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World Cup, Group B preview: Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Iran

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Portugal: The reigning European champions will rely on Cristiano Ronaldo to inspire them and score their goals, but a wily defensive unit and talented midfield means they could go deep in this competition. READ FULL TEAM PREVIEW

Spain: Many are backing Spain to win this tournament and with David Silva and Andres Iniesta running the show, plus David De Gea in fine form in goal, it will be tough to wrestle the initiative from the Spaniards. They will not face the humiliation of a second-straight exit at the World Cup group stage. READ FULL TEAM PREVIEW

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Morocco: Some extremely talented players sprinkled into their squad, Morocco know they must win their opening game against Iran to have any chance of advancing. READ FULL TEAM PREVIEW

Iran: See above. Carlos Quieroz has built a solid unit in Iran, but they most beat Morocco with their final group games against Spain and Portugal. READ FULL TEAM PREVIEW

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


Who’s going through: If Spain and Portugal do not make it through, it will be because Morocco have delivered on their promise. But seriously, Spain and Portugal will go through and will fancy their chances of at least making the last eight as Group A isn’t strong and they’ll face the top two from that group in the Round of 16 matches.

 [ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Who’s going home: We could see a surprise from Iran and Morocco, but it seems highly unlikely.

Marquee match: Friday, June 15: Portugal v Spain, Sochi, 2pm ET

Top 5 players to watch
1)Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal
2) David Silva – Spain
3) Diego Costa – Spain
4) David de Gea – Spain
5) Bernardo Silva – Portugal

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.