Pressure shifts to Mexico for tonight’s World Cup qualifier versus the United States

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The pressure may be off the United States national team for now – but the pulse remains rapid in its bitter border rivalry with Mexico.

All the heat of the ongoing hostilities between the region’s dominant men’s soccer powers has shifted toward Mexico for tonight’s World Cup qualifier. The venue, as always when the CONCACAF heavyweights meet south of the border, will be pulsating through the smoggy, thin and hostile air of Estadio Azteca.

The United States landed Sunday with fresh burst of confidence and evidence of improved team accord following Friday’s restorative 1-0 win over Costa Rica in the unforgettable snow globe that was DSG Park outside Denver.

Meanwhile, Mexico’s highly regarded team was finishing off its second consecutive disappointing result, a 2-2 draw at Honduras. That followed the Mexicans’ draw at home with Jamaica to open final stage World Cup qualifying – so fabled El Tri is winless after two rounds of play in the ongoing final round, saddled with just two of a possible six points.

That’s a full-on crisis in Mexico, where El Tri manager José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre is taking a beating in the press and in public confidence. A loss tonight to the United States would surely mark his Waterloo; kickoff from inside sold-out Azteca is set for 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN).

Obviously, the United States would love to steal a win and send the crowd of 100,000-plus home disappointed. But of the region’s six teams still alive for three automatic bids for World Cup 2014 in Brazil, none studied their final round schedules and circled Mexico as a place where points could be expected. Teams may generally come into Mexico City with dreams of something historic, but the real world is that they’d all be giddy just to steal a draw.

(MORE: Should Jurgen Klinsmann’s tactics and choices be more conservative tonight?) 

The Americans, for instance, have one victory and one tie to go with 23 losses all-time in matches on Mexican soil. Mexico is a daunting 68-1-6 against all opposition in World Cup qualifiers inside Azteca.

That formidable dominance may have been slightly dented last August in a historic U.S. win; it was just a friendly, but a 1-0 upset over Mexico last summer remains among the highlights of coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s 20-months in charge.

So with the weight of the world on Mexico tonight and plenty of home games ahead in 2012, the United States stands today in decidedly better mental shape than just four days ago, prior to the weighty match in Denver. Plus, players held a clear-the-air meeting before that Costa Rican contest, with apparent progress in closing the fissures revealed publicly in Brian Straus’ Sporting News piece.

“In the past stretch, even going back to the last stage of qualifying, the things that our team always has to be about,  the fight, the commitment … we looked at each other and said this isn’t what it needs to be,” veteran midfielder Michael Bradley said. “As we move forward and the big games come, in order for us to be a team that competes at the highest level that has to be at its absolute highest whenever we step on the field.”

(MORE: Bradley talks about the fight, commitment that prevailed Friday)

All that said, the United States still has questions along a battered back line, one missing its longtime captain Carlos Bocanegra (not selected), veteran right back Steve Cherundolo (injured) and two ailing young fullbacks.

First-choice goalkeeper Tim Howard is out with injury, too, although backup Brad Guzan continues to establish his trustworthiness at highest level through his work in U.S. goal and with defensively-challenged Aston Villa in England.

Jermaine Jones and Danny Williams, the team’s first choices in the holding midfield role, are also ailing and not available for this one.

(MORE: Looking at Jermaine Jones’ absence)

But neither is El Tri at full strength for this one. Center back Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez and left back Jorge Torres Nilo will miss due to yellow card accumulation.

Giovani dos Santos, who destroyed the U.S. back line last time these teams met in a meaningful match, back in the summer of 2011, seems to be missing some confidence.

But Mexico does have Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, a man as blessed with pure scoring instincts as anyone you’ll ever see. The Manchester United striker struck for both goals in Friday’s 2-2 draw in Honduras, and he will surely test the next version of a makeshift back line, whatever that looks like.

(Check back for much more later today at ProSoccerTalk)

History denied! Real Madrid loses, fails in bid to beat Pele-led record (video)

AP Photo/Francisco Seco
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Real Madrid did everything but score, and now find themselves denied a chance at unparalleled history and in a relatively deep early hole in La Liga’s table.

A stoppage time loss to visiting Real Betis ended the club’s 73-match run of matches with a goal, and it came on the day it could’ve passed Pele’s Santos for sole possession of the longest scoring streak in history.

[ MORE: Pulisic scores 10th BVB goal ]

Perhaps more important, Madrid now sits seven points back of first place Barcelona. Their eight points leave them sixth.

Real Madrid 0-1 Real Betis

The hosts looked so good, and so fluid… and provided any number of finishes which would’ve been goals on another day. Unfortunately for them, the only goal came from Paraguay’s Antonio Sanabria in the fourth minute of second half stoppage time.

That’s because Real Betis goalkeeper Antonio Adan was sensational, including a stunning stop on Gareth Bale‘s backheeled volley in the final quarter hour.

It could’ve gone worse for Madrid, as Mexico’s Andres Guardado had an assist called back for offside.

Before that, there was this from one of the best in history:

Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Atletico Madrid

Angel Correa and Yannick Carrasco helped the visitors go second in La Liga, as ex-Atleti midfielder Raul Garcia provided Athletic’s only goal deep into stoppage time.

Elsewhere
Leganes 0-0 Girona
Deportivo de la Coruna 1-0 Alaves
Sevilla 1-0 Las Palmas

League Cup draw: Spurs host Hammers; Everton off to Chelsea

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Sixteen teams are five wins from a berth in the Europa League following the fourth round draw for the League Cup.

Eleven of the 16 belong to the Premier League, leaving Leeds United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Norwich City, Bristol City, and Middlesbrough to dream of dream runs to Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Pulisic scores 10th BVB goal ]

There are only a trio of all-Premier League ties in the bunch, including a high-profile London clash between Spurs and West Ham.

Chelsea will host Everton, while Manchester United heads to Wales for a date with Swansea City.

All-in-all, we could have quarterfinals without a single Cinderella story.

Full draw
Tottenham Hotspur vs. West Ham United
Bristol City vs. Crystal Palace
Arsenal vs. Norwich City
Chelsea vs. Everton
Swansea City vs. Manchester United
Manchester City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Bournemouth vs. Middlesbrough
Leicester City vs. Leeds United

League Cup wrap: Sane saves Man City; Big boys roll (video)

David Davies/PA via AP
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There were neither upsets nor much drama to be found as five European contenders joined the League Cup on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Pulisic scores 10th BVB goal ]

Man City needed to overcome a surprising late equalizer from Premier League hosts West Brom, and Arsenal’s finishing wasn’t up to par in the lone close score line of the day.

Blowouts dotted the landscape as second-choice and fuller-strength giants powered past lesser competition to reach the fourth round.


Everton 3-0 Sunderland

USMNT winger Lynden Gooch got a start for the Black Cats, who also had ex-Everton players James Vaughn, Jack Rodwell, and Darron Gibson on the pitch.

The familiarity didn’t stop Dominic Calvert-Lewin from giving the Toffees a first half lead, and buttressing the advantage with a second half marker. Oumar Niasse rounded out the scoring for Everton.

Chelsea 5-1 Nottingham Forest

Kenedy, Michy Batshuayi, and Charly Musonda scored first half goals. Batshuayi completed a brace after fine work from Eden Hazard in the second, then completed his hat trick late. Ex-Burnley man Tendayi Darikwa spoiled Chelsea’s clean sheet in second half stoppage.

For Musonda, it was this goal on his full senior debut.

Arsenal 1-0 Doncaster Rovers

Alexis Sanchez opened up the defense and found Theo Walcott to make it 1-0. That was all the Gunners needed to top Darren Ferguson’s League One side.

West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Manchester City

Leroy Sane put home an Ilkay Gundogan rebound in just the third minute, and avoided blushes for City after a late concession with an even later winner. Hal Robson-Kanu missed a point-blank shot deep into stoppage as City survived the Baggies’ fight back.

Here’s Claudio Yacob‘s surprising equalizer.

Manchester United 4-1 Burton Albion

The below statistic was accurate before Marcus Rashford added his second of the first half. Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial also scored for United, while Lloyd Dier ruined the Red Devils clean sheet minutes from full time.

 

Bundesliga: Pulisic stars in another BVB win (video)

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Writing these Bundesliga wraps from an American perspective means paying attention to Christian Pulisic, but the 19-year-old USMNT phenom would have his name in print anyway.

[ MORE: Rashford’s League Cup screamer ]

Pulisic had a goal and helped set-up another as BVB continued its excellent start to the Bundesliga season as one of five league matches on Wednesday.


Hamburg 0-3 Borussia Dortmund

Shinji Kagawa and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored on either side of halftime as BVB kept up its near perfect start to the Bundesliga season. BVB is 4W-1D with 13 goals scored and zero conceded, good for a one-point edge on Bayern Munich.

Andriy Yarmolenko was the star of the show, though many American eyes were trained on USMNT stars Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood. The former was lively and produced a few chances, including the penultimate pass/hockey assist on Aubameyang’s goal, while Wood didn’t see much of the ball thanks to BVB’s fine form.

In reverse order, the goal and the “assist.”

Koln 0-1 Eintracht Frankfurt

The nightmare start continues, this time thanks to a Sebastien Haller penalty kick. USMNT back Timmy Chandler went 90 for the victors.

Hertha Berlin 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen

Mathew Leckie and Salomon Kalou helped the hosts almost cruised to three points at the Olympiastadion before a Julian Brandt 84th minute goal tightened the finish.

Freiburg 1-1 Hannover 96

96 looked set to continue its decent start off Martin Harnik’s fourth goal of the league season, but Nils Peterson’s 83rd minute goal meant points were shared at Schwarzwald Stadion.

Mainz 2-3 Hoffenheim

The hosts led 2-0 after 16 minutes, but Sandro Wagner’s first half stoppage time goal had it level by the break. It stayed that way deep into second half stoppage, when Mark Uth’s fourth of the season completed Hoffenheim’s comeback.

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Borussia Dortmund 5 4 1 0 13 0 13 2-0-0 2-1-0 13
 Bayern Munich 5 4 0 1 12 3 9 2-0-0 2-0-1 12
 1899 Hoffenheim 5 3 2 0 9 5 4 2-1-0 1-1-0 11
 Hannover 96 5 3 2 0 6 2 4 2-0-0 1-2-0 11
 FC Augsburg 5 3 1 1 8 4 4 2-1-0 1-0-1 10
 FC Schalke 04 5 3 0 2 7 6 1 2-0-1 1-0-1 9
 Mönchengladbach 5 2 2 1 7 5 2 2-0-1 0-2-0 8
 Hertha BSC Berlin 5 2 2 1 6 5 1 2-1-0 0-1-1 8
 RB Leipzig 5 2 1 2 8 6 2 1-1-0 1-0-2 7
 Eintracht Frankfurt 5 2 1 2 3 3 0 0-0-2 2-1-0 7
 Hamburger SV 5 2 0 3 4 8 -4 1-0-2 1-0-1 6
 VfB Stuttgart 5 2 0 3 3 7 -4 2-0-0 0-0-3 6
 VfL Wolfsburg 5 1 2 2 3 6 -3 0-2-1 1-0-1 5
 Bayer Leverkusen 5 1 1 3 9 10 -1 1-1-0 0-0-3 4
 FSV Mainz 05 5 1 0 4 5 10 -5 1-0-2 0-0-2 3
 SC Freiburg 5 0 3 2 2 9 -7 0-3-0 0-0-2 3
 Werder Bremen 5 0 2 3 3 7 -4 0-0-2 0-2-1 2
 1. FC Köln 5 0 0 5 1 13 -12 0-0-2 0-0-3 0