What we learned from the EURO 2020 group stage

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As Germany, often mighty and always dangerous, labored to cement its place in the group stage and needed fine margins to twice come back in a 2-2 draw with Hungary, there will have been plenty of fans of other nations rooting against them for any number of reasons.

One was that Germany is often in the mix for tournament crowns while Hungary is a plucky upstart, but another is that this tournament has shown in the past that all you have to do is get out of the group stage to become a force.

[ LIVE: Full EURO 2020 score page | EURO 2020 hub ]

Look at Portugal in 2016, who escaped from the group stage with three draws but won the tournament. Spain is remembered for winning in 2008 and 2012 but the former group stage was in the balance until an 88th-minute Jesus Navas winner in the final against Croatia. Greece won in 2004 but only made the knockouts because it was level with Spain on head-to-head and goal difference but scored two more goals than their Group A rivals.

So, let’s start there…

Never forget: Getting through is half the battle

There are a number of teams who reached the Round of 16 despite some huge question marks looming over their performances. Can England score enough to win? Can Germany defend enough to win?

Can Denmark overcome the absence and corresponding emotional toll stemming from Christian Eriksen’s terrifying cardiac incident in the opener? Is Spain the team that scored one goal against Sweden and Spain or the one that hung a five-spot on Slovakia?

But, oh, how a bracket can fall for a team and send its supporters clamoring for reasons to believe in a title run.

England and Germany will look round the bottom half of the bracket and see only one traditional power (the Netherlands), with England puffing out its chest at not allowing a single big chance through three matches and Germany noting it made it through a brutal group with the second-best possession number and top passing percentage.

And Croatia, yes the same Croatia who beat England in the World Cup semifinal, can simply exhale and start from square one in the Round of 16, leaning on their 2018 World Cup run that hardened the with two penalty wins and an extra-time victory.

Germany - Hungary
Andras Schafer and Hungary took Portugal deep before losing, then drew France and Germany. Just as everyone planned. They didn’t make the knockout rounds but proved that anything can happen at EURO (Photo by Kai Pfaffenbach – Pool/Getty Images).

Group of Death? How about Top Half of Bracket O’ Death?

Want to know how flat-out nasty a road lies ahead for the eight teams in the top half of the EURO 2020 knockout bracket?

Using the FIFA world rankings from May, the top half of the bracket includes the following match-ups in the Round of 16

1v5
7v23
2v13
14v6

The bottom half?

18v24
4v12
16v40
17v10

Even taking into account Germany’s No. 12 ranking carrying plenty of suspicion (Joachim Loew’s men are top 10 in EloRatings), that’s a forgiving bottom half and brutal top half.

FIFA World No. 1 Belgium could have to beat the world’s fifth, seventh, and second-ranked teams to get to a final. The winner of Germany v England will have to meet at-most one top 10 team before the final.

Three 3-0 favorites silence their doubters

Belgium’s creaky, old defense? Roberto Martinez’s 3-0 Red Devils allowed one goal and scored seven.

Italy’s lack of true star power? Roberto Mancini’s men were through to the knockout rounds before Marco Verratti stepped on the pitch and delivered a Man of the Match performance after months out with a knee injury.

The Netherlands’ controversial hire and early returns from Frank de Boer? Georginio Wijnaldum’s composed an attacking orchestra that’s put together two three-goal and one two-goal performance.

North Macedonia v Netherlands - UEFA Euro 2020: Group C
Memphis Depay and Donyell Malen of Netherlands won all three of their groups stage matches under Frank de Boer (Photo by Piroshka van de Wouw – Pool/Getty Images)

Five dark horses have reason to believe

If you told Sweden, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Wales, and Denmark (and perhaps the Netherlands) their Round of 16 opponents and prospective paths to a final before the group stage, they’d have snapped your hand off.

Here’s a reason for each of that quintet to believe:

Sweden has kinda reached “always there” status once they reach the World Cup, but their EURO record had been “group stage and out” for three tournaments until winning a group with Spain, Poland, and Slovakia. That’s very respectable considering the didn’t allow a goal until the 61st minute of the third game.

Ukraine already finished EURO qualifying atop of a group with Portugal and Serbia, beat the Czech Republic to Nations League B promotion and then Switzerland and Spain in being relegated from Nations League A. They also drew away to France in World Cup qualifying. They know that on their best day they have “it,” and that the bracket may’ve even given them ability to survive a round when they aren’t at their best.

Czech Republic is a collection of players who’ve spent the last year making waves in club soccer on plucky upstarts like West Ham and Slavia Prague, and those players won’t be worried about anyone.

Wales has its three highest-capped players in history all in the fold and one of them is captain Gareth Bale, he of the “Wales. Golf. Madrid” priority list. Bale scored in each group stage game of EURO 2016 as the Dragons then beat Northern Ireland and Belgium before falling to Portugal in the semifinal. “Why not?” will be their cry.

Denmark is feeling the support of an entire nation behind it, and while that’s a sort of cliche, the way they’ve taken a near-tragic on-pitch moment and found their footing is the sort of Hollywood-level base we’ve seen for big runs from teams far less talented than Kasper Hjulmand’s group, which includes the GK from the unlikeliest Premier League winner ever, a center back from the current Champions League winners, and factors from important European clubs like Barcelona, RB Leipzig, Atalanta, Tottenham, and Borussia Dortmund.

EURO difficult to predict

All that said, expect England to average three goals a knockout round match if it can get past Germany, who might not allow another goal.

And then once Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands all lose before the semifinals, we can settle In for the inevitable Austria v Croatia and Sweden v Denmark final four.

Soccer, what a riot!

FA Cup fourth round schedule, how to watch live, predictions

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The FA Cup always delivers shocks and plenty of Premier League clubs have tricky tasks facing them in the fourth round.

After Aston Villa, Newcastle, Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth were all knocked out by lower league opponents in round three, plus Everton, Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Brentford knocked out by fellow Premier League sides, there are only 11 top-flight teams left in the last 32.

[ LIVE: Follow FA Cup scores, updates ]

The fourth-round draw’s already been conducted and Arsenal will tangle with Manchester City in a tantalizing tie, while Brighton against Liverpool has the makings of a classic and Manchester United will be on upset alert against Reading and so too will West Ham as they face a tough trip to third-tier Derby County.

Read on for FA Cup stream info, fixtures, and predictions.


FA Cup live scores, schedule, dates, how to watch

Dates: Fourth round (January 27-30)
Times: Below
Online: Live updates via NBCSports.com
How to watch: ESPN+


FA Cup fourth round schedule

All games 10am ET unless otherwise stated

Friday
Man City vs Arsenal – 3pm ET

Saturday
Accrington Stanley vs Leeds United – 7:30am ET
Walsall vs Leicester City – 7:30am ET
Fulham vs Sunderland
Bristol City vs West Brom
Sheffield Wednesday vs Fleetwood Town
Blackburn Rovers vs Birmingham City
Luton Town vs Grimsby Town
Ipswich Town vs Burnley
Southampton vs Blackpool
Preston North End vs Tottenham Hotspur – 1pm ET
Manchester United vs Reading – 3pm ET

Sunday
Brighton vs Liverpool – 8:30am ET
Stoke City vs Stevenage – 9am ET
Wrexham vs Sheffield United – 11:30am ET

Monday
Derby County vs West Ham – 2:45pm ET


FA Cup fourth round predictions – By Joe Prince-Wright

Friday
Man City 2-1 Arsenal

Saturday
Accrington Stanley 1-3 Leeds United
Walsall 1-2 Leicester City
Fulham 1-2 Sunderland
Bristol City 1-2 West Brom
Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 Fleetwood Town
Blackburn Rovers 1-1 Birmingham City
Luton Town 3-1 Grimsby Town
Ipswich Town 1-3 Burnley
Southampton 2-0 Blackpool
Preston North End 1-4 Tottenham Hotspur
Manchester United 2-1 Reading

Sunday
Brighton 2-2 Liverpool
Stoke City 2-1 Stevenage
Wrexham 1-2 Sheffield United

Monday
Derby County 1-1 West Ham


FA Cup third round replays

Tuesday 

Swansea City 1-2 (AET) Bristol City
Forest Green Rovers 1-2 Birmingham City (original tie postponed due to waterlogged pitch)
Wigan 1-2 Luton
Wolves 0-1 Liverpool
West Brom 4-0 Chesterfield

Wednesday

Leeds United 5-2 Cardiff City

Tuesday, January 24

Accrington Stanley vs Boreham Wood


FA Cup third round results

Friday

Manchester United 3-1 Everton

Saturday

Preston North End 3-1 Huddersfield Town
Reading 2-0 Watford
Tottenham 1-0 Portsmouth
Gillingham 0-1 Leicester City
Forest Green Rovers vs Birmingham City — PPD
Crystal Palace 1-2 Southampton
Hull City 0-2 Fulham
Middlesbrough 1-5 Brighton
Fleetwood Town 2-1 QPR
Ipswich Town 4-1 Rotherham
Bournemouth 2-4 Burnley
Blackpool 4-1 Nottingham Forest
Chesterfield 3-3 West Brom
Millwall 0-2 Sheffield United
Boreham Wood 1-1 Accrington Stanley
Shrewsbury Town 1-2 Sunderland
Brentford 0-1 West Ham
Coventry City 3-4 Wrexham
Luton Town 1-1 Wigan
Grimsby Town 1-0 Burton Albion
Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 Newcastle
Liverpool 2-2 Wolves

Sunday

Bristol City 1-1 Swansea City
Derby County 3-0 Barnsley
Cardiff City 2-2 Leeds
Stockport 1-2 Walsall
Hartlepool 0-3 Stoke City
Norwich 0-1 Blackpool
Aston Villa 1-2 Stevenage
Man City 4-0 Chelsea

Monday

Oxford United 0-3 Arsenal


Premier League midseason grades

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We are at the midway point of the Premier League season, so now seems like a good time to dish out a grade for all 20 clubs based on their play so far.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

Which teams have struggled? Who has overachieved? What have been the biggest stories so far?

[ LATEST: Premier League table in full ]

Below we dish out a grade to every club with analysis on their 2022-23 campaign so far.


The strugglers

Southampton: F
Everton: F
West Ham: D-
Chelsea: D-
Leicester City: D-

Three of these five teams (Saints, Everton and Chelsea) have fired their manager and that says it all. Southampton’s transfer policy was risky but they have a chance of getting out of the relegation zone, while Everton look in a whole world of trouble with Frank Lampard fired and discontent rising among supporters. Chelsea are in a bit of mess and keep chucking money at it, with the top four already seeming out of reach under new boss Graham Potter. As for West Ham and Leicester, well, they’ve both underachieved massively and have shown glimpses of climbing up the table during the season, but there’s just an extra spark missing for both despite their talented squads.


The underachievers

Liverpool: D
Leeds: D
Wolves: D
Crystal Palace: C-
Bournemouth: C

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have massively underachieved this season and they’ve lacked energy and confidence from the very start. Can they rebound and battle for the top four? They’ve done it before but this will take one heck of a turnaround as they look lackluster in midfield and shaky in defense. Leeds and Wolves both have better squads than being in a relegation scrap but that’s what they’re in. Marsch has to make Leeds better at the back, while Julen Lopetegui has Wolves organized but needs goals. As for Crystal Palace, they’ve slightly underachieved but are doing okay in midtable under Patirck Vieira, while Bournemouth have spent most of the season (until recently) out of the relegation zone which is much better than what they expected.


The teams figuring it out

Nottingham Forest: B-
Aston Villa: B-
Tottenham: B
Manchester City: B+
Manchester United: B+

In the case of the two Manchester clubs, Erik ten Hag has got United playing with a structure and confidence and they are right in the top four battle. As for Manchester City, well, they have Erling Haaland which papers over a lot of cracks. Still, Pep Guardiola’s side are ominously sat just behind Arsenal in the title battle as they love to chase teams down. Tottenham have had a crazy season full of ups and downs but are still basically where they should be: battling for a top four finish. Aston Villa have figured it out with Unai Emery coming in and making them a solid unit which loves to counter. As for Forest, Steve Cooper has done a fine job and after making about 327 new signings last summer (the real number is slightly higher) the squad has gelled and they should stay up.


The big winners, so far…

Brentford: A
Fulham: A
Newcastle: A+
Brighton: A+
Arsenal: A+

There are some real surprise packages this season and the positions of Brighton and Fulham (sixth and seventh respectively) is a shock. Roberto De Zerbi replaced Potter and added attacking swagger to the Seagulls who are so much fun to watch, while Marco Silva has turned new boys Fulham into a very efficient team who are horrible to play against. Brentford slot between Brighton and Fulham in terms of style of play and Thomas Frank is once again working miracles with Ivan Toney leading the charge as the Bees have recorded several huge wins, beating Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool already. But the story of the season is down to two teams: Newcastle and Arsenal. The former have gone on a long unbeaten run and may not be in the title race but are in the top four hunt. What a job Eddie Howe has done and Newcastle are tough to play against and are adding key players all the time. As for Arsenal, what can we say about the Gunners? Mikel Arteta has developed an incredible squad full of talented youngsters who are all pulling in the same direction. Arsenal sit top of the table and have answered every big question asked of them so far. They 100 percent look like they can be title winners. Can they kick on in the second half of the season and finish off the job?


Manchester United vs Reading: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Manchester United looks to stay in the mix for a pair of domestic cups when it hosts old pal Paul Ince and Reading in the fourth round of the 2022 FA Cup on Saturday.

United scored a solid win at midweek to move within 90 minutes of the League Cup Final and of course also harbors hopes of winning the Europa League and, perhaps less so, the Premier League.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ] 

Reading sits 14th in the Championship, five points off the playoff places and fairly clear of the relegation mess.


Manchester United vs Reading, FA Cup fourth round: How to watch live, stream link

Kick off: 3pm ET, Saturday
TV Channel: ESPN+
Online: Updates via NBCSports.com


Key storylines & in-form players to watch 

Tom Ince, Paul’s son, is leading the club both in goals and assists, and sits among the leaders in pretty much everything else from tackles to completed dribbles.  Yakou Meite has also been a busy piece of what Reading has done well.

United’s stars are well-known, as Marcus Rashford continues to thrive at forward. Wout Weghorst picked up his first Man Utd goal at midweek and could be in line for more playing time while Anthony Martial recovers from injury.


Manchester United team news, injuries, lineup options

Manchester United won’t have Anthony Martial, Axel Tuanzebe, Diogo Dalot, Donny van de Beek, and Jadon Sancho, while Luke Shaw is a question mark with an illness.

Reading team news, injuries, lineup options

Paul Ince’s bid to upset United will not include Naby Sarr, Sam Hutchinson, and old foe Andy Carroll.

2024 Copa America to be played in USA

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The United States will host the 2024 Copa America, which will once again feature six guest nations as part of a new “strategic collaboration agreement” announced by CONMEBOL and CONCACAF on Friday.

[ MORE: Report: Christian Pulisic wanted by AC Milan ]

Copa America last came to the U.S., in the summer of 2016 for Copa America Centenario, the 100-year celebration of the South American championship.

Back in 2016, the USMNT and Mexico were not required to qualify for the tournament, but the CONCACAF giants will not be given an automatic bid to Copa America 2024. They will also be forced to qualify as one of six CONCACAF through the 2023-24 Nations League. Previously, the other four bids from CONCACAF were awarded via various regional tournaments and and qualifying playoffs.

[ MORE: USMNT falls to Serbia in 2023 opener ]

The CONMEBOL-CONCACAF partnership also extends to the women’s game, where the Gold Cup is being revamped.

2024 CONCACAF W[omen’s] Gold Cup will include eight CONCACAF women’s national teams and four CONMEBOL guests

For women’s national teams, CONCACAF has invited the top four CONMEBOL national teams to participate in the 2024 CONCACAF W Gold Cup. The inaugural edition of this 12-team tournament, which is a key part of CONCACAF’s new women’s national team ecosystem, will be played in the United States.

The two Concacaf teams that will participate in the 2024 Summer Olympics (United States and Jamaica or Canada) will qualify directly for the 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup. The remaining six Concacaf teams will be determined through the 2023 Road to Concacaf W Gold Cup.


2024 Copa America: What does it mean for USMNT?

First things first, it means playing more high-level, competitive games between World Cups. The USMNT has faced the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and other South American nations in friendlies over the years, but as things stand their only competitive fixtures come against CONCACAF competition — the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying.

The timing of the tournament is beneficial for all national teams involved as well, at the halfway point to the 2026 World Cup — also set to be hosted in the United States (and Mexico and Canada) — just as EURO 2024 is the halfway marker for European nations. The 2023 Gold Cup is still on the schedule for this summer, with the final to be played at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.

Only time will tell if the combined Copa America will become the new norm in the Americas, but given what we know about the profitability of international soccer, there will certainly be a “cross your fingers and hope all goes well” vibe in 2024.

Follow @AndyEdMLS