Matches in Antigua rarely easy affairs; U.S. fans may wince, but expect a close match tonight

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Friday could be bring a commanding United States win, leaving Jurgen Klinsmann’s and Co. to go bounding into Kansas City for next week’s group play finale needing nothing more than a draw to secure passage into final round World Cup qualifying.

Most American soccer fans would like to see the United States do just that, ride roughshod over the tiny nations of Central American and the Caribbean, establishing regional dominance as more or less a practice exercise en route to bigger and better at the World Cup finals.

But history suggests otherwise. Whether it’s down to an ongoing U.S. failure to capitalize on the enormous advantages in resources, or whether it’s the far more vague province of “is what it is,” these regional lands are rarely pushovers when playing at home.

And that’s not just when playing the United States:

Let’s look quickly at Antigua and Barbuda’s other home games this round:

  • Guatemala did escape Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in September with all three points, but it was awfully close. Carlos Ruiz scored in the 25th minute, and it took a solid night of work from visiting goalkeeper Ricardo Jerez to hold the score to 1-0.
  • Back in June, Jamaica could do no better than a scoreless draw in Antigua. This is where the Antiguan team’s cohesiveness as a group, not just a collection of individuals – most of the regulars play together in the U.S. third-tier league (USL Pro) – greatly assists the effort. They are far more organized than most Caribbean sides, not committing too many players into the attack, remaining in the best places for recovery once the ball is lost, and generally managing the game fairly well. The United States saw as much in only winning by two goals (3-1) earlier this year in Tampa Bay.

So, two matches so far at the cricket ground in Antigua have produced just one goal.

My expectation: a 2-0 United States win. (Followed by a predictable amount of subsequent teeth gnashing that it couldn’t have been more.)

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’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 C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE