This is probably Víctor Valdés’s last year at Barcelona, and with the 31-year-old Spanish international seemingly improving with age, his last moments with the Blaugrana are becoming precious – a time to reflect on a 12-year, 13-major trophy run. Unfortunately, thanks to an injury incurred during Spain’s Tuesday loss in South Africa (yes, you read that right), Barça’s number one could be looking at six weeks on the sideline, the free agent-to-be having suffered a suspected torn calf.
With neither Real nor Atlético Madrid on their upcoming schedule, and given Barca’s Champions League group is under control, this is as good a time as any for Barcelona to lose there’s number one. Although Valdés has played every minute in both La Liga and Champions League, there’s nothing on the upcoming fixture list that Jose Manuel Pinto can’t handle, provided the volatile veteran stays on the field. With the Barcelona’s stiffest upcoming challenge being Villarreal on Dec. 14, Pinto should have plenty of time to shake off the rust before a visit from the Yellow Submarine.
Injury accumulation, however, is a small concern for Barcelona, the strain of seasons on seasons of overloaded schedules potentially catching up to them. Lionel Messi will be out until the new year with a reoccurrence of his hamstring problems. Left back Jordi Alba has been out since early in the season, Cristian Tello is expected to miss this weekend’s game, and Xavi Hernandez is still a doubt. Though a Barcelona squad that has more depth than the Pep Guardiola years is better equipped to deal with these absences, the threat of another season compromised by injuries is starting to rear its head. If Messi (in particular) doesn’t get healthy, there may be no additions to Barça’s trophy case this season.
But like Valdes, Messi’s expected back in January, though you wouldn’t begrudge head coach Gerardo Martino taking a red Sharpie to the Jan. 11 box on his calendar. That’s the day Barcelona makes their annual trip to the Vicente Calderon, where Atlético will pose a legitimate title threat.
With Messi and Valdés, Barcelona should be ever so slight favorites to win that match. Without either, Barça become much more vulnerable in a game that could not open the door for Atleti. It could also bring Real Madrid back into the title race.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) Marcello Lippi earned his biggest victory since taking over as coach of China’s national soccer team, leading his squad to a 1-0 victory over South Korea on Thursday in a World Cup qualifier.
[ MORE: Shorthanded USMNT hosts Honduras as WCQ resumes ]
The coach, who led his native Italy to the World Cup title in 2006, was hired by China in October.
Yu Dabao scored the lone goal at Helong Stadium in Changsha with a header in the 34th minute, giving China only its second victory over South Korea in 32 matches.
China spent much of the second half defending with the visitors piling on the pressure. Ki Seung-yeung and Ji Dong-won both went close for South Korea but could not find a way past China goalkeeper Zeng Cheng.
South Korea has 10 points from six matches in Group A and is still on course to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. China, which last qualified for the World Cup in 2002, has five points.
Only the top two teams from the six-nation group qualify automatically. The third-place team will head to the playoffs.
A roundup of Thursday’s action from around CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying…
[ MORE: USMNT looks to build momentum against Honduras in WCQ ]
Paulinho‘s hat-trick helped bring Brazil back from an early deficit as the Selecao topped Uruguay, 4-1. Edinson Cavani put the hosts ahead after nine minutes from the penalty spot, but it was Paulinho that answered 10 minutes later for his first of the night. Neymar also tallied for the Brazilians, who continue to lead CONMEBOL qualifying with 30 points.
Lionel Messi scored in the first half to help lift Argentina over Chile, 1-0. The Barcelona attacker scored after 16 minutes when Angel di Maria was taken down inside the Chilean area by José Fuenzalida. Chile was held to just one shot on target throughout, and the loss leaves the reigning Copa America winners on the outside looking in at the top five.
James Rodriguez rescued Colombia on Thursday as the Real Madrid winger capitalized off of his penalty-kick rebound to give Los Cafeteros a 1-0 win over Bolivia. Goalkeeper Carlos Lampe did his best to preserve a draw for the visitors, recording six saves on the afternoon, however, it wasn’t enough to tame Colombia.
Meanwhile, Paraguay knocked off Ecuador, 2-1, behind goals from Bruno Valdez and Junior Alonso. The visitors pulled a goal back in the 70th minute when Felipe Caicedo converted from the penalty spot, but it wasn’t enough for Ecuador.
Peru battled back with two second-half goals to preserve a 2-2 draw against Venezuela on the road. The hosts got out to a 2-0 advantage before halftime when Mikel Villanueva and Romulu Otero scored for Venezuela, however, the Peruvians struck back in the second stanza to knick a point. Andre Carrillo and Paolo Guerrero scored in the 46th and 64th minutes, respectively, for Peru.
Colombia 1-0 Bolivia
Paraguay 2-1 Ecuador
Uruguay 1-4 Brazil
Argentina 1-0 Chile
Venezuela 2-2 Peru
Updated CONMEBOL table
- Brazil — 9-3-1 — 30 pts.
- Uruguay — 7-2-4 — 23 pts.
- Argentina — 6-4-3 — 22 pts.
- Colombia — 6-3-4 — 21 pts.
- Ecuador — 6-2-4 — 20 pts.
- Chile — 6-2-5 — 20 pts.
- Paraguay — 5-3-5 — 18 pts.
- Peru — 4-3-6 — 15 pts.
- Bolivia — 2-1-9 — 7 pts.
- Venezuela — 1-3-9 — 6 pts.
PORTSMOUTH, England (AP) Michael Eisner, the former chief executive of The Walt Disney Co., is in talks to buy English soccer club Portsmouth.
The fourth-tier club says it has entered into a 70-day exclusivity agreement with Eisner for takeover talks to take place.
Eisner wrote on Twitter: “Exciting times! Looking forward to coming over and meeting you all. Good luck against Newport County on Saturday!!”
Portsmouth, which is based on the south coast, spent beyond its means in the pursuit of glory. The team endured financial turmoil in the years following its 2008 FA Cup win, sinking from the Premier League to the fourth tier.
After entering bankruptcy protection, Portsmouth was rescued by the fans through a trust in 2013.
Through two rounds of play in the Hexagonal, everything has gone according to plan for Mexico and Costa Rica.
Not so much though for the U.S. Men’s National Team.
[ MORE: Shorthanded USMNT hosts Honduras as WCQ resumes ]
While Los Ticos and El Tri currently sit in the top two positions of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, the U.S. is left at the bottom and faces a difficult match against Honduras when play resumes on Friday night.
[ MORE: Five questions for USMNT ahead of Honduras match ]
Mexico and Costa Rica will face off at the Estadio Azteca in the second of Friday’s three slated qualifiers, and while both nations surely expect to reach the World Cup in Russia, both CONCACAF heavyweights have the opportunity to put their stamp on the group.
For Costa Rica, a victory could potentially open up a five-point gap over El Tri, while a win for Mexico would bring Juan Carlos Osorio’s side the opportunity leap over their Central American foes.
Friday’s action will kick off at 7 p.m. though when third place Panama travels to Trinidad & Tobago, who seeks its first points of the Hex. Trinidad will be led by captain Kenwyne Jones of Atlanta United as well as Minnesota United midfielder Kevin Molino, with the duo scoring a combined 39 international goals for the Soca Warriors.
Below is the schedule and current table ahead of Friday’s CONCACAF matches as the region turns its attention to Matchday 3 of the Hexagonal.
Trinidad & Tobago vs. Panama — 7 p.m. ET
Mexico vs. Costa Rica — 9:50 p.m. ET
USMNT vs. Honduras — 10:30 p.m. ET (PREVIEW)
1. Costa Rica — 2-0-0 — 6 pts.
2. Mexico — 1-1-0 — 4 pts.
3. Panama — 1-1-0 — 4 pts.
4. Honduras — 1-0-1 — 3 pts.
5. Trinidad & Tobago — 0-0-2 — 0 pts.
6. USMNT — 0-0-2 — 0 pts.