Honduras comeback leaves Mexico winless through two Hex rounds

3 Comments

For over an hour in Honduras, Mexico played like the team we expected to dominate CONCACAF qualifying. Their two sublime pieces of execution gave Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández a double before the hour mark and El Tri a 2-0 lead in San Pedro Sula. But 20 terrible minutes to close out the match allowed the Catrachos to fight back for a valuable point, with goals late from Carlo Costly and Jerry Bengston leaving the teams drawn, 2-2.

Dropping points at home in World Cup Qualifying is never the ideal situation, but the Hondurans will put this result in context and be happy with their point. Though Mexico is now 0-0-2 to begin their Hex, they’re still expected to win this tournament. For the teams battling for those second and third spots — positions that will qualify them for Brazil 2014 — any points you can get off the Mexicans are good ones. There’s a good chance your rivals won’t be able to duplicate your result. Having fought back to draw a match many onlookers would have felt lost, Honduras can feel a sense of accomplishment despite dropping two points at home.

That’s the telling context for a comeback that looked unlikely after Chicharito poked home a Carlos Salcedo restart in the 54th minute. But after a short lull where it seemed the match’s final half hour would leave the home side empty handed, the Hondurans woke up.

In the 77th minute, a floated far post corner kick by Mario Martinez saw Carlo Costly rise above the Mexican defense to hammer his header past Guillermo Ochoa. Shortly after the ensuing kickoff, Costly drew a penalty from Francisco Javier Rodriguez, giving Jerry Bengston a chance to equalize from the spot. Ochoa saved the initial try headed for the lower left corner, but the block back to Bengston allowed the Revolution striker to bury the tying goal.

In broad strokes, the match played out similarly to Honduras’s February qualifier against the United States. They dominated possession and were able to put more shots toward goal but still fell behind. Lack of execution in the final third meant the Catrachos struggled to convert control into chances, but thanks to late charges, Luis Fernando Suárez’s team was able to get valuable results from both matches.

Through two rounds, Honduras is 1-0-1, their four points earned against the teams expected to finish in the table’s top two spots. If they can replicate these performances (if not necessarily the results) on the road, Honduras will easily qualify for a second consecutive World Cup.

As for Mexico, they will be disappointed. Great work from Andres Guardado allowed Chicharito to head the team in front on 28 minutes, allowing Mexico to lead for the 52 minutes. The performance promised to put their round one stumble behind them.

But with a late collapse compounding their draw in Mexico against Jamaica, it may be time to wonder if El Tri will be as dominant as expected. Yes, Honduras is an extremely difficult opponent, particularly in San Pedro Sula, but this is a game Mexico was expected to win.

And through 77 minutes, Jose Manuel de la Torre’s team met those expectations. Within this struggling side, we can still see the team that will likely win this tournament. But now 20 percent through the competition without a win (and with a match against their  rivals on the horizon), Mexico’s close to a mini-crisis of their own.

Tuesday against the United States isn’t a must win, but serious questions are going to be asked if Mexico finishes the Hex’s third round with a zero in the win column. Too much is expected of this team to brush off even the smallest of slumps.

Stream Live: Lukaku, Everton welcome title favorites Chelsea

Getty Images
1 Comment

Everton hopes to have a better showing than the reverse fixture as welcome leaders Chelsea to Goodison Park live at 9:05 a.m. ET on CNBC or live online at NBCSports.com.

The Toffees fell 5-0 on their visit to Stamford Bridge in early November, part of a furious Chelsea run and the beginning of a poor run of form for the home side. Now, Everton is flying to finish the year, led by Romelu Lukaku, who is surrounded by rumors of a return from whence he came to Merseyside, from today’s opponents.

[ WATCH LIVE: Everton vs. Chelsea live online at NBCSports.com ]

Lukaku has 12 goals in his last 11 games, on absolute fire to the end of the campaign, only feeding the rumors. He heads the attack, with support from Enner Valencia who returns to selection after a short suspension last time out. Aaron Lennon, Seamus Coleman and Ramiro Funes Mori are all injured with long-term problems, but Everton has no other issues.

For Chelsea, the Blues continue with the decorated back three of Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, and Gary Cahill. Despite his positive performance last time out against Southampton, Cesc Fabregas is rotated back to the bench in favor of first-choice attacker Pedro, who supports Diego Costa along with Eden Hazard.

With the Blues four points clear at the top, this game represents one of the tougher fixtures remaining on their soft finish to the season. Chelsea has lost a whopping six of its last 10 trips to Goodison Park across all competitions.

LINEUPS

Everton: Stekelenburg, Holgate, Jagielka, Williams, Calvert-Lewin, Baines, Gueye, Davies, Barkley, Valencia, Lukaku.
Subs: Robles, Kenny, Pennington, Barry, Lookman, Mirallas, Kone.

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Diego Costa, Hazard.
Subs: Begovic, Zouma, Ake, Chalobah, Fabregas, Willian, Batshuayi.

Stream Live: Man City can strengthen Top 4 spot at Middlesbrough

Getty Images
Leave a comment

A week after Manchester City struggled to finish on net, the torrid Gabriel Jesus returns to the lineup as the Citizens travel to Middlesbrough at 9:05 a.m. ET live online at NBCSports.com.

Jesus scored three goals in five Premier League appearances after arriving in the winter, but broke a bone in his foot and faced a long spell on the sidelines. He is back from injury and starts alongside Sergio Aguero in the City attack. Raheem Sterling drops to the bench as Pep Guardiola produces a flat 4-4-2 to fit both attackers in the formation.

[ WATCH LIVE: Middlesbrough vs. Man City live online at NBCSports.com ]

City is also now forced to play with Willy Caballero in goal after Claudio Bravo was injured in the Manchester derby. On the bench to back up the goalkeeper is 21-year-old Manchester City youth product Angus Gunn.

For Middlesbrough, they were forced into a change as Fabio comes into the lineup in place of the injured Daniel Ayala who drops out with an ankle problem. Gaston Ramierz was reportedly available for selection after missing the win over Sunderland due to suspension, but he does not appear in the lineup or on the bench.

Boro has served as City’s boogey team in the past, without a win in their first 14 Premier League meetings, but they have turned that around, with wins in four of their last seven against Boro.

LINEUPS

Middlesbrough: Guzan, Fabio, Chambers, Gibson, Friend, Clayton, De Roon, Forshaw, Downing, Stuani, Negredo.
Subs: 
Dimi, Bernardo, Barragan, Fischer, Traore, Bamford, Gestede.

Man City: Caballero, Kompany, Kolarov, Otamendi, Clichy, Navas, Fernandinho, Garcia, De Bruyne, Jesus, Aguero.
Subs: 
Gunn, Sagna, Zabaleta, Fernando, Sterling, Nolito Sané.

Man United 1-1 Swansea: Sigurdsson rescues a point for Swans

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Swansea City went controversially behind, but they always remained a threat, and Gylfi Sigurdsson was again the man to pull them from the cold, dark waters.

Wayne Rooney had bagged a highly controversial penalty at the stroke of halftime, but Sigurdsson delivered his specialty: a beautiful curling free-kick with 11 minutes to go as Swansea grabbed a point and doomed the home side to yet another single point at Old Trafford.

Swansea began with much of the early possession, with Manchester United sloppy on the ball. The home side, which has been struck by countless injuries of late, was forced into yet another early change as Luke Shaw was unable to make it out of the opening 10 minutes with an ankle injury, replaced by Antonio Valencia.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

A furious chance for the Swans saw Fernando Llorente shake free of Eric Bailly and force a good save from David De Gea on 14 minutes. Down the other end two minutes later, Jesse Lingard timed a run well and received a brilliant ball from Anthony Martial, but he couldn’t bag the opener, with Lukasz Fabianski there to smother the ball.

On the half-hour mark, Martial burst into the box and took it on himself, cutting across three defenders to find space and firing on net but it was right at Fabianski who held on nervously.

Just before halftime, United found the breakthrough as Marcus Rashford went down near the endline on a challenge from Fabianski. The decision was poor, as Rashford dove amid hardly any contact from Fabianski off his line, but with the referee in a poor position to see the magnitude of the challenge, he pointed to the spot after a long deliberation. Wayne Rooney, who had been mostly invisible in the first 45 minutes, buried the chance from the spot with the final kick of the first half.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Rooney nearly had a second just minutes after the halftime break, but his effort on the empty left side of the net thumped into the back of Martial and harmlessly away. United then suffered yet another injury to its defense, with the reliable Eric Bailly unable to continue after whacking the back of Llorente’s leg.

Injuries were a concern for both sides throughout the contest. Swansea had just brought on Jefferson Montero, who has been plagued by hamstring problems all season. Montero was on the pitch just five minutes before pulling up after a physical contest between he and Antonio Valencia, forced back off the pitch and needed a stretcher to reach the tunnel. Martin Olsson came on, and was immediately thumped in the air full tilt by Ashley Young, but thankfully Olsson could continue despite the heavy clatter to his ribs.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Swansea fired a warning shot at the Red Devils on the break as Jordon Ayew cut back for Gylfi Sigurdsson, but he thumped the ball acres over the bar. That was a harbinger of things to come, as Ayew was fouled on the edge of the penalty area, and Sigurdsson stepped up to conjur the ball into the back of the net, with David de Gea failing to even produce an attempt at a save.

The visitors nearly snagged the win in six minutes of stoppage time, on a free-kick from Sigurdsson yet again, which he lofted into the box, and with Llorente’s defender Daley Blind falling to the turf, the Swans striker was completely free, but he bungled the wide-open chance and saw it harmlessly into the arms of De Gea.

The point for United only moves them within a point of the top four, failing to snag the chance to jump Manchester City, who have yet to play today. For Swansea, they fail to pull out of the relegation zone, still sitting two points below Hull City despite owning a slightly better goal differential.

Kuwaiti FIFA council member resigns amid bribery allegations

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the wake of Richard Lai’s guilty plea on bribery charges in a U.S. court, another FIFA member has been ousted as well.

Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah of Kuwait has denied all allegations, but decided to step down. Sheikh Ahmad was not named specifically, but was described enough in detail to pinpoint in the U.S. court documents regarding Lai’s guilty plea.

“I do not want these allegations to create divisions or distract attention from the upcoming AFC [Asian Football Confederation] and FIFA Congresses,” Ahmad said, after resigning from both FIFA and AFC positions. His resignation comes prior to an imminent decision from the FIFA ethics committee on whether he should be suspended from his roles.

Following Lai’s plea, U.S. Department of Justice court documents identified Ahmad not by name, but by position, reading, “Co-conspirator #2 was a high-ranking official of FIFA, the Kuwait Football Association [KFA] and the Olympic Council of Asia [OCA],” who was “ultimately elected to the FIFA Executive Committee.”

The allegations read that Ahmad approached Lai and bribed him for influence and information amid the Asian Federation and in the FIFA executive committee. “One of the functions the defendant Richard Lai performed for Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 in exchange for the funds they sent him was to advise them on who was supporting which candidates in AFC and FIFA matters, including elections, and who Co-Conspirator #2 and Co-Conspirator #3 should recruit to support their chosen candidates.”

Lai, in his plea, claimed he received as much as $770,000 from Ahmad. The guilty plea is the first in the U.S. DoJ FIFA probe from outside the Americas, and Ahmad’s resignation represents its wide-reaching effects.