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Grasping at straws: Mexico changes course (again), to replace Víctor Manuel Vucetich with Miguel Herrera

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After Mexican broadcaster Televisa reported the news this morning, soccer’s slice of the internet blew up with speculation that Victor Manuel Vucetich was out as Mexican national team coach. But with only one report in hand and no independent verification, all news was being prefaced with “if this is true.” Follow international soccer long enough, and your “if this is true” pile will soon dwarf your “this actually happen” list.

It’s time to move this story from one pile to the other, now that ESPNFC has their own verification. Vucetich, who ended his highly successful reign with Monterrey to take the national team’s job, will be fired after two matches in charge of El Tri. According to both reports, Club America head coach Miguel Herrera will be tasked with getting Mexico through next month’s playoff against New Zealand and into the 2014 World Cup.

Herrera’s in the middle of a period of wild success with the Mexico City giants, the reason why he’s in position to assume Vucetich’s post. He guided them to the title of Liga MX’s winter-spring tournament (Clausura) and has the club six points clear through 12 games this fall.  If there’s a coach of the moment in Mexican soccer, Herrera was it before being linked with the Tricolor’s post.

His club also has a number of players who, while not called up in the last round, could be brought in for the playoff,; players such as defenders Francisco Javier ‘Maza’ Rodríguez and Paul Aguilar and midfielder Juan Carlos Medina. Current America players Miguel Layun and Raul Jimenez were called up for matches against Panama and Costa Rica.

The appointment would make Herrera Mexico’s fourth coach of the qualifying cycle, an insane amount of turnover for a team that was favored to win the Hex 10 games ago. Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre managed the team’s first seven final round matches before being dismissed after a home loss to Honduras. Luis Fernando Tena coached the squad to a loss in Columbus to the United States before Vucetich was appointed as permanent boss. The former Monterrey man defeated Panama at home before losing on the road to Costa Rica.

Given those results, Vucetich’s sacking would be impetuously harsh. His Mexico team wasn’t the first to lose to Costa Rica, a team that’s qualified for the World Cup. Though they did need a miraculous, late finish from Jimenez to claim full points against Panama, Vucetich’s Mexico had essentially held serve, something they’d failed to do under de la Torre. Perhaps Mexico still weren’t playing up to lofty (and justified) expectations, but Vucetich’s small sample had shown progress, at least in the results.

Now he’s set to be replaced by a man who, while very successful in recent tournaments, has a résumé which pales in comparison to Vucetich’s. The 45-year-old Herrera has won one Mexican championship, though he’s in position to claim another. Vucetich has five Primera Division titles to his credit. He’s also won CONCACAF Champions League three times (in a row), two Copa Méxicos, two second division titles (early in his career), and has two manager of the tournament awards.

source: AP
Victor Manuel Vucetich won five Mexican titles and three CONCACAF championships, but after going 1-1-0 in his two World Cup Qualifiers, he’s set to be fired as Mexican National Team coach. (Photo: AP Photo.)

Perhaps most telling, when comparing the two, is the time they’ve spent at Monterrey. Herrera coached the Rayados from 2004 to 2007, taking them to two tournament finals but failing to claim a championship. Vucetich, who took over Monterrey in 2009, won five major honors during his time in Nuevo Leon. Of course, domestic records can only tell us so much about international success (de la Torre’s accomplishments in Mexico are very impressive); however, the side-by-side comparison between doesn’t falter the incoming boss.

It all leads to the impression Mexico’s grasping at straws – struggling to accept the reality of their circumstances.  That’s not something you could have said about the Vucetich hire, which carried the impression of a revered boss joining the team in its time of need (much as Javier Aguirre did last cycle, replacing Sven Goran Eriksson). Now, the FMF’s resorted to change for change’s sake.

Herrera may not be the man who couldn’t win at Monterrey — he may have matured from the young man who fell short four jobs ago — but there’s little reason to believe he’s a better option than Vucetich. This is a man whose 12-year coaching career is about to embrace its eighth job. In the face of Vucetich’s success of Monterrey, that speak poorly of Mexico’s decision-making process.

Rather than continuing to look at coaches as the problem, it’s time for the FMF consider something’s broken with this squad. Sometime after the successes of the 2011 Gold Cup and 2012 Olympics, Mexico did a face plant from which it’s been unable to recover, and given the constant has been the players, it’s time to stop placing blame with the coaches. Whether it’s chemistry, fit, motivation, or just a prolonged blip in performance, these players are not the star most thought they’d be. It’s a problem that’s transcended coaches.

But instead of taking that approach, the FMF seems to be adopting a two wrongs make a right view. If the squad’s broken, let’s break the coaching situation, too. Maybe the match between two fractured parts, a technical area as aimless as the talent on the pitch, will allow them to luck into the World Cup.

With Herrera, it may work, but odds are Vucetich would have come up with a solution. He just needed more than a month.

Egypt high court upholds death sentences of 10 soccer rioters

CAIRO, EGYPT - JANUARY 26:  Egyptian 'Ahly Ultra' soccer fans gather at the Al Ahly home stadium during celebrations after the announcement that 21 fans of the Al Masry football club involved in a football stadium massacre last year were sentence to death on January 26, 2013 in Cairo, Egypt. A verdict was announced Saturday in a case over the deaths of more than seventy fans of Egypt's Al-Ahly football club in a stadium massacre on February 1, 2012, in the northern city of Port Said, during a riot that began minutes after the final whistle of a match between Al-Ahly and Al-Masry. 21 fans of the Al Masry football club were given the death penalty in the court case, a verdict that must now be approved by Egypt's Grand Mufti. The verdict was handed down during a period of high tension across Egypt, one day after the second anniversary of the beginning of Egypt's 2011 revolution that overthrew the regime of former President, Hosni Mubarak.  (Photo by Ed Giles/Getty Images)
Photo by Ed Giles/Getty Images
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CAIRO (AP) Egypt’s highest appeals court on Monday upheld the death sentences against 10 people convicted over a soccer riot that killed over 70 fans in 2012, becoming one of the world’s deadliest soccer disasters.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

The verdict by the Court of Cassation is final. The defendants were charged with murder, along with other charges. The court also upheld convictions of 22 suspects who received up to 10 years imprisonment over the rioting. A total of 11 defendants were sentenced to death but one remains at large and was tried in absentia.

The rioting erupted on February 2012, at the end of a league match in the Mediterranean city of Port Said between Cairo’s Al-Ahly, Egypt’s most successful club, and home side Al-Masry.

In a socking and unexpected turn, Al-Masry fans rushed to attack Al-Ahly supporters with knives, clubs and rocks. Witnesses and survivors described victims falling from the bleachers as they tried to escape. Hundreds of others fled into an exit passage, only to be crushed against a locked gate with their rivals attacking from behind.

[ MORE: Brazilian player in tears after 90 mins. of racist chants in Serbia ]

The riot led to the suspension of Egypt’s top soccer league for over a year. The league later resumed, but with matches played in empty stadiums.

The first Egyptian Premier League game in which fans were allowed back into the stadiums was played in February 2015, but that occasion was also marred by the death of 22 fans in a stampede outside the grounds. The stampede followed the use of tear gas by police to stop what authorities at the time said was an attempt by fans to storm the military-owned stadium in a suburb east of Cairo.

In the Port Said disaster, most of the victims belonged to Al-Ahly’s “Ultras Ahlawy,” an association of hard-core fans now banned by authorities. In 2015, an Egyptian court ruled that the “Ultras” were a terrorist organization.

[ MORE: Wenger “didn’t really enjoy” Arsenal’s FA Cup win over Sutton ]

Members of the “Ultras” have long been at odds with the nation’s highly militarized police, taunting them with offensive slogans during matches and fighting them in street battles. Hard-core fans of other clubs also identify themselves by going under variations of the Ultras’ name. During the 2011 uprising that toppled autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, the Ultras often provided muscle at street rallies, directing protesters, leading chants and standing first in the line of fire as riot police unleashed tear gas.

Earlier this month, Egyptian police detained more than 100 Al-Ahly fans over a period of two days on suspicion they had planned to stage a protest on the anniversary of the Port Said rioting. The Ultras subsequently cancelled a planned commemoration. Five of those detained were charged with inciting protests and belonging to an outlawed group.

Public gatherings without a permit are banned under Egypt’s draconian anti-terrorism laws.

Kane: Wembley needs to be “our home” long before next season

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur reacts during the UEFA Champions League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and AS Monaco FC at Wembley Stadium on September 14, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Tottenham Hotspur have been — how should I say this? — less than stellar at Wembley Stadium this season.

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In their three UEFA Champions League group-stage games played inside England’s national stadium, Mauricio Pochettino‘s side was thrashed by a vibrant Monaco side; blunted into apathy by Bayer Leverkusen; and victorious against last-place CSKA Moscow, but only after having already been knocked out of the competition.

Ahead of Thursday’s Europa League round-of-32 second leg against Belgian side Gent — which will be played at Wembley, as they will do for every European fixture this season — Spurs’ captain of the future, Harry Kane, has called upon the north London side to make themselves at home inside the 90,000-seat arena on the following counts: 1) they’ll be playing the entirety of the 2017-18 season there; 2) they’re a victory over League One side Millwall away from an FA Cup semifinal, at Wembley, this season — quotes from the Independent:

“If we get through the next round of the FA Cup it’s to Wembley, and we play at Wembley on Thursday. Hopefully we get through. We’ve got to try to make Wembley our home. We could be there next season, so we want to make it as good for us as possible, try to win as many games there as we can and get that confidence going. We could be playing there a few times yet this season.”

[ FA CUP QF: Chelsea-Man United; Spurs-Millwall; Arsenal-Lincoln ]

As for Spurs’ recent form, perhaps best described as indifference, Kane says that’s an issue which was raised during a series of meetings in which Pochettino and a handful of the young side’s more senior figures called for more “hunger” and “sharpness” from the opening kickoff — quotes from the Independent:

“We’ve been starting quite slow in games and it was just about bringing the desire and hunger back to the team, chasing balls down, running in behind. We did that great on Sunday. Sometimes we need that — we need a reminder of who we are and what we’re about. We had a couple of meetings between us and we were glad to go out and put that right.”

Rejuvenated and reinvented, Toure integral to Man City again

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06: Yaya Toure of Manchester City speaks to Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City after being subtituted during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between West Ham United and Manchester City at London Stadium on January 6, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) It has been one of the great sights of English soccer in recent years, Yaya Toure picking up possession in central midfield for Manchester City, rampaging upfield and scattering opponents in his path.

Those days appear to have gone.

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Toure is now found sitting in front of City’s defense, reading the game, dictating its tempo, picking off opposition passes, and starting attacks rather than finishing them.

His reinvention over the last three months as a holding midfielder — and one of Pep Guardiola‘s most integral players — is one of the stories of City’s season and has coincided with an upturn in the team’s fortunes. It’s as much a tale of the 33-year-old Toure’s enduring quality and hunger as circumstance and opportunism.

The former Ivory Coast captain started the season ostracized by Guardiola, who was unhappy at both Toure’s fitness levels and the criticism coming from the player’s outspoken agent, Dimitri Seluk.

Toure was even omitted from City’s squad for the Champions League group stage but he knuckled down, lost about 14 pounds, and waited for his chance. That came when one fellow midfielder (Fernandinho) was hit with a four-match ban and another (Ilkay Gundogan) sustained a season-ending knee injury.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

Toure, looking lean and fit, started a Premier League game against Watford on Dec. 14 and has played every match since, excelling as the team’s deep-lying midfielder and no longer the box-to-box player that City fans have been used to seeing.

Such is his change in status and importance that he was one of the few players rested by Guardiola for the FA Cup match at Huddersfield on Saturday ahead of City’s match against Monaco in the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday.

“He has been unbelievable since the game he came back,” City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne said on Monday. “Last year, he wasn’t that sharp. Give him credit for coming back and doing very well.”

Guardiola has settled on a central-midfield trio of Toure, as the protector of the defense, and De Bruyne and David Silva as the playmakers, and it is proving an ideal mix. City has conceded only one goal in its last five games, and its previously shaky defense kept five clean sheets in its last six away games.

Toure has said he feels like a kid again under Guardiola.

[ MORE: Fifth-division Lincoln City shock PL side Burnley in FA Cup ]

“He is so important for his personality,” Guardiola said on Monday of Toure. “He is part of the history of the club. He helped the club to be where it is. He is back with us and playing at a high level.”

Monaco will be a big test for Toure. The French league leader has scored more goals than any other team in Europe’s top five leagues this season, and is lethal on the counterattack thanks to ultra-fast transition play involving forwards Bernardo Silva, Kylian Mbappe, and Valere Germain.

Toure will be tasked with stopping them from getting at City’s backline, and that’s no easy job. The games in which he struggled since his return have been the losses to Liverpool and Everton, who played a high-energy and up-tempo style.

Monaco will be a level up from that.

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup — Premier League sides underwhelm in 5th round ]

“As a spectator, it is so nice to watch them. I am really impressed how good they are; physically strong, the full backs play like wingers, the wingers play like attacking midfielders … a complete team,” Guardiola said on Monday, describing their attackers as “killers in the box.”

Yet these are exactly the sort of games in which Guardiola will lean on the experienced Toure, a Champions League winner under the Spanish coach at Barcelona in 2009.

In those days, he also played as a holding midfielder and it is in that position that he’s set to end his career.

“I judge players on whether they are able to go to Anfield, Old Trafford, the Nou Camp, or Madrid or Turin and if they are able to react,” Guardiola has said. “There is no doubt about Yaya with that.”

Brazilian footballer in tears after racist chants in Serbia

Partizan Belgrade's Brazilian player Everton Luiz, centre left, leaves the field accompanying by goalkeeper Filip Kljajic, during a Serbian championship match between Rad and Partizan, in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. Luiz was in tears after suffering persistent racist chants during his team's 1-0 victory against Rad in the Serbian premiership. The Brazilian, who joined Partizan from the Swiss league in 2016, received monkey chants and other abuse, including a racist banner on the stands where Rad fans were standing. (AP Photo/Miroslav Todorovic)
AP Photo/Miroslav Todorovic
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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Partizan Belgrade midfielder Everton Luiz was in tears after persistent racist chants during his team’s victory over Rad in the Serbian league.

The Brazilian, who joined Partizan last year, played through monkey chants and other abuse, including a racist banner in the stands where Rad fans were standing.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

The banner was removed after intervention from the referee.

There were scuffles between the players after the match on Sunday, when Partizan won 1-0, after Everton Luiz showed the middle finger to the Rad supporters.

Wiping away tears, Luiz said he “faced racist abuse during the entire match.”

[ MORE: Wenger “didn’t really enjoy” Arsenal’s FA Cup win over Sutton ]

Serbian fans are notorious for racist outbursts against black players. Rad supporters are known for their nationalist ultra-right behavior.

On Monday, the Serbian Football Association suspended Rad’s stadium in Belgrade until further notice because of the fans’ behavior.