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2018 World Cup team preview: England

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Getting to know England: It’s been 28 years since England last reached the semifinals of the World Cup, but — and stop me if you’ve heard this before — this might just be the year the Three Lions reclaim their place as one of the world’s very best.

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For the first time this decade, injuries to key players aren’t a problem. For the first time this decade, the stars appear to be held to the exact same standards as everyone else on the roster. For the first time in nearly two decades, the squad is young (average age: 25.6 years old), ambitious, cohesive and full of ideas. For the first time in a very long time ever, expectations are extremely low and these Three Lions will outperform what is currently thought possible.

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What group are they in? Group F, where they’re second favorites to finish first, with an outside shot at beating Belgium to the top spot. That England-Belgium matchup will likely determine first place on the final day of the group.

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

Monday, June 18: Tunisia vs. England, Volgograd, 2 p.m. ET
Sunday, June 24: England vs. Panama, Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET
Thursday, June 28: England vs. Belgium, Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET


Projected lineup (3-5-2) – Check out the 23-man squad list in full

— Pickford —

— Walker —— Stones —— Cahill —

— Dier —

— Trippier —— Alli ——  Henderson —— Rose —

— Kane —— Sterling —


Star player: Harry Kane – 30 goals in the Premier League, plus another 11 in the Champions League and FA Cup — 2017-18 was the first time Kane surpassed the 40-goal mark in a season, but not the first time he’d come close (35 last season). Since becoming Tottenham Hotspur’s main man in the 2014-15 season — just after the last World Cup — he’s scored 135 goals in 187 appearances across all competitions (105 in 139 in the PL). Arguably the best no. 9 in the world, the next month could be Kane’s arrival to super-duper-stardom.

(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Manager: Gareth Southgate – The former England defender (57 caps) has been in charge since Roy Hodgson departed post-EURO 2016, and guided the Three Lions to an unbeaten qualifying campaign, with draws away to Slovenia and Scotland. The 47-year-old has been pretty consistent in playing a back-three, affording an extra body in midfield and typically deploying a partnership up top rather than a lone figure.


Secret weapon: Raheem Sterling – It’s a bit rich to call a player who’s coming off of a 18-goal, 11-assist season (in the PL; 23 and 12 in all competitions) a “secret” weapon, but with all the attention Kane’s getting — and rightly so — it feels like Sterling’s something of a forgotten man. His versatility and ability to operate in all different areas of attack — wide right as a winger; wide left as an inside forward; through the center as a second striker off a bigger man in Kane — make him the perfect piece to shift around the field when Southgate looks to change shape.


Prediction: The round of 16 is the bare minimum expectation, and they’ll get there, at which point it’s all about the matchup in the knockout rounds. Finishing second means a likely meeting with Germany in the quarterfinals, while winning the group would likely set up a battle with Brazil for a place in the semifinals.

Carlos Vela scored a celestial goal. We are blessed to have seen it

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Carlos Vela is making all other spectacular individual MLS seasons look run of the mill.

I mean, look at the gumption on this guy.

[ VIDEO: Rooney sent off, Kamara scores golazo ]

The Cancun-born playmaker left the San Jose Earthquakes back line on the beach with a soft shoe routine to give LAFC its third goal in a 4-0 win on Thursday

Vela, 30, now has 25 goals and 11 assists in 25 league matches for LAFC this season. He added two goals and an assist in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play.

But this one, yeah, this one takes the cake.

First, there’s Vela’s non-chalant dummy before picking up the pass.

Then, there’s Florian Jungwirth’s body language during and after his being cooked with a nutmeg. That’s an entire mood.

Next, Vela dribbles around the keeper and allows a slide tackler so glide past him before finishing with aplomb, the magic touch his going near post as if to say, “Can I beat this guy a second time, or do I have to use the easier route?”

Diego Rossi also had a goal and an assist, while Mark-Anthony Kaye continued his strong season with an assist to ex-Fiorentina prospect Joshua Perez. It’s a first MLS goal for the California-born Perez, now 21.

WATCH: Rooney sees red for forearm shiver, Kamara scores golazo

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Midweek MLS provided plenty to talk about on Wednesday, with two red cards and a golazo in one match alone.

The two main talking points from the New York Red Bulls’ 2-1 win over DC United weren’t really part of what led the victors to three points.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

How? Well, one of the world’s marquee names earned a red card via VAR and a returning star scores an absolute stunner, that’s how.

Here’s Ola Kamara’s debut marker for the Black-and-Red, adding to a record which included 49 goals in 97 matches between Columbus and the LA Galaxy before moving to the Chinese Super League for a wildly disappointing time with Shenzhen FC.

All of that is forgotten.

As for the Rooney incident, the Red Bulls already led 1-0 when DC’s star striker went forearm shiver on Cristian Casseres Jr.

It’s the second red of the season for Rooney, who is set for Derby County in January.

Amro Tarek was later sent off for the Red Bulls, who moved ahead of DC in the standings. Kaku and Daniel Royer had RBNY’s goals.

Newcastle takeover could be back on if in holiday relegation battle

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How much do Newcastle United supporters dislike their owner Mike Ashley right now?

Enough that this report is likely to condemn many to hoping their favorite club in the world is in the Bottom 3 come Christmas.

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The Chronicle’s Mark Douglas speculates that Ashley will lower his asking price for the club if it is in a relegation fight come December — something that looks certain after the Steve Bruce-led Magpies got bossed around by promoted Norwich City.

Nothing But Newcastle transcribed Douglas’ chatter from his podcast, in which he says,

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we hear more in December because there are still people sniffing around that football club and if the team are in the bottom three, there’ll be people thinking they can get a bargain out of Mike Ashley again. … He will probably more open to listening to lower offers in January and December which is what happened last December. He was basically saying ‘take it off my hands, you now have to take the risk’'”

This is notable for two reasons. First: the social experiment of wondering how many fans could see themselves rooting for their team to take a major and perilous back step just to see the back of a man they perceive is at the root of their failures (and that perception is widespread in this case).

But second, we can see if this rumor comes true because it’s difficult to imagine Newcastle as comfortably mid table by Christmas.

Fan protests and anger are nothing new, but here’s an effort to show how wobbly Ashley’s reputation is on Tyneside: Fans have taken to selling a black and white striped shirt with player name and number but no sponsor just so they can have a Newcastle jersey that doesn’t put money into Ashley’s pockets. And this is after he broke the club’s transfer record twice in one year.

If we’ve learned anything from the past few seasons, though, it’s that boycotts and anger will spur Ashley into insisting that he’s willing to sell and just conveniently enough it will be before the January transfer window. He “won’t be able to buy any players” with the takeover in play, and talks will hit a wall come late January, when they’ll loan a couple young players from Top Six sides.

Yes he spent significant money on Joelinton, Allen Saint-Maximin, and others this summer, but one decent window doesn’t make a culture. Count us amongst the skeptical, for now.

Messi back in training, could be fit for Betis

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi was back in full training again on Wednesday and may be fit to face Real Betis in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Messi had been training separately from the squad since injuring his right calf in the preseason.

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

Barcelona has not said how long it expects Messi to be sidelined.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Coach Ernesto Valverde is also dealing with injuries to forwards Luiz Suarez and Ousmane Dembele.

Dembele is certain to miss Sunday’s match at the Camp Nou because of a left thigh injury that should keep him out for about five weeks.

Suarez also isn’t likely to play this weekend because of a muscle injury sustained before halftime of Friday’s game in Bilbao.

Two-time defending champion Barcelona hadn’t loss a league opener in 10 seasons.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports