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Brazil experiments with a new ‘magic quartet’ at World Cup

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Brazil will be experimenting with a new version of the “magic quartet” in Russia.

More than a decade after the five-time world champions arrived for the World Cup in Germany with its prolific foursome of Ronaldinho, Kaka, Ronaldo and Adriano, Brazil is set to use a “Fab Four” of Neymar, Willian, Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus to try to win its first title since 2002.

[ MORE: Putin interrupts Russian press conference ]

It will be the first time Brazil brings a prominent attacking foursome like the one that attracted all the headlines 12 years ago.

Brazil coach Tite still hasn’t announced his starting lineup for the opener against Switzerland in Rostov-on-Don on Sunday, but all signs show that he will stick to the quartet that helped the team ease past Austria in its final warm-up match last week.

It was the first time the four players started together under Tite, and the lineup earned nothing but praise after the convincing 3-0 win.

“This formation is a very strong one,” Tite said. “It gives us a lot of creativity and aggressiveness.”

Tite had said the performance against Austria would likely determine whether he would keep the foursome for the World Cup opener. Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Coutinho each scored for Brazil in Vienna.

Tite used the Fab Four formation in parts of the team’s practice session on Tuesday.

The quartet is considered Brazil’s ideal lineup but it hadn’t played much together until now for various reasons, including Neymar’s absence since February because of a foot injury. The game against Austria marked his first start since recovering from the injury. He had come off the bench in the second half of the team’s 2-0 win over Croatia in Liverpool.

The foursome had been together only three other times, and not for many minutes. Douglas Costa had played in Neymar’s position most of the time, and Renato Augusto had been Tite’s preferred option to compose the midfield instead of Willian.

The coach tested the quartet formation in the friendly against Russia in March, but with Costa up front instead of the injured Neymar. Brazil won that match, also 3-0.

The concept of the Brazilian magic quartet first gained prominence at the 2005 Confederations Cup, which Brazil won. It clinched the title with a 4-1 win over Argentina in the final, when Adriano scored twice and Kaka and Ronaldinho added a goal each. Then-coach Carlos Alberto Parreira used Robinho in the attack instead of Ronaldo, who didn’t play because of personal reasons.

Ronaldo was fully available by the time the World Cup arrived, and Brazil was heavily favored to win the title in Germany with the quartet back together. But after cruising past the group stage and easily eliminating Ghana in the round of 16, Brazil’s much-hyped foursome lost to France 1-0 in the quarterfinals.

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

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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.

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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.