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2018 World Cup dark horses

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Every World Cup has its underdog story. Every World Cup has its rise to glory. Every World Cup has its rags to riches.

Every World Cup has its dark horse.

So who will grace Russia 2018 with a surprise run? Let’s look at the dark horse contenders.

Egypt

Looking solely at the FIFA rankings, Egypt at #45 appears to be perfect dark horse material. Unfortunately, they don’t perfectly fit the mold.

For starters, they have one of the world’s most in-form players in Mohamed Salah. Because we can’t ever have nice things, he was injured in the Champions League final, but his diagnosis of a separated AC joint likely leaves him available to play in the tournament this summer, albeit at less than 100% as he manages a painful injury. Nevertheless, with Salah on the field, Egypt is particularly dangerous on the counter and could light up any defensive back lines not on their A-game. Without him, though, they are toothless as evident by their inability to score in either friendly this past week against Colombia and Belgium.

In addition, their group is so bad that Egypt is almost expected to make it to the knockout stages. Paired with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Uruguay, it would feel disappointing if the African nation didn’t find one of the top two spots. Still, despite falling face-first into pre-tournament expectations, it would still make a great story if Egypt made its first-ever knockout round (since group stage play began in 1950). In fact, Egypt has never won a World Cup match in its history, with two losses and two draws to fall back on.

Morocco

Another overlooked African nation, Morocco finds itself tasked with the opposite issue Egypt faces – they were handed a painfully difficult draw with both Spain and Portugal to navigate through in Group B.

Nevertheless, Morocco should provide the European powerhouses with a stiff test in the group stage. FiveThirtyEight has Morocco ranked 18th in the world, the highest African side in the tournament and higher than other darkhorse candidates like Iceland or Peru. A team that features a high press run-and-gun style of play, Morocco has its Salah-lite in 25-year-old Hakim Ziyech.

Ziyech will give Spain and Portugal back lines plenty to think about as he marauds around the attacking third, but Morocco will need him to reign in the shooting to have a chance against the European giants. As FiveThirtyEight points out, Ziyech’s 202 shot attempts over the past two seasons see him sit nearly fifty shots higher than anyone else in the top five European leagues or the Eredivisie where he plays. His nine goals and 17 assists last season for Ajax are a nice haul and his creativity is invaluable to his country, but wastefulness will prove deadly against Spain or Portugal who are sure to control a heavy percentage of possession.

Peru

Paolo Guerrero is back to business for Peru, a massive boost to the squad (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images).

Paolo Guerrero can play in the World Cup this summer, and that’s all Peruvian fans need to hear to know their team has a chance. The 34-year-old captain is critical to his team’s chances, and after his one-year ban for cocaine use was overturned, Guerrero will be available to lead the attacking front in Peru’s Group C chances. With up-and-coming talent Edinson Flores feeding the captain chances, FIFA’s 11th-ranked country is a dangerous attacking side.

Given a favorable draw, Peru will more than challenge Australia and Denmark for a spot in the knockout stages behind likely group winners France. What makes Peru even more enticing in this World Cup is a potential Round of 16 matchup with fellow CONMEBOL members Argentina, a team they held to a draw in both meetings during World Cup qualifying. Peru has been in the wars, with an experienced side that played out a thrilling 1-1 draw with Colombia on the final day of CONMEBOL qualifying to earn a spot in this summer’s tournament.

The crux of Peru’s knockout stage chances likely hinge on a defense in its prime. 34-year-old Alberto Rodriguez is the grizzled veteran of the group, but alongside him are 28-year-old full-back Luis Advincula and 29-year-old full-back Nilson Loyola, both of whom own over 60 caps each.

Iceland

What would a darkhorse post be without Iceland? This tiny European nation shocked the world with its guts and swagger during a run to the Euro 2016 quarterfinals. The Boys followed that up by topping its UEFA World Cup qualifying group with seven wins in 10 matches.

Again, they have a chance to make history with Group D up for grabs behind Argentina. They will do battle with Croatia and Nigeria, two beatable opponents. They know Croatia well, having faced them twice during UEFA qualifying play in Group I, splitting the pair.

Despite the highs of the last two years, Iceland comes into Russia 2018 in terrible form. They have not won since topping Indonesia in January, a run of four matches with three defeats. Most recently, they crumbled in the 87th minute allowing Ghana to snatch a late 2-2 draw after leading 2-0. Their superstar Gylfi Sigurdsson is also in awful form, coming off a season at Everton that saw him grab just four goals and three assists before missing the final six weeks with a knee injury. Iceland has the mental fortitude to progress past the group stage, but the magic may be running out.

England

Can England win the 2018 World Cup? They still have to prove they are among the world’s elite (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images).

Yep, a curveball to finish this list out. Unlike the previous for teams who all look to be dark horses to make noise by unexpectedly escaping the group stages, England is a dark horse to win the whole darn tournament. Sure they‘re generally considered good by most, but still outside the upper echelon of favorites like Brazil, Germany, and the like, you better put the jokes aside and begin realizing the truth: this England team isn’t just good, they’re great.

England hasn’t lost at all since a run of bad friendlies in late 2017, and they haven’t dropped a single competitive match since its stunning 2-1 loss to white-hot Iceland in Euro 2016. They’ve also looked great in their tournament run-up, beating the Netherlands, Nigeria, and Costa Rica while slumping to a 1-1 draw with Italy on a late Lorenzo Insigne penalty.

The biggest question-mark for England is in net, but if Jordan Pickford can effectively replace Joe Hart in goal, this team could challenge for a semi-final spot, or even more. Raheem Sterling lit up the Premier League last season and has grown leaps and bounds under Pep Guardiola, as has John Stones at the back. Marcus Rashford looks refreshed out of the Jose Mourinho shadow. Harry Kane is among the most in-form strikers in this tournament and has seen his future put to rest with a new contract, leaving one more potential distraction back home.

They’re not there yet, and there are plenty of critics, but a chip on their shoulder might be just what this group needs. If England can put block out the noise surrounding the disappointments of recent World Cups, teams like Spain, Argentina, and the rest of the world giants should take note sooner rather than later.

Transfer news: Chilwell to Man United; Kante to Inter Milan

Ben Chilwell to Manchester United
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In the latest transfer news Ben Chilwell has been linked with a move to Manchester United, while N’Golo Kante could be heading to Inter Milan.

[ MORE: New PL TV schedule ]

Starting in Manchester, it appears that Ben Chilwell is wanted by both Manchester City and now Manchester United, with Chelsea still in the hunt too.

The Leicester City and England left back, 23, is reportedly a target for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as The Sun says that he is valued at $75 million and that Man United are now in pole position to sign him.

Do Man United really need a new left back? Luke Shaw is finally fit and has been very good this season, while Brandon Williams is an emerging talent at left back. Chilwell is a very, very good left back but Man City and Chelsea have a greater need to upgrade in that area. If Leicester do not make the Champions League, they will probably cash in on Chilwell.

Man United need a new center back and holding midfielder before they sign a left back but Solskjaer must think differently.

Kante to Inter Milan
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Moving down to west London, it appears that N’Golo Kante could be linking up with Antonio Conte once again at Inter Milan.

Kante, 29, has been riddled with injuries this season but when he has played it’s clear to see the stability he brings to the entire Chelsea side.

According to Gazzetto dello Sport in Italy, Chelsea are willing to listen to offers for the French World Cup winner as Frank Lampard continues his expensive overhaul of the Blues.

Kante has a contract with Chelsea until the summer of 2023 but now is probably to cash in on him, if they want to. If they can move on Kante, then bringing in Kai Havertz and several defensive players would be more possible this summer.

This is a tough one. On paper, Kante is one of the few players at Chelsea who should be guaranteed starters. However, there’s no doubting his level has dropped a little this season due to injuries and the style of play under Lampard.

Inter Milan are building something under Conte and Kante would be a huge part of their project.

Premier League odds, Prince-Wright’s picks: Matchweek 36

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EPL betting odds for the Premier League have been released but we know the bookies don’t always get it right.

Here are the latest Prince-Wright’s Premier League score predictions as the Premier League return has the EPL betting odds all over the place.

[ MORE: New PL TV schedule

The Premier League score predictions below encompass the 10 games during midweek for Matchweek 36. Here we go.

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun with these Premier League games.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

DOWNLOAD NBC SPORTS PREDICTOR

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.

Check out our Premier League score predictions below.


PREMIER LEAGUE PREDICTIONS

BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Man City 4-1 Bournemouth – (Wednesday, 1 p.m. ET, Peacock) – [STREAM

Chelsea 4-2 Norwich – (Tuesday, 3:15 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-3 Wolves – (Wednesday, 1 p.m. ET, Peacock) – [STREAM

Crystal Palace 0-2 Man United – (Thursday, 3:15 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Arsenal 2-2 Liverpool – (Wednesday, 3:15 p.m. ET, Peacock) – [STREAM

Southampton 1-1 Brighton – (Thursday, 3:15 p.m. ET, Gold/Peacock) – [STREAM

Newcastle 1-2 Tottenham – (Wednesday, 1 p.m. ET, Peacock) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Leicester 1-1 Sheffield United – (Thursday, 1 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Everton 1-2 Aston Villa – (Thursday, 1 p.m. ET, Gold/Peacock) – [STREAM]

West Ham 1-2 Watford – (Friday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]


EPL ODDS – Via DraftKings

Tuesday, July 14: (-770) Chelsea v. Norwich (+1900), Tie: +800
Wednesday, July 15: (-715) Man City v. Bournemouth (+1800), Tie: +750
Wednesday, July 15: (+380) Burnley v. Wolves (-115), Tie: +225
Wednesday, July 15: (+380) Newcastle v. Tottenham (-130), Tie: +265
Wednesday, July 15: (+285) Arsenal v. Liverpool (-114), Tie: +290
Thursday, July 16: (+102) Everton v. Aston Villa (+270), Tie: +255
Thursday, July 16: (+100) Leicester v. Sheffield United (+310), Tie: +225
Thursday, July 16: (+900) Crystal Palace v. Man United (-295), Tie: +390
Thursday, July 16: (+117) Southampton v. Brighton (+255), Tie: +230
Friday, July 17: (+143) West Ham v. Watford (+235), Tie: +200

Premier League on Peacock schedule: How to watch fixtures

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Premier League on Peacock arrives this week, as NBCUniversal’s new streaming service is here and plenty of fixtures will be aired exclusively on the free service during the national launch.

Premier League action on Wednesday, July 15 will be free to all fans with our studio shows, games and analysis being aired commercial free. How about that!?

The marquee game on July 15 is Arsenal hosting Liverpool (start time, 3:15pm ET) and we will be on air from 12-6pm ET with four games, reaction, analysis and much more.

ACCESS PEACOCK FOR FREE

Our studio host Rebecca Lowe explains exactly how it will all work and how you can sign up in the video above, with more details about Peacock on the link above.

The new streaming service will give you access to all of NBC’s properties, show and live events with the Premier League action one of the key parts of the new streaming platform. Peacock is available three ways: Free (to anyone who downloads the app and watches ads), and two versions of Premium (one for Comcast Xfinity TV and broadband customers and Cox Communications’ video customers for free with ads, or ad free for $5/month — the other version for those non-customers is $10/month. Premium has 15,000 hours of content; free has about 7,500 hours. All versions of Peacock will stream in 4K/HDR.

Here are the Premier League Peacock games this week as we give you a taste of what is to come.


Premier League on Peacock schedule

Wednesday, July 15: Burnley v. Wolves, 1 p.m. ET, Peacock
Wednesday, July 15: Man City v. Bournemouth, 1 p.m. ET, Peacock
Wednesday, July 15: Newcastle v. Tottenham, 1 p.m. ET, Peacock
Wednesday, July 15: Arsenal v. Liverpool, 3:15 p.m. ET, Peacock

Thursday, July 16: Southampton vs. Brighton, 3:15 pm ET

Chelsea – Norwich preview: How to watch, team news, odds, prediction

Chelsea - Norwich
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Chelsea – Norwich takes center stage on Tuesday (start time, 3:15pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) and all eyes are on the Blues as they try and take another big step towards the UEFA Champions League

CHELSEA – NORWICH STREAM

Frank Lampard has had his say on Man City’s UEFA ban being overturned as fifth place in the Premier League will no longer be a Champions League spot for next season.

Norwich were relegated from the Premier League on Saturday and will finish bottom of the table as Daniel Farke’s side have lost all six games since the Premier League restart.

[ MORE: Pulisic subbed out in loss at Blades ]

They have nothing to play for and Frank Lampard will be wary of that but also expecting a reaction from Chelsea after they were thrashed 3-0 at Sheffield United on Saturday.

Check out the Chelsea – Norwich team news and details, here.


Team news

Chelsea will be without star midfielder N’Golo Kante once again, while Andreas Christensen is fit to play after coming off injured at half time in the loss at Sheffield United.

Norwich could hand a start to Todd Cantwell, while Daniel Farke is still without Sam Byram, Christoph Zimmermann, Grant Hanley and Moritz Leitner who all have long-term injuries.


What they’re saying

Frank Lampard on respecting Norwich: “If you don’t turn up or don’t perform it doesn’t matter what momentum you feel you have, but having good home form recently is good for confidence. We have to carry on from the Watford game in particular. We have to treat Norwich with utmost respect. They have quality players; a lot of games I have seen them this season they have been unfortunate not to get results. That’s the nature of the Premier League, but we are expecting a very tough game.”

Norwich sporting director Stuart Webber on potentially selling players: “It’s a case of if somebody goes, it will be on our terms. It will be for a lot of money, but also, we have to respect what these players have done. Not only the young players but also the senior players, they’ve worked hard for this club and they’ve achieved a mini miracle by getting to the Premier League. We couldn’t quite achieve staying there but we can’t forget what these boys have done for the club so far. If there’s an offer which is right and the club is right for them, then we’ll give it the respect of listening to that.”


Odds and ends

Chelsea are the heavy favorites (-770) and a Norwich win would be a miracle (+1900) but this could be trickier than people think. Norwich are down but they have nothing to lose now. The tie at +800 could be a savvy bet. Chelsea edged Norwich 3-2 when they met earlier this season and there will be plenty of goals in this game too.


Prediction

There is no seeing past a big Chelsea win here as they need to win their final three games of the season to stay in the top four. Chelsea should score plenty of goals but can they keep them out at the other end? This will be fun. Norwich have noting to lose. I’m going for a 4-2 win to Chelsea.