Five points: Mexico v New Zealand, World Cup Qualifying Playoff

Mexico’s place in the World Cup should not rest upon success in a two-legged playoff against New Zealand. This tiresome process should have ended long ago. It has not for a host of reasons. And the ongoing series of failures ensures El Tri still has work to do to secure a place in Brazil next summer.

It is not an easy task, either. New Zealand offers committed and organized opposition. Mexico once again boasts a significant edge in technical ability, but it must close the difference in other, more rudimentary departments in order to see off the All Whites and travel to Wellington next week with a hefty advantage in tow.

Interim boss Miguel Herrera expects his charges to emerge victorious at Estadio Azteca. If they adhere to the game plan and note these five points along the way, then they should finally meet expectations and place both hands on a World Cup berth before leaving Mexico City:

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USA midfielder Graham Zusi deemed a saint by Mexican fans


(Image courtesy @SportingKC)

After the United States saved Mexico’s bacon in World Cup qualifying, the response south of the border was incredible.

When American consul Graham Zusi headed his stoppage-time goal into the back of the net, he became an international icon.

Hailed as a hero isn’t much of a surprise, but a saint? It seems like a bit much, but it’s the truth. During training with his club team, Sporting Kansas City, Mexico’s latest religious icon found himself showered with gifts.


(Image courtesy @SportingKC)

That’s right, a group of El Tri supporters anointed “Saint” Zusi on Thursday, complete with a massive sombrero.

The outpouring of gratitude has been an awesome bonus for the USMNT, but we’re still waiting to see if Panama has an opposite but equal reaction.


Grandpa hits jackpot after betting on grandson’s international debut


Image courtesy of Reuters

How’s this for a wager?

In the 87th minute of Wales’ World Cup qualifier against Belgium, 16-year-old Harry Wilson entered the match to became his country’s youngest-ever senior player. As great of a moment as it was for Wilson, it was perhaps even better for his grandfather, who fifteen years ago wagered £50 that Harry would suit up for Wales’ senior team one day:

Wilson’s grandfather, Peter Edwards, was given 2,500/1 odds by a bookmaker in 2000 for the bet, when Wilson was just 18 months old. He’s now £125,000 richer, and, at age 62, is set to retire a year earlier than he planned.

Edwards told the BBC:

"I was shattered because I had to wait for 85, 86 minutes before he came on and I was panicking because they’d already substituted twice, so I thought he wasn’t going to make it.

But when he came on I had another glass of wine. (I was) a proud granddad first for sure.”

If Wilson doesn’t receive the best Christmas present of his life from his grandpa this year, something is seriously wrong.



Costa Ricans welcome El Tri with custom casket

Clearly, Costa Ricans love hosting World Cup qualifiers.

A month after welcoming the United States with a hostile reception at the airport, fans of Los Ticos gave Mexico a similarly friendly greeting.

Mocking El Tri for their grave position in World Cup qualifying with one match to go — if they are to lose to Costa Rica on Tuesday night coupled with a Panamia victory against the United States over two goals, Mexico will most likely be eliminated — a small group of fans rolled up to the airport with a coffin draped in Mexico’s colors propped up on a pickup truck. Inside the coffin: a skeleton wearing a Mexico kit.

The message is pretty easy to decipher: 


For more on Mexico’s do-or-die match against Costa Rica, read Kyle McCarthy’s preview and key points to the match.


Five key points: Costa Rica vs Mexico

A tortured Hexagonal road comes down to this one match for Mexico: a point or better in Costa Rica tonight guarantees the quest for a berth at next summer’s World Cup to continue for at least a few more weeks.

Mexico will expect to claim the draw required to secure a playoff with New Zealand next month and perhaps even snatch the victory necessary to apply pressure on Honduras, who travel to Jamaica. El Tri enjoys a fine record in Costa Rica (three consecutive victories in World Cup qualifiers), while the hosts possess little incentive to perform with their place in Brazil already booked.

Costa Rica will still attempt to spoil Mexico’s fun, though. It is a threat the visitors must take seriously. At this stage of the proceedings, there isn’t any room for error. El Tri must heed these fundamental tenets in order to avoid the ultimate failure by the end of Tuesday night.

1. Weigh any personnel changes carefully: Mexico coach Victor Manuel Vucetich tailors his tactics to fit the situation at hand. He chose a 4-4-2 formation for the 2-1 victory against Panama on Friday, but he could opt for another setup – perhaps by dropping a striker and inserting a central midfielder to counter the Ticos’ usual 5-3-2 alignment – to reinforce the defensive structure away from home. The tinkering comes with a caveat, though: any potential alterations – even the prospect of keeping the 4-4-2 and replacing Javier Hernández with Raúl Jiménez in a nod to popular sentiment – could disrupt the fragile progress made during the early stages of the new regime.

2. Focus on the task at hand: Mexico controls its destiny: a draw in Costa Rica clinches a two-legged tie against the All Whites next month. Nothing else – not the United States’ visit to Panama and the help it could lend, nor the Honduras-Jamaica game and the potential bounty it could reap – matters. Any distractions from the instant duties within their direct purview could prove very, very costly indeed.

3. Remember the circumstances: Composure and concentration represent the pillars of a successful performance in these fraught conditions. Even a momentary drop can lead to chaos, particularly with Costa Rica’s ability to pose problems on the break and from set pieces. Mexico must maintain the proper application for the duration of the affair – again, a lingering problem for this group that almost dashed any hopes of a World Cup place on Friday – to avoid disaster.


Ticos fans are relishing the chance to ruin Mexico’s World Cup hopes.

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Seven nations still in the mix for final World Cup berths in CONCACAF & CONMEBOL

The single table formats in North and South America create a more straightforward final day of World Cup qualifying. There are some permutations to ponder and some weird scenarios — but the final standings reveal the pecking order rather quickly.

Most of the uncertainty surrounds the final berths in both confederations. Chile, Ecuador and Uruguay will fight it out for the two remaining confirmed berths and the playoff place in South America; Honduras, Mexico and Panama must sort out the last direct spot and the sole playoff berth in North America.

Here is a look at the circumstances on both continents heading into the final day:



Qualified: Argentina, Colombia

Assured of a playoff place or better: Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay

Eliminated: Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela

Chile and Ecuador enter the final day with the inside track to secure the two remaining direct berths into the World Cup. A draw between the two sides in Santiago will send both of them through to Brazil. Uruguay must defeat Argentina in Montevideo and hope either Chile or Ecuador prevails comprehensively in order to climb into the top four. Otherwise, a playoff with Jordan beckons next month.



Qualified: Costa Rica, United States

Assured of a playoff place or better: Honduras

Eliminated: Jamaica

Honduras can guarantee the final confirmed ticket to next summer’s World Cup with a point against already-eliminated Jamaica in Kingston. Mexico stands to benefit if Honduras fails to secure the desired result at the Office. El Tri can climb into the top three with a Honduran setback and a two-goal victory over the Ticos, but a point will suffice to arrange a playoff with New Zealand next month. Panama must defeat the United States in Panama City and pray for a Costa Rica win in San Jose in order to grab the playoff berth and knock out the Mexicans.


Spurs winger Townsend to reap rewards for stunning display

Andros Townsend produced an incredible debut display for England in the crucial World Cup qualifier against Montenegro which he capped with the third goal at Wembley. The Tottenham winger will reporedly be rewarded for his improved standing on the international stage with a new contract - not bad for a player Spurs nearly sold to Millwall for $800,000 two years ago!

Click here for more of the best gossip from the UK press.   


Pitch invader dodges security, scores full-body golazo

Yesterday’s World Cup qualifiers were so chock-full of awesomeness we hardly had any time to appreciate the more irreverent side of the beautiful game.

Luckily, today affords us that opportunity! And as always, the web hasn’t let us down.

Take a gander at the video of this fan tearing down the pitch during yesterday’s 4-0 win for Russia against Luxembourg.

With a move that would make [insert soccer superstar’s name here] proud, this smooth operator splits two would-be tacklers before dive bombing into the goal.

Worth noting: Fabio Capello appears to take the break in the action to do a little bit of coaching. Now that’s focus.

(h/t 101GreatGoals)


Record breaker! Van Persie overtakes Dutch legend Kluivert


(Photo: Getty Images)

Oranjeboom! Robin van Persie became the Netherlands’ all-time top scorer by scoring a hat-trick in the 8-1 annihilation of Hungary in Friday’s World Cup qualifier. Those three goals gave him 41 in an Oranje shirt,so who better to celebrate with than the man whose record you’ve just equaled?

Van Persie leapt into the awaiting arms of the Netherlands’ assistant manager Patrick Kluivert when he drew level with the former Dutch striker’s record of 40 goals with a great header from Arjen Robben’s cross to give his side a 4-0 lead. 

Van Persie then went one better when he latched on to Robben’s cushioned header for his third. This time RVP decided to celebrate with his teammates and leave PK to look on in admiration.     


Raul Jimenez revives Mexico’s World Cup hopes with stunning golazo


Image courtesy of Mexsport Sports Agency

Mexico needed a goal five minutes desperately from time to break the 1-1 stalemate with Panama. There were a million reasons for Raúl Jiménez to try something more practical when Fernando Arce played a diagonal ball into his feet.

And yet, Jimenez didn’t and all of Mexico will thank him for it.

Jimenez drifted into a yard of space at the edge of the penalty area. A clever touch, a deft turn and a stunning shot that injected life into Mexico’s World Cup plans.

Arce’s pass skipped off the surface en route and stripped away the preferred option. The ball approached Jiménez awkwardly, forcing him into a bad touch and presenting him with an gamble previously too audacious to consider.

Jiménez popped the ball up into the air. It ascended into the night sky seemingly in slow motion. He watched it climb with two Panamanian defenders at close attention. And then he summoned the courage to take the only remaining course of action.


Image courtesy of Mexsport Sports Agency

As the ball peaked, Jiménez hurled himself into the air majestically and lashed his right boot toward the ball. The bicycle kick constitutes a desperate effort from this sort of distance, a last resort of strikers with no other alternatives. There is no room for error in the execution. The entire sequence — ball, leap and strike — must come off perfectly in order to give it a chance to succeed.

Jiménez did his part. He connected purely, swinging through with menace and precision. The ball jumped off his foot with the direction and the pace to freeze Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo in place.

Fate did the rest. Jiménez’s perfect confluence of movements carried the ball inside the near post and sparked the sort of celebrations only genuine salvation can bring. Jiménez peeled off toward the right side of the penalty area and reveled in what he had done with his teammates.

The appreciation will continue for some time to come given the magnitude of the 2-1 victory and the quality of the goal. Jiménez rescued Mexico on the night and sustained El Tri’s World Cup hopes for another few days. And he did it because he aspired toward brilliance and delivered in the most compelling way possible.