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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.

AFCON wrap: Tunisia joins Senegal in knockout rounds (video)

Tunisia's Wahbi Khazri smiles during a press conference in Libreville, Gabon, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group B soccer match against Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Half of the field is set for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations knockout rounds, as Group B completed his final day of group play on Monday in Gabon.

[ FIFA: World Cup draw date at Kremlin ]

Senegal will move onto play Cameroon on Saturday, while Tunisia will take on Burkina Faso.

Senegal 2-2 Algeria

Leicester City’s Islam Slimani scored twice, but it wasn’t enough to get Algeria into the knockout rounds of AFCON.

Papakouly Diop and Moussa Sow answered Slimani’s goals, and Senegal enforced its hold on the group it had already clinched after two matches.

Algeria needed a win and help, and looked to get it when Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani carried over their chemistry from the Foxes of England to the Fennecs of Algeria.

Zimbabwe 2-4 Tunisia

Sunderland’s Wahbi Khazri scored of the fourth of Tunisia’s first half goals as the Eagles of Carthage emphatically clinched their knockout round spot. Tunisia lost in the quarterfinals in 2015.

Lille’s Naïm Sliti was also among the goal scorers for Tunisia, with Youssef Msakni (Lekhwiya) and Taha Yassine Khenissi (Esperance de Tunis) also netting markers.

Tendai Ndoro (Orlando Pirates) and Knowledge Musona (Oostende) scored for Zimbabwe.

Three USMNT players leave camp, two with injuries

Kekuta Manneh chases the ball during practice of the U.S. men's national soccer team Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Carson, Calif. Manneh has become a U.S. citizen, moving the Vancouver Whitecaps forward closer to eligibility for the men's national team. U.S. Soccer announced Manneh received his citizenship Wednesday, after the opening practice of January training camp under new coach Bruce Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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Less than a week from Bruce Arena’s second debut as USMNT boss, we know three players who won’t be in the Starting XI.

Injuries have felled FC Dallas duo Kellyn Acosta and Matt Hedges, while Vancouver attacker Kekuta Manneh is leaving the squad to join his ‘Caps teammates for preseason in Wales.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League Playback ]

Acosta has a mild left ankle sprain and Hedges has a mild right knee sprain.

While Manneh may have been a long shot to see significant playing time on Sunday against Serbia or Feb. 4 versus Jamaica, Hedges had a chance to start at center back and Acosta has been capped before as well.

FIFA going to Kremlin for World Cup draw in December

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  Vladimir Putin, President of Russia speaks as FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter looks on during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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ZURICH (AP) FIFA says it will stage the 2018 World Cup draw on Dec. 1 at a Kremlin concert hall in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been allowing FIFA to use high-profile venues for World Cup ceremonies.

In July 2015, the qualifying program draw was made on the grounds of one of Putin’s official residences, Konstantin Palace near St. Petersburg. The summer was home built at the direction of Peter the Great.

The World Cup in Russia kicks off on June 14 at Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital, and returns there for the final on July 15.

Jurgen Klopp discusses Liverpool’s title chances

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool reacts during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Swansea City at Anfield on January 21, 2017 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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It was a disappointing weekend for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.

[ MORE: New odds for title contenders ]

The German coach watched on as his side lost 3-2 to Swansea City on Saturday in the Premier League and the Reds fell 10 points behind leaders Chelsea with 16 games to go.

Klopp’s men have only won once in six outings in all competitions in January, and ahead of their EFL Cup semifinal second leg against Southampton at Anfield (they trail 1-0 from the first leg) he was asked if they still have hope of overhauling Chelsea and winning the Premier League.

Speaking to the media, Klopp revealed that his team are good enough to at least be in the top four battle.

“We fight in each game, that’s maybe the most important thing. Then we have to see what happens around,” Klopp said. “Of course, in cup competitions the target is to win the competition. In the Premier League, it’s probably the same but it’s not that easy to plan or whatever. In this case, if Chelsea win all their games – which they pretty much do – there is no chance for any other team. For us, it’s still absolutely important to finish the season as well as possible – whatever that means. We’ll see after the season.

“You can imagine we have the quality to fight for the Champions League, that’s what we should do. If we do this and we are then close enough in the decisive moment of the season, you can still fight for a little bit more. But in this moment, it’s nothing we have to think about or we should think about. We now have two games and then we play Chelsea, so that’s when I’ll think about Chelsea but not how we can get them or whatever. We fight for everything we are able to, that’s all.”

He’s right. Liverpool finishing in the top four this season would be a great achievement at this stage of his project.

Perhaps more worrying for Klopp is that his side may now capitulate and finish outside of the top four for a second-straight season.

There’s no doubting that Liverpool have exceeded the expectations of most people so far in 2016-17 but Klopp’s men faded badly last season to finish in eighth place and with no wins in their last three games in the Premier League the pressure is on.

Without leading scorer Sadio Mane, who is away at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal, they’ve struggled to break opponents down and their defensive issues came to the fore against Swansea with sloppy mistakes costing them dear.

No team in the top seven has conceded more than Liverpool and with the Reds in fourth place and just four points ahead of sixth-place Manchester United and two points ahead of Manchester City who sit in fifth, all of a sudden they are looking over their shoulders instead of up at Chelsea.

Liverpool has lost momentum.

Boy do they need a big win in the EFL Cup against Southampton on Wednesday to regain some confidence and take that into their next PL clash, which just so happens to be against Chelsea at Anfield on Jan. 31.

Whatever he says publicly, Klopp must know that Liverpool cannot afford to lose to Chelsea. If they do and fall 13 points behind the Blues, the Kop can kiss goodbye to their title hopes for another season.