Ramsey absence a blow for Wales

Wales will be without Aaron Ramsey for Tuesday's Nations League clash against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin because of family reasons.

The 27-year-old midfielder did link up with Ryan Giggs' squad for the 4-1 international friendly defeat against Spain in Cardiff on Thursday, where he picked up his 56th cap and was captain in the second half.

However, Ramsey will play no part against the Irish because of personal reasons with Arsenal previously allowing him to miss their Europa League away game against Qarabag earlier this month so he could stay at home with his pregnant wife.

Bournemouth's David Brooks is likely to be the man who will come into the starting XI to replace Ramsey, while Swansea City's Daniel James has been drafted into the senior squad from Wales' U21s set-up.

The news of Ramsey's withdrawal will be a big blow to Giggs given that talisman Gareth Bale is already out of the game because of a groin injury.

Wales are 12/5 to emulate their win against the Irish in the opening Nations League Group B4 clash last month, while Martin O'Neill's men are 29/20 to exact revenge with the draw available at 21/10.

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Heaton ponders Clarets future

Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton has admitted that he may have to seek a move away from Turf Moor in January in a bid to secure regular first-team football.

The 32-year-old England international suffered a serious shoulder injury which saw him miss a majority of last season, with Nick Pope stepping in for the Clarets and impressing enough to earn a place in the Three Lions squad for the World Cup 2018 finals.

In the summer, Burnley boss Sean Dyche recruited Joe Hart after Pope himself was struck down by a shoulder problem, leaving the fit-again Heaton to battle for a first-team spot with the new recruit.

And it has been former England number one Hart who has won the nod for all eight Premier League games to date, leaving Heaton frustrated and pondering his options for the future.

He told the Sunday Mirror: "Joe was thrown in against Istanbul Basaksehir in the Europa League. The manager then kept him in for the weekend for the first Premier League game of the season at Southampton, which was frustrating for me.

"I can't lie, that was tough. Obviously, I knew Joe well and have great respect for him, but, to be perfectly honest, I was expecting to play.

"It doesn't need a rocket scientist to see that it's going to be difficult to fit us all in.

"Come the January transfer window, I've got to keep my options open. The one thing I've been consistent about in my career is moving clubs in order to play games."

Burnley are currently in 12th place in the Premier League standings, having secured seven points from their last three games.

They are priced at 8/1 to finish in the top half of the table this season and are 1/12 to finish in the bottom half.

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NBA Preview: Top Dogs Warriors, Celtics Ready to Impress in Season Opener

THE NBA IS BACK!

After four months of waiting, the grandest basketball competition in the world makes it return for the 2018-19 season. And fans are in for a treat in its curtain-raiser as the best teams in both the Eastern and Western Conferences make their debut.

To kick off the new campaign, reigning NBA champions Golden State Warriors start their title defence against the retooled—and seemingly much-improved—Oklahoma City Thunder.

On the other hand, with LeBron James bolting out of the East, Kyrie Irving and his Boston Celtics will look to take over and establish their dominance early against their closest and biggest rivals, the Philadelphia 76ers.

Philadelphia 76ers @ Boston Celtics (October 17, 08:00 GMT+8)

The top two East teams meeting for the opener? Surely, it’s as good as it gets!

Philly have matters to settle against Boston. After all, the Celtics were the ones who denied the Sixers a dream run in the playoffs last year, beating them in the second round to set a date with the then LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers in the East finals.

Now, the Sixers return to the league with not only playoff aspirations but also championship hopes. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons remain the core of the team, and they have Markelle Fultz—the top overall pick of the 2018 draft—fully healthy and ready to contribute.

Boston, however, will provide a stern test. They always do, anyway.

It should be remembered that this Celtics team sent the Sixers packing in just five games in a best-of-seven playoff series without All-Star players Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

Irving and Hayward are ready to start at TD Garden for this opener, so the Sixers are undoubtedly up for a fight unlike any they have experienced before.

NBA 2018 news: Boston Celtics aspire for championship after returning in the league

Kyrie Irving ready to start their opener battle against Philadelphia 76ers

Brad Stevens is unarguably the best coach in the NBA today and, no disrespect to Philadelphia coach Brett Brown, his basketball wizardry was the reason why Philly managed to win only two games in their nine encounters (including the playoffs) with Boston last campaign.

The NBA 2018 odds at us have Boston winning this one by a small margin, at Asian Handicap -5.00 that pays at 1.94. Nonetheless, I think the Beantown will win by more, considering that it’s an opportunity for them to make a statement and tell the basketball world they are now the team to beat in the East.

Oklahoma City Thunder @ Golden State Warriors (October 17, 10:30 GMT+8)

The strong just got stronger.

That’s the storyline for the mighty Warriors this year after an offseason move that saw them land free-agent All-Star centre DeMarcus Cousins.

Imagine a lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins. That fivesome will easily be the starting squad of the Western Conference All-Star team (if it is still alive).

Sure enough, Cousins is far from being game-ready as he recovers from the torn ACL he suffered last season. However, the idea of that lineup playing together is just plain scary.

For now, the Warriors will have to do with their usual “Death Lineup” of Curry, Thompson, Durant and Green or their ultimate small-ball crew—famously called the Hamptons Five—that inserts Andre Iguodala into the equation.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma City will hope that cashing in on the All-Star duo of Russell Westbrook and Paul George will bear fruit for them.

The Thunder parted ways with Carmelo Anthony and broke the bank to keep the Westbrook-George partnership running, committing more than $230 million to the two players alone. They did make some low-risk, high-reward acquisitions in the likes of Dennis Schroder, Nerlens Noel and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, but the focus will always be on Russell and Paul and if they can bring the Thunder to the promised land.

As the Warriors host the Thunder at Oracle Arena this Wednesday, Durant’s match-up with former teammate Westbrook will grab the NBA 2018 news headlines. Nevertheless, the game is promising to be thrilling overall, especially if their head-to-head record last year is to be considered.

They split their four matches in the 2017-18 season, each winning one at home and one away. Oklahoma won their first two games against the Warriors though, and they will surely look at that as a source of confidence.

While the Dubs are overwhelming favourites with Asian handicap betting (-11.50 @ 1.94), the Thunder should be able to keep it tight and close. The Warriors lack depth at the centre post, and that is something the Thunder could exploit to turn the tide of the battle.

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

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Kampl cool after Leipzig upturn

RB Leipzig midfielder Kevin Kampl says a key factor in his side continuing their fine run of recent form will be that everyone at the club continues to pull together.

Die Bullen began the new Bundesliga campaign with just one win in their first four games, but they have since seen off Stuttgart, Hoffenheim and Nuremberg to rise to second place in the table behind Borussia Dortmund.

And, while Kampl is excited about the way things are progressing, the Slovenia international is also wary of reading too much into results over such a short space of time.

He told the official Bundesliga website: "There's always room for improvement, but in recent games we've reached the maximum in terms of overall performance.

"We would readily accept it if we can hold our current second place, but the season is only seven games old, so you can't read too much into it.

"I can only warn against complacency, things can quickly turn against you. One thing is clear: we can only achieve our goals if everyone pulls together.

"We know that we have what it takes to be a good team – but we all need to pull in the same direction."

Following the international break, Leipzig return to action on Saturday 20th October when they head to the WWK Arena to take on Augsburg.

The visitors are 6/5 to win at Augsburg and are 5/2 to secure a draw, with RB Leipzig 4/6 to secure a top-four finish in the Bundesliga come the end of the season.

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Piatek challenged to carry on

Genoa sporting director Giorgio Perinetti says he and his colleagues are keen to see how strike sensation Krzysztof Piatek gets on in the coming weeks.

The 23-year-old Polish summer recruit has bagged nine goals in seven Serie A appearances this season to spark talk of interest from a number of top clubs across Europe.

However, having dismissed talk of Piatek moving on before next summer, Perinetti said the immediate focus was to see how the striker gets on against the likes of Juventus, Inter Milan and Napoli in the next month.

He told Tuttosport: "After the international break we'll be facing Juventus, in what is the first game of a tough run of fixtures, where Piatek will test himself against even higher obstacles.

"We're curious to see how he does at a greater level of difficulty. Is there a risk with the change of coach? No, we're talking about a lad who has goals in his DNA.

"All the goals he's scored haven't come by chance, but he should be left alone. He's only 23 years old and he has significant room for growth.

"A surprise? Not exactly. We realised very early on that he was a real striker and he's started in a great way, but we're still at the start."

Il Grifone head to Turin to take on Juventus on Saturday, with the hosts already six points clear at the top of the Serie A table, having won their opening eight games.

Juve are 1/5 to win the game and are 3/1 to win by a two-goal margin, with a 3-0 victory for the hosts priced at 6/1.

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Brazil vs Argentina: It’s More Than Just an International Friendly

Brazil vs Argentina

Perhaps the biggest game of the break, Brazil and Argentina renew their rivalry in neutral grounds this week—in a match that is expected to exceed the billing of an “international friendly.”

Friendly games matter little, and more often than not, national teams do not send their best players available or coaches just play their younger guys to give them more international experience. It’s a glorified fixture, to say the least.

However, things are different whenever Brazil and Argentina meet, even in a friendly. Saying that the long-time rivals have a history would be an understatement. It is the Battle of the South Americans, one which was once described by FIFA as “the essence of football rivalry.”

Surely, nothing is better than this!

Talking Points

‘Never a friendly’

Call it an international friendly, but Argentinean and Brazilian players alike don’t consider it one. It’s a game they need to win, plain and simple.

Brazil manager Tite knows the significance of the game, which is why he urged his players to provide a much-improved performance when they fight Argentina in the King Abdullah Sports City at Jeddah.

The Selecao beat Saudi Arabia in a friendly recently, but Tite wasn’t convinced with their performance and admitted that they should prepare for La Albiceleste who he expects to play their best players available.

“We never play friendly matches against Argentina, that doesn’t exist,” the 57-year-old manager said. “Argentina will certainly face us with their very best players available, and so will we.”

Inter Milan captain and Argentina international Mauro Icardi shared the same opinion as Tite. While he didn’t play in the team’s match with Iraq last week, Icardi will be hoping to lead the Argentine frontline when they play Brazil in a contest which “means a lot more.”

“Argentina-Brazil is never a friendly match. There is a lot of enthusiasm. In the last tour, we played against Colombia, a great team, but playing with Brazil means a lot more, beyond that, it is not a friendly match on the pitch, it will never be,” Icardi furthered.

Messi out, Dybala in

One of the biggest storylines of this match-up is the absence of Lionel Messi, who is currently taking a break from international duty after Argentina’s failed bid to win a World Cup.

Brazil star Neymar has urged Messi to play for his country again, saying that “it’s a shame for the game of football” that the five-time Ballon d’Or winner won’t be on the other end of the pitch when they face Argentina.

However, while it’s unfortunate that Messi won’t feature in what is already a star-studded affair, the situation gives an opportunity for Juventus striker Paulo Dybala to take the spotlight and lead his country against their fiercest rivals.

Argentina forward Paulo Dybala wants to showcase his talent in the upcoming international friendly match against Brazil

Argentina forward Paulo Dybala in action during an international friendly match against Iraq

Dybala, always playing behind the shadow of the great Messi, spent the majority of the World Cup on the sidelines. He appeared in just one game for the then Jorge Sampaoli-coached squad—a late substitute appearance in their 3-0 group stage defeat to Croatia.

Now, the 24-year-old star has a chance to show what he can do and prove to the world that he is the future of Argentina football. Sure enough, the pressure is on him to deliver, but he really needs to step up if Argentina are to challenge the Brazilians.

Streaking Brazil, Argentina

The post-World Cup 2018 era has been kind to Brazil and Argentina. They have both recorded impressive international friendly 2018 results, with Brazil even winning three straight friendlies after their defeat to Belgium in the World Cup quarter-finals.

Brazil took down the rebuilding USA team earlier last month before thrashing El Salvador with five goals four days later. As mentioned, they recently won against Saudi to extend their run.

Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus were all on target for Brazil during that three-game streak, so manager Tite and their fans are leaning on the four to score again.

Argentina, on the other hand, have two wins and one draw in their last three outings after the World Cup. They played a goalless draw with Colombia in September, but they proved in their 4-0 win against Iraq that they are ready for the Brazil challenge.

The two teams have quality all over the pitch, and with the momentum they currently have, it might come down to who wants it more.

History

The two teams have played against each other more than 100 times since 1914. Brazil have largely dominated their meetings, and that remains the case in their recent head to heads.

In their last four encounters in all competitions, Brazil won twice, drew once and lost the other. Moreover, in the South America World Cup qualifiers in 2016, they embarrassed the Messi-led Argentines 3-0.

It should be noted though that Tite’s charges lost their last match against Argentina. In a friendly in June last year, Argentina edged out Brazil 1-0 behind a late first-half goal from Gabriel Mercado.

Betting Tip

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Brazil vs Argentina Over 2.50 @ 2.17
October 17, 02:00 (GMT+8)

With Brazil’s top players available, it’s easy to see why the international friendly 2018 odds tip them to dominate the game. us odds on Argentina also suggest that Lionel Scaloni’s men need a miracle to pull off a win.

Both teams, though, are expected to go all out in this game. And so while I think the Brazilians to win, I see this game ending with only a one-goal lead and at least three goals—maybe a 2-1 scoreline.

A SHORT EXPLANATION ON HOW OUR (??) BETS ARE WORTH:
?? = €20 (Highly confident) ?? = €10 (CONFIDENT) ?? = €5 (SOMEWHAT CONFIDENT)

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

 

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Southgate issues Sterling challenge

England head coach Gareth Southgate is determined to help Raheem Sterling finally end his lengthy goal drought for the national team.

The Manchester City forward has gone 27 England games without a goal since finding the net in a 2-0 European Championship qualifier against Estonia in October 2015.

However, Southgate is not about to give up on his man and Sterling may get another opportunity to end his barren run when England face Spain in a Nations League clash in Seville on Monday evening.

He told reporters: "What do we do? We've got to keep getting him in the right positions. We've got to create chances for him and he's got to keep getting in the right areas.

"But I think it is going to be a confidence thing that when the goal comes he will go on a scoring run.

"I don't think his confidence is low, but I think there are times when maybe you can think a little bit too much about what you’re doing in certain moments. It's about having the freedom just to hit things.

"This is one of the big challenges of international football. You know with your club – well, with his club – you get another five chances in the next 10 or 15 minutes.

"You get fewer chances with us and you have sporadic games, so you don't get another go next week. This is part of dealing with international football and that is his next challenge."

Sterling can be backed at 9/2 to score at any time against Spain, with England 3/1 to secure a draw and 4/1 to keep a clean sheet.

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UEFA Nations League: Italy Bang Down the Door!

Poland 0-1 Italy

Italy grabbed a well deserved UEFA Nations League win tonight in Poland, but it took at 93rd-minute winner courtesy of Cristiano Biraghi to clinch the points.

Roberto Mancini’s team dominated from the very first minute to the last and must have wondered how they had played with such attacking intent without scoring, until the last-gasp winner. And that all means Italy is still in the hunt to win Group A3 but Poland is relegated.

It was the second defeat in a week for Poland after the hosts narrowly lost to Portugal here at the Stadion Slaski.

According to UEFA Nation League 2018 odds only Portugal, in Group A3, has a realistic chance of winning the tournament but now, thanks to Biraghi’s first international goal, Italy may have something to say about that.

Highlights of the game

Italy started like a house on fire and when Lorenzo Insigne found Jorginho, the Chelsea midfielder unleashed a shot which crashed the crossbar in the very first minute. Then Lorenzo took a pass from Cagliari’s Nicolo Barella and fired his shot inches over.

Napoli’s attacking midfielder Piotr Zielinski has good knowledge of Serie A and many of the Italy team, but despite his best efforts, Italy dominated the first half as the busy Jorginho tested Wojciech Szczesny in the Poland goal. And the Juventus stopper was called into action again to deny Federico Bernardeschi after he was put in by Marco Verratti.

Jerzy Brzeczek made two changes at halftime, bringing on Kamil Grosicki and Jakub Blaszczykowski but Roberto Mancini’s team continued to probe. The Polish defence held a good line though catching first Federico Chiesa and then Bernardeschi offside. And then, on the hour, Poland had its second attempt on goal, when Zielinski passed to Grosicki on the right side of the box, the Hull City winger let fly but Gianluigi Donnarumma saved comfortably.

Azzurri skipper Giorgio Chiellini put Chiesa in with a headed pass, but his shot flew high and wide as the visitors continued their search for the goal their dominance deserved.

Insigne was the next Italy striker to be caught offside and then, on 71 minutes, Chiesa crossed for Bernardeschi but his header glanced wide of the left post when he should have hit the target. The lively Grosicki had at least given Poland an outlet and he tried his luck from distance, but too close to Donnarumma to trouble the young Milan keeper.

While Poland had improved in the second half, much of the hosts’ hopes were pinned on set pieces and long throws, but they got little change from Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci at the heart of the Italian defence.

Mancini made a change with ten minutes left bringing on Udinese striker Kevin Lasagna to replace the frustrated Bernardeschi and to provide a focal point for Italy’s attacks. But, when his chance came, he joined the ever-growing list of the Azzurri forwards to be caught offside.

Roberto Mancini's Italy defeated Poland in the group stage of the UEFA Nations League

Italy head coach Roberto Mancini giving instructions to his players at the touchline

As the game entered injury time Kamil Glik fired a snapshot straight at Donarumma. The 19-year-old keeper hadn’t had a lot to do but he’d been tidy all night.

And then finally Italy’s reward came. Lasagna got his head to a corner and flicked on at the near post for Cristiano Biraghi to slide the ball home.

Group A3 is still alive!

Key Statistics

The us odds had Italy slight favourites at 2.37 and that turned out to be good value as Mancini’s men put Poland to the sword.

Italy was totally dominant in the first half and, with 68 per cent possession and a shot count of ten to one, the Azzurri must have been wondering what they had to do to go ahead, they had tested Szczesny four times but he had coped with relative ease, aside from watching Jorginho’s effort clatter his crossbar.

Poland improved a little in the second half but with a shot count of six to 18, they can have few complaints that Italy finally banged the door down.

It’s Roberto Mancini’s first competitive win as Italy boss and the Azzurri’s first away win in six attempts.

But Poland has the unenviable distinction of being the first team to be relegated in the UEFA Nations League.

What’s next?

Next up Poland has a friendly at home to the Czech Republic in November before Jerzy Brzeczek’s takes his team to Portugal and you can be sure the UEFA Nation League 2018 updates will keep on coming.

Portugal still heads Group A3 and had a chance to test some squad players in a 1-3 friendly win over Scotland on Sunday. And before hosting Poland the table toppers visit Italy in a game which will decide Group A3.

Don’t miss it!

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Bale missing for Wales

Gareth Bale has been ruled out of Wales' Nations League match against the Republic of Ireland and is returning to Read Madrid for treatment.

Bale has a groin injury which has ruled him out of recent Real Madrid games and also caused him to miss Wales' 4-1 defeat to Spain on Thursday.

Manager Ryan Giggs said after that game that Bale remained a doubt for Tuesday's match in Dublin and now the Football Association of Wales have confirmed that he will miss the game and return to his club.

Speaking after the Spain defeat Giggs confirmed he wanted to make a decision quickly on whether Bale would be available to face Martin O'Neill's side.

He said: "We'll make a decision in the next couple of days because then we have to prepare for the game.

"If Gareth is not available we have to prepare to see what team we're going to play, so we'll make it sooner rather than on the day."

Wales are 11/5 to win the game with the Republic of Ireland 6/4 and the draw is 19/10.

Ipswich winger Gwion Edwards has already been called up by the Welsh as possible cover for Bale.

He could make his first appearance for the Welsh senior side on Tuesday as could Sheffield United defender Kieron Freeman who has also been drafted in by Giggs with injury doubts surrounding Ethan Ampadu and Chris Mepham.

Tuesday night's game is the third for the Welsh in the Nations League. They are currently second in Group B after beating the Irish 4-1 at home but then losing 2-0 to Denmark.

Real meanwhile will hope to have Bale available as soon as possible after the international break as they face three big games in eight days; La Liga clashes against Levante and Barcelona with a Champions League clash against Viktoria Plzen in between.

Real Madrid are 11/4 to win La Liga with Barcelona 4/6.

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Lukaku hints at Juve move

Romelu Lukaku says he enjoys watching Juventus and would be interested in joining the club at some point in the future.

The Manchester United striker is in his second season with Manchester United and has been in English football with Chelsea, Everton and now United since leaving Anderlecht in 2011.

With United having had a troubled start to the new campaign and question marks hanging over the future of manager Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba, Lukaku has now hinted that he would be open to the possibility of a move away from Old Trafford.

Questioned by La Gazzetta dello Sport about a move to Italy, Lukaku said: "Why not, I hope so."

Speaking about Juventus in particular, he was full of praise for the club, adding: "Juve have a great project in place and they just keep going. Every year they try to get stronger.

"Without doubt, Juve are one of the two-three best teams in Europe. They've got a great coach on the bench and extraordinary players in every area of the team.

"Cristiano Ronaldo stands out, but watch out for the others too. Paulo Dybala is already impressive and getting stronger, while I love Douglas Costa. He's an exceptional signing and his career shows he always makes the difference."

Lukaku is currently away on international duty with Belgium, scoring twice in their recent win over Switzerland in the Nations League.

He is also in line to face the Netherlands in a friendly in midweek before a return to United who face Juventus in the Champions League group stages in just over a weeks' time.

Before that they face a crucial Premier League game away at Chelsea next Saturday. They are 4/1 to win away at Stamford Bridge with Chelsea 4/6 and the draw 11/4.

United are 9/4 to finish in the top four in the Premier League.

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