The tantalizing World Cup qualifying scenario developing between the United States and Mexico

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All the nervous drama of World Cup qualifying has been removed for the United States national team, with its ticket to Brazil 2014 safely tucked into Jurgen Klinsmann’s coat pocket.

But that’s certainly not the case for others in the CONCACAF region, especially for our weary neighbors to the south, fighting for their Tri-Colored lives in a qualifying campaign gone horribly sideways.

While the United States is out of the competitive fray for itself, Klinsmann and Co. still have something to say about who goes to Brazil from our little brother region. Most tantalizing is how the United States is now in position to actually assist Mexico in its desperate quest to get to Brazil.

Here’s how that works:

With two rounds of matches remaining, Mexico is currently tied with Panama for fourth in the region’s six-team, final round group. Three nations advance automatically; the United States and Costa Rica have locked up two of those berths, so one automatic invite dangles still. A fourth CONCACAF country goes into a November play-in series against New Zealand.

Mexico hosts Panama at once-storied Azteca Stadium on Oct. 11.  That. Is. Huge.

Then it really gets interesting. The United States finishes with an Oct. 15 match at Panama. There is a strong possibility that Mexico might need — Need! — the United States to win in order to get into that fourth spot. Mexicans rooting for the United States in soccer? Dogs and cats … Living together!

(MORE: How will the United States handle qualifiers going forward)

That could possibly put Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer in an awkward spot. They certainly won’t need their top performers, many of whom might get club push back for traveling from Europe all the way down into Central America — literally halfway around the world — for a match so meaningless to the Yankee cause.

Even if the Americans summon their top men, can they really match the motivation of a scrappy Panamanian bunch that is willing to bleed and break their own bones to get into a World Cup for the first time ever? That would be truly epochal stuff for the small Central American land, and that will hardly be lost on the proud Panamanian players.

Klinsmann said Tuesday that he will not relinquish the serious business of World Cup qualifiers, indicating that he will absolutely bring his best available figures into these remaining two qualifiers. He talked about the importance of getting this group together as much as possible to further fuse team cohesion ahead of Brazil 2014.

Either way,they scenario and how it all unfolds will be fascinating to watch.

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Former Arsenal, Brazil midfielder Baptista announces retirement

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Julio Baptista’s time at Arsenal only lasted 12 months, but it was a memorable stint.

The Brazilian, who played the 2006-07 season for the Gunners, announced his retirement on Thursday at the age of 37. The former Brazil international only managed 10 goals with Arsenal, but they came in bunches.

Baptista memorably scored four goals against Liverpool in the League Cup quarterfinal, as Arsenal finished with a 6-3 win. Baptista even missed a penalty kick that game.

Baptista cemented his legacy later in the season with a brace in the FA Cup against rival Tottenham.

Baptista, clearly an immensely talented player, suffered from being a good, but not great player. He seemed to have no perfect position other than the No. 10, and most teams he played for had better players in that position. It forces him to play along the wings, deeper in midfield or as a striker during the prime of his career.

In the end, injuries beset his career, especially a short spell at Orlando City in MLS.

 

U-20 World Cup Rewind: Italy tops Mexico, host Poland falls on Day 1 (video)

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Italy opened the FIFA Under-20 World Cup with a bang, knocking off fellow Group B favorite Mexico, 2-1, in Gdynia, Poland.

It only took Italy three minutes to get on the board, as Davide Frattesi found a pocket of space in front of the El Tri backline and dribbled in on goal. The Sassuolo midfielder then decided to fire on goal from distance, hitting a rocket into the corner to give Italy a 1-0 lead.

Later in the first half Gianluca Scamacca also took a rip from outside the box, but his strike sailed just wide.

A defensive error on a corner kick gave Diego Lainez and Mexico life. In the 37th minute, AC Milan product Alessandro Plizzari committed a howler, coming out to punch away the curled corner kick. Plizzari missed the ball and it went right to the head of Roberto De La Rosa, who calmly made it 1-1.

El Tri however suffered a blow late in the match as Italy took back the lead. In the 67th minute, Luca Ranieri collected the ball on the edge of the six yard box and from a tight angle, he scored past Mexico goalkeeper Carlos Higuera.

For Mexico, it’s a rough way to start the World Cup, having to go against a perennial power in Italy and playing on European soil. Not all is lost for Mexico, but it has to rebound with a win in its next game against Japan.

Elsewhere, Colombia defeated host Poland, 2-0, Japan tied Ecuador 1-1, and Senegal beat Tahiti, 3-0.

Saudis, Bahrain, UAE join to bid for FIFA’s U-20 World Cup

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GENEVA (AP) Middle East neighbors Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are jointly bidding to host the Under-20 World Cup in 2021.

FIFA says the Gulf plan is among five to express interest in bidding, including Brazil.

Indonesia, Peru and a Myanmar-Thailand joint bid are the others.

FIFA announced the contenders Thursday, one day after dropping a proposal for Qatar to share hosting duties for the 2022 World Cup with regional neighbors.

The 2021 U20 contenders must submit a formal bid by Aug. 30. FIFA’s ruling Council will pick the winner, likely in October.

The 2019 edition kicks off Thursday in Poland.

Putin awards medal to FIFA president Infantino

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MOSCOW (AP) Vladimir Putin has given FIFA president Gianni Infantino a medal.

The Russian president awarded Infantino the Order of Friendship at the Kremlin on Thursday.

Infantino has often said last year’s World Cup in Russia, where the host nation surprisingly reached the quarterfinals, was the best of the 21 editions of the tournament.

Putin thanked the FIFA leader for “your glowing assessment of our efforts.”

Infantino says of Russia’s “bonds of friendship” with soccer “is not the end, it is only the beginning of our fruitful cooperation and interaction.”

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