One job’s enough: Fatih Terim one upset away from putting Turkey in UEFA’s playoffs

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Fatih Terim’s become Turkish legend, which made his Sept. 24 dismissal so curious. Coming off back-to-back Super Lïg titles, the six-time league champion and winner of the 1999-2000 UEFA Cup was fired five matches into the new season. Though Gala had suffered an embarrassing 6-0 home loss to Real Madrid in Champions League, they were still undefeated (if only 2-0-3) in league. Something beyond the field must have forced him out.

In the days that followed, the story came out. The club acknowledged Terim hadn’t signed an offered contract extension. There were also reports he neglected to return communication from the club president, both of which fueled concern Terim was no longer focused on Galatasaray. The icon had, after all, agreed to take over the Turkish national team in August.

Though his dual role lasted just over a month, Terim’s unlikely to be dwelling on Galatasaray right now. That’s because, after Friday’s 2-0 win over Estonia, Turkey’s on the verge of an unlikely place in UEFA’s World Cup Qualifying playoffs. Taking their third win in as many games, Turkey’s vaulted into second in Group D, ahead of Romania on goal difference.

It’s a position that was unthinkable two months ago, with Terim’s appointment thought by many to be a mere attempt to salvage pride from this qualifying cycle. The team was 2-3-1 through sixth rounds and sat fourth in a group despite expectations they’d take the playoff spot. Instead both Romania and Hungary sat between the Turks and a playoff spot, leading to the dismissal of Abdullah Avcı. Terim was convinced to return for a third stint with the national team.

The appointment paid immediate dividends. Turkey routed Andorra at home (5-0) before pulling off a 2-0 upset of Romania in Bucharest on Sept. 10. Now Friday’s win, combined with Hungary’s 8-1 loss in Amsterdam, put Turkey (perhaps remarkably) back where they should have been all along: Second place. Win their final qualifier on Tuesday, and Turkey’s into the UEFA playoffs.

There is one small problem in Terim’s fairy tale. Those same Dutch that won by seven goals on Friday? They’ll be in Istanbul on Tuesday. If Terim can’t find a what to hand the Oranje their first loss of World Cup Qualifying, the Turks could be passed by Romania (hosting Estonia) or Hungary (hosting Andorra).

From a distance, those seems like long odds, but Turkey’s a better bet than the teams’ reputations would suggest. Under Avcı last September in Amsterdam, a Robin van Persie goal was all that separated the sides for 92 minutes. Luciano Narsingh’s late insurance spoiled Turkey’s chance to take an unlikely point, giving the Dutch a 2-0 win.

Though it was one of the Netherlands’ least-convincing performances of qualifying, it still showed the gap between the teams is smaller than most would think. Swap Amsterdam for Istanbul and Avcı for Terim, and is there a formula for Turkish success?

If so, Terim would move a step closer to another remarkable accomplishment – one more feat on an already loaded résumé. Nobody thought the Turks good enough to take full points from their last four qualifiers, yet here we are – Turkey on the verge of keeping their World Cup hopes alive into November.

Unfortunately, if the Dutch go get a result in Istanbul, the story becomes that of an icon who lost his club job but failed to make the World Cup.

Former Spurs midfielder Paulinho scores thunderbolt for Brazil

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Brazil topped Uruguay 4-1 to move on the verge of World Cup qualification, but there was much more to the first half of this match than meets the eye.

Uruguay went ahead 1-0 on a 9th-minute penalty won and scored by Edinson Cavani, and for a moment it seemed like the home side might find its way to pull within a point of Brazil at the top of the CONMEBOL standings. That would not last very long.

[ MORE: Full roundup of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying action ]

Just 10 minutes later, a bad giveaway near the midfield stripe saw Neymar casually feed Paulinho a good 50 yards from goal. The former Spurs man took matters into his own hands, charging forward and unleashing a vicious strike that continued to rise until it ripped the chords in the top-right corner.

 

Not only was the goal a sight to behold, it was an important moment in the match. Brazil was back level at 1-1, and Paulinho would be on his way to an eventual hat-trick with a pair in the second half. Neymar scored once as well to complete the 4-1 final scoreline, and the three points for Brazil saw them remain perfect in the World Cup qualifying round as they march seven clear of Uruguay at the top of the standings.

For Paulinho, the hat-trick brings him to four goals in the World Cup qualifying round, adding to his score in the 3-0 win over Argentina. They also mark an important moment for the Chinese Super League, where Paulinho now plays, having moved from Spurs in July of 2015. Some national team coaches have left players on the outside of the squad for moving to leagues such as the Chinese League or Major League Soccer, but Paulinho has clearly been an asset to Brazil despite his club situation. In fact, in China, Paulinho has scored four goals in his four league matches for Guangzhou Evergrande this season plus another in the Asian Champions League, leaving him in top goalscoring form coming into this international break, something which has clearly translated directly to international play.

The 28-year-old had lost his place in the national team squad in 2014, going over two years without a single international appearance, but has been a mainstay in the Brazilian side during this World Cup qualification cycle.

Dele Alli banned three European games for straight red card

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Spurs may be out of the Europa League this season, but should they end up qualifying for the Champions League next season, they will start the campaign short-handed.

Tottenham will be without midfielder Dele Alli for the first half of the group stage after his horrifying tackle on Brecht Dejaegere of KAA Gent in their 2-2 draw which saw Spurs out of the competition on aggregate in the Round of 32.

Alli went to ground on the 39th-minute challenge, and made contact on high up on Dejaegere’s leg with both his studs, finishing with a scissior-whip motion. It was a blatant red card, and now UEFA’s disciplinary committee has handed down the three-match ban. Straight-red cards for violent conduct only carry a minimum penalty of one match in UEFA tournament play, but the disciplinary committee clearly thought a longer punishment was necessary, with the ability to sentence anyone up to five matches.

The straight red was the first of Alli’s professional career. Alli apologized to Dejaejere after the match, according to the Gent midfielder. He’s since scored in four straight matches, and when asked on Sunday if that moment was still in his mind, he said, “I’m never going to say sorry for wanting to win or trying as hard as I can but things happen and you have to learn from them.”

Spurs currently sit in second place in the Premier League table with 59 points and look to be in a strong position for Champions League qualification, with a seven-point cushion on fifth-placed Manchester United.

Lippi leads China over SKorea 1-0 in World Cup qualifier

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) Marcello Lippi earned his biggest victory since taking over as coach of China’s national soccer team, leading his squad to a 1-0 victory over South Korea on Thursday in a World Cup qualifier.

[ MORE: Shorthanded USMNT hosts Honduras as WCQ resumes ]

The coach, who led his native Italy to the World Cup title in 2006, was hired by China in October.

Yu Dabao scored the lone goal at Helong Stadium in Changsha with a header in the 34th minute, giving China only its second victory over South Korea in 32 matches.

China spent much of the second half defending with the visitors piling on the pressure. Ki Seung-yeung and Ji Dong-won both went close for South Korea but could not find a way past China goalkeeper Zeng Cheng.

South Korea has 10 points from six matches in Group A and is still on course to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. China, which last qualified for the World Cup in 2002, has five points.

Only the top two teams from the six-nation group qualify automatically. The third-place team will head to the playoffs.

CONMEBOL wrap: Brazil routs Uruguay, Messi guides Argentina past Chile

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A roundup of Thursday’s action from around CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying…

[ MORE: USMNT looks to build momentum against Honduras in WCQ ]

Paulinho‘s hat-trick helped bring Brazil back from an early deficit as the Selecao topped Uruguay, 4-1. Edinson Cavani put the hosts ahead after nine minutes from the penalty spot, but it was Paulinho that answered 10 minutes later for his first of the night. Neymar also tallied for the Brazilians, who continue to lead CONMEBOL qualifying with 30 points.

Lionel Messi scored in the first half to help lift Argentina over Chile, 1-0. The Barcelona attacker scored after 16 minutes when Angel di Maria was taken down inside the Chilean area by José Fuenzalida. Chile was held to just one shot on target throughout, and the loss leaves the reigning Copa America winners on the outside looking in at the top five.

James Rodriguez rescued Colombia on Thursday as the Real Madrid winger capitalized off of his penalty-kick rebound to give Los Cafeteros a 1-0 win over Bolivia. Goalkeeper Carlos Lampe did his best to preserve a draw for the visitors, recording six saves on the afternoon, however, it wasn’t enough to tame Colombia.

Meanwhile, Paraguay knocked off Ecuador, 2-1, behind goals from Bruno Valdez and Junior Alonso. The visitors pulled a goal back in the 70th minute when Felipe Caicedo converted from the penalty spot, but it wasn’t enough for Ecuador.

Peru battled back with two second-half goals to preserve a 2-2 draw against Venezuela on the road. The hosts got out to a 2-0 advantage before halftime when Mikel Villanueva and Romulu Otero scored for Venezuela, however, the Peruvians struck back in the second stanza to knick a point. Andre Carrillo and Paolo Guerrero scored in the 46th and 64th minutes, respectively, for Peru.


Thursday’s results

Colombia 1-0 Bolivia
Paraguay 2-1 Ecuador
Uruguay 1-4 Brazil
Argentina 1-0 Chile
Venezuela 2-2 Peru


Updated CONMEBOL table

  1. Brazil — 9-3-1 — 30 pts.
  2. Uruguay — 7-2-4 — 23 pts.
  3. Argentina — 6-4-3 — 22 pts.
  4. Colombia — 6-3-4 — 21 pts.
  5. Ecuador — 6-2-4 — 20 pts.
  6. Chile — 6-2-5 — 20 pts.
  7. Paraguay — 5-3-5 — 18 pts.
  8. Peru — 4-3-6 — 15 pts.
  9. Bolivia — 2-1-9 — 7 pts.
  10. Venezuela — 1-3-9 — 6 pts.