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Minnesota United in ‘huge hole’ with Playoffs hopes now in balance

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It should have been the night where they sealed their spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs for the fourth year running but, instead, Minnesota United fell to a disappointing 2-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes.

Playing against the bottom side in the Western Conference, MNUFC’s performance on Saturday was as frustrating as it was head-scratching. It is safe to say head coach Adrian Heath was not impressed.

“I thought it was a strange game. It was like: ‘you attack and then we’ll attack’,” Heath said after the match. “I don’t think we did enough to win. I think they [San Jose] wanted to win the game more than we did and that showed with their attitude. When you consider what was at stake, that’s a pretty difficult pill to swallow, to be honest.”

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The defeat – inflicted by second-half goals from the retiring Shea Salinas and 22-year-old forward Benji Kikanovic – means Minnesota’s race to make the Playoffs will go down to Decision Day.

The Loons still occupy the seventh and final spot in the West but face a Vancouver Whitecaps side on a three-match winning streak and looking to leapfrog them in the table. MNUFC are also sandwiched between the Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake, who face off against each other in the final fixture.

To make matters worse, Minnesota United have now taken just one point from their last six games. Heath’s players, though, are well aware of the situation they’re in and what needs to happen to get over the line.

“We know we need to come out and win the game,” said goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair. “We’re going to need the support of everyone, including our whole team, the fans, everything, to push us over this line because we’ve definitely dug ourselves a huge hole when we were in a great position earlier on,”

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That said, St. Clair still has faith in his teammates, with MNUFC boasting some incredible difference-makers such as Emanuel Reynoso and Luis Amarilla.

“We knew if we won tonight, we put ourselves in a great position to potentially clinch. Now we have to wait another week to do that,” the Canada international added.

“A lot of pressure going into that last game. Big players show up in big moments, so we’re going to need a lot of guys to have great performances to push us over the line against Vancouver.”

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Conor Coady responds to ‘daft’ question about Liverpool allegiance

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Conor Coady has told England teammate Jordan Henderson to do better in his goading after the Liverpool captain taunted him over his Everton connection.

Coady was a product of the Liverpool youth system and made a solitary appearance for his boyhood club in the 2012 Europa League. He has since moved on to Huddersfield Town and Wolves before joining Liverpool’s Merseyside rivals Everton on loan last summer.

Speaking on the latest episode of Lion’s Den from England’s World Cup camp, though, Henderson could not resist trying to wind up Coady by quizzing him on his allegiances.

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“Conor, we are all England here,” Henderson said. “But what I really want to know is: are you blue or red?”

Henderson then started laughing, which prompted a similar response from Coady, who appeared both irritated and amused by the question.

“It’s so poor from him,” Coady said while smiling. “We have banter all the time. Of course, I am playing for Everton. He knows deep down.

Harry Symeou hosts Scott Saunders and Toby Cudworth to look back on South Korea/Japan ’02 as part of the ‘Our World Cup’ series. We take a trip down memory lane – join us!

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If you can’t see the podcast embed, click here to download or listen to the episode in full!

“So, for him to come out there and ask that question is daft. Of course, I am blue. Of course, I am blue, without a shadow of a doubt.

“For him to say that…you know what I am going to go back there sit down and have a coffee with him. I will give him a bit. That’s nowhere near good enough from the big fella. Blue all day long.”

Everton have a clause allowing them to sign Coady permanently from Wolves this summer for a fee of just £4.5m.

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Football pays tribute to former Lioness after I’m A Celebrity win

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Less than four months after helping England’s Lionesses to their maiden piece of silverware at Euro 2022, Jill Scott was celebrating more success on Sunday evening after being crowned queen of the jungle.

England’s second most capped player secured more votes than Hollyoaks actor Owen Warner and Conservative MP Matt Hancock to be crowned the winner of ‘I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here’ 2022.

Scott’s one liners, words of encouragement, and sense of humour made her hugely popular with the general public – traits which came as little surprise to her former teammates.

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“Honestly, one of the best people you’d ever get to meet and the world’s fallen in love with you too. Always been a queen. So happy for you,” tweeted Lauren Hemp, who played alongside Scott for Manchester City and England.

“Us former teammates have had the pleasure of having Jill Scott light up our England camps just as she has in the jungle! She is exactly like this, 100% funny, genuine and positive,” added former England captain Faye White.

Scott enjoyed incredible longevity in football prior to her retirement in the summer. She was the only Lioness to feature in the finals of both Euro 2009 and Euro 2022, maintaining pace with the game as women’s football gradually transitioned from an amateur to a professional sport over the course of her career.

“So proud of this one! A genuine, lovable human that now everyone can see! Well done Queen of the Jungle and our hearts,” Anita Asante tweeted.

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“So pleased for Jill Scott, throughly deserved it was never in doubt! What a star,” Sue Smith wrote on Twitter.

The win caps a fairytale year for Scott, who was introduced off the bench just before extra time in England’s Euro 2022 final victory over Germany, She was instrumental to the victory, breaking up play magnificently and swearing stupendously at Germany’s Sydney Lohmann.

“The men don’t bring it home for over 50 years and Jill Scott brings it home twice in one year,” Manchester Laces founder Helen Hardy wrote on Twitter.

“Jill Scott beats Matt Hancock. that’s my girl,” tweeted Arsenal’s Lotte Wubben-Moy.

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Croatia vs Belgium – World Cup: Team news, lineups & prediction

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Croatia face Belgium on Thursday afternoon in a meeting between two medallists from the 2018 World Cup.

Both sides may have reached the semi-finals in Russia but a passage to the round of 16 in Qatar is not certain for either nation heading into the final game of Group F.

Zlatko Dalic’s runners-up are better placed after victory against Canada took them to four points; a draw would send Croatia through. Belgium’s position is more precarious in the wake of a limp loss to Morocco.

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Roberto Martinez’s side could theoretically qualify with one more point but only if winless Canada defeat Morocco by four or more goals in the other group game. A win would confirm Belgium’s qualification and leave Croatia sweating over Morocco’s result.

Here’s everything you need to know about a devilishly poised encounter.

Croatia vs Belgium H2H Results (All Time)

Current Form (Last Five Games)

Croatia team news

Nikola Vlasic started Croatia’s opener against Morocco but was removed with a calf problem at half-time. The West Ham loanee recovered to make the bench against Canada but his replacement, Marko Livaja, delivered a strong argument to retain his starting berth with a crisply struck goal.

The arrival of a traditional striker shifted Andrej Kramaric to the right wing, where he scored twice on Sunday afternoon.

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Croatia Starting 11 (4-3-3): Livakovic; Juranovic, Lovren, Gvardiol, Sosa; Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic; Kramaric, Livaja, Perisic.
Bench: Grbic, Ivusic, Erlic, Vida, Sutalo, Barisic, Stanisic, Jakic, Sucic, Majer, Osric, Pasalic, Petkovic, Budimir, Vlasic.

Belgium team news

Romelu Lukaku was deemed fit enough to come on for the final ten minutes of Belgium’s surprise defeat to Morocco. The Inter striker hasn’t started a match for club or country since August and may still be short of the fitness required to lead the line. However, with another four days to continue his recovery, Lukaku could make a longer cameo at least.

Amadou Onana will play no part after collecting a second, suspension-inducing booking against the Atlas Lions.

Belgium Starting 11 (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Castagne; Meunier, Tielemans, Witsel, Trossard; De Bruyne, E Hazard; Batshuayi.
Bench: Casteels, Mignolet, Debast, Faes, Theate, Dendoncker, Vanaken, De Ketelaere, T Hazard, Carrasco, Doku, Lukaku, Mertens, Openda.

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There are a lot of familiar faces in both squads from the podium finishes in 2018 but Belgium seem to be anchored more firmly in the past. Ten players that featured in their semi-final defeat to France four-and-a-half years ago have already appeared this winter.

Kevin De Bruyne’s pre-tournament admission that his nation has “no chance” of winning the World Cup because “we’re too old” has been painfully apparent in a pair of listless performances.

Martinez pledged: “We will play to win against Croatia and that will be the start of us at this World Cup.” However, if they produce the same lumbering display on Thursday, it will be the end of Belgium at this World Cup.

Prediction: Croatia 2-1 Belgium

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