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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

FOLLOW LIVE: Southampton v. Derby County

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Southampton and Derby County chase the final spot in the fourth round proper of the 2018-19 FA Cup with a replay at St. Mary’s on Wednesday.

[ FOLLOW: FA Cup scoreboard ]

The clubs drew 2-2 at Pride Park on Jan. 5, with a Nathan Redmond 2-0 lead going to waste for the Premier League visitors.

The victor gets a trip to the Crown Ground to face League One’s Accrington Stanley on Jan. 26.

Full fourth round fixture list

Jan. 25
Arsenal v. Manchester United

Jan. 26
Accrington Stanley v. Derby County or Southampton
Brighton and Hove Albion v. West Bromwich Albion
Bristol City v. Bolton
Doncaster Rovers v. Oldham Athletic
Man City v. Burnley
Middlesbrough v. Newport County
Newcastle United v. Watford
Portsmouth v. Queens Park Rangers
Swansea City v. Gillingham
Shrewsbury Town v. Wolves
Millwall v. Everton
AFC Wimbledon v. West Ham United

Jan. 27
Crystal Palace v. Spurs
Chelsea v. Sheffield Wednesday

Jan. 28
Barnet v. Brentford

Leeds’ Bielsa admits he spied “all the rivals”; How widespread is spying?

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Managerial darling Marcelo Bielsa spoke out Wednesday as fallout continues from a Leeds United scout caught spying on Derby County last week.

Bielsa says he’s spied on every team the club has played in the Championship this season.

[ MORE: Neymar praises Weah ]

How rare is this? And how big of a role has it played in Leeds’ 4-point lead in the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League? From the BBC:

“I observed all the rivals we played against and watched the training sessions of all opponents,” he said. “All the information I need to clarify, I gather it without watching the training session of the opponent, so why did I send someone to watch them? Just because I thought I wasn’t violating the norm. I gathered information that I can obtain in another way.

“We feel guilty if we don’t work enough, it [watching the opponents train] allows us to have less anxiety and in my case I am stupid enough to allow this kind of behavior.”

The 63-year-old Argentine has spent time at Lille, Lazio, Marseille, Athletic Bilbao, and Espanyol in addition to running the national teams of Argentina and Chile.

It does raise the question of how much spying is done in soccer. We know that the NFL’s New England Patriots cheated during a game against the New York Jets and that MLB teams try to steal signals, but sneaking around a training session… is that okay? Should it be?

55-goal Martinez re-ups with Atlanta through 2023

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Josef Martinez has signed a new deal with Atlanta United, with a contract tying him to the club through the 2023 Major League Soccer season.

Martinez, 25, has 55 goals in 61 games for the Five Stripes since arriving from Torino in 2017, a strike rate unlike anything the Venezuelan had been able to do in his career with the Serie A club, Young Boys, or Caracas.

[ MORE: Neymar praises Weah ]

That development has him happy to lock down a new Designated Player deal in Georgia, one that certainly would raise his transfer value. From AtlUtd.com:

“This means a lot to me because of the affection that the fans have shown me, that the fans show all of the players. It’s unique,” Martinez said. “They recognize the effort that you give and they know you did everything to win, and I think that’s why we love playing here. I have to thank everyone. My teammates, the city, my family and friends, because this is a dream I’ve always had. I’ve said before that I don’t want to go anywhere because this is my home. You can expect more work, more intensity, because that’s who I am. I want to win. I want to do everything for my teammates and for the city.”

With neither Newcastle nor Real Betis ready to meet Atlanta’s transfer fee for Miguel Almiron, the Five Stripes are in a bit of a bind with a reported deal for expected DP Pity Martinez despite having the league maximum three DPs in Martinez, Almiron, and Ezequiel Barco. Perhaps the European clubs are trying to force Atlanta’s hand.

Men In Blazers Podcast: De Gea heroics; Liverpool, Man City wins

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Rog and Davo applaud David De Gea‘s goalkeeping heroics in Manchester United’s 1-0 victory over Tottenham. Plus, wins for Liverpool and City in the title race.

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