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2018 World Cup preview: Belgium

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Getting to know Belgium: If there’s a country that needs to validate itself in 2018 it is Belgium. Many nations go through phases of “golden generations” and for the Red Devils, that time is now. In Brazil, Belgium earned its best finish since the 1986 World Cup, when the team reached the quarterfinals. However, expectations have risen further for Roberto Martinez’s side as they approach this summer as one of the tournament’s favorites.

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A host of Premier League stars, including Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku lead a front line for Belgium that might be unmatched in the global game. Meanwhile, familiar faces in the back like Jan Vertonghen and captain Vincent Kompany provide a stable defensive unit to sit in front of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

For more on Belgium’s history, click this link.

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What group are they in? The Red Devils reside in Group G with England, Panama and Tunisia. That makes Belgium — currently ranked third in the latest FIFA World Rankings — the clear-cut favorites to top the group.


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

Monday, June 18: Belgium v Panama, Sochi 11 am, ET

Saturday, June 23: Belgium v Tunisia, Moscow  8 am, ET

Thursday, June 28: England v Belgium, Kaliningrad 2 pm, ET


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

Courtois

Alderweireld ——- Kompany ———- Vertonghen

 Meunier —– De Bruyne —- Witsel —— Carrasco

Mertens —- Lukaku —- Hazard

 


Star player: Kevin De Bruyne — This is so tricky because you could easily make the case for four or five players in Belgium’s squad, but after the season De Bruyne had at Manchester City, a lot will be expected of the playmaker in Russia. He’s quick, skillful and deadly accurate in distribution, which makes him one of the most interesting talents to watch at the World Cup.


Manager: Roberto Martinez — Although he often receives heat for some of his past inconsistencies at Everton, Martinez has done quite well under Martinez’s brief tenure. That said, he hasn’t had the opportunity to manage a major competition to this point, and with the amount of skillful players in the Red Devils squad, he could be on a short leash.


Secret weapon: Michy Batshuayi — For all the skill and grace in the Belgium starting XI, there is a bit of a drop off on the bench, particularly in terms of attacking players. Batshuayi is an intriguing player because he was brilliant after moving to Borussia Dortmund on loan in 2017-18. An unfortunate injury halted him from having more success, but if he can regain his form from the Bundesliga side, Martinez could have a legitimate threat off the bench or potentially use him alongside Lukaku up front.

AP Photo/Martin Meissner

Prediction: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Belgium should be among the favorites to hoist the World Cup, which would be the nation’s first in its history. They’re getting out of the group stage, and probably unscathed. England is solid, but if Belgium is at their best, they’re winning that match. If things shape up as expected, the Red Devils could get Brazil in the quarterfinals, which would obviously be tricky, but there’s strong belief from us that they could get beyond the last eight.

Serie A: Juventus edge past Parma; Napoli-Fiorentina thriller (video)

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Liverpool bests wobbly Arsenal at Anfield | Player ratings ]

Parma 0-1 Juventus

Juventus’ quest to win a ninth straight Serie A title began with a win away to Parma on Saturday, but only just barely. Giorgio Chiellini scored the game’s only goal in the 21st minute, redirecting Alex Sandro’s half-volley past the goalkeeper after a corner kick wasn’t fully cleared. The victory sets Maurizio Sarri‘s side (Sarri wasn’t in charge of the team on Saturday as he continues to recover from pneumonia) on its way in a season that figures to feature multiple challengers to the throne, with Napoli and Inter Milan each strengthening their squads considerably in the summer. Sarri will also miss out on next weekend’s heavyweight clash between Juve and last season’s runners-up Napoli at Allianz Stadium.

Cristiano Ronaldo had a goal taken off the board after the video-assistant referee picked up on the narrowest of offside calls.

$85-million center back Matthijs de Ligt was named to the bench, where he remained for the entirety of 90 minutes, with veterans Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci preferred to the 20-year-old. Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon joined De Ligt on the bench in his return to Juve after spending last season at Paris Saint-Germain.

Fiorentina 3-4 Napoli

Napoli’s 4-3 victory over Fiorentina was a truly wild ride. There is no other way to describe it.

Napoli went from a goal down inside the first 10 minutes, to 2-1 up just before halftime, level at 2-2 in the 52nd minute, 3-2 ahead just four minutes later, level at 3-3 in the 65th, and finally 4-3 ahead just two minutes later.

Dries Mertens (38th), Lorenzo Insigne (43rd and 67th) and Jose Callejon (56th) got the goals for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.

Hirving Lozano, who joined Napoli for $44 million on Friday, wasn’t yet available to make his debut but will only add another level of quality to what has proven to be an already impressive attacking unit.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Udinese v. AC Milan — 12 p.m. ET
Roma v. Genoa — 2:45 p.m. ET
Sampdoria v. Lazio — 2:45 p.m. ET
Cagliari v. Brescia — 2:45 p.m. ET
Verona v. Bologna — 2:45 p.m. ET
SPAL v. Atalanta — 2:45 p.m. ET
Torino v. Sassuolo — 2:45 p.m. ET

Messi to miss Barcelona’s next game; Suarez, Dembele also out

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi has been left out of Barcelona’s squad to face Real Betis in the Spanish league on Sunday.

[ MORE: Liverpool bests wobbly Arsenal at Anfield | Player ratings ]

Messi returned to training this week after recovering from a right calf injury picked up in preseason, but the Argentina star was not included in the list of players available for the team’s home opener at Camp Nou Stadium.

He missed the team’s 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the league opener last weekend.

Coach Ernesto Valverde is also without forwards Luiz Suarez and Ousmane Dembele because of injuries.

Klopp preens after Liverpool win: ‘Our identity is intensity’

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Liverpool and Arsenal entertained on Saturday, with the Reds earning a deserved 3-1 win and keeping the Gunners off-kilter for most of the day.

Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds pushed the tempo for much of the match and overcame some wobbly moments at the back to cruise to the win.

[ MORE: Liverpool-Arsenal recap | 3 things ]

They were tough, fiery, and deserved every bit of the win. And Klopp knows it, and knows that you know it. From the BBC:

“Our identity is intensity, and we showed that today. … We were a bit surprised by their system. We couldn’t know that they would play a diamond, but we switched things around and coped very well.

“The last 10 minutes I saw the possession – 53 to 47 or something like that – but over 80 minutes it must have been completely different. For 80 minutes we were completely in charge of the game. We are not Disneyland, we do not need to excite everyone in every second.”

This guy is an absolute beauty. Even those who despise him have to admit that we are lucky to have him.

Klopp’s men lapsed late and allowed a Lucas Torreira goal. The defense has been wobbly over the first three weeks of the season, and preseason was just as rough. Klopp would’ve loved a clean sheet for the first time since the first week of preseason, but he’s happy with the performance.

“I would have loved to have it, but things can happen. They’re a quality side, Arsenal. I didn’t see that many chances, but we were really in charge today and completely deserved the win.”

Liverpool is off to Burnley next, and then will enjoy the international break.

Bundesliga wrap: Lewandowski scores hat trick for Bayern; USMNT’s Morales scores

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What a good day (well, 2 days) for the visitors.

[ MORE: Liverpool-Arsenal recap | 3 things ]

Bayern, Gladbach, Bayer, and Freiburg joined Friday winners Borussia Dortmund in being in the away locker room and the win column on Saturday in the Bundesliga.

Newly-promoted Union Berlin got a point away from home, too, and Werder Bremen scored twice and nearly took a point off Werder Bremen.

Boo home teams. Boo.

Schalke 0-3 Bayern Munich

A Robert Lewandowski hat trick betrayed a halfway decent effort by Schalke as Bayern rebounded from a season-opening draw to claim all three points at the Veltins Arena.

On the American side, only Bayern’s Joshua Kimmich covered more ground than Schalke’s Weston McKennie’s 12.36 km. McKennie registered a shot and completed 32 of his 34 passes.

Mainz 1-3 Borussia Monchengladbach

Stefan Lainer, Alassane Plea, and Breel Embolo all scored in Gladbach’s comeback from an early concession.

USMNT midfielder Fabian Johnson subbed off after 79 minutes after Embolo scored Gladbach’s final goal, registering 10 won tackles.

Fortuna Dusseldorf 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen

USMNT goalkeeper and Man City loanee Zack Steffen had a Man of the Match performance last week for the hosts, and was under siege again this time to less success.

An American player did produce a goal in the contest, with Alfredo Morales scoring for his fourth-consecutive Bundesliga campaign. Throw in the second tier, and the midfielder has scored in eight-straight German seasons between his current team, Ingolstadt, and Hertha Berlin.

Morales covered the second-most ground for Dusseldorf. At 29, could he be one of the new faces that Gregg Berhalter wants to see this September with the USMNT? Probably not, but it’d be neat.

Elsewhere

Koln 1-3 Borussia Dortmund — Friday
Augsburg 1-1 Union Berlin
Paderborn 1-3 Freiburg
Hoffenheim 3-2 Werder Bremen
RB Leipzig v. Eintracht Frankfurt — 9:30 am. ET Sunday
Hertha Berlin v. Wolfsburg — Noon ET Sunday