Tuesday’s World Cup Qualifying: Previews and Scenarios

1 Comment

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

FIFA subjects 2026 Morocco World Cup bid to fresh scrutiny

Steve Haag/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Morocco’s World Cup bid is facing fresh scrutiny this week with the arrival of another delegation from FIFA after an initial task force found deficiencies in the proposals for the 2026 tournament.

In a downbeat conclusion to the visit by the FIFA inspectors last week, Morocco’s bid leader acknowledged it had to improve the quality of the submission made to FIFA in March because inadequacies were identified by football’s governing body.

[ MORE: UCL semifinals predictions ]

The previously unplanned second inspection of Morocco is an indication of the more rigorous process introduced by FIFA following criticism in 2010 that World Cups were awarded to the riskiest nations in 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar).

There will also be closer scrutiny of human rights of the bidders before the vote on June 13 when Morocco is currently due to be taking on a joint challenge from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The Associated Press revealed last week Morocco did not declare its anti-LGBT law to FIFA in the human rights risk assessment included in the bid book. The documents – along with the North American submission – will now be scrutinized for any gaps by human rights experts.

“That process involves an expert third-party assessment of the robustness of the human rights content of both bids that will directly inform the administration’s own evaluation,” Rachel Davis, who sits on FIFA’s human rights advisory board, told the AP.

“We are confident that the process will result in a fair assessment of the human rights situation in all four countries involved in the bids, and a roadmap for how to deal with any deficiencies that FIFA will then require the successful bidder to commit to.”

Davis, who is managing director of the Shift human rights organization, said an evaluation of the human rights in the bidding nations will be included in a report to the FIFA Council, which will also assess the verdict of the evaluation task force. A bid with low scores can be blocked by the council from advancing to a vote of up to 207 football nations at the FIFA Congress on June 13.

While Morocco has said it needs to spend almost $16 billion on infrastructure for the 48-team World Cup, including building or renovating all 14 stadiums, North American does not require any tournament-specific building work. Morocco bid president Moulay Hafid Elalamy said at the end of the FIFA inspection that officials “made some remarks on the conditions of some of the stadiums.”

The new batch of technical staff being deployed from FIFA HQ to Morocco did not make a similar follow-up visit to North America after the task force inspected the rival bid’s facilities this month.

“Following the visit of the 2026 bid evaluation task force to Morocco last week, it was decided to have an additional working visit this week to complement the initial analysis of the task force and clarify some aspects of the bid,” FIFA told the AP.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Watch Live: Everton v. Newcastle

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Everton host Newcastle United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Toffees and Magpies both sitting pretty in midtable.

[ LIVE: Stream Everton-Newcastle ]

Sam Allardyce and Rafael Benitez have both been around the block a few times but at the moment Allardyce is under pressure and Benitez is working miracles with four wins on the spin as the newly-promoted Magpies have stayed solid defensively all season.

In team news Everton start Tosun, Walcott and Bolasie in attack with Wayne Rooney in midfield.

Newcastle make one change with Islam Slimani making his first start for the Magpies as he comes in for Dwight Gayle.

LINEUPS

Everton

Newcastle United

UEFA Champions League semifinal predictions

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League to kick off over the next few days, let’s take a look at both games and predict which teams will make it to the final in Kiev on May 26.

[ MORE: Champions League scores

Liverpool or Roma? Real Madrid or Bayern Munich?

Here’s the lowdown as two eagerly anticipated games take center stage across Europe.


Liverpool vs. AS Roma
First leg: Apr. 24, 2:45 p.m. ET at Anfield
Second leg: May 2, 2:45 p.m. ET at Stadio Olimpico

This should be one heck of a tie with defending optional for both teams but both have very different ways of playing. Jurgen Klopp will unleash the fluid trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino on an often brittle Roma defense but the Italian giants have a giant in their own up top in the shape of Edin Dzeko. How Virgil Van Dijk and Liverpool’s defense deal with the threat of Dzeko will likely decide the outcome of this game. Liverpool will look to feed off the famous Anfield atmosphere to wrack up a big first leg lead before they head to Roma for Leg 2, and I fancy Salah to blow his old team away in the first leg. Liverpool to advance 4-2 on aggregate.

Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid
First leg: Apr. 25, 2:45 p.m. ET at Allianz Arena
Second leg: May 1, 2:45 p.m. ET at Santiago Bernabeu

A proper heavyweight clash as Bayern and Real do battle knowing that whoever wins will be the favorites in the final. Cristiano Ronaldo is in the form of his life (again) after a slow start to this season and Zinedine Zidane’s side made hard work of it against Juventus in the last round but are on course for a third-straight UCL trophy. As for Bayern, they have been in imperious form and you feel like Robert Lewandowski can get the better of Real’s center backs. Expect this to be a tight game with extremely high quality from both teams. Real being at home in the second leg is a big advantage. Real Madrid to advance 3-2 on aggregate. 

Cologne’s Hector extends contract despite likely relegation

AP
Leave a comment

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) Germany defender Jonas Hector has shunned reported interest from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund by extending his contract with Cologne – despite the club’s almost certain relegation from the Bundesliga.

Cologne, eight points from safety with three games remaining, says its 27-year-old captain has signed a two-year extension to 2023 instead of using a release clause in his contract.

Hector, who has been at the club since 2010, says, “It wouldn’t have been a problem to switch to another club after this season but it didn’t feel right for me. I belong to Cologne and want to tackle the new season with the team and the fans behind us.”

Cologne sporting director Armin Veh says Hector’s decision is, “a great signal for the team, the club and our fans.”