Key takeaways from 2018 World Cup

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The 2018 World Cup will go down as one of the most entertaining in history, as a month-long soccer celebration in Russia didn’t disappoint.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

From stars shinning, big teams falling early, the hosts surprising and stunning moments galore, we were treated to a wondrous spectacle from June 14 to July 15.

When it comes to it being the best World Cup, all-time, many will point to France 1998 and Mexico 1986 as being the best-ever World Cups, but Russia 2018 is right up there in terms of pure drama and memorable moments.

Let’s focus on the key takeaways from a special World Cup.


SUMMER OF FUN

With concerns aplenty about Russia hosting the World Cup, all of that was put to one side for the majority of the tournament as all eyes were on the pitch. With more late goals (90th minute or later) at this World Cup than the last three combined, we were treated to incredible drama. Plus, 164 goals at an average of 2.64 goals per game was pretty decent too as that was just under the 2.67 goals per game haul in 1998 and 2014.

Overall this was a summer of extreme fun spread across the vast European region of Russia as fans were welcomed by locals, stars delivered on the pitch and countries across the world rejoiced or cried depending on how their teams fared. I’m not sure this World Cup could have gone any better for Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and their organizers.

As it always does, this tournament captured the imagination of fans across the world.


BIG BOYS OUT EARLY

Germany became the third-straight reigning champions to crash out of the World Cup at the group stage and that was one of the biggest storylines of the tournament. How on earth did Joachim Low’s star-studded side fail epically? Warnings signs were there as Manuel Neuer was rusty and the likes of Mesut Ozil and Thomas Mueller were out of sorts, but still, Die Mannschaft’s title defense was woeful.

Argentina’s organization was woeful throughout as Jorge Sampaoli basically surrendered control of the team to the players as they scraped by Nigeria in their final group stage game, then lost 4-3 in a thriller against eventual winners France in the Round of 16. Lionel Messi may never grace the World Cup stage again and Argentina were an unbalanced, top-heavy shambles in this tournament. So sad.

Omnishambles can be used to describe Spain’s World Cup. On the eve of the tournament they fired head coach Julen Lopetegui after he agreed to take over as Real Madrid manager without informing the Spanish Football Association and although they made it to the last 16 under caretaker boss Fernando Hierro, something wasn’t quite right as they crashed out to hosts Russia on penalty kicks in the last 16.

Portugal departing in the last 16 wasn’t too much of a shock but did deprive us of seeing Cristiano Ronaldo in the latter stages of the tournament, while Poland didn’t show up at all as they crashed out of the group stage with Robert Lewandowski a shadow of his usual self.


FRANCE WORTHY, PRAGMATIC WINNERS

Swashbuckling, they weren’t. Champions, they are.

France didn’t exactly set the tournament alight but Didier Deschamps set up his team to be tough to beat and they battled their way through the stacked side of the bracket (beating Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium to reach the final) to win it all.

Les Bleus conceded once in the group stage and apart from a wobbly display against erratic Argentina in the last 16, they shutout Uruguay and Belgium to reach the final. For all of their young attacking talents, France’s title was built on a solid defensive foundation as they bounced back from the agony of defeat on home soil in the European Championships two years ago.

Kylian Mbappe was the young star of the tournament at the age of 19 and became just the second teenager in history to score in a World Cup final with the only other being Pele in 1958. While the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Hugo Lloris and Paul Pogba delivered when it mattered as the second youngest team in the tournament prevailed.

There was plenty to like about this stubborn French side as young defenders Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti were sublime at center back and Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez excelled after being thrown in at the deep end.

Deschamps also became just the third man in history to win the World Cup as a player and manager as he captained France’s first World Cup success in 1998 and 20 years later he masterminded a second success by cutting his cloth accordingly and making smart tactical decisions throughout.


TOP GOALS

So many to choose from but Lionel Messi’s goal v Nigeria, Benjamin Pavard’s beauty against Argentina, Nacho’s lazer for Spain v Portugal, Denis Cheryshev’s cracker against Croatia, Philippe Coutinho‘s stunner v Switzerland and Angel di Maria’s long-range effort against France stand out.

There was also Cristiano Ronaldo’s epic free kick against Spain, Dries Mertens’ volley, Kevin De Bruyne‘s smash against Brazil, Jesse Lingard‘s curler versus Panama, Ricardo Quaresma’s outside-of-the-foot beauty and Toni Kroos’ amazing late free kick against Sweden.

That’s 12 goals of this highest quality right here. Here’s a look at a few of our favorites.


SET PIECE, VAR STARDOM

The unsung stars of this World Cup? Set pieces and VAR.

The former saw more goals from set pieces at a World Cup since 1966, and the latter caused a few issues but was largely brilliant in getting the decisions correct in a speedy manner.

Nothing is perfect but VAR proved it is here to stay and set piece dominance may well be the theme of the next few years as smaller clubs and nations continue to improve and close the gap to the elite.


EUROPEAN DOMINATION

Six of the final eight teams were from Europe and all of the final four were from the same continent as the European teams stood tall on what could be considered as home soil. What does this say for the future? With England, Belgium and France all having young squads, they could also be in the latter stages of the 2022 World Cup if they continue to develop their talented youth teams.

With their talented youngsters nurtured in stable academy environments in England, Belgium and France and quickly moved into the big leagues, their central models are all working as we are starting to see St. George’s Park being reminiscent of Clairefontaine and Belgium’s model of integrating their club teams at youth level.

Having a clear plan has clearly worked to develop Belgium’s golden generation which came third, while France and England preferred to give youth a chance and it worked.

South America has some incredibly talented individuals in Neymar of Brazil, James Rodriguez of Colombia, Luis Suarez of Uruguay and of course Messi of Argentina, but the organization of the European nations in terms of youth development has improved drastically and we may now see European domination in the next few World Cups. A seismic shift in the power of world soccer occurred the summer as the huge wealth of the European game has been invested into better resources to develop young players. It is working superbly.


MEXICO FLY CONCACAF FLAG

Contrasting that European domination was CONCACAF disappointment. Only Mexico made it out of the group stage from the three teams CONCACAF sent to Russia and both Panama and Costa Rica failed to win any of their games at the tournament. Mexico almost blew their chance too as they were thrashed 3-0 by Sweden in their final group game and had South Korea beating Germany to thank for advancing to the last 16.

El Tri lost 2-0 to Brazil in that feisty encounter as Juan Carlos Osorio blamed Neymar flopping and referees but, in all honestly, Mexico weren’t good enough to dine at the top table of this tournament.

Sure, they beat Germany in their group opener to set themselves up to make the knockout rounds, but we saw that something wasn’t right with Germany. A seventh-straight exit at the last 16 for Mexico underlined that CONCACAF has a lot of catching up to do and the fact that the U.S. national team didn’t even qualify for this tournament hit home just how poor the USMNT were during qualifying.


SPARE A THOUGHT FOR…

There are always teams who deserved to make it out of the group but it doesn’t happen due to small margins and just plain bad luck. Enter: Iran, Peru, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Serbia. All six of those nations put in gutsy displays but it wasn’t to be as Senegal went out due to having more fair play points than Japan (two more yellow cards, to be exact), while Morocco and Iran almost upset powerhouses Spain and Portugal in their wild final group games which included VAR galore and there was late drama throughout Group B. Morocco, in particular, were one of the best teams to watch in the tournament as Herve Renard’s team scored a last-gasp own goal to lose to Iran, then somehow drew with Spain in their final group game despite giving them a heck of a scare.

Serbia were another team who started the tournament well but succumbed to their attacking instincts late on against Switzerland, while Nigeria dazzled when defeating Iceland but came unstuck late on against Argentina to lose out on making the last 16. Peru also came up short against France and Denmark despite positive displays as they beat Australia comfortably in their group stage finale to end on a high.

This was a tournament were some of the more exciting teams vanished early on as giants turned to pragmatism to find a way out of the group stage.

Oh, and spare a thought for Michy Batshuayi, who will be remembered only for this moment from the World Cup. Sorry, Michy, but what did you think would happen!?


AWARD WINNERS

Luka Modric dazzled in midfield to lead Croatia’s charge to the final, the first time they have reached that stage in history, and deservedly won the Golden Ball.

Perhaps Kylian Mbappe deserved third, but he won the Young Player of the Tournament, so Griezmann getting third seemed about right, while Eden Hazard was superb alongside Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne as Belgium’s stars showed up.

Below is a look at the full list of awards.


Golden Ball (player of the tournament)
1st – Luka Modric, Croatia
2nd – Eden Hazard, Belgium
3rd – Antoine Griezmann, France

Silver Ball (young player of the tournament) – Kylian Mbappe, France
Golden Boot (top goalscorer)Harry Kane, England
Golden Glove (top goalkeeper)Thibaut Courtois, Belgium


RONALDO, MESSI, NEYMAR STRUGGLE

All three of these players had major highs and lows in this tournament, with Ronaldo scoring twice, Neymar twice and Messi once.

The latter missed a penalty kick in Argentina’s opener against Iceland and his struggles summed up La Albieceleste crashing out at the last 16 stage. Messi’s stunning control and finish against Nigeria in their crucial group finale will live long in the memory, but that was about it from a World Cup where it looked like the pressure of a nation was too much for him to handle.

Ronaldo scored four goals, including a hat trick in Portugal’s wild 3-3 draw with Spain to open up group play and the former Real Madrid star (who has since signed for Juventus) scored the winner against Morocco too. Yet he couldn’t do it all on his own as Portugal’s other star attackers failed to show up.

Neymar, ah, yes. Brazil’s talisman may have broken the record for most rolls after being fouled in a World Cup tournament as his theatrical dives overshadowed all of his good work. After working his way back to full-fitness following three months out, Neymar scored a late goal against Costa Rica to set Brazil on their way but he also annoyed many with his antics. Against Mexico he was treated brutally but many neutrals seem fed up with him.


BREAKOUT STARS

Every single World Cup will scour the rosters for who will be the breakout stars of this World Cup and a couple really stood out: Mexico’s Hirving “Chucky” Lozano had a great tournament with two goals and was a constant pest as the PSV Eindhoven winger will surely get a move to one of Europe’s elite teams.

The unfashionable English trio of Kieran Trippier, Harry Maguire and Jordan Pickford saw their stocks rise significantly, while Japan’s Takashi Inui was a star as it seems like Real Betis have found themselves a star playmaker at the ripe age of 30.

French youngsters Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez came of age at full back for France, while Emil Forsberg impressed for Sweden and Yerry Mina delivered goals and desire to Colombia’s defense. Kasper Schmeichel starred in goal for Denmark and Aleksandr Golovin was a hero for Russia in their run to the quarterfinals.

Overall, it was a World Cup of lovely surprises and even after a month we wish it was still going on.


West Brom – Chelsea: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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West Brom – Chelsea: The Blues are in desperate need of a strong rebound when they visit The Hawthorns on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 pm ET, on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WEST BROM – CHELSEA STREAM LIVE

The Baggies, on the other hand, are simply hoping to collect their first point of the season after suffering a 3-0 defeat to Leicester City on the opening day of the 2020-21 season and following that up with a 5-2 beatdown at the hands of Everton last weekend.

As far as favorable matchups go, facing the 20th-place side a week after losing to defending champions Liverpool is quite timely for Chelsea.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of West Brom – Chelsea this Saturday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: West Brom – Chelsea (INJURY REPORT)

West Brom – QUESTIONABLE: Ahmed Hegazi (thigh), Kamil Grosicki (back), Hal Robson-Kanu (leg) | OUT: Kieran Gibbs (suspension), Conor Gallagher (loan rules), Kenneth Zohore (calf)

Chelsea – QUESTIONABLE: Christian Pulisic (hamstring), Cesar Azpilicueta (thigh) | OUT: Hakim Ziyech (knee), Andrea Christensen (suspension)


What they’re saying: West Brom – Chelsea

West Brom manager Slaven Bilic, on struggling to sign players: “We don’t have a huge budget, that is why we are trying to be creative and lucky. That’s not easy but we are trying. … We have to do it to maintain a good chance.”

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard, on Thiago Silva: “It is exciting for us because he has had just over a week training with us. It was a perfect 60 minutes for him tonight. He will show the qualities he has. Of course, he will get fitter and better. He also gave us something for me on the night in the dressing room and on the pitch of a leader with authority in terms of his demands on others. He can’t speak the language but at the minute that’s not even a problem because his presence and the way he commands people around him is already showing that to me in training and in our game tonight.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

West Brom (+750) represent one of the biggest underdogs — or, opportunities, depending on how you look at it — of the still-young PL season. There’s not much to be won by betting on Chelsea (-280). Even the draw (+400) is pretty far out there.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction: West Brom – Chelsea

Barring some unforeseen circumstances — for example, a 12th-minute red card — it’s virtually impossible to see West Brom getting anything from this game. They’ve been incredibly poor defensively through two games, and they’re yet to face a side with anything close to the firepower which the Blues possess. West Brom 1-3 Chelsea.


How to watch West Brom – Chelsea stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

MLS upcoming schedule, MLS Cup odds

MLS betting odds
Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images
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MLS betting odds and upcoming schedule: Major League Soccer still has six weeks left of fixtures left in the regular season after its long-awaited return from the COVID-19 shutdown.

[ TRANSFER NEWS: Dest to Barcelona? ]

The regular season is currently scheduled to end on Nov. 8, with the playoffs beginning that same week and culminating with MLS Cup on Dec. 12.

Click here for MLS betting odds and different odds on soccer and beyond from our new official sports betting partner PointsBet, as there will be plenty of selections to make each week with game lines and more available via NBC Sports Bet.

[ MORE: Five-subs rule again voted down by Premier League clubs ]

This page will be updated following the completion of every round of games in 2020, to feature the upcoming set of fixtures and MLS betting odds.


This weekend’s MLS schedule and odds (via PointsBet)

Sunday, Sept. 26

Nashville (+105) v Houston (+235) / Draw (+225) — 3:30 pm ET
NYCFC (-228) v Cincinnati (+550) / Draw (+300) — 7 pm ET

Sunday, Sept. 27

DC United (+225) v New England (+105) / Draw (+230) — 7 pm ET
New York Red Bulls (-167) v Montreal (+375) / Draw (+280) — 7 pm ET
Philadelphia (+120) v Inter Miami (+195) / Draw (+225) — 7:30 pm ET
Chicago (-139) v Atlanta (+300) / Draw (+275) — 7:30 pm ET
Toronto (+120) v Columbus (+195) / Draw (+225) — 7:30 pm ET
Minnesota (-125) v Real Salt Lake (+265) / Draw (+270) — 8 pm ET
FC Dallas (+125) v Orlando City (+170) / Draw (+245) — 8:30 pm ET
Colorado (+145) v Sporting KC (+150) / Draw (+240) — 9 pm ET
Vancouver (+375) v Portland (-189) / Draw (+325) — 10 pm ET
LAFC (-500) v San Jose (+850) / Draw (+525) — 10:30 pm ET
LA Galaxy (+150) v Seattle (+150) / Draw (+235) — 10:30 pm ET


MLS Cup winner odds

Los Angeles FC (+450)
Toronto FC (+450)
Seattle Sounders (+800)
Philadelphia Union (+1100)
Atlanta United (+1400)
Columbus Crew (+1400)
LA Galaxy (+1800)
New York City FC (+1800)
Sporting KC (+1800)
Portland Timbers (+2000)
Minnesota United (+2500)
New England Revolution (+2500)
Orlando City SC (+2500)
New York Red Bulls (+3000)
Montreal Impact (+4000)
FC Dallas (+5000)
Real Salt Lake (+5000)
San Jose Earthquakes (+6000)
Chicago Fire (+10000)
Colorado Rapids (+10000)
D.C. United (+10000)
Houston Dynamo (+10000)
Inter Miami (+12500)
FC Cincinnati (+25000)
Vancouver Whitecaps (+25000)
Nashville SC (+30000)

West Ham – Wolves: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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West Ham – Wolves: David Moyes will be watching from home after testing positive for COVID-19, though he reportedly remains asymptomatic, when his West Ham United side welcomes Wolverhampton Wanderers to the London Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 2 pm ET, online via Peacock).

WEST HAM – WOLVES STREAM LIVE

In recent history, West Ham have had an absolutely torrid time against Nuno Espirito Santo’s side since they won promotion from the EFL Championship. The Hammers have found the back of the net zero times, and collected zero points, in four meetings since Wolves returned to the Premier League.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of West Ham – Wolves this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: West Ham – Wolves (INJURY REPORT)

West Ham – QUESTIONABLE: Issa Diop (COVID-19), Josh Cullen (COVID-19)

Wolves – QUESTIONABLE: Fernando Marcal (undisclosed) | OUT: Jonny (knee)


What they’re saying: West Ham – Wolves

Stand-in manager Alan Irvine, on Moyes’ absence: “I’ve spoken to him several times this morning. He is not feeling any symptoms and hasn’t felt them any way through, so obviously it’s a bit frustrating for him, but he’s fine and he’s getting on with other things. Of course, David will be the manager and everything we do will be run through him. He will make the decisions on everything.”

Nuno Espirito Santo, on facing a team with COVID-19 cases: “We are not concerned, I wish David and the players the fastest recovery. What happened to West Ham can happen to any one of us. It’s tough when you are preparing for a game and you cannot be on the touchline. Now we’re not concerned, we’re confident and we trust the authorities to keep things safe for us.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Everything points to a win for Wolves (+105) with West Ham (+270) made slight home underdogs, which should spell out everything you need to know about the Hammers. Best-case scenario for Moyes and Irvine would be to snatch a draw (+240).

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction: West Ham – Wolves

West Ham might get out of the starting block at some point this season, but Wolves are hardly the ideal opponent you want to see when you have zero points and very few positives to start the season. Misery begets misery, and West Ham are in for a bit more. West Ham 0-2 Wolves.


How to watch West Ham – Wolves stream and start time

Kickoff: 2 pm ET Sunday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Man City – Leicester: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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Man City – Leicester: Pep Guardiola will have just 13 first-team players at his disposal when Manchester City hosts Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 11:30 am ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

MAN CITY – LEICESTER STREAM LIVE

With a combination of injuries and confirmed cases of COVID-19 currently ravaging an already-thin squad, City have no choice but to tread water and simply stay afloat in the coming days and weeks as they attempt to reclaim the Premier League title from Liverpool. It’s a difficult position to be in, no doubt about it, and Leicester should present a tricky challenge for Guardiola and Co., without the likes of Bernardo Silva, Aymeric Laporte, Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Aguero and Ilkay Gundogan, among others.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Man City and Leicester spent much of the 2019-20 season second and third — and third and second — in the PL table, each looking up at Liverpool miles and miles ahead, before winding up second and fifth, respectively. City won each of the two meetings last season — 3-1 at home in December, and 1-0 away in February.

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Man City – Leicester this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Man City – Leicester (INJURY REPORT)

Man City – QUESTIONABLE: Ilkay Gundogan (COVID-19), Aymeric Laporte (COVID-19) | OUT: Bernardo Silva (thigh), Gabriel Jesus (undisclosed), Sergio Aguero (knee), Joao Cancelo (foot), Oleksandr Zinchenko (undisclosed)

Leicester – QUESTIONABLE: Demarai Gray (illness) | OUT: Cengiz Under (transfer clearance), Ricardo Pereira (knee), Jonny Evans (thigh), Filip Benkovic (groin), Wilfred Ndidi (groin)


What they’re saying: Man City – Leicester

Pep Guardiola, on Man City’s injury issues: “With the situation we have right now, we need players from the academy. We have just 13 players fit. With the problems we have up front, he will stay with us. We will use him. We cannot forget, like with Phil, he is only 17 years-old. He has a lot of things to improve. We cannot anticipate the progress of every young player. We’ve had Phil, Eric, Liam and we have Cole Palmer, who will be an exceptional player. We congratulate the academy. I am the last step, but before there are a lot of people in the club working for this and it is a big success for them.”

Brendan Rodgers, on how to improve Leicester: “Firstly, we have a number of young players who can improve. Last season, we showed lots of real potential in the squad. I always felt that two things would help us to improve and continue to develop this process. One of those was time. That means time to work with the players who are here, making them better year on year, particularly the young players. They will have gained from the experiences of last season — good and bad. Time will improve James Maddison. Time will improve Harvey Barnes. Consistency will make us better as well. That will come with the introduction of quality.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Perhaps a bit surprisingly given their ongoing injury issues, City (-350) are heavy betting favorites with Leicester checking in as massive underdogs at +850. The draw (+480) might just make for the perfect speculative wager this weekend.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction: Man City – Leicester

City struggled to put away Bournemouth in the League Cup on Thursday, and will have largely the same group of players available on Sunday. Facing Leicester will be a significant increase in quality of opposition. Leicester might just get something out of this one and do Liverpool an early-season favor in the process. Man City 1-1 Leicester.


How to watch Man City – Leicester stream and start time

Kickoff: 11:30 am ET Sunday
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com