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World Cup quarterfinal: Heat is on USWNT v. hosts France

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It will be close to 97 degrees in Paris on Friday as France swelters in a severe, unexpected heatwave.

The U.S. women’s national team will also be feeling the heat at the Parc des Princes (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET online via Telemundo Deportes) as they face the much-fancied tournament hosts in a mouth-watering World Cup quarterfinal.

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

France versus the USWNT sees fourth play first in terms of their FIFA rankings, as the reigning champs struggled by Spain in their Round of 16 clash and know that the pressure is on them to deliver and keep up their incredible record of at least reaching the semifinal stage in every single Women’s World Cup in history.

The fact they’ve failed to beat France in their last three games against them, including two defeats with the latest loss coming in January, means that the pressure is cranked up a few notches as the eyes of the world lock in on Paris.

“This U.S. team lives in pressure. When you are young and come into this program, there is always a target on your back,” head coach Jill Ellis told the media. “This is a big game, the players know that. You’re wired for this and built for this. Some teams visit pressure, but we live there. Are there going to be some nerves? Sure. There is a lot at stake. They are wired to handle it.”

Much of the talk ahead of this game has been about President Donald Trump and his reaction to comments from co-captain Megan Rapinoe who said she is “not f****** going to the White House” if the USWNT win the World Cup.

Those comments were to a magazine, Eight By Eight, in January and have gone viral in recent days after the video clip was released.

Rapinoe addressed Trump’s comments — the U.S. president said that she “should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her and the team” and to “be proud of the flag that you wear” — and said she stands by what she said and would urge her teammates to follow her lead.

Back to the action on the pitch, Rapinoe is fired up, as she elaborated on her eccentric comments about facing the hosts in Paris on Friday in primetime.

“The secondary market for tickets is wild. Looking at this match, what it means for the tournament, it is a huge game and our chance to play the host nation in a World Cup,” Rapinoe smiled. “For me, these are why you play all of the thousands of friendlies, training on your own and grinding away. I think it is going to be a fantastic match. It will be fun and it will be a great stage for both teams to go out and enjoy themselves.”

France’s head coach Corinne Diacre put it bluntly when talking about the expectation levels on France against the USWNT, who have plenty of fans supporting them every step of the way in France.

“We have no pressure when we play USA,’ Diacre said.

So it’s over to Ellis’ team as they are focused on spoiling the French party in what should be an epic battle between two teams littered with stars, as Wendie Renard, Eugenie Le Sommer and Amandine Henry lead the French charge and the likes of Rapinoe, Julie Ertz and Alex Morgan will be front and center for the USWNT.

“From where we were four years ago and from where France were four years ago, we are both stronger teams,” Rapinoe said.

Which team will be strong enough to better handle the inferno of expectation and reach the final four?

Report: Arsenal in talks to sign Mari

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Arsenal are still in talks to sign Spanish center back Pablo Mari despite the player returning to Brazilian club Flamengo after being in London.

Our partners at Sky Sports in the UK believe that the plan was always for Mari to return to Brazil as Arsenal and the reigning Brazilian champions are locked in talks about an initial loan deal for the 26-year-old.

The deal would be a loan with an option to buy in the summer and would give Mikel Arteta some much-needed depth in central defense.

Mari moved to Man City in 2016 but never played for City as he was loaned out to Girona, NAC Breda and Deportivo La Coruna before he left City last summer on a permanent deal to Flamengo. He has since won the Brazilian title and Copa Libertadores with Flamengo and played in the FIFA Club World Cup final against Liverpool as they lost 1-0 in extra time.

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

With Callum Chambers out injured until next season, plus David Luiz, Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis out of form, Arteta’s main aim is to shore things up at the back.

Since he arrived in December the Gunners have become tougher to beat and are playing with more energy but individual errors, especially defensively, continue to cost them dear as they sit 10 points off the top four with 14 games to go.

If Arsenal can improved defensively then a top four push, or at the very least a run to the Europa League final, isn’t out of the question and adding Mari or another center back is key for Arteta in the final days of the window.

Arsenal have been linked with Jerome Boateng, Dayot Upamecano, Mykola Matviyenko, John Stones and many other center backs this month but it seems like a deal for Mari would perhaps be the easiest to get over the line before Friday’s deadline.

Barcelona’s Setien under pressure after three games in charge

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona hired Quique Setien to improve a team that was already leading the Spanish league.

Two weeks later, the defending champions are trailing Real Madrid and clearly struggling to adapt to the on-the-fly coaching change.

The team has boosted its possession of the ball and its number of passes, tenants of the orthodox Barcelona style professed by Setien that had waned in recent seasons. But that has yet to make it firmer on defense or lead to more goals compared to its performances under predecessor Ernesto Valverde.

Barcelona needed a goal by Lionel Messi to get past Granada 1-0 in Setien’s debut on Jan. 19. A double by Antoine Griezmann, including a second goal in stoppage time, saved them against third-tier side Ibiza in the Copa del Rey with a 2-1 win on Wednesday.

But on Saturday Barcelona was completely outplayed at Valencia, which was content to let Barcelona have the ball and then wait to pounce on the break. Valencia won 2-0 despite also missing a penalty and hitting the post. Madrid’s 1-0 win at Valladolid on Sunday let it move three points ahead and take charge of the title race.

Setien acknowledged that his team has yet to play like he wants.

“We are evaluating the position of our players and the understanding we need to have to do what we propose,” Setien said after Saturday’s loss. “One thing is that (the players) understand it on the chalkboard and quite another is how we put it into practice.”

Setien’s three-man backline, a change from Valverde’s four defenders, left the team’s flanks exposed against Valencia. Ansu Fati and Jordi Alba, playing as wing backs, were unable to effectively join the attack. And, most disconcertingly for Setien, the midfield of Sergio Buquests, Frenkie de Jong, and Arthur failed to set up Messi and Griezmann in scoring positions.

Barcelona only got going once it was trailing in the score and after Arturo Vidal had replaced Arthur. Vidal set up Messi’s goal against Granada and was his best partner in attack again at Valencia.

“There are things that (my players) didn’t interpret correctly,” Setien said. “That, or we didn’t explain them well. We made passes that didn’t help advance the team. There are things we need to work on to correct.”

Setien will need to work out the kinks in his team before Barcelona visits Napoli in the opening leg of their Champions League round-of-16 leg on Feb. 25.

Next up is Leganes in the Copa del Rey round-of-16 on Thursday.

SIMEONE’S SLUMP

Atletico Madrid is in a slump and its road forward is only going to get more difficult.

Diego Simeone’s side will take a four-game winless streak across all competitions to crosstown rival Real Madrid next weekend.

Madrid bettered Atletico on Jan. 12 in a penalty shootout to win the Spanish Super Cup. That loss started a wretched run for Atletico that has included a 2-0 loss at Eibar, a humiliating exit from the Copa del Rey to a third-tier team, and Sunday’s 0-0 draw at home with lowly Leganes.

“The results are not good, but we have never stopped trying nor fighting for the good times to return,” goalkeeper Jan Oblak said. “We hope to build the run of wins that we all need.”

While Oblak is keeping the team in matches by anchoring a strong defense, the team’s attack is sputtering. With 22 goals in 21 league matches, only five teams in the 20-team division have scored fewer. Barcelona, the leading scorer, has 50 goals.

The pressure will be on former Madrid player Alvaro Morata to lead an attack with Angel Correa and youngster Joao Felix, who has yet to meet expectations following his 120 million euros ($133 million) transfer from Benifca.

A win at the Santiago Bernabeu would do wonders to silence Atletico’s critics. A loss would realistically leave the team with only the Champions League to play for. It faces defending champion Liverpool in the round-of-16 next month.

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Americans Abroad: Johnson, Yedlin register starts; Miazga injured in FA Cup bout

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After last weekend served as the year’s best weekend yet for Americans abroad, positive activity was scarce this time around.

Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin returned to their respective team’s starting lineups, but neither them or any other American abroad managed to put the ball in the back of the net.

To make matters worse, Matt Miazga left Reading’s match on Saturday with an apparent ankle injury.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

FA Cup

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — Yedlin was back on Steve Bruce‘s starting lineup on Saturday. The fullback played all 90 minutes in Newcastle’s draw with Oxford United.

Duane Holmes, Derby County — Holmes remianed on the bench in Derby’s 0-0 draw with Northampton Town on Friday.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — The 24-year-old captain started and played 66 minutes before exiting the field with an apparent ankle injury against Cardiff City on Saturday.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers’ defender started and played 90 minutes in Hull’s 2-1 loss to Chelsea.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — The 34-year-old defender stayed on the bench in QPR’s 2-1 loss to Sheffield Wednesday on Friday.

Tim Ream, Fulham — Ream played the final six minutes in Fulham’s 4-0 loss to Manchester City on Sunday.

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah didn’t feature on the field or on Lille’s bench this weekend.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — Jordon-Siebatcheu watched Rennes draw 1-1 with Nice from the bench.

Eredivisie

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — Wright remained on the bench in Venlo’s 2-1 win over RKC Waalwijk on Sunday.

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Dest started and played 90 minutes in Ajax’s 2-1 defeat to Groningen.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback didn’t dress for FC Emmen on Sunday.

Bundesliga

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — The fullback played 89 minutes in Frankfurt’s 2-0 win over RB Leipzig on Saturday.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams started and played 71 minutes for Leipzig.

Weston McKennie, Schalke — McKennie is back and running, playing 10 minutes for Schalke in their 5-0 loss to Bayern Munich.

Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Steffen is inactive with an injury.

Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Morales started and played 90 minutes in Fortuna’s 3-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  The 19-year-old started and played 66 minutes in Werder Bremen’s 3-0 loss to Hoffenheim.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach — Johnson made his way back into Mönchengladbach’s starting cast, playing 87 minutes on Sunday.

Honorable Mentions

Alex Mendez, Jong Ajax — Mendez played all 90 minutes and registered an assist in Jong Ajax’s 3-3 draw with  NEC Nijmegen.

Mexicans Abroad: Vela starts preseason with a bang; Davila continues to shine in A-League

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It took Carlos Vela 10 minutes to prove that he didn’t lose a step over Major League Soccer’s lengthy offseason.

Vela, 30, started his third preseason in grandiose fashion, scoring a trademark left-footed curler against Uruguayan giants Peñarol. The Mexican winger, who scored a league-record 34 goals in 31 matches, inspired LAFC’s 2-0 win at the Banc of California Stadium.

Thousands of miles away, an old friend of Vela, Ulises Davila, delivered the good for his club once again. The Chivas academy product scored a goal and provided an assist in Wellington Phoenix’s 2-1 win over Newcastle Jets.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.


Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers —  Jimenez and Wolves did not feature this weekend, but they did on Thursday, and the Mexican shined then. Jimenez scored his 11th goal of the season in Wolves’ 2-1 loss to leaders Liverpool, equalling Harry Kane‘s and Sadio Mane’s count. Thhe goal, itself, was a masterpiece:

La Liga

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — Herrera took the field in the 62nd minute for Angel Correa and completed 25 passes in Atletico’s 0-0 draw with Leganes.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Guardado started but left the field 34 minutes in after picking up an injury. Betis dropped three points after losing to Getafe 1-0.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old was not called up to Betis’ bench on Sunday. 

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo started and played 90 minutes in Celta’s draw with Eibar on Sunday.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli —  With reports linking the frenetic winger to Everton, Lozano continues lack playing minutes with Napoli. The 24-year-old was on Genaro Gattuso’s bench on Sunday, but was not substituted on in Napoli’s 2-1 win over Juventus.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Tecatito started and played all 90 minutes in Porto’s 1-0 loss to Braga in the Taca da Liga final. It was reported that the 27-year-old’s home in Portugal was burglarized during the match.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven —  Gutierrez earned his first minutes of competitive playing time of the year on Sunday. The midfielder played the final eight minutes of PSV’s draw with FC Twente on Sunday.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez dressed but remained on the bench for Ajax on Sunday.

Major League Soccer

Carlos Vela, LAFC – Vela kickstarted LAFC’s 2020 preseason in spectacular fashion. Take a look for yourself:

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea and Zulte were inactive this weekend.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Ulises Davila, Wellington Phoenix – On Thursday, Davila played a tremendous role in Phoenix’s 2-1 win, scoring a goal and adding an assist against Newcastle Jets. Davila is the A-League’s fourth highest scoring this season with 10 goals.