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World Cup players juggle national team and fatherhood

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MOSCOW (AP) Having a baby is even more important than playing in the World Cup for some.

Three dads-to-be have made trips home from Russia to welcome a child, with the blessing of coaches and teammates.

[ MORE: Real denies Neymar offer ]

On Tuesday, Fabian Delph will likely miss England’s match against Colombia in the round of 16 while awaiting the birth of his third child.

“Some things in life are more important than football,” England coach Gareth Southgate said Monday. “His focus needs to be with his family at this time.”

Southgate echoed a view of parenting that runs through the World Cup.

Switzerland forward Breel Embolo is preparing to face Sweden on Tuesday after dashing home within hours of a 2-2 draw with Costa Rica last week. The 21-year-old Embolo saw his daughter born and described it as “the most beautiful 24 hours” of his life.

The family-friendly trend was started by Denmark’s players, who helped send teammate Jonas Knudsen home in a private jet. Knudsen’s daughter was not due until after the tournament, but the team wanted him to see her right away.

“It’s a bit of perspective in life,” Southgate said. “Everybody says you only get one chance to be in a World Cup but also there’s only one day in your life where your children are born.”

In soccer, players fulfil their family duties at the discretion of team leaders.

Paternity leave is mandated in Major League Baseball. A rule was passed in 2011 allowing teams to place a player on the paid paternity leave list for 1-3 days if he is “the father of a child whose delivery or adoption is imminent or has occurred within the prior 48 hours.”

[ MORE: Kovacic, Plea in PL transfer links ]

The rule did not spare then-New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy in April 2014 from criticism on sports radio for taking two days off with his wife and newborn son.

However, the backlash against radio hosts Boomer Esiason and Mike Francesa – who said Murphy could “hire a nurse” if his wife needed help beyond one day – showed that athletes have public support to be good fathers.

In 2013, golfer Hunter Mahan won praise for leaving a tournament he led by two shots to return home for the unexpectedly early birth of his first child.

“Thanks to all to my sponsors who appreciate what’s important in life and all my fans for being Awesome!” Mahan wrote on his Twitter account.

It was not always so in soccer. A notorious English case in 1989 saw a player with Queen’s Park Rangers fined two weeks’ salary for missing an away game to attend a birth.

The manager who ordered the fine, for England player Trevor Francis, was fired soon after.

The subject is still a dilemma for Sweden captain Andreas Granqvist, who on Tuesday is set to play against Switzerland in what is likely his last World Cup at the age of 33. Granqvist has stayed in Russia with the approval of his wife, Sofie, who is overdue to give birth to their second child in Sweden.

“I’m fully focused on the game tomorrow and my wife is very strong,” Granqvist said Monday.

Southgate acknowledged his decision to release Delph, who played in England’s two previous games, would not always have been approved.

“My father’s generation and those before them would view that differently,” said the England coach, who is building a reputation for smart and thoughtful handling of his players. “But you have got to be there for your family.”

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

AT HALF: Alexander-Arnold’s sensational goal highlight of wild 45 minutes

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An insane first half between Chelsea and Liverpool yielded three goals, two that counted, and one that was a thing of pure beauty at Stamford Bridge.

Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s goal was the beautiful part, while Roberto Firmino has also scored and Mason Mount‘s toe couldn’t skip past VAR in the run-up to Cesar Azpilicueta’s overruled goal.

A free kick atop the Chelsea 18 came Liverpool’s way after Andreas Christensen got tangled with Sadio Mane.

[ STREAM: Chelsea v. Liverpool (NBCSN) ]

A training ground play had Salah roll a shot pass for Alexander-Arnold to belt past Kepa Arrizabalaga in the 15th minute.

The goal is Alexander-Arnold’s first in 10 months for the Reds, who are bidding to go 6-0 to start the season. That’s above, and here’s Firmino’s below:

10-man Wolves level late against pitiful Palace defending

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Wolves fought back for a deserved point via a last-second equalizer, as Crystal Palace’s stoppage time silliness allowed a 1-1 draw at Selhurst Park on Sunday.

A Leander Dendoncker own goal put the Eagles in front, and Palace was up a man when Romain Saiss took his second yellow with 18 minutes to play.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

But danger man Jeff Schlupp was denied in the box by star man Rui Patricio minutes before Diogo Jota capitalized on Palace allowed a silver platter cross to get to his feet.

Wolves are still winless, with four draws through six matches, and sit 19th. Palace’s eighth point has it 12th on the table.


Three things we learned

1. Ward giveth, and taketh away: Joel Ward forced the own goal that gave Palace the lead when his wild drive through traffic turned off Leander Dendoncker to defy Rui Patricio, but his inexplicable stooping, missed intervention on the game winner was stunning. More on that below.

2. Wolves fight to death to find easy winner: Adama Traore, Jonny Otto, and the Wolves attack did not bow their heads after Palace took their fortunate lead nor after Romain Saiss’ second yellow card sent them diown a man, and Nuno Espirito Santo will love how his men fought to the final whistle while making timely interventions at the back (and taking advantage of Palace misfires).

Wilfried Zaha was dispossessed and it took three uncontested passes down the left of the Palace shape for Traore to find himself one-on-one with Patrick Van Aanholt. The Dutch defender played off Traore, who simply swept a cross to the back post. A chest trap, volley or 900 other things from Joel Ward could’ve ended the game, but he tried and missed a diving header that allowed Jota two touches to roof into an empty cage.

3. Silly from Saiss should’ve sealed it: Romain Saiss was sitting on yellow for a foul on Wilfried Zaha when he went out of his way to foul the Ivorian right on the touch line. Both managers saw the clear foul up close and personal, and Nuno Espirito Santo will certainly not like the idea of trusting Saiss again after his automatic ban.

Man of the Match: Vicente Guaita — The Crystal Palace goalkeeper was sensational in the draw, and the only reason Wolves weren’t ahead well before the Dendoncker own goal.


[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

An early corner kick led to a James McArthur goal mouth block of Leander Dendoncker’s low drive toward the near post, as Wolves got their first pressure on Palace following an opening 10 minutes that belonged largely to the hosts.

Palace’s Ayew headed a Luka Milivojevic corner into the arms of Rui Patricio in the 26th.

Vicente Guaita made the play of the first half when Raul Jimenez looped a cross over Mamadou Sakho to an unmarked Matt Doherty. The powered header was slapped away by a flying Guaita to keep it scoreless.

The keeper was again called upon when a 1-2 allowed Diogo Jota to lash a shot on goal in the 38th.

Palace took a stunning lead within 40 seconds of halftime, as Ward’s hard drive took a big turn off Dendoncker to spin past Patricio. The sequence began with Jeff Schlupp dribbling Willy Boly, the latter being imperious for most of his season.

By the time Romain Saiss was shown his second yellow for a fouls on Wilfried Zaha, the game felt academic. Would the 10-man Wolves find anything in the final 18 minutes?

The opposite, really, as Schlupp cued up substitute Christian Benteke which looked set for glory until the Belgian took an extra touch and drove into the arms of Patricio.

West Ham surges past tame Manchester United

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Manuel Pellegrini‘s West Ham United passed a big test, moving into the Top Four with a decisive 2-0 defeat of struggling Manchester United at London’s Olympic Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Andriy Yarmolenko and Aaron Cresswell scored on either side of halftime to send West Ham fourth with 11 points.

Man United remains eighth with eighth, and lost Marcus Rashford to injury.


Three things we learned

1. Healthy Yarmolenko a big asset: Injuries short-circuited Andriy Yarmolenko’s first year at West Ham after they did the same to his only campaign at Borussia Dortmund, so it’s been easy to forget that the Ukraine playmaker is pacey, creative, and lethal. His lunging finish to beat De Gea in the first half was simply one moment of a match full of good ones, as he fooled Harry Maguire in the process. Three shots, a key pass, and a goal from the right-sided wide man. Good stuff.

2. Pogba import underscored as Rashford adds to injury woes: With Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba already out, the non-contact injury that sent Marcus Rashford to the tunnel is a scary thought for a United team incapable of creative work through the middle. Andreas Pereira was a danger out wide, and Daniel James has proven himself a handful, but a long-term injury to Rashford would heap pressure on young Mason Greenwood. Without Pogba pulling the strings inside — forget Martial’s early season wizardry — this team is in big, big trouble.

Not great, Ed.

3. Technique on return: Aaron Cresswell had a free kick from the right of the 18, with the wall lined up to stop any ideas of a near post effort. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work. The West Ham left back swept a piece of technical beauty over the wall, spinning it into the upper 90 despite the best efforts of David De Gea. Sensational.

Man of the Match: Yarmolenko.


[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Andreas Pereira’s industrious run up the right forced a hard obstruction out of Angelo Ogbonna, who collected a yellow card.

Andriy Yarmolenko was bright early, and linked up with Felipe Anderson to curl a shot into the arms of David De Gea in the 20th minute.

Marcus Rashford drove into the box then was thrown-off by the oncoming Declan Rice and bobbled his dribble, allowing the West Ham man to take the ball away.

De Gea had to make a save on a half-hit Mark Noble strike which was re-directed by Victor Lindelof.

Yarmolenko scored before halftime, Noble and Anderson working the ball inside for the Ukrainian to cut past De Gea through traffic. Beautiful stuff, and it forced a rare mistake out of Harry Maguire.

The second half started well for United, with Juan Mata missing a sliding effort at the back post set up by Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay bundled a shot to Lukasz Fabianski in the 57th.

That’s when Rashford limped off following a non-contact injury.

Yarmolenko set up Anderson for a near post drive that De Gea foiled in the 62nd.

Cresswell made it 2-0 from a free kick in the 84th, De Gea somehow getting a hand to the left-back’s piece of technical beauty.

Watch Live: Chelsea v. Liverpool, Arsenal v. Aston Villa

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We’ve got two more London-hosted Premier League matches for your Sunday morning.

[ STREAM: Chelsea-Liverpool | Arsenal-Villa ]


There will be tests of depth and hunger, as Liverpool and Chelsea meet at Stamford Bridge off of midweek losses in the UEFA Champions League (Watch live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

Christian Pulisic is on the bench again as Mason Mount passes fit and Willian gets the other wing.

As for Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp is deploying his choicest XI for the occasion, aside from Alisson Becker’s continued absence through injury.

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Chelsea:

Liverpool


On another side of London, Arsenal will look to build on its midweek and forget about last weekend when it hosts Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium (Watch live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold, online via NBCSports.com)

Unai Emery is going to start 18-year-old Bukayo Saka after the youngster was the easy Man of the Match against Eintracht Frankfurt at midweek.

He’ll team with Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

No major surprises for Dean Smith‘s Villa.

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Arsenal

Aston Villa