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2019 Women’s World Cup preview: Groups D, E and F

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The Women’s World Cup begins Friday at the Parc des Princes in Paris, where hosts France will tangle with South Korea to kick off a month-long chase for the honor of being crowned the best team in women’s football.

PST’s Nicholas Mendola gave us the tour of Groups A, B and C this morning, so here’s the lowdown on the other half of the field.

Group D

The inside track: After finishing third in a World Cup (2015) and reaching the semifinals of the European Championship (2017) just two years apart, England enter this summer’s showpiece a trendy pick to make yet another deep run. Only this time, the Three Lionesses are under the guidance of a head coach, Phil Neville, without any major tournament experience. If you’re not already familiar with the work of forward Nikita Parris, it won’t be long before you are. Kim Little is one of the all-time greats and she can singlehandedly give Scotland every chance of challenging England for the top spot. Meanwhile, Japan appears halfway through a transition between the old guard (back-to-back World Cup finals, winning it all in 2011) and a younger generation of future stars. They could go either way.

Game schedule

Sunday, June 9: England v. Scotland

Monday, June 8: Argentina v. Japan

Friday, June 14: Japan v. Scotland

Friday, June 14: England v. Argentina

Wednesday, June 19: Japan v. England

Wednesday, June 19: Scotland v. Argentina

Three star players to watch

1) Kim Little, Scotland
2) Nikita Parris, England (below)
3) Karen Carney, England

Prediction

While Group D has three teams that are absolutely worth of the knockout rounds, it’s entirely possible — if not likely — that one of the three will be left out on account of a heavy concentration of points going to England and one of Scotland or Japan. England should finish top, then it’ll be the combination of Little and 20-year-old Erin Cuthbert ascending to superstardom to push Scotland past Japan.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Group E

The inside track: Once upon a time (not so long ago), this would have been Canada’s group to walk over, but that’s simply no longer the case, for two reasons: 1) Christine Sinclair’s legendary career is still going strong, but she’s now 35 and no longer the one-woman terror she once was; 2) the Dutch have built and attacking juggernaut and could very well put three (or more) past every team in the tournament. New Zealand will set out to defend for their lives, while Cameroon is a rising team more than capable of leapfrogging the Football Ferns for the inside track to third place and a spot in the knockout rounds.

Game schedule

Monday, June 10: Canada v. Cameroon

Tuesday, June 11: New Zealand v. Netherlands

Saturday, June 15: Netherlands v. Cameroon

Saturday, June 15: Canada v. New Zealand

Thursday, June 20: Netherlands v. Canada

Thursday, June 20: Cameroon v. New Zealand

Three star players to watch

1) Lieke Martens, Netherlands (below, center)
2) Christine Sinclair, Canada
3) Vivianne Miedema, Netherlands

Prediction

It’s setting up to be a tournament that rewards teams willing to take risks and attack with fervor, therefore it’ll be: Netherlands, Canada, Cameroon, New Zealand.

(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Group F

The inside track: Arguably the most straightforward of all the groups, the only question we need answered from Group F is who’ll finish top — is it the obvious choice of the Americans, or the surprising Swedes? It’ll almost certainly be the former, which means Jill Ellis’ team will likely go into the same half of the bracket as England (potential quarterfinals opponent) and France (semifinals), assuming they can get past either Spain or China in a trick round-of-16 matchup. As for the others, Chile and Thailand will try to defend as if their lives depend upon doing so, likely making for an entertaining goal-differential contest between the favorites.

Game schedule

Tuesday, June 11: Chile v. Sweden

Tuesday, June 11: USA v. Thailand

Sunday, June 16: Sweden v. Thailand

Sunday, June 16: USA v. Chile

Thursday, June 20: Sweden v. USA

Thursday, June 20: Thailand v. Chile

Three star players to watch

1) Tobin Heath, USA (below)
2) Alex Morgan, USA
3) Kosovare Asllani, Sweden

Prediction

Tobin Heath is (finally) widely recognized as one of the world’s best players after putting up six-plus goals and assists (combined). The fact that Sweden is the USWNT’s final group game all but assures the starters will feature in all three games.

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Portland beats Orlando to win MLS is Back championship

MLS is Back
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) Soaked in sweat and doused in water, the Portland Timbers hoisted the MLS is Back trophy at midfield and then headed toward a giant TV screen filled with fans cheering from afar.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

It was a huge Zoom party. It might just be the way to celebrate championships in 2020.

Dario Zuparic’s first goal of the season gave Portland a 2-1 victory against Orlando in Major League Soccer’s return tournament finale Tuesday night, capping a month-long event that showed sports can be played safely inside a bubble.

“I always think the more difficult the fight is the more beautiful the victory is at the end,” said Portland’s Larrys Mabiala, who scored the game’s first goal.

Orlando was slow to react to Diego Valeri’s corner kick in the 66th minute, allowing Eryk Williamson to collect the ball, change direction and take a shot that Jeremy Ebobisse deflected to Zuparic’s feet. Zuparic didn’t have to do much to get it by Pedro “The Octopus” Gallese, who had made two fantastic saves in the lead-up to the corner kick.

The goal started the celebration on Portland’s sideline and sent Orlando into panic mode. The Lions had a chance in the closing minutes, but failed to get the equalizer.

“It’s a group of players in a lot of pain right now,” Orlando coach Oscar Pareja said. “Things didn’t bounce our way. We made a couple of mistakes.”

The Timbers, who spent 39 days in the MLS bubble and remained on West Coast time, hugged and danced after the final whistle. They raised the silver trophy while hooting and hollering. But the lasting image will be players and coaches waving at a camera and reaching hundreds back home.

It ended a wild month for the MLS, which managed to play 51 matches in 45 days at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex at Disney World.

No family. No friends. No fans.

But it was by most accounts a rousing success, especially considering how it started. FC Dallas and Nashville were forced to withdraw days before the start because of positive coronavirus tests.

Players, coaches and support personnel were tested regularly inside the MLS bubble. The league reported just two positives out of nearly 35,000 tests following the initial setbacks that threatened to derail a tournament that came with a $1.1 million purse.

“We just told ourselves we need to make it worth it,” Mabiala said, adding that his son has been calling, crying and clamoring for him to come home in recent days.

Portland will get $328,000 in prize money to split. The Timbers also earned a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League, their first since 2016.

Orlando settled for $150,000 to share.

Orlando’s appearance in the finale was a surprise considering the team finished 11th out of 12 in the East last season and fired coach James O’Connor. Pareja took over in 2020 and made an immediate impact.

Pareja convinced his players, including star Nani, to settle into the bubble several days early. They won the tournament opener, a group-stage victory against Miami, and ended up spending nearly seven weeks quarantined in the bubble.

Portland’s experience – the Timbers won the MLS title in 2015 and were runners-up two years ago – showed in the finale.

Portland’s first shot on goal found the back of the net. Valeri delivered a perfectly placed free kick into the box that Mabiala headed past Gallese in the 27th minute. It was Valeri’s 93rd assist with the Timbers.

But considering Portland has managed just three clean sheets in its last 23 matches, it was no surprise to see a defensive breakdown just a few minutes later.

Nani worked the ball down the left side following a turnover and created enough room to get a crosser into the box. Mauricio Pereyra got a foot on the ball and then took advantage of a fallen defender to tie the match.

The equalizer came shortly after Portland’s Sebastian Blanco exchanged words with Pareja during a hydration break. Referees stepped between them, and they later apologized and hugged it out.

The league resumes its regular season Wednesday night with Dallas playing at Nashville. The league’s 26 teams will play 18 games apiece. A majority of the games will be played without fans because of local regulations. Teams will be subject to a rigorous testing protocol and will use charter flights or buses to limit outside contact.

“We have to see if it works,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. “If it does, we go through with it. If it doesn’t, we’ll have to adjust.”

Nuno ‘proud of the boys’ after Wolves’ magical UEL run ends

Nuno Wolves
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Nuno proud, but frustrated: Wolves’ 2019-20 campaign kicked off 383 days ago, on July 25, and finally ended on Tuesday in a late, heartbreaking defeat to Sevilla in the quarterfinals of the Europa League.

[ MORE: Lille sign $35-million Canadian star Jonathan David ]

From those early-round UEL qualifiers, to another fine season in the Premier League (finishing 7th), to reaching the quarterfinals, it’s been an incredible, dramatic, exhausting road for Nuno Espirito Santo and his players.

Speaking after the game, Espirito Santo revealed he was experiencing equal part pride and frustration at the way their season had just ended. Pride for meeting the challenges they faced along the way, and frustration for the missed opportunity — quotes from the BBC:

“We have frustration, in the last minutes it is something that has happened to us many times. We required focus on a set piece. I am proud of the boys, we played a tough team and we had moments, small details, small margins.

“That happens in football. We came this far and now it’s over. Let’s rest and look to the future. We need more players to help us, it’s a small squad.

“Sevilla made us run, we made a big effort to control it but of course there were players who gave everything and the legs and brain doesn’t work so good. We must be proud of ourselves, admit we made mistakes during the season that we need to rectify to compete at a high level. We must work harder and become stronger.

“We are here because we did things good the previous season. European football is something that we chase because we want to improve and compete agianst the best. The Premier League is challenging enough, it’s like playing the Champions League every week.”

The Wolves players will now have the next week or two off before reporting for the first day of 2020-21 preseason later this month. The 2020-21 Premier League season is currently scheduled for Sept. 12.

Europa League: Wolves knocked out by late Sevilla winner

Europa League Wolves
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Europa League: Wolves’ magical run through the Europa League came to an end on Tuesday, as Nuno Espirito Santo’s side was knocked out in the quarterfinals by UEL specialists Sevilla.

[ MORE: Lille sign $35-million Canadian star Jonathan David ]

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-1 Sevilla

Sevilla were quite comfortably the better side on the night, the side with the vast majority of the scoring chances, and thoroughly deserving semifinalists. Julen Lopetegui’s side will face Manchester United in the semis on Sunday.

It didn’t come easily for Sevilla, though. The game remained level at 0-0 for 87 minutes, until Lucas Ocampos rose above the crowd to head home his 16th goal of the season in the 88th minute.

Wolves had the game’s first — and virtually their only — chance to go ahead inside the first quarter-hour, but Raul Jimenez was denied from the penalty spot in the 12th minute. The real story here, however, is the ease with which Adama Traore left the pack behind and dribbled the ball 81 yards before Diego Carlos cut him down from behind.

Jimenez’s blunder from the spot was one of just two shots on target — both by Jimenez — that Wolves could muster in the game.

[ MORE: Transfer news: Havertz to Chelsea; Ramsey available ]

Sevilla began to ramp up the pressure after halftime and went dangerously close to breaking the deadlock just after the hour mark, as Youssef En-Nesyri weaved his way through traffic inside the penalty area before firing a low strike on goal. Fortunately for Wolves, Rui Patricio was all over and denied En-Nesyri his wondergoal.

Ever Banega forced Patricio to make a vital save of his curling free kick in the 77th minute, but again the Portuguese was up to the challenge. He scrambled across goal and rose high to get a hand on the ball and push it over the crossbar.

Shakhtar Donetsk thrashed Basel 4-1 in Tuesday’s other quarterfinal. They will face Inter Milan in the second semifinal next Monday.

Other Europa League scores

Shakhtar Donetsk 4-1 Basel
Man United 1-0 Copenhagen (Monday)
Inter Milan 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Monday)

Lille sign $35-million Canadian star Jonathan David

Lille sign Jonathan David
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Lille sign Jonathan David: Lille announced on Tuesday their signing of Canadian star Jonathan David from Belgian side Gent for a reported transfer fee of $35 million.

[ MORE: Transfer news: Havertz to Chelsea; Ramsey available ]

The fee paid is a record not only for a Canadian player, but also makes David Lille’s club-record signing and the most expensive player ever sold by a Belgian club.

David had been linked with a move to dozens of clubs across Europe, including a handful of Premier League sides, in recent weeks but it would appear that Lille’s recent success with young players starring in the first team, before selling them to those bigger European sides for massive profits, was an important factor in David’s decision to move to Ligue 1.

[ MORE: Spurs sign Hojbjerg from Southampton; Walker-Peters to Saints ]

The 20-year-old operates predominantly as a center forward but has, on rare occasions, played as a second striker underneath the main man. David racked up 48 goals and 20 assists in his two seasons at Gent, including a number of standout performances in the Europa League.