CONCACAF upsets dot World Cup landscape, hinting the federation can play with the best

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The beauty of knockout tournaments is that conventional wisdom goes out the window and storylines build themselves.

It’s often evident in environments such as the NCAA Tournament and professional sports playoffs, where teams built for long-term seasonal success face one-and-done situations that become their demise.

North and Central American teams from the CONCACAF federation are raising plenty of eyebrows this World Cup, giving fans of countries along the corridor plenty to smile about, and validation that their region is no laughing matter.

It’s also doing more than giving people notice – it’s earning them points, valuable points as they push towards unlikely knockout round positions.

Costa Rica was drawn into the “Group of Champions” alongside Uruguay, Italy, and England. They’re already into the next round.  The United States was apprehended into the “Group of Death” with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana.

Often dismissed as inferior by those following European and South American teams, the likes of Costa Rica, Mexico, and the United States at this point are…at risk of horrific jinx consequences…undefeated against the likes of Italy, Uruguay, Brazil, Ghana, and Cameroon.

That means 28th-ranked Costa Rica has beaten the 7th- and 9th-ranked teams, 20th-ranked Mexico held 2nd-ranked Brazil, and the 13th-ranked US exorcised awful demons against 37th-ranked Ghana and has the chance to make noise Sunday vs. 4th-ranked Portugal.

Only Honduras remains without a win, but even Los Catrachos showed signs of life in their 2-1 loss to Ecuador.

For more (current before the Honduras loss to Ecuador):

The real noise is made during the knockout rounds of course, but with Costa Rica already through, Mexico in a very solid position, and the United States has an opportunity to continue CONCACAF’s shocking run.

Costa Rica proved tactically superior to both Italy and Uruguay, as the genius of Jorge Luis Pinto befuddled Uruguay with a dangerous counter-attack and shackled the Italian stars with a structurally sound back five.

source: AP
John Brooks’ winner over Ghana set the United States up to potentially make serious noise against Portugal and Germany in the “Group of Death”

If the US can at least pull out a draw against Portugal, something which is not considered a long-shot but is by no means an expected result, CONCACAF teams will have secured at least eight points of a possible 12 against top-10 FIFA ranked teams, and as many as 10 of 12, an incredible result.

And if we’ve learned anything from Costa Rica’s pair of wins, it’s that superior tactics can often outweigh superior talent, something the United States will likely lean heavily on against both Portugal and Germany.

But will this be enough to have an impact on future FIFA rulings involving World Cup qualifications? A lot has been made of talk that Asia and Africa could be given another guaranteed spot, taking one from Europe. And that makes no sense – but would be very FIFA.

However, CONCACAF has not been quiet about its desire to earn its fourth qualification spot as guaranteed rather than stuck in the playoff with Oceania as it stands now. They lobbied for a fourth guaranteed spot back in 2011 but were denied the spot for this summer’s Cup.

While Oceania has never provided a challenge – a struggling Mexico side dominated New Zealand 9-3 over two legs – there is a certain pedigree about owning four guaranteed spots, the same amount that South America currently has.

There’s plenty more to be played, and two or three surprise performances don’t justify a jump in qualifying procedures, but if the federation continues to produce points and results, there could certainly be discussions for future tournaments.

CONCACAF is on the rise, there’s no question about it, but is the federation here to stay? The United States and Mexico both have chances to stake their claim to that question.

Premier League Preview: Swansea City vs. Manchester City

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  • Man City leads all-time 22W-4D-7L
  • Swans winless in 11 vs. Man City
  • Last Swans win: 2012 at home

Manchester City can set the Premier League record for consecutive wins in a single season when it visits Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Each side has scored in the last eight meetings between the two in all competitions, which is about the only bit of good news for Paul Clement‘s side outside of their weekend win over West Brom. Man City has dominated the series in recent memory, and really all time.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

And some good news for Man City, too: There won’t be any problem with what they do in their own changing room.

“Like any club, Manchester City are able to play music in their dressing room,” a Swansea City spokesman said following the fracas at the Manchester Derby.

Wilfried Bony will be fired up to face his former club, and he’s coming off a big goal to sink West Brom. He’s going to have a lot in the tank. From the Manchester Evening News:

“Every game I look forward to but it is special to play against your old team. Injuries had an impact on my time at City. When you come from a club where you play every game and then you are playing maybe once a month or two games a month it is completely different.”

Vincent Kompany is out for Man City.

What they’re saying

Swansea City back Alfie Mawson on slowing Man City“I’m very fortunate to test myself against the highest calibre of footballer there is. City are flying this season. They’ve got one of the best managers in the world. We’ve got to find a way to combat them. Every team is finding it hard and I’m sure it’s going to be a very tough game because of the quality and depth they have. We’ve got to be switched on for the entire game, as they’ll punish one lapse in concentration.”

Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne on the 11-point table lead“Lots of teams lost points this weekend so it is a big one for us [the win] just to put more pressure on the rest. We have to enjoy it and then focus again for Wednesday. It is a big gap. If we slip up we are still in the lead. We can’t be complacent. We need to do what we have all year. I prefer to be 11 points ahead than 11 points behind that’s for sure.”

Prediction

The run continues, as Paul Clement prioritizes Saturday’s trip to Everton and City cruises to a 3-0 win.

Mourinho: Celebration disagreement rooted in behavior, education

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Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola was the first to be asked about the post-match incident between his victorious visitors at Manchester United at Old Trafford.

United boss Jose Mourinho is alleged to have charged into the City dressing room, enraged at the volume of celebrations coming from within the visitors’ quarters.

[ MORE: Klopp responds to interview hubbub ]

What followed, again allegedly, was a brawl which included milk being thrown at Mourinho and a bloodied City assistant in the form of Mikel Arteta.

Mourinho said the incident is in the past, only offering this response to Guardiola’s assertion that the celebrations weren’t over the top. From the BBC:

“He says he says, I’m not here to comment on his words the only thing I can say is that for me was just a question of diversity. Diversity in behaviors, diversity in education, just that and nothing more.”

In other words, Mourinho thinks he’s a bit classier. That and a bag of chips gets you a bag of chips on the table.

Holiday sale for “Premier League Pass”

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The sale is on. But act quickly.

You can get 20% off the “Premier League Pass” on NBC Sports Gold if you sign up before the deadline on Wednesday.

With eight games live exclusively on NBC Sports Gold this Tuesday and Wednesday alone, and the PL games coming thick and fast over the festive season, this is the gift which keeps on giving.

[ SALE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ]

The deal, available until 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, gives you 20% off of the Premier League Pass for the rest of the season, which includes plenty of exclusive PL matches each week as well as access to Premier League shows featuring the latest news, analysis and more – which are only available on NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League Today, Premier League News and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

Click on the link above for details on how to purchase the sale on NBC Sports Gold.

Pep: “Celebrations weren’t too much”

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Pep Guardiola is staying as close-lipped as possible when it comes to the post-match derby dust-up between his Manchester City and Manchester United on Sunday.

Reports say United boss Mourinho charged into the visitors locker room to protest loud celebrations following City’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford. For his troubles, he allegedly got milk thrown at him and City assistant Mikel Arteta ended up with a cut face.

[ MORE: Klopp responds to interview hubbub ]

Guardiola said the celebrations were his idea, and he doesn’t want to say much more about United’s reactions. From Sky Sports:

“I am the guy who encouraged each other to celebrate. What happened, happened. We will make statement to the FA. I am not going to comment about that. Celebrations were’t too much.”

“Everybody fought hard to win. We could have scored more goals. After the game we celebrated with the fans and went to the changing room and celebrated the win.”

 

He’d only elaborate by saying, in essence, you celebrate when you win and don’t when you lose, and that other teams celebrate winning in similar rivalries in similar fashion.

Now we await Mourinho. He’s a wild card, but with legal entities involved we wouldn’t be surprised to get little to nothing.