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NBC SportsWorld: The New Normal

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Currently ranked as the number-one team in the world, the Belgian Red Devils should be looking forward to EURO 2016 as a perfect opportunity to win the country’s first silverware since the 1920 Olympics.

[ MORE: Full SportsWorld archive ]

However, football has been put on the back-burner in light of the recent terror attacks in Brussels. The small multicultural country has been divided, leaving the national team as a symbol of hope.

In his latest piece for NBC SportsWorld, our Joe Prince-Wright takes a look at the current situation in Belgium and what role sport can play in the healing process.

From NBC SportsWorld’s “The New Normal”:

Wilmots’ team is made up of players who reflect Belgium’s multicultural society perfectly.

Kompany and Everton striker Romelu Lukaku are of Congolese heritage. Fellaini, Tottenham Hotspur’s Nacer Chadli and teen sensation Zakaria Bakkali are from Morocco. The father of Tottenham’s Moussa Dembele is from Mali.

The family of Liverpool striker Divock Origi is from Kenya. The father of Zenit St Petersburg midfielder Axel Witsel is from Martinique. Thomas Vermaelen speaks to the media in Flemish. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard speaks in French. Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne speaks Dutch, French and English. Fellaini can speak Arabic, French and English.

One thing links all of these players: they play for Belgium. They represent the nation they call home which is currently under attack from within.

Click on the link above to read JPW’s full piece, as it’s a must read.

SportsWorld: The rise of Liverpool’s Danny Ings

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Danny Ings is the ultimate success story, rising from the seventh-tier of English football to Liverpool and the England national team.

[ MORE: Full SportsWorld archive ]

Currently sidelined with a knee injury, our own JPW sat down with the Liverpool striker to see how he rose through the ranks from Sunday League to one of the most historic clubs in the world.

Ings spoke about the long days training as a youth, and the close bond he shares with his father that helped him become the player and the man he is today.

From NBC SportsWorld’s “A Long Road Traveled”:

Growing up, a strong focus to remain on the straight and narrow when everything else seemed to be falling down around him – and distractions lurked in every corner – got him to the top. At the age of 23, he is now overcoming the third major knee injury of his career. Looking at the determination etched over his face, you believe him when he says he’ll come back even stronger this time.

“This is all about the highs and lows of football. I was at the happiest point of my career and then, at the time of the injury, I felt like I was at my lowest point,” Ings said, furrowing his brow. “I just felt like I got my foot in the door. I was becoming established here at Liverpool, playing games and scoring goals, keeping my place in the team and had made my debut for England, then somebody took that all away from me. It is absolutely gutting because football has been my life. If I can’t do what I love doing then it is like someone having their kids taken away from them. That is how I felt. I know that I am going to come back extremely strong.”

Ings has had to be extremely strong and has battled against all the odds just to get to this point.

SportsWorld: A look at the Premier League’s newest rivalry

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There are some rivalries in the Premier League that date back hundreds of years.

There’s the Manchester derby between United and City, and the North London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham.

[ MORE: Full SportsWorld archive ]

But this year, there is a new derby in England’s top flight, pitting Southampton against Bournemouth.

The two clubs are just 30 miles apart on England’s South Coast, separated by The New Forest. They face-off this Sunday at St. Mary’s Stadium, in the first Premier League installment of “The New Forest derby.”

From JPW’s piece for NBC SportsWorld, “The New Forest derby”:

In general, Bournemouth has always been viewed as somewhat of a feeder club to Southampton. In the past, some of Saints’ most talented youngsters from their famed academy have gone out on loan to the Cherries to gain experience – see Adam Lallana, Andrew Surman and countless others – while Bournemouth were ensconced in the third or fourth tier of English soccer and seemingly a million miles away from a Southampton side who were in the top-flight from 1978 until their demotion to the second-tier in 2005. During that 27-year period, only Portsmouth challenged Southampton’s supremacy on the South Coast, so due to that fact — plus Portsmouth being just 17 miles east of Southampton — that rivalry is known as the “South Coast derby” and will always be the main rivalry down by the English Channel. There is no comparison, at least not in the eyes of Saints fans.

And yet, could this newfound rivalry flourish in years to come?

Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth has been riddled with injuries in the club’s first season in the Premier League, currently sitting just two points above the relegation zone. However, a win against their new South Coast rivals could help the club get back on track.

SportsWorld: Exclusive talk with Courtois shows Chelsea’s young keeper has deep experience

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It’s difficult to find goalkeeping resumes on par with Thibaut Courtois, period. But toss in the fact that he’s done what he’s done by the age of 23, and you have the potential for cross-era greatness.

So what makes this guy tick? Competition and improvement for one thing, and our own Joe Prince-Wright spoke with the Belgian backstop and his longtime mentor at Genk to talk about Courtois’ career.

[ SPORTSWORLD: On Courtois | Clark talks NCAA soccer ]

The mentor in question, Genk goalkeeping guru Guy Martens, says the club was trying to make youth versions of a Dutch goalkeeping great, which is convenient because that Manchester United model was also one of Courtois’ heroes.

From NBC’s SportsWorld:

How did a young goalkeeper growing up in Belgium learn so much, so soon? Courtois watched and learned from the greats of the previous generation. Edwin van der Sar and Iker Casillas were his favorites, particularly the latter, from whom he drew inspiration after seeing Casillas start and star for Spanish giants Real Madrid at a young age.

“For him to be playing in goal at the age of 18, it was an inspiration that there was a goalkeeper around at such a young age and he was already important at a big team,” said Courtois. “As well, Edwin van der Sar. When he was playing at Manchester United he was a role model because I think I have quite a similar style to him. Obviously, you would try to see with your eyes and try to learn from things he did in the game and analyze how he reacted to certain situations. For me, you look at every goalkeeper and you try to learn what they do.”

The van der Sar comparison is a particularly interesting one, as Courtois’ former coach Martens reveals their plan was to always produce miniature van der Sars. Genk’s impressive youth academy — which has also produced Christian Benteke, Kevin De Bruyne, Steven Defour, Divock Origi and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, among others — churned out a team full of youngsters that won the league in 2011 with a 19-year-old Courtois in goal.

The long-form piece is a must-read, as the “relaxed” Courtois shares a batch of exclusive quotes with JPW. Check it out here.

SportsWorld: Holiday explains decision to retire after USWNT’s World Cup win

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USWNT midfielder Lauren Holiday’s decision to retire was driven by the desire to put the team before herself.

Not the U.S. team, but apparently the team that is “all of humanity”.

[ MORE: Beckham wants spot next to MLB park ]

Speaking with NBC SportsWorld’s Jeff Kassouf, Holiday explained her surprising decision to retire from professional soccer at the age of 27, days after winning the World Cup.

Holiday wants to spend more time with her family, and a big part of that has to do with NBA veteran Jrue Holiday, whose schedule is fairly opposite the NWSL. And she has some next level views on why her participation in team sports was selfish.

From SportsWorld:

“I want to help in any way that I can in the world. My heart breaks for so many things, so I feel like as awesome of a lifestyle it is, it’s also a very selfish lifestyle. Your schedule is predetermined. I can’t go a day without training or thinking about training and I feel like professional athletics is very you-central and I feel like I was ready to serve other people.”

Holiday said she will most cherish the friendships and the journey she’s had, which began with the United States national team at the senior level in 2007, while she was still at UCLA. Her journey on the field for the United States team is emblematic of her willingness to put others – including her team – first. Holiday started her senior career as a forward before moving back into an attacking midfield role. She ends her time with the U.S. even farther back on the field, as a deep-lying midfielder in front of the defense. That shift has helped her mature on and off the field, she says, and it taught her a valuable lesson:

“Just to accept the role that you’re given and put the team before yourself,” Holiday said. “If I think about any legacy that I would want to leave, it would be that I put others before myself and I put the team before myself. The journey has been quite the ride.”

A devout Christian, you read Holiday’s words and she’s aiming for a lifestyle more Mother Teresa than Lady Andrade. Whatever she does — and rest assured her family shouldn’t struggle — it’ll be worth monitoring.