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Player ratings as stunning comeback victory sends Samurai Blue top

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Japan stunned Spain with an outstanding 2-1 comeback victory that fired the Samurai Blue to the top of Group E and knocked Germany out of the World Cup.

Alvaro Morata headed home an opener in a dominant first half but a quickfire double after the break, with goals from Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka, flipped the entire group on its head.

Sergio Busquets thundered over the bar early on before almost giving away a goal at the other end straight after. A sloppy touch from the midfielder put Japan in on goal but Junya Ito’s shot flew into the side netting.

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Spain’s lead came 11 minutes in through Morata, who rose highest to meet a Cesar Azpilicueta cross and head home.

La Roja prevented Japan from getting back into the game by simply holding possession, with the stats showing they sat at nearly 80% half an hour in, and that rose to 83% by the end of what was a one-sided first 45 minutes.

Just three minutes into the second half, however, Japan tied it up out of nowhere with a thunderous strike from substitute Doan, whose powerful strike from the edge of the box was too much for Unai Simon.

Harry Symeou hosts Jack Gallagher and Toby Cudworth to look back on Germany ’06 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 to download or listen to the episode in full!

Almost straight after, it was 2-1. Tanaka tapped home an effort which was initially ruled out after the ball looked to have gone out of play in the build-up, but VAR overruled the decision and gave the goal.

Spain pushed and pushed for an equaliser and perhaps should have had one later on as Dani Olmo found some space in the box, but his tame effort was easily saved by Shuichi Gonda.

In the end, however, Spain rarely tested the Japan stopper and had to settle for second place in the group.

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Kaoru Mitoma, Ferran Torres

A sensational cameo from Mitoma / Buda Mendes/GettyImages

GK: Shuichi Gonda – 6/10 – Couldn’t do a lot about the goal but made some nice saves otherwise.

CB: Ko Itakura – 6/10 – Lost his marker for Morata’s opener but made up for it with a nice block.

CB: Maya Yoshida – 7/10 – Unfortunate to get booked for a ‘foul’ on Morata but couldn’t really keep up with the striker anyway. Looked far stronger after Morata went off.

CB: Shogo Taniguchi – 7/10 – Chasing shadows in the first half but recovered very well after the break.

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RM: Junya Ito – 8/10 – Not involved in the first half but a monsterous performance after the break.

CM: Hidemasa Morita – 6/10 – Some nice challenges but not strong enough with his passes.

CM: Ao Tanaka – 8/10 – A frenzy of attacking flair after the break and scored the second goal.

LM: Yuto Nagatomo – 2/10 – Hooked at half-time after a thoroughly underwhelming first half.

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RW: Daichi Kamada – 4/10 – Found it hard to get involved and was sacrificed on the hour mark to protect the lead.

ST: Daizen Maeda – 5/10 – Found it hard to get involved on the ball but his off-the-ball work was sensational. Great pressing.

LW: Takefusa Kubo – 2/10 – Barely involved at all in his 45-minute showing.

Substitutes

SUB: Ritsu Doan (46′ for Kubo) – 8/10 – Immediately injected quality. Fortunate for his goal but deserved the luck.

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SUB: Kaoru Mitoma (46′ for Nagatomo) – 8/10 – Dropped deep to help out defensively and looked a major threat whenever he got forward.

SUB: Takuma Asano (62′ for Maeda) – 5/10 – Looked a bit lost in the ocean of Spanish attacks. Should’ve killed the game off.

SUB: Takehiro Tomiyasu (68′ for Kamada) – 7/10 – Really strong when it mattered most.

SUB: Wataru Endo (87′ for Tanaka) – N/A

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Manager: Hajime Moriyasu – 7/10 – Did he get his starting lineup wrong? Who cares. Excellent substitutions and clearly the perfect team talk.

Sergio Busquets

Busquets looked nervy / Fantasista/GettyImages

GK: Unai Simon – 5/10 – Nervy with the ball at his feet and caught once or twice.

RB: Cesar Azpilicueta – 7/10 – The Chelsea connection with Morata was there with the exact sort of goal Azpilicueta assisted time and time again in the 2017/18 season.

CB: Rodri – 6/10 – Completed more passes than the entire Japan team in the first half.

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CB: Pau Torres – 6/10 – Also matched Rodri’s passing numbers but wasn’t as efficient. Took a few too many risks at times.

LB: Alejandro Balde – 6/10 – Constantly involved in Spain’s best moments but didn’t forget his defensive duties either.

DM: Sergio Busquets – 5/10 – A few nervy moments at the base of midfield. Fortunate not to be punished directly.

CM: Gavi – 6/10 – Completely dominant on the ball in the first half but faded away after the break.

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CM: Pedri – 7/10 – The star of the first half but lost his grip on proceedings after the goals went in.

RW: Nico Williams – 6/10 – A few nice moves down the right wing. Looked a real threat when on the ball.

ST: Alvaro Morata – 8/10 – An absolute clinic in movement. Some of his runs were exquisite and he took his goal with real ease.

LW: Dani Olmo – 7/10 – In full control of the first half. Pulled the strings as he looked for the killer ball.

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Substitutes

SUB: Dani Carvajal (46′ for Azpilicueta) – 4/10 – The legs look to have gone. Looked off the pace immediately.

SUB: Ferran Torres (57′ for Williams) – 5/10 – Hugged the touchline and fired crosses into the striker that went off as soon as he came on.

SUB: Marco Asensio (57′ for Morata) – 5/10 – Couldn’t find space among Japan’s deep defensive line.

SUB: Jordi Alba (68′ for Balde) – 5/10 – Struggled in his battle against Tomiyasu.

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SUB: Ansu Fati (68′ for Gavi) – 5/10 – Didn’t make the impact he needed to.

Manager: Luis Enrique – 4/10 – Bizarre to take off Morata in search of a goal, especially when the crosses kept coming in.

Player of the match – Kaoru Mitoma



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Johnson to Toronto, Freese to NYCFC

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The MLS transfers are heating up as the 2023 campaign approaches. Here’s everything you missed:

Sean Johnson

Sean Johnson joins Toronto FC. / Ira L. Black – Corbis/GettyImages

Sean Johnson is headed to Toronto FC. 

The Reds signed the goalkeeper as a free agent using Targeted Allocation Money (TAM). He joined through the 2024 Major League Soccer season.

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“Sean has established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in MLS, given his club and international career,” Toronto head coach and sporting director Bob Bradley said in a release. 

“Sean continues to demonstrate his elite shot-stopping ability, athleticism, and decision-making in important moments and the biggest games.”

Johnson departs New York City FC after five years, where he helped the team lift their first league trophy. He entered the league in 2010 through the MLS SuperDraft, and spent six years with Chicago Fire FC before joining NYCFC. 

Overall, he’s recorded 355 regular-season MLS matches. 

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Matt Freese

Matt Freese joins NYCFC. / Ira L. Black – Corbis/GettyImages

Matt Freese replaces Sean Johnson at NYCFC. 

The Eastern Conference team announced the signing of goalkeeper Matt Freese, just as Johnson joins Toronto FC.

NYCFC completed a trade with the Philadelphia Union for the goalkeeper, in exchange for a guaranteed $350,000 in General Allocation Money (GAM). The Union will also receive a percentage of a future transfer fee and could get an additional $400k in conditional GAM.

“We are delighted to have been able to finalize this acquisition and would like to welcome Matt to New York,” NYCFC sporting director David Lee said in a release.

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“He is an extremely talented American goalkeeper who is coming into the best years of his career. He is an excellent shot-stopper, and we believe is ready to take the next step in his career and we are excited to see his continued development at NYCFC.”

Freese previously served as the backup goalkeeper at the Union, standing behind Andre Blake.

Emerson Rodriguez

Emerson Rodriguez joins Santos Laguna on loan. / Andrew Katsampes/ISI Photos/GettyImages

Inter Miami have loaned winger Emerson Rodriguez to Liga MX’s Santos Laguna through the end of 2023. 

He departs after one goal in 22 league appearances for Inter Miami, and three goals for the MLS NEXT Pro affiliate Inter Miami CF II. He’s expected to see a lot more playing time under Eduardo Fentanes, as Santos Laguna’s squad needs bolstering.

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Amro Tarek

Amro Tarek joins Austin FC. / Scott Taetsch/GettyImages

Austin FC have signed Amro Tarek through the 2023 MLS season with an option for 2024.

He last played for Al Masry SC in the Egyptian Premier League, moving overseas in 2021 after two-and-a-half seasons at the New York Red Bulls. He also saw loan spells with Columbus Crew in 2016 and Orlando City SC in 2018, contributing to two goals and one assist across 66 MLS regular-season appearances.

The versatile defender can also play left back.

“I’m excited by the opportunity to play for Austin FC and to help the team toward its goal of winning trophies this season,” Tarek said in a release. “Everything I have seen about the club, from the fans and the facilities to the players and the coaching staff, has been first-class, and I can’t wait to get started.

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“I’m also very grateful to my former club, and for their understanding of my family situation and why this move made sense for me at this time. I look forward to getting started.”

Tarek will not occupy an international roster spot since he was born in the United States. 

“Amro is an athletic, left-footed center back who adds another option to our talented group of defenders as we prepare to compete in four different competitions during the 2023 season,” Austin interim sporting director Sean Rubio said in a release. 

“We wish him a warm welcome to the club and to the city of Austin.”

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Moises Caicedo appears to post farewell message to Brighton

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Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo appeared to post a farewell message to the club on Friday night, only hours after Arsenal had a £60m bid rejected.

The Seagulls, who are sixth in the Premier League, have no interest in selling Caicedo this month and 90min has reported they are not looking to entertain further bids.

Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi seemed to suggest on at his Friday press conference that Caicedo’s preference would be to leave but that he and the club are trying to persuade him otherwise.

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“I spoke with him on Wednesday and I told him my opinion. It is always difficult to change during the season. For our way, it is important for him to stay a few more months,” De Zerbi explained.

“He is relaxed. I spoke with him like a father, not a coach. I understand when one player has the possibility to change to a very big team. But my work is to give the style of play but also advice for his career and his life.”

Speaking about his own future recently, Caicedo had said that his focus is on Brighton.

“I am here, I’m playing every day. Things from outside don’t trouble me, nor does it take that focus away because I’m focussed only on here,” he commented.

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Yet taking to social media now, Caicedo made clear a desire to leave Brighton and speaking of his pride at being able to bring in a huge fee in what came across as an attempt to force the club’s hand.

“I am grateful to Mr. Bloom and Brighton for giving me the chance to come to the Premier League and I feel I have always done my best for them. I always play football with a smile and with heart. I am the youngest of 10 siblings from a poor upbringing in Santa Domingo in Ecuador,” he posted.

“My dream always to be the most decorated player in the history of Ecuador. I am proud to be able to bring in a record transfer fee for Brighton which would allow them to reinvest it and help the club continue to be successful.

“The fans have taken me into their hearts and they will always be in my heart so I hope they can understand why I want to take up this magnificent opportunity.”

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On this edition of TCOAG, Harry Symeou is joined by Arsenal presenter Nicole Holliday to preview Man City vs Arsenal in the FA Cup, discuss the transfer window, our midfield needs, Leandro Trossard & more! A more informal preview show than usual but it was plenty of fun! If you can’t see this embed, click here to listen to the podcast!



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Everything you need to know about the Hollywood-backed club

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Wrexham are gearing up for one of the biggest games in their club history when they face Sheffield United in the FA Cup.

The Welsh side have grown exponentially in recent years following the arrival of Hollywood players Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds, with a documentary series also raising the profile of the club.

There has been plenty of on-pitch progress too, with some big signings being made in the past couple of season.

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Here’s what you need to know about the club.

Wrexham host Sheffield United in the fourth round of the 2022/23 FA Cup with both sides in brilliant form. Wrexham are top of the National League as they target promotion back to the Football League, while the Blades are second in the Championship.

It’s the first time Wrexham have reached the fourth round since 1997. The two teams last met in 2014 when United edged a five-goal thriller – Phil Jagielka was among the scorers that day.

Phil Parkinson is the current manager at Wrexham, having taken charge of the club back in 2021. He began his managerial career with Colchester United and had roles with Hull and Charlton before a five-year spell with Bradford.

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City achieved promotion as League Two play-off winners in 2012/13, also unexpectedly reaching the League Cup final at Wembley that season.

Parkinson then managed over 150 games for Bolton before resigning in August 2019. He was snapped up by Sunderland a few months later but lasted little more than a year before leaving.

He arrived at Wrexham in July 2021 and took the Welsh side to the FA Trophy final where they were defeated by Bromley in May 2022. The were imminently knocked out of the play-offs by Grimsby at the semi-final stage.

Paul Mullin in undoubtedly Wrexham’s main danger in attack. After boshing in the goals for Cambridge United, the striker dropped down the pyramid to sign for the Robins and has delivered goal after goal.

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The physical Ollie Palmer is dangerous up front, too, with 13 league goals this season, while Ben Tozer and goalkeeper Mark Howard are important players in their defence.

Ryan Reynolds is a Canadian-American actor renowned for roles in films like Deadpool, Free Guy and Red Notice.

He is thought to have a net worth of around $150m. He has a stake Aviation Gin though unclear how big, having sold the company recently for $610m, and co-founded Maximum Effort Productions and Maximum Effort Marketing.

He’s also involved in Mint Mobile.

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Rob McElhenney is an American actor, writer and producer most well known for the comedy show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which he co-created alongside Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton.

What is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is an American sitcom that centres around a group of narcissitic and self-obsessed friends who run an Irish pub in south Philadelphia. McElhenney is known for playing Ronald “Mac” McDonald.

It stars the aforementioned McElhenney, Howerton and Day as well as Kaitlin Olson, who McElhenney married in 2008, and acting legend Danny DeVito.

Rob McElhenney’s fascination with Wrexham began with Mythic Quest writer Humphrey Ker, who revealed he got the actor into the spot during lunch breaks.

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“I’m laying claim to the fact (Rob’s) interest in football derives from several years of teasing me for watching football during our lunch breaks at work. Until eventually, just by pure osmosis, I got him interested in the game to the degree that he decides to buy a football team,” Ker said.

Wrexham had been fan owned since 2011 but the supporters’ trust voted McElhenney and Reynolds’ takeover bid through with 98% in favour.

The pair took total control through RR McReynolds Company LLC and made an initial £2m investment under the terms of the deal in early 2021.

Wrexham is a Welsh town close to the Welsh/English border. The club is well renowned for being one of the oldest professional teams in world football. They nearly folded as recently as 2011, though fan action kept the institution afloat.

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The place is known for being a mining town and was previously a rock-solid seat in United Kingdom political elections for Labour, but in 2019 a Conservative MP was voted in.

Welcome to Wrexham is available exclusively on Disney+ in the United Kingdom, while viewers in the United States can view the show through streaming platform Hulu.

When is the next series?

Wrexham owners Reynolds and McElhenney confirmed on social media the show would return for a second series. It will likely come after the 2022/23 football season finishes.

The biggest result in Wrexham’s history came in the FA Cup in 1992 when they upset First Division Championship winners Arsenal at the Racecourse.

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Alan Smith’s opener was cancelled out by Mickey Thomas’ awesome free kick before Steve Watkin slid in the winner.

They reached the first round of the FA Cup in 2021/22, while the year before they were dumped out in the fourth qualifying round by Solihull Moors.

Wrexham’s ground is the Racecourse Ground. It’s the world’s oldest international football stadium that still hosts international matches and the fifth largest stadium in Wales. It has a current capacity of 10,771, though in 1957, 34,445 spectators watched as Wrexham faced Manchester United.

It was first opened in 1807 and has been Wrexham’s home since 1864.

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