Sead Kolasinac

Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Ranking the worst failures in World Cup qualifying

2 Comments

So many high expectation nations missed the 2018 World Cup that a second-tier tournament is being bandied about, enough so that people are legitimately intrigued at the idea.

That begs the question: How did we get here? In some cases, sides missed the big dance due to wonky qualifying schedules. Others had tough draws and couldn’t rebound in a playoff. Another group just flat out flopped in red, white, and blue.

[ USMNT-PORTUGAL: Match recap | Player ratings ]

Who’s failure was most heinous? Let us count the ways, er, teams.

7) Netherlands — This is a nation that, like England, has overachieved so many times that neutrals expect more from them that, perhaps, is rational. Their domestic league is not what it once was, but finishing behind Sweden is a tough pill to swallow for a side which has been on the proverbial podium the past two World Cups and four times in its history.

6) Ivory Coast — Africa’s qualifying is brutal, but Les Elephants lost two of three home qualifiers and managed two scoreless draws away from home. In fact, the team was blanked thrice despite a unit with Gervinho, Salomon Kalou, Jonathan Kodija, and Wilfried Zaha. Yes, the nation is on a downswing, but still were the favorites to advance past Morocco.

5) Bosnia and Herzegovina — Perched atop the group for a decent period of qualifying, a loaded BNH side drew Greece home and away, lost in Cyprus, and lost at home to Belgium in a cycle which could’ve seen them make a deep run powered by Edin Dzeko, Sead Kolasinac, Asmir Begovic, and Miralem Pjanic.

4) Italy — The highest-ranked ELO team to miss the tournament, Italy had the misfortune of being drawn with Spain (and vice versa). Second-place there was no shame, but being unable to finish over two legs against Sweden may be understandable — Blågult only allowed nine goals in qualifying — but Gian Piero Ventura’s keeping Lorenzo Insigne out of the starting lineup will be questioned for a long, long time.

[ MORE: Arena’s baffling pregame comment ]

3) Chile — CONMEBOL qualifying is as difficult as any confederation, and probably the toughest. Still, La Roja was shutout in six of its nine away qualifiers, including losses to eighth place Ecuador and ninth place Bolivia. For a side with Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal to be blanked that many times? Brutal.

2) Ghana – At least the Ivory Coast finished second in its group! Ghana drew all three of its home matches, managing its only win at the Republic of Congo. That means Apparently the Black Stars couldn’t imagine a World Cup without the USMNT.

*1b) United States — With respect to the improving nature of CONCACAF, the confederation’s relative weakness and wildly forgiving Hex means the Bruce Arena’s men did as poorly as any decent nation in the world. To not even make a playoff is embarrassing, and the first leg of Honduras versus Australia lets you know all that’s needed about the quality of the lesser friends of CONCACAF.

*1a) Australia — The asterisks is important because the Socceroos dominated Honduras in the first leg only to not find a goal, and can still advance to the World Cup with a win at 4 a.m. ET in Sydney. But losing to Honduras after finishing behind Saudi Arabia on the weakness of handing Thailand one of its only two points of qualifying? Wooooof.

PL Sunday preview: Chelsea-Man United & Man City-Arsenal

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images & Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images
Leave a comment

If the Premier League must pause during this week’s international window, Sunday’s slate of fixtures, featuring every last one of the first- through fifth-place sides, sure is one heck of a way to head into the break…

[ PL ROUNDUP: Liverpool thrash West Ham; Burnley top-six contenders? ]

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Crystal Palace — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The toast of Europe this week, Mauricio Pochettino‘s Tottenham must quickly divert its attention from beating Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday to avoiding a colossal slip-up against last-place Palace on Sunday. Spurs will surely find motivation in righting a perceived wrong — last weekend’s late defeat away to Manchester United — as they bid for a third straight PL title challenge this season. The gap between themselves and leaders Manchester City is presently eight points, but a friendly favor from their north London rivals on Sunday could see that number shrink to five.

With Harry Kane back from  last week’s hamstring “injury,” Spurs’ fitness issues now exist almost solely in their defensive half: Toby Aldeweireld left the win over Madrid with a hamstring strain of his own (expected to miss three to four weeks); Hugo Lloris was visibly ailed by a groin injury (two weeks); and Victor Wanyama remains unavailable with a knee injury. With Eric Dier expected to again drop into the backline alongside Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen, Harry Winks‘ coming-out party will likely be given another chapter against an impotent Palace side which has scored only four goals all season, and has scored in just two of their 10 games thus far.

INJURIES: Tottenham — OUT: Toby Aldeweireld (hamstring), Hugo Lloris (groin), Victor Wanyama (knee), Erik Lamela (hip) | Crystal Palace — OUT: Christian Benteke (knee), Connor Wickham (knee); RETURNING: Mamadou Sakho (calf)


Manchester City vs. Arsenal — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The last remaining unbeaten side in the PL, Pep Guardiola‘s Man City, welcomes Arsene Wenger‘s Arsenal — the only manager and club to complete an unbeaten season in the PL era — to the Etihad Stadium. Having already knocked off two of their presumed title contenders (Liverpool, 5-0; Chelsea, 1-0), City aim to make it a third and extend their winning run to nine games. A 4-2 victory over Napoli, Serie A’s lone remaining unbeaten side, has City full of form and confidence. As for the prospects of chasing the unbeaten season, Guardiola is having none of it.

“I would like to say to Arsene that this record belongs to him; we are not going to break it,” he said. “He has to be calm and sure that is not going to happen. It belongs to his team, an exceptional team, because to go through the Premier League unbeaten is something fantastic. It belongs to him. He has to know that we don’t want to break this record. We want to play well and beat him on Sunday. That is what we want to do.”

Similarly, the Gunners are in the best form they’ve achieved all season, having won four of their last five after a tumultuous start (two losses from their first three games). City, though, are a beast of a much higher order, and it’s the task of Wenger’s men to curtail a side which has scored 30 goals in its last seven league games. One might assume Wenger will adopt a defensive approach on Sunday, though the legendary boss told the assembled media on Friday that “the best way to defend sometimes is to attack.”

There will be goals if that’s how Arsenal approach this game.

INJURIES: Man City — OUT: Benjamin Mendy (knee), Vincent Kompany (calf) | Arsenal — OUT: Danny Welbeck (hamstring), Shkodran Mustafi (thigh), Santi Cazorla (achilles); PROBABLE: Sead Kolasinac (hip)


Chelsea vs. Manchester United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Here are some little-known facts that’ll likely gain some traction over the next 24 hours: Jose Mourinho, who’s now the manager at Man United, used to be the boss at Chelsea; he was succeeded by Antonio Conte, who won the PL title in his first season at Stamford Bridge; Mourinho, despite employment elsewhere, still appears transfixed by Conte’s threat to his own legacy; the two have engage one another in a war of words (and attempted hand-to-hand combat) in the past. You will almost certainly be reminded of this on Sunday, and probably a few further more days.

Chelsea are reeling ahead of Sunday’s clash after their 3-0 defeat at the hands of Roma in the Champions League on Tuesday. This is, by Conte’s lofty standards, the lowest point of his Chelsea tenure — coincidentally, Mourinho knows all too well Chelsea’s post-title struggles. After losing back-to-back games to Man City and Palace last month, the Blues currently sit nine points adrift of the PL leaders and find themselves still with plenty of work to do in Europe. Even their most recent win — last weekend’s 1-0 triumph over then-19th-place Bournemouth — highlighted the lack of attacking cohesion for the side with the lowest goals output (18 in 10 games) from any of the league’s top-six sides.

Meanwhile, United are slightly more confident, thanks to a 2-0 victory over Benfica during the week and a smashed-and-grabbed three points against Spurs last weekend. Mourinho, for his part, is trying to downplay the importance of his return.

“It isn’t a big thing,” he said this week. “It is normal, it is football, it is professionalism, it is football life. It’s a big thing because it’s a big match, because it’s a big opponent. They are the champions, because it’s one of these matches between the top teams in the country, but by the emotional point of view it’s just one more game.

“I played there with Inter and twice with Manchester United. I have to admit it’s a little bit different, but in the end, I want to win, like I did with Inter, and they want to win like they did last season. In four or five more years nobody will probably remember that I was Chelsea manager.”

In truth, nothing would upset him more than everyone forgetting he was once the Chelsea manager.

INJURIES: Chelsea — OUT: Victor Moses (hamstring); RETURNING: N'Golo Kante (hamstring) | Man United — OUT: Paul Pogba (hamstring), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Marouane Fellaini (knee), Marcos Rojo (knee), Michael Carrick (calf); QUESTIONABLE: Jesse Lingard (back)


Everton vs. Watford — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

While plenty has been said of Everton’s early-season struggles — and the firing of Ronald Koeman — not nearly enough attention has been paid to Watford and their new manager, Marco Silva. Three points against the 19th-place Toffees would see the Hornets rise up to eighth in the PL table, as few as one or two points behind the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, all of whom are currently level for fourth with 19 points. Like Conte and Chelsea, Silva and Watford find themselves wading through their first turbulent period together, having lost back-to-back games for the first time (Chelsea, 2-4; Stoke, 0-1). Silva knows his side must bounce back against Everton.

“I think we didn’t play well in the first-half,” Silva said of the loss to Stoke. “We gave our opponents the advantage for 45 minutes, we gave them a big lift in the goal we conceded. We made a mistake, we gave them a gift. We lost our focus in that moment and they scored a good goal. Everything was too slow and we knew they would come here with 10 men behind the ball and wait for our mistake. We needed to play faster and with more intensity.”

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: James McCarthy (hamstring), Ross Barkley (hamstring), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), Yannick Bolasie (knee); RETURNING: Micheal Keane (foot) | Watford — OUT: Troy Deeney (suspension), Nathaniel Chalobah (knee), Younes Kaboul (hamstring), Sebastien Prodl (hamstring), Craig Cathcart (knee), Isaac Success (knee), Roberto Pereyra (hamstring)

PL wrap: Pep’s City sets new standard; Man Utd tops Spurs (video)

Leave a comment

Only one of the Top Six failed to claim maximum points on Saturday, with Tottenham losing its battle for second place with Manchester United.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

That 1-0 decision, won by Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku, kicked off the 7-match Premier League slate, with three more to come by the time Newcastle and Burnley square off Monday.

West Bromwich Albion 2-3 Manchester City  — RECAP

Don’t let the score line fool you: Man City had this one in the bag for all but a minute, that moment coming when Jay Rodriguez took advantage of a lax Ederson move. Matty Phillips also scored for West Brom, but Fernandinho had a goal and an assist while Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling scored to keep Man City five points clear of the pack.

And it’s also a bit of history for City:

Manchester United 1-0 Tottenham HotspurRECAP

Anthony Martial’s second half goal was the difference as Manchester United missed Paul Pogba nearly as much as Tottenham missed Harry Kane. Here’s hoping both are back come Jan. 31 at Wembley Stadium.

 

Watford 0-1 Stoke City  — RECAP

It’s a badly needed win for Darren Fletcher and Stoke, who scored off a well-designed corner kick that recalled a Paul Scholes goal or two.

Bournemouth 0-1 Chelsea  — RECAP

Eden Hazard beat old teammate Asmir Begovic hard and to the near post to keep the Blues in the Top Four.

Crystal Palace 2-2 West Ham UnitedRECAP

Slaven Bilic‘s Irons looked destined to cruise on goals from Javier Hernandez and Andre Ayew, but Palace converted a penalty kick and then Wilfried Zaha took advantage of a mindless late move from Michail Antonio as the Eagles claimed their fourth point of the season.

Arsenal 2-1 Swansea City — RECAP

Arsenal is looking dangerous again, in control for most of the match despite allowing a Sam Clucas goal on Swansea’s lone first half touch inside the Gunners’ 18. Sead Kolasinac and Aaron Ramsey scored for the Gunners, who are fifth but level with fourth place Chelsea on points.

Liverpool 3-0 Huddersfield Town  — RECAP

Town goalkeeper Jonas Lossl stopped a Mohamed Salah penalty kick in the first half, but that only slowed the roll of Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds in a highly-publicized battle with his best man: ex-Mainz teammate David Wagner. Georginio Wijnaldum, Daniel Sturridge, and Roberto Firmino scoring for Liverpool.

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Manchester City 10 9 1 0 35 6 29 4-1-0 5-0-0 28
 Manchester United 10 7 2 1 23 4 19 5-0-0 2-2-1 23
 Tottenham Hotspur 10 6 2 2 19 7 12 2-2-1 4-0-1 20
 Chelsea 10 6 1 3 18 10 8 2-1-2 4-0-1 19
 Arsenal 10 6 1 3 19 13 6 5-0-0 1-1-3 19
 Liverpool 10 4 4 2 17 16 1 3-2-0 1-2-2 16
 Watford 10 4 3 3 15 18 -3 1-2-2 3-1-1 15
 Newcastle United 9 4 2 3 10 8 2 3-1-1 1-1-2 14
 Burnley 9 3 4 2 8 9 -1 1-2-1 2-2-1 13
 Southampton 9 3 3 3 8 9 -1 2-2-2 1-1-1 12
 Huddersfield Town 10 3 3 4 7 13 -6 2-2-1 1-1-3 12
 Brighton & Hove Albion 9 3 2 4 9 10 -1 2-1-1 1-1-3 11
 Stoke City 10 3 2 5 11 20 -9 2-1-2 1-1-3 11
 West Bromwich Albion 10 2 4 4 9 13 -4 1-3-1 1-1-3 10
 Leicester City 9 2 3 4 12 14 -2 1-1-2 1-2-2 9
 West Ham United 10 2 3 5 10 19 -9 2-0-2 0-3-3 9
 Swansea City 10 2 2 6 7 12 -5 1-0-4 1-2-2 8

 Everton 9 2 2 5 7 18 -11 2-0-3 0-2-2 8
 Bournemouth 10 2 1 7 6 14 -8 1-1-3 1-0-4 7
 Crystal Palace 10 1 1 8 4 21 -17 1-1-3 0-0-5 4

Follow @NicholasMendola

Arsenal 2-1 Swansea City: Gunners come back to win

Leave a comment
  • Swans take lead to half
  • Kolasinac equalizes
  • Ramsey scores his 50th Arsenal goal

Sead Kolasinac and Aaron Ramsey led Arsenal’s fight back as the Gunners claimed three points with a 2-1 win over Swansea City at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Sam Clucas gave Swans a first half lead, but the Welsh side could end up in the drop zone by the weekend’s conclusion.

Arsenal rises fourth, a point behind third place Spurs.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Gunners looked lively, with Alexis Sanchez running the show down the left, and won a free kick that Per Mertesacker nodded into the hands of former teammates Lukasz Fabianski.

But Arsenal’s dominant half went in the wrong direction come the 22nd minute, when Petr Cech‘s charge at Sam Clucas was coolly defied by the ex-Hull midfielder. 1-0, Swans.

Fabianski made an outstanding save on Sanchez after a 1-2 with Nacho Monreal.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Someone said the right things at halftime, and Arsenal burst out of the break without self pity.

Kolasinac blasted a shot through traffic to make it 1-1, and Ramsey added his milemarker goal to give the hosts a deserved lead.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Arsenal 2-0 Brighton: Gunners ease to win

Leave a comment
  • Monreal opens scoring
  • Gulls with one shot on target
  • Arsenal attempts 24 shots

Nacho Monreal‘s first Premier League goal since 2013 led Arsenal to a 2-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

Alex Iwobi also scored for Arsenal, who rises fifth with 13 points. Brighton remains 14th with seven.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Brighton got its first scare thanks to a powerful inside-out rip from Lacazette, a 2nd minute shot firing off the right post.

Five minutes later, Alexis Sanchez bounced a long shot to Mathew Ryan.

An air of inevitability surrounded the opener, as Shkrodan Mustafi’s shot was cleared off the line and a second blocked shot came to Monreal for a right-footed finish.

The Gulls found their way to the goal post when a short-played free kick set up Solly March for a left-footed blast and Lewis Dunk was off-balance when he chopped at the rebound.

Lacazette stayed lively and forced Ryan to stoop for a save after the half-hour mark.

A lightning counter attack from Arsenal in the 42nd minute, spearheaded by Alexis Sanchez and Hector Bellerin, ended with Ryan stopping Aaron Ramsey with a right leg save.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

An outstanding pass from Alexis Sanchez cued Iwobi up for the second goal, snapping a second half lull.

Lewis Dunk slid to just deter a Sanchez shot, and Sead Kolasinac‘s header on the ensuing corner was cleared off the line.