Preview: Heated rivalry resumes as USA clash with Costa Rica

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  • USMNT could qualify tonight. But the US must beat Costa Rica, Mexico must tie Honduras and Panama must lose or draw against Jamaica
  • Jozy Altidore is an injury doubt after suffering a hamstring strain and missing Sunderland’s game on Sept. 1
  • The US has never won a WC qualifier away in Costa Rica and has a 0-7-1 record

This is it folks, a win tonight and the US national team could seal their place in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

A lot of other results have to go their way, but if Jurgen Klinsmann’s team can pull out the win down in a hostile environment in San Jose, it can be done.

But the problem is in eight previous trips to Costa Rica in WC qualifying the US has never won, losing seven and drawing one. And Costa Rica are in fine form in CONCACAF qualifying, sitting behind the US in second place with 11 points from six games. A win for the home side would see them leapfrog the US into top spot and pole position to qualify for Brazil 2014.

(MORE: Who will start for US national team vs. Costa Rica?)

Following the infamous “SnowClasico” game between the USA and Costa Rica in Denver back in March, a burgeoning rivalry between the two nations has been spilling over with Friday night’s game the culmination of several months of heated talk on both sides of the fence.

See, the Ticos were upset that the game played at Dicks Sporting Goods’ Park on March 22 went ahead following near whiteout conditions near Denver. But the CONCACAF officials at the game allowed the match to continue, much to the annoyance of Costa Rican players, officials, fans and their national soccer governing body.

That animosity has boiled over as Klinsmann’s US national team arrived in San Jose earlier this week ahead of a crunch qualifier. Several stunts including road blockades, lack of training facilities, the US team bus being egged and many more issues have come to the fore as the Costa Ricans fans turn up the heat in the soccer rivalry.

source: Getty Images
Klinsmann’s squad are focused despite all the animosity shown towards them in Costa Rica.

To add an extra storyline to the mix, as if it needed one, a heavy series of rainstorms are heading towards Central America and could put the game in jeopardy if it falls in San Jose.

(MORE: USA-Costa Rica rivalry reaches new heights after “SnowClasico” backlash)

Back on the pitch, the US are protecting a record 12-game winning streak that dates back to a friendly win against Germany in D.C. in May. In terms of injuries the USA’s star striker Jozy Altidore has been out with a hamstring injury after missing Sunderland’s game with Crystal Palace last weekend. While murmurs of Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey being “60 percent fit” are circling.

Elsewhere the US have eight players who are one booking away from a suspension and would miss the crucial qualifier against Mexico in Columbus next Tuesday. They are Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler, Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones.

(MORE: Questions linger in US camp over Clint Dempsey’s fitness ahead of tonight’s qualifier against Costa Rica)

Costa Rica have gone 3-0-1 since that disputed defeat to the US, posting four straight shutouts in the process. Real Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio is Ticos danger man, with seven goals in WC qualifying so far.

You can watch the game live on BeIN Sport at 10pm ET, and we will have all the team news, reaction and analysis right here at NBC Sports ProSoccerTalk.

What they’re saying

Jurgen Klinsmann on having a Mexican ref, with 8 players one yellow away from a suspension: “We’re not holding back by any means. It [the players with yellow cards] doesn’t [affect] our lineup. It’s about Costa Rica. It’s about that game, and whatever happens on Friday night, we will adjust then to the Mexico game. I don’t doubt that Marco Antonio Rodriguez is a great referee. But at the same time, there is something I can’t get out of my head. I have eight players with a yellow card, and four days later we face Mexico. Truthfully, I don’t like this.”

Costa Rican coach Jorge Luis Pinto: “If we have to get one, two or four cards, we are going to get them and forget about everything else. I want our team to go into this match with our blood running hot but with cool heads. [Anger over the loss] is part of soccer. This feeling that the country has transmitted we are all feeling. It is a historic moment for us. We have to have control of the match at all times.”

Graham Zusi on the passionate Costa Rican fans: “We expected that. This is a country passionate about its team. … This all makes it more exciting for us. It will be a battle, but I think we can take advantage of our momentum and do our job here.”

Prediction

After months of build up, the USA can take a huge stride towards sealing World Cup qualification this evening down in Costa Rica. A win and other results going their way could see Klinsmann’s side celebrating a berth in Brazil but more likely a solid point then a victory against Mexico next week would do the job. I think this will be a tight game, just like the matchup in Denver, and the USA will snatch a precious draw to antagonize the home crowd further.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.

Neymar makes history in PSG’s 8-0 thrashing of Dijon

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A pair of statements which are both true, and not at all mutually exclusive, if you allow logic and balance to prevail: 1) Neymar and his friends at Paris Saint-Germain are quite good at the soccer; 2) they aren’t challenged enough in Ligue 1.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Of course, they’ll be challenged plenty during the latter stages of the Champions League (they drew Real Madrid in the round of 16), but on a weekly basis, the level of competition in their domestic league isn’t of a high standard to indicate just how good they are. That’s the new debate with regard to PSG — it’s no longer, “Are they good? Maybe they’re just a big fish in a small pond.”

On Wednesday, led by Neymar, the most expensive transfer signing of all-time, Unai Emery’s side thrashed 10th-place Dijon to the tune of 8-0. As mentioned, Neymar did slightly more than just pull his own weight — four goals to go with a pair of assists; he lent a direct hand in six of the eight goals.

[ MORE: Chelsea survive Norwich in PKs, reach FA Cup 4th round ]

Even the statistical whizzes at Opta appear somewhat stumped by such an abundance of goals.

Anytime the keepers of stats toss out a “since we started collecting data,” be proud of your achievement. Be very, very proud.

FA Cup: Chelsea, Swansea into 4th rd; B’mouth ousted by Wigan

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Two more Premier League sides booked their place in the fourth round of the FA Cup, courtesy of third-round replays, on Wednesday, bringing the PL’s total representation to 14 clubs…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea 1-1 (5-3 PKs) Norwich City

Chelsea’s scoreless streak — for both themselves and opponents (three straight 0-0 draws across all competitions) — came to a merciful end on Wednesday, but not before surpassing the 300-minute mark. Michy Batshuayi — who, it must be said, struggled mightily in making just his third start (all in cup competitions) since mid-October — broke yet another scoreless deadlock in the 55th minute, ending the Blues’ scoreless run at 331 minutes.

With barely 30 seconds remaining in second-half stoppage time, 19-year-old left back Jamal Lewis brought the Canaries level with a thunderous header off the post.

Extra-time saw Chelsea reduced to 10, and then nine, men. Pedro was booked for diving just after the hour mark, and the Spaniard earned a second yellow card for a wild challenge in the 117th minute. Four minutes later, in second-half extra-time stoppage time, Alvaro Morata was booked for diving and proceeded to shout and gesticulate in the referee’s face. A second yellow was shown immediately.

Willy Caballero denied Nelson Oliveira on Norwich’s first attempt of the ensuing penalty shootout, giving the Blues the only cushion they’d need as Willian, David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta, N'Golo Kante and Eden Hazard all converted.

Chelsea will host Newcastle United in the fourth round on Sunday, Jan. 28.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Swansea City 2-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers

Swansea faced the greatest threat of a Cupset on Wednesday but managed to come out on top, knocking off runaway Championship leaders and champions-elect Wolves. The Swans went ahead through Jordan Ayew in the 11th minute before the prolific Diogo Jota, who’ll be in the PL one way or another next season, brought Wolves back to 1-1 in the 66th. Three minutes later, Wilfried Bony bagged the winner to see Carlos Carvalhal’s side through to the next round.

Swansea will visit League Two side Notts County, who knocked off Championship playoff hopefuls Brentford in the third round, on Saturday, Jan. 27.

Wigan Athletic 3-0 Bournemouth

Bournemouth sat 32 places above Wigan in the English football pyramid when Wednesday’s replay kicked off, and it matter not a single iota, as Paul Cook’s side hammered the Cherries at the DW Stadium. Sam Morsy, Dan Burn and Callum Elder bagged the goals for the League One leaders (three points clear after 26 of 46 rounds played). Wigan have alternated each of the last four seasons, finishing 23rd in the Championship and leading/winning League One. It’s been five years since the Latics were relegated from the PL, in the 2012-13 season.

Wigan will host West Ham United in the fourth round on Saturday, Jan. 27.

Sir Alex’s son in trouble for saying he’d “shoot” refs

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LONDON (AP) It clearly runs in the family.

Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was known for having an explosive temper during his nearly 27 years at Old Trafford, and it seems he has passed it down to his son.

Darren Ferguson, who is the manager of third-tier English team Doncaster, is in trouble for saying he would “shoot” referees because of what he perceived as their poor standards.

Ferguson was charged by the English Football Association on Wednesday for remarks that “were improper and/or brought the game into disrepute.”

The 45-year-old coach has already apologized, saying it was a “tongue-in-cheek comment” and that “I do not advocate violence against officials.”

Ferguson was unhappy his team was denied a penalty in a 1-1 draw with Plymouth on Saturday.

“The referees are part-time and the standard is appalling, their fitness levels are a disgrace, I’ve had enough of it,” Ferguson said after the match.

“What can I do? Shoot them, it would be a good idea.”