How Poland could derail England’s World Cup dream

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On Tuesday at Wembley, the Polish national team have nothing to play for against England.

But after being eliminated from World Cup qualification following their 1-0 defeat to Ukraine on Friday, the Poles are now hell-bent on one thing: denying England qualification. Anxiety levels in the home of soccer are reaching fever pitch.

Over 18,000 Polish fans are expected to cheer on their team amongst Wembley’s 90,000, heaping more pressure on Poland to put in a performance that could scupper England’s chances of making Brazil 2014.

England know a win will seal automatic qualification, but if Poland snatch a draw or even defeat the hosts, then the Three Lions must go through the dreaded play-off round en route to next summer’s World Cup. That’s assuming Ukraine beat minnows San Marino in their final group game… which they will, by five or six. See the Group H table below for all the details.

(MORE: England’s attack delights, as Roy Hodgson ditches defensive approach)

As for Poland, their players know they must still deliver on the pitch on Tuesday, even though they can’t deliver a World Cup appearance.

“There are sure to be many Polish fans there. We want to thank them with a good game and the right result,” Polish captain Jakub Blaszczykowski said. “It doesn’t matter that we only have honour to play for. Matches at Wembley are always very important to us.”

So, let’s break down exactly how Poland can spoil the party at Wembley, as Roy Hodgson looks to lead England to their fifth-straight World Cup.

PLAYERS PRIDE

We’ve already heard from captain Blaszczykowski about how Poland intend to go out in style instead of a whimper, and plenty of others have echoed that view. His Borussia Dortmund teammate Robert Lewandowski has also stated that “we want to at least allow our supporters a little fun.” And whether they admit it or not, ruining England’s chances of reaching the big dance would be a huge feather in the cap of every Polish player. To go to Wembley and grab a point or all three would be a huge moment in the nations history. I remember going to the old Wembley back in ’99 and seeing a Paul Scholes hat trick (his final goal came courtesy of a disguised punch that looked like a header) that still upsets some Polish fans, they’d love to get some revenge.

HUGE SUPPORT

And there will certainly be plenty of fans to see that take place, if it does. As aforementioned, more than 18,000 Polish fans are expected to cram into Wembley to see their heroes. Those players could give them serious bragging rights in England for some time to come. Ever since Poland was accepted into the EU in 2004, millions of Poles have flooded into England as the Eastern European nation now has significant communities set up in every major town and city. The Polish players know that, and with a huge section of fans cheering them on inside Wembley, England are worried about the X-factor of having a crowd the size of Sporting Park cheering on the visitors.

HISTORIC RIVALS

The truth is England and Poland have been here many times before. The climax of World Cup qualifying with the fate of one of the nations still up in the air, a battle between these two often springs up a dramatic finale as to who will make the dance. Since 1966, England have faced Poland nine times at home, winning seven and drawing two and more often than not it seems as though these two soccer mad nations are drawn together in qualifying for major tournaments. All-time, the nations have met 18 times, with England winning 10, drawing seven and losing just once in Chorzitw back in 1973. That ominous record will hang heavy over the head of Poland’s players, who want to deliver one last hurrah for their passionate fans. Can they upset England and deny the Three Lions a spot in the World Cup?

WORLD CUP QUALIFYING – GROUP H (UEFA)

Played Won Points GD
England 9 5 19 +25
Ukraine 9 5 18 +16
Montenegro 9 4 15 +4
Poland 9 3 13 +8
Moldova 9 2 8 -8
San Marino 9 0 0 -45

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

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The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

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

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia