World Cup qualifiers set for climax, key matchups across the globe

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Okay, so if you’re a fan of ProSoccerTalk by now you’re most probably aware of any kind of permutation possible in terms of the Hex and how and when the US national team ‘will’ qualify.

But what about across the rest of the globe?

With qualification in Europe, Africa and South America also edging towards a conclusion this weekend, plenty of pivotal games are coming up on Friday and Saturday as nations aim to clinch their spot at the World Cup.

Let’s take a quick hop across the three continents to see which games you should look out for. There will be plenty of coverage on all the international games coming up on NBC Sports ProSoccerTalk.

Here we go.

EUROPE

Belgium vs. Scotland

The Red Devils can virtually seal qualification to the World Cup if they beat Scotland at Hampden on Friday and second-placed Croatia lose to Serbia. Belgium are top of Group A on 19 points and Croatia have 16, both nations have just three games left so with Belgium’s superior goal differential a win in Glasgow will give them another foot in Brazil. Live on ESPN.com from 3pm ET.

source: AP
Can Zlatan lead Sweden to victory against Ireland?

Germany vs. Austria

The Germans can’t seal qualification against their fierce neighbors across the Alps, but they can give Austria’s chances of qualifying for the playoff round a huge blow as they sit level in joint-second with Sweden and the Republic of Ireland. Germany sit top on 16 points from six games, while Austria, Sweden and Ireland all have 11 points. A must watch from Munich, see it live from 2:30pm ET on Univision Deportes.

Republic of Ireland vs. Sweden

A huge night for Giovanni Trapattoni’s men as Robbie Keane’s Ireland can jump ahead of Group C rivals Sweden into second place on their own and grab pole position for the playoff spot. But Zlatan Ibrahimovic will have something to say about that as the Swedes head to Dublin. Watch live from 2:30pm ET on GOL TV.

Italy vs. Bulgaria

The Italians occupy top spot in Group B but only have a four point lead over second placed Bulgaria. A win on Friday in Italy would all but secure the Azzurri qualification, which they could then seal against Czech Republic next Tuesday. A fired up home crowd hoping to see the Italians defeat their nearest rivals in the group… a must watch. Kick Off is 3pm ET live on ESPN.com.

SOUTH AMERICA

Peru vs. Uruguay

Uruguay desperately need a win here as they aim to qualify automatically for the World Cup. Currently in fifth spot La Celeste will face a playoff against the Asian fifth-placed team unless they can string together some wins to close the five point gap on Chile in fourth. While Peru must beat Uruguay if they have any chance of qualifying for the finals, they sit in seventh spot on 14 points. Watch live on BeIN Sport Espanol from 8:30 pm ET.

Chile vs. Venezuela

This is a massive clash as fourth placed Chile aim to give themselves breathing ground between the chasing pack. La Roja could open up a nine point gap over Uruguay if they win and results go their way, while Venezuela have to win to have any chance of automatic qualification. Another crucial clash. Watch live on BeIN Sport Espanol from 8:30 pm ET.

AFRICA

Tunisia vs. Cape Verde

This game is a playoff game of sorts, to determine who makes the third round of CAF qualifying and the playoff to make the World Cup. Tunisia are at home and are the favorites to advance but in a one-off game like this, who knows?

Nigeria vs. Malawi

Another head-to-head clash in Group F will decide who makes the playoff round as Nigeria only need a draw against Malawi. However the visitors can snatch away the Super Eagles World Cup dream if they pull of a shock loss against the African soccer superpower. Poised superbly.

source:
Will African Cup of Nations champs Nigeria scrap through to the final round of WCQ?

Cameroon vs. Libya

Group I is also poised on a knife edge as the winner of Cameroon v Libya will advanced to the final round of qualifying. Les Lions Indomptables are at home and should be the favorites but huge shocks have happened before in African qualifying and with the group stages coming to a close this weekend, expect more of the same.

Senegal vs. Uganda

Would you believe it… another game that has everything on the line. This Group J clash will also decide who goes to the playoff round as Senegal face the tricky task of beating Uganda at home to qualify. Remember Senegal’s heroics at World Cup 2002? Will they even make Brazil 2014?

Burkina Faso vs. Gabon & Niger vs. Congo

Burkina Faso can qualify for the final round of qualifying if they beat Gabon and Congo lose to Niger. Three out of the four teams in Group E can qualify, setting this weekend up perfectly. But Congo have the added bonus of knowing that as long as they beat Niger, nobody can surpass them. Two more tense games.

Cruzeiro relegated from Brazilian top flight for first time

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Brazilian side Cruzeiro was relegated from the top flight for the first time in the club’s 98-year history following a 2-0 defeat to Palmeiras on the final day of the season.

Cruzeiro required victory and a loss by Ceara at Botafogo to stay safely in the Brazilian Serie A, but neither came to pass.

Palmeiras midfielder Ze Rafael scored in the 58th minute to send the visitors on their way, with fellow midfielder Dudu finished things off in the 84th minute. Referees ushered the players off the field immediately after the conclusion of the match as Cruzeiro fans rioted in the Mineirao stadium, ripping out seats, setting off smoke bombs, and clashing with police.

Cruzeiro finished 17th in the 20-team table, three points back of Ceara in 16th. In the Brazilian top flight, the bottom four teams are relegated. CSA, Chapecoense, and Avai were also relegated. Cruzeiro had won the Brazilian Serie A as recently as 2013 and 2014, winning four titles in its history. They also have six Copa do Brasil titles, most recently winning the league cup in 2017 and 2018.

Flamengo ran away with the championship, finishing on 90 points, 16 points clear of second-placed Santos and third-placed Palmeiras who both finished level on 74 points. Palmeiras had challenged for the title, but fell off at the end of the season with a five-match winless run through November.

Premier League Preview: West Ham United v. Arsenal

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Two struggling London sides meet Monday when West Ham United hosts Arsenal (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The sides might’ve expected they’d be within close proximity at this point on the fixture list, but two wildly disappointing seasons means the three points between the Gunners and Irons comes with the former in 11th and the latter 16th.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

It’s been nine matches since Arsenal beat someone, 11 since it happened in the Premier League. West Ham hasn’t been much better, winning once in its last 10.

Freddie Ljungberg has yet to win as Arsenal interim boss, while West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini could see his current stint in London end without more results like the Nov. 30 win at Chelsea.

Monday versus Arsenal would qualify.


Injuries/suspensions

West Ham United: OUT —  Jack Wilshere, Lukasz Fabianski, Manuel Lanzini, Winston Reid. QUESTIONABLE — Michail Antonio.

Arsenal: OUT — Dani Ceballos. QUESTIONABLE — Rob Holding.


Probable lineups

West Ham United: Martin; Cresswell, Ogbonna, Balbuena, Fredericks; Rice, Noble, Yarmolenko, Anderson, Snodgrass, Haller.

Arsenal: Leno; Kolasinac, Sokratis, Luiz, Bellerin, Xhaka, Torreira, Ozil, Pepe, Aubameyang, Lacazette.


What they’re saying

West Ham’s Antonio sees an opportunity: “The only three teams that are really performing are Liverpool, Leicester and Man City. Everyone else is getting beaten, and it means we’ve had a missed opportunity so far this season. We started the season off brightly, the best start we’ve had for four years, but then we’ve had a slump. Everyone’s having a slump and this is our slump. Now it’s time for us to start turning up. We’ve been in this situation before and we know how to dig in and pull ourselves up again.”

Arsenal’s Ljungberg on setting targets: “I don’t think we should stop talking about the top four, but for us it’s about concentrating on what we’re doing here now and not look up, down, sideways. We just need to work on our own game and our own confidence.”


Prediction

Really, you wouldn’t want to predict anything from these sides right now besides goals. We’ll give an edge in desperation to the hosts and a 2-2 draw.

La Liga: Sevilla held at Osasuna, Getafe maintains UCL fight

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Sevilla was held to a 1-1 draw at 10-man Osasuna on Sunday, giving both Real Madrid and Barcelona space at the top of the La Liga table.

Munir El Haddadi put the visitors 1-0 up just 11 minutes in, but Ezequiel Avila struck just before halftime to share the points. Sevilla was held to just two total shots through the opening 45 minutes, and despite Osasuna defender Oier Olazabal being shown a second yellow card with 29 minutes to go, Sevilla still managed just 11 total efforts through the 90 minutes, with four on target.

Getafe continued its battle for a top four spot as they won 1-0 on the road at Eibar. Angel Rodriguez bagged his eighth goal of the season to secure the win, cropping up in the 67th minute to finally put Getafe through. They had been turning the screw for some time, forcing Marko Dmitrovic into a pair of big saves just before the opener which came from an absurdly tight angle after Angel had rounded the goalkeeper. The win leaves them fourth, level with Real Sociedad on 27 points.

They were allowed to close the gap after Real Sociedad was held scoreless in a 0-0 draw at 14th placed Real Valladolid. The visitors put just two of their 14 shots on net, and dropped to fifth thanks to Getafe holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Athletic Club also fell back in the race for a top four spot, dropping a 3-2 decision on the road at Real Betis. Joaquin scored a first-half hat-trick, with all three goals coming in the opening 20 minutes to give him five in his last three games. Inaki Williams brought Athletic Bilbao one back before halftime from the spot, and Yuri Berchiche made things interesting with a minute to go, but that was all they could muster as the visitors fell to sixth on 26 points, above Atletico Madrid on goal differential with the two yet to play head-to-head.

Celta Vigo made it interesting as Iago Aspas scored a man-down goal, but Leganes held on for a 3-2 win over the 10-man visitors. Oscar Rodriguez had a first-half brace to help the hosts to a 3-0 lead, but Nestor Araujo and Aspas helped Celta Vigo make things interesting. Still, a 71st minute second yellow card for halftime substitute Gabriel Fernandez hampered the visitors in their efforts for a comeback, leaving Celta Vigo in the relegation zone, a point back of safety, with Leganes is four points behind them in 19th.

Gerrard reacts to Rangers’ Old Firm heartbreak in final

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Steven Gerrard lined his Rangers side up for success, but fate was cruel to the Liverpool legend.

Rangers lost the League Cup Final to their Old Firm rivals on Sunday despite out-shooting the Bhoys by a 16-5 margin, winning a penalty, and playing almost a half-hour up a man.

[ RECAP: Rangers 0-1 Celtic ]

“To a man we were very good … by much the better side,” Gerrard said. “But unfortunately that’s not what gets you a trophy.”

But Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster stopped Alfredo Morelos’ penalty, three minutes after goal scorer Christopher Jullien was offside on the lone goal of the game.

Scotland doesn’t yet use VAR, and Gerrard doesn’t love VAR but he likes it more than he likes Scottish officials.

“There were three Celtic players standing in offside positions but unfortunately we play in a country where there is no VAR,” he said, via the BBC. “I’d be a liar if I said I was 100% in favour of it, but the one thing I do know is that officials up here need support.”

Now he has the task of getting his men to rebound ahead of its biggest non-derby in ages, as Rangers need at least a draw against Young Boys at home on Thursday to advance to the Europa League knockout rounds

“It’s a bit raw right now… It’s up to me to pick the players up. One thing I will say is I’ll stay with these players on the evidence of today because they gave me absolutely everything. We might have to suffer a bit short-term. I need to pick them up a bit physically and mentally for Thursday which is huge but our day will come on the evidence of today.”

Gerrard has done a very good job with Rangers, who are two points back of Celtic in a two-horse race for the Scottish top flight title. Celtic has won eight-straight titles to improve their total to 50, four less than the Rangers.