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Who will make Ballon d’Or final three?

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When Luka Modric won the Ballon d’Or last summer, marking the first victor neither named Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo since 2007, it threatened to signal a new era for the trophy in more ways than one.

Ronaldo didn’t win the honors, finishing second, but Messi was inexplicably left off the final ballot altogether.

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

Could this be the year that neither makes the top three? Probably not, but it could be the first time Ronaldo fails to make the list since Barca swept the honors Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi in 2010.

So while most of us are not thinking of the award right now, Ronaldo has it on his brain. It’s no surprise that Marca, known for its backing of Real Madrid royalty, has thrown his name in the mix as a “favorite” given his scudetto with Juventus. That it mentions his performance in the UEFA Nations League is a little goofy — it was a two-match summer — but such is life.

Ronaldo and Messi are deadlocked on five Ballons d’Or, the most ever, and Messi’s year was superior to his longtime rival. Both won their leagues and Messi did not claim domestic honors at the Copa America — in fact he was not his phenomenal self — but Messi scored 12 goals in 10 Champions League appearances before Liverpool stunned Barcelona prior to the final (Ronaldo’s Juve lost to Ajax).

Marca proffers this “I don’t care but obviously I very much care” from CR7:

“I don’t live with an obsession about awards,” Ronaldo explained. “My numbers don’t lie, this year I’ve won three titles and I’ve been good in the Nations League. What else can I do?”

Ronaldo, it should be noted, was still incredible last season. He scored all three goals as Juventus erased a 2-0 first leg deficit in the UCL Round of 16 versus old rivals Atletico Madrid, then scored in both legs of the side’s exit via Ajax. And he likely would’ve won the top scorer’s prize in Italy had he not missed six matches through injury and rest.

Messi again breached the half-century mark in goals, scoring 51 times in all competitions for Barcelona. He chipped in 22 assists and also missed six matches between the UCL and La Liga.

Are there three players who could surpass both to make a new final three?

It would be stunning if Liverpool and Netherlands center back Virgil Van Dijk was kept off the top three, while Sadio Mane may have a Champions League crown and Africa Cup of Nations victory. And you can follow the Luka Modric logic to a land where treble- and Nations League-winning Bernardo Silva is in the discussion (Raheem Sterling was also great).

Kylian Mbappe had probably the best-looking season on Earth, scoring 39 times with 17 assists in 43 matches and navigating the attention that came with Neymar’s long-term absence by shouldering the burden to great success. We made the argument that his 19 goals and six assists in 23 Neymar-free matches is one of the prime reasons he’s be worth almost any transfer fee.

Also remember that the odds of the captains of international teams having enough ballots without Ronaldo and/or Messi named is very difficult to imagine.

Still, Messi, Mbappe, and Van Dijk seems like the final three to us. What do you think?

Everton complete purchase of Gomes from Barcelona

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Everton is keeping Andre Gomes around, securing the Barcelona man with an approximately $28 million transfer purchase.

The Toffees announced the deal on Tuesday, ensuring that his move back to Barcelona was only temporary after a successful loan stint at Goodison Park last season.

[ MORE: Ranieri has Newcastle interest ]

Gomes, 25, agreed to a five-year deal with Everton.

Here are the thoughts of the man of the hour, from EvertonFC.com:

“I know the Club made a massive effort to sign me and I’m very happy and thankful to them. I said during the year that I felt part of a family and that is the most important thing to me.

“Last year was a really good experience for me. I just wanted to feel part of something special and I found it here. It was good for me in that moment and right now, after signing for Everton, it’s even better. I think the ambition here is not only for me, I think it’s for all the players, the fans and the Club. We are all excited for that.”

Gomes joined Barcelona after making the leap to Valencia from Benfica, and won La Liga in 2017-18. Barca sent him on loan with the Toffees, and he played in 26-straight matches for the Toffees once he overcame an early season injury.

The EURO 2016 winner has 29 caps with Portugal.

Jose Mourinho to manage USMNT?

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Picture this.

From the Azteca Stadium dugout Jose Mourinho has just launched a water bottle into the home crowd in delight amid a cacophony of jeers after Christian Pulisic‘s last-gasp winner against Mexico sealed qualification to the 2022 World Cup for the U.S. men’s national team.

Now you can wake up. But maybe not…

Mourinho has been speaking to Eleven Sports about his future and said he fancies switching things up a little and becoming a national team manager, and not just for his beloved Portugal.

“I want to compete in new competitions,” Mourinho said. “I think about the World Cup and the European Championships. For a long time I have had the desire to try out such an adventure. Right now, I see myself more at a national team than with a new club. Is Portugal the right team for me? Not necessarily.”

Wow. Okay.

Mourinho’s Portugal have Fernando Santos in charge and he has led them to both the EURO 2016 title and now the UEFA Nations League trophy. So, unless he wants to leave his role, he can pretty much remain in charge of the Portuguese national team for the next few tournaments.

Before we get on to where Mourinho could end up internationally, here’s what he had to say about his future aside from a national team setup.

“Winning a fifth championship in a different country or the Champions League with a third club are things I’d like to do,” Mourinho added. “I wouldn’t do it just for that. I only go where a project convinces me. I want to be happy, not necessarily win, I want to be happy and I don’t want to accept a proposal without being convinced of it, that’s what I’ve always thought. That’s why if [a club] told me ‘today there are no conditions to win, but we want you to create the conditions to win’, then I would evaluate it.”

There have been various rumors about Mourinho heading to clubs like Newcastle and Everton in the Premier League after his time in charge at Manchester United ended last December in dire circumstances, less than three seasons after he took over. It is unlikely he will take a gig outside of Europe’s elite clubs, and many national team jobs appear out of reach for him right now with England, France, Germany, Italy and Portugal all set with their managers

His combustible nature means that club jobs aren’t lasting over three years for Jose right now, so maybe the international arena is the best place for Mourinho for the rest of his career.

He will have less time around players, more time to work on scouting and less day-to-day dealings with the media. Surely these are all good things for Mourinho.

Is the USMNT a serious option? First up, U.S. Soccer would have to considerably push the boat out, financially, to hire him. Secondly, they’ve just hired a coach in Gregg Berhalter with a long-term vision even if things haven’t got off to a great start. And last but not least, would Mourinho want to manage the U.S. men’s national team?

He’s spoken about how he enjoys preseason trips each year to California and how he wants to work in Major League Soccer one day, so there is an interest in working in the USA there.

From U.S. Soccer’s perspective, if Berhalter’s young group fail miserably this summer at the Gold Cup amid a wave of negativity surrounding the team, would it be worth handing the keys over to Jose for a few years to increase interest levels if nothing else?

Not only would his huge global appeal make the USMNT relevant again across the world, his coaching style actually lines up pretty well with what the U.S. have within their pool of players. He can set teams up to defend solidly and hit opponents on the counter or channel attacks through a special playmaker like Pulisic. And, let’s be honest, the USMNT are trying to be something they’re not right now.

Mourinho to the USMNT will probably never happen, but think about it. Mourinho would get the job he wants next, the USMNT would get huge interest levels from across the globe and we would get to see Mourinho in CONCACAF qualifying which he seems ready-made for.

I’m just saying, it all kind of makes sense…

USMNT drops six more spots in latest FIFA rankings

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The United States men’s national team has dropped to No. 30 in the world ahead of the 2019 Gold Cup, though we can all admit that feels a bit generous right now.

[ MORE: Gold Cup predictions ]

The Yanks fell six spots in the latest FIFA Rankings, 12 below Mexico and nine ahead of Costa Rica. It’s the biggest drop of any nation in the Top 50, though Greece dropped nine spots to sit 52nd.

The 30 marker is six spots higher than its lowest ranking since the system began in 1993. The Yanks are 39th overall in Elo Ratings.

Belgium remains world No. 1, with France, Brazil, and England next. Portugal climbs into fifth.

Austria (26th) is up 8 spots, Czech Republic (41st) goes up 7 places, and Hungary (42nd) is up 9.

Inaugural Nations League surpasses most expectations

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PORTO, Portugal (AP) The Estadio do Dragao was still filled as Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates congratulated each other and waited for the trophy presentation after Portugal won the UEFA Nations League title.

When Ronaldo lifted the trophy, the crowd erupted in cheers. Confetti and fireworks went off behind the stage set up at midfield.

Players then went around the field to thank the fans, who sang and waved Portugal flags.

About an hour later, several thousand people packed a plaza in Porto to celebrate with the squad. Ronaldo and other players addressed the crowd from a balcony.

UEFA’s newest national team competition looked far from meaningless when it ended on Sunday in Portugal.

The tournament created to give national teams more meaningful games and reduce the number of friendlies surpassed most expectations, receiving praise by those involved and giving Portugal another trophy to add to its gallery.

“Although it’s the first edition of the competition, I think it will grow very well and will end up being a competition for the entire European family,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said. “Being the first winner is something that will go down in history. It’s a cause for joy for us, for the Portuguese people.”

Runner-up Netherlands fell short of its first title since the 1988 European Championship. But the competition was crucial to help the team restore its confidence after failing to qualify for the last two major tournaments – the 2018 World Cup and the 2016 European Championship.

The Dutch eliminated the last two World Cup champions in the competition’s group stage – France and Germany – and it got past England in the semifinals this week.

“I think it’s a great tournament,” Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman said. “If you back across the whole season of the Nations League, you see how happy Portugal were to win this prize, how focused we were to win this prize tonight. I think the intensity in the groups was really high and I think the idea to organize the Nations League was perfect. We’re looking forward to the next one.”

There was criticism a few years ago when UEFA announced it was adding yet another official competition to an already busy calendar. Clubs complained, saying it would put even more strain on players. Some coaches also didn’t like it, saying it was too much soccer. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp called it “senseless.”

But in the end the competition certainly meant a lot to Portugal, even if not as much as the European Championship the team won three year ago in France. And the title also probably would have meant a lot to the other nations that made it to the inaugural Final Four.

England had the chance of ending a drought of more than five decades without a trophy, dating to the 1966 World Cup at home, and Switzerland was just two games away from its first ever title.

“Some people were skeptical against the Nations League, especially the clubs. They didn’t think this could be an interesting competition,” Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic said. “But it’s the contrary. Every single team in every single league wanted to win. We are happy to be here, and I think in the future we will see that this competition might become even more interesting.”

The tournament produced some exciting games, especially in the final rounds of the group stage. Both England and the Netherlands needed dramatic late goals just to make it to the Final Four.

Perhaps the most lackluster game of the whole tournament came in the third-place match on Sunday, when England defeated Switzerland in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw.

Promotion and relegation between the four leagues added excitement to the competition. Europe’s smallest teams finally had something to play for, as the group winners in all leagues were assured of a place in the 2020 European Championship qualifying playoffs. Among the nations which are now closer to making it to Euro 2020 are Kosovo and Georgia.

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said last year the Nations League was “even more successful than we thought,” and the governing body recently said the competition may provide a qualifying path to the 2022 World Cup, with teams earning places in the playoffs via the new competition.

In addition to lifting the winner’s trophy on Sunday, Portugal also took home the prize of 10.5 million euros ($11.9 million).

“We are very happy to be the first winners and to go down in history,” Santos said.

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni