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.
Former Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse is embroiled in a bizarre investigation into the extortion of a sex tape.
The 34-year-old French striker has been arrested by French police who have confirmed that are investigating attempts to bribe another international footballer.
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Unconfirmed reports from France claim that the individual in question is France and Lyon midfielder Mathieu Valbuena, a former teammate of Cisse at both Marseille and with the French national team.
According to Reuters news agency, Cisse was questioned because he was familiar with the people involved and in total four individuals were arrested as it is alleged they plotted to ask for money from Valbuena for the sex tape to not be released. It is unclear if the tape is of Valbeuna and his partner Fanny Lafon, or if other individuals are involved.
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Cisse won the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool and scored 24 goals in 79 games during his three-year stay at Anfield until 2007. He also had spells with Sunderland and Queens Park Rangers in the Premier League, while he is currently out of contract after being released by Ligue 1 side Bastia following nine goals in 41 appearances. Cisse is due to appear on the French version of “Dancing with the Stars” in the coming months.
Further reports from France say that Cisse is expected to be “exonerated” and that the existence of the video is “not proven” at this point.
Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.
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Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.
Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:
“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”
That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”
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There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?