World Cup Today: Mexico looks to advance, Groups A & B titles on the line

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What a Sunday for the tournament, with a six-goal thriller and the United States-Portugal draw making up for a yawner between Belgium and Russia.

It’s going to be difficult to top Sunday’s World Cup action, though the concurrent group finales will help. Let’s take a look at what’s in store today:

[ MORE: How the U.S. can advance ]
[ MORE: Soccerly covers the World Cup ]

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MATCH 35: AUSTRALIA VS. SPAIN
Location: Arena da Baixada, Curitiba
Time: Noon ET
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Cheater’s Guide
Does it mean anything to Spain? Because an exuberant Socceroos side would be thrilled to knock off the reigning champs and kick them while down. Neither team can advance to the knockout rounds.

What they’re saying
Koke on Spain looking to set standard for future winners: “It’s very difficult to achieve what this group have achieved, but a new generation full of strength and hope is coming through, and why can’t we dream of doing that? I’m just one more player that’s going to fight for his national team and for his country.”

History
The two nations have never met.

Premier League Players
Australia: Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace)
Spain: David de Gea (Manchester United), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea), Juan Mata (Manchester United), Santi Cazorla (Arsenal), David Silva (Manchester City), Fernando Torres(Chelsea)

Major League Soccer players:
Australia: Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls)
Spain: David Villa (New York City FC)

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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source: APMATCH 36: NETHERLANDS VS. CHILE
Location: Arena de São Paulo, São Paulo
Time: Noon ET
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Cheater’s guide
The fight for the right to avoid Brazil. A Robin van Persie-less Netherlands will duke it out with a hobbled-Arturo Vidal and Chile, as two teams set for the knockout rounds jockey for position. Loser likely gets the host nation. Winner likely faces Mexico or Croatia.

What they’re saying
Chile’s Arturo Vidal when asked if the club is looking ahead to a potential match-up with Brazil: “It is difficult to talk about Brazil because before that we have a match much more important. Tomorrow we will have to play to win. If we play the same way as against Spain, we can make it all the way to final, but of course you have to prove that you really live up to your own expectations.”

History
The two nations have never met.

Premier League players
Netherlands: Tim Krul (Newcastle United), Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa), Robin van Persie (Manchester United)
Chile: None

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source: Getty ImagesMATCH 33: CAMEROON VS. BRAZIL
Location: Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha, Brasília
Time: 4pm ET
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Cheater’s Guide
Can Cameroon salvage some pride with a shocking upset of the tournament’s hosts? It would be unlikely on so many levels (one being the officials), but all eyes will be on Brazil as they look to win Group A after a mid-group stumble draw against Mexico.

What they’re saying
Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari on the opponent fiasco: “You have to win the match, you have to advance to the next round. Some people have been saying that we might consider playing to choose our opponent, but they are either stupid or ill-intentioned. We have to play to advance, not to choose anything. We have to play to win.”

History
Brazil has won three of four matches against Cameroon, though the visitors won in the last tilt (2003 Confederations Cup).

Premier League Players
Brazil: David Luiz (Chelsea), Oscar (Chelsea), Ramires (Chelsea), Willian (Chelsea), Paulinho (Tottenham), Fernandinho (Manchester City)
Cameroon: Benoit Assou-Ekotto (Queens Park Rangers)

Did you know: every player in the Russia squad plays their club soccer inside the country?

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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source: APMATCH 34: CROATIA VS. MEXICO
Location: Arena Pernambuco, Recife
Time: 4pm ET
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Cheater’s guide
Mexico looks to strike another blow for CONCACAF, as a draw or win would put them through. The Croatians look to set right their loss against Brazil, which is still a flashpoint for controversy at home.

What they’re saying
Mexico coach Miguel Herrera will go for a W: “We are not going to think about a tie, our intention is to win. Of course if we end up with a draw, we progress anyway and so we would be happy, but if you go into a game thinking about a tie you are most likely going to lose. The idea is to look for a win, stay intense. We know that Croatia has to win, so that should open up space for us. If we know that they have to attack us, we should be able to take advantage.”

History
Croatia has won two of three, but Mexico won the last meeting in the 2002 World Cup.

Premier League players
Mexico: Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez (Manchester United)
Croatia: Dejan Lovren (Southampton), Nikica Jelavić (Hull City)

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Hernandez, Araujo score in 1st half, Mexico beats Costa Rica

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Javier Hernandez and Nestor Araujo scored in the first half, and Mexico overcame the absence of half a dozen players to beat Costa Rica 2-0 on Friday night in a World Cup qualifying match.

Hernandez scored on a cross from Carlos Vela to open the score in the seventh and Araujo added a goal on a header in the 45th.

[ USMNT: Recap & videoPlayer ratings ]

Hernandez scored his 46th goal with the Mexican team and tied Jared Borgetti as the all-time leading scorer.

With the win, Mexico remains undefeated and has seven points after three rounds to take sole command in the six-nation tournament. Costa Rica stays on six points and is second and Panama is third with four.

The top three teams qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

Mexico beat Costa Rica for the first time since September 11, 2012, when they prevailed 1-0.

Running Away With It

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Christian Pulisic scored and played a part in three other goals as the United States rained goals down on Honduras in a 6-0 win at Avaya Stadium in San Jose early Saturday morning.

Clint Dempsey scored two goals, and Michael Bradley and Sebastian Lletget also scored as the U.S. moved into fourth place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Their next match is Tuesday in Panama.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Three things ]

The United States men’s national team’s bid to recover their 2018 World Cup hopes got off to a flying start.

Sloppy Honduran defending caused a turnover outside the 18, and Jozy Altidore played Christian Pulisic in on goal. Keeper Donis Escober got a piece of Pulisic’s shot, but no one followed Lletget to the back post and the ex-West Ham and current LA Galaxy man quickly put the Yanks up 1-0.

The Yanks didn’t stop, and Lletget drew a yellow card when he beat Ever Alvarado down the right flank and forced a take down from the Honduran defender.

Alberth Elis slipped John Brooks’ mark, and the Houston Dynamo man turned to fire on goal. Tim Howard was well positioned to scoop it up.

Lletget turned out to be injured by the Alvarado foul, and Bruce Arena turned to Alejandro Bedoya in the 17th minute.

Geoff Cameron was given a yellow card in the 25th minute for a foul on Roger Espinoza. That gave a free kick to Honduras from 30 yards out, and Romell Quioto fired right at Tim Howard.

Then it was the captain who doubled the lead, as Honduras inexplicably gave him the room to walk across the arc of the 18 to rip a shot across goal. 2-0.

It was Clint Dempsey’s turn in the 33rd minute, after an otherworldly scooped pass from Pulisic.

What. A. Pass. Kid.

Honduras then took a bigger hit: the loss of star attacker Romell Quioto (Houston Dynamo) to an apparent shoulder injury.

Brooks bailed out an out-of-position Gonzalez just before halftime to keep the lead 3-0.

The Yanks needed 15 seconds to make it 4-0, with Dempsey winning a 50-50 tussle and finding Altidore for a flick to Pulisic. He netted his fourth USMNT goal. He’s 18.

Pulisic then won a free kick 25 yards out from goal by embellishing a foul, and Dempsey’s free kick tricked Escober. 6-0. For real.

A scary moment late as a dazed and wobbly John Brooks was forced off despite no apparent injury. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

LINEUP

USMNT: Howard; Villafana, Gonzalez, Brooks (Ream, 70′), Cameron (Zusi, 58′); Bradley, Lletget (Bedoya, 18′), Nagbe; Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore.

Goals: Lletget (5′), Bradley (27′), Dempsey (33′, 49′, 54′), Pulisic (46′)

 

Player ratings from USMNT’s pounding of Honduras

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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Battered. Throttled. Eviscerated.

Pick your verb of dominance, the United States likely fit it well in a 6-0 destruction of Honduras at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.

[ MORE: Recap + video | Three things ]

The win boosts the U.S. in World Cup qualifying after their 0-2 start, but how did the individuals fare? Obviously well.

Starting XI

Tim Howard — 7 — The team just feels in a safer place with the veteran back there. If the U.S. goes to the 2018 World Cup, Howard remains their No. 1 (and there probably never should have been a question. Sorry Brad).

Jorge Villafana — 7 — Tidy passing and a low-risk game from the Santos Laguna man.

John Brooks (Off 70′) — 7 — An early error before recovering to be his usual free-clearing, athletic self. Scary injury took him out late, as he looked dazed. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

Omar Gonzalez — 5  — He wasn’t bad, but Gonzalez is still a positional question mark. Bailed out a couple times by Brooks.

Geoff Cameron (Off 59′) — 6 — Out of position and a bit hobbled, he wasn’t at his best.

Michael Bradley — 7 — One of his better USMNT games in a long time.

Sebastian Lletget (Off 17′) — 8 — Scored, then got hurt on a roasting run down the right.

Darlington Nagbe — 6 — One or two electric moments in the first half, but overall a quiet enough night for the Timbers man.

Christian Pulisic — 9 — Hard to not to hand the kid a 10. He’s quite frankly the most exciting American talent in the history of the program.

Clint Dempsey — 10 — Along with Howard, the sort of player you knew would make sure this game ended with three points. The fact that he nabbed three goals, too, is just a bonus.

Jozy Altidore — 7  — Pretty darn good night holding up the ball, and passed as well as ever, but did he drop a bit too deep too often? The answer is probably, “Who cares? They won 6-0, dude.”

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 18′)  — 6 — Typical high energy, space eating job in the middle of the park from the Union man.

Graham Zusi (On 58′)  — 6 — Good late clearance preserved the shutout.

Tim Ream (On 70′)  — 6 — Interesting to note that Arena went to him over Walker Zimmerman or Matt Besler.

Three things to take away from USMNT 6-0 Honduras

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The United States men’s national team pulled a Leicester City.

[ MORE: Recap & videoPlayer ratings ]

That’s a joke with truth wrapped around it, because the Yanks have had plenty of time and even a pair of friendlies to respond from the firing of Jurgen Klinsmann.

But in their first serious match without their old coach, the U.S. looked a team renewed and unleashed. Now the Americans may find themselves back in an automatic World Cup qualifying spot with a win on Tuesday in Panama.

Things change.

Vindicated

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and all of the USMNT players waited months and months to get the chance to answer their critics following a pair of embarrassing losses to open the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Sure, having Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron, and Tim Howard back helped a whole lot, and the seasoning Christian Pulisic is getting at Borussia Dortmund is unquestionably good for an 18-year-old.

But there’s little doubt Michael Bradley and Co. were fired up to silence their critics. Whether they admit it or not, this is a bunch that was stung by those who said they failed their old coach.

Most expected the U.S. to get a point or better against Honduras, but to do it the way they did is an unexpected bonus. A win in Panama on Tuesday would boost them into the Top Three.

And don’t worry, the old boss was pleased for his former charges.


The future is now…

I Tweeted the following after a late second half pass from Pulisic, and there was little disagreement.

Pulisic won’t be credited with an assist for his shot which rebounded to Sebastian Lletget for the opener, but he will walk away with his fourth international goal and two proper assists.

One was an absurd scoop to Clint Dempsey’s chest, and the other was a long avenue that shouldn’t have existed. Still, Pulisic found that street and provided an absolutely dynamic force all over the park.

There have been U.S. teens at big European clubs, and U.S. teens who’ve made impacts on the national team, but never both at the same time and never both at this level. Pulisic is for real, and finding his ceiling is an adventure we’re all undertaking with great enjoyment.


…But the legends sure helped

Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard will go down as two of the most important players in United States men’s national team history.

Actually, they may be duking it out for Nos. 1 and 2 when it’s all said and done.

Dempsey’s hat trick was his career in a nutshell. The first saw him body off a defender while collecting a Pulisic pass off his chest, then lashing a shot with power despite said defender dragging him down.

The second was a burst of speed to run onto Pulisic’s through ball and classic calm in the face of an onrushing keeper, holding onto the ball before sliding it home from an acute angle.

The third was this free kick. A bit aided by goalkeeper Donis Escober, but such is life.

And don’t sleep on Howard’s early performance as Honduras tried to find some sort of foothold in the match. Always well-positioned, the team just feels safer with the Colorado Rapids man between the sticks.