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Brazil, Argentina set for epic Copa America semifinal showdown

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The list of storylines set to litter the field in Belo Horizonte Tuesday night reads like an unfurled medieval scroll.

Lionel Messi and his international goose egg is yet again put to the highest of tests. Brazil returns to the site of a painful memory, the stadium where the Selecao was pummeled by Germany in its own World Cup five short years ago. Star striker Sergio Aguero has just one international goal since last summer’s World Cup. Brazil’s brutal recent results in the Copa America are staggeringly disappointing, while Argentina’s dismal decade against Brazil makes for equally painful reading.

All the talking points come to a head as the two heavyweights go head-to-head in a headlining Copa America semifinal on Tuesday, with kickoff set for 8:30 p.m. ET.

[ MORE: Preview USWNT vs. England in World Cup semifinals ]

The Copa America hosts have failed to reach the final – or even the semifinal, for that matter – since they last won the competition in 2007, a title which gave Brazil a second straight Copa America win and four of five. Since, they have two quarterfinal exits and a group stage flop, not much to boast about for a country that sees itself as a world soccer superpower.

Argentina, meanwhile, hasn’t beaten Brazil in a competitive match since way back in 2005 during World Cup qualification for the tournament in Germany that following year. They have since lost four and drawn two against their rivals, sandwiching a six-year gap without a competitive meeting between the two sides from 2009-2015.

Brazil will have much of the obvious pressure as hosts of the competition, but Argentina has plenty on the line as well. This competition could be one of Lionel Messi’s last chance for a major trophy with Argentina, with just the 2020 Copa America in Colombia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar reasonably remaining on the docket, as the next continental competition doesn’t come around again until 2024.

With Neymar injured and Richarlison recovering from illness, much of the goalscoring threat for Brazil lies at the feet of Roberto Firmino (Photo by Kaz Photography/Getty Images).

Still, the visitors have a personnel edge as Brazil must work around a growing collection of injuries. Most notably Neymar still finds himself sidelined for the foreseeable future, but that is only the beginning of Tite’s worries. Important midfielder Fernandinho isn’t expected to play thanks to a right knee injury that has seen him miss the last two matches, and defender Felipe Luis is also a doubt after picking up an injury in the win over Paraguay. Richarlison, who has been fantastic in his short international career, has missed the last two matches after contracting the mumps, and while he’s expected to be in the squad, he’s unlikely to start.

Argentina has not played well in the competition, but put forth its best performance last time out against Venezuela, finally  looking more comfortable and mistake-free at the back than previously against the likes of Colombia and Paraguay who were happy to sit back and let the Albiceleste beat itself. Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni has slowly brought young players into the fold to rousing success, with Giovani Lo Celso finally utilized centrally, Lautaro Martinez scorching hot up front, and Juan Foyth the most recent positive addition at the back. The coaching staff has finally come to the realization that running out retreads like Angel di Maria or out-of-form attackers like Paulo Dybala brings little value to the side, and the young players deployed instead have proven hungry to bring Argentina back to the top in a competition they have not won since 1993.

Brazil, meanwhile, had looked its best in quite some time during the group stage, only to draw a blank against Paraguay, requiring penalties to advance after a 0-0 draw that featured 26 shots – eight of which hit the target but none found the back of the net. A rejuvinated Philippe Coutinho and new Champions League winner Roberto Firmino had looked strong until the Paraguay game, and the pair will need to return to form.

While this edition of the Copa America has been generally a dud through the quarterfinals, the semis present fans with a mouth-watering matchup to erase the earlier doldrums. It may not be an electric, high-scoring affair – these anticipated meetings between world giants rarely are – but should prove a tense, well balanced clash that will leave fans on the edge of their seats.

Champions League score predictions: Round of 16

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The 2019-20 UEFA Champions League is finally back as the Round of 16 kicks off this week and two of the four Premier League clubs are in action.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, the two finalists from last season, are first up and both will be happy enough with their draws in the last 16.

That said, Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool know that Diego Simeone’s Atleti are a very dangerous team to play as they will scrap and battle for every ball against the reigning European champions. As for Spurs and Jose Mourinho, the news that Heung-min Son has broken his arm and could be out for the rest of the season is a huge blow but they host an inconsistent RB Leipzig.

Borussia Dortmund host Paris Saint-Germain and Atalanta host Valencia in the other last 16 ties this week and both should be cracking encounters between two very evenly-matched teams.

[ MORE: Which Premier League team(s) will reach last eight? ]

Next week the other four last 16 first legs take place as Man City and Chelsea are in action against Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively. Out of the four Premier League teams still in the competition, Liverpool and Spurs will be the most confident of advancing.

Below we predict the scores for the UCL round of 16 games taking place over the next two days. Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below, too.


Tuesday
Atletico Madrid 1-2 Liverpool
Borussia Dortmund 3-2 PSG

Wednesday
Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 RB Leipzig
Atalanta 2-1 Valencia

Lampard issues Chelsea injury update; Pulisic remains out

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Chelsea boss Frank Lampard issued a lengthy injury update after their 2-0 defeat against Man United and USMNT fans will not be happy to hear that Christian Pulisic remains out.

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Ahead of Chelsea’s pivotal top four clash at home against bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Lampard could be without as many as five key players.

Andreas Christensen broke his nose and came off at half time against United, while N’Golo Kante was subbed off early after yet another leg injury for the French superstar.

“Callum, no. Pulisic, no. N’Golo, no, from that today. Tammy is a maybe. It is not going our way with injuries at the moment but the players who come in they have to show that. That is what the squad is there for. It is frustrating,” Lampard told Chelsea TV when asked about availability for Saturday.

Lampard then gave an extra update on Kante, who walked through the mixed zone after the game looking okay and told the French journalists who were assembled that it wasn’t too bad.

“It is an adductor injury,” Lampard confirmed. “We will have to assess it and scan it. It doesn’t look great. It is on the same leg [as he injured before].”

With four wins in their last 14 Premier League games Chelsea are not in good form and are just one point ahead of fifth-place Tottenham ahead of their game this weekend.

They also have a nasty habit of dominating matches but are failing to put multiple chances away and with these injuries piling up it certainly makes Chelsea’s decision to not spend in the January window to strengthen their squad, especially in terms of strikers, very surprising.

With Bayern Munich coming up in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League last 16 tie next week, Lampard will hope Chelsea’s luck turns and plenty of players return from injury.

FC Cincinnati coach Jans resigns amid investigation over remarks

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CINCINNATI — FC Cincinnati coach Ron Jans resigned amid an investigation by Major League Soccer of his use of a racial slur in the locker room.

Jans resigned late Monday, FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding said: “The club had suspended Jans pending the investigation, which was prompted by a complaint from the MLS Players Association.

“As Major League Soccer’s investigation unfolded and some themes emerged, Ron offered his resignation and we agreed that it was the best course of action for everyone involved with FC Cincinnati,” Berding said.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The club designated Yoann Damet as interim head coach while the team conducts a search. Cincinnati is training in Florida for its second season in MLS.

Cincinnati has been through two head coaches during its brief stay in the league. It fired Alan Koch after its 11th first-tier match, which left the expansion club with two wins, seven losses and two draws.

Damet also was the interim head coach while the team conducted a search that resulted in Jans’ hiring last August.

Cincinnati finished with the worst record in MLS in its inaugural season, with six wins, six draws and 22 losses. It scored a league-low 31 goals in 34 matches.

Cincinnati gained entry into MLS after a successful debut under Koch, who led the team to the semifinals of the United Soccer League’s playoffs in both 2017 and 2018.

German fans turn on fellow supporter for racist abuse

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BERLIN — The fans of German soccer club Preußen Münster showed how racist abuse can be handled, shouting “Nazis out! Nazis out!” after one of their own fans targeted a visiting player with monkey chants.

The perpetrator was a 29-year-old man who was forced out of the stadium. And the player, Würzburger Kickers defender Leroy Kwadwo, thanked the opposing fans their “exemplary” reaction.

“I was racially abused by one single spectator. It just makes me sad,” Kwadwo wrote on Saturday, a day after the match. “I indeed have a different skin color, but I was born here in this wonderful land that has given my family and I so much and made so much possible. I am one of you. I live here and can live my calling as a professional with the Würzburger Kickers.

“Something like yesterday just makes me sad and angry because everyone has to know, racism does not belong in OUR world. We all have the opportunity to oppose it and stop it if it happens.”

The incident occurred during a third-division match in Münster.

On Monday, Münster said it would seek to ban the suspect from all German stadiums for three years, the toughest possible sanction permitted under current regulations.

“The least we an do is ensure that this person is no longer allowed in our stadium,” Münster president Christoph Strässer said. “We will not tolerate racism or any form of discrimination. The issue of integration is naturally important to us as a sports club, and Article 1 of the constitution applies primarily, namely: Human dignity is sacrosanct. That goes for everyone in this country.”

The perpetrator also faces legal consequences. Local police said the man would be charged with incitement, which can lead to financial penalties and a jail term of three months to five years if convicted.

Referee Katrin Rafalski stopped the 0-0 draw in the 88th minute after being informed of the racist abuse by Kwadwo. It was followed by a stadium announcement against the abuse and the “Nazis out!” chants from the fans.

The German soccer federation praised the fans’ reaction on Twitter on Saturday.

“So sad and shameful as the racist incident against Leroy Kwadwo was, so exemplary was the immediate reaction to it,” the federation said. “The third division stands together and says, no to racism and discrimination!”

The incident occurred only days after Bundesliga club Schalke was fined 50,000 euros ($54,600) after some of its fans subjected Hertha Berlin player Jordan Torunarigha to racist abuse during a German Cup game on Feb. 4.

Torunarigha, the son of former Nigerian player Ojokojo Torunarigha, was targeted with monkey chants and was eventually sent off in extra time when he picked up a second yellow card after appearing increasingly upset as the game went on. The 22-year-old German defender was consoled by Schalke’s Amine Harit.

Numerous other racist incidents have tarnished European soccer this season.

On Sunday in Portugal, Porto striker Moussa Marega was visibly angered by monkey noises targeting him after he scored his team’s second goal in a 2-1 win at Guimarães. Several Porto and opposition players attempted to dissuade him from walking off the field in the 71st minute, when he demanded to be substituted.