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Preview: Wales, USA return to World Cup finals looking to make a point

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DOHA, Nov. 20 (Xinhua) — Wales and the United States return to the World Cup on Tuesday when they face off in their opening Group B game and both will be keen to re-write the history in an early but decisive game.

With England expected to top the group, an early slip-up would leave the loser probably needing to beat a tough Iran side and avoid defeat against England to have a chance of reaching the last 16.

The USA is back at the World Cup after missing out on qualification in 2018 and will feel they have something to prove before they host the tournament in 2026 with Canada and Mexico.

The Americans are rebuilding for that tournament, although coach Gregg Berhalter surprised supporters by leaving young forward, Ricardo Pepi out of his squad. Nevertheless, he has promised his side will stick to the aggressive, high-pressing football that has characterized their football over the last couple of years.

While the USA are back at the World Cup after an eight-year hiatus, it has been a lot longer for the Welsh. The last time they played in the finals in 1958, Pele was a precocious 17-year-old talent for Brazil and a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.

Coach Rob Page, who replaced Ryan Giggs after the former Manchester United player had to step down due to legal issues, has done a tremendous job in forming a solid group of players – many whom play in the lower divisions of the English game.

There is a feeling that this is a well-earned reward, but also the last chance for the veterans in the side, with Gareth Bale finally appearing at the World Cup aged 33. Chris Gunter is at the same age, while Joe Allen is 32 and Aaron Ramsey now 31.

Allen is likely to miss Monday’s game as he finishes his recovery from a hamstring issue, but Bale has dismissed doubts about his fitness after playing less than an hour of competitive football in recent weeks.

Bale will probably lead the attack, with Daniel James and Harry Wilson offering tricky support out wide, and the 1 meter 96, Kieffer Moore giving the Welsh the options of playing high balls into the USA penalty area.

In what is likely to be a physical match, the USA will look to make their energy count in the heat, and it is vital for the Welsh, that their big-name players last the 90 minutes.

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Busy close to transfer window in Premier League

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LONDON, Feb. 1 (Xinhua) — There was plenty of activity on the last day of the transfer window in the Premier League, with Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham all making important signings.

Chelsea set a new English transfer record with the signing of Argentinean midfielder Enzo Fernandez from Benfica, paying his release clause of around 120 million euros.

The fee is around 10 times more than Benfica paid River Plate to buy the player, who was awarded the FIFA Young Player for the World Cup in Qatar, one year ago, although the Argentinean side will receive 25 percent of the sell-on fee.

The move completes a hectic January for Chelsea, who have spent over 300 million euros in an attempt to strengthen their squad.

Fernandez’s deal opened the door for Arsenal to move in for Chelsea’s Italian international midfielder Jorginho, who has signed a contract until the end of June 2024 for a fee thought to be in the region of 12 million pounds.

Jorginho will add experience to the Arsenal midfield, as Mikel Arteta’s young side looks to maintain their lead in the league’s title race.

Tottenham were also active, signing Spanish wing back Pedro Porro from Sporting Lisbon on loan, with an idea of turning the deal into a permanent transfer in the summer.

Matt Doherty and Djed Spence have both moved on to make space for Porro, with Doherty bound for Atletico Madrid and Spence signing with Rennes.

Manchester United moved quickly after the news that Christian Eriksen has suffered an injury that will keep him out until May, and snapped up Bayern Munich midfielder Marcel Sabitzer on loan.

Kamaldeen Sulemana has joined Southampton for a club record fee from Rennes. The Ghana winger will cost an initial 25 million euros plus a potential five million euros in future bonuses.

Newcastle United have landed young defender Harrison Ashby from West Ham United for a fee of around three million pounds, while striker Ayoze Perez left Leicester City to return to Spain with a loan deal to Betis.

Leicester strengthened their defense by signing Harry Souttar from Stoke City for 15 million pounds. The Australian central defender gets his move to the Premier League after impressing in the World Cup.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Barca to face Real Madrid in Copa del Rey semis

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MADRID, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) — The draw for the semifinals of the Copa del Rey in Spain has paired La Liga leaders FC Barcelona with their eternal rivals Real Madrid and ensures that this season will see three more ‘Clasicos’ in the space of a month.

Real Madrid will entertain Barcelona in the two-leg semifinals this week, with the return leg in the Camp Nou between April 4-6.

The most recent meeting between the two sides was in the Spanish Supercup held in Saudi Arabia on January 15th. Barcelona dominated that game and claimed a 3-1 win with goals from Gavi, Robert Lewandowski and Pedri, with Karim Benzema netting a late consolation goal for Real Madrid.

Real Madrid beat Barca 3-1 in La Liga in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in their first meeting this season, back in October.

Luck has decreed that the two teams will have their second league meeting of the campaign in the Camp Nou on March 19th, meaning they will face each other three times in a month.

The second semifinal is a northern-derby between Osasuna and Athletic Club Bilbao, with the first game played in Osasuna’s El Sadar Stadium and the return in Athletic’s San Mames.

Osasuna are looking to reach the final for the second time in their history (after losing to Betis in 2005), while Athletic are looking to make the final for the third time in four years.

The two sides met in Bilbao at the start of January, with a series of saves from Osasuna keeper Aitor Fernandez keeping Athletic at bay in a 0-0 draw.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Analysis: Four things we learned in Spain’s Matchday 19

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MADRID, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) — La Liga has reached the midway point of the season with leader FC Barcelona five points clear of Real Madrid and a tight battle at the bottom of the table. Here are the four things we learned this weekend in Spain.

BARCA STILL NEED LEWANDOWSKI BACK

FC Barcelona won 1-0 away to Girona on Saturday and extended their lead to five points over Real Madrid at the top of the table, but it was another disappointing display from Xavi Hernandez’s side.

The win comes after they scraped past Real Sociedad 1-0 in the Copa del Rey and only beat Getafe 1-0 in La Liga. Although Robert Lewandowski played in the cup game, he missed the league match against Getafe and a 1-0 win against Atletico Madrid earlier this month.

With Lewandowski suspended, Ousmane Dembele has carried the weight of Barcelona’s attacking football, but the muscle injury he suffered in Girona will sideline the Frenchman for around a month. It’s good that Lewandowski will return next week for a difficult game against Betis.

REAL SOCIEDAD MAKE THEIR CASE IN MADRID

Although Alex Remiro was the busier of the two keepers on Sunday night, Real Sociedad’s 0-0 draw away to Real Madrid is another reason to see the side from San Sebastian as title outsiders.

They played for over 45 minutes in the Copa del Rey with 10 men against Barca in midweek and still pushed Barca all the way, while Sunday saw them contribute to a vastly entertaining match.

While Barca and Madrid still have a packed calendar, Real Sociedad have slightly more recovery time and Mikel Merino and David Silva will soon return from injury, so they have to be seen as candidates.

NO INAKI, NO PARTY FOR BILBAO

Athletic Club Bilbao sit eighth in the table after slipping to a 1-0 defeat away to Celta Vigo on Sunday, following a poor display in which they created few chances (especially in the second half).

The Basque side was without striker Inaki Williams, who was suffering from a knee injury, with coach Ernesto Valverde preferring not to take any risks with his player.

That decision ended a run of 251 consecutive league appearances for Williams – a record that stretches back over six years without either injury or suspension, which unlikely to be bettered any time soon, if ever.

Williams has been criticized for his erratic finishing, but sometimes you don’t appreciate a player until they don’t play, and that was certainly the case on Sunday.

DE PAUL FINALLY IMPRESSES

Atletico Madrid midfielder Rodrigo de Paul was one of the pillars of Argentina’s success in the World Cup in Qatar, but the 28-year-old’s season and a half with Atletico have so far been underwhelming, to such an extent that he has been booed on occasion by fans in Atletico’s Metropolitano Stadium.

Sunday’s 1-0 win away to Osasuna showed what De Paul is capable of, as he produced an intense display in midfield and gave the pass that allowed Saul Niguez (another player who could be on their way out) to score the winning goal.

In theory, De Paul should be an ideal player for Diego Simeone’s style of play, but the question is: can he do it on a regular basis?

Source(s); Xinhua

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