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Who are this year’s World Cup dark horses?

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There’s no doubt that there are three legitimate favorites to win the 2019 Women’s World Cup; Host France, Germany, and of course, the U.S. Women’s National Team.

Behind them are a second tier of teams who could push those three for the title, including England, Japan and even Brazil if they put everything together.

[MORE: Full 2019 World Cup schedule, live streams]

But who are the dark horses, teams that could really surprise a few and make a deep run in the tournament? Let’s take a closer look, below.


Netherlands

Winners of the 2017 European Championships, the Netherlands are looking to make a splash at this year’s World Cup. It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that the Netherlands really started to invest in their women’s team (with the creation of the professional women’s Eredivisie in 2007), and it’s starting to pay dividends.

The Netherlands qualified for its first World Cup in 2015 and fell in the knockout round to eventual finalists Japan, but the team features some of the most talented players in the world. They’re led by former World Player of the Year and Barcelona midfielder Lieke Martens, while 22-year-old Vivianne Miedema has scored 45 international goals. Miedema, one of four Arsenal players in this Netherlands squad, scored 22 goals for the Gunners this past season in just 20 Women’s Super League games. Another former club teammate, Dominique Bloodworth, just signed with Wolfsburg after appearing more than 100 times for Arsenal.

Captain and goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal, also at Arsenal, has taken the position from veteran Loes Geurts and it will be interesting to see how van Veenendaal does as the new No. 1.

The Netherlands combines a strong and young squad, but a they’ll have to wait until the final group stage match to know what their road to the final will look like. Should they beat Canada and win the group, they’ll likely face either England or Japan in the Round of 16. If they finish as runners-up, the Netherlands could face the U.S. Women’s National Team or Sweden. Either way, it’s likely a tough start to the knockout round. However, this Netherlands team looks up to the challenge.

Canada

The other favorites to get out of Group E, Canada is one of the most experienced squads at this World Cup and it’s likely the last World Cup for legendary striker and national team captain, Christine Sinclair. The 35-year-old has scored more than 180 international goals and could look to break Abby Wambach’s international record of 184 international goals at this World Cup, especially if Canada makes a deep run.

Along with Sinclair, the team features veterans Sophie Schmitt and Desiree Scott, but there’s also a youth movement in the squad. Rising star, forward Jordyn Huitema, already has more than 20 caps and is still only 18 years old, while fellow teenagers Jayde Riviere and Julia Grosso also made the team.

It’s a squad that’s going to rely heavily on defending with Lyon’s Kadeisha Buchanan and Orlando Pride’s Shelina Zadorsky taking big roles at centerback. But with Huitema available off the bench for some pace up top, and Sinclair’s goalscoring ability, this team could surprise a few and make another deep run, just like at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.


Australia

Another team with one of the world’s best strikers, captain Sam Kerr may be the best in the world at her position. The 25-year-old split time between the Chicago Red Stars – scoring six goals in six games – as well as Perth Glory, with 17 goals in 13 games, so she’s clearly one of the most in-form strikers on the globe.

Lisa de Vanna could start or come off the bench in her fourth World Cup, while a mostly young backline will look to keep opponents off the board, including right back Ellie Carpenter of the Portland Thorns.

The team also interestingly features 16-year-old forward Mary Fowler, who has already made four appearances off the bench.

Australia will have a tough road into the knockout round, with Italy, Brazil and Jamaica in Group C, but if the Matildas can make it out of there, they’ll be in good shape moving forward and battle tested. The Matildas can go as far as Sam Kerr can take them, and if she keeps scoring, they can certainly go far.

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.

Lampard: Chelsea first leg loss ‘quite sobering,’ ‘harsh lesson’

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Chelsea manager Frank Lampard isn’t sugarcoating his side’s 3-0 first-leg loss to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday.

“Sometimes you have to be brutally honest about it,” he said in televised remarks after the loss. “It’s quite sobering.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Lampard admitted that Bayern was firing on all cylinders at Stamford Bridge, and proffered tepid support for the idea of an unlikely comeback in Germany next month.

“The level of team they showed that they are, hence why they challenge in the Bundesliga and the Champions League,” he said, via Football.London. “I’m disappointed we couldn’t do better against them. It’s a reality check. Don’t look at anyone else apart from yourself.”

“We should never say the door is closed because our fans would never accept that. I’m more concerned with the bigger picture here. There’s a lot to be done.”

Sure is.

Chelsea leads fifth-place Manchester United by three points in the top four race and has a four-point edge on sixth-place Spurs in the scenario that fifth is enough for Champions League football.

That’s important because the UCL path back to the tournament looks like a massive ask. And Lampard said the players need to use Tuesday’s blowout loss at home “as a positive effect” moving forward.

But he also put it pretty plainly during his post-match comments.

“It was a harsh lesson,” Lampard said. “This is Champions League football.”

Griezmann gives Barcelona first leg draw with Napoli (video)

Napoli v. Barcelona recap and video highlights
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Antoine Griezmann scored in the second half to earn Barcelona a 1-1 draw with Napoli in a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg at the San Paulo Stadium on Tuesday.

Dries Mertens scored a beautiful opener for Napoli, who heads to the Camp Nou for a March 18 second leg.

Arturo Vidal was sent off in the 89th minute for a second yellow card, and Sergio Busquets picked up a yellow which will cost him the second leg.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Gennaro Gattuso’s plan was to limit Barcelona’s shots, and it worked well in the first half.

Mertens got his goal on one of only five shots in the half, the only two on target coming via Napoli.

How a tale can turn on a moment, though, as Nelson Semedo set up Griezmann’s second-half marker to give Barca a useful away goal.

Barca was much better in the second half but could not find a second away goal.

Here’s the goal of the day, and it belongs to Mertens.

Bayern Munich puts Chelsea in 3-goal hole

Bayern Chelsea
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Too easy.

Serge Gnabry scored off a pair of Robert Lewandowski assists as Bayern Munich earned a 3-0 first-leg lead over Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Lampard reacts to ‘harsh lesson’ ]

Chelsea played the last dozen minutes down a man; Marcos Alonso was sent off via VAR for contact to the face of Robert Lewandowski away from the play. He’ll miss the second leg, as will Jorginho after collecting another yellow card.

Lewandowski capped off the scoring to make Chelsea’s task even more difficult heading to the Allianz Arena for the March 18 second leg.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]


Three things we learned

1. Bayern loves London: Just under five months ago, Bayern Munich buried Tottenham Hotspur in North London in a seven-goal show. This wasn’t quite that, but the Bavarians out-classed a Chelsea side which had few answers for Hansi Flick’s tactics. Bayern has hung 10 on London.

2. Ex-Gunner Gnabry runs the show: Gnabry scored just one goal in 14 appearances over four years between Arsenal and West Brom, and is making up for lost time during this season’s Champions League. He scored four times and added an assist when Bayern visited his former North London Derby rivals. This time, it was two goals in four second-half minutes at Stamford Bridge, the German playmaker contributing plenty in the defensive half.

All it took was one slip from Cesar Azpilicueta to start the scoring.

3. Chelsea’s backs torn apart: It’s difficult to find any fine individual performances from the Blues aside from Mateo Kovacic, though Mason Mount had his moments, but the worst days came from the back three. Bayern was credited with a half-dozen big chances via Sofascore, and the visitors took a whopping 11 shots inside the box.

Man of the Match: The 30-year-old Muller was everywhere early, but it’s difficult to give this to anyone but Gnabry or Lewandowski. We’ll give it to the German.


Kingsley Coman was the first to scare the opposition, working a long 1-2 with Thomas Muller before thumping a low shot wide of the near post in the 12th minute.

Chelsea backstop Willy Caballero made a sliding trail leg save on Robert Lewandowski in the 28th.

Muller then swirled a shot around Caballero but just past the far post before heading off the cross bar in the 35th.

Chelsea got a prime moment in the 48th minute, but Mason Mount was dispossessed and Manuel Neuer stymied Ross Barkley.

Gnabry then stole the ball in Chelsea’s half and worked a 1-2 with Lewandowski to put Bayern on the board.

Mount latched onto a big mistake from Joshua Kimmich but badly missed his bid to catch Neuer out of the goal.

Canadian phenom Alphonso Davies produced the third goal with a roaring run down the left flank, crossing to Lewandowski for the goal.