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Vancouver Whitecaps Playoffs push ‘written in the stars’

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For the Vancouver Whitecaps to remain in the MLS Cup Playoffs race heading into Decision Day, a remarkable turn of events had to occur.

First off, the Canadian side had to end a run of three consecutive defeats with just one goal scored. They did just that, beating the LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, and Austin FC in their last three matches by a combined scoreline of 7-1.

But they also needed the teams above them to slip up, which is exactly what happened as well. Heading into the final day of the regular season, sixth-place Portland Timbers have taken one point from their last two games, seventh-place Minnesota United have only one point from six matches, and eighth-place Real Salt Lake have won only one of their last eight MLS games.

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Vancouver play Minnesota on Decision Day, while the Timbers face RSL. Is it fated that one last twist will send the Whitecaps above the Playoffs line?

“It kind of seems like the stars are aligning a little bit,” striker Brian White told reporters. “Not to jinx it, because obviously, it’s going to be a big test, a big challenge in Minnesota.”

Defender Jake Nerwinski conceded that the Whitecaps have pulled off the improbable so far and is keen to take advantage of their form and good fortune.

“It’s almost impossible and it’s something that we need to take advantage of,” he said. “Everything went our way to get to this point. Now, hopefully, we can continue to make the most of it and make it worth it.”

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Of course, while the Whitecaps have been fortunate, their recent three-game sequence is impressive and must be applauded. The Galaxy already have their post-season spot booked, the Sounders are the Concacaf Champions League holders, and Austin FC are the second seed in the west.

Taking nine points from those games is no easy feat. Regardless of Sunday’s result, the Whitecaps know they’ve left nothing in the locker room.

“We worked hard to get to this point,” Nerwinski added. “We put ourselves in a great position, and now we get to go play free. And if we win, we know that we did everything we could. If we lose, you know, we did everything we could.”

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Player ratings La Albiceleste make it through to knockout stages

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Goals from Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez ensured Argentina’s place at the top of Group C and their place in the round of the 16 of the FIFA World Cup. Poland also squeezed through despite losing thanks to Mexico only managing to beat Saudi Arabia 2-1.

Argentina started the game brightly, getting Lionel Messi on the ball frequently in and around the penalty area – which is always the game plan for La Albiceleste. The PSG star would have the first notable shot on goal in the 10th minute, bursting into the left hand side of the penalty area before stinging Wojciech Szczęsny’s palms with a fierce strike on goal.

La Albiceleste were able to sustain that pressure with relative ease thereafter as Poland were more than happy to sit in and defend a point that would see them through to the last 16.

Marcos Acuna was next to come close for Argentina around the half-hour mark, drilling a shot just wide of the foot of the right post.

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Julian Alvarez would then force Szczęsny into a great save five minutes later, with the Juventus number one deflecting Alvarez’s effort on goal from the left side of the penalty area out wide.

Moments later we witnessed the worst refereeing decision of the tournament thus far. Argentina were awarded an egregious penalty following a lengthy VAR check after Szczęsny was adjudged to have touched (?) Messi’s face while both were up challenging for a cross into the box.

The resulting spot kick was then brilliant saved by the Poland goalkeeper, who dove to his left to tip Messi’s effort wide. Justice well and truly served.

Immediately after the second half whistle, Argentina finally got their goal. Brighton star Alexis Mac Allister would be the man to get it, latching onto a low cross from right-back Nahuel Molina to drill past Szczęsny and into the bottom right corner of the net.

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That goal would finally wake Poland up as an attacking entity and, in the 49th minute, they almost grabbed an equaliser through Kamil Glik. The veteran defender rose highest to head a set piece from the right flank just wide.

After a few tactical tweaks, Lionel Scaloni’s men firmly regained control of the game. In the 67th minute they deservedly doubled their lead through Julian Alvarez. The young forward held off two Polish defenders before firing high into the net.

It was so nearly three in the 72nd minute when Messi played a wonderful through ball into the path of Alvarez again. The forward, however, could only find the side-netting with his subsequent strike on goal.

In the 85th minute, Lautaro Martinez came off the bench to nearly knock Poland out of the competition. After latching onto a loose back pass, the Inter man stormed into the penalty area but shanked his shot on goal wide of the post.

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Jakub Kiwior then saved Poland from an early exit with a stunning clearance off the line in the 93rd minute. The towering defender got back well to head clear a dinked Nicolas Tagliafico finish to keep his nation in the tournament.

GK – Wojciech Szczęsny – 8/10 – Saved his second penalty of the group stages and looked generally unbeatable in the first half. He was finally beaten in the second, but by God what a performance regardless.

RB – Matty Cash – 3/10 – Didn’t get forward as Poland would’ve liked.

CB – Kamil Glik – 4/10 – The sort of game that suits him at this point in his career and yet he still wasn’t particularly good.

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CB – Jakub Kiwior – 7/10 – Got caught out with Molina’s cut-back cross which led to the opener. Made amends with a fantastic clearance off the line in added time.

LB – Bartosz Bereszynski – 3/10 – Struggled to defend his side.

CM – Piotr Zielinski – 3/10 – Needed to be better on the ball than he was in this one.

CM – Krystian Bielik – 4/10 – Defended quite well but generally looked hopless in possession.

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CM – Gregorz Krychowiak – 2/10 – Got stuck in when he could get near the ball…which wasn’t often because he can’t run anymore.

AM – Przemyslaw Frankowski – 1/10 – He did literally nothing and was subbed off at half-time.

ST – Robert Lewandowski – 2/10 – So, so isolated.

ST – Karol Swiderski – N/A – Did he play? He didn’t, did he? Surely not.

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SUB – Michal Skoras – 4/10.

SUB – Jakub Kaminski – 3/10.

SUB – Damian Szymanski – N/A.

SUB – Artur Jedrzejczyk – N/A.

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SUB – Krzysztof Piatek – N/A.

GK – Emi Martinez – 5/10 – He had zero to do.

RB – Nahuel Molina – 7/10 – His brilliant low cross from the right flank led to the opening goal.

CB – Cristian Romero – 5/10 – Dealt with the little threat Lewa posed well.

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CB – Nicolas Otamendi – 5/10 – An easy night at the office for Otamendi.

LB – Marcos Acuna – 6/10 – Drilled a shot just wide in the first half and got forward well.

CM – Alexis Mac Allister – 8/10 – Scored his first ever international goal at the best possible time.

CM – Enzo Fernandez – 7/10 – Another impressive performance from the young man.

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CM – Rodrigo De Paul – 4/10 – Sloppy on the ball again. Surely he shouldn’t start for this team.

RW – Angel Di Maria – 5/10 – Saw a lot of the ball but didn’t do a whole lot with it.

CF – Lionel Messi – 4/10 – Missed a penalty. He’s not very good at penalties.

LW – Julian Alvarez – 5/10 – Scored a great goal in the second half. Well deserved start for the Man City striker.

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SUB – Leandro Paredes – 6/10 – Did a decent job in midfield when he came on.

SUB – Nicolas Tagliafico – N/A.

SUB – Lautaro Martinez – 5/10 – Missed a decent chance in the 85th minute.

SUB – German Pezzella – N/A.

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SUB – Thiago Almada – N/A.

Man of the Match: Alexis Mac Allister

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Ben White leaves England World Cup squad due to ‘personal reasons’

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Arsenal star Ben White has left England’s World Cup training camp and isn’t expected to return for the remainder of the tournament.

The defender didn’t make an appearance in any of the Three Lions group stage games, and has now left the squad due to ‘personal reasons’.

In a statement released by England, the Three Lions confirmed the news: “Ben White has left England’s training base in Al Wakrah and returned home for personal reasons.

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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!

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

“The Arsenal defender is not expected to return to the squad for the remainder of the tournament. We ask that the player’s privacy is respected at this moment in time.”

White has enjoyed a fantastic domestic season with Arsenal, becoming the club’s first choice right-back – and one of the best right-backs in the Premier League – as the Gunners have gone from top four challengers to table-toppers.

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Poland vs Argentina: Confirmed lineups

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Poland vs Argentina

France, who have already secured a spot in the last 16 of the World Cup 2022, play Tunisia on Wednesday in their final Group D matchup.

In the meantime, the African nation is last in the standings and must defeat the current champions to advance to the knockout stages.

Line-up

Poland XI (4-4-1-1): Szczesny; Bereszynski, Glik, Kiwior, Cash; Frankowski, Bielik, Krychowiak, Zielinski; Swiderski; Lewandowski

Argentina XI (4-3-3): Martínez; Molina, Romero, Otamendi, Acuña; De Paul, Enzo Fernández, Mac Allister; Messi, Álvarez, Di María

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