Jermaine Jones

Little drama for United States in Friday’s World Cup qualifier … but would you look at Mexico!

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Friday’s World Cup qualifier in Kansas City will come and go with plenty of conversation opportunities for Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team – but with all the drama of a PBS news hour.

On the other hand, can we talk about Mexico? Our neighbors to the south are in a real Brazilian pickle. They are in more trouble than Alex Rodriguez strapped into a lie detector seat, their World Cup hopes in more dire jeopardy of extinction than a moment of sanity in Washington, D.C.

The real drama during Friday’s round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers will be at Azteca Stadium, the former smoggy fortress where Mexico has yet to win a match in final round qualifying for Brazil 2014. Scoreless ties against the Jamaica, the United States and Costa Rica may have left Mexico’s bid on the skids … but they started looking positively bountiful once El Tri lost in Mexico City last month, 2-1 to Honduras.

Soon enough, Chepo De La Torre was out and Victor Manuel Vucetich was tasked with pulling this rickety old van out of the ditch. So here it is: if Vucetich’s team cannot beat Panama this Friday at what promises to be a very nervous Estadio Azteca, that just might be it. They could miss the World Cup for the first time since 1990 (when player eligibility shenanigans saw Mexico booted from World Cup qualifying efforts).

It’s not going to be easy. Panama hasn’t been what we all thought in the final round. But any team with real defensive commitment (check) and a determined, talented, bulldog of a goal scorer (check … Blas Perez) has a chance. The Panamanians most definitely have a chance to navigate a draw, and then go hunting for the final, telling points in the finale in Central America against the United States. (Make that, “injured and potentially less motivated” United States.)

(MORE: Why you might WANT Mexico at the World Cup)

Panama will certainly dig in Friday at Estadio Azteca, looking to create through Perez on the counter and on restarts, and they will be awfully tough to beat.

Veteran goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa says it can be done, noting a freshness and a “new vibe” thanks to the recent managerial comeuppance. Here is his interview with FIFA.com.

To get you further up to speed on the Mexican pinch – should we coin something like the “Mexican Mess?” Or perhaps go with “El Tri Trauma?” … Gee, this is rather fun, isn’t it? – here is Kyle McCarthy’s swell analysis on the roster choices ahead for the qualifiers Friday and then next week at Costa Rica.

(MORE: The tantalizing scenario developing between U.S., Mexico)

Remember, by the way, Mexico is probably targeting noting better than fourth place; the United States and Costa Rica have qualified, and Honduras has a much better pathway to the third and final automatic berth for Brazil out of CONCACAF. That leaves Mexico and Panama to fight it out for fourth and the playoff series with New Zealand in November.

I still contend that the World Cup is better with Mexico in it. And I still fear for the CONCACAF allotment at future World Cups if El Tri doesn’t scrap its way to Brazil. That said, it’s a real hoot watching all this unfold, eh?

(MORE: New Zealand hedging on Mexico finishing fourth in CONCACAF qualifying)

Here are the current CONCACAF final round standings:

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Andy King: If Leicester can win PL, Wales can win EURO 2016

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 07:  Andy King of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on May 7, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Andy King is still riding high from Leicester City’s Premier League title, and that confidence is carrying over into EURO 2016.

The Foxes midfielder and Welsh international sees no reason why Wales can’t win the tournament, despite having 80-1 odds to do so.

[ MORE: England’s EURO squad ]

Of course, Leicester began the Premier League season as 5,000-1 underdogs to lift the trophy.

We’ve got to win six or seven games compared to 38.

80-1 against 5000-1. You know which one you would rather back. We are a talented group and I believe we have the best player in the tournament.

Gareth [Bale] is probably the best player in the tournament in many people’s opinion, so why can’t we go there and do something? We are confident we can do that.

If Wales were to win the EURO this summer, the story truly would rival that of Leicester. The Dragons have never played in a European Championship before, and the nation’s only other appearance at a major tournament came back at the 1958 World Cup.

[ MORE: Payet, Milner make top-five of UEFA’s “player barometer” ]

You may not agree that Gareth Bale is the best player in the tournament, but he is surely near the top of the list. Bale’s play will likely determine how far Wales can go, drawn into Group B alongside England, Slovakia, and Russia.

Report: West Ham offer $22 million for AC Milan striker Carlos Bacca

MILAN, ITALY - MARCH 20:  Carlos Bacca of AC Milan celebrates his goal during the Serie A match between AC Milan and SS Lazio at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on March 20, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
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West Ham’s search for an elite striker continues, with their newest target AC Milan’s Carlos Bacca.

According to Sky Sports, the Hammers have bid $22 million for the striker, who led Milan with 18 goals in Serie A play last season.

However, after paying $34 million to sign the striker last summer, it is believed Milan would be unwilling to sell their top scorer for less than $30 million.

MORE: All 2015-16 PL season reviews ]

At 29-years-old, Bacca has been one of Europe’s most consistent forwards over the past few seasons. After bagging 49 goals in 108 appearances for Sevilla, he earned a move to Milan last July, finishing third in Serie A scoring in his first year with the club.

West Ham’s chairman David Gold has been open about his desire to sign a world-class striker, with Lyon confirming that they rejected a $45 million bid from the Hammers for Alexandre Lacazette.

VIDEO: Neymar takes batting practice before New York Mets game

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 31:  Brazilian soccer player  Neymar Jr stands in the New York Mets dugout before the game against the Chicago White Sox at Citi Field on May 31, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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We all know Neymar’s skills with a soccer ball, but what about with a baseball bat?

Spoiler alert: He’s better with his feet.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Copa coverage ]

The Barcelona and Brazil superstar was in New York on Tuesday night and hit up the batting cages at Citi Field before the Mets game against the Chicago White Sox.

Taking swings lefty, Neymar made some contact but didn’t necessarily have the smoothest stroke…

He then hit the field and got back to his roots, showing off some footskills while juggling a baseball.

I’m not too sure if Neymar is a baseball fan, but this may make him the Mets’ newest, most famous supporter (sorry Jerry Seinfeld).

Neymar is in the United States as he has some time off after the long Barcelona season. He is not playing in the Copa America with Brazil, but will instead play in the Olympics in August.

Messi’s tax fraud case begins with player avoiding court

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 17:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on  during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Valencia CF at Camp Nou on April 17, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Lionel Messi’s tax trial began Tuesday with the player deciding not to appear in court for early proceedings.

Messi is facing a prison sentence of nearly two years on charges he failed to properly pay taxes for part of his earnings from Barcelona from 2007-09.

[ FOLLOW: All of PSTS’s Copa coverage ]

The Argentina playmaker is not obligated to appear in the Barcelona court until Thursday, when he is scheduled to testify before a judge. Sentencing is not expected until next week.

Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, have been charged with three counts of tax fraud for allegedly defrauding Spain’s tax office of 4.1 million euros ($4.5 million).

Because of the trial, Messi is missing Argentina’s preparation for the Copa America Centenario, which begins Saturday in the United States. He is expected to fly straight to the U.S. to join his teammates after the trial ends. Argentina debuts in the tournament on Monday against defending champion Chile.

Even if found guilty, it is highly unlikely that Messi or his father will face any jail time. They have denied wrongdoing.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

“Everything is good. Everybody is calm,” said Messi’s lawyer, Enrique Bacigalupo, as he arrived at the Barcelona court on Tuesday.

The trial is centered on alleged unlawful activities of Messi’s father, but authorities said the player knew enough to also be named in the case. Officials said that although Messi was mostly unfamiliar with tax issues, there was sufficient evidence to believe he could have known and consented to the creation of a fictitious corporate structure to avoid paying taxes on income from his image rights.

In addition to each facing a prison sentence of 22 months and 15 days, Messi and his father could also be fined in the amount defrauded and ordered to pay all legal proceedings and the loss of any possible tax benefits for a year and a half.

Messi is just the latest high-profile player to have to deal with Spain’s tough tax system. Neymar, Javier Mascherano, Adriano and Xabi Alonso also were targeted by authorities recently.

[ MORE: Marcelo giving away UCL winners’ medal…on Facebook ]

Mascherano, Messi’s teammate with Argentina and Barcelona, earlier this year was handed a suspended one-year prison sentence for not paying nearly 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) in taxes for 2011 and 2012. Brazil striker Neymar recently had to testify before a judge because of alleged irregularities involving his transfer to Barcelona. He and the club were accused of withholding the real amount of the transfer fee, in part to avoid paying the full amount of taxes.

Messi was also being investigated by Spanish tax authorities after his name was among those released in the probe of international offshore accounts, known as the Panama Papers, although he was not charged for those allegations.