2015 Gold Cup – Group A preview: USMNT favorites over Honduras, Panama, Haiti

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The 2015 Gold Cup is just a few days from kicking off, and although the entire country is wrapped up in the women’s World Cup and the USA’s quest to win a third title, Jurgen Klinsmann’s side is about to take center stage.

There is plenty at stake this summer, with the team crowned champions of the CONCACAF region also sealing a spot at the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. With the U.S., Mexico and Costa Rica all making the knockout stages of the 2014 World Cup, expect this to be a three-way tussle for the title throughout the month of July. But there are plenty of other dark horses lurking in the shadows.

[ RELATED: Group B preview | Latest Gold Cup news ]

First up, let’s take a look at Group A which includes the host nation (USA! USA! USA!… sorry) the United States, plus Honduras, Panama and Haiti in what looks like the strongest group on paper with two teams who qualified for the 2014 World Cup, the U.S. and Honduras, squaring off first in Frisco.

USA

On home soil, the defending champions will fancy their chances of clinching a fourth title in their last seven tournaments. In face, the U.S. has reached the final in five-straight Gold Cups but with Mexico and Costa Rica pushing them all the way, this will be a severe test of their credentials. Huge friendly wins at Holland and Germany in the buildup to this tournament will have boosted the USMNT’s confidence but they are missing some key players like Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron. Matt Besler and Jermaine Jones. That said, it will be a major disappointment if the U.S. don’t, at least, reach the final.

Best Gold Cup finish: Winners – 1991, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2013
Manager: Jurgen Klinsmann – The German legend has managed to stamp his authority on the U.S. since he took over in 2011 and with a crop of youngsters balanced out with experience, Klinsmann is serious about defending the USA’s Gold Cup crown and clinching a spot at the Confederations Cup. He is fired up.
Star man: Michael Bradley – After being named skipper, the U.S. is looking to Bradley to be the main man in midfield and make those trademark driving runs at the heart of opposition defenses. When Bradley plays well, the U.S. plays well.

Honduras

Los Catrachos endured a disappointing World Cup campaign where they lost all three group games and went home with their tails between their legs. However, they have enjoyed plenty more success in the Gold Cup in recent seasons. In four of the last five tournaments Honduras has lost out in the semifinals so they will be hoping for a deep run and if they come flying out of the traps in their first game of the tournament against the U.S., they could shock the USMNT. Andy Najar and Boniek Garcia can run all day long and provide Honduras with quality on the ball. If you’re looking for a sleeper, Los Catrachos are your squad.

Best Gold Cup finish: Winners – 1981
Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto – After coaching Costa Rica for three seasons, Pinto took over as Honduras’ boss in December 2014. However, it has been a rocky road so far with only two wins in eight matches in 2015. He badly needs a good Gold Cup.
Star man: Andy  Najar – The D.C. United Academy product has been ripping it up in Belgium for Anderlecht. Najar, still just 22, has 27 caps for Honduras and is said be attracting interest from top teams in Europe after his eye-catching displays in the UEFA Champions League.

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Andy Najar of Anderlecht and Honduras.

Panama

Fans of the U.S. national team know from past games against Los Canaleros just how tough they can be to break down. Brek Shea’s late goal in the 2013 final handed the Gold Cup to the U.S. after Panama withstood heavy pressure. With plenty of MLS talent on their squad — we’re looking at you Blas Perez, Gabriel Torres and Jamie Penedo — Panama will likely battle with Honduras for second spot in Group A but expect them to go into their final group game against the U.S. with a chance clinching top spot.

Best Gold Cup finish: Runners up – 2005, 2013
Manager: Hernan Dario Gomez – The former coach of the Colombian national team took charge of Panama in 2014, and he is still trying to figure out his best starting lineup ahead of the Gold Cup.
Star man: Blas Perez – The FC Dallas forward has the power and pace to cause plenty of problems, plus he is supremely cool finisher. When Perez gets hot, he is smoking.

Haiti

The true underdogs of this group, Haiti have reached the quarterfinals in recent tournaments and if their 2013 displays are anything to go by, they will be hard to break down. Les Grenadiers pushed Honduras and El Salvador hard in defeats, then beat Trinidad and Tobago in the group stages. Totally unknown quantity.

Best Gold Cup finish: Quarterfinals – 2002, 2009
Manager: Marc Collat – The experienced coach took charge in 2014 after a long career in France, Qatar and Mauritius among other stops.
Star man: Johnny Placide – The captain is likely to be pretty busy in goal, but the Reims goalkeeper impressed for the Ligue 1 outfit during the 2014-15 season as they survived in France’s top-flight.

Schedule

July 7: USA vs. Honduras – Toyota Stadium, Frisco, TX
July 7: Panama vs. Haiti – Toyota Stadium, Frisco, TX
July 10: Honduras vs. Panama – Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA
July 10: USA vs. Haiti – Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA
July 13: Haiti vs. Honduras – Sporting Park, Kansas City, KS
July 13: Panama vs. USA – Sporting Park, Kansas City, KS

Prediction

1st – USA
2nd – Honduras
3rd – Panama
4th – Haiti

Southgate, England players sound off on racist abuse

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England took care of business in Monday’s 6-0 thrashing of Bulgaria, but the Three Lions had to endure some horrendous racist abuse from the crowd during the game.

The match was paused on two occasions I’m the first half by the match officials after racist chanting could be heard from a section of supporters, and a large group of Bulgarian fans were ejected towards the end of the half. However, racist abuse continued during the match from small pockets of fans in the stadium.

[READ: England v. Bulgaria delayed after racist abuse from stands]

“I have to say that the officials were on to everything very quickly,” England manager Gareth Southgate told ITV after the match. “We reported everything immediately when we heard things, we had constant communication with the fourth official and the referee. I was in contact with the players, all the way through the first half in particular, and then again at halftime.

”We know it’s an unacceptable situation, and I think we’ve managed to make two statements. By winning the game, but also we’re raised the awareness of everybody to the situation. The game was stopped twice, I know for some people that won’t be enough, but we as a group were on board with that process.”

Raheem Sterling, who scored a brace in the win, also sounded off on social media, as did former England and Arsenal star Ian Wright.

Ultimately, UEFA and the match officials followed the protocol, but the sad part about this is that England and the officials had a plan for racist abuse, and it was predictable that it would happen.

In a statement after the game, the FA confirmed they would be asking UEFA to investigate what happened. However, any punishment is too little, too late for the players who endured the abuse.

Kane, Sterling star as England rout Bulgaria

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On a night where racist abuse from the stands in Bulgaria marred the overall spectacle, England’s players produced an incredible result and spectacle for the visiting fans, with all things considered.

Harry Kane scored once and assisted on three others as England rolled over Bulgaria, winning 6-0 on Monday evening in the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria. Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley both scored a brace for the Three Lions and Marcus Rashford’s thunderbolt from a tight angle gave England the opening goal it needed.

The blowout result was the perfect response after England had suffered its first loss in qualifying for a decade, losing on Friday, 2-1 at the Czech Republic. The six goals England put past Bulgaria was also the fourth time out of six games that England had scored at least five goals in a match. The only other time, aside from the defeat, was a 4-0 win last month at Wembley Stadium over Bulgaria.

This story will be updated.

 

Racist abuse delays England v. Bulgaria qualifier

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England raced out to an impressive 4-0 lead at Bulgaria by halftime, but the wonderful attacking display was marred by horrendous incidents from the crowd.

The match in the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria was stopped on two occasions with announcements being made to ask sections of the crowd to stop their abusive language. This comes with the stadium already serving a partial stadium closure due to racist chanting from the crowd in previous qualifiers.

Below is UEFA’s protocol on how to intervene in these situations, and what transpired from lead writer Joe Prince-Wright.

Tottenham re-signs goalkeeper Vorm

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With Hugo Lloris set to miss at least another two months of action with a broken elbow, Tottenham has turned to a familiar face to provide some cover between the pipes.

Tottenham announced Monday it had re-signed goalkeeper Michel Vorm to a contract through the end of the 2019-2020 Premier League season. Vorm spent five seasons with Tottenham after signing from Swansea City in 2014. However, after playing second-fiddle to Lloris and later serving as the third backup behind current Tottenham No. 2, Paulo Gazzaniga for the past couple of seasons, Vorm was released at the end of last season.

Its certainly a boost for Tottenham that a player with a long history at the club and plenty of experience was available to help in this situation. Similar to Liverpool picking up Adrian after Alisson Becker’s injury, Tottenham know what it’s getting in Vorm and may play him a few times if Gazzaniga needs a night off in the next few months.

According to Vorm, he had been home in his native Netherlands and was watching the game when he saw Lloris get injured.

“Obviously I saw straight away that he had a bad injury and at the time I thought about how bad it was, Vorm told Tottenham’s website. “After the game I spoke with Jan (Vertonghen), he told me what was going on and I spoke also with Toni (Jimenez, our goalkeeping coach) and, yes, during the week I got the phone call to ask if I was open to come back and help out. I’ve kept in contact with a lot of the players and also with Toni. We were speaking quite regularly and on Thursday he called me, we had the conversation and from there on, it went very quickly.”

In his five seasons with Tottenham, Vorm made a total of 47 appearances in all competitions. He saw plenty of time in the League Cup, FA Cup, UEFA Europa League and Champions League during his stay at White Hart Lane.