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Fernando Torres spurns MLS, signs to play in J1 League

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TOSU, Japan (AP) Former Liverpool, Chelsea and Spain striker Fernando Torres signed to play for Sagan Tosu in the J1 League on Tuesday, dashing the hopes of Australian football that he might become a marquee attraction for its struggling A-League.

The 34-year-old Torres held discussions with Football Federation Australia and officials of A-League glamor club Sydney FC, raising hopes he might add some star power to the A-League which has seen flagging attendances and TV ratings. Torres was also rumored to be joining the Chicago Fire, coached by former Atletico Madrid player Veljko Paunovic.

But the former Liverpool, Chelsea, and Atletico Madrid forward announced he will be joining former Spain teammate Andres Iniesta in Japan.

Torres was one of six players on a shortlist of possible marquee stars drawn up by the FFA two months ago, which also included Iniesta and Japan’s Keisuke Honda.

The A-League has a centralized $3 million fund to attract marquee players but hasn’t had a truly big name since Italy’s Alessandro Del Piero played for Sydney FC from 2012-14.

Most notable absentees from 2018 World Cup rosters

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Leroy Sane was left off the Germany squad for this summer’s World Cup, an omission that makes Landon Donovan circa 2014 look like forgetting the baby formula at the store.

(Sorry, LegenD. You’re still a big, big, big deal to us, and you understand the baby nourishment point these days).

[ MORE: Karius was concussed ]

But good, even great players get left off great teams, and Germany is stacked for another run at glory. And Sane’s not alone, with World Cup hero Mario Gotze not getting a call from his nation alone.

Honorable mention to Spain’s Marcos Alonso and Cesc Fabregas, as well as Sergi Roberto. Wow. Spain is deep.

10. Adrien Rabiot, France — A substandard club season may’ve claimed Rabiot, but he’s also struggled to get regular call-ups. The surprise is a bit less than the others, though his status on the nation’s best domestic club suggests it should be higher.

9. Jack Wilshere, Arsenal — Beyond Ruben Loftus-Cheek, I simply don’t see a ball mover of Wilshere’s caliber on the Three Lions roster.

8. Mario Gotze, Germany — Sentimental, yes, but I think there’s something to be said for Germany and its support knowing a World Cup winner is sitting on the bench or at least waiting in the wings.

7. Anthony Martial, France — Incredible talents are always left out of the French side, but this one is not based solely on one club manager’s squad selection in Jose Mourinho. Martial has scored once in 18 caps for his country.

6. Mauro Icardi, Argentina — He’s only this low for two reasons. 1) Argentina is stacked in attack and someone has to miss out. 2) He’s just not a terrific dude.

5. Alexandre Lacazette, France — Scored 14 goals for Arsenal in limited time, and bagged two against Germany in November. Yet it seems the knee injury that cost him part of Arsenal’s season and a pair of March friendlies ultimately dropped him off the cliff.

4. Alvaro Morata, Spain — His form dipped massively outside of the FA Cup run, but Morata had five goals in his last four Spanish outings before surprisingly being dropped in March and beyond.

3. Alex Sandro, Brazil — To say that the Juventus wide man was one of the top players in Serie A is a given, but given his potential to do just about anything on the left side, it’s surprising to see Filipe Luis getting the nod ahead of him. Maybe it’s that Sandro is too close to Marcelo in style, and Tite wanted another style of left back?

2. Radja Nainngolan, Belgium — This is a massive risk from Roberto Martinez for a golden generation of Red Devils, and it’s an addition by subtraction move. And Belgium has fellas who can do his job, but at his best there are few that do it as well as this mad man.

  1. Leroy Sane, Germany — The Julians, Draxler and Brandt, got spots ahead of Sane, and here’s the only thing I can really produce about the omission: Sane’s success at Man City is built around the fact that Pep Guardiola would prefer the player to have the ball about 20 yards out from the end line, probably more so than even Kevin De Bruyne in the center-right. Perhaps Joachim Loew thinks Sane won’t work as well when the focus is not on him?

Int’l friendlies: Germany, Iceland lose late; Ireland tops USMNT

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With the 2018 World Cup just a dozen days away from kicking off, 32 nations are will put more thought and care into the next two weeks’ worth of friendlies than at any other point during the four-year cycle.

[ MORE: England top Nigeria on goals scored by Kane, Cahill ]

A roundup of Saturday’s friendly action involving World Cup-bound sides, plus the U.S. men’s national team…

Austria 2-1 Germany

The defending world champions suffered defeat in their next-to-last tune-up before heading to Russia, 2-1 at the hands of neighboring Austria.

Mesut Ozil put the visitors ahead after 11 minutes, deftly curling a left-footed strike inside the far post from 15 yards out, but a pair of second-half goals, scored by Martin Hinteregger and Alessandro Schopf, overturned the deficit and kept Joachim Loew’s side winless in 2018 (two losses, one draw).

For of the Germans’ front-six (everyone but Ozil and Nils Petersen) had been subbed off before Schopf’s winner, as Loew made wholesale changes in order to keep starters fresh and the backups sharp.

Ireland 2-1 USA — FULL RECAP

After going ahead — completely against the run of play — through Bobby Wood’s close-range finish just before halftime, interim head coach Dave Sarachan’s Yanks through their lead away and were beaten by a 90th-minute winner scored by Alan Judge. Bill Hamid gaffe all but gifted the Irish their equalizer just before the half-hour mark, and Matt Miazga was badly beaten in the build-up to the winner.

Iceland 2-3 Norway

Much like Germany, Iceland made sweeping substitutions throughout the second half of Saturday’s friendly against Norway, and in the end it proved their undoing as the scoreline went from 1-1 to 3-2 during a 15-minute period late in the second half, thanks to some Premier League flavor.

Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson put Iceland ahead with his 19th international goal in the 70th minute, but Bournemouth’s Joshua King equalized 10 minute later and Crystal Palace’s Alexander Sorloth grabbed the winner in the 85th.

Elsewhere in int’l friendlies

England 2-1 Nigeria — FULL RECAP
Belgium 0-0 Portugal — MORE
Sweden 0-0 Denmark
Mexico vs. Scotland — 8 p.m. ET
Honduras vs. El Salvador — 8 p.m. ET

Russia slumps to 1-0 defeat in Austria for 3rd straight loss

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INNSBRUCK, Austria (AP) World Cup host Russia slumped to a 1-0 defeat in a friendly against Austria on Wednesday, extending its winless streak to six matches.

[ MORE: Newcastle signs Dubravka ]

Russia has lost all three games in 2018 after defeats to Brazil and France in March, and has not won a game since beating South Korea in October.

Austria winger Marko Arnautovic set up midfielder Alessandro Schoepf for the only goal in the 28th minute, giving coach Franco Foda his fourth win from four matches since taking over from Marcel Koller in November after the team failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Russia plays Turkey in Moscow on Tuesday in its final warmup game before opening the World Cup against Saudi Arabia on June 14.

Parma promoted back to Serie A, making history in the process

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All Frosinone needed on the final day of the Serie B season was to win at home against Foggia, and they would be promoted back to Serie A two years after finding the drop. Unfortunately, it was not to be, and their failure brought about another fantastic story instead.

An 89th minute equalizer by former Inter youth product Roberto Floriano gave Foggia a late 2-2 draw and denied Frosinone automatic promotion, leaving Parma 2nd in the Serie B table instead. That, along with Parma’s 2-0 win at Spezia, ensured automation promotion for Parma, making history in the process.

Parma becomes the first Italian team in history to earn three straight promotions, returning to Serie A three years after bankruptcy sent them to the cellar of Italian professional soccer.

The Italian club has been a beacon of hope for any professional club that suffers such a dark day in its history. After relegation to Serie D in 2015, the club still managed to sell 9,000 season tickets, which more than doubled the previous Serie D record. They won Serie D that season, and they won the Serie C playoff the following campaign to move up again. Parma started the 2017/18 season poorly, finding themselves in 15th in the table in late October, but a November surge moved them as high as 2nd, and they finished the season with eight wins in its last 11 matches to secure its third-straight promotion.

The club’s strength was its defense, conceding a Serie B best 37 goals over the 42-match season behind 40-year-old club veteran Alessandro Lucarelli – who scored goals in every division after the big drop – and Serie B veteran goalkeeper Pierluigi Frattali. It’s a fabulous story, and one fans should get behind next season as they make their return to the Italian top flight.