Romelu Lukaku

UEFA World Cup Qualifying: Four countries could book their tickets to Brazil

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The penultimate round of UEFA World Cup qualifying kicks off on Friday, October 11, with the final matches — and the ultimate winners and losers — to be played out on Tuesday, October 15. Just two countries have qualified out of Europe thus far: Italy and the Netherlands.

That means there are still eleven spots up for grabs. Seven groups are left to be decided, while eight second-place countries will qualify for the playoff round. As there are nine groups in UEFA qualifying, that means one second-place country won’t even get a second chance. Right now that country is Iceland, who have the same number of points as Bulgaria, but Bulgaria have the better goal difference. Of course, all could change over the final two rounds.

A few countries are this close to booking their trips to Brazil. Belgium and Germany are guaranteed at least a spot in the playoff round, while Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Spain and France will all take at least second place in their groups. As for the Friday night matches, Belgium, Russia, Switzerland and Germany could all clinch their place in World Cup 2014.

(MORE: What’s at stake in upcoming World Cup qualifying)

Now let’s take a closer look, group by group:



With everyone else eliminated from Group A, Croatia and Belgium are now fighting it out to avoid the playoffs. Belgium, undefeated and on a six-game winning streak, are in a much better position than the hosts, and can qualify for Brazil by taking just a point. The visitors are without Vincent Kompany and Christian Benteke, but considering their wealth of attacking options, it’s highly likely they’ll manage at least a draw.


Armenia- Bulgaria
Malta-Czech Republic

Italy have already punched their ticket, but hosts Denmark are one point back of second-placed Bulgaria. With Italy likely to trot out some less experienced faces in the front line — the rumor is that Antonio Candreva and Alessandro Diamanti will flank Pablo Osvaldo — the Danes may fancy their chances at getting a win and slipping into the playoffs. Bulgaria, meanwhile, must face Armenia, who technically still have a chance, although they’ll need to win both matches while hoping everyone above them slips up.


Faroe Islands-Kazakhstan
Germany-Republic of Ireland

While technically Germany need a win against Ireland to secure qualification, a point is almost certainly sufficient — they’ve got a goal difference that’s fifteen better than second-placed Sweden. Speaking of Sweden, their trip to the playoffs isn’t assured. If Austria win, that puts the two on level terms, but Austria’s final match is against the Faroe Islands, who have yet to earn a point, while Sweden face Germany in the last round. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and company will really want to make themselves secure with a win against Austria tonight.



It’s still quite a fight in Group D. Holland is already through, but that leaves Hungary in second, with Romania and Turkey each just a point behind. If the Netherlands approach the match with little concern, Hungary should be able to hang on and slip into the playoffs, particularly as they face minnows Andorra in the last round. Turkey have the toughest battle, having to face Holland in the last round, but they’ve won their last four matches and are more likely to be concentrating on whether or not Hungary will slip up.


Iceland- Cyprus

Seems like everything is up in the air in this group. If Switzerland pull off a win against Albania, they’re through. They’re also through with a draw if Iceland can’t win, and even a loss is ok if neither Slovenia nor Iceland come away with all three points. So, barring a big slip, let’s just say the Swiss are through to Brazil. It’s the second-place race that’s interesting, with Iceland currently occupying that slot, Slovenia one point back, Norway one point back of them and Albania one point back of them. Yeah, it’s unlikely that it’ll be anyone other than Slovenia or Iceland, but it’s still possible. Plus, there’s the added factor that, with the second place team in Group E holding so few points at the moment, whoever takes it will have to up their game to make sure they’re not at the bottom of those second placed finishers.

Yes, it’s definitely enough to make your head hurt.


Azerbaijan-Northern Ireland

There’s just a point separating Russia and Portugal, but if Russia win and Portugal lose, that point is enough to put the Russians through to Brazil. With Luxembourg having won just once, it should be simple enough for Fabio Capello’s men to get the job done. It’ll be harder for Portugal, as technically Israel aren’t out of it yet. A win against Cristiano Ronaldo and his merry marauders, plus victory against Northern Ireland, will see Israel slip in if Portugal can’t pull off victory in the last round against Luxembourg.


Bosnia and Herzegovina- Liechtenstein

It’s only Greece and Bosnia that remain in the running in this group. The two are even on points, but it’s Bosnia that have the upper hand, boasting an impressive +20 goal difference, compared with Greece’s +5. Plus, Greece have to face Slovakia, who’ve looked quite lively over their last two outings, while Bosnia get Liechtenstein, who are bottom of the group with just two points. Neither side can secure their place tonight, and it’ll likely go down to the final minutes of the final round.


Moldova-San Marino


Ah, this group. All eyes on England vs. Montenegro, as the world waits to see if the founders of football manage to make it to the World Cup. England are just a point above Montenegro, although Ukraine, with a better goal difference, sit in between. Montenegro managed a point against the Three Lions the last time out, and, despite attempting to qualify for their first World Cup as an independent nation, are facing much less pressure at Wembley. Getting a point here means it goes down to the wire in this group, particularly if Ukraine beat Poland, as they face San Marino in the last round and will most likely end up being the ones heading straight to Brazil.

(MORE: taking a closer look at England vs. Montenegro)



Just one match in Group I, and while it won’t punch Spain’s ticket to Brazil, the match against bottom-of-the-group Belarus could very well put France into the playoffs. Having played one less match than les bleus, Spain need just four points against Belarus and Georgia to end qualification on top of the group.

PL roundup: Liverpool join Arsenal at the top; Bradley’s first point

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17:  Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool looks on during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on October 17, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in the Premier League…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Liverpool 2-1 West Bromwich AlbionFULL RECAP

Liverpool were less than 10 minutes from going top of the league — ahead of Arsenal on goals scored, the second tiebreaker — but Gareth McAuley grabbed a consolation goal in the 81st minute to upset the Reds’ pursuit of the PL summit. Instead, Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho‘s first-half goals were only enough to send Liverpool second in the league — behind the Gunners on goal differential.

Arsenal 0-0 MiddlesbroughFULL RECAP

The door was left wide open by Arsenal, thanks to the Gunners’ disappointing draw with previously-18th-place Middlesbrough at the Emirates Stadium a couple hours earlier in the day. Arsenal enjoyed a whopping 75 percent of possession, but were nullified in the final third by a dogged defensive performance by Boro. The one time Arsenal found the back of the net, through Mesut Ozil in the final few minutes, the German playmaker’s goal was (correctly) ruled out as offside.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal reacts to having his goal disallowed during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Middlesbrough at Emirates Stadium on October 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Bournemouth 0-0 Tottenham HotspurFULL RECAP

Speaking of underwhelming 0-0 draws featuring a side from north London with title aspirations, let’s talk about Tottenham. If not for back-to-back draws with West Brom and now Bournemouth, Spurs would be top of the league. Alas, the unbeaten start has reached nine games, though Mauricio Pochettino‘s side has been blunted since Harry Kane was lost to injury on Sept. 18. Fortunately for Spurs, Kane is back in full training and expected to return to action in the near future.

Leicester City 3-1 Crystal PalaceFULL RECAP

That’s more like it from Leicester. The defending champions had won just one point from their last three league games before racing out to a 3-0 lead against Palace. Ahmed Musa, Shinji Okazaki and Christian Fuchs bagged the goals for Claudio Ranieri‘s side before Yohan Cabaye grabbed a late consolation goal in the final few minutes. All is not well for the Foxes, though, as Jamie Vardy is without a goal in his last nine games played (all competitions). Saturday marked just the fourth time this season that Leciester managed to score multiple goals (all competitions).

Swansea City 0-0 WatfordFULL RECAP

Bob Bradley’s Swansea earned a point on the American’s PL home debut, a game which the Swans had the upper hand for most of the 90 minutes, but failed to put away a handful of key chances. Still, it’s a clean sheet for a side with one of the worst defensive records in the PL this season, and a massive improvement on the dodgy defending away to Arsenal last weekend.

SWANSEA, WALES - OCTOBER 22: Swansea manager Bob Bradley reacts during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Watford at Liberty Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Burnley 2-1 EvertonFULL RECAP

Scott Arfield scored a 90th-minute winner at Turf Moor, as Burnley dropped Everton to four games without a victory. Sam Vokes put the home side ahead not long before halftime, but Yannick Bolasie‘s first goal for Everton pulled the visitors level just before the hour mark. After starting the season five games unbeaten, Ronald Koeman‘s Toffees have just two points to show for their last four games and have slipped to sixth in the league table, and could finish the weekend as low as eighth.

West Ham United 1-0 SunderlandFULL RECAP

The West Ham reclamation continues, at a snail’s pace, thanks to Winston Reid‘s 93rd-minute winner against last-place (now just 2 points from 9 games) Sunderland. After an horrific start to the season, the Hammers are unbeaten in three, including back-to-back 1-0 wins, and just two points stand in between themselves, in 15th, and Southampton, in eighth. Slaven Bilic has survived.

Hull City 0-2 Stoke CityFULL RECAP

If Stoke City are winning games, chances are Xherdan Shaqiri is amongst the goals. On Saturday, Shaqiri was the goals for the Potters, bagging a brace either side of halftime to make it back-to-back wins for Mark Hughes‘ side as the ascent up the league table follows a nearly identical path to that of West Ham.

Sunday’s PL schedule

Manchester City vs. Southampton — 8:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN/
Chelsea vs. Manchester United — 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN/

Bundesliga wrap: Bayern, Hertha 1-2; USMNT’s Pulisic stars again

Bayern's Douglas Costa takes a selfie after scoring his side's second goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between FC Bayern Munich and Borussia Moenchengladbach at the Allianz Arena stadium in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
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Bayern Munich’s weekend went pretty well, with the Bavarians leading longtime rival Borussia Dortmund by six points after a win over Borussia Monchengladbach on Saturday.

Bayern has a three-point lead on the field, with John Brooks’ Hertha Berlin second after another win.

[ MORE: Bob Bradley on Swans draw ]

And it was another great day for the career of young American winger Christian Pulisic. More below…

Ingolstadt 3-3 Borussia Dortmund

Paraguay’s Dario Lezcano and the hosts looked prepared to cruise to a 3-1 win when he netted his second goal of the day, but there was still a half-hour left at Audi-Sportpark.

Adrian Ramos scored in the 69th minute, opening the door for the latest big moment for American teenager Christian Pulisic. The diminutive attacker scored his second Bundesliga goal of the season in stoppage time to propel BVB to a point.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had BVB’s other goal.

Dortmund's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, right, and Lukas Pisczek cheer over  a goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between FC Ingolstadt 04 and Borussia Dortmund   in Ingolstadt, Germany,  Saturday Oct. 22, 2016. (Andreas Gebert/dpa via AP)
(Andreas Gebert/dpa via AP)

Hertha Berlin 2-1 Koln

Anthony Modeste and Koln had less than 10 minutes to celebrate their equalizer, as Niklas Stark’s 74th minute goal lifted Hertha to all three points. USMNT center back John Brooks went the distance at center back.

Bayern Munich 2-0 Borussia Monchengladbach

What looked like a potential onslaught in the first half hour settled into a final score line, as Arturo Vidal and Douglas Costa goals were enough for Carlo Ancelotti’s crew at the Allianz Arena. Gladbach managed just two shots, none on goal, in the loss. USMNT mid Fabian Johnson went 90 minutes in the loss.

Hamburg 0-3 Eintracht Frankfurt — Another 90 for USMNT’s Chandler
Freiburg 2-1 Augsburg — Nils Petersen nets winner.
Bayer Leverkusen 0-3 Hoffenheim — Early red card for hosts.
Darmstadt 3-1 Wolfsburg — Three different goal scores in win.
RB Leipzig vs. Werder Bremen — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Schalke vs. Mainz — 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday


Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 8 6 2 0 20 4 16 4-1-0 2-1-0 20
 Hertha BSC Berlin 8 5 2 1 14 9 5 4-0-0 1-2-1 17
 1899 Hoffenheim 8 4 4 0 16 10 6 2-2-0 2-2-0 16
 1. FC Köln 8 4 3 1 13 6 7 3-1-0 1-2-1 15
 RB Leipzig 7 4 3 0 12 5 7 2-1-0 2-2-0 15
 Borussia Dortmund 8 4 2 2 20 10 10 3-1-0 1-1-2 14
 Eintracht Frankfurt 8 4 2 2 13 8 5 2-2-0 2-0-2 14
 SC Freiburg 8 4 0 4 10 12 -2 4-0-0 0-0-4 12
 FSV Mainz 05 7 3 2 2 14 12 2 1-1-1 2-1-1 11
 Mönchengladbach 8 3 2 3 10 12 -2 3-1-0 0-1-3 11
 Bayer Leverkusen 8 3 1 4 11 12 -1 2-1-1 1-0-3 10
 FC Augsburg 8 2 2 4 7 11 -4 1-1-2 1-1-2 8
 Darmstadt 8 2 2 4 8 15 -7 2-2-0 0-0-4 8
 Werder Bremen 7 2 1 4 9 18 -9 2-0-2 0-1-2 7
 VfL Wolfsburg 8 1 3 4 5 11 -6 0-2-2 1-1-2 6
 FC Schalke 04 7 1 1 5 7 11 -4 1-0-2 0-1-3 4
 FC Ingolstadt 04 8 0 2 6 7 17 -10 0-1-3 0-1-3 2
 Hamburger SV 8 0 2 6 2 15 -13 0-1-3 0-1-3 2

Confirmed: Knee ligament damage for Andres Iniesta

VALENCIA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 22:  Andres Iniesta of FC Barcelona reacts injured on the pitch during the La Liga match between Valencia CF and FC Barcelona at Mestalla stadium on October 22, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
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Andres Iniesta’s footballing career has defined for an entire generation the words consistency and professionalism.

[ MORE: Messi scores late winner vs. Valencia; Neymar hit with a bottle ]

Now 32 years old and Barcelona’s longest-tenured servant, Iniesta has played more than 40 games (all competitions) every season since the 2003-04 campaign, back when he was a 19-year-old La Masia product quickly breaking into the first team. Part of a run like that is down to unparalleled talent and an unwavering commitment to craft, but, of course, a stroke of good luck on the serious-injury front.

It’s looking quite unlikely he’ll extend his 40-games-played streak to a 13th season in 2016-17, however, after the club confirmed fears on Saturday that Iniesta suffered knee ligament damage during a heavy challenge by Valencia midfielder Enzo Perez early in the first half of Barca’s 3-2 victory — statement from Barca’s official website:

The first team player Andres Iniesta has injured the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee. When he arrives in Barcelona the player will have more tests to find out the exact extent of the injury.

The Blaugrana also lost Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique to injuries during their Champions League triumph over Manchester City, as well as Rafinha and Arda Turan, who picked up knocks of their own in training during the week. Injury crisis at the Nou Camp.

Klopp: “Would’ve been kind of a joke” if Reds tossed away lead

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool applauds the fans following their team's 2-1 victory during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion at Anfield on October 22, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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It’s kinda funny that Liverpool nearly threw away a dominant hour by taking its foot off the gas pedal on Saturday at Anfield.

The Reds took a two-goal lead but had to hold on for their three points, eventually exhaling with a 2-1 win over West Brom.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

How would manager Jurgen Klopp have felt if his dominant side, one that failed to put away maybe a dozen chances versus the Baggies, drew?

“We had to finish the game much earlier,” Klopp said. “It would have been kind of a joke if we drew or lost today. We were unbelievable. We wasted a little energy in the second half. … Performance, really good against a team like this that were here to get somehow something.”

He’s right, of course. The Reds need to learn to kill teams off, even if star West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster deserves plenty of credit for another starring role against a top team.