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Women’s World Cup Power Rankings: Pre-Knockout Rounds

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It’s good to be queen, but for how long?

The United States women’s national team set a group stage record for goals and did not concede once across defeats of Thailand, Chile, and Sweden, but even the most generous of supporters will admit the draw did them well.

That won’t be the case moving forward, even if the next match should be a straight-forward challenge from Spain.

16. China — One goal scored, one goal conceded in three matches.
Pre-World Cup ranking: 15

15. Spain — Blanked twice after beating South Africa, and drop a few spots simply due to their next opponent.
Pre-World Cup ranking: 13

14. Nigeria — Could’ve gotten a point from the France were it not for VAR.
Pre-World Cup ranking: 20

13. Cameroon — Their thrilling stoppage time win past New Zealand was a terrific moment for the tournament.
Pre-World Cup ranking: 24

12. Japan — Uninspiring but safe after a 1-1-1 group stage.
Pre-World Cup ranking: 7

11. Australia — Sam Kerr can do almost anything, but she can’t play all four lines along their suspect back line (or can she?).
Pre-World Cup ranking: 10

10. Norway — Second to the hosts and only fell to France via a penalty.
Pre-World Cup ranking:  12

9. Canada — Christine Sinclair scored to close ground on Abby Wambach’s international goals record, but Sweden is a big ask.
Pre-World Cup ranking: 5

8. Brazil — Marta’s crew may’ve lost just about every game heading into the tournament, but even France doesn’t want an elimination game against her.
Pre-World Cup ranking: 8

7. Sweden — Losing to the USWNT is no crime, but that loss happened during their only real test of the group stage. Canada is a bigger issue.
Pre-World Cup ranking: 6

6. Italy — Could’ve easily went 3-0, losing 1-0 to Brazil in a game their opponents needed badly.
Pre-World Cup ranking: 14

5. England — Still feel relatively untested, but the 2-0 win over Japan steadied many doubts.
Pre-World Cup ranking: 4

4. Netherlands — The EURO champions look electric, but both goals allowed came within minutes of scoring themselves.
Pre-World Cup ranking: 9

3. Germany — Three clean sheets, and built up to a four-goal night in the group stage finale.
Pre-World Cup ranking: 3

2. France — The hosts allowed just one goal and remain, obviously, at home.
Pre-World Cup ranking: 2

  1. USWNT — Dominant, with the only question coming between the sticks. Beat Sweden while resting Julie Ertz.
    Pre-World Cup ranking: 1

Free agent players fear being released before season ends

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Out of contract players fear they will be released before the season is concluded, according to a report by The Telegraph.

For the Big Five European leagues, with seasons starting in August and ending in May, most contracts run through June 30. With the coronavirus shutting down leagues across the world and causing the likely extension of most domestic seasons, that timeline is almost certainly pushed back, meaning games could be played later than the expiration of contracts.

While some players who are in the lineup often, such as Chelsea’s Willian, Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen, or Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser aren’t in danger of being released since they are heavily relied upon by their clubs, many others who are on the fringe could see their contracts terminated before the campaign comes to a close.

The report states that while FIFA cannot change contract law, players are hoping that FIFA will impose temporary sanctions on clubs that release players before the season is up.

High-profile players out of contract who could be impacted include Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud, Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne, and Manchester United’s Timothy Fosu-Mensah.

Sports lawyer Nick De Marco of Blackstone Chambers told Sky Sports that it’s likely players will be under no obligation to stay with their clubs beyond the date of their current contract, but some may wish to even if they aren’t playing to continue earning a paycheck.

“Legally, they cannot be forced to continue to play for the club,” De Marco told Sky Sports News. “Nobody can force them to do so; FIFA, the FA, the club or anybody else. If they want to walk away, that’s a matter for them but it will really be a matter of whether, financially, that makes sense for them.”

“If you’re a lower league club, financially stressed, you won’t be wanting to pay players beyond June 30,” De Marco said. “So, a one-size-fits-all solution isn’t going to work. It’s going to depend on each case. The key is going to be agreements.”

Infantino warns against restarting games too early

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino has cautioned leagues on restarting too early from the coronavirus shutdown, citing continued health concerns.

Bundesliga teams have already returned to training as they gear up for a possible May return, while Premier League clubs are hoping for a return to play in June. Both leagues have detailed that for the foreseeable future, games will be played behind closed doors to keep from masses of people spreading the virus.

Still, Infantino is cautious of these plans, hoping that leagues take public health seriously.

“No match, no competition, no league is worth risking a single human life,” Infantino said. “It’s better to wait a little bit longer than to take risks.”

“I cannot stress this enough,” he told Fifa’s 211 member associations on Friday. “Our first priority, our principle, the one we will use for our competitions and encourage everyone to follow, is that health comes first. Everyone in the world should have this very clear in their mind.”

Most leagues are are on hold as the world copes with the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussions are taking place about when to restart, and all involve playing behind closed doors first as a return to action in front of fans would likely require a vaccine before that many individuals can safely convene in a group environment.

“It would be more than irresponsible to force competitions to resume if things are not 100% safe,” said Infantino. “If football manages to have a discussion where everyone contributes positively, and keeps in mind the global interest over the individual one, I am convinced our future can be better than our past, and we will be better prepared for the times ahead.”

WATCH LIVE: The 2 Robbies on Lunch Talk Live

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe are two guests who will appear on the show Lunch Talk Live hosted by Mike Tirico.

[ WATCH LIVE: Lunch Talk Live on NBCSports.com ]

NBC Sports’ new daily sports talk show, Lunch Talk Live focuses on the current state of the sports world and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, providing guests with a platform to discuss the state of sports, voice their personal stories, and detail how they are adapting their daily lives during this challenging time.

The two Robbies will join other guests Luke Kuechly, Rich Eisen, Tony Dungy, Michele Tafoya, Paul Azinger, and Dan Hicks.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Gabriel to Chelsea, Kante to Real Madrid

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Chelsea is all over the transfer news today.

According to an ESPN report, Chelsea has tabbed 22-year-old Lille center-back Gabriel Magalhaes as one of their top targets this coming transfer window. The Brazilian has been a regular in the Lille lineup this season, making 24 league appearances and helping the squad to the league’s fourth-best defensive record.

The report states that both sides are “optimistic of a deal” with Chelsea ready to pay the $37 million fee.

With transfer targets are identified at Stamford Bridge, it seems the club has also figured out some sort of strategy regarding transfers out. A report by 90min states that while Chelsea is more than happy with N’Golo Kante, roster congestion may allow them to be flexible with his status at the club.

With Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic developing a solid partnership during Kante’s extended injury struggles this season, plus the return of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the availability of Ross Barkley, and the emergence of young Billy Gilmour, Kante is expendable. The report states that while Chelsea is not looking to shop the Frenchman, Real Madrid has held longtime interest and Los Blancos are likely to explore that likelihood in the upcoming transfer window.

Kante has three years left on his deal, and while Chelsea is under no hurry to sell, he will be 32 years old by the time his deal expires so any longer and the midfielder’s value is sure to begin falling.

A familiar name with Premier League transfer rumors is Portuguese midfielder William Carvalho. Linked with PL clubs for years, the Real Betis man is now connected with Leicester City as well as French side Monaco, according to the Leicester Mercury which cites unnamed reports in Portugal. The 28-year-old has 59 caps for Portugal, including a starting role in the side’s Euro 2016 title. He would reportedly cost around $25 million with three years still remaining on his Real Betis contract.