EPL

World Cup star Fernandez starts for Benfica amid Chelsea speculation

By Sports Desk December 30, 2022

Enzo Fernandez was named in Benfica's starting XI to face Braga despite the mounting speculation that he will join Chelsea in January.

Fernandez was a breakout star at the World Cup, playing in all seven of Argentina's matches as they went on to claim the title in Qatar.

The 21-year-old, who joined Benfica from River Plate last year, was rewarded for his efforts by being named as the Young Player of the Tournament.

His performances have piqued the interest of some of Europe's elite sides, however, and Chelsea are reportedly frontrunners. 

Indeed, reports on Friday claimed Fernandez had already agreed to join the Premier League side, with the ball now in Benfica's court as to whether they accept a bid.

However, the speculation did not stop Benfica coach Roger Schmidt calling on the midfielder to start against Braga in Benfica's first league game back after the World Cup.

When asked about Fernandez at his pre-match press conference on Thursday, Schmidt acknowledged it was natural for a player to have their head turned by huge offers.

"These young players sometimes have opportunities," he said. "It's not just Enzo, it's all the players.

"It's part of the football business. If they have opportunities, they have to make decisions. I can give them advice and recommendations.

"But I always respected the players' decisions, because they only have one career."

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    Despite the 0-5 scoreline, Dominican Republic certainly held their own against the four-time World Champions United States for a large portion of the match, and should be aiming to replicate a similar show of fortitude, to possibly take points off Mexico.

    Though it is easier said than done, especially bearing in mind that the lone meeting between the two teams in 2012, ended 7-0 in favour of Mexico, the Spanish-speaking Caribbean team will fancy their chances of upsetting the proverbial applecart.

    The likes of Kathrynn Gonzalez, Lucia Marte, Brianne Reed and Paloma Pena are expected to carry the fight against El Tricolor. 

    Mexico, like Dominican Republic, are hunting their first goal and, by extension first win of this historic tournament, as they were held to a goalless stalemate by Argentina. They will be intent on leaving that frustrating opening contest, in which Rebeca Bernal dashed a penalty, behind and begin their charge towards the knockout stage.

    With a possible top-of-the-table clash with United States to come, Mexican attackers Bernal, Maria Sanchez and Greta Espinoza will be hoping to get into their scoring rhythm from as early as possible.

    Argentina vs. United States

    The United States will be aiming to make it two wins in as many games, when they square off against Argentina in Friday’s feature contest of the double-header.

    That 5-0 win over Dominican Republic provided the solid platform on which they can build for the remainder of the tournament. Two of the stars of that affair were Olivia Moultrie and Midge Purce.

    Moultrie, in her first start, bagged a brace on nine shots, while Purce was a never-ending source of playmaking, as she served up two assists. Lynn Williams, with a hat-trick, and decorated striker Alex Morgan, with a solitary strike, also got in on the act, and their confidence will be high heading into the Argentina clash.

    In previous encounters between the two nations, United States were 6-0 winners at the SheBelieves Cup, and they also registered a 7-0 victory in a 2014 friendly. Both teams also locked horns at the Pan American Games, with United States proving too good on three of those occasions.

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