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Germany looks to shore up defense ahead of Poland clash

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EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France — Germany needs to focus on its defensive deficiencies weaknesses as it prepares to play Poland, top-scorers in qualifying round for the European Championship.

The world champions opened their campaign with a 2-0 win against Ukraine but were grateful to goalkeeper Manuel Neuer for three outstanding saves and Jerome Boateng for a goal-line clearance.

Poland, which is led by qualifying’s top scorer Robert Lewandowski, will present a bigger challenge for Germany’s defense with both sides eyeing top spot in Group C on Thursday at Stade de France. Poland also won its first match, beating Northern Ireland 1-1.

One potential positive development for Germany is that defender Mats Hummels has declared himself fit after recovering from a calf injury he sustained in the German Cup final last month in his last game for Borussia Dortmund.

Coach Joachim Loew needs to decide whether to risk Hummels, who won’t have played for almost four weeks, or continue with his stop-gap solution of Shkodran Mustafi partnering Boateng in central defense.

Mustafi opened the scoring against Ukraine but looked vulnerable at times against speedy wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka, and the Valencia defender almost gifted a late equalizer in a mix-up with Neuer.

Bayern Munich midfielder Joshua Kimmich could also fill in, as could Bayer Leverkusen’s Jonathan Tah, though both players are short of experience. The 20-year-old Tah was a late call up for original Hummels-replacement Antonio Ruediger, who tore a cruciate ligament in his right knee in training.

Poland’s victory over Northern Ireland in Nice on Sunday was the country’s fist victory at a European Championship. The team is unlikely to be overawed having beaten Germany in qualifying – its first win over its neighbor in 19 games.

Lewandowski says it is “the best Polish team in which I have ever played.”

Lewandowski is partnered in attack by Ajax striker Arkadiusz Milik, familiar to Bundesliga fans from his time at Leverkusen and Augsburg. Though Lewandowski was kept quiet against the Northern Irish – no shots on goal and just 49 touches of the ball – he created space for Milik to score the only goal.

“The goal was important, I’m really happy about it,” the 22-year-old Milik said. “But even more important are the three points. We still have a few steps ahead of us; this is not the end of the journey.”

Pederson remembers coaching start before Super Bowl

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Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson hasn’t forgotten where his journey began: High school.

Following his playing career with the Dolphins, Packers, Browns and Eagles, Pederson bypassed professional coaching jobs. Instead, he joined Calvary Baptist Academy in Shreveport, L.A., and quickly added an NFL-caliber playbook to the second-year program.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

This is where he learned that he loved to coach the game. He embraced his role at the school, where he would help in the cafeteria and line the field before games. “I just enjoyed that part of it,” he says. Ten seasons later, he will coach on the biggest stage in the world.

Super Bowl LII Prop Bets

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Oddsmakers have Super Bowl LII covered from every angle, and that includes the halftime show. There is all manner of betting speculation around Justin Timberlake being the featured halftime show performer, 14 years after the infamous “Nipplegate” incident with Janet Jackson at Super Bowl XVIII.

With the game in Minneapolis, hometown of Prince, it seems obvious that JT will cover a song by the Twin Cities’ favorite son, which pays out at -140 on the Super Bowl LII props at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The total on Janet Jackson references is 1.5, with the over at even money; it’s hard to think Al Michaels could resist one mention.

The Philadelphia Eagles, with Nick Foles, are the first team in 27 years to reach the Super Bowl after losing their starting quarterback in December. It’s -150 on injured Carson Wentz being mentioned more than 3.5 times.

But oddsmakers also clearly expect the announcers to build a storyline around the New England Patriots, as it’s -130 for separate props on whether owner Robert Kraft or coach Bill Belichick will be mentioned or shown on-screen before their Eagles counterparts, Jeff Lurie and Doug Pederson respectively. Belichick is -125 to wear a blue shirt at kickoff time, since he wore that color during New England’s past two Super Bowl shows.

More than half of Super Bowl MVPs have been quarterbacks and Tom Brady is a -110 favorite while Nick Foles comes back at +350. It would probably take something on order of a three-touchdown day to wrest the honor from the winning QB, so both the Patriots’ Dion Lewis (+1800) and Eagles’ Jay Ajayi (+1800) are worthy darkhorse picks.

History is not on the side of Rob Gronkowski (+900) since a tight end has never been the game MVP, but Gronk does offer immense value at +400 to score the first Patriots touchdown.

It is +300 on any quarterback passing for 400 or more yards. The strength of the Eagles defense and the run-pass balance of Philadelphia’s offense makes that result look far-fetched.

There was no Gatorade bath for Belichick after Super Bowl LI, which the Patriots won in overtime, but he was doused with orange Gatorade after Super Bowl XLIX in 2015. It is +225 that the liquid poured on the winning coach will be either green, lime or yellow, with +250 for orange, +275 for red and +275 for clear/water.

Clear and orange have been the result four times apiece in the last 15 occurrences and red has not come up. Purple (+1000) has also been used four of the last 15 times and it would be ironic if it happens again, since that is the color of the host Vikings.

For more odds info, picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes, or check it out at OddsShark.libsyn.com.