World Cup Qualifying: a quick glance around the continents

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World Cup qualification resumes on Friday in Europe and the Americas, continuing through the weekend with Africa’s third and final round. While a few teams have already booked their spots in World Cup 2014, there are still quite a few battles to be fought, with UEFA, CONCACAF, and CONMEBOL all playing out their penultimate rounds.

More in-depth previews of each confederation will follow, but for now, a rundown of what’s at stake, and a recommendation of one match to watch on each continent:


When compared with qualifying systems in other large confederations, such as CONCACAF and CAF, the route Europe forces its teams to take to get to the World Cup is rather ridiculous. Rather than split qualification into stages, putting the lowest ranked countries into earlier rounds, UEFA places all 53 countries into one big qualification pool, dividing them into 9 groups of five or six. The first placed groups qualify directly for Brazil, while the second-placed teams enter a playoff round for the last three UEFA spots. Except, of course, for the second-placed team with the least amount of points — that team loses all chance of the World Cup.

Surprisingly, just two countries have qualified thus far: Italy and the Netherlands. Belgium and Germany are assured of a playoff spot at the very least, while Croatia, Bosnia, Greece, Spain and France will finish at least second in their group (although through some quirky twist of fate could still end up last of the second-placed finishers).

(MORE: an indepth look at Friday’s UEFA matches)

One game to watch

Croatia vs. Belgium
With so many spots still up for grabs in Europe, it’s tough to pick just one match. But this one has a lot riding on it. The visitors need just a point to book their ticket to Brazil, but after missing out on South Africa, Croatia are determined to get to this World Cup the easy way. They managed a draw with Belgium in the reverse fixture last September, but the Croats have slipped up recently, first losing to Scotland before allowing Serbia to come back into the game and get a draw. Belgium, on the other hand, have only dropped points in the draw to Croatia, and have won their last six straight.


From North and Central America, the top three teams at the end of the Hex get bragging rights and a trip to Brazil, while team number four is forced to play the winner of Oceania. With just two games left to go, there’s a mad scramble on to avoid that trip to New Zealand. The United States and Costa Rica have already qualified, while Honduras sits third, three points above both Panama and Mexico. If the ticos decide they still care and beat Honduras, and if one of Mexico or Panama take all three points, the final round could be very interesting indeed.

(MORE: An indepth look at Friday’s CONCACAF matches)

One game to watch

Mexico vs. Panama (Friday, October 11 at 9:30 p.m. ET)
I know, I know, you want to watch the USMNT crush Jamaica. But when you’re done cheering on the USA, tune in to watch Mexico and Panama, both with eight points, trying desperately to fight their way into third place. By the time this match kicks off, the result of Honduras – Costa Rica will already be in, so the sides will know if they’ve still got a chance at direct qualification, or if they’ll be battling to see who plays against New Zealand. Either way, we likely won’t see much cautious football.


In South America, the top four teams qualify directly for Brazil, while the fifth-placed side faces Jordan, who placed fifth in AFC qualifying.

Argentina have already qualified, while Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay are eliminated. Colombia, sitting second, host Chile, sitting third, on Friday night, with both teams almost certain to make it to the World Cup. That match might not provide a lot of tension or suspense, but if you’re a fan of free flowing, attacking football, tune in to see some of the best on the international stage.

One game to watch

Ecuador vs. Uruguay (Friday, October 11 at 5 p.m. ET)
Uruguay, South Africa’s third-placed team and current Copa América champions, are struggling this time around. They’re even on points with Ecuador, but currently sit in fifth thanks to Ecuador’s better goal difference. The good news for Uruguay fans is that the team seem to have turned things around, having won their last three qualifiers, against Venezuela, Peru and, perhaps most impressively, Colombia. Ecuador, on the other hand, haven’t won since they beat Paraguay 4-1 back in March, and could only manage a 1-1 draw with Bolivia last time out.


In Africa, qualification starts off with the 24 lowest ranked countries meeting in two-legged ties, with the winners moving on to the second round. That round, which finished in September, splits forty countries into ten groups, with the winner of each group moving to the third round. That’s where we are now: Five matches, home and away ties, with the winners of each getting to buy their tickets to Brazil.

One game to watch

Ethiopia vs. Nigeria (Saturday, October 12 at 9 a.m. ET)
Ethiopia are kind of the Cinderella story of this year’s CAF qualifiying. They started off with a 0-0 draw against Somalia, then came back and won the second leg 5-0. They then finished top of Group A, despite having a 2-1 win over Botswana nullified after Ethiopia were found to have fielded an ineligible player. Now it’s time to face Nigeria, who Ethiopia last met in January during the Africa Cup of Nations. Ethiopia held them off until the final ten minutes, when Victor Moses scored a brace. The Super Eagles went on to lift the 2013 Cup. With their unbeaten record in the second round, it’s Nigeria that are the heavy favorites.

Top 5 Premier League storylines — Manchester clubs look to get back on track

(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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The Premier League title race is shaping up to be the closest race ever, which leaves little room for error for the top clubs. Going into Matchday 10 the top five teams are separated by just one point and any misstep could result in a quick drop from the top of the table.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Trouble in Manchester?

West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester City — Saturday, 10:00 a.m. (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)
Manchester United vs. Burnley — Saturday, 10:00 a.m. ET (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)

Pep Guardiola has gone six games without a win for the first time in his managerial career. Manchester City only has two points from its last three Premier League matches and seems to still be adjusting to the style of their new manager. This past weekend, it was an error from John Stones that gave Southampton a goal and the eventual point. City came roaring out of the gates with six straight wins to start the Premier League season., but now that the team is facing its first rough patch under Guardiola, a positive response will be essential for the Citizens to keep pace in the title race. Despite the team’s recent struggles, Man City is still at the top of the Premier League table.

Over at Old Trafford, Manchester United is facing even more hardship with their new manager. Jose Mourinho and United were embarrassed in their trip to Stamford Bridge as the team was beaten from the starting whistle by Chelsea. Similar to Manchester City, United started the Premier League season in good form winning its first three matches. However, the Red Devils have won just one of its last six Premier League matches and is five points off the pace of the top five. Man United seem to lack an identity as Mourinho struggles to find the right mix of players and high-priced signings Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba have made little impact in the team’s recent matches.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Have Conte, Chelsea figured it out?

Southampton vs. Chelsea — Sunday, 12:00 p.m. (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)

Chelsea have won its last three Premier League matches, including a dominating performance against Manchester United last weekend. Antonio Conte has recently made a change to his preferred system of three center backs and the move has worked as Chelsea has three straight clean sheets. The offense has also flourished for the Blues with seven goals in their last two matches. Chelsea is just one point from the top the table and has looked as good as any team in the Premier League throughout the last month. A trip to Saint Mary’s Stadium on Sunday is another good test for Chelsea and Conte.

Bradley looks to keep Swansea afloat

Stoke City vs. Swansea — Monday, 4:00 p.m. (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)

Bob Bradley earned his first point as Swansea City manager with a 0-0 draw against Watford last weekend. While it was a good result for a Swansea team that had lost four straight, Bradley will need to start winning matches soon to get the Swans out of the relegation zone. Swansea has just one win this season and is currently two points from safety. The biggest issue for Bradley to solve is on defense where Swansea have earned just two clean sheets this season, including last week’s result against Watford. Swansea’s defense faces a tough task on Monday against a Stoke City side that appears to have found its goal scoring form.

Sunderland’s dreadful start likely to continue

Sunderland vs. Arsenal — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)

Sunderland is off to one of the worst starts the Premier League has ever seen. There’s no way around that statement. The Black Cats have just two points this season and are in danger of creating too deep a hole to dig themselves out of. It doesn’t get any easier for David Moyes and his players as Arsenal pay a visit to the Stadium of Light this weekend. If Sunderland cannot get a result against Arsenal, the team will tie the 1995-96 Manchester City side for the worst start through 10 matches in Premier League history.

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Christian Benteke takes on Liverpool

Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. (NBCSN/NBCSports.com)

Christian Benteke welcomes his old teammates to Selhurst Park as Crystal Palace faces Liverpool. Benteke was a big summer signing for the Reds prior to the start of last season, but the Belgian striker never seemed comfortable at Anfield. Benteke scored nine goals in 29 matches for Liverpool, his lowest total in his four Premier League seasons, and moved to Crystal Palace in the summer. In his first seven games for Palace, Benteke has three goals and has played all but six minutes for the team in the Premier League. Benteke will undoubtedly want to score against his old side and a goal would be welcomed by Palace which has dropped their last two matches.

VIDEO: Previews of all 10 Premier League games – Week 10

Dele Alli, Tottenham Hotspur FC and Jamie Vardy, Leicester City FC
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Week 10 of the Premier League is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

With plenty of intriguing clashes to look out for, let’s take a quick look at all of the major storylines across the league.

Tottenham vs. Leicester City, Southampton vs. Chelsea and Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool seem to be the frontrunners for the games of the weekend.

Click play on the videos below to see the previews, while you can stream every single game live by clicking on the link above.

Is it Saturday yet?

Tottenham vs. Leicester City

Manchester United vs. Burnley

Southampton vs. Chelsea

Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool

West Brom vs. Manchester City

Sunderland vs. Arsenal

Everton vs. West Ham

Watford vs. Hull City

Stoke City vs. Swansea City

Middlesbrough vs. Bournemouth

Will this be most competitive Premier League title race ever?

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So, who is going to win the Premier League this season?

That’s right, you haven’t got a solid answer.

[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]

It’s okay. Most people haven’t. And that’s incredibly exciting.

As Jenna Corrado and I discussed in the latest PST Extra (watch by clicking play, above), it is tough to remember any Premier League season in history being this competitive at the top end of the table.

A unique set of circumstances has created what could be described as a “perfect storm” for the 2016-17 campaign.

Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City all have new managers and are taking time to settle down. The projects at Tottenham and Liverpool are in full flow. Arsenal’s squad is looking better balanced than ever. Chelsea and Liverpool do not have European action to contend with. The midtable teams in the PL are continuing to punch above their weight too.

[ VIDEO: Full PST Extra archive ]

The closeness between the perennial top six is apparent in the early season table too.

Via the PremierLeague.com, there has never been a closer margin between the team in first place and the team in fifth place after nine games of a season. There is just one point separating first-place Man City with fifth-place Tottenham. In fact, Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool all have 20 points and only goal differential separates them. Spurs and Chelsea sit one point behind on 19. Despite some early struggles, Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United only sits six points off top spot.

What this all adds up to is parity. Last season we saw Leicester City come from nowhere to win the league. It was remarkable. Unlike anything we’ve ever seen or are likely to see. However, in the end Claudio Ranieri‘s side won it at a canter as they were 10 points clear.

That happens in most PL campaigns.

In 2013-14 the title race went down to the penultimate weekend of the season where technically three teams could win it: Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea. Apart from that, it’s been pretty much a two-horse race up until the end.

The feeling early on this season is that a multitude of factors are combining which see the top six big boys more evenly matched than ever before.

The stats back it up in terms of the opening quarter of the season. Now let’s see if anybody can make a run and separate themselves from the pack.

Most would bet the team to eventually win it all are Man City as Pep Guardiola‘s methods start to ingrain themselves in City’s players and the potential for another spending spree in January is there. That said, the others can also spend big midseason too and if the margins between them are fine come the midway point, the addition of a few key players could make all the difference.

I’m willing to bet that this will be the most competitive ever season in the history of the PL’s title race. Bring it on.

Premier League Power Rankings: The Reds rise to the top

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The top of the Premier League is as close as it’s ever been with the top five teams separated by just one point.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Chelsea won big in the return of Jose Mourinho to Stamford Bridge, while Tottenham and Arsenal faltered with draws against Bournemouth and Middlesbrough respectively.

[ ARCHIVE: All of PST’s Power Rankings ]

Check out the latest round of power rankings ahead of Matchday 10.

source: 20 (20) Sunderland: The Black Cats have had a historically bad start to the Premier League season with just two points from nine matches. Things do not get easier this weekend as Sunderland faces Arsenal.
Hull City logo 19 (19) Hull City: The Tigers have lost five straight Premier League matches and have allowed five more goals than any other team in the league this season.  
source: 18 (18) Swansea City: Bob Bradley earned his first point as Swansea City manager with a scoreless draw against Watford. However, Swansea has still only won one match this season and are in the relegation zone.
200px-Middlesbrough_crest 17 (17) Middlesbrough: An impressive draw at the Emirates has Middlesbrough just out of the relegation zone on goal difference. A home match against Bournemouth will be another tough test for The Boro. 
source: 16 (14) West HamWest Ham earned its second straight 1-0 win, but needed a Winston Reid goal in stoppage time to sneak past Sunderland.
source: 15 (12) West Bromwich Albion: After falling to Liverpool 2-1 last weekend, the Baggies face another tough test as Manchester City makes a visit to The Hawthrons. West Brom is winless in its last four Premier League matches. 
source: 14 (16) Stoke City: The offense has picked up for the Potters, led by Xherdan Shaqiri‘s brace this past weekend. Another winnable match against Swansea on Monday offers Stoke the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to five matches.
burnley fc crest 13 (15) Burnley: Burnley earned a 2-1 win over Everton thanks to a dramatic 90th-minute winner from Scott Arfield. The Clarets are three points clear of the relegation zone.

12 (9) Crystal Palace: Crystal Palace was clearly the inferior side in the team’s 3-1 defeat at the hands of Leicester City. A match against Liverpool on Saturday will make it difficult for Palace to bounce back.
source: 11 (10) Watford: Watford had the chance to earn three points against Swansea City, but could only come away with a point. The Hornets have another chance at three points this weekend against Hull City. 
source: 10 (13) Leicester City: The Foxes looked impressive in their win against Crystal Palace despite having Jamie Vardy on the bench. Leicester will need to continue their good form to get a result against Tottenham this weekend.

9 (7) Manchester United: Manchester United suffered an embarassing defeat against Chelsea and appear to lack an identity under Jose Mourinho. 
source: 8 (11)
Bournemouth: Bournemouth has eight points from its last four matches, including a 6-1 victory over Hull City and a draw against Tottenham in their last two matches. The Cherries have a chance to continue their good form against Middlesbrough this weekend. 
source: 7 (4) Everton: Everton suffered a damaging defeat to Burnley. Although the Toffees are in sixth place, they are now four points off the pace of the top five.
source: 6 (8) Southampton: Southampton is unbeaten in its last five matches and earned an impressive point against Manchester City at the Etihad last weekend. 
source: 5 (5) Tottenham: Spurs are still the lone unbeaten team in the Premier League, but a draw against Bournemouth is not the type of result Tottenham has become accumosted to under Mauricio Pochettino 
source: 4 (2) Arsenal: The Gunners only earned a point at home against Middlesbrough. However, the team is unbeaten in its last eight.
source: 3 (6) Chelsea: Chelsea looks to have found its form under Antino Conte. The Blues dominated Manchester United and Jose Mourinho in a 4-0 victory. After a winless September, Chelsea have won all three of its Premier League matches in October and are just one point off the top of the table.
Logo_Manchester_City 2 (1) Manchester City: Pep Guardiola has gone six games without a win for the first time in his managerial career. Manchester City could only earn a point at home against Southampton last weekend, but the team is still at the top of Premier League on goal difference.
source: 1 (3) Liverpool: The Reds put on a beatuiful display against West Brom at Anfield last weekend. Liverpool is unbeaten in seven matches and is tied at the top of the table with Manchester City and Arsenal at 20 points.