European World Cup Qualifying Preview: 24 matches to entertain

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Tuesday could be a big night in Europe with Germany, Italy, Holland and Switzerland all in line to punch their ticket to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Twenty-four matches are set to battle it out across Europe and with just three rounds of games remaining, the competition should prove cutthroat. Of course, we here at NBC Sports Pro Soccer Talk will have you covered with up to the minute results for all the games.

GROUP A: Macedonia vs. Scotland and Wales vs. Serbia

With first place Belgium (22 points) and second place Croatia (17 points) well out in front these two Group A matches will have no impact on qualification.

GROUP B: Armenia vs. Denmark; Italy vs. Czech Republic and Malta v. Bulgaria

First place Italy (17 points) can book their spot in Brazil with a win over Czech Republic (9 points) but it won’t come easy as the Azzurri drew with their opponents 0-0 in Prague last time out. Manager Cesare Prandelli is expected to throw everything at the Czech’s with Mario Balotelli, Pablo Osvaldo and Riccardo Montolivo all fit to play.

Armenia will look to build on their impressive 2-1 victory over Czech Republic when they take on Denmark, who is even on points with nine. A victory for either side could prove huge in a challenge to Bulgaria (10 points), who currently occupy the second spot and are looking to take full advantage of last place Malta.

GROUP C: Kazakhstan vs. Sweden; Faroe Islands vs. Germany and Austria vs. Ireland

Leaders Germany (19 points) will book their place in Brazil if they can overcome Faroe Islands, who has failed to win a single point in seven qualifying matches, and Sweden (14 points) fail to defeat Kazakhstan (4 points). If the second place Swedes do lose to Kazakhstan that could benefit Austria (11 points) or Ireland (11 points), should one of those sides come out victorious in their clash in Vienna.

GROUP D: Romania vs. Turkey; Andorra vs. Holland; Hungary vs. Estonia

Holland (19 points) can win Group D with a victory over last placed Andorra (0 points) and either Turkey (10 points) beat second place Romania (13 points) or the two sides draw and Hungary (11 points) draws with Estonia (7 points).

GROUP E: Norway vs. Switzerland; Iceland vs. Albania and Cyprus vs. Slovenia

It’s all to play for in Group E where leaders Switzerland (15 points) can go through if they defeat second place Norway (11 points). Third place Albania (10 points) travel to Iceland (10 points) where both sides are still capable of winning the group while Slovenia (9 points) is in must-win territory as they travel to cellar-dwellers Cyprus (4 points).

GROUP F: Russia vs. Israel and Luxembourg vs. Northern Ireland

With a game in hand second place Russia (15 points) can grab control of Group F with a victory over Israel (12 points) on Tuesday. Despite their 1-1 draw with Azerbaijan on Saturday, the Blues and Whites can still snatch a play-off spot if they can manage points in St. Petersburg.

Luxembourg (3 points) have been eliminated while Northern Ireland (6 points) will need to win each of their remaining contests to have any hope of salvaging a run to Brazil.

GROUP G: Lithuania vs. Liechtenstein; Slovakia vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece vs. Latvia

With Bosnia-Herzegovina’s 1-0 loss to Slovakia on Friday the leaders allowed Greece to come even on 16 points atop the board. With a victory against eliminated Latvia (7 points), the Greeks will go top of the table putting all the pressure on Bosnia-Herzegovina to revenge last week’s loss with a result in Slovakia (12 points). Lithuania (5 points) and Liechtenstein (2 points) have been eliminated.

GROUP H: England vs. Ukraine and San Marino vs. Poland

Holding a game in hand over Montenegro, England (15 points) can take sole possession of first place with a victory over third place Ukraine (14 points) in Kiev. Roy Hodgson’s men enter the match short on strikers with Danny Welbeck suspended and Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge both sidelined with injury. The two sides drew in the reverse fixture and a win for either side will prove vital entering the final two matches of the group.

Fourth place Poland (10 points) is down but not out and must earn a victory at bottom of the barrel San Marino (0 points) if they are to keep their hopes of Brazil alive.

GROUP I: Georgia vs. Finland and Belarus vs. France

Second place France (11 points) can secure second place if they win in Belarus (4 points) while Georgia (5 points) and Finland (6 points) will need three points if either side plan on making a run at a qualifying spot. Leaders Spain (14 points) have two matches remaining, both of which will be played on home soil.

Jamaica upset Mexico to reach 2nd straight Gold Cup final, face USMNT

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For the second straight tournament, Jamaica are headed to the final of the Gold Cup after knocking off Mexico, the side which beat them in the 2015 final, in the 2017 semifinal on Sunday.

New York Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence scored the game’s only goal in the 88th minute, making the most of Andre Blake’s man-of-the-match goalkeeping performance which spanned the entirety of 90 minutes.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Blake put forth a stellar display of goalkeeping in the game’s opening 45 minutes, facing three shots on target and denying El Tri’s attackers on each and every occasion.

The pick(s) of the litter came in the 12th minute, when the Philadelphia Union ‘keeper pulled off a stunning double-save to deny Jesus Dueñas and Erick Torres. Dueñas fired first, aided by a wicked deflection, but Blake pulled off the reflexive kick-save, followed by Torres’ powerful strike through traffic seconds later.

15 minutes later, Torres earned himself a yellow card for what was undoubtedly, unquestionably a red-card, lunging “challenge” against Damion Lowe.

[ USA 2-0 CRC: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

The second half consisted of much the same things as the first, as Blake continued his clinic in the 65th minute. Jesus Gallardo fired a free kick through the Raggae Boyz’ wall, a knuckling shot which Blake didn’t see until very late but managed the put two fists behind the ball and punch it anyway anyway.

Blake’s counterpart, Jesus Corona, joined the fun in the 78th minute. Lowe rose highest to get to Owayne Gordon’s free kick, heading it inside Corona’s right-hand post, but the Cruz Azul ‘keeper was quick to scramble across his goal and palm the ball away at full-stretch.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

Two minutes before full-time, Lawrence produced the game’s only piece of purge magic, a curling peach of a free kick from 24 yards out. Corona went one way, Lawrence went the other and Jamaica are headed to their second straight Gold Cup final.

Jamaica will take on the U.S. national team in Wednesday’s final, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

MLS: Rookie Ebobisse stars as Timbers win in Vancouver

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The game in 100 words (or less): The Portland Timbers, thanks to a standout performance in rookie striker Jeremy Ebobisse’s first MLS start, put to bed a six-game winless skid with a 2-1 win away to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday. The run of poor form stretched back to early June, and saw Caleb Porter’s side slip from contention for the Western Conference’s top spot, into the jumbled mess surrounding the playoff cut line (four teams separated by one point, either side of sixth place, coming into Sunday). Ebobisse scored the opening goal less than a quarter-hour into the game, and delivered the beautiful backheel assist to Sebastian Blanco to restore the Timbers’ lead four minutes into the second half, after watching it disappear just before halftime. The victory sees Portland leapfrog Vancouver to move into fourth place in the West, just four points off the top spot once again.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Three moments that mattered

14′ — Ebobisse touches home his first MLS goal — Sometimes you don’t really have to do much beyond simply existing in the right place. Ebobisse existed in the right place.

45′ — Jacobson heads home before halftime — Update: Portland still have issues defending set pieces.

49′ — Blanco slots past Ousted for 2-1 — No one really stepped up to deny Blanco’s marathon dribble, and Ebobisse did so much more than simply existing on this one.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jeremy Ebobisse

Goalscorers: Ebobisse (14′), Jacobson (45′), Blanco (49′)

FOLLOW LIVE: Mexico vs. Jamaica — who’ll face USMNT in final?

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It’s Mexico versus Jamaica in the second semifinal of the 2017 Gold Cup on Sunday, facing off for the right to play the U.S. national team in Wednesday’s final.

When: 9 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

[ LIVE: Gold Cup scoreboard ]

It’s the second time these sides have met this summer, having already played to a scoreless draw in the second game of Group C play, en route to Mexico finish top of the group, besting Jamaica by two points on the final day of the group stage.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

Hit the link above, or click here, to follow along with Sunday’s semifinal action.

Gonzalez follows heart in switch from Mexico to USMNT

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Jesse Gonzalez started in the 2015 Under-20 World Cup for Mexico, his parents’ homeland. Then last month, the 22-year-old FC Dallas goalkeeper switched his affiliation to join the United States, his home country.

Gonzalez just felt more comfortable in the red, white and blue.

“The U.S. has given me a lot. I’m grateful for what they have given me and the opportunity they have given me,” he said after joining the U.S. roster for the knockout rounds of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Tim Howard, now 38, remains the top U.S. goalkeeper as the Americans try to qualify for next year’s World Cup. Brad Guzan, who will be 33 in September, is entrenched as the No. 2.

After that, no keepers have emerged at the top level in the next generation. Gonzalez, and fellow 20-somethings Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, Cody Cropper and Ethan Horvath all figure to compete with Guzan for the starting job in the 2019-22 World Cup cycle.

“I don’t have any doubt that he will be one of the best keepers in America,” Dallas coach Oscar Pareja said of Gonzalez after discovering the teen prospect when he was playing in a youth tournament.

Gonzalez’s parents emigrated from Mexico, and he was born in Edenton, North Carolina.

“My parents didn’t really find anything around North Carolina,” Gonzalez said. “They thought it was a lonely state, so they got out of there.”

His family moved to Houston and then on to Dallas when Gonzalez was a child. After spotting Gonzalez on a recreational team, Pareja persuaded the family to switch the keeper to the FC Dallas youth academy. He played there alongside midfielder Kellyn Acosta, who has broken into the U.S. starting lineup this year.

“They taught me how to be more responsible,” Gonzalez said. “It was almost like a job at the time, just waking up early and being on time to training.”

[ USA 2-0 CRC: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

Pareja, a Colombian national team midfielder in the early 1990s, said the 6-foot-4 Gonzalez’s long arms and quick reflexes immediately reminded him of late Colombian keeper Miguel Calero. Gonzalez debuted for Dallas’ under-16 team in September 2010 and was signed to a professional homegrown player contract in March 2013. Just more than two years later, he became the youngest keeper to start in team history: at 20 years, 89 days.

By then, Mexican team scouts had noticed Gonzalez at a showcase in Sarasota, Florida, and asked whether he had interest in playing for El Tri.

“Richard Sanchez, one of my old teammates, he was there. He talked very well about them,” Gonzalez recalled.

Gonzalez started Mexico’s first four matches at the 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, then had a pair of saves during penalty kicks to lift Mexico over Panama in the final. At the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand, he played in Mexico’s second and third games,

The following January, Gonzalez turned down an invitation from U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann to attend a national team training camp in Carson, California. Instead, Gonzalez went to a Mexican Under-23 team camp ahead of the Olympics, but he was not picked for El Tri’s Rio de Janeiro roster.

Gonzalez spent a long time before deciding this spring to apply to FIFA for a change of affiliation. Because he had not played a competitive match for Mexico’s senior national team, he was allowed a one-time switch.

“Whatever you decide, you’re going to be right, because that’s going to be your heart,” Pareja recalled telling him.

“Any time a soccer player is making a choice, whether it’s club or country, it’s important that they analyze the options carefully, they seek input from people they trust, and that they come to a decision that they’re happy with,” said Gonzalez’s agent, Richard Motzkin. “That’s the process Jesse took in making his decision and, rest assured, it wasn’t done lightly or without a lot of forethought. Ultimately, Jesse was fortunate in that he had two very good choices.”

After the switch was announced, Gonzalez received text messages from surprised friends.

“They were funny,” he said without going into detail.

[ MORE: Mexico blocking out drama during deep run at Gold Cup ]

Howard is the U.S. starter as the Americans head into Wednesday’s Gold Cup championship against Mexico or Jamaica, and Hamid is the backup while Guzan settles in with Atlanta. For now, Gonzalez’s role is limited to training and pushing others on the practice field.

“We just want to see what he’s about,” U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.

Gonzalez is with the national team to learn. A full international debut might take a while.

“He’s not much of talker, which is good. I think young guys talk too much nowadays,” Howard said. “You’re naive in a good way and you think you know it all, and really it’s the opposite. You have it all to learn. At this age they’re using their athletic ability and their raw talent to keep their head above water, and through that process you learn. It is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week operation. It’s got to be everything to you. You’ve got to make a lot of sacrifices to get there.”

Gonzalez is willing to wait. He just hopes his absence from Dallas doesn’t cost him playing time in Major League Soccer.

“My backup could come in and have great games. He could stay there,” he said. “It’s difficult for me. I want to be over there, but I want to be here because this is an amazing opportunity for me.”