Field set for UEFA’s eight-team playoff; Denmark the odd-nation out

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Between today’s earlier posts and previous rounds’ results, you could piece together most of the picture for UEFA’s World Cup playoffs – that eight-team, four-match tournament that will decide Europe’s final World Cup qualifiers next month. Croatia, Portugal, and Sweden came into the day knowing they were in, making today’s results (loss at Scotland, win vs. Luxembourg, loss vs. Germany) irrelevant. And with England’s clincher, Spain’s walk, Bosnia’s new history and Turkey’s loss, four other teams went into the pile:

  • Ukraine (7-0 winners at San Marino) stayed second in England’s group (H);
  • France (3-0 vs. Finland) secured their spot behind Spain (Group I);
  • Greece (2-0 cruise past Liechtenstein) finished behind Bosnia and Herzegovina on goal difference (Group G);
  • and Romania (2-0 over Estonia) were the beneficiaries of Turkey’s loss in Holland’s group (D).

The one remaining spot will go to Iceland, whose 1-1 draw at Norway proved enough to snag second place in Group E.  The nation has never qualified for a World Cup or European Championship, and if it weren’t for Switzerland’s 1-0 win over Slovenia, they wouldn’t have taken the next step toward Brazil 2014. But with Granit Xhaka’s goal in Bern (securing a Swiss win) and Kolbeinn Sigþórsson’s opener in Oslo, the country of around 320,000 people is within two games of becoming the smallest nation ever to compete at a World Cup.

But with UEFA breaking qualifying into eight groups, one team was left outside-looking-in on the playoff pileup. Denmark, who finished second in Italy’s group, saw their hope of returning to a World Cup come to an end, their record against the top five teams in their group the worst among the confederation’s second place finishers.

Go-go Wiki screenshot:


With the playoffs set, that FIFA Ranking (in parenthesis in the table, above) is what matters. The top four teams per that ranking will be drawn against the bottom four. That means Croatia, Portugal, Greece and Sweden will be “seeded” (as the rankings stand now); France, Ukraine, Romania and Iceland will not. Ukraine and Swededn could yet swap spots, when new rankings come out.

Though the other teams have their virtues, France is clearly the team to avoid from the unseeded lot, though their status in the second pool isn’t without some controversy. Yesterday, the French Football Federation said they hoped to appeal to FIFA regarding their ranking. Their case: Because they were in UEFA’s only five-team qualifying group, they had two less qualifiers through which they could improve their ranking.

Why Sweden (or Ukraine) should have to pay for that is unclear. Regardless, expect France, for the second cycle in a  row, to be involved in a much-publicized World Cup playoff:


Mexico has to solve 2 major questions before the World Cup

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Eighty-seven days before taking on Germany in its first match of Russia 2018, Mexico appears to have only two major lingering questions for the final 23-man roster that will try to reach the quarterfinals for the first time in a tournament away from home. Is veteran defender Rafael Marquez going to be called? And if Giovani Dos Santos’ lackluster performances put his spot in jeopardy?

Manager Juan Carlos Osorio said recently that he already knows who are going to join him in the quest to play in the fifth game of a World Cup, something that Mexicans achieved only as hosts in Mexico 1970 and in 1986.

Currently, 20 of the 28 players that were called to play friendly matches against Iceland and Croatia appear to have their ticket booked for Russia, leaving a handful of players fighting for three roster spots.


With over two decades playing for the national team, Marquez might not play in a fifth World Cup for two reasons, the major one off the field.

Each week, the 39-year old Marquez shows signs of his demise. His team Atlas is the worst in the league and has a defense that has allowed 22 goals in 12 matches.

In Mexico there’s a big debate on whether it’s worth calling a player whose best moments are behind him.

Marquez is worshipped in the locker room because most of his teammates grew up watching him when he won the Champions League playing for Barcelona (2005-06 and 2008-09).

Besides that, Osorio has to weigh in that Marquez was sanctioned last August by the U.S. Treasury for allegedly acting as a front person for a Mexican drug lord.

Marquez stopped playing for three months to take care of the issue and returned to action in Mexico but the Treasury has not lifted the sanctions yet and Marquez is unable to play in the United States and that’s why he was not called for the friendly matches.


A 28 year-old player as talented as Giovani Dos Santos should be a lock to be on the final roster for Mexico but that’s not the case. Dos Santos, who played in South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014, has not performed well for Mexico under Osorio, who loved the player and has given him opportunities to return to form, but that has not happen.

A recent injury left Dos Santos out of the squad that will play against Iceland and Croatia and that opened the doors for Rodolfo Pizarro, who has been playing great for Chivas and has a good chance of taking the spot if the L.A. Galaxy striker continues with his lackluster performance.


Taking the qualifiers and the Confederations Cup as a reference, Osorio pretty much has his roster set for the World Cup. Guillermo Ochoa and Jesus Corona will be two of the goalkeepers and Alfredo Talavera is probably the third. The defenders Nestor Araujo, Jesus Gallardo, Miguel Layun, Hector Moreno, Diego Reyes and Carlos Salcedo are also favorites of the Colombian manager, as well as the midfielders Jonathan Dos Santos, Marco Fabian, Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera and Javier Aquino. On the attack, Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, Javier Hernandez, Raul Jim�nez, Hirving Lozano, Oribe Peralta and Carlos Vela appear to have their spots secured leaving only three spaces.

Fighting for that chance are: Hugo Ayala, who’s been stellar for a Tigres team that has won two of the last three titles in Mexico; Oswaldo Alanis (Chivas), who played in last year’s Confederations Cup and Edson Alvarez (America), who’s not playing much for his club but Osorio loves his style of play and the fact that he can also play as a midfielder.

Midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez is also on the mix after declining to play for the U.S. and Omar Govea, who plays for Royal Excel in the Belgium league, has gathered interest from Osorio.

All five players will have a chance to present their cases in the upcoming friendly matches.

Battle-tested United could turn attention to Neymar this summer

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Last summer’s drama surrounding Neymar could be nothing compared to what is in store for the Brazilian in 2018.

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Diario Gol is reporting that Manchester United is exploring the possibility of making a bid for Neymar this summer, which would come at a record fee for the Premier League side.

The report suggests United would be willing to pay over $367 million for the Paris Saint-Germain star, while possibly sending Paul Pogba to the French giants in the swap.

Neymar, who joined PSG in 2017 after a messy ending at Barcelona, has been heavily linked to his former’s side bitter rival Real Madrid

Man United boss Jose Mourinho is reportedly keen on the move for Neymar after the club’s signing of Alexis Sanchez didn’t live up to the billing.

The Chilean international has scored just once in 10 appearances for the Red Devils, and Mourinho has let it be known that he wasn’t pleased with the player after United crashed out of the UEFA Champions League against Sevilla.

Meanwhile, Pogba’s relationship with the Portuguese manager has been anything but steady in their time together at Old Trafford, making the reality of the French midfielder leaving Manchester a strong one.

Nothing has been indicated for certain that Neymar will leave PSG following the World Cup in Russia, but all signs are pointing to the currently-injured attacker moving from the Parc des Princes.

Report: Conte, Pirlo could spearhead Italy managerial team

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Various nations are still mourning their failure of missing out on the 2018 World Cup, but arguably none bigger than powerhouse Italy.

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The Azzurri, who lost to Sweden in a UEFA playoff series in 2017, will not take part in soccer’s most-prestigious competition in Russia for the first time since 1958.

Former manager Gian Piero Ventura has received heavy criticism for the nation’s failure, and stepped down from his role as head coach immediately after Italy’s dismissal from World Cup qualifying.

A familiar face could now be in line to replace Ventura though, as Football Italia reports that Chelsea manager Antonio Conte could make a return to the Azzurri.

Conte remains under contract at Stamford Bridge, however, Chelsea’s dip in form this season after winning the title in 2016/17 has many speculating that the Italian won’t survive to coach the Blues next year.

Meanwhile, Italian legend Andrea Pirlo has also expressed his interest in joining the technical staff if Conte is appointed.

The two have a close history together from their days with the national team and at Juventus.

In addition to Conte, Carlo Ancelotti is reportedly being considered for the job as well, and Pirlo is believed to be willing to join the managerial staff is the former Bayern Munich coach is hired.

Former Sevilla player Diego Capel training with Sounders

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A former Sevilla star is training in MLS, as the veteran midfielder looks to continue his career stateside.

Diego Capel was spotted training with the Seattle Sounders on Thursday, despite club manager Brian Schmetzer initially playing coy on who the player was.

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“We have a player that’s in camp,” Schmetzer said. “He’s a good player. He’s probably worn the number 10 in his career. Maybe as a youth player. Maybe it’s just a player borrowing Nico’s jersey.”

The Sounders have suffered several major injuries in their attack to start the 2018 MLS season, which also contributed to the team’s derailment in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

While Capel traditionally has played on the wing throughout his career, the Sounders could use all the help they can get in the attacking third.

Jordan Morris has already been ruled out for the season with an ACL tear, while Nicolas Lodeiro and Will Bruin are currently sidelined for the club with respective injuries.

Capel came up through the ranks of Sevilla, while also playing for notable European sides such as Sporting Lisbon and Anderlecht.

The 30-year-old last played for the Belgian side in 2017, but has been a free agent since.