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Tuesday’s World Cup Qualifying: Previews and Scenarios

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World Cup Qualifying matches are in abundance on Tuesday with action throughout CONCACAF, Africa, Europe and South America. Here’s a look at all the key matches and scenarios for the day.

CONCACAF

With the United States and Costa Rica having booked their tickets to the World Cup, CONCACAF qualifying is all about the mad dash for third place.

With a three point gap separating third place Honduras from fourth place Mexico, Los Catrachos hold the keys to their own destiny.  A win or draw against Jamaica and they’re through to Brazil. Lose to the Reggae Boyz and Honduras could be leap-frogged by Mexico if they take care of business against Costa Rica

With Costa Rica through their match with Mexico is all on El Tri.  A draw will ensure Mexico fourth place and an intercontinental play-off against New Zealand while a win combined with a Honduras loss could see Mexico finish in third. If Victor Manuel Vucetich’s side lose they will crash out of the play-offs so long as Panama beat the U.S..

AFRICA

With the first legs of the other four African World Cup playoffs having been decided this past weekend, the only remaining qualifier on the slate sees Ghana welcome Egypt.

This match is the first of a two legged play-off between Bob Bradley’s Egypt squad and the Black Stars of Ghana. Historically, Ghana has the slight edge in this one having won eight, drawn five and lost five but there’s something special about Bradley’s squad, who come into this game unbeaten in qualifying.

A win would do wonders for Egypt, who return home for the return leg of this fixture on November 19th in Egypt. For an in depth look at this fixture don’t miss Liviu Bird’s masterpiece, ‘Egypt faces biggest challenge of World Cup qualification yet in Ghana‘.

EUROPE

Holland, Italy, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland have clinched berths for the World Cup by winning their qualifying groups and on Tuesday, four more spots will be decided on the last day of group play. 26 matches will be played across Europe today and here is all you need to know about the pertinent qualifiers.

Group A: Scotland v. Croatia

Belgium booked their place in Brazil and Croatia are guaranteed second place although they are not assured a play-off place as there are three teams (Macedonia, Wales and Scotland) who can finish bottom.

Group B: Bulgaria v. Czech Republic and Denmark v. Malta 

In Group B, Italy has clinched but four teams could mathematically finish second. Bulgaria are the favorites if they beat the Czech Republic at home. Third-place Denmark are even on points with Bulgaria and will finish second if they better Bulgaria’s result, or win by eight or more goals against Malta.

Group C: Sweden v. Germany

Group C has already been decided, with Germany qualifying and Sweden being assured a play-off place.

Group D: Turkey v. Holland and Romania v. Estonia. 

Holland has locked up Group D meaning it’s a battle for the play-offs between Turkey and Romania. Both countries have the same 5-3-1 record but Turkey are ahead by four in goal difference. To qualify they’ll need to get past the Dutch while Romania face an easier test Estonia (2-6-1) at home.

Group E: Norway v. Iceland and Switzerland v. Slovenia

Switzerland are going to Brazil meaning the battle for second place in Group E is between Iceland and Slovenia. Iceland will go through with a win against Norway but they can also finish runners-up if Slovenia do not better their result against Switzerland.

Group F: Azerbaijan v. Russia and Portugal v. Luxembourg

Russia lead Group F by three points over Portugal meaning the only way Cristiano Ronaldo & Co. can avoid the playoffs is if they beat Luxembourg and the Russians slip up in Azerbaijan. It’s a highly unlikely scenario meaning Portugal will find themselves in the playoffs for the third straight tournament, most recently having defeated Bosnia-Herzegovina in the playoffs to reach the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championship.

Group G: Lithuania v. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece v. Liechtenstein

The top two spots are up for grabs in Group G with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece in first and second place but the Bosnians 17 goal edge makes them heavy favorites if they secure victory at Lithuania. If they manage to do so, Greece will head to the playoffs while Bosnia-Herzegovina will go to their first World Cup since gaining independence in 1992.

Group H: England v. Poland and San Marino v. Ukraine and Montenegro v. Moldova

It’s squeaky bum time in Group H where England will head to Brazil with a victory over Poland. A draw will also suffice if Ukraine manage to slip up against San Marino. Both England and Ukraine are guaranteed a play-off spot regardless of who finishes second. Montenegro also has a long shot at second place, but it would take a Ukraine defeat along with an unlikely 12 goal swing to make that dream a reality.

Group I: Spain v. Georgia and France v. Finland

The reigning World Cup and European champions need just a draw from their home match against Georgia to secure top spot in Group I. The single point would be enough to condemn France to a two match playoff against a team to be determined.  France must defeat Finland at home and hope Georgia can pull off a massive upset for Spain to drop into the playoffs.

SOUTH AMERICA

Argentina and Colombia have already qualified leaving two additional automatic spots are up for grabs.

The biggest match of the day is between Chile and Ecuador with both teams set to qualify for Brazil with a draw. If for some reason that doesn’t happen – Uruguay is the only other side who could reach Brazil if they defeat Argentina and enjoy a massive goal swoon (they are four behind Chile and six behind Ecuador).

The likely scenario is that, regardless of the result, La Celeste will face Jordan in the intercontinental play-off

UEL: Saint-Etienne hope Beric comes to the rescue vs. Man United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United and Kevin Monnet-Paquet of Saint-Etienne in action during the UEFA Europa  League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) While Zlatan Ibrahimovic was scoring a hat trick in Manchester United’s win over Saint-Etienne in the Europa League last week, Robert Beric’s 11-minute substitute appearance at Old Trafford was barely noticed.

Still reeling from a hamstring injury, Beric’s cameo had little impact as Ibrahimovic ended Saint-Etienne’s 10-game unbeaten run in Europe by 3-0.

[ MORE: Man City win in epic comeback vs. Monaco | Atleti blitz Bayer ]

Beric’s condition has improved since the heavy loss, and he featured in a French league game in Montpellier last weekend. The 1976 European Cup runner-up is hoping that’s enough for Beric to help it overturn their deficit against United on Wednesday in the last-32 return leg.

Beric, a versatile center-forward capable of playing with his back to goal and creating, joined Saint-Etienne last season. He’d scored 27 goals in 34 matches in his final season with Rapid Vienna, but was unable to replicate the feat in the French league because his progression was abruptly stopped by a serious right knee injury.

He is expected to start at Geoffroy Guichard Stadium after his teammates managed to force United goalkeeper Sergio Romero into only a single save from 14 shots last week.

“Beric is so skillful and astute in front of goal that we all want to give him a starting nod,” former Saint-Etienne striker Herve Revelli, now a club ambassador, told L’Equipe.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

United was carved open at times, but the French club was made to pay for its blatant lack of efficiency. Revelli insisted Beric can make a difference.

“He is likely to put our chances into the back of the net,” Revelli said.

With an estimated budget of close to 70 million euros, Saint-Etienne simply can’t afford the services of a world-class striker. When he joined the 10-time French champion for a reported six million euros, Beric became the third most expensive player signed by the club.

A humble player and a man of few words, Beric is somewhat the opposite of the self-infatuated Ibrahimovic.

Unlike Ibrahimovic, who once said he will be “God of Manchester,” Beric rarely speaks about himself and his rare comments on social networks are limited to praise of his teammates and Saint-Etienne fans.

Beric, who scored the last of his three league goals this season back in September, is not yet fully fit and should not be able to last the whole match. But Revelli is counting on his instinct for goals.

[ MORE: Guardiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” ]

“With him in a finisher role, I firmly believe in our chances,” said Revelli, Saint-Etienne’s all-time best scorer.

Saint-Etienne needs to find a way to stop Ibrahimovic, but history does not favor the home side.

During his time in France with Paris Saint-Gernain, Ibrahimovic was the scourge of Saint-Etienne, scoring 14 goals in 13 games in all competitions. He now has 17, including three hat tricks.

“It’s difficult to neutralize him. There is a possibility that we will set up an anti-Ibra plan,” Saint-Etienne coach Chirstophe Galtier said. “I don’t know what’s inside Zlatan, but for sure he likes to play against us. It’s not easy to score a hat trick in a European Cup game.”

Champions League Wednesday: Leicester’s last stand; Porto-Juve

SEVILLE, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 21:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City looks on during a press conference ahead of the UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg against Sevilla FC at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on February 21, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Previewing Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League round-of-16 action…

[ MORE: Man City win in epic comeback vs. Monaco | Atleti blitz Bayer ]

Leicester City vs. Sevilla

There’s no two ways about it: Leicester’s season — and perhaps their status as a Premier League club — is quickly spiraling out of control. The Foxes, just nine months after winning the PL title, sit 17th in the league table, one point clear of relegation, with 13 games still to play. Chances are, they won’t be back in the Champions League anytime soon, making Wednesday’s round-of-16 first-leg clash away to Sevilla all the more a monumental moment in the club’s history.

Where has hasn’t it gone wrong for Claudio Ranieri‘s side this season? If you’re of the mind that one player — N'Golo Kante in Leicester’s case — doesn’t make a team himself, then we’ll have to go one step further in diagnosing the stunning regression seen at the King Power Stadium this season: Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who combined to score 41 goals in the PL last season, have managed all of eight together in 2016-17. It’s the loss of Kante, though, that has left the defense forever exposed (43 goals conceded in 25 PL games, after conceding 36 in 38 all of last season), and the goal-getters forever feeding on scraps (24 goals scored, compared to 68 last season).

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]


Porto vs. Juventusfrom the AP

Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci will be left in the stands for Wednesday’s Champions League match against Porto as punishment for his outburst aimed at coach Massimiliano Allegri.

Allegri announced the move on Tuesday at the pre-match news conference, saying he had agreed it with club officials as “a fair decision, out of respect for the squad, the fans and the club.”

Bonucci became embroiled in a heated argument over substitutions with Allegri after a 4-1 win over Palermo on Friday.

Allegri also will punish himself for his angry reaction to Bonucci, announcing a donation to charity.

U.S. U-20s awaken in 2nd half vs. Haiti, keep WCQ hopes alive

USMNT U-20 team (Photo credit: U.S. Soccer)
Photo credit: U.S. Soccer
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With many thanks to the hat trick scored by Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake, on loan from Liverpool), the U.S. U-20 national team’s hopes of qualifying for the 2017 U-20 World Cup remain intact.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

After dropping all three points in their opening group-stage game against Panama on Saturday, Tab Ramos’ young Yanks faced elimination from CONCACAF’s U-20 Championship in Costa Rica with a defeat to Haiti on Tuesday. After 15 minutes, the Americans found themselves a goal down, the prospect of winning zero points from their first two games a terrifying possibility.

Then, Lennon struck from the penalty spot. A draw wouldn’t be enough, realistically, though, as they’d still trail Haiti by three points ahead of the final group game, against Saint Kitts and Nevis, with the top two sides from each team advancing to the classification stage.

The score remained 1-1 until halftime, after which point the Yanks roared to life with three goals in a seven-minute span. Luca de la Torre (Fulham) scored the first of the bunch, an empty-net finish after a failed punch by the goalkeeper. Lennon quickly followed suit with two more to make it 4-1.

With three points from two games and a goal differential that now sits at +2, the Yanks are second in Group B, just ahead of Haiti on goal differential (+1). Panama sit atop the group with six points and a +5 goal differential. A U.S. victory over Saint Kitts and Nevis, to go with a Haitian upset of Panama, would see the Americans finish top of the group go into Group E in the classification stage, which would see them accompanied by a pair of second-place sides. The first-place side in each classification group qualifies for May’s tournament in South Korea.

Guradiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” as a club

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City reacts as Leonardo Jardim head coach of AS Monaco looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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In the past, when faced with adversity in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City could do little more than wilt and crumble as their European dreams when up in smoke year after year, typically in embarrassing and/or heartbreaking fashion.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

On Tuesday, when faced with 2-1 and 3-2 deficits late into the second half of their round-of-16 first leg against Monaco, deja vu was quickly setting in for anyone who’s followed Man City’s rise from middling afterthought to mega-rich conglomerate with aspirations of world domination. Then, something strange (based on years of recent history) happened: Sergio Aguero fired City back to level at 2-2 in the 58th minute. Sure, more shocking defending saw the deficit restored three minutes later, but again, Aguero dissented.

For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone considering the putrid defensively display over the course of 90 minutes, first-year City manager Pep Guardiola should be heartened by Tuesday’s events at the Etihad Stadium. In his mind, it was a massive step forward in the club’s psyche — quotes from the BBC:

“I am so happy for the result, we are still alive. These kind of things help this club to achieve another step. We attacked in small spaces. That’s why they wanted me to come here. Everybody has to be congratulated.

“We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. If we don’t score in Monaco we will be eliminated.”