When CONCACAF found out its teams would be grouped in Pot 3, away from Europe, Africa and South America, it knew it was in for a tough World Cup draw. There would be no Iran, no Australia… it would be a battle just to find games where CONCACAF would be favored.
In the end, the results were a mixed bag. Costa Rica and the United States have their work cut out for them, Mexico faces a challenge to their attacking skill while Honduras may be the Confederation’s best hope.
Both Mexico and the U.S. made their way to the knockout rounds in 2010 — Honduras finished last in its group — but how many nations will survive the group stage this time around.
The United States and its fortunes are directly tied to whether its Top 15 ranking is a true indicator of where they — and CONCACAF — stand. The Yanks have done loads of good during a record-setting 2013, but have been eliminated from the World Cup by two of their group mates: Germany and Ghana. The States kept Portugal from advancing in 2002, so there’s history everywhere. Is Portugal as deep? No, but they have the man who almost single-handedly took them to Brazil in Cristiano Ronaldo.
Mexico’s challenge will be dictating their game to the opposition. Free-wheeling is going to be a challenge when it comes to stingy Croatia and Cameroon, while beating hosts Brazil would seem prize-enough for a Mexico team that’s been on quite the roller coaster ride. They’ll go as Oribe Peralta (pictured) goes, and his work against the Ivory Coast in their highest-profile win (outside of the playoff with New Zealand) was superb.
He’s scored in seven of Mexico’s last eight matches, producing a total of 11 goals.
Poor Costa Rica. Their reward for finishing second in CONCACAF qualifying is a team that will match their physicality (England), another that will out-flash them (Uruguay) and perhaps the finest defensive, counter-attacking country of all-time (Italy). They finished 31st in their last World Cup appearance (2006) and have to hope that England and Italy fare poorly on the other side of their world.
Hondurasis playing in a group that quite literally could find any two teams advance out of the group. France is a wild card, with immense talent but uncertainty lurking after a simply horrible experience in 2010. Switzerland has been looked-past, which is hilarious given they’re the No. 7 team in the world. That said, where will the goals come from? No Swiss player other than Tranquillo Barnetta has 10-plus goals in their international career. Which brings us to Ecuador.
La Tri is captained by Antonio Valencia and haven’t been out of the Copa America’s first round, let alone World Cup, since 1997. Their Round of 16 finish in the 2006 World Cup seems ancient history, but again, this is a South American tournament. Honduras has won a single World Cup game in its two appearances, though one its draws came versus Switzerland. As many as five MLS player could feature for the Hondurans, who will lean on New England’s Jerry Bengtson and Guizhou Zhicheng’s Carlo Costly to score and score early.
Arsenal – They fooled us again, you know? Arsenal ran through the Premier League following an Opening Day loss to Liverpool, not seeing another ‘L’ until a Dec. 13 loss at Everton. That one could count as a moment, but we’ll choose the following match. Raheem Sterling finished a classy Kevin De Bruyne pass to give the Gunners’ two losses in a row, and Arsenal wouldn’t beat a PL contender until toppling injury-hit Manchester United on May 7.
Bournemouth – Eddie Howe‘s bunch were winless in seven and trending downward when it arrived at Old Trafford on March 5. Marcos Rojo put United ahead in the 22nd and ex-Red Devil forward Josh King leveled via penalty in the 40th. The Cherries seemed doomed when Andrew Surman was sent off in the 45th, but somehow held on to grab a point (A missed Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty didn’t help things). Bournemouth won its next two, then drew Liverpool and Southampton en route to a top half finish.
Burnley – The Clarets can thank Mike Dean for their signature moment, a 1-0 win via a handled Sam Vokes effort that moved Burnley into ninth place in the league. Ninth place for little old Burnley. Sean Dyche‘s club would stay up. Now where will it go?
Chelsea – The Blues led the Premier League after August, but had dropped to eighth by the end of September. By the start of November, Chelsea sat fourth in the table. Everton arrived at Stamford Bridge, and the Blues absolutely throttled the Merseyside club. Eden Hazard scored twice, the first moments before Marcos Alonso made it 3-0, and both Diego Costa and Pedro had also scored before the match was through. 5-0 spelled the fifth-straight win, and the Blues went on to win a historic 13-straight PL games.
Everton – It was a season, or at least half-season, of “so close” for Ronald Koeman‘s men. It didn’t get much clearer than the match that followed the Toffees’ second loss in the Merseyside Derby. Everton looked set for a rebound and a win at Old Trafford when Ashley Williams’ handled Luke Shaw’s stoppage time shot to allow Zlatan Ibrahimovic a penalty kick that stole a point for the Red Devils.
Hull City – Unsure if this counts as “the season”, but Steve Bruce quitting the club three weeks before the season because of a lack of transfer ambition (amongst other things) spelled doom for the club far before Marco Silva nearly saved their season.
Leicester City – Firing Claudio Ranieri was a massive risk. The Foxes had posted the most remarkable season in world soccer less than a year before cutting ties with the Italian. While some — like me — would argue that transfer pick-up Wilfred Ndidi was the real reason for the turnaround, it also coincided with the managerial change.
Liverpool – The Reds had a knack for playing like results were expected against lesser lights, and late conceded goals are easy to find when reviewing their season (See Swansea below). It happened against powerful Manchester United, but it also happened against Sunderland. Jermain Defoe scored the second goal of his brace in the 84th minute to cost the Black Cats two points… again.
Manchester City – Pep Guardiola led City to six-straight PL wins at the start of the season, but could only watch as Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs bettered him 2-0 at White Hart Lane to drop City to 6-1. It was one of just six losses on the season, five of which came away from the Etihad Stadium. That away form didn’t impress Guardiola, and it didn’t help City chase the title.
Manchester United – While their moment may still be coming in the form of Wednesday’s Europa League Final against Ajax, we’ll go with Jose Mourinho’s first tournament win with United: the EFL Cup Final. NBC analyst Robbie Earle often talks about good teams needing to find a way to win when they aren’t at their best, and United did it at Wembley. It could be a harbinger of what’s to come.
Middlesbrough – Boro went to West Brom on Aug. 28, unbeaten in a pair of PL matches. It remained unbeaten following the 0-0 draw, but the zero on its side of the scoreboard was extra significant for one reason: It was the first of a whopping 19 times that the Smoggies were kept off the scoreboard, including seven scoreless draws.
Southampton – Most of these moments are related to Premier League play, but the perfect summation of Saints’ up-and-down season may be the EFL Cup Final. Many believe Saints were the better side that day, only to fall short. The same can be said for their Europa League campaign. But results matter, and Saints didn’t make it back to Europe via either route.
Sunderland – The Black Cats managed to take multiple steps back for every step forward, so it’s fitting that we mark the 4-0 loss at home to Southampton on Feb. 11. It followed a 4-0 win against old manager Sam Allardyce and Crystal Palace and a scoreless draw against Spurs. Sunderland was battered by a pair Manolo Gabbiadini goals, and the loss started a run that saw the Black Cats manage points in a whopping three of its 14 remaining matches.
Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs lost just four Premier League matches this season, and responded to each with a PL win. Three of those were blowouts, and the fourth was a 2-1 May win over Manchester United. One of those bounce backs happened to be two weeks after a road loss to Liverpool and three days after Spurs were bounced from the Champions League by Genk, as Harry Kane scored one of his four season hat trick and Dele Alli also scored in a 4-0 demolition of Stoke City.
West Bromwich Albion – There’s a moment in every season which sees Tony Pulis‘ Baggies tease us with what they could do if they just allowed a little bit of open play to hamper their “Just Survive” mentality. This year it was a 3-1 win over Arsenal which begged West Brom supporters to imagine life in the Top Seven, only to let them down with another post-safety collapse. Woof.
That’s a fictional account of a conversation occurring between Yeovil Town’s Annie Heatherson and Manchester City star Carli Lloyd a moment before the USWNT star threw a ruthless red-card winning elbow in the mug of her mark.
“I think I will decide [on my future] in the next two weeks,” he said.
Asked if United would be his new club he replied: “Possible, possible.” Asked to give the chances on a scale of one to 10, Griezmann added “six”.
There’s a reported $112 million release clause in Griezmann’s contract, and few clubs will be able to meet it. The player has said he’s loyal to Diego Simeone, and the manager said he’s staying at Atleti.
Still, is Griezmann to Old Trafford fait accompli?