Costa Rica v United States - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier

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.

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho, center left, makes his way from the opposition dugout after greeting Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, centre right, during their English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.

Another one: Lavezzi the latest star set for the riches of China

Paris Saint Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi form Argentina, celebrates the opening goal during a French league one soccer match between Paris-Saint-Germain and Rennes at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Paris Saint Germain clinhed its second straight French league title on Wednesday after rival Monaco drew 1-1 against French Cup holder Guingamp. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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The list just keeps growing; Ezequiel Lavezzi, he of Paris Saint-Germain and Argentine national team fame, is the latest star leaving Europe behind with the Chinese Super League his next stop, according to multiple reports Saturday night.

[ MORE: The latest transfer news and gossip ]

Linked with a move to Premier League side Chelsea during the recently completed January transfer window, a move away from PSG never materialized for the 30-year-old. Not on the European continent, at least.

Now, the former Napoli, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes (Argentina) attacker is set for Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll reportedly take home something in the $11-to-15-million-per-year ballpark. When you can somehow get a raise from your current deal with a Qatar Sports Investments-owned club… well, I guess you’d be dumb not to do it.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

It was already pretty well known Lavezzi would be leaving the French capital in 2016, but when his tenure survived through much of Europe’s winter window, it seemed he would hang around until the expiration of his current contract before moving elsewhere on a free transfer.

Then came the monstrous windfall of cash into and subsequent spending by CSL clubs over the last two weeks; Lavezzi joins the likes of Ramires, Gervinho, Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeira, Demba Ba and Fredy Guarin, among others, to move to China for massive annual salaries. At Shenhua, Lavezzi will play alongside Ba and Guarin, as well as former Everton and New York Red Bulls man Tim Cahill, who made the move to China last year.

The CSL’s transfer window doesn’t close until Feb. 26, so the spending spree may well go on a little while long.

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Atleti bounce back to keep pressure on Barca

Atletico's Jose Maria Gimenez, right, celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and Eibar at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Eibar

The race for the La Liga title isn’t over quite yet — though Barcelona are overwhelmingly favorites at the moment — and Atletico Madrid will have to keep winning, with just about no room for error, to keep it that way. On Saturday, they did just that by defending their home turf, to the tune of a 3-1 victory over Eibar.

Keko put the visitors ahead in the 46th minute, but Jose Gimenez quickly opened the scoring for Atleti and equalized on 56 minutes. Saul Niguez made it 2-1 to Atleti seven minutes later, and Fernando Torres’ 100th career goal (below video) gave Los Rojiblancos a bit of insurance in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. With the victory, Atleti are level on 51 points with Barca, but the Catalan giants have two games in hand on Madrid’s “other” team, the first of which they’ll play on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Las Palmas
Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Villarreal
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Levante vs. Barcelona (6 a.m. ET)
Real Betis vs. Valencia (10 a.m. ET)
Celta Vigo vs. Sevilla (12:15 p.m. ET)
Granada vs. Real Madrid (2:30 p.m. ET)


Bologna 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina have left the door wide open for Inter Milan to re-enter the top three — and UEFA Champions League-qualifying — places with a 1-1 draw away to Bologna. The Viola finished the game with 10 men after Matias Fernandez was sent off for two yellow cards 10 minutes apart either side of halftime.

Their opening goal, which gave them the lead in the 59th minute, was beautifully worked and wonderfully taken by Federico Bernardeschi (below video). It was quickly canceled out, though, as Emanuele Giaccherini equalized four minutes later to earn a point and strengthen Bologna’s hold on 10th place in the league table.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Genoa 0-0 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Hellas Verona vs. Inter Milan (6:30 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Carpi (9 a.m. ET)
Torino vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Frosinone vs. Juventus (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Palermo (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Empoli (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (2:45 p.m. ET)