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Player ratings as substitutes Rashford & Martial save the day

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Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial came off the the bench to spare Manchester United’s blushes as they both scored in a 3-2 comeback victory over Cyprus’ Omonia Nicosia.

United were caught on the counter as Karim Ansarifard fired home a lovely opener late in the first half, but the introductions of Rashford and Martial in the second half set things right for Erik ten Hag’s side as the duo dragged United to three points.

Omonia had ten men behind the ball early on and it took United around ten minutes to manage their first real opportunity. Christian Eriksen played through Antony and the ball found its way to Cristian Ronaldo, whose low drive brought an excellent save out of Omonia stopper Fabiano.

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Antony then declined to shoot when one-on-one and instead cut the ball back to Bruno Fernandes, but his pass was behind the Portugal international and the danger was cleared.

Just seconds later, Fernandes hit the bar with a nice lobbed half-volley, before Fabiano pulled out another impressive save to repel a curling effort from Antony.

United threw everything at Omonia to get ahead but were punished 34 minutes in when they sent nine men forward for a free-kick. The last line of defence, Tyrell Malacia, gave the ball away in the Omonia half and the Cypriots countered into an empty United half, with Ansarifard firing past David de Gea to give the hosts a shock lead heading into the break.

Rashford, on to replace Jadon Sancho at the break, tied things up seven minutes into the second half with a delightful strike from the edge of the penalty area.

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Martial joined the fun on the hour mark and got himself on the scoresheet just moments after coming on. Combining with Rashford, the Frenchman picked the ball up on the edge of the box and drilled a low effort down into the bottom corner.

The substitutions put United firmly in the ascendency but Omonia nearly had an equaliser through Bruno, who beat the offside trap but couldn’t get the connection needed to lob De Gea.

With just over ten minutes to go, it looked like Cristiano Ronaldo would finally grab his 700th club goal when a cut-back from Diogo Dalot gifted him almost an open goal, but the veteran forward could only watch as his strike cannoned back off the post.

He may not have scored, but Ronaldo bagged an assist for a second goal from Rashford five minutes from time. It may have been a shot from the Portuguese, but it found its way to the substitute who tapped into an empty net.

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With the celebrations still ongoing, Omonia pulled one back through Nikolas Panayiotou after some sloppy play out from the back from United, who only had themselves to blame for setting up a nervy finish.

Ronaldo and Rashford both fluffed counters which would have killed the game off, but United held on to secure all three points.

Marcus Rashford

Rashford inspired the comeback / -/GettyImages

GK: David de Gea – 5/10 – Wasn’t particularly busy but perhaps could have done a little more to prevent the opener.

RB: Diogo Dalot – 5/10 – Really poor in the first half but put in a decent shift after the break. Some nice attacking runs.

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CB: Victor Lindelof – 4/10 – Slow sideways passes and reluctant to take any risks. Played exactly like a player who knows he’s tumbling down the pecking order.

CB: Lisandro Martinez – 6/10 – Not really busy at the back and was more focused on trying to make something happen in attack. Some nice passing.

LB: Tyrell Malacia – 3/10 – Did nothing going forwards and made a stunning error to gift Omonia the opening goal. Not helped by his entire team leaving him on his own but he should still have done so much better.

DM: Casemiro – 4/10 – Not involved in much going forwards and was far too slow to get back when Omonia countered.

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DM: Christian Eriksen – 5/10 – Did very little in attack but gets a boost to his rating for being the only player putting in maximum effort to get back for the goal.

RM: Antony – 6/10 – A number of dangerous moments. Asked Omonia plenty of questions but made a poor decision with his sloppy cut-back to Fernandes.

AM: Bruno Fernandes – 5/10 – Pretty quiet in the first half but a sensational pass up to Rashford for the equaliser.

LM: Jadon Sancho – 3/10 – Wasteful in the first half and was hooked at half-time, perhaps as a result of his lack of effort to get back after his poor pass in the build-up to the goal.

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ST: Cristiano Ronaldo – 6/10 – Actually looked quite dangerous in the early stages but was seen screaming expletives towards the heavens more often than not. An unselfish run for Rashford’s equaliser, so fair play.

SUB: Luke Shaw (46′ for Malacia) – 6/10 – Just did his job, which was a welcome improvement from the first half.

SUB: Marcus Rashford (46′ for Sancho) – 8/10 – A goal and an assist within 15 minutes of coming on. Offered everything United had been lacking without him.

SUB: Anthony Martial (61′ for Fernandes) – 7/10 – Scored with his third touch and continued to look dangerous. A starting spot is in his near future.

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SUB: Fred (74′ for Antony) – 6/10 – A quiet cameo.

SUB: Scott McTominay (81′ for Casemiro) – N/A

Manager: Erik ten Hag – 7/10 – Made gutsy decisions to hook Sancho and Fernandes but clearly got the rewards. A powerful message sent to his struggling starters.

Player of the Match – Marcus Rashford



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Eric Dier on England’s penalty record

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Eric Dier has insisted that England have broken their ‘mental barrier’ in penalty shootouts ahead of their World Cup round of 16 clash with Senegal.

The Three Lions are set to face off against the AFCON champions at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday evening, and while many expect England to see off Senegal in normal time, fears remain of the lottery of a penalty shootout if the game ends in a draw.

England’s record in penalty shootouts down the years has been well documented, with the victory over Colombia at the 2018 tournament the first time the nation has ever won a World Cup penalty shootout.

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Speaking about the Three Lions’ penalty hoodoo, Dier stated that through the shootout win over Colombia, England were able to get over their mental barrier: “There are ifs, buts and maybes aren’t there?

Harry Symeou hosts Andy Headspeath, Toby Cudworth & La Liga TV presenter Semra Hunter to look back on the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa – join us!

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

“I feel like that World Cup, it’s difficult for me to say because I was involved, but I felt in that game we broke down a lot of mental barriers and stereotypes that exist in English football surrounding things like knockout games and penalty shootouts and playing against that type of opposition as well.

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“I think that game I remember it felt at the time like it was a weight off our shoulders and I think you saw that in the next game against Sweden (in the quarter-final).

“No one was talking about us winning it and that game was a moment in which we all felt like we had got over a few hurdles and now we were free to just play and some of the weight of history had been removed from our backs.

“I’m definitely not scared to take a penalty. I’d be nervous in the moment but I’m not scared to do it. To be honest, my pen against Colombia when Pickford saved the penalty before, it made my penalty a lot easier.

“It was to win it, not to get knocked out, so it’s a completely different psychology. When he saved his, it was a lot easier for me. He helped me a lot.”

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How many teams will play at the 2026 World Cup?

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The World Cup is the biggest event in global football, with nations across the planet dreaming of lifting the iconic trophy.

The tournament has changed in style and format over the years, though the 2026 edition has attracted attention for some key changes which may alter the playing schedule in a way we haven’t seen for decades.

With all sorts of talk over the number of teams playing and the tournament’s format, here’s what you need to know.

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In January 2017, the FIFA Council voted unanimously to increase the number of teams participating from 32 to 48. That decision was met with criticism, especially from organisations in Europe.

The European Club Association, La Liga president Javier Tebas and then Germany manager Joachim Low were among those who argued teams where already playing too many games.

It was also seen as a political decision from FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who had run his election campaign on the promise of involving more countries in the World Cup.

Given the increase of sides from the 2026 World Cup, a change of format is expected. The initial vote in 2017 declared there would be 16 groups each consisting of three teams, with the top two reaching the knockout stage which will include 32 teams.

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The overall amount of matches will increase from 64 to 80, though the finalists will still only play seven games each under the proposals.

In late 2022, it was revealed FIFA are becoming open to keeping the current group stage process involving four teams each, with some revealing concerns over potential dead rubbers on the final matchdays of each group.

The three-game group stage proposal has attracted criticism. There have been concerns over a potential rise in collusion as seen in previous group matches.

The 1982 Disgrace of Gijon saw West Germany and Austria play out a 1-0 win for the Germans, allowing both sides to go through at the expense of Algeria, who had played earlier in the day. The game was met with outrage, though FIFA denied any wrongdoing on either side.

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The 2022 World Cup delivered plenty of entertainment during the group stage, with Group D in particular throwing up drama in the Poland vs Argentina and Saudi Arabia vs Mexico games.

Qualification for a 48-team World Cup would also change as more teams can make the final cut. Asian, African and CONCACAF sides all have greater chances to reach FIFA’s flagship event, while a spot for an Oceania side is now guaranteed.

The USA, Canada and Mexico and jointly host the 2026 World Cup. 23 cities across the three nations will host games, with the US taking 60 matches. The joint bid comfortably saw off an effort from Morocco to host the tournament.



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Virgil van Dijk comments on Liverpool being put up for sale

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Virgil van Dijk has claimed Liverpool will remain one of the biggest clubs in the world regardless of FSG’s potential sale.

The centre-back is currently on international duty with the Netherlands at the World Cup in Qatar, helping his side safely navigate a round of 16 clash with USMNT to book a place in the quarter-finals.

Speaking at the press conference after that 3-1 win over the USA, Van Dijk was asked about the news that Liverpool’s owners FSG are preparing to sell the club.

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“I have full trust in Liverpool that they will be fine. We are a very established club, one of the biggest in the world and that will stay that way. Whoever comes in to fill in those roles, they will do very well. I am aware of everything that is happening.

Harry Symeou hosts Andy Headspeath, Toby Cudworth & La Liga TV presenter Semra Hunter to look back on the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa – join us!

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

“Whether I am taking it in and doing something with it right now, I don’t think so because the full focus is on the World Cup but hopefully everything will be sorted and clarified when I am back. At this point, I am definitely not thinking about it.”

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The Fenway Sports Group recently announced Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were assisting with the potential sale of the Anfield club.

In terms of potential suitors, Saudi Arabia’s sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal has already expressed his desire for the nation to get involved with Liverpool.



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