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Croatia forward Mario Mandzukic retires from national team

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ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) Mario Mandzukic is retiring from international soccer after 11 years with Croatia’s national team, with his decision coming a month after he scored in the World Cup final.

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The 32-year-old Mandzukic made the announcement Tuesday on Instagram.

In an emotional farewell message, Mandzukic said the decision was made easier after Croatia reached the World Cup final in Russia.

“We lived our dream, made a historic result and felt the love of our fans,” Mandzukic said.

“There’s no ideal time for departure,” Mandzuklic added. “If we could, I believe we all would play for Croatia as long as we live because there is no bigger pride than that. However, I feel that for me that moment is now. That I gave my best and that I contributed to the biggest success in Croatian football.”

Mandzukic, who plays for Italian club Juventus, has played 89 games for Croatia, scoring 33 goals – trailing only Davor Suker’s national record of 45. He played at two World Cups and three European Championships.

Croatia lost to France 4-2 in the World Cup final on July 15, with Mandzukic scoring the second goal for his country.

In that match, Mandzukic also made history by becoming the first player to score an own-goal in a World Cup final after inadvertently deflecting a free kick from Antoine Griezmann into his own net in the 18th minute to give France a 1-0 lead.

Mandzukic also scored the decisive goal against England in the semifinals, finding the net in extra time to secure Croatia’s first ever appearance in a World Cup final.

Neymar under fire after World Cup ‘mea culpa’ advert

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SAO PAULO (AP) Neymar’s decision to use a sponsored advert to admit he sometimes over-reacted to fouls at the World Cup has backfired, with Brazilian marketing experts saying it had made the Paris Saint-Germain striker’s image even worse.

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Under the title `A New Man Every Day,’ Sunday’s video was backed by personal care products maker Gillette and broadcast on several Brazilian TV networks.

“You may think I exaggerate. And sometimes I do exaggerate. But the truth is I suffer on the pitch,” Neymar said in the advert, referring to the constant fouls he received at the World Cup.

“I took long to accept your criticism. I took long to look at myself in the mirror and become a new man.”

Brazil was knocked out by Belgium in the World Cup quarterfinals earlier this month.

Marketing specialists said the advert damaged the 26-year-old player’s brand as much as his histrionics did in Russia.

“The whole market waited 15 days since the end of the World Cup to hear from him,” Amir Somoggi, a partner at marketing company Sports Value, told The Associated Press.

“He gave some interviews, but did not admit his exaggerations then. Now he has hidden behind a TV commercial to do that. This was great for the sponsor, after all we are talking about the brand. But it was not good for Neymar, who now has an even bigger image crisis to handle.”

Sports marketing consultant Erich Beting believes the timing of the advert was a mistake.

“Neymar’s problems happened on the pitch, and he will not play tomorrow to show he has changed, as the ad says. That fact, and his decision to pick an ad to do it, will make it all sound empty. It will be weeks until he has a chance to show any real improvement,” Beting said.

Jose Colagrossi, another sports marketing consultant, agreed.

“It would be different if he really meant it, in a live press conference, looking eye to eye and not in a sponsored video,” he said.

It is not the first time Neymar has used an advert to handle an image crisis.

In 2011, he was criticized for constant misbehavior and he used an advert sponsored by phone carrier Nextel to address his fans.

“You cursed at me when I made mistakes, you screamed when I didn’t listen,” he said in the ad. “You know who I am. Only another happy boy playing with his ball.”

Now, some of the criticism for the image crisis is aimed at Neymar da Silva Santos, his father and the man who manages his career.

Ricardo Fort, who heads global sponsorship deals at Coca-Cola, said the Brazil striker needs to take control of his career.

“After this World Cup, who thinks of Neymar thinks of theatrics, faking. These are attributes that no brand wants to get associated with,” Fort wrote in an open letter to the player in Monday’s edition of magazine Meio & Mensagem.

“It is time for you to hire a professional to take care of your career. You are too valuable to be treated like that.”

Asked to comment on the negativity, Neymar’s staff directed the Associated Press to Procter & Gamble, owners of Gillette. The company did not discuss the criticism of the player, or the ad.

“Like many others, Neymar Jr. faces challenges, injuries and defeats, and the objective of Gillette is to encourage every man, with no distinction, to reflect on the opportunity of becoming a new man every day,” the company said in a statement.

The firm also denied a report by newspaper O Globo saying the striker was paid about $250,000 for the ad.

Thierry Henry reportedly close to becoming Aston Villa manager

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Aston Villa was on the brink of re-joining the Premier League in May, but their efforts fell short in their playoff final against Fulham.

[ MORE: Mahrez, Sane eager for Man City glory ]

With a recent surge of financial backing, the club could be turning in a different direction at manager, with a former Premier League legend in mind.

Several outlets have reported that the Villans are close to replacing manager Steve Bruce with Belgium assistant and Arsenal great Thierry Henry.

The 40-year-old could be named the club’s next manager as early as this week, despite Bruce still being in charge at Villa Park.

New Villa owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens are believed to have already met with Henry, who has reportedly agreed to a verbal contract with the Championship side.

Henry has been on the Belgium staff as an assistant since head manager Roberto Martinez took over the Red Devils in 2016.

Numerous betting sites have suspended wagers on Henry taking over at Villa, after odds tumbled to 1/6 in favor of the ex-striker becoming the club’s new manager.

Mbappe hid back injury from France at World Cup

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Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe improved his stock significantly at the 2018 World Cup, and the teenage sensation did so for France’s final two matches with a back injury, according to the player.

The 19-year-old recently stated that he and his teammates were forced to hide a back injury for the semifinal against Belgium and final against Croatia in order to ensure he would have the survive the tournament without further damage.

“The most important thing was making sure that our opponents did not find out,” Mbappe said. “They could have taken advantage of that and targeted this sensitive area. The players and the staff kept it hidden — even for the final.”

Throughout the competition, Mbappe tallied four goals for Les Bleus and played an integral role as the leader of the French attack due to his exceptional pace and skill on the ball.

Even prior to kick off in Russia though, the young PSG star had his sights sets on a World Cup win and says he believed all along that his squad could bring home the glory.

“Being honest, it was in my mind for some time,” he said. “For me, from the beginning, I was convinced that we had everything that we needed to go all the way.

“I said it before the World Cup started and some saw it as arrogance — it was simply my conviction. I came for the trophy and I left with it — I was programmed to win.”

Mesut Ozil discusses critique of Turkish background

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Germany’s dismissal from the World Cup came as a shock to many, but one of its players received heavier scrutiny for off-the-field actions.

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Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil appeared in two of the three group stage matches for the Germans in Russia, however, his play was overshadowed by his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prior to the start of the tournament.

The meeting between the two caused several German media outlets to criticize Ozil due to the heated relations between the two European nations.

It was for this reason that it appears Ozil has decided to retire from the German national team, which he announced via social media.

Additionally, Ozil says his brand was affected as well, with various sponsors pulling their support due to the meeting with Erdogan.

The 29-year-old is of Turkish and German descent, which would have made him eligible to represent either country.

Ozil took to Twitter on Sunday to discuss how the ordeal has affected how the media and sponsorship has affected him over the last month.