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Apr 21, 2014

Players still vying for World Cup roster spots

With only 50 days remaining until the opening of the World Cup, players are running out of time to make their case for a place in Brazil.

Here are five who had a big impact over the weekend:

• Raheem Sterling (England): He was the star of Liverpool’s 3-2 win at Norwich which stretched their lead atop the EPL to five points. Sterling opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a 31-yard strike and registered the game-winning goal on a second-half slalom through the Norwich defense. Sterling also assisted on Luis Suarez’ league-leading 30th goal of the season, with an inch-perfect pass across two defenders.

Sterling’s strong play to close the season has eased England’s worries over the loss of Theo Walcott for the tournament due to a knee injury. Sterling didn’t play for England in World Cup Qualifying but featured in their 1-0 friendly win over Denmark, leading the team with four chances created.

• Laurent Koscielny (France): Koscielny had a standout defensive performance in Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Hull. The Frenchman led Arsenal in clearances (14), interceptions (5) and offsides drawn (3). His 81 interceptions are 26 more than any other Arsenal defender in EPL play.

Koscielny anchored the French defense in World Cup Qualifying, leading the team in clearances (29) and offsides drawn (6).

• Pedro (Spain): While Lionel Messi’s free-kick winner stole the headlines, it was the ever-present Pedro’s 72nd-minute goal that started Barcelona’s comeback against Athletic Bilbao. Pedro has played in 33 of Barcelona’s 34 La Liga games this season, more than any other player. His 15 league goals are third-most on the team.

Pedro was the only player to play in all eight of Spain’s 2014 World Cup Qualifiers, and his four goals led the team.

• Andrea Barzagli (Italy): The Italian completed 105 of 108 passes in Juventus’ 1-0 win over Bologna. He was a reliable passer on both sides of the field, completing 57 of 60 passes into his attacking half and all 48 passes attempted into his defensive half. Barzagli has the third-highest passing percentage (90.8%) of all Serie A players with at least 15 appearances.

Barzagli was one of Europe’s best passers in qualifying; his 91.3% completion rate was ninth-best out of 462 players who played 500 minutes.

• Wilfried Bony (Ivory Coast): Bony’s pair of goals lifted Swansea to a critical 2-1 win at Newcastle, a win that kept the Swans six points above the EPL relegation zone. Bony’s 13 league goals lead Swansea and rank in the top 10 for the entire league.

Bony was a super sub for the Ivory Coast in qualifying; he made just two starts, but his three goals were tied with Didier Drogba for third on the team.

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