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Women’s World Cup: Italy dominates, Japan hangs on, England persists

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Japan got back on track while Scotland was the first side officially eliminated from the tournament as the Asian side clung to a 2-1 victory in Rennes. Japan dominated the first half and took a 2-0 lead into the break on goals by attackers Mana Iwabuchi and Yuika Sugasawa but they were forced to hang on late as Lana Clelland curled one in to make for an intriguing finish.

Following an opening-round 0-0 draw with Argentina that left a powerful side with more questions than answers, Japan was ruthless in the first half as Iwabuchi opened the scoring 23 minutes in as her right-footed blast found the roof of the net just under the crossbar from outside the box. They had a 2-0 lead 14 minutes later as a speculative counter-attack saw Rachel Corsie bundle over Sugasawa defending a long-ball, and the Japanese striker was on hand to dispatch the penalty.

Scotland was happy to hear the halftime whistle, and they came out stronger after the break but Clelland’s curler proved only a consolation as Japan found victory for the first time this tournament. As two-time finalists in the last two World Cups, Japan breathed a sign of relief following a much better attacking effort thank their opening game and moved atop Group D for the time being, although that would not last long as England reclaimed the lead. Scotland, meanwhile, suffered its second one-goal defeat and is still without a point heading into its final match, eliminated officially as England claimed victory later in the day.

In the second game of the day, Italy secured qualification to the knockout stages with a commanding Group C lead after dismantling Jamaica 5-0 in Reims, the site of the United States’ demolition of Thailand. A hat-trick from Juventus striker Cristiana Girelli led the way, with substitute Aurora Galli bagging a pair to finish things off.

Already with two goals by halftime on a 2-0 lead, Girelli secured her hat-trick just seconds after halftime with a far-post header that trickled over the line following a fabulous long-distance delivery from Manuela Giugliano. Girelli becomes the first Italian to score a Women’s World Cup hat-trick, marking the country’s return to the event after a 20-year absence in thunderous fashion.

Galli came on in the 65th minute and did excellent work off the bench, firing an absolute howitzer for her first in the 71st minute before tacking on the finale with nine minutes left.

Finally, England weathered a disappointing first half to come away victorious over Argentina. The South American side held England goalless in the first half in similar fashion to their opening match against Japan, with the European group dominant but unable to find the back of the net, even seeing a poor 28th minute penalty from Nikita Parris saved. After halftime, it was more of the same early as Vanina Correa made an absolutely stunning close-range save on a messy England set-piece.

Argentina held through the hour mark, but were undone right there as the Lionesses broke through via Jodie Taylor on the break. After a rare Argentina attack, England countered and a stellar cross from Beth Mead evaded the racing defenders and a diving Correa, and Taylor was there for the tap-in.

England failed to score again, with Paris heading over on 71 minutes before they appeared to take their foot off the gas, but in was still a dominating wire-to-wire performance despite the thin scoreline, as they topped Argentina on the shot count 15-1. England’s Abbie McManus out-passed Argentina by herself, completing 111 distributions to Argentina’s 96.

England secured a place in the knockout stages with the win, while Argentina is still in the mix but need a win against Scotland plus some help from above.

Spanish FA once again opposes La Liga match in U.S.

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For the second consecutive season, La Liga and Relevant Sports have proposed a league match to take place this winter in the U.S.

And once again, the La Liga proposal doesn’t have the support of its national soccer federation.

[READ: La Liga wants to move Villarreal-Atletico Madrid to Miami]

Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), told reporters on Thursday that it would oppose the match taking place outside of Spain’s borders, keeping a consistent line in the sand on how far globalization can go in soccer.

“It would disrupt the competition,” Rubiales said, via AS. “To play a game in Miami, La Liga needs permission from five bodies that it doesn’t have.”

The five bodies Rubiales referred to are the RFEF, FIFA, CONCACAF, U.S. Soccer and MLS.

Last time around, Relevant Sports and La Liga announced a long-term, lucrative marketing contract to expand the brand’s footprint in the Americas, and soon after, petitioned to move Girona’s home game against Barcelona to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, the home stadium of Relevant Sports owner Stephen Ross and his Miami Dolphins.

Ultimately, La Liga president Javier Tebas and Relevant Sports were unable to get permission from the RFEF or FIFA to hold the event outside Spain and it went off as expected in Girona. At the time, Spain’s player’s union and fans groups opposed the move. Tebas has filed a lawsuit in Spain to try to force the RFEF to approve their request, but it seems unlikely to be awarded and it surely doesn’t provide any good will between the two parties.

There’s been plenty of talk about bringing league games abroad before, but it has just been talk so far. The Premier League considered adding an extra game to the season to be played all over the world, but never went through with creating plans for matches.

Associations – not leagues, to be clear – have brought things like Super Cups abroad. For example, the RFEF moved the 2018 Spanish Super Cup to Tangiers, Morocco, while the France Football Federation has brought its national Super Cup match to both the U.S. and Montreal, Canada in recent years. However, the argument in favor of bringing those games abroad is they’re basically meaningless. Meanwhile, one result in a league season could – in theory – determine whether a team is relegated or not, especially if the margin is three points or less.

We could see another legal fight on our hands, so watch this space, there’s plenty more to come.

Rodgers excuses Maddison鈥檚 behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison鈥檚 decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

鈥淭he kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,鈥 Rodgers said, via the Guardian. 鈥淗e wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff 鈥 which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn鈥檛 want that to spread to his teammates 鈥 decided it鈥檚 best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

鈥淗e watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time 鈥 probably he鈥檒l make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that鈥檚 totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he鈥檚 made a mistake.鈥

Considering all that went on during England鈥檚 international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there鈥檚 no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn鈥檛 know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we鈥檝e all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley鈥檚 performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There鈥檚 only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.

Tierney, Lacazette available for Arsenal

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Arsenal are edging closer to finally having a full-strength squad.

Ahead of Monday鈥檚 prime-time matchup with Sheffield United, Arsenal manager Unai Emery confirmed that Kieran Tierney was in line to make his Premier League debut, while Alexandre Lacazette was back in full training and should be in the gameday squad.

鈥淭oday is Lacazette鈥檚 first training back with us,鈥 Emery said in a press conference on Thursday. 鈥淗e finished it well and he’s feeling well with his injuries. Tomorrow we will be training again and he will be with us. We will decide.

鈥淭he most important thing is that first he is training, then secondly it’s whether he can be with us and it depends how he can feel in the next days training with us, whether his ankle is not giving him any more problems.鈥

This is a huge boost to Arsenal, which has had to rely on some youngsters and have made some lineup changes to accommodate not having Lacazette on the field. Tierney meanwhile could step into a position where there鈥檚 already a decent starter, Sead Kolasinac.

Lacazette鈥檚 return also couldn鈥檛 have come at a better time. In Premier League action, Arsenal鈥檚 high-powered offense has been stymied, scoring just two goals in the last two league games. Meanwhile, against weaker defenses in the UEFA Europa League and the Carabao Cup, Arsenal has bagged a total of 12 goals.

The veteran Frenchman has scored two goals in three appearances so far this season, including a big goal just before halftime in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham. However, he suffered a long-term ankle injury in that match that has kept him on the sidelines for more than a month.

鈥淸Tierney is] ready to play,鈥 Emery later said. Now we have two options in that left-back role with Sead Kolasinac and him. We’re going to play a lot of matches after Monday. We will need every player.聽It depends how he comes into the first training with us, Sead, after his international matches. We now have two players in that position and we can use one on Monday, it depends how they are, one or the other.鈥

Tierney, the 22-year-old Scottish left back, has made two appearances for the Arsenal first team since recovering from a double hernia operation over the summer. Signed from Celtic for around $32 million, Tierney adds a skill that Kolasinac has struggled with – expert crosser of the ball into the box, where the likes of Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can score when given a decent chance.

USWNT star Rapinoe, boxer Shields win sportswomen of year

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Soccer star Megan Rapinoe and boxer Claressa Shields have been honored as Sportswomen of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

They won in the team and individual categories, the awards coming at the foundation’s 40th annual Salute to Women in Sports.

Rapinoe led the U.S. to victory at the World Cup in France and earned the FIFA Player of the Year award. Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and middleweight champion.

Sheila Johnson, part-owner of the Washington Wizards, Capitals and recent WNBA champion Mystics, won the Billie Jean King Leadership Award. Marta Vieira da Silva, star of the Brazilian national soccer team, won the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award.

Rapinoe thanked her teammates Wednesday night and lauded Marta, a six-time FIFA Player of the Year, calling the Brazilian the greatest of all time and an “absolute hero in our sport.”

John Burke, president of the Trek Bicycle company, received the inaugural Champion for Equality Award.