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.

UCL wrap: Barcelona, PSG roll; Dzeko scores stunner (video)

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There were a few more zeroes on the board in Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League action, but that doesn’t mean the day failed to entertain by any stretch of the imagination.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan, USSF prez? ]

Chelsea and Roma staged a slugfest at Stamford Bridge, while PSG and Barcelona saw its stars shining, and Jose Mourinho orchestrated another away defensive masterclass for Manchester United.

Chelsea 3-3 RomaRECAP

There’s a lot to say about this one. Chelsea goes up 2-0 through solid goals from David Luiz and Eden Hazard, but finds itself down and needs another Hazard goal to rescue a point.

But this goal, one of two from Edin Dzeko, is why we watch this wonderful sport. Aleksandar Kolarov also scored and had an assist as ex-Man City men came to play at Stamford Bridge.

Benfica 0-1 Manchester UnitedRECAP

The perfect road match, more or less, though United scored its lone goal thanks to goalkeeper error. Marcus Rashford took the free kick that was carried across the goal line, and United completed more than 500 passes to double Benfica’s output at the Estadio da Luz.

Barcelona 3-1 Olympiacos

It’s not much of a surprise to see Barca triumph at home over Greek opposition. An own goal joined Lucas Digne and this historic Lionel Messi marker to build a 3-0 lead at the Camp Nou.

Anderlecht 0-4 Paris Saint-Germain

In case you think PSG cannot make a run this year, consider its list of goal scorers on Wednesday: Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria, Neymar, and Edinson Cavani.

Elsewhere
Qarabag 0-0 Atletico Madrid
Juventus 2-1 Sporting Lisbon
CSKA Moscow 0-2 Basel
Bayern Munich 3-0 Celtic

Mourinho: Tactics involved targeting young Benfica backstop

AP Photo/Armando Franca
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Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho knew that promising Benfica backstop Mile Svilar would be facing some big nerves.

The 18-year-old was making his UEFA Champions League debut, and Mourinho instructed his Red Devils to challenge the backstop at every turn.

[ RECAP: Benfica 0-1 Man Utd ]

That paid off when Svilar carried Marcus Rashford‘s free kick into the goal, the lone marker of a 1-0 loss that keeps United atop Group A and Benfica three points behind second- and third place.

“I knew how good the goalkeeper was, I told the players that. We had a little bit of a strategy, especially on set-pieces to make him uncomfortable. We put men around him on corners so he cannot come out. He risks a lot, but only top keepers do that. He was unlucky for the goal,” Mourinho said.

Svilar looked dejected after the game, apologizing to fans at the Estadio da Luz and getting consolation from a fellow Belgian in Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku.

Nemanja Matic laid out United’s strategy a bit more, from the BBC:

“The manager said to us to try and shoot and get some crosses towards their goalkeeper because he is young and playing in his first game. This is football and I know he is a great goalkeeper and I wish him well for the future.

“We had control, some difficulties in the first 30 minuets but then we controlled the pitch. We used our experience. We could not find the second goal but did not make any mistakes at the back.”

Rashford limped out of the game, and Mourinho says he initially thought it was cramps. Instead, it’s a problem with his left knee. Simon Peach of the Press Association quotes Mourinho as hoping the injury is not bad.

United completed more than 500 passes, doubling Benfica’s production. Some have been critical of Mourinho’s penchant to play it safe, and he winked at them after the match in calling his tactics “a crime.”

“We were in control, David De Gea did not have one save to make. I never felt we could concede a goal and were solid defensively. Sometime I feel being good defensively is a crime, but that is a way of getting results.”

Chelsea 3-3 Roma – Thrills at the Bridge

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
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  • Luiz, Hazard put Chelsea up 2-0
  • Kolarov, Dzeko brace flip lead
  • Hazard nabs equalizer
  • U.S. U-20 mid Scott on bench for Chelsea

Eden Hazard scored twice as Chelsea overcame the sacrifice of a 2-0 lead and the Blues drew AS Roma 3-3 at Stamford Bridge in UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday.

David Luiz also scored for Chelsea. Ex-Man City men Edin Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov starred for Roma, with Dzeko scoring twice and Kolarov adding a goal and an assist.

Chelsea has seven points to lead Group C, two more than Roma and five ahead of third-placed Atletico Madrid. The sides will meet again in Rome on Halloween.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan, USSF prez? ]

Luiz started the scoring with a delightful strike. Call it a second bite at the proverbial apple if you must, but then admit he sunk his teeth into it.

Eden Hazard made a darting run to double Chelsea’s lead, but Kolarov pulled Roma within one with a deflected strike past Thibaut Courtois.

Diego Perotti curled a shot that hardly troubled Courtois in the 63rd minute, the Chelsea keeper just leaving his feet collect it.

Dzeko and Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Then the former Man City striker struck again, seeing a long diagonal ball over his shoulder and whizzing a perfect left-footed volley through the flailing arms of Courtois.

Dzeko then made a late move before a Kolarov free kick to lose his mark and nod home a go-ahead goal.

It wasn’t over, as Hazard found his way to space and a cross from Pedro.

The Belgian headed his chance beyond a diving Alisson, and it was 3-3 with 15 minutes to play.

American-English midfielder Kyle Scott did not make his Chelsea bow. The 19-year-old has represented England at the U-16 level and the U.S. at the U-18 and U-20 levels.

Benfica 0-1 Manchester United: Match-winner Rashford injured

AP Photo/Armando Franca
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  • No shots on goal for Benfica
  • United puts four on frame
  • Man Utd out-passes Benfica 522-237.

Marcus Rashford scored the lone goal of the match, then limped off injured in Manchester United’s 1-0 win over Benfica in UEFA Champions League action at the Estadio da Luz on Wednesday.

United is close to wrapping up a knockout round berth with the win, leading Basel by three points, CSKA Moscow by six, and Benfica by nine.

Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho got his managerial start at Benfica when he replaced now-Bayern Munich boss Jupp Heynckes in 2000.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan, USSF prez? ]

Rashford’s free kick from the left fooled young Benfica backstop Mile Svilar.

The 18-year-old was making his UEFA Champions League debut, and was caught out of goal.

While retreating toward his end line, his two-handed catch carried him and the ball into the goal despite the efforts of his outstretched paws.