MORE: Barcelona, Lionel Messi negotiating a new deal ]

The game was halted by referee Laurens Gerrets in the 30 minute. Dutch winger Ahmad Mendes Moreira, who plays for Excelsior, was the player targeted by the racist chanting. He was at that time seen gesturing toward the crowd, indicating to Gerrets and teammates that he was hearing racist abuse from the stands.

In a mixed zone for media availability after the game, Den Bosch manager Erik van der Ven is reported to have called Mendes Moreira a “pathetic little man” for pointing out the racist abuse to Gerrets. Den Bosch released a statement claiming that no racist abuse occurred, that the fans were instead making “crow sounds” and treating Mendes Moreira to a “crow concert,” which they claim is part of customary treatment of opposing players.

[ PREVIEW: Brazil v. Mexico in U-17 World Cup final ]

Mendes Moreira appeared emotional after scoring a goal to put Excelsior 2-1 ahead fewer than 15 minutes after the game was restarted.