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2014 World Cup: How does it look for CONCACAF?

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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.

Honduras is 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.

Mourinho: Leicester home should be Claudio Ranieri Stadium

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Claudio Ranieri, Manager of Leicester City shows his frustration as Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United looks on during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on September 24, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Jose Mourinho cannot quite get his head around Leicester City’s firing of Claudio Ranieri.

The story is on the tips of the tongues of many in the Premier League, and Manchester United’s boss is no exception.

[ MORE: UEL draw | Who is Rostov? ]

Speaking Friday ahead of United’s EFL Cup Final against Southampton, here’s what Mourinho had to say.

From the BBC:

“He deserves the Leicester stadium to be named ‘Claudio Ranieri Stadium’. The most beautiful thing in the Premier League and one of most beautiful in football history.

“Now Leicester are in the highlights again with a decision that has everyone in football united. It’s very difficult to accept. It’s important to realize how football is and we need to react. I was sacked as a champion [by Chelsea], a giant negative as I thought – peanuts compared to Claudio.

“I don’t think he needs more. Nobody can do what he did. If some of the stories have just a little bit of truth, it is difficult to find words to justify but we have to be able to cope.”

Mourinho is giving voice to what many feel, this writer included. Ranieri is in a relegation fight, yes, but to fire him days after the Foxes stole a road goal against Sevilla that gives them reasonable odds to advance in the UEFA Champions League? It’s an odd one, and smacks a bit of, “Well, we can’t fire him if he beats Liverpool or Sevilla”.

Liverpool visits the King Power Stadium this weekend, and the Foxes will need an incredible response at home to topple the rested Reds. Sure the Premier League is win now, but add me to the chorus who thinks the new manager will have the same odds to fix Leicester as Ranieri.

Roma’s American president losing patience over stadium delay

James Pallotta, AS Roma
AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino
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ROME (AP) Roma’s American president is starting to lose patience with city officials over long-delayed plans for a new stadium.

Ahead of a meeting between municipal authorities and club officials Friday, James Pallotta issued a statement saying the team expects “a massively positive result” from the encounter.

Pallotta adds “the alternative would be catastrophic for the future of AS Roma, Italian football, the city of Rome, and quite frankly for future business in Italy.”

[ MORE: PST feature on Pallotta ]

The mostly privately financed 1.6 billion euro ($1.7 billion) project received another setback this week when cultural authorities announced plans to declare the proposed stadium site – an abandoned hippodrome – as a site of “particularly important interest.”

The project in Tor di Valle, halfway between downtown and Leonardo Da Vinci Airport, also includes three office towers.

Who is Manchester United’s UEL opponent Rostov?

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 15: Jano Ananidze (L) of FC Spartak Moscow is challenged by Alexandru Gatcan of FC Rostov during the Russian Premier League match between FC Spartak Moscow v FC Rostov at Otkrytie Arena Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho and Manchester United have learned their fate for the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 16.

The Red Devils face Russian side FC Rostov in the next round of the tournament, four victorious ties from claiming an automatic spot in the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Spurs sent packing | Full UEL draw ]

So who is Rostov? Seventh in the Russian Premier League standings, Selmashi finished second last season and won the league in 1994 and 2008.

Rostov entered the Europa League after a run through the Champions League which saw the club knock out Anderlecht and Ajax, both still alive in the UEL, before finishing third behind Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich in the group stage. Rostov beat Sparta Prague in the Round of 32 of the UEL.

The club is led by former Moldova boss Ivan Daniliants. Its leading scorer is left wing Dmitri Poloz with 11 goals, and Ecuadorian national teamer Christian Noboa and Moldova veteran Alexandru Gațcan among its mainstays.

While some will make the case that a rough pitch, long trip, and stingy team makes this draw a bad one for United, Mourinho’s crew should triumph. How worse could it have been? This one won’t be easy, but consider Roma, Schalke, Borussia Monchengladbach… even a reunion with Memphis Depay and Lyon would bring more of a challenge than Rostov.

Europa League draw: Man Utd learns fate

Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan, center back to camera, celebrates scoring the opening goal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 2nd right, and other teammates during a Europa League round of 32 second leg soccer match between Saint Etienne and Manchester United at Geoffroy Guichard stadium in Saint Etienne, France, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
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The travel is tricky, but Manchester United’s draw for the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 could’ve been much worse.

The Red Devils are off to Russia to face FC Rostov in the next round of the UEL competition.

[ MORE: Spurs out | Who is Rostov? ]

In another draw that leads you to question whether there’s anything random about it all, United and lone La Liga representative Celta Vigo drew winnable matches against Russian clubs, Roma has a tantalizing match against Lyon, and an all-Bundesliga match hits the docket.

Heck, we’ll even see an all-Belgian tie between Gent vs. Genk.

And in a draw which will have many glued to their sets, USMNT left-sided man Fabian Johnson will help Borussia Monchengladbach against German rivals Schalke. The first leg comes five days after the pair face off in Bundesliga play.

The Round of 16 legs will be played March 9 and 16.

UEFA Europa League Round of 16

Rostov vs. Manchester United
Celta Vigo vs. Krasnodar
Copenhagen vs. Ajax
Olympiacos vs. Besiktas
Lyon vs. Roma
Schalke vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
APOEL Nicosia vs. Anderlecht
Gent vs. Genk