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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.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 


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.

Pique: Copa-losing Barca still “really hurting” from UCL exit

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Barcelona was the favorite to win La Liga, the UEFA Champions League, and the Copa del Rey for the majority of the season, but only claimed one.

Liverpool’s amazing comeback to beat Barca in the second leg of the UCL semifinals met Saturday’s loss to Valencia in the Copa del Rey Final to give Barca a league title alone.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

Even with that La Liga advantage being decisive — Barca carried the table by 11 points over Atletico Madrid and finished 19 ahead of Real Madrid — there’s a very dour mood and promised change for the Camp Nou set.

And Gerard Pique says it all traces back to the loss against Liverpool. From The Liverpool Echo:

“I believe that if we had gotten through at Liverpool, we would have won the treble. We would have come here [to the Copa del Rey final] with a different mood, and I’m convinced we would have won the Champions League final, but that is football. We are really, really hurting.”

There are hints of a massive clear-out at Barcelona, with Lionel Messi and Pique two of the only safe bets to stay. When will Barca get over it?

Brazilian team tangles in locker room futmesa (video)

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It was defense versus attack in the Brazil dressing room.

Neymar and Gabriel Jesus squared off with international teammates Filipe Luis and Ederson in a game of futmesa/table soccer this week.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

Neymar and Filipe Luis are used to be on different sides of the field from their time in La Liga, while Jesus and Ederson are teammates at Manchester City.

Brazil is hosting this summer’s Copa America and is the favorite to win its first tournament since 2007, when it claimed its fourth in five tries.

It’s really impressive stuff for us normal to subpar athletes, even if standard for those with such deft talent.

Quite a winner from Man City’s young striker.

Jovic could see himself in Premier League, Serie A

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Maybe Luka Jovic’s presumed move to Real Madrid won’t happen this summer.

Or at all.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

The Eintracht Frankfurt striker has been tipped for a move away from the Bundesliga after another strong campaign, and taking the center forward reins from Karim Benzema at Real Madrid.

Several outlets reported the deal as done, but Jovic isn’t speaking that way (or at least the Serbian is throwing us off the scent.

From Goal.com:

“In terms of the physique, the Bundesliga is very demanding, but after the games against Chelsea or Inter Milan, I personally had the feeling that I could feel even better [playing] in the Premier League or Serie A. … The way the teams play there suits me better.”

Jovic scored 27 times in 48 appearances for Frankfurt, adding seven assists at the tender age of 21. Ten of those came in the Europa League, and we’re not talking about flooding the nets of minnows; Jovic scored against Chelsea (twice), Marseille (three), Lazio (two), and Inter Milan (once).

Report: Chelsea, Real $38M apart on Hazard

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How much for Hazard?

Real Madrid are willing to pay $127 million, no small fee, to bring Eden Hazard from Chelsea, but that’s well off the Blues’ evaluation according to Sky Sports.

Chelsea sees Hazard’s price as $165 million. Belgian writer Kristof Terreur told Sky that Hazard wants his future sorted by June 4.

[ MORE: Bayern wins double ]

The Blues’ superstar is entering the final year of his contract, and could begin negotiating with other clubs in January and leave on a free transfer.

Hazard turns 29 in January. He recorded 19 goals and 16 assists in 51 matches this season, his best output in a Blues uniform.

The report says Chelsea feels no pressure to sell Hazard, but it would be a surprise if it dug in its heels too deeply considering the state of the Belgian’s contract.

Even for Chelsea, letting over $100 million walk out the door is wild, and for all Hazard’s won with Chelsea there’s also been consternation under several managers and a more than occasional habit of disappointing on the table.