Bolanos of Costa Rica fights for the ball with Layun of Mexico during their 2014 World Cup qualifying match in San Jose

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


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

Introducing Zabivaka, Russia’s 2018 World Cup mascot

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 21: Official Mascot Wolf was chosen as Official Mascot of FIFA 2018 World Cup Russia and Nazario Ronaldo during 'Vecherniy Urgant' (Evening Urgant) TV show on Channel 1 at Ostankino on October 21, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MOSCOW (AP) Russia has chosen a cocky wolf wearing sporty goggles as the mascot for the 2018 football World Cup.

The wolf was chosen in online voting over two other mascot candidates — a cat and a tiger wearing a space suit.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup: Liverpool, Arsenal go joint-top ]

The announcement was made early Saturday at the end of an hour-long broadcast on state Channel One television. More than 1 million Russians voted in the contest, according to the broadcast.

World Cup matches are to take place in 11 cities in June and July 2018. The venues are in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Kazan, Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Saransk, Volgograd, Nizhny Novgorod and Yekaterinburg.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 21: (L-R) Wolf, the winer of FIFA 2018 World Cup Russia Official Mascot, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Vitaly Mutko, TV host Ivan Urgant and Nazario Ronaldo attend at 'Vecherniy (Evening) Urgant' TV show on Channel 1 during at Ostankino on October 21, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
(Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)

Aguero looking vulnerable as Man City evolves under Guardiola

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 15:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City shows dejection after the final whistle during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Everton at Etihad Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MANCHESTER, England (AP) Manchester City’s spine of goalkeeper Joe Hart, center back Vincent Kompany, midfielder Yaya Toure and striker Sergio Aguero has anchored the team since 2011 in the most decorated period in its history.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

One by one, it is being dismantled by Pep Guardiola.

Hart has been sent out on loan to Italy.

The injury-hampered Kompany no longer appears first choice.

Toure has been ostracized.

And the seemingly unthinkable is happening: Aguero is coming under pressure for his place.

Aguero started on the bench for the English Premier League game against Everton on Saturday after playing two matches for Argentina during the international break. More surprisingly, he stayed among the substitutes for the Champions League match at Barcelona on Wednesday, when Guardiola preferred to play midfielder Kevin De Bruyne up front.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup: Liverpool, Arsenal go joint-top ]

Aguero has been untouchable, a guaranteed starter since joining from Atletico Madrid in July 2011. Suddenly, possibly the most popular player among City fans – and a scorer of 102 league goals in his first five seasons at the club – is vulnerable and seemingly dispensable, even if he is likely to regain his place for the Premier League match against Southampton on Sunday.

When asked if Aguero was being phased out, Guardiola said on Friday the player’s future was at City.

“When Sergio decides to leave Manchester City, it will be his decision,” Guardiola said. Then, echoing comments he made about Hart in August before allowing him to leave, Guardiola added: “I appreciate him (as) a football player. I appreciate (as) a man what he did here.”

It’s not just the recent selection decisions that hint at a sense of unease between Guardiola and Aguero.

Guardiola has said publicly on at least two occasions this season that he wants more from Aguero than just goals, just like he wanted more from Hart than simply making saves. After Aguero’s hat trick in the Champions League win over Borussia Moenchengladbach, Guardiola said: “I cannot teach him (about his talent in the penalty box) but he has to know that behind, the rest of the team wants to help him and that is what I want to convince him.”

While on international duty with Argentina this month, Aguero was quoted as telling Argentine media that Guardiola “is very picky about everything, (and) it’s good.

“The good thing is that I’m getting used to him and automatically going straight into pressing the centre backs.”

[ MORE: Sunday’s PL preview — Mourinho back at the Bridge; City-Saints ]

Aguero, who is contracted to City until 2020, has 11 goals in 10 appearances this season, and 19 in his last 20 dating to last season. There are few better, attainable strikers around and it will be intriguing to see how the situation pans out, especially with Brazil forward Gabriel Jesus due to arrive in December to provide competition up front.

Guardiola said on Friday he had no regrets about his decision to drop Aguero for the Barcelona game, which City lost 4-0 after having goalkeeper Claudio Bravo red-carded. That made it four games without a win for Guardiola, and a failure to beat Southampton would equal the longest streak without a victory in his coaching career.

In an answer that lasted more than 6 1/2 minutes on Friday, he defended his tactics at Camp Nou and praised the personality of his young players like John Stones and De Bruyne.

Guardiola repeated he will not change his style.

“I think about that, yes,” he said. “But after that, the solution is not better than what I believe. So I cannot. Do you know why as well? Because in seven years (at Barcelona and Bayern Munich), I won 21 titles. … So it’s three titles per year playing in that way.

“No, no, I’m not going to change. First, it’s going to happen that (if) it’s not going well in the future, next season isn’t going well in that way, I will go home.”

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Messi wins it late for Barca; AC Milan shock Juve

VALENCIA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 22:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates with his team mates as Neymar Jr. and Luis Suarez reacts on the pitch after being hit by objects thrown from the seats after scoring his team's third from the penalty spot during the La Liga match between Valencia CF and FC Barcelona at Mestalla stadium on October 22, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup: Liverpool, Arsenal go joint-top ]

Valencia 2-3 Barcelona

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez led Barcelona back from 2-1 down to take all three points at the Mestalla Stadium and reclaim the top spot in La Liga. There’s lots to unpack here, beginning with the nasty tackle that’ll keep Andres Iniesta (knee ligament damage) out of action for up to two months. Then there was the controversial fashion in which Messi gave Barca an early lead.

Valencia hit back twice before Suarez drew the visitors level again, and Messi converted from the penalty spot in the 93rd minute to seal the victory, at which point Neymar was hit by a bottle thrown onto the field by someone in the stands. In the end, Barca are back on top, until Real Madrid are allowed to have their say on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Espanyol 3-3 Eibar
Real Sociedad 3-0 Alaves
Granada 0-0 Sporting Gijon

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Celta Vigo vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Sevilla vs. Atletico Madrid — 10:15 a.m. ET
Malaga vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Villarreal vs. Las Palmas — 12:30 p.m. ET
Real Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET

AC Milan 1-0 Juventus

The kids are (a whole lot more than) alright at AC Milan. 18-year-old midfielder Manuel Locatelli unleashed a stunning strike in the 65th minute, as Milan shocked the world by upsetting the five-time (and six-time, presumably) defending champions, Juventus, at the San Siro. Then it was 17-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma’s turn to play his part, in the form of a stunning save to deny Sami Khedira an equalizer with the last kick of the game.

Juve remain top of the Serie A table, but it’s Milan who now sit second, just two points behind them.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Sampdoria 2-1 Genoa

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Udinese vs. Pescara — 6:30 a.m. ET
Torino vs. Lazio — 9 a.m. ET
Atalanta vs. Inter Milan — 9 a.m. ET
Cagliari vs. Fiorentina — 9 a.m. ET
Crotone vs. Napoli — 9 a.m. ET
Empoli vs. Chievo — 9 a.m. ET
Bologna vs. Sassuoo — 12 p.m. ET
Roma vs. Palermo — 2:45 p.m. ET

PL Sunday preview: Mourinho back at the Bridge

FILE PHOTO - (EDITORS NOTE: COMPOSITE OF TWO IMAGES - Image numbers (L) 589474814 and 602356360) In this composite image a comparision has been made between Manager of Manchester United and ex-Chelsea manager, , Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte manager of Chelsea.   Chelsea and Manchester United meet in the Premier League on October 23, 2016 at Stamford Bridge,London.     ***LEFT IMAGE*** BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - AUGUST 14: Manager of Manchester United Jose Mourinho looks on during the Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Manchester United at Vitality Stadium on August 14, 2016 in Bournemouth, England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images) ***RIGHT IMAGE*** SWANSEA, WALES - SEPTEMBER 11: Antonio Conte manager of Chelsea looks on prior to the Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at Liberty Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images | Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Perhaps nothing can seize control of the overall narrative quite like Jose Mourinho returns to face [insert former club here], so it’s fitting that Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures caps off the weekend with the Special One returning to Stamford Bridge 10 short months after being fired.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Manchester City vs. Southampton — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and

Of course, we have to talk about Man City versus Southampton first, because as consuming as the Mourinho narrative is, it’s the blue side of Manchester that will go top of the PL with a win on Sunday. A point is all City need to leapfrog Arsenal and Liverpool and reclaim the top spot, but Pep Guardiola will be aiming for something greater than a draw — to end the Citizens’ four-game winless skid across all competitions. Since drawing with Celtic in the UEFA Champions League on Sept. 28, Guardiola’s side has picked up just a single point from two games in the PL — last week’s come-from-behind draw with Everton. A win would push Saints as high as sixth in the league table at the end of matchday 9.

Capped off by Wednesday’s thrashing at the hands of Barcelona, that’s nearly a month without a win. Opposite themselves on Sunday, City will find a Saints side riding a four-game unbeaten run (three wins), having conceded just one goal in their last 360 minutes of PL action. Charlie Austin is the in-form goalscorer of the month, averaging a goal every 62.9 minutes (7 goals in his last 7 appearances). Saints’ last trip to the Etihad Stadium, last November, resulted in a 3-1 defeat, undone by goals from Kevin De Bruyne, Fabian Delph and Aleksandar Kolarov.

INJURIES: Man City OUT: Bacary Sagna (hamstring) | Southampton OUT: Ryan Bertrand (hamstring), Cedric (foot); QUESTIONABLE: Sofiane Boufal (fitness), Matthew Targett (hamstring)

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup: Liverpool, Arsenal go joint-top ]

Chelsea vs. Manchester United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and

Dec. 17, 2015 — Jose Mourinho fired by Chelsea; Dec. 18, 2015 — Jose Mourinho begins plotting his next move, a PL job, to exact his revenge on anyone and everyone who played a part in his downfall.

Finally, 311 days later, the time has come. Mourinho’s Man United away to Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea, with the Red Devils and Blues separated by a measly two points and two places in the league table. If Monday’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool taught us anything about the way Mourinho (still) approaches big games, we can expect a United side that’s deployed in a manner that’s difficult to break down, difficult to beat, and in all honesty, difficult to watch. What’s worse for United: that Wayne Rooney can’t get near the starting lineup for PL games, or that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has just one goal in his last seven games played (all competitions) and has been so uninvolved that it’s easy to forget he’s on the field? I’d probably play Marouane Fellaini as the most-advanced midfielder if I were in a predicament similar to that.

As for Chelsea, the goals are flowing in games involving the Blues — for both sides, which has been something of a problem in the early days of Conte’s reign, and could be a major problem on Sunday. For starters, Chelsea have kept just three clean sheets on the season (in 10 games – all competitions), though two of the three were achieved in their last two games. Furthermore, just one game involving Chelsea this season has seen the two sides combine to score fewer than three goals (a 2-0 win over Hull City three weeks ago). Sunday seems a surefire lock to be the tightest contest of Chelsea’s still-young season, and while they’ve little to no experience in grind-it-out games thus far, that just so happens to be the specialty of Sunday’s revenge-obsessed foe.

INJURIES: Chelsea OUT: Kurt Zouma (knee surgery) | Man United  QUESTIONABLE: Henrikh Mkhitaryan (fitness), Phil Jones (knee)