Mexico survives; tears for Panama; Honduras, Costa Rica and United States get results in regional World Cup qualifying

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For about 10 minutes, the region was absolutely turned on its head, mad as some barnyard critter. Panama’s dreamy visions of a first World Cup berth were alive and kicking thanks to a lead over the United States down in rainy Panama City.

Mexico, so talented, so heavily favored to rule the region as final round qualifying started earlier this year, was on the brink of the unthinkable, missing its first World Cup since 1990 while going down meekly on a rainy night in Costa Rica.

And then it really got weird …

Goals by two U.S. men, Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson, put the heart paddles (Clear!) on Mexico’s World Cup heartbeat. Imagine that … the United States riding heroically to Mexico’s rescue!

All three final matches in CONCACAF final round World Cup qualifying were playing out dramatically at the same time, all with something to say about who did and did not go to Brazil next summer. (How much do simultaneous kickoffs rock!)

Here’s the quick look at how the CONCACAF region finished. More to come at ProSoccerTalk:

United States 3, at Panama 2: The United States finished with a late win, shattering Panamanian hearts as Zusi, scoring in his second consecutive World Cup qualifier, timed his run into the penalty area and clinically headed in Brad Davis’ cross from the left.  Johannsson’s swell strike made the final score 3-2, but it was that tying goal that made the difference.

Panama needed a clear victory in order to take fourth place away from Mexico.

(MORE: How the historically dramatic night unfolded, as told through social media)

at Costa Rica 2, Mexico 1:  The insanity of it! Mexico couldn’t get the job done and needed – check that; “desperately needed” – help from its most bitter rival just to get into a playoff for a spot in Brazil.

It looked like madness at times in San Jose, Costa Rica. Visiting Mexico was desperate for a result. Costa Rica, its place at World Cup 2014 secure, was free to play loose, but driven by the opportunity to potentially bounce the longtime regional bully right out of Brazilian contention.

Bryan Ruiz set the entire region alight with his early goal, as the Fulham man spun inside the Mexican penalty area to set the home crowds on fire in two countries, there and in Panama.

Mexico equalized, but Alvaro Saborio’s uncontested header put the Ticos up in the 64th minute. Rafa Marquez, recalled somewhat inexplicably into the team, was all kinds of lost when he should have been marking Saborio.

The Mexicans threatened here and there but, let’s be honest: El Tri barely deserves to be here. They are lucky to remain alive in this competition, with little heart about it all and even less creativity in its attack.

The home-and-away playoff for a spot in Brazil will be in November.

Honduras 2, at Jamaica 2: Congrats to Los Catrachose, a small country that keeps accomplishing big things in soccer. A draw in Kingston – never mind those nervous moments at the end of this one – puts Honduras into a second consecutive World Cup.

Automatic berths from CONCACAF, therefore, go to:

  • United States
  • Costa Rica
  • Honduras

The region’s fourth-place playoff spot (for a home-and-away series with New Zealand):

  • Mexico

John Cena makes entertaining Premier League predictions

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We do not recommend putting any money on John Cena’s Premier League predictions for this weekend.

The actor and WWE star was the guest picker on the BBC site on Friday, and admitted his soccer knowledge doesn’t extend much further than Cristiano Ronaldo and a tour of Tottenham (he has a fondness for Spurs, it seems).

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

But his actual selections are quite amusing. From picking matches based on species to trying to anger his fiancee’s Arsenal supporting brother, Cena brought the goods.

Our favorites:

Why West Ham will win at Stoke: “Who doesn’t love a good ham? It provides you with nourishment, happiness and a sense of community. It is always served at a big family function gathering. I like West Ham. 0-1.”

Why Southampton will win at Chelsea: “From where I am from, in Massachusetts, Southampton is a pretty cool place, so I am going to have to pick them, only because of how it relates to the States.”

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Southampton

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  • Chelsea leads all-time 41W-28D-28L
  • Saints have points in 3 of 5 at Stamford Bridge
  • Southampton winless in four straight league games

Chelsea returns home following an emphatic away win to meet a Southampton side fresh off embarrassment at home (Watch live Saturday at 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Saints were battered 4-1 at St. Mary’s by former coach Claude Puel, while Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea rebounded from a loss at West Ham by battering Huddersfield Town 4-1 at the John Smith’s Stadium.

Conte was asked to compare Alvaro Morata to club legend Didier Drogba, as the Spanish striker has reportedly been studying footage of the big Ivorian.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

“They are two different players with different characteristics,” he said. “Didier Drogba brought history to this club and he’s a wonderful player, a wonderful striker because he continues to play. He’s a great striker, more powerful than Alvaro but Alvaro, don’t forget, has a lot of space for improvement. He’s strong physically, he’s a technical player and I see a great future for Alvaro.”

Chelsea still won’t have David Luiz available, while Southampton has no new injury concerns despite the recent schedule congestion.

What they’re saying

Antonio Conte on Southampton premonitions“‘My expectation is for us to suffer, I have this sensation, so we must pay great attention. When you play after a bad defeat, especially at home, there is great attention of the coach and the club because they don’t want to continue a bad run. They want to give a good answer against a strong team like Chelsea.”

Saints’ Mauricio Pellegrino on facing Chelsea: “We want to show our best version. Chelsea is a really difficult side but maybe we can find more space.  We have to do a really good game to have a possibility of winning, but hopefully after a difficult moment we can bounce back. In this club, we want to show we are committed to trying to be competitive, our energy and commitment to the club.”

Prediction

Saints are wounded, but Chelsea has the better depth and form. Charlie Austin or Sofiane Boufal may force a goal past Thibaut Courtois, but look for the Blues to pull out a 2-1 win.

FIFA suspends Brazilian soccer president Marco Polo del Nero

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has suspended Brazilian soccer federation president Marco Polo del Nero for 90 days while he is under an ethics investigation.

Del Nero has remained in power in Brazil despite being charged by American authorities with racketeering and money laundering in 2015.

FIFA says Del Nero has been provisionally banned from all soccer activities as formal ethics investigation proceedings are conducted.

Del Nero fled Zurich in May 2015 when FIFA colleagues were arrested, quit the executive committee of soccer’s governing body after missing meetings and was then indicted in the United States in December 2015. He has not been extradited from Brazil to face the charges.

Preview: How can Tottenham stop Man City?

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Can anyone stop Manchester City? Tottenham Hotspur will try this Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) with Mauricio Pochettino‘s men aiming to give the chasing pack some hope that City can be caught.

[ LIVE: Stream Man City v. Spurs

Pep Guardiola‘s men have won 15 consecutive Premier League games to stretch their lead atop the PL to 11 points heading into the busy festive season, but a visit from Spurs represents one of their toughest tests of the season so far.

Spurs currently sit in fourth place in the table but are 18 points behind City.

In team news Man City have no fresh injury concerns as Vincent Kompany could return after missing out at Swansea City in midweek, but John Stones remains out injured.

Tottenham will be missing Victor Wanyama and Toby Alderweireld through injury, while Davinson Sanchez serves the final game of his three-match ban.


What they’re saying

Guardiola on Man City going the entire season unbeaten: “It is not going to happen. We are going to lose games, it belongs to Arsene Wenger. Now what happens is an exception, it’s not normal what we’ve done. We’ll try to maintain it but we are going to lose games. It is important is to play better, that’s important. Records are OK but they stay there and one day they will be broken. We focus on the pitch and try to be better, make chances, concede few. I’m happy with the way we play – although I feel we can do much, much better.”

Pochettino on Man City’s incredible run: “They [Manchester City] are showing that they are not only the best in England but in Europe too with the Champions League. They are playing so well and deserve all the praise. It will be so tough. I think Manchester City deserve all the credit with what they are doing.”

Prediction

Spurs will prove a tough test for a rampant Man City squad and I expect Dele Alli and Harry Kane to cause plenty of problems for a threadbare City defense. 2-2.