Egypt faces biggest challenge of World Cup qualification yet in Ghana

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Fate threw one final piece of adversity at Egypt and head coach Bob Bradley during the draw for the African World Cup qualification playoffs when it matched the Pharaohs against Ghana. Bradley’s bogey team from his time as the United States coach stands in his way once again, at the end of a qualification campaign fraught with stumbling blocks.

From revolutions to riots to massacres, Egypt’s road to the 2014 FIFA World Cup has been probably the most difficult in the world. If Bradley can carry his team that one final step, his status as national hero would climb again, nearly to the point of erecting another pyramid in his honor.

“In Egypt, everyone speaks about their World Cup dream, regardless of their political background,” Bradley said in a press conference on Thursday (via KingFut). “Qualification could indicate that the country is moving forward.”

The Pharaohs’ perfect record in the final round of qualification will be severely tested in the first leg in Kumasi, Ghana, on Tuesday (noon ET, beIN Sport). In 18 matches between the countries, Ghana has won eight, while the teams have drawn five times. The most recent matchup was a 3-0 friendly win for the Black Stars on Jan. 10.

However, the record in competitive fixtures has been much closer, with each team taking a win and drawing once in three Africa Cup of Nations games spanning from 1970 to 2010. In the 2010 final, Egypt took the trophy after a narrow 1-0 win, delivered in the 85th minute on Gedo’s boot.

“We studied Ghana well,” Bradley said. “We respect them, but not too much. We are a good team. … We must be smart in Kumasi. We need to play with the right mentality — intellectually, but with confidence.”

Logically, confidence should be in short supply, with Egypt having failed to qualify for a World Cup since 1990, while Ghana has been to the last two, reaching the quarterfinals in 2010. However, Egypt doesn’t seem to care much for the odds this World Cup cycle, running the table in six matches against Guinea, Mozambique and Zimbabwe before meeting Ghana.

The Black Stars will be without star midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng for at least the first leg, as he suffered a knee injury in club duty for Schalke. Meanwhile, CAF qualification leading scorers Mohamed Salah and Mohamed Aboutrika are set to start for Egypt.

Leading scorer Asamoah Gyan should also get the nod for Ghana. American fans will remember him as the player who knocked the U.S. out of the 2010 World Cup with an extra-time volley in the Round of 16.

While Ghana’s attack is what Bradley will remember, the other end of the field has been the Black Stars’ best asset in qualification, conceding just three goals in six group games. However, Jonathan Mensah and John Boye are both injured after starting the last four games together in defense. Boye started all six group games for Ghana.

After everything Egypt has overcome so far, the final hurdle should provide the most difficult on-field test in reaching Brazil. Considering the context, it seems the stars have aligned for a last piece of odds-defying Pharaoh magic that could unite the country in some of its most difficult days.

MLS Cup Playoffs: LA Galaxy 3-1 Real Salt Lake (video)

Los Angeles Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme (37) congratulates forward Alan Gordon (9) for scoring against the Real Salt Lake during the first half of a knockout round MLS playoff soccer match in Carson, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy are through to the conference semifinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs, where they’ll take on the Colorado Rapids beginning Sunday, for the seventh time in eight years with a 3-1 knockout-round triumph over Real Salt Lake at the StubHub Center on Wednesday. Alan Gordon put the home side ahead inside the first quarter-hour before RSL drew level seven minutes later, but Emmanuel Boateng bagged a quickfire brace to complete a pair of brilliant individual exhibitions of dribbling inside the penalty area. With Steven Gerrard unavailable and Robbie Keane only fit to feature off the bench, Bruce Arena turned to Gordon, who gave way to Keane early in the second half after picking up an injury of his own, to play the fulcrum of the Galaxy attack, and it worked to near-perfection during the opening half-hour. Landon Donovan started the game and played 87 minutes, providing the kind of defensive work rate that’s been missing up and down the flanks of LA all season. Sebastian Lletget put in a near-flawless passing performance while playing deep in midfield. Don’t look now, but those are the Galaxy’s biggest question of 2016, all just about answered as the playoffs begin. I won’t say, “I told you so” if/when they win MLS Cup 2016, but…

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

14′ — Gordon finishes from close range for 1-0 — Landon Donovan -> Giovani dos Santos -> Alan Gordon. Just like Bruce Arena drew it up in preseason midseason last month this week this morning.

21′ — Plata converts from the spot after Morales’ dive — Javier Morales was angling for a penalty from the moment he entered the penalty area. All Emmanuel Boateng had to do was look at him, and Morales was going down.

26′ — Boateng weaves through to make it 2-1 — Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Boateng took advantage of some poor defending, and the Galaxy were back in the lead.

34′ — Boateng cuts inside, blows past his man, makes it 3-1 — There’s playing in top gear, and there’s having an extra gear that you rarely have to use because no one else on the field has it. Boateng falls into the latter category.

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Men of the match: Emmanuel Boateng

Goalscorers: Gordon (14′), Plata (21′), Boateng (26′, 34′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: Toronto FC 3-1 Philadelphia Union (video)

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): 10 years later, Toronto FC are MLS Cup Playoffs victors. For eight seasons, the playoffs eluded them altogether. Last year, they were one-and-done in embarrassing fashion at the hands of their local rivals. In 2016, it was  their year — a proclamation we’d heard plenty times before — and so far, they’ve lived up to the hype. Wednesday’s 3-1 home victory over the Philadelphia Union in the knockout round gets the monkey off the Reds’ back, but more importantly, afforded Sebastian Giovinco, who bagged a goal and an assist on the night (his second straight game with such a line), 90 more minutes of game time after missing more than a month through injuries as the regular season wound down. After 270 minutes of action, the Atomic Ant looks sharp as ever, and destined to terrorize New York City FC, whom TFC will face in the conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

15′ — Atlidore feeds Giovinco for 1-0 — The first playoff goal in TFC’s 10-year history. Poor goalkeeping, ball-watching defending, terrible touches, an overhead cross, and a strike off the crossbar. There’s a lot going on here. Watch it all right here.

49′ — Osorio slams home from the corner for 2-0 — The Union have been bad at defending set pieces all season, so is it at all surprising a set-piece gaffe effectively ended their season? No, it’s not.

73′ — Bedoya puts the loose ball home for 2-1 — Speaking of failing to effectively clear a corner kick, the Union were gifted a lifeline 15 minutes before full-time.

85′ — Altidore puts it out of reach, seals it for TFC — Ken Tribbet did not have the best night a center back has ever seen. His final blunder resulted in Jozy Altidore reclaiming TFC’s two-goal lead, and ending the Union’s 2016 season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Giovinco (15′), Osorio (49′), Bedoya (73′), Altidore (85′)

Men In Blazers podcast: Mourinho’s Chelsea return; Bradley’s 1st point

Men In Blazers
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Rog and Davo break down Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea with Manchester United, another stumble for Manchester City and Bob Bradley’s first Premier League point.

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VIDEO: Altidore, Giovinco combine for TFC’s first-ever playoff goal

Sebastian Giovinco
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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It’s been 10 years in the making, and Toronto FC finally have their first-ever goal in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

After failing to qualify for the playoffs in each of their first eight seasons, 2015 saw the Reds venture into the postseason for the first time ever, only to be thumped in the knockout round, 3-0, by their 401 derby rival Montreal Impact, of all sides.

This is the year, though, or so we’ve said and been told all season long. While it remains to be seen how deep of a run TFC can muster in 2016, they’ll always have the Jozy Altidore‘s terrible first touch; Altidore’s wayward second and third touches; Altidore’s overhead cross; and Sebastian Giovinco’s strike, all of which you can watch in all its hilarity glory below.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Playoffs edition | MLS Cup predictions ]