Women's World Cup: Uninspiring USA win vs. Spain sets up France clash


Women's World Cup: Uninspiring USA win vs. Spain sets up France clash

By the skin of their teeth, the United States Women's National Team advanced to the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup quarterfinals Monday.

The United States beat Spain 2-1 in Reims, France, thanks to two penalty kicks from captain Megan Rapinoe to set up a match with the host nation Friday. 

Rapinoe stepped up to the spot and gave the Americans a lead in the seventh minute, but Jennifer Hermoso equalized two minutes later when she caught goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher off her line. The Spaniards' press picked veteran American defender Becky Sauerbrunn's pocket, and the USWNT conceded its first goal of the tournament.

Midfielder Rose Lavelle was fouled in Spain's box late in the second half to set up Rapinoe's second penalty, before the three most-dreaded letters of the tournament appeared. The referee turned to VAR -- video assistant referee -- to determine if there was a "clear and obvious error," but the call was upheld. There wasn't much contact on Lavelle, but it was enough for the referee to point to the spot again.

Rapinoe's finish left no doubt, even as the Americans absorbed late pressure from the Spaniards, who hoped to keep their World Cup dreams alive. The USWNT advanced, but the win raised far more questions than answers.

Coach Jill Ellis opted to sit Lindsey Horan, with the midfielder facing a suspension if she picked up another yellow card. Ellis' squad failed to generate much of anything moving forward, but she did not make her first change to the lineup until the 85th minute. The USWNT attempted fewer shots on target (three) than any game in the tournament, and there wasn't all that much in the way of quality, either.

Monday's win won't settle concerns about the USWNT headed into Friday's showdown with France in Paris. Although the French needed extra time to dispatch Brazil on Sunday, they already have beaten the Americans this year. France defeated the USWNT 3-1 in a January friendly, and jumped out to a three-goal lead in that match.

The Americans won't enter the rematch on a high, but Ellis said she believed that could work to her team's advantage -- using some NSFW language.

[RELATED: How Women's World Cup bracket shakes out]

Ellis has to hope it does. In any other World Cup, Friday's match would be worthy of a final. The USWNT and France entered as two of the favorites, but one's tournament will be over before the semifinals by the time Friday's last whistle blows.

If the Americans don't improve upon Monday's performance, it very well could be them.

What Premier League's latest coronavirus tests mean for season restart

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What Premier League's latest coronavirus tests mean for season restart

The Premier League reached a pair of milestones Tuesday in an effort to resume the season, but they aren't out of the woods yet.

Clubs began small-group training sessions Tuesday, with groups of no more than five players practicing together while following social-distancing guidelines aimed to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Six of the 748 players and club staff tested over the weekend tested positive for COVID-19, and the Premier League said those six (from three different clubs) will self-isolate for the next week. 

"[The] general consensus from what I can gather is that [the results are] actually about as positive news as you can get," NBC Sports' Premier League host Rebecca Lowe told Mike Tirico on "Lunch Talk Live" on Tuesday.

The Premier League's rate of initial positive tests (0.8 percent) is slightly higher than the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga's initial rate (0.5 percent) when Germany's top two divisions ramped up their efforts to restart their seasons earlier this month. Nearly 1,000 more players and club staff (across 36 teams) were tested in Germany compared to the 19 Premier League teams tested in England. Germany's protocol required two weeks of isolation for those who tested positive.

Another round of tests is set for this week, as each Premier League club will be tested twice a week as part of "Project Restart." The Premier League's initial June 12 target is more of "a staging post," CEO Richard Masters said last week. Restarting the season will require approval from the clubs, players, medical staff and the British government.

[RELATED: Man City's Champions League ban appeal set for next month]

Next week arguably is the Premier League's most critical. The Premier League must submit a proposal to restart the season to UEFA by next Monday. Clubs will determine next Tuesday whether or not teams can return to contact training, and they will vote a day later on whether or not they will resume the season. A minimum of 14 clubs must vote in favor of restarting in order for games to be played. 

Leicester City's 4-0 win over Aston Villa on March 9 was the Premier League's last match before the season was suspended due to the coronavirus. By the end of next week, we very well could know when the next one will be played.

Manchester City Champions League ban appeal hearing set for early June


Manchester City Champions League ban appeal hearing set for early June

The reigning Premier League winners will learn their UEFA Champions League fate early next month. 

Manchester City's appeal of a two-year ban from European competition is set to be heard June 8 through 10, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced Tuesday. 

UEFA banned City from the Champions League and Europa League for two years, beginning with the 2020-21 season, and fined the club €30 million for "serious breaches" of the European governing body's financial fair play (FFP) regulations. The organization's investigation determined City deliberately inflated a sponsorship value in order to break even under the regulations, with e-mails leaked to German outlet Der Spiegel revealing that club owner Sheikh Mansour's private-equity company covered nearly £60 million of a £67.5 million deal.

City appealed the ruling in February, claiming they have a “comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence in support of its innocence." The CAS told AFP it's not clear whether the hearing will be held in person, as City requested, or by video due to restrictions as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

The hearing dates are good news for clubs awaiting clarity on the Champions League race with the Premier League aiming to end its coronavirus suspension next month as teams began small-group training Tuesday. Should City's ban be upheld, an extra qualification spot would open up outside of the traditional top four. Manchester United, City's cross-town rivals, would stand to benefit as the table currently stands. Five clubs are within six points of United, with at least nine matches to play. 

A ruling also would provide clarity on some of City's stars and, potentially, add extra importance to their current Champions League campaign. Kevin De Bruyne, the Premier League's assists leader, told Belgian outlet HLN this month that two seasons outside of Europe would be “a long time.” City led La Liga leaders Real Madrid 2-1 -- with the away goals tiebreaker -- after the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 prior to the season's suspension, and an upheld ban would mean this is the club's last chance to lift the one trophy they've not won under manager Pep Guardiola.