Guatemala: masters of gamesmanship and distraction

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U.S. Soccer players and staff, in quite moments, while still observing the statesman tenants of political correctness, will cautiously allow that no country has “gamesmanship” down like Guatemala.

They work in skillful dark arts of naughty distraction the way Spain works in passing, or the way Leo Messi works in “awesome.”

So they’ll step on toes. They’ll say naughty things. They’ll swing elbows of menace, quick and hard to detect. They’ll grab things that have absolutely no business being grabbed.

And that’s all empowered by that notorious backdrop of intimidating atmosphere.

The dubious deeds, at highest crank when playing at home in Guatemala City, are not just about distracting visitors from their night’s task; it’s also about baiting. Don’t think for a second that Guatemalan coaches haven’t circled U.S. midfielder Jermaine Jones. He’s surely the most likely candidate to lose his mind out there, the odds-on choice to be undone by the sneaky and the naughty.

You may not like the dubious tactics of the underdog. I certainly don’t endorse them. But I do get it.

Guatemala wants desperately to accomplish the unthinkable, to nail down that elusive berth in the World Cup.

With a population of almost 14 million, it’s a little bigger than Honduras, a nation that did accomplish the highly implausible two years ago, putting itself with tremendous pride on the global soccer map with an appearance at World Cup 2010.

The Guatemalan people, among the poorest in Latin America, would benefit so handsomely just seeing their land arrive at a World Cup, being mentioned alongside the majestic likes of Brazil, Argentina, Spain, etc.  It’s lottery-like in this way; dreaming about it all is half the fun.

The players understand – and that understanding justifies the antics in their minds. They’ll want desperately to make this dream happen for themselves and for the impassioned supporters, who will fill the stadium by pre-game warm-up time, cheering for the point or points that will get their team just a little closer to Brazil 2014.

Guatemala has a chance to do so, too. Not a great one, but a chance. Soccer America tells you here about some of the men who matter for Guatemala.

Carlos Ruiz is a familiar name, and the longtime MLS can be at his pesky, infuriating best when wearing the national shirt. He won’t be in tip-top shape; at 32, Ruiz is currently between clubs. Then again, Ruiz has spent much of his career at less-than-full-fitness due to his out-and-about lifestyle – but his static, physical playing style means he doesn’t have to be supremely fit to be a big ol’ bother.

Marco Pappa (pictured), the Chicago Fire midfielder is a difference maker who can turn a match in an instant.

Veteran forward Dwight Pezzarossi will be targeting his 60th cap, and that experience will count against the Americans.

Pochettino: Dembele “next to Ronaldinho, Maradona”

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Mousa Dembele‘s been appreciated as a midfielder for sometime, but the Belgian is getting as many rave reviews as any other non-scorer these days.

Tottenham’s middle man got the twice-over from his manager on Friday, as Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino prepares for Crystal Palace.

[ MORE: Europa League draw ]

Calling Dembele a “genius,” Pochettino heaped praise on the 30-year-old.

“I’ve told you, I put him next to Ronaldinho, Maradona, Okocha – players I’ve been lucky enough to play with. For me he’s one of the unbelievable talents in the history of football.”

The temptation is to make a joke about Dembele being next to Ronaldinho and Maradona in the lobby of an awards ceremony, but the player has been dynamite for some time.

The advanced stats, for what they’re worth, aren’t incredibly kind to Dembele aside from his club-best 93 percent passing percentage and average of 2.2 successful dribbles per game. Still, it’s improbably hard to ignore the eye test, and Dembele passes that one every time.

Spurs are off to Selhurst Park for a Sunday match with Palace (Watch live at 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Fonte leaves West Ham after one year (for Dalian Yifang)

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Surely it was supposed to go a bit better than this: West Ham has moved center back Jose Fonte to the Chinese Super League.

Fonte, 34, is the latest member of Dalian Yifang, the Irons announced Friday. Reports say it’s a move for about $7 million.

[ MORE: Europa League draw ]

It ends an unexceptional 12 months for the center back, who made just 24 appearances for West Ham after engineering a move away from Southampton.

Fonte was publicly criticized by West Ham’s co-owner David Sullivan earlier this season as Sullivan said his children “begged him” not to sign Fonte and Robert Snodgrass last January. Ouch.

Injured for much of this season, Fonte was one of the Saints’ heroes as the club moved from the disappointment of League One to the Europa League.

Those heroics inspired this longform piece from Joe Prince-Wright.

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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Week 28 of the Premier League season is here and the main talking points are the battle for the top four and the ever-changing relegation situation.

MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

Remember: due to the League Cup final on Sunday, finalists Arsenal will host Manchester City on Thursday, Mar. 1 as they were also scheduled to play in the PL this weekend. That worked out smoothly.

The full TV schedule for the games this weekend are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at for all the goals as they go in around the grounds. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Stoke City – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. West Ham – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Newcastle United – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Brighton vs. Swansea City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
10 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. Huddersfield Town – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
12:30 p.m. ET: Watford vs. Everton – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
7 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:05 a.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM

Pep sticking with Bravo for final: “Locker room more important”

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Petr Cech and Ederson will watch from the bench as their clubs start the League Cup Final on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola announced that Manchester City will turn to Claudio Bravo between the sticks against Arsenal, which has already appointed David Ospina as its backstop for the final.

[ MORE: Europa League draw ]

And if you think Pep, having seen his side lose to Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup, should go back to Ederson for the final, he gets it.

“You can have an opinion, I am the manager. We are here for Claudio. He saved two lots of penalties. He deserves to play in the final. The locker room is more important than the final.”

The points aren’t completely independent, of course, but at this point the final is pretty darn important as Man City could see its trophy potential drop from 4-2 in little more than a week’s time.

Bravo has played just 45 minutes in the Premier League, against Liverpool in relief of Ederson, but has been the man for each of eight League and FA Cup matches.

City has just one clean sheet in that group, but won the seven matches apart from the 1-0 Wigan defeat. Two of those, against Wolves and Leicester, came in penalty kicks.