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2018 World Cup team preview: Iceland

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Getting to know Iceland: The likely favorite of fans who’s nations didn’t make the World Cup around the globe, Iceland has proved over the past two years that its incredible performance at the 2016 European Championship was not a flash in the pan. This experienced side, which has essentially played together for the national team since 2012, won its World Cup qualifying group over World Cup group D mate Croatia, as well as Turkey and Ukraine.

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Iceland proved its mettle as a defensive juggernaut, taking its chances on the counter-attack very well. The side features Premier League regulars Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton), Johann Berg Gudmundsson and soon-to-be Premier Leaguer Aron Gunnarsson, the glue of the midfield. It certainly won’t be easy – especially as Sigurdsson and others have battled injuries this season – but Iceland is looking to make more history by getting out of the group. It all begins with a massive first game against World Cup finalist Argentina.

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What group are they in? Group D with Argentina, Nigeria and Croatia. Iceland’s gift for becoming the smallest nation to qualify for a World Cup was one of the World Cup’s most difficult groups, with any of the four teams likely to get out of the group. Iceland opens up with a massive game against Argentina, and then they’ll have to face different tests against a young Nigeria side and a veteran Croatia squad.


Game schedule – Group D – Full 2018 World Cup schedule, here

Saturday, June 16: Argentina v Iceland, Moscow (Spartak) 9am, ET
Friday, June 22: Nigeria v Iceland, Volograd 11am, ET
Tuesday, June 26: Iceland v Croatia, Rostov 2pm, ET


Projected lineup (4-2-3-1) – Check out the 23-man squad list in full

—– Halldorsson —–

— Saevarsson — Arnason — Sigurdsson — Magnusson —-

—- Gunnarsson —- Hallfredsson —-

—- Gudmundsson ———- Sigurdsson —-——— Bjarnason —–

—– Finnbogason —–


Star player: Gylfi Sigurdsson – The Everton attacker had a pretty disappointing season in Merseyside after completing his deal to leave Swansea in August, following months of speculation over a move. But for his nation, Sigurdsson is the star of the show, and with Hallfredsson and Gunnarsson shoring up the defense behind him, Sigurdsson should have the freedom to express himself, move around the field and make late runs into the box, to score a special goal or two.


Manager: Heimir Hallgrímsson – The part-time dentist (seriously) took over as the full manager after Lars Lagerback left national team following Euro 2016. Hallgrimsson has carried on the momentum very well, guiding Iceland to its first World Cup. The veteran manager is a pragmatist and will attempt to have Iceland the most defensively organized team at the tournament. He emphasizes counter attacks and set pieces, so look for Iceland to strike in those ways.


Secret weapon: Johann Berg Gudmundsson – The Burnley winger was a major part of the team’s incredible push to a seventh-place finish in the Premier League. Last season, Gudmundsson scored two goals and assisted on eight others from his spot on the right wing, and he’ll be looking to play in dangerous crosses to Fingaboson or Sigurdsson in the box at the World Cup. If Gudmundsson can find space behind the defense, he can create great opportunities, giving Iceland a dangerous weapon out wide.


Prediction: Iceland has never had an easy path to qualification and that didn’t change at the World Cup draw. It will be a huge challenge for the tiny nation to advance out of the group, but one point or more against Argentina could really buoy the side and set them up for wins later in the tournament. I think they manage to get out of the group, making more history along the way. Áfram Ísland!

How will USMNT line up versus Costa Rica?

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Saturday brings a first look at the United States men’s national team in 2020, though Gregg Berhalter’s bunch won’t look anything like its best self.

The Yanks have an almost exclusively MLS roster for the match, with Hobro’s Christian Cappas, Wolfsburg II’s Uly Llanez and unattached 17-year-old Bryang Kayo in the fold.

Many of Berhalter’s best MLS stars won’t be in Carson either for the 3:55 p.m. ET Saturday kickoff. Jordan Morris, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley are the biggest names.

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Ronald Gonzalez’s Ticos will be similarly hampered, although more of Costa Rica’s A-side play in MLS and domestically.

We’ll leave the breakdown of the visitors for a later date, but who will rep the U.S. in Saturday’s Starting XI?

The travel roster includes keepers Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, and Matt Turner, as well as defenders Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman, Reggie Cannon, Julian Araujo, Chase Gasper, Justen Glad, Mark McKenzie, and Sam Vines. Listed midfielders Sebastian Lletget, Jackson Yueill, Brenden Aaronson, Cappis, Kayo, and Brandon Servania are joined by forwards Gyasi Zardes, Paul Arriola, Jonathan Lewis, Jesus Ferreira, and Ulysses Llanez.

Goalkeeper is anyone’s guess, but Johnson’s got the most run of the three during the Berhalter era. The younger Turner or more accomplished Hamid may step in there.

It would be surprising to see any other center backs besides Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long given what we know of Berhalter and his respect for regulars. Reggie Cannon should start at right back and it’s between Chase Gasper and Sam Vines for the left. We’ll choose Vines out of intrigue.

Jackson Yueill, Paul Arriola, Sebastian Lletget, and Gyasi Zardes are safe bets to start, and this would seem a spot to give Jonathan Lewis more than subs’ run. That leaves one spot, and we’re pegging Brandon Servania to be the one chosen of four midfielders aged 17-20.

There’s also the matter of whether FC Dallas striker Jesus Ferreira will be internationally cleared to play Saturday. We sure hope he will be!

How do you think Berhalter will line them up?


How Berhalter may go

Johnson

Cannon — Zimmerman — Long — Vines

Yueill — Servania

Arriola — Lletget — Lewis

Zardes


What we’d like to see

Turner

Cannon — Zimmerman — McKenzie — Vines

Yueill — Cappis — Servania

Arriola — Ferreira — Lewis

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Report: Sheffield United in ‘advanced talks’ for $22M Norway star

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Sheffield United is ready to add one of the game’s brightest young talents to its blossoming Premier League side.

Norway midfielder Sander Berge is the name, and he’s been linked with Liverpool amongst others over the past few months.

Berge turns 22 next month and already has 20 caps for Norway in addition to 113 senior appearances for Genk in Belgium and 43 more for Valerenga in his home country.

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The defensive midfielder has chipped in six goals and four assists. He won the Belgian Super League with Genk last year and has a career-best four goals so this season.

It shows what success brings to a club, as Sky Sports reports that Berge turned down a move to Bramall Lane in the summer.

The fee is said to be $22 million, which isn’t small but completely reasonable given his stature for club and country.

This may move may join the Lys Mousset purchase as one of the Blades’ smartest bits of business, especially as Chris Wilder‘s men look for success on multiple fronts. Their success as a newly-promoted side is one of the great stories of the European season, and a place in Europe would be a fantastic achievement.

From The Yorkshire Post:

“It is going well, no doubt about it,” Wilder said. “On the Premier League front and in the Cup. You probably would not think it, but the win at Millwall has given me an enormous amount of pleasure in confirming, not even seeing, what my team is about. Players have come in with the likes of the skipper (Billy Sharp) and other players who are really driving it forward and want to produce individual performances and the atmosphere is good.”

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Espanyol identify 12 fans who racially insulted player

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BARCELONA, Spain — Spanish club Espanyol says it has identified 12 fans who racially insulted an Athletic Bilbao player in the Spanish league last weekend.

Espanyol said on Monday in a statement that nine of the fans were club members and would face punishment that could include suspension or a full-time ban.

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It said a report of its analysis of the video images of Saturday’s game at RCDE Stadium were sent to authorities.

The club reiterated its “categorical condemnation of any displays of violence and racism.”

The fans made monkey noises directed at Athletic forward Inaki Williams, who is black. Television images showed Williams confronting the section of Espanyol fans who taunted him after he was substituted late in the game in Barcelona.

The Spanish league said it will seek a partial stadium closure for Espanyol and will raise the incident with the Spanish soccer federation’s competition committee, which handles disciplinary issues.

Transfer rumors: West Ham want $44M midfielder, Barca eyes Rodrigo

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West Ham United is being linked with a big transfer splash, and it’s not even a striker.

Uruguayan midfielder Nahitan Nandez is the man in question, and West Ham is reportedly tempting Cagliari with a $44 million offer this January.

Nandez, 23, arrived from Boca Juniors for less than half that fee this summer, and has chipped in a goal with three assists for Tommaso Giulini’s sixth-place Serie A side.

He’s got 31 caps for his national team, and is averaging 1.5 tackles per match with Cagliari. Nandez is also averaging a key pass and 1.1 successful dribbles per league outing.

Football-Italia says that Cagliari will try to tie Nandez to a new deal with a $44 million release clause if the move to West Ham is unsuccessful.

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Meanwhile Barcelona’s pursuit of a Luis Suarez replacement isn’t limited to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, according to Marca.

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu admits that Valencia striker Rodrigo Moreno is interesting his coaches.

“We don’t talk about players from other teams. But [Rodrigo’s] name is on the table of the coaches, and a replacement will arrive. I do not know whether it will be from Barcelona B or from outside. I like many players.”

The Spaniard has eight goals in 21 caps, and turns 29 in March. Rodrigo has four goals and 10 assists in 23 matches across all competitions this season.

Valencia beat Barcelona this weekend to send the Blaugranas three points back of La Liga leaders Real Madrid.