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More Iberian Misery, and the USA is A-OK

Pepe-MullerThe highly-anticipated Germany-Portugal match turned out to be a rout, even before Pepe’s flash of anger got him sent off.  The Germans were all over the team in claret, dragging them this way and that.  Portugal’s first bad decision came when João Pereira pulled down Mario Götze in the box.  Up steps Thomas Müller… and in goes the ball.  Twenty minutes later, Mats Hummels got a running start off a corner to head the ball in… 2-nil.

Hummels rising like Eine sprichwörtliche Lachs

Hummels rising like whatever the German word is for salmon.

Then came Müller’s obvious theatrics, which raised Pepe’s ire… but why he let the blood rush to his head, we’ll never know… probably because that’s what Pepe does.  Portugal are down to 10-men and Müller goes on to score two more goals, rubbing salt in Portugal’s wounds.  After the match, coach Paulo Bento claimed the referee was biased against Portugal, but that’s pretty rich considering their record for flopping around (and taking pride in it).  Germany 4-0 Portugal.

The other match in this group featured two teams trying to capitalize on Portugal’s slip.  The U-S-A came out as expected, playing organized and physical football.  Clint Dempsey gave the Stars and Stripes a dream start with the fifth-quickest goal in World Cup history.  After that, things calmed down a bit.  A couple of USA injuries (Jozy Altidore’s tournament appears to be over after a hamstring injury, Matt Besler came off at the half) meant that Jürgen Klinsmann had to make subs earlier than he would have liked.   Ghana got a kick start in the second half when Kevin-Prince Boateng came on (it was surprising that Akwasi Appiah started neither Boateng nor Michael Essien in midfield).   The Black Stars’ shots started flying in, albeit most of them from way outside the box.

Brooks in disbelief

Brooks in disbelief

After being down for 80 minutes, Asamoah Gyan gave a lovely little backheel pass to Andrew Ayew who flicked the ball past Tim Howard with the outside of his left foot.  Pandemonium amongst the Ghanaian support.  However, just four minutes later, the American substitute John Anthony Brooks — a man born and raised in Germany — scored a header off a corner… and earned himself his own Wheaties box.  USA 2-1 Ghana

Brent P. Lanthier

 

 

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World Cup 2014 Preview: Groups G & H

Germans arrive
The last two groups could not be more opposite in quality and reputation.  While I don’t think Group G is the Group of Death, I do think that the four nations will have their work cut out for them.  Meanwhile, the young Belgians will have a chance to strut their stuff while the other three fight their way through.

GROUP G

Miroslav Klose-ing in on World Cup history

Miroslav Klose-ing in on World Cup history

Much has been written in recent days about the injuries to Joachim Löw’s Germany.  Marco Reus tore his ankle just days before the tournament, and potential starters Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira are all either playing with knocks or coming off recent injuries.  Luckily for Löw, he suffers from an embarrassment of riches.   Half of Der Mannschaft (tee hee, Mannschaft…  still makes me giggle) plays for either of Germany’s two biggest teams: Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund.  The side also features Arsenal’s three prizes: veteran defender Per Mertesacker, as well as attacking midfielders Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski, and Chelsea’s Andre Schürrle.  Löw’s Teutonic system (the newest rage in football, a melange of tiki-taka and counter-attacking) means all hands going forward, which explains why he only brought one striker: 36-year-old Miroslav Klose.  If Klose plays — and scores — Germany’s all-time record goal-scorer will tie Brazil’s Ronaldo for all-time World Cup goals (15).   SEMI-FINALS

Apparently, he's going to be okay...

Apparently, he’s going to be okay…

If there is one nation whose fans’ self-delusion rivals that of England’s, it’s Portugal‘s.  Every four years — two if you count the Euros — their fans believe they have what it takes to be world beaters.  But like England, they strive and fall short.  Portugal features a superstar player in Cristiano Ronaldo (just like Wayne Rooney) who is surrounded by a team of competent players that would never get a kick at the can in a side like Argentina or Brazil (just like England).  Portugal are also a nation whose FIFA ranking is absurdly high, boosted by a complicated formula (just like England).   Ronaldo has been fighting to be fit for this tournament.  If he performs like he does for Real Madrid, Portugal could go deep into quarter-final territory.  But their path is likely blocked by Belgium in the knockout stages and then Argentina.  ROUND OF 16

Bradley and USA in tough in Group G

Bradley and USA in tough in Group G

Jürgen Klinsmann says he will sing both Germany’s and the U.S.A.‘s national anthems, when the two teams square off in their very last group game.  By then, Klinsmann will have a pretty good idea whether his last three years of effort have finally elevated the USA into the elite pantheon of football nations.   A look at his side would suggest it hasn’t yet.   I don’t want to write off the Stars and Stripes: they are well organized and physical.  They feature a handful of players who are class: Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are great keepers; Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron and Jozy Altidore have all cut their teeth in the Premier League, and Michael Bradley — despite his strange move to MLS — will be the lynchpin of Klinsmann’s side.  It’s a pity they are in a group with Germany and Portugal.  The building continues.  THREE AND OUT

Muntari and Essien: the Black Stars' two superstars

Muntari and Essien: the Black Stars’ two superstars

Everyone’s favourite in South Africa 2010, Ghana faces the plague of other successful African nations: inflated expectations.  The Black Stars’ midfield is still credible: Milan’s Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari will bolster the back line,  with Kevin-Prince Boateng playing in front of them.  But no one will be surprised by the Ghanaians, and that’s unfortunate in a tough group like this.  THREE AND OUT

GROUP H 

Just in case you're wondering who Hazard plays for...

Just in case you’re wondering who Hazard plays for…

The return of Belgium to the biggest international stage has excited many soccer purists.  After finishing fourth at Mexico ’86, the Belgians were disappointing, bowing out early in the next three World Cups.  The country’s football association then changed the way it trained young players, and it also changed its relationship with its big clubs.  Now the the Red Devils are in their first international tournament since Japan/Korea ’02 and what a line-up.  Thibault Courtois and Simon Mignolet are two of the most sought-after young keepers in the world right now.  Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku were easily Chelsea and Everton’s best players, respectively, while Kevin Mirallas was no slouch either, and Dries Marten scored 13 goals for Rafa Benitez’ Napoli.  Marc Wilmots is bringing only one true fullback, selecting seven centre backs to play in his defence.  What’s more, that defence is expected to press high up the pitch.  Even if they don’t go far, this team will get a couple another kick at the can at the Euros in France and then Russia’s World Cup. QUARTER-FINALS

A rare smile from Capello

A rare smile from Capello

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has struggled to rebuild itself to the former power of her predecessor (that’s because most of the USSR’s great players were Ukrainian.  Shhh).  Save for a third place finish in Euro 2008, they’ve failed to make it out of the group stage.  However, Euro 2012 was a good showcase for them.  Too bad this is a different side with a different manager.  Capello has made this team more defensive, as is his way.  Captain Roman Shirokov had to bow out to injury, and exciting young Alan Dzagoev is in the Italian gaffer’s bad books.  Still, this is a weak group, and they should be able to get through… unless they can’t stand the heat.  Literally.  ROUND OF 16

Slimani sees who's waiting if they finish second...

Slimani sees who’s waiting if they finish second…

Algeria are currently the highest-ranked team in Africa right now, due in part to a new philosophy brought in by manager,Vahid Halilhodžić.  Most of his players are young men who were born in France but chose to play in the country of their parents’ birth, and most of them are bench players in the Spanish, French and English leagues.  One exception is Islam Slimani, who scored 10 goals in 31 appearances for Sporting Lisbon; another is Sofiane Feghouli who regularly starts for Valencia.  Anything has to be an improvement over the boooring football played in South Africa (ask England fans), but Algeria still have to grow.  THREE AND OUT

Hong Myung-Bo: the man, the myth, the manager

Hong Myung-Bo: the man, the myth, the manager

South Korea have also done a 180 with their tactics, after Korean legend Hong Myung-Bo made them more technical, with less kick-and-run and more passing.   British football fans will be familiar with Ki Sung-yeung, who was bought from Celtic by Swansea City, in a move that broke the Welsh team’s transfer record; he then spent this season on loan at Sunderland.   Bayer Leverkusen’s Son Heung-min is probably S. Korea’s best player, which leaves a smattering of bit players in the Bundesliga, Prem and Asian leagues.   You want the Koreans to replicate the success they had at their own World Cup in 2002, but they won’t.  THREE AND OUT

 Brent P. Lanthier

Up Next: The Bracket

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From Watford to the Whitecaps

Exciting news out of Vancouver, where the Whitecaps have made American defender Jay Demerit their first MLS signing.

Demerit, if you don’t know his incredible story, is the guy who went undrafted by the MLS out of college, went over the England to find a place to team, played with a non-league outfit on Saturdays and in a pub league on Sundays before landing a trial with Watford FC, then scoring the goal that clinched their promotion to the Premier League.

Demerit played in every US game at the World Cup but was out of contract with Watford when Vancouver came calling with a contract offer. He will not be a designated player.

Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi euphemistically said DeMerit is the type of “aggressive defender” his nascent squad needs to compete. That strategy might have worked well in Toronto, where it took far too long to come up with the capable pairing of Nana Attakora and Adrian Cann (although naming Cann team MVP over Dwayne DeRosario is still indefensible).

Ian Harrison

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Pint-sized punch powers England

Jermain Defoe

He’s only 5’7″, but little Jermain Defoe scored a very big goal for England in their 1-0 victory over Slovenia, sending the Three Lions through to the knockout round of the World Cup, a win that was lubricated by Don Fabio’s decision to let the lads have a beer the night before. Proper English, that.

All across Blighty today, the country watched with a mix of fear and fascination, with even court cases taking a break to catch the match. Proper English and all, innit?

England weren’t great in this one, but they were a world better than they had been in Friday’s dour draw with Algeria, with the introduction of James Milner and Defoe creating the pivotal goal, and the attack more incisive and urgent, although Wayne Rooney still seemed sluggish and unsure at times. John Terry/Captain Schtupping’s failed insurrection didn’t do anything to hinder his play, even with his third partner in three matches, Matthew Upson.

John Terry

So, it’s Germany on Sunday for England, who were pipped back to second in the group when Landon Donovan’s late strike gave the US a 1-0 victory over Algeria, a match in which the Americans were once again denied a goal by a questionable referee’s decision. Algeria become the fourth African nation to crash out, and unfortunately they left a bit of a bad taste.

Coming off a loss to Serbia, Germany were still on the brink in their late  match against Ghana, but Mesut Ozil’s second-half strike proved decisive in a 1-0 victory for Die Mannschaft. The Black Stars stayed alive despite the loss, surely thankful that the pounding that 10-man Australia absorbed from Germany in their opening game had significantly decreased the Socceroos’ chances of overturning their goal difference, despite ending the tournament on a high by beating Serbia 2-1 and knocking Dr. Z’s darkhorse to the bottom of Group D. So, who needs Michael Essien?

I would have loved to see an England-Ghana matchup, but the Germany game will still be very tasty, while the Ghanians will attempt to eliminate the Americans for the second straight World Cup in the other round of 16 encounter.

Ian Harrison

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Go Time for Groups C & D

All the teams in Groups C & D are still in play, including a certain team in white…

Wayne Rooney's unreliable England team-mates bring out the worst in striker

Group C
Slovenia: 4 pts., +1 GD, 3 GS
U.S.A.: 2 pts., 0 GD, 3 GS
England: 2 pts., 0 GD, 1 GS
Algeria: 1 pt., -1 GD, 0 GS

Little, lowly Slovenia goes through with a win or a draw. They can still go through on a loss if the U.S. ties or loses.

The U.S. goes through if they win, or if they draw and England draws — without scoring too many goals — or loses.

England needs to win. If they draw, they need to score a lot of goals, and hope the Americans draw 0-0… or better yet, lose.

Algeria will go through on a win and an England loss.

Prediction: Slovenia-England draw England hang on for a win, U.S. beat Algeria. The U.S. wins the group on goals, with the Three Lions coming second. I might regret this one after the game but…

Germany's Lukas Podolski reacts after missing a chance on goal during a 2010 World Cup Group D match at Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in Port Elizabeth.

Group D:
Ghana: 4 pts., +1 GD, 2 GS
Germany: 3 pts., +3 GD, 4 GS
Serbia: 3 pts., 0 GD, 1 GS
Australia: 1 pt., -4 GD, 1 GS

Ghana can go through with a win. A draw will get them through if Serbia loses or draws. Ghana can still get through on a loss if Serbia loses in a game that keeps Australia’s goal difference less than the Africans.

Germany goes through on a win, or a draw and a Serbian loss. A loss knocks them out. Achtung!

Serbia goes through on a win. They can go through on a draw if Ghana wins, or if Germany wins but Serbia scores more goals than Ghana.

Australia need to win and hope the Germans lose. If they Germany wins or draws, then Australia has to make up the massive goal difference. Good luck with that.

Prediction: Germany beats Ghana. Serbia beats Australia. Germany goes first on goal difference.

Sunday’s games: U.S.A vs. Serbia, Germany vs. England.

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I was saying ‘Boo-urns’


If they haven’t already drowned themselves at the bottom of a swimming pool filled with Stella, I’m hoping Brent and Kevin can add some analysis on England’s thoroughly lacklustre 0-0 draw with Algeria today that leaves the Three Lions teetering on the brink of failing to advance out of what was generally considered to be an easy Group C.

Wayne Rooney, whose first touch was dreadful all game and hasn’t been behaving himself all week, took umbrage at the boos directed at the team as they trudged off to think about facing group leaders Slovenia, who were fortunate to hold on for a 2-2 draw with the Sash-and-burners of Team USA when the referee inexplicably disallowed a goal by former Toronto FC player Maurice Edu. As for England, even Algeria were surprised at how crap they played, which was poorly enough that one fan felt compelled to break into the dressing room and have a go at the players. Not sure whether it was Prince Harry or William.

About the only good thing to happen all day was Serbia’s 1-0 victory over Germany, in which Miroslav Klose was sent off for a second bookable offence and Lukas Podolski had a penalty saved. Turns out not every opponent is as old and rubbish as Australia’s Socceroos. The result is a big break for injury-wracked Ghana, who face Australia on Saturday, while the Group E lads get it on with the Netherlands playing Japan and Cameroon facing Denmark.

Ian Harrison

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What a calamity!

Robert Green

Okay, so England hasn’t lost the World Cup yet, but Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the US certainly felt like a defeat. It all started brightly, with Steven Gerrard scoring an early goal after some nice work by Wayne Rooney and Emile Heskey, not that UK viewers got to see it live.  But Robert Green’s blunder on Clint Dempsey’s daisy-cutter from outside the box in the dying minutes of the first half handed momentum and confidence to the Americans, and realized one of the worst fears of England supporters: the unsteady situation in goal.

The decision on who would get the start apparently came down to the final hours before kickoff. With David James’ fitness still in doubt and Fabio Capello said to have been unimpressed with Joe Hart’s distribution in this week’s friendly against Platinum Stars, it was West Ham’s Green who finally got the call even though, as this BBC article reveals, Opta statistics claims Green made more errors leading to goals than any other player in the Premier League last season. You can debate whether experience should count over form, particularly in a big tournament like the World Cup, and whether Hart would have been affected by butterflies in his World Cup debut. Now, however, the big question is whether Green will start again in this tournament. His teammates are behind him, even if the manager remains noncommittal. Stevie G suggested the ball may have been to blame, but I’m not so sure.

A poor 30 minute cameo by James Milner, the injury suffered by the talented but fragile Ledley King, and the way Jamie Carragher was exposed by Jozy Altidore in the second half (even with Green earning some measure of redemption by turing the American’s shot onto the post) all set off alarm bells. Yes, England had some chances after the break, with Heskey and Shaun Wright-Phillips wasting opportunities to beat the impressive Tim Howard. But even though it’s not exactly doom-and-gloom time just yet, it sure feels depressing.

Ian Harrison

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Kickoff!! Day one at the World Cup

The first day of the World Cup! I was like a kid on Christmas morning, up at 5:00 am. Think that may have had more to do with late-night beers and chicken wings with Brent and Kev the night before…damn that habanero pepper sauce!! But after enjoying the sight of a dung beetle  crawling around on a soccer ball at the opening ceremonies, and shedding a silent tear for Nelson Mandela, I settled in for South Africa v. Mexico.  My prediction of 1-1 in that match came true, a good start for the hosts and the tournament in general, although plenty of people were left confused by Mexico’s offside goal in the first half. There was no doubt, of course, about Siphiwe Tshabalala’s wonder strike that gave Bafana Bafana the lead, a worthy goal to open the finals. Even Rafa Marquez’s reply 12 minutes from time that brought Mexico level couldn’t silence thousands of vuvuzela’s buzzing at full volume, and the opener was in the books. Must say I’m not wild about the format of the BBC online match report – maybe I’ll grow to like it.

After breaking for lunch, my forecast of three goals and a Uruguay victory in their game against France proved wildly optimistic. The scoreless draw was mostly dreary affair, with young Uruguayan Nicolas Lodeiro shown red after a disastrous 16-minute spell as a substitute, and Thierry Henry, of all people, demanding a handball after blasting the ball off Mauricio Victorino’s right arm, an arm that was drawn in to Victorino’s side. Whatever, Thierry. That’s like Diego Maradona calling for more fair play. Oh, right. Whatever, Diego.

Another big day coming up tomorrow, with Diego’s Argentina getting set to open up against Nigeria. But my favourite story of day one was news of the double delays suffered by Team USA, stuck behind elephants on the roads of Rustenburg. If they think that’s bad, wait till they get thrown to the Lions on Saturday. Come on En-ger-land!!

Ian Harrison

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Dr. Z’s World Cup Predictions: Group C

Dentist by day, football prognosticator by night, our own Dr. Hadi Zogheib is scouting out each group at World Cup 2010 and predicting first round scores and standings. Here’s what the good doctor says about Group C:

England:  Their rabid fans will expect no less than first place from this mediocre group, and Don Fabio’s men should deliver.  World class all over the pitch (except in goal), England will nevertheless be heavily reliant on Wayne Rooney to pop in a goal or ten.  The Lampard/Gerard cohesiveness question has arisen once again with Gareth Barry’s questionable fitness, but as long as Super Wayne is healthy, expect to see the Men of St. George’s Cross advance deep into the tournament.

Slovenia:  The smallest country, population-wise in the World Cup party, the Slovenians are just happy to be there.  However, any team from Europe is capable of a surprise (just ask mighty Russia, who Slovenia beat in a playoff to get to South Africa).  The men in green will rely heavily on Udinese goalkeeper Samir Handanovic to keep them competitive.

Algeria:  Coming off an unconvincing 3-0 loss against the Irish in a recent friendly , the Algerians look to be the weakest team in the group based on talent alone.  However, any team that can defeat African champions Egypt in a playoff deserves to be respected.  They may not be technically gifted, but the Algerians are as scrappy as they come.

USA:  As Ian Harrison wrote in a previous entry, the Yanks are not just in South Africa to make up the numbers. Excellent goalkeeping from Tim Howard and a solid midfield led by Clint Dempsey will help the Americans give any opponent a run for their money.  Edson Buddle has been tearing up MLS this season with the LA Galaxy, and has earned his call-up, but it will most likely be Jozy Altidore who coach Bob Bradley relyies on to lead the line.

Results:

England 2-1 USA

Algeria 1-0 Slovenia

England 3-1 Algeria

Slovenia 0-2 USA

Slovenia 1-2 England

Algeria 0-0 USA

Group Standings:

England 9 pts

USA 4 pts

Algeria 4 pts

Slovenia 0 pts

Related: Dr. Z doubts the host’s chances in Group A, and expects Greece’s defence-first philsophy will pay off in Group B.

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Team America: More than just puppets

Ian Harrison

England will face a stern first-match test at this summer’s World Cup when they play the United States on June 12 in Rustenburg. Despite winning seven of nine all-time meetings with the Americans, outscoring their opponents 35-8 in those games, England will know this is a capable and dangerous US team, one coming off a first-place finish in CONCACAF qualifying and a finals appearance at last summer’s Confederations Cup.

That tournament was marked by the USA’s impressive 2-0 victory over Spain in the semi-finals, ending the European champions’ 15-match winning streak, and by America’s 2-0 halftime lead over Brazil in the final, a game that ended in a 3-2 victory for the South Americans.

In fact, that blown lead was a hallmark of the USA’s recent defeats; they also saw advantages disappear in a Confederations Cup loss to Italy, and in a CONCACAF qualifying match against Mexico.

The biggest story when America announced its preliminary roster this week was the omission of Charlie Davies. The fleet-footed forward, whose pace created problems for opponents at the Confederations Cup, suffered a ruptured bladder, fractured elbow, broken tibia and femur and facial injuries in a car accident last October. His French club, Sochaux, had not given full medical clearance for him to play in South Africa.

Davies was a passenger in that crash, which came one day before a World Cup qualifying match against Costa Rica at Washington’s RFK Stadium, and happened after Davies was out beyond the team curfew on the eve of the match.

Another notable omission was one-time teenage phenom Freddy Adu, now playing in for Greek club Aris Thessaloniki.

With Davies unavailable, the possibility exists that US coach Bob Bradley could select an MLS player, either Houston’s Brian Ching or former TFC player and current LA Galaxy forward Edson Buddle, to join Jozy Altidore in attack. Both lack major international experience: Buddle’s only national team appearance was 11 minutes as a substitute against Venezuela seven years ago, while Ching played in two qualifying matches but has never played at the World Cup

Another option is Herculez Gomez, who tied for the Mexican League lead with 10 goals at first division Puebla this season, making him the first American to lead a foreign league in scoring.

Galaxy midfielder and long-time US national team player Landon Donovan is the other MLS player expected to play a major role.

Several American back line players are recovering from injury-plagued seasons. A.C. Milan defender Oguchi Onyewu is coming back from knee surgery and has not played in seven months. Carlos Bocanegra missed Rennes’ match last weekend with stomach pain and Jay DeMerit last played April 17, dropped from Watford’s final three games because of an abdominal injury.

There are injury woes in midfield, too. Bolton’s Stuart Holden returned on the final weekend of the EPL season after a broken leg and Fulham’s Clint Dempsey missed two months earlier this year with a knee injury.

So, how will Bradley’s squad line up? Everton’s Tim Howard is a lock for the top goalkeeper’s spot, Onyewu and Bocanegra are expected to anchor the central defensive positions and Steve Cherundolo and Jonathan Spector are the leading candidates for right back and left back, respectively.

Bradley is thought to favour versatility in midfield, with Dempsey and Donovan given space to roam forward. Holden can play any midfield position and is a dead ball threat. Michael Bradley, the coach’s son, who plays his club football for Germany’s Monchengladbach, is as comfortable in a holding role as he is in attack. Another Bundesliga player, Ricardo Clark of Eintracht Frankfurt, will share defensive responsibilities with Maurice Edu, who got his professional start in Canada with Toronto FC before being sold to Glasgow Rangers.

They may be strong in goal and capable in attack with Altidore, Dempsey and Donovan, the Americans must be considered inferior to England down the middle of the field, especially at the back. The outcome of this game could be pivotal in determining whether England will be able to top Group C, and should be a cracking start to the tournament for both teams.

The Americans will play three friendlies before the World Cup, two at home and one in South Africa. They will face the Czech Republic in East Hartford, Conn. on May 25, then play Turkey in Philadelphia on May 29. They will complete their tune-up against Australia in a June 5 game in Roodepoort, South Africa.

Canadian fans used to being spurned by native-born players will note with interest that even the United States, which has now qualified for six straight World Cups, is having trouble holding on to some of its talented players. New Jersey-born Giuseppe Rossi was selected for Italy while Neven Subotic, born in Bosnia but raised in Utah, will play for Serbia, where his parents were born.

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