2014 World Cup

The best night ever in CONCACAF qualifying? How the historic drama unfolded on Twitter …


A trio of matches in the final night of regional qualifying kicked off simultaneously in Panama City, Panama, in Kingston, Jamaica and in San Jose Costa Rica:

It all started at 9:30 p.m. ET … but it didn’t really start until Panama’s Gabriel Torres (who plays in MLS for the Colorado Rapids) curled a real beauty past U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan. And the night was on!


And then it was Costa Rica’s turn, as things got worse and worse for Mexico. Remember, this was the sum of all awfulness for Mexico … El Tri trailed while Panama led, which meant Mexico out of the World Cup.


But Mexico lives! Oribe Peralta bangs one off the underside of the crossbar. It’s Costa Rica 1, Mexico 1 … which means Mexico has the fourth spot and the playoff, for the time being, at least.


The Mexicans are in it … but their fallen hero, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, is having a Costa Rican nightmare. In fact, his whole final round of World Cup qualifying has been one big bag of nothing.


And lest we forget about Los Catrachos, who needed only a draw in Jamaica to qualify for their second consecutive World Cup: Maynor Figueroa has scored to put his team ahead of the home team, 2-1. This is getting fun, eh?


Now it’s halftime at all three spots. The United States is missing six or seven starters, but the backups should be holding up a little better against Panama, the side with all the motivation. Credit to Panama, though. And at least the United States looks better than Mexico … which looks absolutely nothing like a team that deserves to be in the World Cup.


Thing is, the real craziness is just getting started. Rafa Marquez tries to stomp his way into the World Cup — only a Costa Rican player happens to be on the bottom of this stomping shenanigan. It’s another ridiculous moment from a guy whose career is full of them.


Not long after, Chicharito answers the growing Chicharito question: he gets a yellow card for a little dust-up off the ball inside Costa Rica’s penalty area:


Holy Cow! Michael Orozco scores a goal for the United States down in Costa Rica. He’s the same guy that scored a goal last year when the United States beat Mexico at Azteca Stadium, a historic win for Jurgen Klinsmann and his team.


It would be “Advantage, Mexico.” But almost simultaneously, Real Salt Lake and Costa Rican goal-getter Alvaro Saborio gets free inside the penalty area, heading past a helpless Mexican goalkeeper. And who was waaaay out of position?


So … uh … wait … who is in the World Cup from our CONCACAF region at this point? … It’s the United States and, uh … so confusing … Can Canada still get in?

Thing is, the madness is just getting started.


Seriously, at this point Mexico trails to a Costa Rican team with nothing really to play for (having already qualified). And yet, it’s Mexico and not Panama in that fourth-place playoff. SI.com’s Grant Wahl has a good idea (just as we get a little goal-mouth action in San Jose):


Oh, for the accountants out there, don’t forget about the massive financial implications. Meanwhile, the rest of us are just conflicted:


Or, are we? Conflicted, that is. More and more, people are suggesting that Mexico doesn’t deserve further World Cup opportunity. After all, Costa Rica looks far more likely to score a third goal than Mexico does to getting an equalizer.


And then “it” happened. Luis Tejada scores for Panama, which leads the United States, 2-1. So at this point, with about 15 minutes remaining, the CONCACAF automatic qualifiers are the United States, Costa Rica and Honduras, with Panama in position for fourth-place and that playoff against New Zealand. Yes, it is stretching the realms of belief.


Who doesn’t love them some Andres Cantor, who is alerting Mexico-Costa Rica viewers of the critical happenings in Panama City with an unmistakable urgency:


And did we mention we love these simultaneous kickoffs for final day. We’re looking at you, Major League Soccer. Make this thing happen! It’s better than ketchup on french fries, sweeter than Vermont maple, more outstanding than … well, you get the idea:


So it looks like … wait … WHAT? Graham Zusi shatters Panamanian hearts. The home team was riding out a 2-1 win, dreaming the World Cup dream, minding its own doggone business when Zusi puts Mexico back into play in the World Cup.


Don’t forget, that home-and-away series with Mexico is going to make a whole bunch of TV money here in the United States. Soccer United Marketing, attached to MLS, owns the U.S. rights for Mexico matches.


It’s still sinking in, even as Aron Johannsson scores another goal for the United States to make the final out of Panama 3-2. But that goal doesn’t really matter for World Cup places. It was Zusi’s tying goal that changed fortunes, setting up this theater of the bizarre, this day the United States kept Mexico alive in a World Cup.


Well said, sir.

As for the rest of us, the emotions are pouring forth as we all contemplate the best night in CONCACAF qualifying history, the night a bunch of soccer folks fell hopelessly in love. We’ll always have 15-October.


There really was so, so much more to it all. But that gives you an idea, at least.

We’ll let these two have the last words on a memorable, surreal night:

Report: Guardiola to take manager’s job at Man City next season

Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Manchester City desperately want to lure Pep Guardiola away from Bayern Munich and pay the Spaniard tactician lots and lots of money to come manage in the Premier League.

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Of course we’ve all heard it before — a number of times, in fact. So, what’s different about the latest report, hitting the headlines very late Thursday night in Europe, linking the 44-year-old to Man City?

Well, apparently, we’ve moved past “Man City will offer Guardiola whatever he wants to come to the Etihad Stadium,” and arrived at “Guardiola has agreed terms to become manager at Man City.”

However, the respected Spanish radio station Cadena COPE is reporting that Guardiola has already decided he would like “a change of scenery” and will succeed Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad Stadium.

“Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich at the end of this season and will train Manchester City next season,” read the report.

“Guardiola has decided on a change of scenery. He considers his time in Germany will end on 30 June after three seasons and, therefore, fulfil one of his wishes: to coach in England.”

With all due respect to every player Man City have signed in the last decade, the acquisition of Guardiola would be, by far, their greatest coup to date — a manager with a clear ethos, a clear plan of action and a track record of having succeeded and won in the UEFA Champions League, which remains the most elusive trophy to City’s cabinet.

Mourinho-Costa feud could mean January transfer activity for Chelsea

Diego Costa & Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC
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Perhaps no man in the footballing world has been embroiled in more controversy this season than Jose Mourinho, who remains in charge of Chelsea despite a horrid start to the club’s 2015-16 Premier League campaign.

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The Portuguese mastermind has fallen out with a number of his own players and staff this season, so why not add another name to the growing list? Come on down, Diego Costa, you’re Mourinho’s next combatant.

The two reportedly got into a heated locker-room exchange following Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Given Costa’s increasingly poor form all the way back to the final weeks and months of the 2014-15 season — just seven goals scored in the last 10 months — Mourinho is reportedly less and less sure the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard is the right man to lead the line for the reigning PL champions.

The details of Mourinho and Costa’s halftime spat, from the Guardian:

Mourinho, just as he did after a similar situation against Norwich on Saturday, made his frustrations clear at the forward’s lack of anticipation over an Eden Hazard pass, which would have provided the striker with a tap-in had he been on the move. Costa returned his manager’s remonstrations in kind. Oscar and John Terry tried to calm him down only to be pushed aside. The manager subsequently suggested there had been “a few kisses, a few cuddles” in the dressing room at the interval, and “no problem,” though the public show of dissent was notable.

The club’s hierarchy is reportedly considering dipping into the transfer market in January — something they’re extremely loath to do — to replace the misfiring Costa. The names of Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin Van Persie and Saido Berahino are the biggest currently linked with the Blues, given the lack of elite players typically available — as well as not being cup-tied in the Champions League — during the January window.

Chelsea, who currently sit 15th in the PL, return to league action on Sunday when they visit Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane (Watch live at 6:30 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

Wenger expects “hunting lion” Sanchez to be fit for Norwich clash

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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Alexis Sanchez is, by regular human standards, questionable for Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on Live Extra), thanks to a tweak to his hamstring during Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb.

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There’s just one problem with the above premise: Sanchez, according to manager Arsene Wenger, isn’t exactly human; he’s more like a lion, says Wenger — a hunting lion chasing after and feasting on its prey.

Wenger, on Sanchez’s ability to recover quickly and star for the Gunners — quotes from the Guardian:

“When he does something, he does it 100%. He finishes and you think: ‘He’s dead now.’ But then he recovers and gives 100% again. You always see signs of exhaustion but it’s not [that], because two days later, he’s fine.

“His style is very explosive, it’s a very committed style. Jamie Vardy is a bit similar. When they go, they go. They are like the lion. He has to catch the animal in the first 200 metres. If he doesn’t get there, he’s dead [on his feet] afterwards. They are these kind of killers. When they go, it is to kill and after, they have to stop.”

“I take information, especially from the medical people who know him and treat him everyday and after, we look at his overall recovery as well. When there are alarming signs, we want to make the right decision at the right moment but as long as the guys are confident, they score goals – it is always difficult to rest them.”

Sanchez’s production this season — 9 goals, 4 assists in 17 appearances – all competitions — is right on par with his spectacular debut in the PL last season. “What is also remarkable is that he goes to South America to play,” Wenger went on to say. “He comes back on Thursday night and on Saturday he can play without a problem, even if he’s jet-lagged.”

Expect Sanchez to feature on Sunday, and probably to score a goal or two, as well.

“Unprofessional” Grealish banished to U-21s after nightclub incident

Jack Grealish, Aston Villa FC
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2015 has been an eventful calendar year for Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, to say the least.

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First, there was his emergence as a prominent first-team player for his boyhood club; followed by the Villans’ run to the FA Cup final in May; then came the England-versus-Ireland tug-of-war for his international services; a forgettable vacation to Spain for the 20-year-old; and another managerial change at Villa Park. After yet another off-field incident last weekend, in which Grealish was photographed in a nightclub hours after a 4-0 defeat to Everton, his new manager, Remi Garde, has labeled Grealish “unprofessional” and sent him away to train with the club’s U-21 side.

Garde, on Grealish’s actions and subsequent punishment — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is not professional. It is not what is expected from my players. That is why now Jack is training with the under-21 team for the moment. He won’t be included in the squad for Watford. At this stage he is not playing this weekend and he is training with the under-21 team. That is all I can say for the moment.”

“Sometimes players in every country ask to stay in the city we have played in and this is not a problem for me, it happens one or two times a season. The problem with Jack was not that he wasn’t on the bus. The problem was elsewhere.”

Villa, who will welcome 13th-place Watford to Villa Park on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on Live Extra), currently sit rock bottom in the Premier League (5 points from 13 games), five points away from climbing out of the relegation zone.