England inspire nation as Premier League stars shine

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England have reached their first World Cup semifinal since 1990 and in doing so they’ve inspired an entire nation to once again believe in their national team.

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After plenty of heartbreak over the past five decades since their only major trophy, the World Cup in 1966, England is united behind the Three Lions.

Ahead of the 2018 World Cup tournament, nobody either at home or abroad gave Gareth Southgate‘s young side much hope of advancing to the latter stages.

But with the Three Lions, the youngest team left in the competition, facing Croatia in Moscow on Wednesday for a place in the final, an entire nation is behind their likable, hard-working squad.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“Football’s Coming Home” is the new mantra for every English man and woman, even if many started signing it ironically as they didn’t believe this would be the case at all. The song, originally released to help England win on home soil at EURO ’96, has now surged back to the top of the charts in the UK amid the patriotic euphoria surrounding captain Harry Kane and Co.

“It’s amazing to meet any heroes from ’66 and it gives you so much inspiration, obviously it’s been a long time since England have done well in a major tournament,” Kane said. “As a player and as a professional I know that I have a job, on and off the pitch, to inspire people and inspire kids watching this tournament. It’s amazing because I was one of those kids growing up who wanted to play for England. So to be here now, leading this team out, I’m so proud.”

Pride. Unity. Respect. All three have been forthcoming in recent weeks as England’s youngster have eased into the semifinals in Russia. Most of their fans have looked on delighted, yet slightly bemused, as all they’ve known is heartache and disappoint as the “golden generation” of David Beckham, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard came and went without a trip past the last eight of a major tournament.

On the streets of England the words “it’s coming home” is being muttered, yelled and sung by millions as the Three Lions, for once, have inspired a nation with huge watch parties up and down the land leading to pints of beer flying into the sky in celebration time and time again.

Even Southgate, who got the England job after being promoted from the U-21 boss following Sam Allardyce’s disgraceful sacking, has become a symbol of hope as his kind, courteous demeanour has been a breath of fresh air. He looks, and acts, like your favorite uncle as his waistcoats have become legendary and #GarethSouthgateWould sums up his character perfectly.

With England, and the rest of the UK, currently embroiled in political turmoil regarding Brexit and a deteriorating relationship with Russia, the national team have brought the nation together at least for a few weeks.

Southgate hit the nail on the head when he spoke about England fans from different backgrounds now feeling that this is their team with his players representative of the multi-cultural British society.

“We are a team with our diversity and with our youth that represents modern England,” Southgate said. “In England we’ve spent a bit of time being a bit lost as to what our modern identity is and I think as a team we represent that modern identity, and hopefully people can connect with us.”

And it’s not just the English national team who have benefited from fielding youngsters used to playing in the hustle and bustle of the Premier League.

Both Belgium and France, who face off in the other semifinal in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday, have been led by young squads, many of whom flourish week in, week out in England’s top-flight.

In total there are 41 Premier League players remaining at the World Cup out of a total of 92 players. That’s quite remarkable.

England have 23 PL players. Belgium have 12. France five. Croatia one.

When you look at the Europe’s other top leagues, 12 players from La Liga remain, plus nine from the Bundesliga, 12 from Ligue 1 and eight from Serie A. The Premier League has been one of the biggest winners from this World Cup, as stars such as Harry Kane, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba and Hugo Lloris have shone.

Tottenham Hotspur has more players remaining at the World Cup than any other club on the planet with nine and you can point to the likes of Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino mangaging in the Premier League in having a huge impact on how England have fared due to their faith in giving young English players a chance to shine.

The financial muscle of the Premier League makes it tough for young Englishman to break through, but we are starting to see that the ones who do make it are not only worthy of their spot on the national stage but also the global one.

England have given their nation reason to dream and the Premier League stars who litter the final four will make sure those dreams continue to be met in stadiums across the country for the 2018/19 campaign and beyond.

Even if football isn’t coming home, the state of the English national team and the Premier League is very healthy indeed.


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

WATCH: Ruben Neves spins an otherworldly ball over David De Gea

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Let us introduce you to your latest Goal of the Season contender.

Ruben Neves, who seemingly only scores beauties, struck again on Monday at the Molineux.

[ MORE: Neymar to Barca ]

The 22-year-old Portuguese playmaker loves to shoot as much as anyone, and set himself up clinically for his latest amazing marker.

Once Neves collected the ball atop the 18, he spun this magnificent effort over the flying David De Gea and off the underside of the bar to restore the deadlock in Wolverhampton.

De Gea may well have responded to this goal by quoting Ron Burgundy when Baxter ate the entire wheel of cheese.

Sensational.

AT HALF: Martial, Rashford team up for impressive opener

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Manchester United has a stylish opening goal in its quest to go a perfect 2-for-2 in Premier League play.

After quality passing in traffic ended with Marcus Rashford slipping a through ball in to both Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial, the Frenchman bolted a ball into the upper reaches of the net.

[ STREAM: Wolves – Man Utd ]

To be honest, Rui Patricio had little recourse.

The goal is Martial’s second of the season, and United is 45 minutes away from moving atop the league.

Report: Barcelona will make Neymar loan offer

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The most expensive player in the world may be going back to his old club…on loan.

According to a report by ESPNFC, Barcelona will make an official approach for Neymar on a loan with an option to buy next summer, similar to the switch Philippe Coutinho made from the Camp Nou to Bayern Munich earlier today. In fact, the report specifically states that Barcelona will look to copy Bayern’s approach of a one-year loan with a fee ($9.4 million for Coutinho’s loan) plus all wages paid, followed by an option to buy ($133 million).

Barcelona prefers this approach as they have already racked up a massive transfer bill this summer, spending over $220 million on the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong, Junior Firpo, and Neto.

While there have been numerous reports of potentially creative offers for Neymar over the past few weeks that mention players included in a swap deal, the ESPNFC report specifically states no players will be included in any current or future deal for Neymar either in the terms of the loan or as part of the option to buy. While Barcelona considered this approach in the past, Paris Saint-Germain was reportedly not interested in any players Barca offered, other than Coutinho. They apparently made an official offer already, ponying up $89 million plus Coutinho and Ivan Rakitic, but that was turned down.

The ESPN report does state that Coutinho’s loan to Bayern is seen by those close to Neymar as “a huge setback” as the Brazilian’s camp saw Coutinho as the key to making the deal happen, given that Barcelona is unwilling to put up a straight cash offer this summer. Unnamed Barcelona officials are also quoted in the report as stating that a for a potential Neymar deal, “it will be complicated,” but they are hopeful of progress.

The option to buy in Barcelona’s offer has reportedly not been decided upon as of yet, although previous reports have stated that PSG is unlikely to consider an offer that does not net them back what they paid for Neymar two years ago, to the tune of $245 million.

Watch Live: Wolves v. Man United

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Manchester United travels to Monlieux to take on their boogy team as Wolverhampton Wanderers look to make it four straight without a loss against the Red Devils across all competitions (Watch live, 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

The last time Manchester United beat Wolves was in 2012 when they won 5-0 at Monlieux in a season that saw Wolves eventually relegated. They were winless in all three matches against Wolves last season, including two in Premier League action and one in domestic cup play. To end that drought, they’ll need to break a Wolves streak of eight consecutive top-flight matches unbeaten at home, making their midlands ground a fortress of late.

WATCH WOLVES v. MAN UNITED LIVE ONLINE HERE

To help snap the streak, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has handed winger Daniel James a full debut, coming into the side in place of Andreas Pereira as the only change from the team that topped Chelsea 4-0 to begin the season. Juan Mata stays stuck on the bench, while Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, and Anthony Martial all spearhead the attack alongside James. Paul Pogba again partners with Scott McTominay in midfield to reprise a duo that was fabulous against the Blues. Alexis Sanchez remains out of the squad, although Solskjaer confirmed he is “close” to a return.

For Wolves, they deploy an unchanged side from the opening day draw with Leicester City. Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez are back leading the lines after being rested midweek for their Europa League win over Pyunik. Nuno again deploys a 5-3-2, with wingers Johnny and Matt Doherty serving as wing-backs along the three central defenders in Connor Coady, Wily Boly, and Ryan Bennett.


LINEUPS

Wolves XI: Patricio; Doherty, Bennett, Coady, Boly, Jonny; Dendoncker, Neves, Moutinho; Jota, Jimenez.
Subs: Ruddy, Neto, Cutrone, Gibbs-White, Saiss, Vinagre, Traore.

Man United XI: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Pogba, James, Lingard, Rashford, Martial.
Subs: Romero, Tuanzebe, Pereira, Mata, Matic, Greenwood.