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Preview: USWNT faces Netherlands in World Cup final

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The U.S. women’s national team’s quest to defend its crown as world champions has but one final hurdle to clear: a World Cup final clash with the Netherlands in Lyon, France, on Sunday (11 a.m. ET).

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For one side — the defending champion Americans — an appearance in the final was assumed a foregone conclusion before the tournament kicked off. Beginning with the 13 goals they scored against Thailand in their opening game of the group stage, that expectation never once changed, not even the tiniest little bit. The rest of the group stage was a straightforward endeavor; followed a tougher-than-expected challenge from Spain in the round of 16; then, the big one, taking on host nation and second-favorites France in the quarterfinals; and England didn’t go down without a fight in the semifinals, but the Yanks wouldn’t be denied a crack at the program’s fourth World Cup trophy and star above the crest.

The Dutch, on the other hand, entered this summer’s tournament with little fanfare — in comparison to the USWNT — but were widely tipped an under-the-radar favorite to make some noise. A run to the final would have been unexpected, but far from outlandish. The Oranje women, in just their second all-time appearance at the World Cup, no longer reside on the fringes of the world’s best. New Zealand, Cameroon and Canada proved no test for the Netherlands in the group stage, as they finished with nine out of nine points; Japan’s quest for a third straight final was snuffed out in the round of 16; they simply outlasted a game Italian side in the quarters; and they needed 120 minutes to dispatch Sweden in the semis.

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After playing six games in 21 days, the USWNT isn’t without a handful of nagging injuries. The likes of Megan Rapinoe (hamstring), Rose Lavelle (hamstring) and Alex Morgan (undisclosed) have all missed time due to what they each referred to as minor injuries, though they expect to be available on Sunday. Rapinoe didn’t play in — or warm up for — the England game, but has since said she’s recovering well from her “minor strain.” With five goals in four appearances, Rapinoe trails Morgan by a single goal in the race for the Golden Boot.

If there’s one team at this tournament that could keep stride with the Americans’ abundance of attacking talent — at least, among the two sides’ starting groups — it’s the Dutch. Vivianne Miedema (three goals) and Lieke Martens (two goals) have won plenty of accolades thus far as standout performers, while six other players have also scored a goal. Only the Americans (nine) can boast of more goal-scorers than the Netherlands’ eight. Martens picked up an injury of her own during Wednesday’s semifinal and her status for Sunday is up in the air.

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While much of the talk prior to and during the World Cup has been about the closing of the once-vast gap between the USWNT and the rest of the world, should the Americans reign supreme at the conclusion of back-to-back tournaments, they will have won their second straight in the most difficult of fashions possible: running the toughest possible gauntlet in the knockout rounds, culminating in a final triumph over the reigning European champions.

So much more than that is on the line for the USWNT. Individually, Morgan can stake her claim to a place in the “best to ever do it” conversation; Carli Lloyd will almost certainly be taking the field for a competitive fixture for the final time; the same goes for Becky Sauerbrunn and (probably also) Rapinoe; and Jill Ellis can silence her critics once and for all if she becomes the only women’s coach ever to successfully defend a World Cup title.

LIVE, UCL: Two knockout spots remain; Man City, Tottenham in play

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Two more spots in the knockout round remain unclaimed as the final day of group stage play begins on Wednesday.

Groups C and D both require a second team to progress through to the Round of 16, with five teams still in the mix.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Manchester City has already won Group D, but the remaining three teams Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb, and Atalanta all remain in contention for the second spot. Shakhtar currently sits second and has a home match with Atalanta, while Dinamo Zagreb host Man City in Croatia. Both those games feature in the early 12:55 p.m. ET kickoffs.

Group D, meanwhile, has a pair of sides vying for the last spot. Atletico Madrid has a point advantage, currently sitting in second with a home match against already eliminated Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow. Bayer Leverkusen, meanwhile, hosts group winners Juventus in Germany.

Elsewhere, Tottenham Hotspur has already locked up a spot in the knockout stage, locked into the second spot in Group A, and they finish out the group stage with a visit to confirmed group winners Bayern Munich. Jose Mourinho told the press he forbid his players from watching any footage of the 7-2 defeat to Bayern to begin group stage play, and is resting “a few players” ahead of the festive Premier League fixtures.

Finally, Group A has already been decided with Real Madrid confirmed to finish second behind winners Paris Saint-Germain, but the two still have to complete the fixture list. Madrid heads to Belgium to take on Club Brugge, while PSG hosts Galatasaray. The Spanish side is most likely to rest players, with a weekend visit to Valencia coming up on Sunday followed by a midweek El Clasico that was rescheduled from earlier in the season.

Below is the full schedule for the last UCL games on Wednesday, with all games kicking off at 3 p.m. ET unless otherwise noted, and you can follow the action live by clicking on the link above.


Wednesday Champions League action

Group A

Club Brugge v. Real Madrid
Paris Saint-Germain v. Galatasaray

Group B

Bayern Munich v. Tottenham Hotspur
Olympiakos v. Red Star Belgrade

Group C

Dinamo Zagreb v. Manchester City (12:55 p.m. ET)
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Atalanta (12:55 p.m. ET)

Group D

Atletico Madrid v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen v. Juventus

Late goalkeeper strike seals knockout spot in UEFA Youth League

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Club Brugge goalkeeper Senne Lammens may just be 17 years old, but he just lived every goalkeeper’s dream: to score a dramatic equalizer in the dying seconds of a game to send the club through to a European competition’s knockout stage.

The young goalkeeper came forward on a corner in the 94th minute of a game against Real Madrid in the UEFA Youth League Wednesday morning in Belgium. With the visitors leading 2-1 and added time just about expired, Brugge needed to score an equalizer to secure passage to the knockout stage, lest they be left at the mercy of Galatasaray’s match against PSG.

Lammens delivered. The corner swung in to the top of the six-yard box and the youngster was on hand to head home a pinpoint effort inside the far post.

The header was quite literally the last act of the game, with stoppage time already creeping more than 60 seconds past the minimum three added minutes.

Lammens has shuttled back and forth between the youth squad and the senior squad this season serving occasionally as an emergency third goalkeeper behind Simon Mignolet and Ethan Horvath. Mostly, though, he’s been with the youth squad appearing in five of their six UEFA Youth League games, with three wins and a draw.

Report: Arsenal not interested in Ancelotti “profile”

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According to The Athletic reporter David Ornstein, Arsenal is not interested in a manager of Carlo Ancelotti’s “profile.”

The Italian was recently let go by Napoli after a disappointing first half of the season despite qualifying for the Champions League knockout stage.

Ancelotti has won a Premier League title, three Champions League titles, and a Scudetto during his career but apparently a manager with his resume does not interest the Gunners, who may be looking for a more youthful boss with a longer-term strategy and potentially stronger club or domestic ties.

At 60 years old, Ancelotti has been fired from posts at Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and now Napoli over the last four years. Over those four seasons, he has just one league title, the 2016/17 Bundesliga crown he won with Bayern in runaway fashion, and has exceeded expectations in very limited capacities, instead seeing things turn sour at each job relatively quickly. This season at Napoli, the club sits seventh in the Serie A table, mired in a horrible seven-match winless run that has seen them tumble further from the Champions League places.

Ornstein’s report also touched on the timeline of a potential hire, with the club apparently still deciding on whether to see out the season with interim manager Freddie Ljungberg or make a mid-season appointment. He states that the club “want situation settled asap” but also prefer “right man over quick decision.” He does not identify who the number one target is, but suggests that if that person is available at this point in time, they will make the hire mid-season, otherwise there will be a waiting game.

Jorge Sampaoli resigns as Santos boss

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Brazilian club Santos confirmed Tuesday evening that manager Jorge Sampaoli has resigned as boss.

Sampaoli, who won the 2015 Copa America in charge of Chile but could not recreate that success with the Argentinian national team, signed on with Santos a year ago and guided them to a second-place finish in the Brazilian top flight, 16 points behind runaway champions Flamengo. His contract had another year, expiring in the winter of 2020, but with reports of offers from multiple clubs, he has stepped down.

The most widely reported destination is fellow Brazilian club Palmeiras, whom many believe Sampaoli has already entered talks with. He has also been linked with Argentinian club Racing, and his name has cropped up on occasion with the Arsenal vacancy, although that seems like a longshot. It was said in late October that Sampaoli had an offer from an unnamed La Liga club, but those rumors have cooled.

His reason for leaving Santos after just one successful season in charge is unconfirmed, but rumors are circulating that Sampaoli had incredibly ambitious transfer plans for the offseason, and when club president Jose Carlos Peres could not guarantee his support, the relationship became strained.

The 2019 season was mostly successful for Sampaoli at Santos, finishing second in the league table, but the secondary competitions were somewhat disappointing. They received a tough first-round draw in the Copa Sudamericana, falling to River Plate on away goals. They were also ousted from the Copa do Brasil in the Round of 16, falling 2-1 to an Atletico Minero side that finished 13th in the league table.