Tuesday’s World Cup Qualifying: Previews and Scenarios

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World Cup Qualifying matches are in abundance on Tuesday with action throughout CONCACAF, Africa, Europe and South America. Here’s a look at all the key matches and scenarios for the day.

CONCACAF

With the United States and Costa Rica having booked their tickets to the World Cup, CONCACAF qualifying is all about the mad dash for third place.

With a three point gap separating third place Honduras from fourth place Mexico, Los Catrachos hold the keys to their own destiny.  A win or draw against Jamaica and they’re through to Brazil. Lose to the Reggae Boyz and Honduras could be leap-frogged by Mexico if they take care of business against Costa Rica

With Costa Rica through their match with Mexico is all on El Tri.  A draw will ensure Mexico fourth place and an intercontinental play-off against New Zealand while a win combined with a Honduras loss could see Mexico finish in third. If Victor Manuel Vucetich’s side lose they will crash out of the play-offs so long as Panama beat the U.S..

AFRICA

With the first legs of the other four African World Cup playoffs having been decided this past weekend, the only remaining qualifier on the slate sees Ghana welcome Egypt.

This match is the first of a two legged play-off between Bob Bradley’s Egypt squad and the Black Stars of Ghana. Historically, Ghana has the slight edge in this one having won eight, drawn five and lost five but there’s something special about Bradley’s squad, who come into this game unbeaten in qualifying.

A win would do wonders for Egypt, who return home for the return leg of this fixture on November 19th in Egypt. For an in depth look at this fixture don’t miss Liviu Bird’s masterpiece, ‘Egypt faces biggest challenge of World Cup qualification yet in Ghana‘.

EUROPE

Holland, Italy, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland have clinched berths for the World Cup by winning their qualifying groups and on Tuesday, four more spots will be decided on the last day of group play. 26 matches will be played across Europe today and here is all you need to know about the pertinent qualifiers.

Group A: Scotland v. Croatia

Belgium booked their place in Brazil and Croatia are guaranteed second place although they are not assured a play-off place as there are three teams (Macedonia, Wales and Scotland) who can finish bottom.

Group B: Bulgaria v. Czech Republic and Denmark v. Malta 

In Group B, Italy has clinched but four teams could mathematically finish second. Bulgaria are the favorites if they beat the Czech Republic at home. Third-place Denmark are even on points with Bulgaria and will finish second if they better Bulgaria’s result, or win by eight or more goals against Malta.

Group C: Sweden v. Germany

Group C has already been decided, with Germany qualifying and Sweden being assured a play-off place.

Group D: Turkey v. Holland and Romania v. Estonia. 

Holland has locked up Group D meaning it’s a battle for the play-offs between Turkey and Romania. Both countries have the same 5-3-1 record but Turkey are ahead by four in goal difference. To qualify they’ll need to get past the Dutch while Romania face an easier test Estonia (2-6-1) at home.

Group E: Norway v. Iceland and Switzerland v. Slovenia

Switzerland are going to Brazil meaning the battle for second place in Group E is between Iceland and Slovenia. Iceland will go through with a win against Norway but they can also finish runners-up if Slovenia do not better their result against Switzerland.

Group F: Azerbaijan v. Russia and Portugal v. Luxembourg

Russia lead Group F by three points over Portugal meaning the only way Cristiano Ronaldo & Co. can avoid the playoffs is if they beat Luxembourg and the Russians slip up in Azerbaijan. It’s a highly unlikely scenario meaning Portugal will find themselves in the playoffs for the third straight tournament, most recently having defeated Bosnia-Herzegovina in the playoffs to reach the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championship.

Group G: Lithuania v. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece v. Liechtenstein

The top two spots are up for grabs in Group G with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece in first and second place but the Bosnians 17 goal edge makes them heavy favorites if they secure victory at Lithuania. If they manage to do so, Greece will head to the playoffs while Bosnia-Herzegovina will go to their first World Cup since gaining independence in 1992.

Group H: England v. Poland and San Marino v. Ukraine and Montenegro v. Moldova

It’s squeaky bum time in Group H where England will head to Brazil with a victory over Poland. A draw will also suffice if Ukraine manage to slip up against San Marino. Both England and Ukraine are guaranteed a play-off spot regardless of who finishes second. Montenegro also has a long shot at second place, but it would take a Ukraine defeat along with an unlikely 12 goal swing to make that dream a reality.

Group I: Spain v. Georgia and France v. Finland

The reigning World Cup and European champions need just a draw from their home match against Georgia to secure top spot in Group I. The single point would be enough to condemn France to a two match playoff against a team to be determined.  France must defeat Finland at home and hope Georgia can pull off a massive upset for Spain to drop into the playoffs.

SOUTH AMERICA

Argentina and Colombia have already qualified leaving two additional automatic spots are up for grabs.

The biggest match of the day is between Chile and Ecuador with both teams set to qualify for Brazil with a draw. If for some reason that doesn’t happen – Uruguay is the only other side who could reach Brazil if they defeat Argentina and enjoy a massive goal swoon (they are four behind Chile and six behind Ecuador).

The likely scenario is that, regardless of the result, La Celeste will face Jordan in the intercontinental play-off

How will USMNT line up versus Costa Rica?

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Saturday brings a first look at the United States men’s national team in 2020, though Gregg Berhalter’s bunch won’t look anything like its best self.

The Yanks have an almost exclusively MLS roster for the match, with Hobro’s Christian Cappas, Wolfsburg II’s Uly Llanez and unattached 17-year-old Bryang Kayo in the fold.

Many of Berhalter’s best MLS stars won’t be in Carson either for the 3:55 p.m. ET Saturday kickoff. Jordan Morris, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley are the biggest names.

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Ronald Gonzalez’s Ticos will be similarly hampered, although more of Costa Rica’s A-side play in MLS and domestically.

We’ll leave the breakdown of the visitors for a later date, but who will rep the U.S. in Saturday’s Starting XI?

The travel roster includes keepers Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, and Matt Turner, as well as defenders Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman, Reggie Cannon, Julian Araujo, Chase Gasper, Justen Glad, Mark McKenzie, and Sam Vines. Listed midfielders Sebastian Lletget, Jackson Yueill, Brenden Aaronson, Cappis, Kayo, and Brandon Servania are joined by forwards Gyasi Zardes, Paul Arriola, Jonathan Lewis, Jesus Ferreira, and Ulysses Llanez.

Goalkeeper is anyone’s guess, but Johnson’s got the most run of the three during the Berhalter era. The younger Turner or more accomplished Hamid may step in there.

It would be surprising to see any other center backs besides Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long given what we know of Berhalter and his respect for regulars. Reggie Cannon should start at right back and it’s between Chase Gasper and Sam Vines for the left. We’ll choose Vines out of intrigue.

Jackson Yueill, Paul Arriola, Sebastian Lletget, and Gyasi Zardes are safe bets to start, and this would seem a spot to give Jonathan Lewis more than subs’ run. That leaves one spot, and we’re pegging Brandon Servania to be the one chosen of four midfielders aged 17-20.

There’s also the matter of whether FC Dallas striker Jesus Ferreira will be internationally cleared to play Saturday. We sure hope he will be!

How do you think Berhalter will line them up?


How Berhalter may go

Johnson

Cannon — Zimmerman — Long — Vines

Yueill — Servania

Arriola — Lletget — Lewis

Zardes


What we’d like to see

Turner

Cannon — Zimmerman — McKenzie — Vines

Yueill — Cappis — Servania

Arriola — Ferreira — Lewis

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Report: Sheffield United in ‘advanced talks’ for $22M Norway star

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Sheffield United is ready to add one of the game’s brightest young talents to its blossoming Premier League side.

Norway midfielder Sander Berge is the name, and he’s been linked with Liverpool amongst others over the past few months.

Berge turns 22 next month and already has 20 caps for Norway in addition to 113 senior appearances for Genk in Belgium and 43 more for Valerenga in his home country.

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The defensive midfielder has chipped in six goals and four assists. He won the Belgian Super League with Genk last year and has a career-best four goals so this season.

It shows what success brings to a club, as Sky Sports reports that Berge turned down a move to Bramall Lane in the summer.

The fee is said to be $22 million, which isn’t small but completely reasonable given his stature for club and country.

This may move may join the Lys Mousset purchase as one of the Blades’ smartest bits of business, especially as Chris Wilder‘s men look for success on multiple fronts. Their success as a newly-promoted side is one of the great stories of the European season, and a place in Europe would be a fantastic achievement.

From The Yorkshire Post:

“It is going well, no doubt about it,” Wilder said. “On the Premier League front and in the Cup. You probably would not think it, but the win at Millwall has given me an enormous amount of pleasure in confirming, not even seeing, what my team is about. Players have come in with the likes of the skipper (Billy Sharp) and other players who are really driving it forward and want to produce individual performances and the atmosphere is good.”

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Espanyol identify 12 fans who racially insulted player

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BARCELONA, Spain — Spanish club Espanyol says it has identified 12 fans who racially insulted an Athletic Bilbao player in the Spanish league last weekend.

Espanyol said on Monday in a statement that nine of the fans were club members and would face punishment that could include suspension or a full-time ban.

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It said a report of its analysis of the video images of Saturday’s game at RCDE Stadium were sent to authorities.

The club reiterated its “categorical condemnation of any displays of violence and racism.”

The fans made monkey noises directed at Athletic forward Inaki Williams, who is black. Television images showed Williams confronting the section of Espanyol fans who taunted him after he was substituted late in the game in Barcelona.

The Spanish league said it will seek a partial stadium closure for Espanyol and will raise the incident with the Spanish soccer federation’s competition committee, which handles disciplinary issues.

Transfer rumors: West Ham want $44M midfielder, Barca eyes Rodrigo

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West Ham United is being linked with a big transfer splash, and it’s not even a striker.

Uruguayan midfielder Nahitan Nandez is the man in question, and West Ham is reportedly tempting Cagliari with a $44 million offer this January.

Nandez, 23, arrived from Boca Juniors for less than half that fee this summer, and has chipped in a goal with three assists for Tommaso Giulini’s sixth-place Serie A side.

He’s got 31 caps for his national team, and is averaging 1.5 tackles per match with Cagliari. Nandez is also averaging a key pass and 1.1 successful dribbles per league outing.

Football-Italia says that Cagliari will try to tie Nandez to a new deal with a $44 million release clause if the move to West Ham is unsuccessful.

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Meanwhile Barcelona’s pursuit of a Luis Suarez replacement isn’t limited to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, according to Marca.

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu admits that Valencia striker Rodrigo Moreno is interesting his coaches.

“We don’t talk about players from other teams. But [Rodrigo’s] name is on the table of the coaches, and a replacement will arrive. I do not know whether it will be from Barcelona B or from outside. I like many players.”

The Spaniard has eight goals in 21 caps, and turns 29 in March. Rodrigo has four goals and 10 assists in 23 matches across all competitions this season.

Valencia beat Barcelona this weekend to send the Blaugranas three points back of La Liga leaders Real Madrid.