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Final FIFA rankings of 2018 released

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The final FIFA rankings of 2018 have been released and although there haven’t been many changes due to no elite international games played in December, it is intriguing to see who have been on the rise and which nations have slumped over the past 12 months.

Belgium pipped France to top spot despite the latter beating them in the 2018 World Cup semifinal and then going on to win the competition.

Brazil sit in third, Croatia fourth and England fifth, as the Three Lions rose 10 places from 15th in December 2017. According to FIFA the biggest climbers in terms of points since December 2017 were reigning World Cup champs France, but Belgium beat them to top spot by a single point. Kosovo moved up the highest number of spots, as they gained 46 places on December last year.

The U.S. men’s national team finished the year in 25th, which wasn’t bad considering they didn’t play a single competitive game and had an interim head coach, Dave Sarachan, for the entire year as they waited to appoint Gregg Berhalter as their new boss. The USMNT’s last seven games were all against teams ranked above them in the standings, with only Peru outside of the top 20.

A young, experimental squad led by Sarachan lost to England, Brazil, Italy and Colombia in those matches, plus drew with France and Peru as well as grabbing 1-0 win against Mexico.

Below is a look at the top 25 teams in the world, as international action will resume for everyone in March when the next FIFA window rolls around.

The USMNT will of course be in action in January as Berhalter takes charge of his first camp and the U.S. will play friendlies against Panama and Costa Rica on Jan. 27 and Feb. 2 respectively.


FIFA world rankings – December 2018

1. Belgium
2. France
3. Brazil
4. Croatia
5. England
6. Portugal
7. Uruguay
8. Switzerland
9. Spain
10. Denmark
11. Argentina
12. Colombia
13. Chile
14. Sweden
14. Netherlands
16. Germany
17. Mexico
18. Italy
19. Wales
20. Poland
21. Peru
22. Austria
23. Senegal
24. Romania
25. USA

Video shows Lazio fans’ racist chants aimed at Chelsea loanee Bakayoko

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ROME (AP) A video has emerged of Lazio fans directing a racist chant at AC Milan midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko.

The video posted on the Gazzetta dello Sport website shows fans singing, “This banana is for Bakayoko,” during Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Udinese at the Stadio Olimpico.

[ MORE: Pochettino “not optimistic” on Kane ]

It was an apparent response to Bakayoko and Milan teammate Franck Kessie waving the shirt of Lazio defender Francesco Acerbi in front of their supporters like a trophy after a 1-0 win on Saturday.

Bakayoko, who is black, is on loan from Chelsea.

Lazio fans have a long history of racist and anti-Semitic episodes.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Chelsea, Pulisic may tour U.S. in 2020

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Chelsea has announced intent to visit the United States in the Summer of 2020.

Blues chairman Bruce Buck says the club “has work to do in Middle America” as it’s built up what he believes to be significant support on the coasts of the United States.

[ MORE: Pochettino “not optimistic” on Kane ]

Chelsea will be in Boston next month to play MLS side New England Revolution in a friendly billed “The Final Whistle on Hate.”

But Buck knows that Americans have plenty of interest in new signing Christian Pulisic, who will still be with Borussia Dortmund when Chelsea visits the U.S. in May.

“He’s a personable boy. He’s well-liked in this country,” Buck told the Associated Press. “So of course I would expect him when we come here and play some friendly matches, which is what our objective is in the summer of 2020. Then, yes, I think he will be helpful.”

American fans have been skeptical about how much of Chelsea’s interest in Pulisic was based on potential for stardom versus potential for marketing appeal in the States, but it’s important to note that this article could’ve been written about signing a top Mexican player and touring Mexico, or a Japanese star and heading to Asia.

The morning after: Pochettino on returning home, Kane recovery

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Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham Hotspur flew back to North London after Wednesday’s memorable triumph in the UEFA Champions League, a few days before the club will make the same trip to visit Manchester City in the Premier League.

“We are tired after an amazing and crazy and unbelievable night,” Pochettino said, via the BBC. “We flew late and didn’t sleep too much, but the happiness made us feel strong and with energy. We need to forget the Champions League now and be ready for Saturday, for a battle.”

[ MORE: Klopp on 1st time facing Messi ]

Good luck on the forgetting part, Poch. The advancement past Man City over two legs came after VAR correctly ripped a stoppage time City goal off the board and plunged Spurs from despair into euphoria.

And now they go again.

Pochettino said he elected to bring the team back to London to sleep in their own beds and recover at their own facilities.

It also allows Spurs to keep a close eye on Harry Kane, who missed the second leg and has been expected to miss most if not all of the season with an ankle injury.

“We are not optimistic but you know Harry Kane and with Harry Kane all is possible,” Pochettino said. “We are not going to say he is not going to play again or not. We will assess him day by day.”

We have to imagine that Spurs going from, “Can we beat City and stay in the Top Four without Harry?” to “We are three wins from a Champions League title” might help Kane heal a bit faster (and he’s already a bit of a specimen when it comes to that.

Barton “emphatically denies” attacking fellow League One manager

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It seems like there is much more to the incident reportedly involving Joey Barton and a fellow League One manager.

Barnsley launched a complaint after Fleetwood Town manager Barton allegedly attacked his counterpart Daniel Stendel after a match on Saturday.

[ MORE: Klopp on 1st time facing Messi ]

Police stopped Barton from leaving the stadium after the match, and Barnsley player Cauley Woodrow has now taken down a Tweet saying that Stendel was left with “blood pouring down his face.”

Now Barton is denying allegations that he attacked Stendel, and is expected to be in the dugout for the Fishermen, who sit 11th in League One.

From FleetwoodTownFC.com:

“With regards to the alleged incident on Saturday following our game against Barnsley, I emphatically deny the allegations made. Given this matter has not been formally closed, it would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment.”

Barton’s checkered past is well-documented, but this tale continues to develop in fascinating ways.