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Nations League: Ronaldo’s Portugal looks for another title

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PORTO, Portugal (AP) The inaugural UEFA’s Nations League reaches its conclusion this week with the competition’s Final Four in Portugal, when Cristiano Ronaldo will try to lead the hosts to another European title.

For England, it’s a chance to lift an international trophy for the first time since the 1966 World Cup, while a revamped Netherlands squad and Switzerland will also be fighting for the title.

Portugal meets Switzerland in the first semifinal on Wednesday in Porto, while England takes on the Dutch on Thursday in the nearby city of Guimaraes in northwestern Portugal. The winners play the final on Sunday in Porto, with the losers meeting in the third-place match in Guimaraes.

Ronaldo, who led Portugal to its first major title at the 2016 European Championship, took some time off from the national team after its elimination in the round of 16 of the World Cup last summer, but he is back at full strength for the inaugural Nations League at home. He didn’t play in any of the team’s matches in the competition last year, though he was back for the European qualifiers earlier this year.

“We want to win it not only because we are playing at home, but because we want to win titles,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said. “And winning the first edition of the Nations League would be great.”

UEFA launched the Nations League to try to give national teams more meaningful games and reduce the number of friendlies. The creation of yet another UEFA competition attracted a lot of criticism at first but eventually it produced some exciting games.

With a format in which only the group winners advanced, and which included relegation between leagues, there were several matches with high stakes involved, especially in the final rounds. England needed a late winner by Harry Kane against World Cup runner-up Croatia to eliminate Spain and seal the team’s spot in the Final Four.

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“Some people were skeptical against the Nations League, especially the clubs. They didn’t think this could be an interesting competition,” Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic said, through a translator. “But it’s the contrary. Every single team in every single league wanted to win. We are happy to be here, and I think in the future we will see that this competition might become even more interesting.”

The tournament also gave smaller nations a better chance of qualifying for the 2020 European Championship, as all group winners in the four leagues were guaranteed a place in a qualifying playoff.

For a team like England, though, the competition is mainly another opportunity to win an official title, something it hasn’t done it in more than five decades since that World Cup at home.

The Englishmen have been on a roll recently, having made it to the semifinals of the World Cup last year. They followed that up with convincing wins over Spain and Croatia in the Nations League, and began the year with a 5-0 rout of the Czech Republic and a 5-1 victory over Montenegro in European qualifying.

Switzerland is yet to win an international trophy, and the Netherlands hasn’t won a title since the 1988 European Championship when current coach Ronald Koeman still played for the national team. The Dutch eliminated World Cup-winner France and Germany in its Nations League group.

“You are playing for a trophy,” Dutch forward Memphis Depay told UEFA’s website. “That’s very important for us. We need to try to get used to winning trophies if we want to be a successful team, because that’s what successful teams do. And when you’re this close, two games away from the prize, then that’s a great goal.”

The Nations League winner will be taking home a prize of 10.5 million euros ($11.7 million), with 9 million euros ($10 million) going to the runner-up.

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Felix makes decision; Neymar to leave PSG?

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Benfica youngster Joao Felix, 19, has reportedly decided to join Atletico Madrid.

Reports in Spain from Marca said that a deal for Felix has been agreed between Benfica and Atletico, with the Portuguese star deciding to head to La Liga instead of the Premier League with both Manchester City and Manchester United keen on signing him.

Felix has a release clause of $125 million in his Benfica contract and since the reports broke in Spain his current club have released a statement denying that a deal with Atletico has been done and that Felix’s agent, Jorge Mendes, is set to earn a huge $45 million from the transfer deal.

“In view of the set of news published in these last hours, Sport Lisboa e Benfica – Futebol, SAD clarifies that it is false that any negotiation process is currently under way regarding a possible transfer of player Joao Felix. The conditions for its negotiation are public and known, taking into account the termination clause defined in the amount of 120 million euros.

“More serious, and that deserves our most vehement repudiation and denial, is the false news that refers to negotiations that involve commissions of 30% and which, unfortunately, was echoed in Portugal by the newspaper ‘A Bola’, with intentions and goals that we do not know at all. We repeat: this information is totally false, absurd and has clearly intentional intentions for the reputation and dignity of Sport Lisboa e Benfica.”

The Portuguese international burst onto the scene in 2018-19 as he scored 20 goals from midfield to lead Benfica to the Portuguese title and a deep run in the UEFA Europa League.

With Antoine Griezmann on his way out of Atletico this summer, they will have some serious cash to spend and Benfica have been holding out for Felix’s reported release clause as clubs have tried to haggle it down by $20-25 million. There statement is strong that Felix is going nowhere, for now, but these reports suggest a move to Atletico is imminent.

Felix remains one of the top young talents in European soccer and these reports may well give the likes of City and United a friendly nudge in the right direction if they are serious about signing the free-scoring midfielder.


It appears Paris Saint-Germain are getting pretty fed up with the Neymar and a few of their other superstars.

In an interview with France Football PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi was asked about the speculation regarding Neymar’s future and came up with this response.

“I want players willing to give everything to defend the honour of the jersey and to join the club project,” Al-Khelaifi said. “Those who do not want that, or do not understand, we will meet and we will talk to each other. There are of course contracts to be respected, but the priority now is total membership of our project. Nobody forced him to sign here. Nobody pushed him. He came knowingly to join a project.”

Wow. That sounds like a man at the end of his tether.

Neymar arrived from Barcelona in 2017 for a world-record fee of $262 million and Kylian Mbappe arrived from Monaco initially on loan and then for the second-largest transfer fee in history at $200 million.

The former has been linked with a move to Real Madrid throughout the summer, while Mbappe spoke about the possibility of experiencing something new after he was named the Ligue 1 player of the year.

But Neymar is front and center here. Is that harsh given his plethora of injuries for club and country in recent seasons? His conduct off the pitch suggest these stern words from Al-Khelaifi are directly squarely at him.

After he was suspended for three UEFA Champions League games for next season after verbally abusing referees on social media, he was also reprimanded for hitting a fan after PSG’s defeat in the French Cup final to Rennes. His behavior off the pitch has further been called into question after last week a woman alleged she was raped by the Brazilian superstar.

PSG’s main aim is to dominate European soccer but despite Al-Khelaifi leading the charge and their Qatari owners pouring billions into the project, they haven’t got past the last eight stage in the UCL. Even though Thomas Tuchel’s side continue to dominate French soccer with six titles in the last seven seasons, European glory is what PSG crave.

Until Neymar is fully focused on the PSG project, it is unlikely to happen.

No deal: Willian, Wan-Bissaka bids rejected

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According to Sky Sports Chelsea have reportedly rejected $44 million bids from both Atletico Madrid and Barcelona for their Brazilian winger Willian.

Willian, 29, has just 12 months left on his current contract at Chelsea but given their transfer ban and after losing Eden Hazard to Real Madrid already this summer, the west London club are not willing to lose a player they believe will be key for them next season.

With Pedro and Christian Pulisic also around in the wide midfield positions, the fact that Callum Hudson-Odoi is recovering from a long-term injury also means that Willian is needed at Stamford Bridge.

He turns 30 soon and he has been linked with a move to Barca in the past. That said, his experience and quality will be needed for this young Chelsea squad and with Hazard gone he can now step up and be the main man cutting inside and scoring goals.


Another London club have turned down a bid, as Crystal Palace have brushed aside an offer of $44 million up front plus another $19 million in add-ons from Manchester United for right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

The 21-year-old was Palace’s Player of the Season in 2018-19 and excelled in his first full season as a professional.

Man United are desperate to bolster their defense, with right back and center back key areas where they want to strengthen this summer.

Wan-Bissaka is currently away with the England U21 squad for the European Championships in Italy and Palace know it will be tough to hang on to both him and Wilfried Zaha this summer as the latter has reaffirmed his desire to challenge for trophies and play in the UEFA Champions League.

Sky Sports believe that a straight offer of $65 million would be accepted, and United will likely return to pay what Palace want for one of the most promising right backs in the Premier League.

Watch Live: 2019 Women’s World Cup – Day 11

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The first double headers of the 2019 Women’s World Cup has arrived, as Groups A and B come to a close on Monday.

Hosts France are already through to the last 16 of the tournament but they face Nigeria who are aiming to finish in second place as they have three points from their first two games, and so do Norway who face South Korea in the other Group A finale.

[ MORE: Women’s World Cup news

Germany are already through from Group B and a win against South Africa, who sit bottom of the standings, will see them top the group. The real drama will be in the game between Spain and China as both teams have three points heading into their final group game.

You can watch every single game from the tournament live online in Spanish via Telemundo Deportes and via the NBC Sports App. All you have to do is click on the links below.

[ LIVE: Watch every single 2019 Women’s World Cup game ]

Here is your full schedule for Monday, June 17 at the Women’s World Cup.


2019 Women’s World Cup schedule

Group B: China v. Spain – 12 p.m. ET – STREAM LIVE
Group B: South Africa v. Germany – 12 p.m. ET – STREAM LIVE

Group A: Nigeria v. France – 3 p.m. ET – STREAM LIVE
Group A: South Korea v. Norway – 3 p.m. ET – STREAM LIVE

USWNT: “We have best team and second best team in world”

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Well, I’m sure this will calm down the folks who believe the USWNT are overconfident and a tad arrogant after scoring 16 goals and conceding zero in their opening two games of the 2019 Women’s World Cup…

Via Andrew Keh from the New York Times, defender Ali Krieger believes that such is the incredible depth of Jill Ellis’ U.S. women’s national team, they actually have the best team on the planet and also the second best team.

“We have the best team in the world, and the second-best team in the world,” Krieger said of the no. 1 ranked team on the planet.

Alex Morgan added that the USWNT have “two starting lineups” and the fact that Ellis made seven changes from the team which beat Thailand 13-0 and the U.S. then beat Chile 3-0 on Sunday says a lot.

All 20 of the USWNT’s outfield players have now played at the World Cup, and ahead of their Group F showdown with Sweden on Thursday for top spot it is likely the U.S. will continue to rotate its starting lineup.

In a month-long tournament, having such a large squad of talent to call on is enviable and Ellis knows it.

The USWNT toned down their goal celebrations from the 13-0 hammering of Thailand to the relatively run-of-the-mill victory against Chile, but their confidence levels haven’t dipped at all.

Just as the fresh legs will take them far in this tournament, so too will a whole squad brimming with confidence after getting valuable minutes at a World Cup.

It will be intriguing to hear what France, England and Germany think about these claims that the USWNT’s reserve squad is better than they are…