Colombia's James Rodriguez (10) celebrates with teammate Colombia's Pablo Armero, right after scoring during the group C World Cup soccer match between Japan and Colombia at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba, Brazil, Tuesday, June 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Early look: Colombia faces Uruguay, Greece takes on Costa Rica in World Cup’s Round of 16

1 Comment

Four more places have booked in World Cup 2014’s knockout round. Here’s an early snapshot of the two match ups that were set with Tuesday’s results:

Colombia vs. Uruguay
Group C winner vs. Group D runner-up
Where: Rio de Janeiro
When: Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern

[ MORE: Rodríguez fuels Colombia | Uruguay eliminates Italy ]

Leading men: We’ve sang James Rodríguez’s praises throughout the day, so rather continue fawning over one of the best players in the tournament, all me to point you to this post on him and Neymar as well as the recap from today’s win over Japan. Coming in at halftime, Rodríguez turned the game on its ear.

For Uruguay, this is where I’d normally say something about Luis Suárez, how he’s one of the four or five players on the planet that can win a game on his own, and tactics could go out the window if he’s on his game. But our friend Luis has a little impulse control problem. You may have heard about it.

As a result, Uruguay needs a new leading man. Perhaps it will be Paris Saint-Germain’s Edinson Cavani. Maybe Diego Forlán, the best player at the last World Cup, will give Father Time the slip for two weeks. Regardless, somebody needs to step up.

Supporting stars: For Uruguay, it’s Diego Godín. The veteran defender has carried over his play from a Spanish title-winning season at Atlético Madrid, helping La Celeste limit England and Italy to one goal over the last 180 minutes. He also shouldered home the game-winner in his team’s 1-0 victory over the Azzurri.

With the Cafeteros, there’s a small army of talented attackers who’ll vie to benefit from Rodríguez’s playmaking. Teofilo Gutíerrez started the team’s first two games at striker, but Jackson Martínez, Adrián Ramos, Victor Ibarbo, and Juan Cuadrado could all play significant roles. Though Colombia has a headlining star, the cast is an ensemble.

Strengths: Uruguay is able to slow a game down, stay strong at the back, and allow games to be defined by its talented attack, even though it’s often unclear how exactly they’re making the connections. For Colombia, as you can tell by the cast of attackers, the team will score goals. José Péckerman’s side averaged three goals per game in the opening round.

Weaknesses: If you pack that Uruguayan midfield back, they have to rely on the likes of Forlán and/or Nicolas Lodeiro to get the team out of its own half. If that doesn’t work on Saturday, Suárez’s absence will loom especially large. For Colombia, there’ve been no weaknesses through three games, but quality in defense and the ability to control play in midfield were questions coming into the tournament.

Early expectations: Particularly with Suárez out, the Colombians will be favored. They finished above La Celeste in qualifying. They’re stronger going into the knockout round.

Three narratives you will hear in the buildup:

  • Uruguay is nothing without Suárez. Just don’t worry about that Cavani guy over there.
  • This is Colombia’s best team since the ill-fated side the went to USA 1994.
  • South America’s depth has been on display at this World Cup … though CONMEBOL also put five teams into 2010’s knockout round.

To the winner: It will be an all-South America quarterfinal. Brazil and Chile face-off in the adjacent pod.

source: AP
Greece’s Giorgos Samaras celebrates with teammates during the group C match between Greece and Ivory Coast. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Costa Rica vs. Greece
Group D winner vs. Group C runner-up
Where: Recife
When: Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern

[ MORE: Draw leaves Ticos top of Group | Samaras wins it late ]

Leading men: Thanks to strong play in front of him, Keylor Navas hasn’t been too stressed in Costa Rica’s goal, but as we saw against England, that may be changing. If it does, the Levante goalkeeper will be up to the challenge. Navas was one of the top goalkeepers in Spain last season.

Greece is a side devoid of stars, but because of his ever-present nature, attacker Georgios Samaras has become the face of the team. Though he only has nine goals in 77 international appearances, he’ll be the danger man on his team’s counterattacks. With a goal and an assist on Tuesday, he’s had a part in both of his team’s World Cup goals.

Supporting stars: At 35 years old, Kostas Katsouranis is one of two players in the team (along with Giorgos Karagounis) who were part of Greece’s 2004 European Championship squad. While he’s in the twilight of his career, he’s still a vital part of Fernando Santos’s midfield. Set to return from a one-game, red card suspension, Katsouranis will slot back into the heart of his team’s formation.

For Costa Rica, Joel Campbell will be familiar with his Greek counterparts, having spent last season on loan from Arsenal with Olympiacos. Joining him in attack, Bryan Ruiz’s versatility should help los Ticos break down a notoriously stalwart defense.

Strengths: Greece is defense and little else. Even the damage they do going forward almost always starts in the back. The team’s built its reputation on its ability to hold out.

Likewise, Costa Rica’s strength is in defense, with the Ticos’ five-man back line leaving the team amongst among the worst in the tournament in terms of shots per game (9.3) and possession (42.5). Those numbers, heavily influenced by the quality of Costa Rica’s opposition, don’t reflect the team’s willingness to be more confrontational than their Round of 16 opponents. They’ll defend, but they won’t be as quick to recede into their shell.

Regardless, one of these teams will have to move out of its comfort zone.

Weaknesses: For Costa Rica, between a solid defense and capable scorers is a midfield that’s lackluster but this tournament’s standards. Celso Borges and Yeltsin Tejada have been as solid as their teammates thus far, but against that renown Greek defense, Borges may struggle to create chances for Campbell and Ruiz.

For Greece, there’s no reliable scorer in a team which, short on creativity, is reliant on set pieces and counter attacks for goals.

Early expectations: Nobody anticipated this matchup, so there are no expectations. These are two teams that were expected to finish last in their groups.

Three narratives you will hear in the buildup:

  • Greece’s spots in the knockout rounds at Euro 2012 and Brazil 2014 aren’t about soft groups. No, no, no. It’s about team ethic and sums that are bigger than their parts, and … well, really easy groups, too. (You won’t hear that last part.)
  • Costa Rica’s quality debunks the notion of a thin CONCACAF (just don’t look too hard at Honduras).
  • Defense, not the combination of defense and offense, wins championships.

To the winner: Either the Netherlands or Mexico. Does CONCACAF dare to dream a place in the semifinals?

AFCON wrap: Tunisia joins Senegal in knockout rounds (video)

Tunisia's Wahbi Khazri smiles during a press conference in Libreville, Gabon, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group B soccer match against Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
Leave a comment

Half of the field is set for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations knockout rounds, as Group B completed his final day of group play on Monday in Gabon.

[ FIFA: World Cup draw date at Kremlin ]

Senegal will move onto play Cameroon on Saturday, while Tunisia will take on Burkina Faso.

Senegal 2-2 Algeria

Leicester City’s Islam Slimani scored twice, but it wasn’t enough to get Algeria into the knockout rounds of AFCON.

Papakouly Diop and Moussa Sow answered Slimani’s goals, and Senegal enforced its hold on the group it had already clinched after two matches.

Algeria needed a win and help, and looked to get it when Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani carried over their chemistry from the Foxes of England to the Fennecs of Algeria.

Zimbabwe 2-4 Tunisia

Sunderland’s Wahbi Khazri scored of the fourth of Tunisia’s first half goals as the Eagles of Carthage emphatically clinched their knockout round spot. Tunisia lost in the quarterfinals in 2015.

Lille’s Naïm Sliti was also among the goal scorers for Tunisia, with Youssef Msakni (Lekhwiya) and Taha Yassine Khenissi (Esperance de Tunis) also netting markers.

Tendai Ndoro (Orlando Pirates) and Knowledge Musona (Oostende) scored for Zimbabwe.

Three USMNT players leave camp, two with injuries

Kekuta Manneh chases the ball during practice of the U.S. men's national soccer team Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Carson, Calif. Manneh has become a U.S. citizen, moving the Vancouver Whitecaps forward closer to eligibility for the men's national team. U.S. Soccer announced Manneh received his citizenship Wednesday, after the opening practice of January training camp under new coach Bruce Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
Leave a comment

Less than a week from Bruce Arena’s second debut as USMNT boss, we know three players who won’t be in the Starting XI.

Injuries have felled FC Dallas duo Kellyn Acosta and Matt Hedges, while Vancouver attacker Kekuta Manneh is leaving the squad to join his ‘Caps teammates for preseason in Wales.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League Playback ]

Acosta has a mild left ankle sprain and Hedges has a mild right knee sprain.

While Manneh may have been a long shot to see significant playing time on Sunday against Serbia or Feb. 4 versus Jamaica, Hedges had a chance to start at center back and Acosta has been capped before as well.

FIFA going to Kremlin for World Cup draw in December

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  Vladimir Putin, President of Russia speaks as FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter looks on during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

ZURICH (AP) FIFA says it will stage the 2018 World Cup draw on Dec. 1 at a Kremlin concert hall in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been allowing FIFA to use high-profile venues for World Cup ceremonies.

In July 2015, the qualifying program draw was made on the grounds of one of Putin’s official residences, Konstantin Palace near St. Petersburg. The summer was home built at the direction of Peter the Great.

The World Cup in Russia kicks off on June 14 at Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital, and returns there for the final on July 15.

Jurgen Klopp discusses Liverpool’s title chances

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool reacts during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Swansea City at Anfield on January 21, 2017 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

It was a disappointing weekend for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.

[ MORE: New odds for title contenders ]

The German coach watched on as his side lost 3-2 to Swansea City on Saturday in the Premier League and the Reds fell 10 points behind leaders Chelsea with 16 games to go.

Klopp’s men have only won once in six outings in all competitions in January, and ahead of their EFL Cup semifinal second leg against Southampton at Anfield (they trail 1-0 from the first leg) he was asked if they still have hope of overhauling Chelsea and winning the Premier League.

Speaking to the media, Klopp revealed that his team are good enough to at least be in the top four battle.

“We fight in each game, that’s maybe the most important thing. Then we have to see what happens around,” Klopp said. “Of course, in cup competitions the target is to win the competition. In the Premier League, it’s probably the same but it’s not that easy to plan or whatever. In this case, if Chelsea win all their games – which they pretty much do – there is no chance for any other team. For us, it’s still absolutely important to finish the season as well as possible – whatever that means. We’ll see after the season.

“You can imagine we have the quality to fight for the Champions League, that’s what we should do. If we do this and we are then close enough in the decisive moment of the season, you can still fight for a little bit more. But in this moment, it’s nothing we have to think about or we should think about. We now have two games and then we play Chelsea, so that’s when I’ll think about Chelsea but not how we can get them or whatever. We fight for everything we are able to, that’s all.”

He’s right. Liverpool finishing in the top four this season would be a great achievement at this stage of his project.

Perhaps more worrying for Klopp is that his side may now capitulate and finish outside of the top four for a second-straight season.

There’s no doubting that Liverpool have exceeded the expectations of most people so far in 2016-17 but Klopp’s men faded badly last season to finish in eighth place and with no wins in their last three games in the Premier League the pressure is on.

Without leading scorer Sadio Mane, who is away at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal, they’ve struggled to break opponents down and their defensive issues came to the fore against Swansea with sloppy mistakes costing them dear.

No team in the top seven has conceded more than Liverpool and with the Reds in fourth place and just four points ahead of sixth-place Manchester United and two points ahead of Manchester City who sit in fifth, all of a sudden they are looking over their shoulders instead of up at Chelsea.

Liverpool has lost momentum.

Boy do they need a big win in the EFL Cup against Southampton on Wednesday to regain some confidence and take that into their next PL clash, which just so happens to be against Chelsea at Anfield on Jan. 31.

Whatever he says publicly, Klopp must know that Liverpool cannot afford to lose to Chelsea. If they do and fall 13 points behind the Blues, the Kop can kiss goodbye to their title hopes for another season.