TAMPA, Fla. – The U.S. left backs are dropping like wet flies.
American coach Jurgen Klinsmann revealed minutes ago that it’s doubtful either Fabian Johnson, the recently enshrined first choice at U.S. left back, or backup Edgar Castillo can play in Friday’s qualifier against Antigua and Barbuda.
Johnson had already more or less been ruled out after picking up an injury during warmups of Sunday’s friendly in Canada. He jogged around the field during Thursday’s final practice prior to tomorrow’s 7 p.m. ET kickoff.
After practice, Klinsmann informed reporters that Castillo “pulled a hamstring.” He didn’t offer many details other than to say the Club Tijuana man (Castillo is pictured at right, along with Klinsmann) probably could not play Friday. So, who does that leave?
“We always have left backs; anybody can play left back,” Klinsmann said with a laugh. “We’ll figure it out.”
Again, this is all against the backdrop banner that reads “It really doesn’t matter.” Klinsmann and Co. are up against Antigua and Barbuda, a twin-island with a population about the size of a major U.S. suburb.
So, who are his choices? Carlos Bocanegra has played left back before, but he’s the central anchor onto which Klinsmann has been attaching the “trialists” over the last three matches. Geoff Cameron has attacking skills and has played outside midfielder before.
Steve Cherundolo could presumably play as an inverted fullback – a right-footer on the left side, a la German veteran Philipp Lahm, who was among Klinsmann’s German collection at World Cup 2006. Or it could be Michael Parkhurst, who is currently backing up Cherundolo on the right.
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.
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
Nigeria vs. Iceland: Volgograd, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Brazil vs. Costa Rica: Saint Petersburg, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Serbia vs. Switzerland: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
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.
There are few teams who’ve looked as strong as Croatia at the World Cup in Russia.
[ RECAP: Argentina 0-3 Croatia ]
Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.
The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.
“Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”
Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”
That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni.
Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.
“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”