The road to London now seems to go through Mexico

3 Comments

We’ve covered the flaws in the U.S. under-23 team. And good luck fixing all that.

So now let’s examine the hole that’s Caleb Porter’s team just dug. Because his under-23s grabbed themselves a mess of shovels, started madly turning over the dirt and dug themselves a real lulu.

The United States definitely can beat El Salvador on Monday. It’s no slam dunk, for all the reasons outlined in the previous post. Still, there’s no reason Porter’s men can’t come shining through and extend the Olympic dream.

But that’s just it; this whole thing isn’t about showing El Salvador what’s what. Months of planning, training camps, new coaching hires, etc., weren’t all about overcoming a small Central American country on one Monday night in Nashville.

It’s about getting to London, of course. And the road to London just went underwater, suddenly much more difficult to navigate.  Here’s why:

Beating El Salvador only gets the United States into the semifinals, a stage that probably just became significantly tougher.

Best-case scenario for Porter and his team was to win Saturday, gain complete control of the group and switch on the cruise control by changing out eight starters. They could have rested the main men for that important semifinal ahead. (Both semifinal winners gain London 2012 berths.)

Now Porter has no choice but to put his best and brightest out there Monday – for the third time in five days, an absurdly demanding schedule. They will have four full days of rest before the March 31 semifinal in Kansas City. Still, fatigue becomes an issue, especially if their Group B opponent can comfortably rest its top talent in Los Angeles on Tuesday. (The full CONCACAF qualifying schedule is here.)

Speaking of that opponent:

It was always likely to be Honduras or Mexico. By finishing first in Group A, the U.S. under-23s could have maximized their odds of dodging Mexico in the money round. Now, if things go as expected, Mexico will finish first in Group B with Honduras placing second.

Because a U.S. win Monday would most likely leave Porter’s team in second place, that means … yep: Mexico and the United States would meet for a winner-take-all semifinal. Only one of the CONCACAF big boys will go to London.

That’s all assuming the United States can win Monday.

So it looks now like the road to London doesn’t just go through Monday’s dangerous neighborhood (the win-or-go-home against El Salvador). Now it also goes through Mexico’s talented assembly – more than likely, anyway.

Khedira laughs off Swedish reporter’s offer of tickets home

AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
Leave a comment

Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira brushed off a gesture from a Swedish reporter, trading a bit of banter ahead of Germany’s big World Cup match against Sweden on Saturday.

Germany fell 1-0 to Mexico in its opener while Sweden beat South Korea, leading a playful Swede to hand Khedira boarding passes for a flight home to Germany.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Khedira’s reply? He joked that Sweden won’t be a problem and he’ll use the tickets after the World Cup Final.

From Goal.com:

“After this bad start, we know that it’s super difficult, but we know that we are a strong team. We analysed the game, we saw Sweden play and we are sure that we are winning this game.

“I think we’ll need them [plane tickets] on the 16th of July.”

Report: Newcastle’s Clark knocked out on Spanish dance floor

Scott Heavey/PA via AP
Leave a comment

A wild story out of Spain says an Englishman knocked Newcastle United defender Ciaran Clark unconscious at a night club.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

Clark was on vacation in Spain, where he was spending time at Crystal’s Bar in Punta Ballena, Magaluf very early Sunday morning.

Clark and a man “in his 30s” got into an argument that saw the Irish defender knocked out, according to the BBC.

Clark was left unconscious and taken to hospital after an argument between him and the suspect broke out on the dance floor.

The 28-year-old suffered cuts and bruises to his face.

Clark, 28, scored twice in 20 Premier League appearances this season, his second at St. James’ Park.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 9 — Iceland’s next step, Brazilian bounce back?

Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Brazil is one of the favorites of the 2018 World Cup, while Iceland is the smallest nation to qualify for the world’s biggest tournament.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

On Friday, both enter their second match days feeling quite different after 1-1 draws.

They won’t face each other, of course, but the contrast is striking nevertheless.

Brazil opens the day’s action when it squares off with Costa Rica, who fell to Serbia in the opener. For Serbia, a dark horse of the tournament, it will be a meeting with Switzerland.

Then there’s Iceland’s bid to climb into the Group D driver’s seat by knocking off Nigeria. A win from Iceland would make Lionel Messi and Argentina’s task of qualifying for the knockout rounds extremely unlikely.

Below is Friday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group D
Nigeria vs. Iceland: Volgograd, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group E
Brazil vs. Costa Rica: Saint Petersburg, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Serbia vs. Switzerland: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina

Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
1 Comment

Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.