14
Oct

Four direct berths, playoff spots in balance as UEFA WCQ comes to a close

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Expect plenty of drama and turmoil to unfold as Europe concludes the group phase of its World Cup qualifying efforts on Tuesday.

Most of the heavy hitters have either locked up a place in Brazil or situated themselves properly to claim one ahead of the last round of fixtures. Several prominent sides – including England and Spain – still need a result to guarantee a direct berth, while other countries – ranging from the usual suspects in France and Portugal to potential first-timers Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iceland – must obtain results to either finish in top spot or seal a place in the playoffs next month.

Here is a look at the state of play heading into a decisive day across the continent:

Qualified: Belgium (Group A), Italy (Group B), Germany (Group C), Netherlands (Group D), Switzerland (Group E)

Into the playoffs: Croatia (Group A), Sweden (Group C)

Assured of a direct berth or a playoff spot, depending on results: Bosnia-Herzegovina (Group G), France (Group I), England (Group H), Greece (Group G), Portugal (Group F), Russia (Group F), Spain (Group I)

Group A: Nothing to see here with Belgium (qualified) and Croatia (playoffs) already confirmed as the top two.

Group B: Italy has already booked its place in Brazil. Bulgaria (13 points, +6 GD), Denmark (13 points, -1 GD), Czech Republic (12 points, +3 GD) and Armenia (12 points, -1 GD) remain in contention for second place, but the low point haul and the smattering of the results here and elsewhere means not one of the four sides is likely to qualify for the playoff as one of the top-eight finishers (only the results against the top five teams in the group count in that convoluted table).

Bulgaria hosts the Czechs (already eliminated from playoff contention based on results) in Sofia with a chance to claim second place. If the Bulgarians falter, then Denmark will almost certainly top them given their task at home to bottom side Malta. Armenia must win in Italy and then hope for some help along the way.
 

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10
Sep

How can Mexico defeat the United States in Columbus?

Crew Stadium functions as a venue of reckoning for Mexico. It isn’t necessary right now. At this tender point in El Tri’s existence, a dash of reality isn’t required. Every player understands the increasingly complicated and dire situation in the wake of a 2-1 home defeat to Honduras on Friday and José Manuel de la Torre’s departure.

Rejuvenation and revival are required now to push aside the events of the past and start planning for Brazil next summer. The first step toward recovery involves procuring a result in Columbus, the capital of Ohio and the center of Mexico’s American nightmares during the past three journeys through the Hexagonal.

Dos a cero occurs reflexively when Mexico steps between the lines in this haunted ground. The seemingly preordained result meanders along a different path in each instance (Rafa Márquez’s continued indiscipline provides one more common thread) without straying from the inevitable conclusion at the final whistle.

Another two-goal setback isn’t inevitable, though. Mexico can break its duck in Columbus. As Honduras can attest in the aftermath of its triumph at Estadio Azteca, the past does not dictate the present. It won’t be easy for El Tri to contradict its prolonged run of poor form to collect a famous victory, but it could dispel the mysticism surrounding this hostile road venue forever if it adheres and upholds a few selected principles on Tuesday night.

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18
Jun

United States defeat Hondruas, inch closer to 2014 World Cup

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With the 1-0 victory over Honduras, the United States now sits atop the qualifying group with 13 points. After scoring his 4th goal in the last 4 games, Jozy Altidore is the hero once again:

With 4 games remaining, the team is in prime position to book a trip to Brazil and qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

Costa Rica have put themselves in a good position as well; with their 2-0 defeat of Panama they trail the United States by just 1 point.

These top two teams square off Sept. 6 and will aim to give themselves a chance to take control of their qualifying destiny.

9
Jun

Colombian jerseys confiscated, fans turned away at World Cup qualifier in Argentina

Colombian fans are outraged at the unusually harsh security measures that were enforced at Friday’s World Cup qualifier in Argentina. Hundreds of Colombian national team jerseys were confiscated, and some people even denied entry into the stadium as police attempted to keep hostility between the two fan bases to a minimum.

The video is in Spanish, but it’s quite clear what’s going on. At the 3 minute mark, police turn away one lady whose jersey is hidden under a couple ofm jackets.

(H/T reddit)

9
Jun

Claudio Pizarro scores crafty goal vs. Ecuador

Claudio Pizarro didn’t get much playing time this season for Bayern Munich, but when he did he usually scored, once even netting a hat-trick in the first half against Lille in the Champions League.

For the Peru national team, Pizarro has been indispensable for over a decade, and he proved so once again in Friday’s World Cup qualifier, scoring the only goal of the game in fantastic fashion.

7
Jun

Mario Balotelli gets sent off, takes out frustration on innocent wall

Why always him? In Italy’s World Cup Qualifier against Czech Republic, Balotelli pulled a total Balotelli.

Within a span of about four minutes, the 22-year-old was shown back to back yellow cards for senseless fouls, earning himself a send off. On the way off the pitch he decided to drop some punches and kicks into a tunnel wall to, you know, show everyone who’s boss.

Thankfully Italy was able to hang on a man down, securing a 0-0 draw and maintaining their position atop their World Cup Qualifying group.