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.

3-time Champions League winner Valdes retires

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Victor Valdes was one of the best goalkeepers of his generation, proven in part by his three UEFA Champions League winner’s medals, and has reportedly called full-time on his footballing career at the age of 35.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Monday ]

Valdes, who joined Barcelona at the age of 10 and went on to win six La Liga titles and two Copas del Rey to go with the three Champions League triumphs during his time at the club, will launch his own television production company, as well as his own show. Valdes made more than 500 appearances for Barca, beginning his first-team career in 2002 before moving to Manchester United in 2014.

If not for his career running perfectly parallel to that of Iker Casillas, Valdes would have won far more than his 20 caps for Spain during any other era, though he does have 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship winner’s medals. Valdes spent the 2016-17 Premier League season with Middlesbrough, starting 28 of 38 games during the club’s relegation season.

Watch, Stream live: Premier League TV schedule – Week 2

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With the 2017-18 Premier League season up and running, there is plenty coming your way in Week 2. Here’s how you can watch it all.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

Kicking things off the season on Saturday Manchester United head to the Liberty Stadium to face Swansea (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com)

Liverpool then host Crystal Palace at Anfield (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) as Jurgen Klopp‘s side will have to refocus after their UEFA Champions League first leg clash at Hoffenheim in midweek.

To round things off on Saturday Stoke City welcome Arsenal to the bet365 Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBC Sports.com) as the Potters aim to get yet another positive home result against the Gunners. Will Arsene Wenger‘s defense hold firm?

Sunday sees Huddersfield Town welcome Newcastle United to the John Smith’s Stadium (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) for their first-ever home game in the Premier League as two newly-promoted teams clash.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

Then comes the big one: Tottenham versus Chelsea at Wembley (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) in a huge London derby. With reigning champs Chelsea struggling along, Spurs will want to compound the misery of their London rivals.

Week 2 ends with a Monday night clash between Manchester City and Everton at the Etihad Stadium (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) between two of the biggest spending clubs this summer.

The full TV schedule for this weekend is below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ]

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App,

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. West Brom – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. West Ham – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Brighton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Arsenal — NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
8:30 a.m. ET: Huddersfield Town vs. Newcastle United – NBCSN [STREAM]
11 a.m. ET: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM

Monday
3 p.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Everton – NBCSN [STREAM]

Spurs’ first signing imminent? Wimmer out; Sanchez in

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Tottenham Hotspur are reportedly nearing completion of their first signing of the summer transfer window, as well as the club’s second departure from the first-team this summer.

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumor roundup | Wednesday | Tuesday ]

According to reports, Ajax defender Davinson Sanchez is pulling out all the stops in order to force a move away from the club, with Tottenham his no. 1 preferred destination. Up until a week ago, Sanchez had scarcely been linked with a move away from the Johan Cruijff Arena, but once word of Spurs’ interest (as well as that of a handful of other European giants) got out, Sanchez had already mentally moved on to the next phase of his career.

Despite being named in Ajax’s squad to face Rosenborg in Europa League qualification on Thursday, Sanchez is not with the squad at the team hotel and the club have refused to comment regarding his current location. The 21-year-old Colombian could cost Spurs as much as $50 million, though the ongoing saga could be seen as a ploy to reduce the price and faster facilitate a move.

[ MORE: Diego Costa releases statement — “I must return to Atletico Madrid” ]

With one center back now expected to make his way to north London, another — Kevin Wimmer, Spurs’ de facto fourth center back behind Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Eric Dier — is reportedly the subject of a $19-million bid from West Bromwich Albion.

Barcelona’s Suarez out for a month with knee injury

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The hits just keep on coming for Barcelona, the tiny, scrappy Spanish club that just can’t catch a break.

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumor roundup | Wednesday | Tuesday ]

In the last two weeks alone, the Blaugrana have lost Neymar, spent $47 million to sign Paulinho, failed to land a single one of their reported major transfer targets, and been embarrassed by Real Madrid (of all clubs) in the Supercopa de España.

One of the few remaining saving graces was the Lionel Messi-Luis Suarez partnership — two-thirds of the historically great MSN trio — which remained in place following Neymar’s departure. That won’t be the case for the next month, at least, after Suarez suffered an injury to his right knee in the second leg of the Supercopa on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Diego Costa releases statement — “I must return to Atletico Madrid” ]

The Uruguayan Football Association announced on Thursday that Suarez will be sidelined for four to five weeks and miss for a pair of hugely important World Cup qualifiers against Argentina (Aug. 31) and Paraguay (Sept. 5). Uruguay currently sit third in CONMEBOL’s marathon 10-team qualification round, one point clear of Chile in fourth (automatic qualification) and Argentina in fifth (qualification playoff, versus Oceania).

As for Barca, Suarez’s injury means not only will the club be without arguably the world’s best striker of the last five years, but given the desperate situation they now find themselves in, Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund should be expected to demand an additional $5 million or $10 million to land Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, respectively.