Zaccheroni’s dare, wondering about Group C: Talking points after the Ivory Coast defeated Japan

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After an hour of struggling to create chances in Recife, the Ivory Coast took a huge step toward its first appearance in a World Cup knockout road. With second half goals from Wilfried Bony and Gervinho, les Elephants claimed a 2-1 over Asian champion Japan, a result that leaves them even with Colombia at the top of Group C after onet match at the 2014 World Cup.

Along the way, we learned a little more about the two teams that are expect to compete for a place along side the Colombians for a spot in the second round. Here are three takeaways from the Saturday’s final match:

1. The Ivorians responded to Zaccheroni’s dare – Japan has the quality to hold the ball and protect its suspect defense, but Alberto Zaccheroni went the other direction. Japan laid off the Ivorians, chose organization over control, and implicitly dared les Elephants to beat them. Take the ball. Try. We don’t think you can beat us. Japan’s defense was that passive in their approach.

For an hour, it worked, arguably to perfection. The Ivory Coast went 35 minutes before registering a shot on target, and although they built momentum going into intermission, a spell of carelessness at the back in the second half’s opening moments only vindicated Zaccheroni’s approach. As long as Japan stayed organized, the Ivorians weren’t going to beat them.

There was, however, one caveat – two questions that nestled in everybody’s mind when the lineups came out: When would Didier Drogba come on, and what would happen when he did?

In the 62nd minute, Drogba’s inclusion turned the match, but it wasn’t because of anything he did with the ball. Switching from a one-front to a two-striker formation, the Ivorians also adjusted how they played, electing to take more chances from wide rather than pass through Japan’s defense.

At least, that’s how it probably would have played out. Given Japan gave up two goals in 100 seconds, it’s difficult to draw any broad conclusions. though was can put the result in more tactical terms.

For the first time in the game, the Ivory Coast went after Japan’s biggest weakness – their central defense. Be it Wilfried Bony winning an individual battle in the 64th minute or Gervinho sitting unmarked outside the six-yard box in two minutes later, the Japanese defense collapsed quickly once its central defense was forced to step to step up. Whether that was personnel, formation, or approach, who knows, but there was a correction between all three and Saturday’s sudden turn.

Ultimately, it result goes back to Zaccheroni’s dare. Whether he was dubious of the Ivorians’ ability to execute or merely trying to protect his suspect defense, the Japan head coach gave his opponents every opportunity to take this match. Ultimately, they did.

2. In one area, Japan was as expected, unfortunately – And that area leads to a more philosophical question about how to deal with a poor defense. Suffice to say, Japan’s didn’t hold up. The goals the Ivorians scored were litmus tests that decent defenses pass. Unable to defend Serge Aurier’s crosses, Japan’s did not.

So what did Zaccheroni do wrong? From where we’re sitting, it’s presumptuous to even assume we have the information to answer that question, but it’s worth considering what the team could have done had they employed a different approach. Instead of regressing into such a deep, passive posture, what if Japan had put more pressure on the Ivorians’ own questionable defenders? What if the technical, fitness, and speed advantages Japan had were put to use?

Zaccheroni knows more about his team that we do, so it’s hard to make a completely persuasive argument. And had the Samurai Blue gone after the Ivorians, that suspect defense could have been beaten earlier and more often, albeit in a different way.

Given how the game played out, however, it’s hard to shake the feeling Japan let the Ivory Coast definite the match. Zaccheroni’s approach didn’t allow his team to put their best foot forward.

3. Group C looks weak – Greece and Japan offered so little, it’d be premature to get too excited about Colombia or the Ivory Coast, though with les Elephants, it’s worth noting the difficulties they had putting something together over the match’s first hour. Whereas the Cafeteros’ attack lived up to expectations, we’re still in wait-and-see mode with the Ivorians.

Contrast that with Group D, where Costa Rica’s impressive performance has helped create a true quartet. Croatia and Mexico both proved capable behind Brazil in Group A, while Group B saw the world champion Spain fall to a Dutch side that may be unexpectedly strong.

By definition, there has to be a weak group at each World Cup. Through three days, it looks like Group C might be it. Though the Ivorians could build on tonight, find their stride in attack, and become the packet’s second knockout round-quality side, we could also see the holes in Colombia’s defense surface when they’re finally tested on Wednesday.

Mexico has to solve 2 major questions before the World Cup

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Eighty-seven days before taking on Germany in its first match of Russia 2018, Mexico appears to have only two major lingering questions for the final 23-man roster that will try to reach the quarterfinals for the first time in a tournament away from home. Is veteran defender Rafael Marquez going to be called? And if Giovani Dos Santos’ lackluster performances put his spot in jeopardy?

Manager Juan Carlos Osorio said recently that he already knows who are going to join him in the quest to play in the fifth game of a World Cup, something that Mexicans achieved only as hosts in Mexico 1970 and in 1986.

Currently, 20 of the 28 players that were called to play friendly matches against Iceland and Croatia appear to have their ticket booked for Russia, leaving a handful of players fighting for three roster spots.


With over two decades playing for the national team, Marquez might not play in a fifth World Cup for two reasons, the major one off the field.

Each week, the 39-year old Marquez shows signs of his demise. His team Atlas is the worst in the league and has a defense that has allowed 22 goals in 12 matches.

In Mexico there’s a big debate on whether it’s worth calling a player whose best moments are behind him.

Marquez is worshipped in the locker room because most of his teammates grew up watching him when he won the Champions League playing for Barcelona (2005-06 and 2008-09).

Besides that, Osorio has to weigh in that Marquez was sanctioned last August by the U.S. Treasury for allegedly acting as a front person for a Mexican drug lord.

Marquez stopped playing for three months to take care of the issue and returned to action in Mexico but the Treasury has not lifted the sanctions yet and Marquez is unable to play in the United States and that’s why he was not called for the friendly matches.


A 28 year-old player as talented as Giovani Dos Santos should be a lock to be on the final roster for Mexico but that’s not the case. Dos Santos, who played in South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014, has not performed well for Mexico under Osorio, who loved the player and has given him opportunities to return to form, but that has not happen.

A recent injury left Dos Santos out of the squad that will play against Iceland and Croatia and that opened the doors for Rodolfo Pizarro, who has been playing great for Chivas and has a good chance of taking the spot if the L.A. Galaxy striker continues with his lackluster performance.


Taking the qualifiers and the Confederations Cup as a reference, Osorio pretty much has his roster set for the World Cup. Guillermo Ochoa and Jesus Corona will be two of the goalkeepers and Alfredo Talavera is probably the third. The defenders Nestor Araujo, Jesus Gallardo, Miguel Layun, Hector Moreno, Diego Reyes and Carlos Salcedo are also favorites of the Colombian manager, as well as the midfielders Jonathan Dos Santos, Marco Fabian, Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera and Javier Aquino. On the attack, Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, Javier Hernandez, Raul Jim�nez, Hirving Lozano, Oribe Peralta and Carlos Vela appear to have their spots secured leaving only three spaces.

Fighting for that chance are: Hugo Ayala, who’s been stellar for a Tigres team that has won two of the last three titles in Mexico; Oswaldo Alanis (Chivas), who played in last year’s Confederations Cup and Edson Alvarez (America), who’s not playing much for his club but Osorio loves his style of play and the fact that he can also play as a midfielder.

Midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez is also on the mix after declining to play for the U.S. and Omar Govea, who plays for Royal Excel in the Belgium league, has gathered interest from Osorio.

All five players will have a chance to present their cases in the upcoming friendly matches.

Battle-tested United could turn attention to Neymar this summer

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Last summer’s drama surrounding Neymar could be nothing compared to what is in store for the Brazilian in 2018.

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Diario Gol is reporting that Manchester United is exploring the possibility of making a bid for Neymar this summer, which would come at a record fee for the Premier League side.

The report suggests United would be willing to pay over $367 million for the Paris Saint-Germain star, while possibly sending Paul Pogba to the French giants in the swap.

Neymar, who joined PSG in 2017 after a messy ending at Barcelona, has been heavily linked to his former’s side bitter rival Real Madrid

Man United boss Jose Mourinho is reportedly keen on the move for Neymar after the club’s signing of Alexis Sanchez didn’t live up to the billing.

The Chilean international has scored just once in 10 appearances for the Red Devils, and Mourinho has let it be known that he wasn’t pleased with the player after United crashed out of the UEFA Champions League against Sevilla.

Meanwhile, Pogba’s relationship with the Portuguese manager has been anything but steady in their time together at Old Trafford, making the reality of the French midfielder leaving Manchester a strong one.

Nothing has been indicated for certain that Neymar will leave PSG following the World Cup in Russia, but all signs are pointing to the currently-injured attacker moving from the Parc des Princes.

Report: Conte, Pirlo could spearhead Italy managerial team

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Various nations are still mourning their failure of missing out on the 2018 World Cup, but arguably none bigger than powerhouse Italy.

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The Azzurri, who lost to Sweden in a UEFA playoff series in 2017, will not take part in soccer’s most-prestigious competition in Russia for the first time since 1958.

Former manager Gian Piero Ventura has received heavy criticism for the nation’s failure, and stepped down from his role as head coach immediately after Italy’s dismissal from World Cup qualifying.

A familiar face could now be in line to replace Ventura though, as Football Italia reports that Chelsea manager Antonio Conte could make a return to the Azzurri.

Conte remains under contract at Stamford Bridge, however, Chelsea’s dip in form this season after winning the title in 2016/17 has many speculating that the Italian won’t survive to coach the Blues next year.

Meanwhile, Italian legend Andrea Pirlo has also expressed his interest in joining the technical staff if Conte is appointed.

The two have a close history together from their days with the national team and at Juventus.

In addition to Conte, Carlo Ancelotti is reportedly being considered for the job as well, and Pirlo is believed to be willing to join the managerial staff is the former Bayern Munich coach is hired.

Former Sevilla player Diego Capel training with Sounders

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A former Sevilla star is training in MLS, as the veteran midfielder looks to continue his career stateside.

Diego Capel was spotted training with the Seattle Sounders on Thursday, despite club manager Brian Schmetzer initially playing coy on who the player was.

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“We have a player that’s in camp,” Schmetzer said. “He’s a good player. He’s probably worn the number 10 in his career. Maybe as a youth player. Maybe it’s just a player borrowing Nico’s jersey.”

The Sounders have suffered several major injuries in their attack to start the 2018 MLS season, which also contributed to the team’s derailment in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

While Capel traditionally has played on the wing throughout his career, the Sounders could use all the help they can get in the attacking third.

Jordan Morris has already been ruled out for the season with an ACL tear, while Nicolas Lodeiro and Will Bruin are currently sidelined for the club with respective injuries.

Capel came up through the ranks of Sevilla, while also playing for notable European sides such as Sporting Lisbon and Anderlecht.

The 30-year-old last played for the Belgian side in 2017, but has been a free agent since.