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South American World Cup Qualifiers set to impress

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With each country having two to three World Cup qualifiers remaining the action is heating up in South America.

With Brazil automatically qualified as hosts, four direct qualifying spots and one play-off spot remain in the balance.  Let’s take a look at all the qualifying action going on in South America and remember to check back with NBC Sports Pro Soccer Talk for plenty of coverage on all the international games.

Uruguay vs. Colombia

The marquee match of the night pits high-flying Colombia against Uruguay at Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario.

A single point will be enough for second place Colombia to book their tickets to Brazil but even if Radamel Falcao & Co. lose, they can still qualify for the World Cup if Bolivia upend Ecuador. Expect Jose Pekerman’s squad to play for the former but points don’t come easy for Los Cafeteros in Uruguay as they haven’t drawn there since 2001 and haven’t won there since 1973.

After a slow start to qualifying Uruguay have gotten it together of late, winning two straight for the first time since the process began. In fifth place and just two points shy of Ecuador, La Celeste will be keen on taking all three points to snap up the final direct qualifying berth of the region. Making that happen will be a team effort, however, as Diego Forlan is doubtful with injury while Diego Lugano and Diego Godin are both out on suspension.

Bolivia vs. Ecuador

Fourth place Ecuador will be hard pressed to earn a positive result against bottom-dwellers Bolivia so they can avoid losing that coveted fourth place to Uruguay. Despite La Paz being a difficult place to play La Tricolor have performed quite well on Bolivian soil, winning their last eight straight.

A victory on Tuesday would not only ward off Uruguay but could thrust Ecuador into third place over Chile, who have the night off. Don’t expect too much fight from the home side in this one as Bolivia have already been eliminated from the competition.

Venezuela vs. Peru

With both sides in must-win territory, Venezuela and Peru should be a cracker of a match.

Sixth place Venezuela will be knocked out if Uruguay better their result but if La Vinotinto avoid such a fate they can stay alive with a victory over seventh placed Peru. Venezuela have beaten Peru the last three times the sides met on Venezuelan soil and haven’t lost there since 1977. After managing only one point in their last three matches, however, Venezuela will need to improve their form if Brazil is in their future.

Paraguay vs. Argentina

The final match to kick-off in the region means that first place Argentina may have already qualified before kick-off. If either Uruguay or Ecuador lose, Argentina is through and could change the complexity of the tie with Paraguay. If neither of those scenarios occur then Argentina’s entry into Brazil will require a victory in Asuncion.

The Uruguay/Ecuador scenario could also decide Paraguay’s fate before kick-off but if neither pans out then eight place La Albirroja still stand a fighting chance. They’ll need all three points to make it happen but doing so is the only way to preserve a fifth placed finish and intercontinental play-off. And yes, Lionel Messi will be playing.

Mourinho: Leicester home should be Claudio Ranieri Stadium

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Claudio Ranieri, Manager of Leicester City shows his frustration as Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United looks on during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on September 24, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Jose Mourinho cannot quite get his head around Leicester City’s firing of Claudio Ranieri.

The story is on the tips of the tongues of many in the Premier League, and Manchester United’s boss is no exception.

[ MORE: UEL draw | Who is Rostov? ]

Speaking Friday ahead of United’s EFL Cup Final against Southampton, here’s what Mourinho had to say.

From the BBC:

“He deserves the Leicester stadium to be named ‘Claudio Ranieri Stadium’. The most beautiful thing in the Premier League and one of most beautiful in football history.

“Now Leicester are in the highlights again with a decision that has everyone in football united. It’s very difficult to accept. It’s important to realize how football is and we need to react. I was sacked as a champion [by Chelsea], a giant negative as I thought – peanuts compared to Claudio.

“I don’t think he needs more. Nobody can do what he did. If some of the stories have just a little bit of truth, it is difficult to find words to justify but we have to be able to cope.”

Mourinho is giving voice to what many feel, this writer included. Ranieri is in a relegation fight, yes, but to fire him days after the Foxes stole a road goal against Sevilla that gives them reasonable odds to advance in the UEFA Champions League? It’s an odd one, and smacks a bit of, “Well, we can’t fire him if he beats Liverpool or Sevilla”.

Liverpool visits the King Power Stadium this weekend, and the Foxes will need an incredible response at home to topple the rested Reds. Sure the Premier League is win now, but add me to the chorus who thinks the new manager will have the same odds to fix Leicester as Ranieri.

Roma’s American president losing patience over stadium delay

James Pallotta, AS Roma
AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino
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ROME (AP) Roma’s American president is starting to lose patience with city officials over long-delayed plans for a new stadium.

Ahead of a meeting between municipal authorities and club officials Friday, James Pallotta issued a statement saying the team expects “a massively positive result” from the encounter.

Pallotta adds “the alternative would be catastrophic for the future of AS Roma, Italian football, the city of Rome, and quite frankly for future business in Italy.”

[ MORE: PST feature on Pallotta ]

The mostly privately financed 1.6 billion euro ($1.7 billion) project received another setback this week when cultural authorities announced plans to declare the proposed stadium site – an abandoned hippodrome – as a site of “particularly important interest.”

The project in Tor di Valle, halfway between downtown and Leonardo Da Vinci Airport, also includes three office towers.

Who is Manchester United’s UEL opponent Rostov?

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 15: Jano Ananidze (L) of FC Spartak Moscow is challenged by Alexandru Gatcan of FC Rostov during the Russian Premier League match between FC Spartak Moscow v FC Rostov at Otkrytie Arena Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)
Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images
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Jose Mourinho and Manchester United have learned their fate for the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 16.

The Red Devils face Russian side FC Rostov in the next round of the tournament, four victorious ties from claiming an automatic spot in the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Spurs sent packing | Full UEL draw ]

So who is Rostov? Seventh in the Russian Premier League standings, Selmashi finished second last season and won the league in 1994 and 2008.

Rostov entered the Europa League after a run through the Champions League which saw the club knock out Anderlecht and Ajax, both still alive in the UEL, before finishing third behind Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich in the group stage. Rostov beat Sparta Prague in the Round of 32 of the UEL.

The club is led by former Moldova boss Ivan Daniliants. Its leading scorer is left wing Dmitri Poloz with 11 goals, and Ecuadorian national teamer Christian Noboa and Moldova veteran Alexandru Gațcan among its mainstays.

While some will make the case that a rough pitch, long trip, and stingy team makes this draw a bad one for United, Mourinho’s crew should triumph. How worse could it have been? This one won’t be easy, but consider Roma, Schalke, Borussia Monchengladbach… even a reunion with Memphis Depay and Lyon would bring more of a challenge than Rostov.

Europa League draw: Man Utd learns fate

Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan, center back to camera, celebrates scoring the opening goal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 2nd right, and other teammates during a Europa League round of 32 second leg soccer match between Saint Etienne and Manchester United at Geoffroy Guichard stadium in Saint Etienne, France, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani
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The travel is tricky, but Manchester United’s draw for the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 could’ve been much worse.

The Red Devils are off to Russia to face FC Rostov in the next round of the UEL competition.

[ MORE: Spurs out | Who is Rostov? ]

In another draw that leads you to question whether there’s anything random about it all, United and lone La Liga representative Celta Vigo drew winnable matches against Russian clubs, Roma has a tantalizing match against Lyon, and an all-Bundesliga match hits the docket.

Heck, we’ll even see an all-Belgian tie between Gent vs. Genk.

And in a draw which will have many glued to their sets, USMNT left-sided man Fabian Johnson will help Borussia Monchengladbach against German rivals Schalke. The first leg comes five days after the pair face off in Bundesliga play.

The Round of 16 legs will be played March 9 and 16.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16

Rostov vs. Manchester United
Celta Vigo vs. Krasnodar
Copenhagen vs. Ajax
Olympiacos vs. Besiktas
Lyon vs. Roma
Schalke vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
APOEL Nicosia vs. Anderlecht
Gent vs. Genk