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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)

Coronavirus: Italy may lift ban on sporting events by Monday

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MILAN (AP) The Italian government could lift its ban on sporting events by Monday in areas affected by the coronavirus if the number of cases stabilizes.

The outbreak forced a number of sporting events to be called off throughout the country this past weekend, including four Serie A matches in the north of Italy.

This week, the ban on sporting events was extended from Lombardy, Veneto and Piedmont – the areas hardest hit by the outbreak – to also include the regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Emilia Romagna and Liguria, until March 1.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

“If, as I hope, the statistics don’t give us different signs then maybe already by Monday these measures won’t be continued,” Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said. “But it’s only Tuesday today and we have to wait and see what happens over the next few days. The health of the Italian citizens is the most important thing.”

Italy reported a 45% increase in the number of coronavirus cases Tuesday, from 222 to 300. Ten people have died, all of them elderly or suffering from other ailments.

“Obviously, I can’t say I’m not worried because I don’t want anyone to think we’re underestimating this emergency,” Premier Giuseppe Conte said before meeting with visiting World Health Organization representatives. “But we trust that with the measures we have implemented, there will be a containing effect in the coming days.”

Italy has closed schools, museums and theaters in the two regions where clusters have formed and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicenter of the Veneto cluster, Vo’Euganeo.

Serie A matches this weekend are set to be played behind closed doors, including Juventus’ key match against Inter Milan. That game is not only potentially crucial to the title race but also sees the return of former Juventus coach Antonio Conte.

Inter’s Europa League match at home to Ludogorets on Thursday will also take place without any fans allowed in.

Serie C canceled all games in two leagues which have teams in the north. Volleyball and rugby games were also suspended nationwide through next weekend.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation suspended all of its events throughout the country for an entire week, although it said that “for now” next weekend’s World Cup ski races in La Thuile in the Valle d’Aosta region were still set to go ahead. Those races are operated by the International Ski Federation, which has already canceled races this season in China that were slated to test the course for the 2022 Beijing Games.

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

El Tri winger Jurgen Damm headed for MLS this summer

Jurgen Damm
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This season’s Liga MX invasion of MLS continues with Jurgen Damm announcing that he’ll leave UANL Tigres this summer after five years with the club.

TUDN has the destination as Atlanta, though previous reports have linked Damm to the LA Galaxy is the spot.

And MLSSoccer.com scribe Tom Bogert says the Houston Dynamo have his “discovery rights” (which remains the worst concept in the entire league).

Reports emerged over the past 48 hours that the El Tri man was headed for an MLS club.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 12-times capped winger has one goal for Mexico, but has not been capped since Oct. 2018. He has spent his entire career in Liga MX.

Damm spent the early part of his career with Tecos and Pachuca, but has been with UANL Tigres since 2015.

He won four league titles with UANL, as well as the 2018 Campeones Cup.

Ex-Arsenal man Gnabry: “London’s still red” after Bayern beats Chelsea

Serge Gnabry
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Ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry still has love for the club.

Gnabry tweeted that “London is still red” after he scored twice for Bayern Munich in a 3-0 beating of Chelsea on Tuesday in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

This after scoring four times against Spurs in a previous Champions League group stage match and Tweeting that “North London is Red.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

So what’s with the London form?

“I’ve got a lot of friends here,” Gnabry said after the game. “A lot of them were in the stands tonight, and it seems they give me a lot of good power.”

Gnabry only scored once during his time in England with Arsenal and West Brom but is a bona fide star in the Bundesliga.

With a three-goal advantage over Chelsea heading to Munich for a second leg, however, he’s not got his head in the clouds.

“Three goals ahead gives us a little bit of confidence, but we need to be prepared for the second leg. We can’t take it not seriously enough. … We’ve seen it last year with Liverpool beating Barcelona, so we have to be careful. We have to go into the second leg with all of our focus.”

Gnabry now has 51 goals and 29 assists in four seasons since returning to Germany from Arsenal. Not terrible production for a player the Gunners offloaded to Werder Bremen for under $6 million in 2016.

What color will London be when Chelsea buys him next year? We kid, we kid…

Champions League preview: Real Madrid renews rivalry with Pep; Lyon hosts Juve

UEFA Champions League preview
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The final two ties of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 begin Wednesday when Manchester City and Juventus head to Spain and France.

The focus for many will be on the former, as City continues to weather UEFA drama while its manager prepares for his fiercest foe as a player and manager.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Pep Guardiola has managed against Real Madrid 17 times and boasts a 9-4-4 record between Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

The Catalan wizard has lost his last three versus Real, two with Bayern and once in his final El Clasico as Barca boss.

Even as Guardiola stresses preparation and plan, he knows there will be bounces and that both teams will have to cope with them.

“We have to be strong, have quality and need to have luck,” he said, via The Manchester Evening News. “At this stage, it’s important but we cannot control that. We can control what we can control and we will see. This competition, last season, against Liverpool, there are decisions. You have to overcome. You need incredible concentration in our game and game plan plus try to be a little lucky.”

Real Madrid living legend Sergio Ramos has earned the ire of Guardiola on plenty of occasions, one of the few things Liverpool and City fans have in common.

Ramos wouldn’t get drawn into rivalry talk, sying the stage somewhat negates the opponent.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Ramos said via the club’s web site. “I think he’s a fantastic coach, with loads of experience, and his numbers speak for themselves. We’re motivated by the Champions League, regardless of the players or coaches who may have been rivals in the past. We’re up for the Champions League and our next task is to beat City. From a personal point of view, I’m just focused on making the next round.”

[ MORE: Key battles for Real-Man City ]

Wednesday’s other match sees a club long linked with Guardiola, as Juventus will play the role of heavy favorites against Lyon.

Maurizio Sarri‘s side is to bidding to win what’s eluded all Juve bosses since Marcello Lippi beat Ajax in 1996. If they succeed, it will be by going down a different path than it’s traveled in recent years.

Here’s Leonardo Bonucci, via Football-Italia:

“What the coach asks of us now is basically the opposite of what the previous coach did,” Bonucci mused. “It was usually individual against individual, now it’s more about organized team movements. Obviously, you need to train consistently to get that down and playing every three days makes it difficult. But we started this journey well aware of the positives it could bring and the difficulties of getting there.”

Lyon has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, sitting seventh in the Ligue 1 table, but has the tools to surprise if Juve doesn’t bring its best. That starts in France on Wednesday.