The work is hardly done for Mexico, but the longtime regional giant is in a much better place after Friday’s thrilling, pressure-packed 2-1 win over Panama at Azteca Stadium.
And what a way to win it, on Raul Jimenez’s spectacularly audacious bicycle kick in the 85th minute, an absolute show stopper that arrived not long after Panama’s Luis Tejada had equalized for the visitors.
Amazingly, it was Mexico’s first win at home in five matches of final round qualifying play in the region. The way it looks today: Mexico holds fourth place in the six-team CONCACAF final round group. That would put El Tri into a home-and-away playoff in November against New Zealand, with a spot in Brazil going to the winner.
There is still a chance for Mexico to pass Honduras and grab third, bypassing that white knuckle playoff series ahead. But as Honduras needs just a point Tuesday at already eliminated Jamaica to clinch the automatic berth that Mexico craves, no one should count on that.
Plus, there is also still a chance that Mexico loses at Costa Rica on Tuesday while Panama gets the result it needs to take the fourth spot, which would eliminate El Tri altogether; the Central Americans face Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. team on Tuesday in Panama City.
It wasn’t easy against Panama on Friday – then again, very little has come easily in the final round for Mexico. Remember, they had one loss, three draws and just one goal in four previous contests at Azteca in this round.
Oribe Peralta’s late first half goal was as well-taken – What a first touch to set up the shot! – but neither as historic or brilliant as Jimenez’s unbelievable, late effort.
Javier Hernandez had seen his tentative, second-half penalty kick saved (by LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo), adding to the drama of the night and keeping Panama in the fight.
Vincent Kompany managed just nine minutes in Manchester City’s Champions League semifinal against Real Madrid before going down with a thigh injury.
The City captain pulled up around midfield and immediately went down, replaced by Eliaquim Mangala.
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Earlier this season in the Champions League, Kompany lasted just six minutes before leaving the pitch with a calf injury against Dynamo Kiev.
At 30-years-old, injuries have been Kompany’s biggest enemy this season, with the Belgian center-back managing just 13 starts in the Premier League.
Denis Suarez found Adrian Lopez on a streaking counter attack in the last gasps of stoppage time, breaking 90 minutes worth of stern resilience from Liverpool.
What a difference a minute can make.
Villarreal enters the second leg of its UEFA Europa League semifinal against Liverpool with a 1-0 lead and the knowledge that a draw or one-goal scoring loss will put it into the final.
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For their part, the Reds will be amped up by the Anfield faithful on Thursday, and Jurgen Klopp will hope to make amends for a Starting XI and substitution set that left Liverpool fans asking, “Why no Sturridge, boss?”
Liverpool won’t be too worried, though, given its Europa record when in need of a comeback. The Reds came back to topple Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals, one of the most enthralling matches in recent memory.
Suffice it to say that Reds don’t want to go down 2-0 again, and expect a bit more of a chess match this go-round. Here’s Dejan Lovren, from LiverpoolFC.com:
“[It will be] maybe even more than 90 minutes, so like I said – we need to be clever enough. We don’t just have 20 minutes to play the game, we have 90 minutes so everything is possible. The fans know and are expecting a massive game, but we will take it smarter than the last time [against Dortmund]. It would be a great season for us if we go to the final and win it.”
Klopp opted to rest several regulars in Sunday’s loss to Swansea, with names like Smith, Stewart, Ojo, Chirivella and Ward on the pitch. Those will likely give way to more established names Mignolet, Lucas and Lallana come Friday.
Villarreal is coming off a 2-0 win over Valencia, and holding onto a shutout streak of more than three matches (including Thursday’s win over Liverpool). They’ll have to do very well to hold Liverpool scoreless, but perhaps a road goal will be all “The Yellow Submarine” needs to advance to the final in Basel.
Real Madrid needs a win at home against Manchester City to give the UEFA Champions League its second Madrid Derby final in three years.
Kickoff is at 2:45 p.m. ET from the Bernabeu and, unlike the first leg, Cristiano Ronaldo will be in the lineup for Real Madrid.
[ UCL: Pellegrini hails road record | Ronaldo in ]
Man City has Yaya Toure back in the fold, and Vincent Kompany will captain the unit.
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Real Madrid: Navas; Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo, Kroos, Modric, Bale, Jese, Isco, Ronaldo. Subs: Casilla, Varane, James, Kovacic, Lucas Vazquez, Danilo, Borja Mayoral.
Manchester City: Hart, Sagna, Kompany (C), Otamendi, Clichy, Fernando, Fernandinho, Toure, Navas, De Bruyne, Aguero. Subs: Caballero, Mangala, Kolarov, Delph, Sterling, Bony, Iheanacho.
She’s dipped her toes into the pool during the FIFA elections, and now USWNT soccer legend Abby Wambach may have found her second career.
The all-time leading goal scorer in international competition, Wambach will be branching into the media field.
[ UCL: Pellegrini hails road record | Ronaldo in ]
The Associated Press’ Anne M. Peterson says it’ll be as an analyst and contributor, while Sports Illustrated media mastermind Richard Deitsch expects her to dig a bit deeper into the reporting world.
Many athletes have succeeded in becoming broadcasters, but true reporting is a different animal. This will be an interesting story to follow.
Wambach’s name was in the news earlier this year when she plead guilty for a DUII charge. She retired from the playing field in December.