The United States’ schedule for final round 2014 World Cup qualifying looks like a panini sandwich on hard, crusty bread: It’s tough and a little abrasive on the outsides but softer and more inviting in the middle.
It starts with a relative high degree of difficulty and finishes roughly the same, but the run of four home games over five match dates in the middle provides the more inviting part, where manager Jurgen Klinsmann’s men surely must make their move.
The “wheres” remain TBD, but the “whos” and the “whens” for final round CONCACAF World Cup qualifying are out.
The region’s governing body held its draw last night in Miami, filling in the skeleton schedule for the United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama and Jamaica. The top three qualify for Brazil 2014; the fourth-place finisher goes to a home-and-away play-in.
For Klinsmann’s team it begins in San Pedro Sula against a strong and confident Honduran team boosted by a recent series of successes. That’s the first of a slate where the early rounds threaten to leave U.S. fans in a state of high anxiety.
Here is the schedule … then we’ll go over several important points and considerations:
- Alas, there will be no La Guerra Fria Tres (The Cold War III). That was the branding for a previous pair of very chilly winter matches against Mexico. As the draw approached, U.S. fans in the know wanted nothing more than to open on Feb. 6 against Mexico at home. That match almost certainly would have gone to Columbus, site of triumphs in La Guerra Fria and La Guerra Fria Dos.
- Don’t be shocked it things look a bit bleak after four rounds. In fact, everyone might just brace for it. Opening in Honduras and then playing away at Mexico and Jamaica in Rounds 3 and 4 leaves the United States facing a real possibility of resting with some worry near the bottom of the group nearing the halfway pole. In that case …
- The June 11 contest at home against Panama at home will be an absolute, no-questions asked, gotta-win, white knuckler.
(MORE: Additional notes and quotes from Wednesday’s draw)
- Generally speaking, all home games can be classified as such. And generally speaking, the United States gets its business done: The United States has not lost a World Cup qualifying match at home since 2001.
- Klinsmann admits that opening on the road is hardly ideal. “But if you don’t have the first game at home you make the best out of it,” he said.
- Finishing on the road at Panama is a tough spot. If the United States needs a result in that one, look out. Panama is a tougher side than past years’ versions. Remember last year’s Gold Cup, when the Panamanians became the first team to defeat the United States in the tournament’s group phase?
Monaco has slapped a massive price tag on Bernardo Silva, and The Times says that isn’t stopping Chelsea.
Antonio Conte is trying to land the 22-year-old Portuguese attacker according to the report, which says that the Blues are already chatting up the Ligue 1 outfit.
[ MORE: Wenger’s Sutton pitch worry ]
Silva has six goals and seven assists in France’s top flight this season, adding another three in the UEFA Champions League. He did not appear at EURO 2016 thanks to a hamstring injury, as Portugal won the Henri Delaunay Trophy.
Chelsea is ready to spend $88 million on the right winger, who can also play in a attacking center mid role. From The Times:
Monaco would like to secure a minimum of €80m (£68.4m) for Bernardo, who is comfortable operating on either the left or right wing or as a number 10. With Barcelona, Real Madrid and both Manchester clubs also expressing their interest Monaco, who play Manchester City in the Champions League on Tuesday, believe a money-spinning auction may develop.
Transfer prices can be hard to predict, but is Silva the sort of talent that will tempt nine figures? We’ve been surprised before, and at his age it’s possible, but color us skeptical.
ATHENS, Greece (AP) AEK Athens defeated Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0 in an ill-tempered game on Sunday that saw 12 yellow cards and two dismissals.
[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win of season ]
Astrit Ajdarevic scored the only goal in the 34th minute with a free kick that deflected off Olympiakos defender Manuel da Costa.
Olympiakos’ athletic director Francois Modesto was sent to the stands for protesting about the lead-up to AEK’s goal. His team’s central defender Alberto Botia was dismissed after a second yellow card in the 75th for pulling an advancing AEK forward’s jersey.
Despite the defeat, its second of the season, Olympiakos has a 10-point cushion over second-place Panionios, which beat 10-man Iraklis 1-0.
PAOK, a 4-0 winner over Veria, remains in third place, one point ahead of Panathinaikos, which beat Asteras 5-0 on Saturday. AEK is joint fifth with Xanthi.
Just days after its massive (and somewhat unexpected) beatdown of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain failed to close the gap on league leaders Monaco.
[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win ]
PSG settled for a 0-0 draw on Sunday at the Parc des Princes against eighth-place Toulouse, leaving the Parisian side three points behind Monaco through 26 rounds of action.
[ MORE: Bielsa returns to Ligue 1 with Lille ]
Despite holding the visitors to just three shots (one on target), Toulouse managed to contain a rampant PSG attack, which posted four goals midweek in their rout of the Blaugrana.
PSG’s first strong chance came in the 14th minute when Lucas Moura’s effort was saved in the bottom corner by goalkeeper Alban Lafont.
Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani may have had the game’s best opportunity to break the deadlock when the Uruguayan attacker struck the post from inside the penalty area.
Unai Emery’s group will be back in action on Feb. 26 when PSG travels to Dimitri Payet and Marseille.
The story of Monday’s encounter between Arsenal and fifth-division Sutton United will be whether the minnows can overcome the mighty Gunners.
[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” against Blackburn ]
However, Arsene Wenger already fears a bigger challenge within the game, one that concerns his players’ safety.
Sutton’s 5,000-seat Gander Green Lane features an artificial surface, which is largely uncommon for English and most European venues regardless of club standing.
“First of all the pitch. Secondly their enthusiasm. Thirdly that we are not ready mentally for a big fight and think subconsciously that it doesn’t matter,” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s FA Cup meeting in South London.
In preparation for their meeting with the U’s, Wenger had his side train on their own indoor artificial field on Friday.
“Look, ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. Competition is as well to deal with what you face, and we’ll face an unusual pitch and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.
“We practice inside [on Friday] because we have an artificial pitch. It’s not the same as it’s a dry pitch, and at Sutton I’ve heard that’s a wet pitch, they water it before the game. So it will be much quicker than what we have.”