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Honduras comeback leaves Mexico winless through two Hex rounds

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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.

Pep Guardiola: “Maybe I’m not good enough”

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Pep Guardiola has admitted he “may not be good enough” for his players at Manchester City.

Ahead of City’s clash against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) Guardiola has been defended his squad after severe criticism from the media.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

City were hammered 4-0 at Everton last weekend, their worst league defeat since 2008 and Guardiola’s worst-ever league defeat as a manager.

With plenty pointing the finger of blame at goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and City’s defense, their manager put himself in the firing line.

“They are good players. I have respect for the guys, so why would I say the guys are not good? So I don’t understand the lack of respect for the professionals when they have been amazing players, and [people saying] they are not good enough for me. Maybe I am not good enough for them,” Guardiola said. “They are Manchester City players, top players. They have a lot of quality. They have shown that many times in the past and this season.”

Mind games.

Guardiola, 46, is no doubt facing the biggest challenge of his season as City look to at least seal a top four spot in this his debut season in England. The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager has already “said goodbye to the title” and if they lose against red-hot Tottenham at the Etihad Stadium then more questions will be asked of his tactics and if they can work in the Premier League.

So far the possession-based slow build up style has been hot and cold for City, with plenty of counter-attacking teams in the PL (Chelsea, Spurs, Everton, Leicester etc.) having a field day against a shaky defense.

Despite being 10 points off the pace, Guardiola is sticking by his philosophy. One thing really sticks out to me from his first few press conferences in England: “We will see if my style of play can work in the Premier League.”

So far, it’s not.

Watch Live: Liverpool vs. Swansea City (Lineups, Stream)

SWANSEA, WALES - MARCH 16:  Kyle Naughton of Swansea City is closed down by Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at Liberty Stadium on March 16, 2015 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Liverpool host Swansea City to Anfield on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Reds aiming to stretch their unbeaten run at home in the Premier League to 18 games.

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Jurgen Klopp is a little concerned with the number of games his team have had to play over the past few weeks, but a victory against the struggling Swans would momentarily move his side just four points behind leaders Chelsea who play on Sunday.

As for Swansea, new manager Paul Clement knows a win would take his team out of the relegation zone and with new signings arriving that would be a massive boost. It would also be a massive ask for the Welsh side to get anything at Anfield but this may be a good time to play Liveprool after their midweek trip to Plymouth in the FA Cup and the EFL Cup semifinal second leg against Southampton coming up on Wednesday.

In team news Liverpool start with Philippe Coutinho once again, while Joel Matip is on the bench after the Reds finally settled the dispute with Cameroon. Swansea hand debuts to new signings Martin Olsson and Tom Carroll.

LINEUPS

Liverpool: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner; Can, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Lallana, Coutinho, Firmino. Subs: Karius, Sturridge, Moreno, Lucas, Origi, Matip, Woodburn

Swansea City: Fabianski; Olsson, Mawson, Fernandez, Naughton; Cork, Carroll, Fer; Sigurdsson, Llorente, Routledge. Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, Amat, Fulton, Dyer, Borja, McBurnie

Viktoria Plzen set to sign midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz

Obafemi Martins, Oniel Fisher, Andreas Ivanschitz
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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PRAGUE (AP) Czech champion Viktoria Plzen is close to signing Austrian midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz.

Plzen says Ivanschitz agreed terms for a contract lasting 1 + seasons and will sign it when the team returns from a training camp in Spain. Ivanschitz has already joined the squad at the Oliva Nova resort, the club says.

Ivanschitz helped the Seattle Sounders win their first MLS Cup in December.

[ NEW HOMES: Fonte | Berahino ]

No financial details were given.

The 33-year-old Ivanschitz also played for Rapid Vienna and Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, Mainz in the Bundesliga, Levante in Spain and Panathinaikos in Athens.

Ivanschitz played 69 games for Austria in 2003-14, scoring 12 goals.

FIFA allows Matip to represent Liverpool during AFCON

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 29: Joel Matip of Liverpool heads to score his team's third goal during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Liverpool at Selhurst Park on October 29, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
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Joel Matip is going to get to play for Liverpool during AFCON after all.

The center back had turned down the chance to represent Cameroon at the Africa Cup of Nations, and Liverpool was forced to apply to FIFA for a waiver.

[ PL PREVIEW: Swansea vs. Liverpool ]

Matip suffered an ankle injury in December, adding to his desire to stay at Anfield. He declared himself internationally retired and was one of six Cameroon players who refused call-ups for AFCON.

He last played for the Reds on Dec. 11, and can be selected by Jurgen Klopp against Swansea City on Saturday.