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Six Premier Leaguers named to Argentina, but no Icardi

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Argentina’s World Cup roster features a number of the usual suspects, particularly up front, but Serie A’s top goalscorer has been surprisingly left off the list of 23.

[ MORE: Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan ]

Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s squad was made official on Monday, which includes the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

The Albiceleste won’t be taking Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi though, which has raised some questions about the decision.

Icardi led all scorers in Italy’s top flight this season, scoring 29 goals in 34 Serie A matches, while Paulo Dybala edged out the final striker spot in the Argentina squad.

Dybala is teammates with Higuain at Italian giants Juventus.

Meanwhile, six Premier League players were named into the South American nation’s squad, including goalkeepers Sergio Romero (Man United) and Willy Caballero (Chelsea), as well as Nicolas Otamendi (Man City), Marcos Rojo (Man United) and Manuel Lanzini (West Ham).

It’s confirmed: Club Leon parts ways with Landon Donovan

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Landon Donovan’s four-month adventure in Mexico appears to be over.

Club Leon announced on Sunday that it had parted ways with Donovan, despite the 36-year-old having a contract through the end of the calendar year. Donovan made just eight appearances for Leon, with just one start, and failed to score or assist on a goal as Leon slumped to 13th place in the Clausura season.

[READ: England squad reconnects with fans]

“…both parties have decided not to (keep the contract) for the Clausura that united us,” Leon said in a statement. “The departure of Landon from our team has been exemplary in all aspects. The club loses a legendary professional from the world of sports that leaves an indelible institutional imprint.”

It’s unclear what’s next for Donovan, but he stated in an interview with PST’s Matt Reed that he intends to continue playing in Mexico.

Donovan recently drew the ire of U.S. Men’s National Team fans and Donovan’s former teammates when he revealed he was rooting for Mexico at the World Cup this summer as part of a Well’s Fargo campaign.

Panama boss blunt and honest before nation’s World Cup debut

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) 鈥 Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez isn鈥檛 in the business of sugarcoating the truth before his team makes history by playing in its first World Cup.

The Central American team has trouble scoring and his players will need to have a good day to have any chance against Belgium on Monday, he said.

[ MORE:聽Latest 2018 World Cup news聽]聽

Blunt and honest, Gomez didn鈥檛 even hide his starting lineup, the normal way of doing things for coaches these days. And when asked if Panama could repeat Iceland鈥檚 upset against Argentina 鈥 the teams drew 1-1 on Saturday 鈥 the Colombian didn鈥檛 bother picking the right words when downplaying the Argentine squad.

鈥淚celand sent Croatia to the playoffs (in European qualifying), and it did well in the European Championship as well,鈥 Gomez said. 鈥淚t played against an Argentina squad which isn鈥檛 at the same level as Belgium right now. I mean, the distance between Iceland and Argentina isn鈥檛 as significant as the distance between Belgium and Panama.鈥

Gomez didn鈥檛 completely dismiss聽Panama鈥檚 chances聽of a surprise result against the Belgians, saying 鈥渁nything can happen in football,鈥 but admitted it wouldn鈥檛 be normal.

鈥淚t鈥檚 very clear that they are the favorites,鈥 the 62-year-old coach said. 鈥淏ut each game is different, and if we have a good day, maybe we can achieve something.鈥

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

If Panama does find a way to advance past the group stage, Gomez said he already knows how he will be celebrating.

鈥淚鈥檒l drink two bottles of vodka,鈥 he said laughing, before taking it back. 鈥淣o, no … we are professionals.鈥

Gomez didn鈥檛 bother keeping his lineup a secret for the match in Sochi, naming the 11 starters without hesitating when asked about it. He even frankly talked about the formation his team would be playing Monday.

Gomez said Panama won鈥檛 be trying anything but defending against the talented Belgians, and admitted that scoring goals has been a weakness of his team entering the tournament.

鈥淲e鈥檝e become strong on defense. It鈥檚 Panama鈥檚 virtue,鈥 he said. 鈥淧anama isn鈥檛 a team that will score a lot of goals. We may create good chances in some matches, but we aren鈥檛 able to score. We arrive at the World Cup with problems scoring the goals.鈥

[ LIVE:聽World Cup scores聽]

The 55th-ranked Panama drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland and lost 1-0 to Norway in its final warm-up matches before traveling to Russia.

It qualified for the tournament by finishing ahead of the United States in CONCACAF thanks to a聽last-minute victory over Costa Rica聽in qualifying.

Gomez said the team carries a big responsibility by representing the nation at a World Cup for the first time, and his biggest job is to get the players ready for the pressure they are about to face.

鈥淭he whole country is excited about this,鈥 Gomez said. 鈥淚 have to prepare the players mentally.鈥

Gomez has been coaching Panama since 2014. He was previously with Ecuador, Guatemala and Colombia.

Panama鈥檚 other Group G games will be against England on Sunday and Tunisia on June 28.

Maradona: Argentina drawing Iceland is “a disgrace”

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It’s been a pretty trying and criticism-filled 36 hours for Lionel Messi and Argentina, and that was already true before the World Cup hero that is Diego Maradona weighed in.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

No longer are聽La Albiceleste simply known as the side that drew tiny Iceland 鈥 the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup 鈥 but now their efforts on Saturday have been dubbed “a disgrace” by Maradona.

It’s not so much the players whom Maradona,聽manager of the national team for the 2010 World Cup (quarterfinals appearance, beaten 4-0 by Germany), has gone after, but current boss Jorge Sampaoli for his lack of a proper gameplan befitting the opponent. As for Messi, who failed to convert a critical penalty kick, Maradona has absolved the Barcelona superstar of much of the blame 鈥 quotes from the BBC:

“It’s a disgrace. Not having prepared for the match knowing that Iceland are all [6-foot-3] tall.”

“I get the feeling there’s an anger at the heart of the team.”

“I don’t blame the players. I could blame the lack of work rate. But I can’t blame the players, much less Messi, who gave it all he had,” said Maradona.

“I missed five penalties on the spin and I was still Diego Armando Maradona. I don’t think that they dropped two points because Messi missed a penalty.”

England squad reconnects with fans with image makeover

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VOLGOGRAD, England (AP) 鈥 Whatever happens to England at the World Cup, at least the reception facing the squad should be less brutal than it was in 2014 after its exit following the group stage.’

[ MORE:聽Latest 2018 World Cup news聽]聽

For once, the players can’t be accused of hiding away, retreating behind their headphones. The hallmark of England鈥檚 preparations for Russia has been shedding the past reticence to engage with the public, a calculated move by the team leadership to reconnect with a public disaffected by years of failure at tournaments and uninspiring performances.

“They appear more relaxed. They appear more normal,” supporter Gavin Hughes said, overlooking the Volgograd Arena where England opens its World Cup campaign against Tunisia on Monday. “They appear human. They are just lads playing football at the end of the day. That鈥檚 been the problem in the past. There鈥檚 more of a togetherness.”

A defining clip of the 2010 World Cup was Wayne Rooney bellowing down the barrel of a camera after a 0-0 draw with Algeria: “Nice to see your home fans booing you, that鈥檚 what loyal support is.”

That disconnect with the public has been bridged by the 23-man squad facing the media in a 45-minute, Super Bowl-style session before leaving for Russia. The English Football Association鈥檚 approach is in a marked contrast to club duty where they are largely closeted away, save for appearances with paying broadcasters or often in controlled appearances.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

“We鈥檝e done a lot for the fans on social media so they can see what we are up to, which has not always been the case,” captain Harry Kane said Sunday. “It鈥檚 important while we have free time is to try to let the fans know what we are up to.”

The public is seeing a new side of the players. Not only are they more relatable but painted in a more sympathetic light, beyond the caricatures of millionaire mercenaries just chasing more money.

“That connection with the supporters is really important,鈥 coach Gareth Southgate said. “There have been perceptions about our players for a long time … so it鈥檚 been really good for our public to see how much it means to the players to play, to see a different side of their personality.”

In a move unthinkable in years gone by, when a since-departed FA official blocked Rooney talking about his Christianity, defender Danny Rose recently opened up on his problems dealing with depression. Publicly praised by Prince William for raising awareness of health issues, Rose realizes how players can use their new platform to show their human side and inspire others.

“A lot of people messaged me to say thank you, that they know someone who is going through this or has been through that and that I鈥檝e helped them and given them the confidence to express themselves,” Rose said. “We have a lot of down time and I鈥檓 going to think of something to help others when I get back. I鈥檝e got time to think while I鈥檓 here and when I get back from the World Cup about how I can go forward and help people.”

[ LIVE:聽World Cup scores聽]

It鈥檚 not just about the players feeding a voracious traveling media pack with material. Kieran Trippier, who is also Rose鈥檚 club teammate at Tottenham, told the left back he appeared no longer burdened by a private plight in England鈥檚 last World Cup warm-up game.

“I was playing with a bit of freedom,” Rose said of the victory against Costa Rica. “I think he鈥檚 got a point.”

Southgate is credited with encouraging the warmer environment, far removed from the controlling regimes under Fabio Capello and Gary Neville, who was Roy Hodgson鈥檚 assistant for the dismal 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship last-16 humbling to Iceland. A bemusing, running theme in the British papers at Euro 2016 in France was the players鈥 refusal to divulge any details of a darts tournament. The squad has been overhauled by Southgate and it has even been playing darts with the media at the World Cup base near St. Petersburg.

Southgate has been playing his part, going to fan forums in the buildup to the tournament to recognize the commitment and cost involved watching England abroad.

“Sometimes those really good people who follow us are overlooked at the expense of some who have caused problems in the past,” Southgate said.

Ultimately, results dictate the public mood and England hasn鈥檛 won a knockout game at any tournament since 2006.

“It鈥檚 about how we perform,” Southgate said, “but there鈥檚 a bigger picture.”