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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).

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan hits out at reaction to tea celebration ]

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.

[ MORE: Man United “in the process” of selling Paul Pogba ]

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.

Messi named FIFA’s Best men’s player; Best XI controversial

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Lionel Messi is the winner of FIFA’s The Best men’s player, awarded Monday in Milan.

The prolific megastar beat out Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk and Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo for the honor.

All three, of course, were on the Best XI, though it was not without controversy.

Premier League champions Manchester City had no representation on FIFA’s The Best XI, which comically included three Real Madrid players.

Champions League winners Liverpool followed up the Best Goalkeeper honor given to Alisson Becker and Best Manager nod to Jurgen Klopp with spots for Van Dijk and obviously  Alisson on the XI.

Real Madrid, La Liga’s third place side, put Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, and Luka Modric on the team, as well as Eden Hazard who spent most of the awards season with Chelsea.

Juve’s Ronaldo is joined by Matthijs de Ligt, who led Ajax’s long UCL run before leaving for Turin.

Kylian Mbappe helps shut the attacks of Man City and Liverpool out of the team. Not one player from Germany or the Bundesliga was named to the team.

  • Alisson Becker (BRA) – Liverpool
  • Matthijs de Ligt (NED) – Ajax / Juventus
  • Sergio Ramos (ESP) – Real Madrid
  • Virgil van Dijk (NED) – Liverpool
  • Marcelo (BRA) – Real Madrid
  • Luka Modric (CRO) – Real Madrid
  • Frenkie de Jong (NED) – Ajax/Barcelona
  • Eden Hazard (BEL) – Chelsea/ Real Madrid
  • Cristiano Ronaldo (POR) – Juventus
  • Kylian Mbappe (FRA) – Paris Saint-Germain
  • Lionel Messi (ARG) – Barcelona

Leeds, Bielsa win Fair Play honor at FIFA’s The Best awards

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Well this is peak FIFA.

Football’s governing body has just awarded Leeds United and much-admired manager Marcelo Bielsa its FIFA Fair Play award at its 2019 The Best awards ceremony in Milan.

[ MORE: Klopp wins manager award ]

The reason the Whites won the award is understandable, if you just ignore the fact that they were publicly caught cheating months earlier… and that the “fair play” moment came after an extremely questionable play which led to a brawl.

The win comes for Bielsa’s decision in late April, when his player Mateusz Klich scored a goal despite Aston Villa’s Jonathan Kodija being injured on the pitch.

Bielsa instructed his players to allow Villa to tie the match after a post-goal fight saw a red card to Anwar El Ghazi.

Fair play? Sure, and Leeds kissed goodbye its slim hopes of finishing in automatic promotion place in the Championship.

However, Leeds was also caught monitoring Derby County training sessions, leading to Bielsa to admit in January that he had spied “all the rivals” that season.

I mean, who were the other nominees? Jose Callejon and the Turkish player who fouled players with a sharp object during play?

Bielsa admitted this during an extraordinary Powerpoint session for media members in England which showed the maniacal depths of his preparation, which curried a lot of favor with the media and fans.

Yes, even though he admitted Leeds cheated the whole season.

He also said, “I thought I wasn’t violating the norm,” which is ridiculous.

Now of course we should be too pious, either; A whole lot of teams cheat in this way and football is a cutthroat game. Bielsa is a managerial legend and loved by Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino, and Jorge Sampaoli.

Jurgen Klopp wins FIFA’s The Best men’s manager

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Jurgen Klopp has been named the top manager in the world for the past season at FIFA’s The Best awards ceremony on Monday in Milan, Italy.

The UEFA Champions League-winning manager beat out Premier League winner Pep Guardiola of Manchester City and UCL finalist Mauricio Pochettino of Spurs.

[ WATCH: FIFA’s The Best awards ceremony ]

Klopp, of course, was magnanimous in victory.

 “It is great, nobody expected this 20, 10, five, four years ago that I would be standing here,” Klopp said. “We know what an incredible job Mauricio Pochettino did and what Pep did.”

He thanked the owners and players of his club.

“To the owners thank you, they gave me an incredible team. I have to thank my team – as a coach you can only be as good as your team is. I’m really proud of being manager of such an incredible bunch of players. This is an individual prize, I don’t 100% understand individual prizes, I’m here for a lot of people.”

Good for Klopp.

Watch Live: FIFA’s The Best awards 2019

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FIFA’s The Best awards ceremony takes place in Milan, Italy on Tuesday as the top players and managers on the planet will be crowned.

The ceremony starts at 2:30 p.m. ET and you can watch it live online in Spanish via Telemundo Deportes (click on the link below).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo are the three nominees to be crowned the best male player on the planet.

USWNT duo Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan are up for the top female award, as is England’s Lucy Bronze.

Outgoing USWNT head coach Jill Ellis is the favorite to land the award for the best coach in the women’s game, while Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino are all among the candidates to be named the best managers in the men’s game.

Click on the link above to watch the glitzy ceremony from Milan as plenty of other awards, like the Puskas Award for the best goal scored in the world, will be dished out.