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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.

FIFA release “Garcia Report” in full; issue statement

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FIFA has released the previously confidential Garcia report into alleged corruption surrounding the 2018/2022 World Cup bidding process.

Previously the report, compiled in 2104 by American lawyer Michael Garcia, was said to be private and would never be released by FIFA. Garcia quit when FIFA instead released a 42-age version of his report which acted as a summary of his findings.

However, German publication Bild had got hold of a copy of the full report and was due to leak details from Tuesday.

Now, world soccer’s governing body has got ahead of the game and released the report in full as Garcia looked into potential corruption among FIFA officials and high-ranking officials during the World Cup bidding process which saw Russia awarded the 2018 World Cup and the 2022 World Cup heading to Qatar.

Below is a statement from FIFA in full, while you can download the full report here.

The new chairpersons of the independent Ethics Committee, Maria Claudia Rojas of the investigatory chamber and Vassilios Skouris of the adjudicatory chamber, have decided to publish the Report on the Inquiry into the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup Bidding Process (the so-called “Garcia Report”).

This had been called for on numerous occasions by FIFA President Gianni Infantino in the past and also supported by the FIFA Council since its meeting in Mexico City in May 2016. Despite these regular requests, it is worth noting that the former chairpersons of the Ethics Committee, Cornel Borbély and Hans-Joachim Eckert, had always refused to publish it.

The Ethics Committee will meet in its full composition under the new chairpersons for the first time next week, and it was already planned to use this opportunity to discuss the publication of the report. However, as the document has been illegally leaked to a German newspaper, the new chairpersons have requested the immediate publication of the full report (including the reports on the Russian and US bid teams, which were conducted by Mr Borbély alone) in order to avoid the dissemination of any misleading information.

For the sake of transparency, FIFA welcomes the news that this report has now been finally published.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Ox to Liverpool; Nainggolan to Man United

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A report in Italy states that Manchester United are interested in signing AS Roma’s midfielder Radja Nainggolan.

[ MORE: Henry Onyekuru to Everton?

Gazzetta dello Sport claim that United will offer $51 million for the Belgian international as Jose Mourinho looks to totally overhaul his midfield.

Mourinho is reportedly close to closing a deal for Chelsea’s Serbian midfielder Nemanja Matic and adding Nainggolan means there would be plenty of extra bite in the Red Devils midfield next season, especially with Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera around too. Per the report, Nainggolan could be added instead of Matic with the 29-year-old combative midfielder offered $159,000 a week.

Nainggolan has been heavily linked with a move to Chelsea in the past but the two-way midfielder stayed at Roma last season and scored 11 times as they finished in second place in Serie A.

After posting a cryptic message on Instagram on Monday stating “Thinking about what to do” expect this rumor to be cranked up a few notches with Nainggolan possessing the ability to score goals from distance and also dictate and break up the play in midfield. He seems like a perfect fit for the Premier League.


Liverpool is said to have taken their pursuit of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to the next level.

The Daily Mirror believes Jurgen Klopp‘s side have made an approach for the Ox, as the 23-year-old considers his options with just one year left on his current deal at Arsenal and talks over a new deal at a standstill.

Played at right-wing back for the final months of last season, Oxlade-Chamberlain shone and kept Hector Bellerin out of the Gunners’ starting lineup. Capable of playing as a winger on either flank or a central midfielder (a role he believes is his best) the Ox’s versatility is a major plus, hence why both Liverpool and Manchester City are said to be chasing him.

The Ox has struggled massively with injuries since joining Arsenal from Southampton as a teenager in 2010, but the England international has undoubted quality and if Liverpool did meet Arsenal’s valuation of $34 million then he he would have the chance to flourish at Anfield. If he left Arsenal for Man City or Chelsea you’d question if he’d be a regular in either team, but at Liverpool he could play in any of the fluid positions Klopp loves in midfield or attack.

After spending the past seven years at Arsenal it would certainly be a shame for Arsene Wenger to see the Ox go, but with just 12 months left on his deal (like Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil et al.) this summer would be the time to cash in if Arsenal wanted to.

Jurgen Klinsmann denies Sunderland links

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Jurgen Klinsmann had quashed speculation linking him with taking the vacant managerial position at Sunderland.

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The Black Cats were relegated from the Premier League last season and as they prepare for life in England’s second-tier they are managerless and American owner Ellis Short is still searching for a new owner for the club.

That’s how reports linking former U.S. national team boss Klinsmann to the job emanated, as a German consortium are interested in buying Sunderland.

However, Klinsmann had the following to say on his Facebook page about the Sunderland job.

“No truth on rumors coaching Sunderland FC in the near future,” Klinsmann said.

The 52-year-old German national team legend has kept a pretty low profile since being fired by the USMNT back in November 2016 following two defeats to open up the final round of 2018 World Cup qualifying. His five years in charge of the U.S. had plenty of ups and downs, but you can’t argue with how he helped reorganize the entire structure of U.S. Soccer during his role as Technical Director which coincided with him being head coach of the national team.

Last month Klinsmann was seen in South Korea watching his son, Jonathan, playing in goal for the U.S. U-20 side at the U-20 World Cup, but apart from that he seems no closer to getting back involved in the game via a managerial position.

Klinsmann and his family are settled in Huntington Beach, California and unless and incredible job comes up in Europe or elsewhere in the U.S., it’s tough to see him taking it. The 1990 World Cup winner is constantly linked with every big job which becomes available in England, largely due to his popularity after successful spells at Tottenham Hotspur, but it would be no big surprise if his coaching career was on more than a temporary hiatus.

Major League Soccer’s new franchise in Los Angeles, LAFC, arrive in March 2018 and have yet to hire a new head coach. Given his history with MLS it’s also tough to see Klinsmann getting involved with that franchise. Right now it seems like his future in the soccer world could be in advising clubs or national teams on how to rebuild themselves as he did with Germany ahead of the 2006 World Cup and more recently with the U.S. who have had success at youth national team level.

Report: Everton agree to deal to sign Nigerian striker Onyekuru

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Everton have reportedly agreed to sign Nigerian striker Henry Onyekuru from Belgian club KAS Eupen.

The teenage striker was the top scorer in Belgium’s top-flight last season, scoring 22 times, and had been attracting interest from Arsenal and many others with a release clause of just $8.6 million.

However multiple reports state that Onyekuru had a medical at Everton on Monday, with the Toffees agreeing a deal to sign the Nigerian international.

It has also been suggested that Onyekuru will be loaned out to Anderlecht next season as he continues his development, plus he is yet to be granted a UK work permit.

Onyekuru, 20, took the Belgian top-flight by storm last season and has scored 30 goals in 60 games for Eupen following his move to Belgium from the Aspire Academy in Qatar where he spent time from 2010-15. Eupen finished 13th in the Belgium’s top-flight after being promoted from the second-tier.

Below is a look at some of his highlights from last season as the young striker has plenty of pace and is cool in front of goal. Toffees fans will be hoping he develops in the mold of former Anderlecht and Chelsea forward Romelu Lukaku and that Onyekuru could step into his shoes if the Belgian striker leaves Goodison Park over the next 12 months.

If that proves to be the case then Onyekuru could be one of the best pieces of business in recent history. Everton’s Director of Football Steve Walsh certainly has an eye for plucking young talent from lower leagues and across Europe when you think about Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante during his time at Leicester, plus the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin already shining at Everton.

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