2015 Gold Cup — Group C preview: Hobbled Mexico still favorites over Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba

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In 2013, the last time CONCACF held it’s biannual continental competition, the US national team was placed in the easiest of three groups, and capitalized on said fortune by lifting the Gold Cup trophy at the end of July. Fast forward four years, and it’s the USMNT’s biggest rival for CONCACAF dominance, Mexico, that look to be the beneficiaries of the 2015 Gold Cup’s weakest four-team group.

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Mexico look to be runaway favorites at the top of Group C, but it’s anyone’s guess who’ll come second and who’ll challenge for a place in the quarterfinals as one of two third-place finishers in the group stage. Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago are the favorites to finish two-three (in either order), while Cuba are once again the great unknown looking to upset the apple cart.

Mexico

“Injuries” is the (unfortunate) word of the week for Mexico, who in the last five days have lost their best defender, Hector Moreno, and assumed starting forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez for the rest of the summer. The pressure is now on Diego Reyes, Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar to step up at the back, and Andres Guardado, Giovani Dos Santos and Oribe Peralta to shoulder the scoring load. Even without Moreno and Hernandez, this is a team capable of advancing to the final in Philadelphia, but losses that significant levels the playing field for any potential showdown with the US national team.

Best Gold Cup finish: Winners (9 times) — 1965, 1971, 1977, 1993, 1996, 1998, 2003, 2009, 2001
Manager: Miguel Herrera — Up until his side’s current seven-game winless streak, El Tri‘s demonstrative leader has enjoyed a successful and drama-less two years as head coach of Mexico, which culminated with a near-quarterfinal berth at last summer’s World Cup. This is his first crack at the Gold Cup and a real chance to win some silverware.
Star man: Carlos Vela — The Real Sociedad winger is coming off of a somewhat disappointing club season (10 goals in 32 games, down from 21 in 52 the season before), but no matter his club form, Vela always seems to bring it for Mexico. With no more than a handful of national team caps since 2010 (various issues with the national federation and/or head coaches), this is his time to shine and stake claim to his place in the team for the rest of his career.

Guatemala

While a great deal of Guatemala’s talented roster plays its club ball in the relatively unknown Guatemalan league, we all know the names of Carlos Ruiz and Marco Pappa, and we’re quickly getting to know Real Salt Lake’s Elias Vasquez, as well. Nearly the entire midfield plays for the same team, Guatemalan giant Comunicaciones, so Ivan Sopegno’s side will lean heavily on that familiarity and continuity in a group where they’re 50-50 alongside Trinidad and Tobago to come second behind Mexico.

Best Gold Cup finish: Winners — 1967
Manager: Ivan Sopegno
Star man: Marco Pappa — Ruiz is 35 years old now, and while he’ll still have something to say of Guatemala’s chances this summer, it’s Pappa time to shine and lead La Furia Azul out of the group and into their third quarterfinal in eight years.

source: Getty Images
Kenwyne Jones, Trinidad and Tobago’s talisman

Trinidad and Tobago

Interestingly enough, Stephen Hart’s roster contains not a single player over the age of 30 (four players are 30, two of which are goalkeepers), though there’s ample international experience within — CONCACAF experience, in particular. 23-year-old winger Joevin Jones (Chicago Fire) is 23 years old, but boasts of 40 senior caps already, while 24-year-old center back Daneil Cyrus has 41 appearances to his name. The Soca Warriors look set to be strong defensively, but could struggle for goals of their own, as only Kenwyne Jones (18) has more than six international goals to his name.

Best Gold Cup finish: Runners-up — 1973
Manager: Stephen Hart
Star man: Kenwyne Jones — The 30-year-old is still kicking around the upper tiers of England following moves from Cardiff City to Bournemouth upon leaving Stoke City. Jones bagged a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, where T&T bowed out to Mexico in the quarterfinals.

Cuba

Speaking of sides with a dearth of goalscoring prowess, last up we have Cuba. Raul Gonzalez Triana’s side is by far the most inexperienced and accomplished side in this year’s tournament. In 2013, we saw the Leones del Caribe advance out of the group stage by virtue of finishing third, before getting hammered by Panama in the quarters.

Best Gold Cup finish: 4th — 1971
Manager: Raul Gonzalez Triana
Star man: Ariel Martinez — 11 goals in 50 appearances for Cuba gives Martinez the best strike rate on the current roster, and the 29-year-old will need to replicate his hat-trick form of 2013 if Cuba have any hopes of advancing this time around.

Schedule

July 9: Trinidad and Tobago vs. Guatemala — Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
July 9: Mexico vs. Cuba — Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
July 12: Trinidad and Tobago vs. Cuba — University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ
July 12: Guatemala vs. Mexico — University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ
July 15: Cuba vs. Guatemala — Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
July 15: Mexico vs. Trinidad and Tobago — Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC

Prediction

1st — Mexico
2nd — Guatemala
3rd — Trinidad and Tobago
4th — Cuba

Italy women’s team awarded for ’emancipating’ female game

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ROME (AP) The Italy women’s national soccer team was awarded the Foreign Press Association’s Invictus award Monday for promoting and “emancipating” the female game in the country with its run to the World Cup quarterfinals.

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Head coach Milena Bertolini and forward Barbara Bonansea were given the award during a ceremony at the Rome-based association.

With soccer dominated by men in Italy and few opportunities for girls, Bertolini recounted how she had to dress up as a boy to play as a kid.

“Now things are changing, thanks to the Italian federation’s school programs,” Bertolini said.

Bertolini and Bonansea lamented that female players are still not considered professionals and therefore are not permitted to earn more than $33,500 per year by Italian law.

“It’s not about the money, it’s a question of rights,” said Bonansea, who also plays for Italian champion Juventus.

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While Italy’s men’s team is a four-time World Cup champion, the women had not played in a World Cup for two decades and entered as a prohibitive underdog during its opening match against Australia in France in June. But the Azzurre came back from a goal down for a 2-1 win courtesy of Bonansea’s two scores , with her second coming in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

“That goal shaped our World Cup, both in terms of results and in terms of promoting women’s soccer in Italy,” Bertolini said. “The strong emotions on the field were transmitted to everyone who was watching. I still get goosebumps now just thinking about that goal.”

The Azzurre went on to win their group then beat China in the first knockout round before losing to eventual finalist the Netherlands.

In a country of 60 million people, a total of more than 20 million spectators watched Italy’s five matches on RAI state TV, setting audience records for women’s soccer game after game.

The Invictus award is dedicated to “promoting the positive effects of sports in terms of integration and emancipation by the vulnerable sections of society.”

UCL preview: Spurs desperate for a win; Man City host Atalanta

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By the end of the week, we’ll be at the halfway point of the UEFA Champions League group stage, and while some Premier League clubs (Manchester City and Liverpool) are currently in rather strong positions, a couple others (Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea) have some serious work to do to rescue their respective campaigns.

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Tottenham’s start to the group stage has gone about as poorly as it could have done, considering the positions in which they’ve found themselves early in games. Going from 2-0 up to a 2-2 draw away to Olympiacos was bad enough, but going from 1-0 up to a 7-2 home defeat to Bayern Munich was the real demoralizer.

Now, last year’s UCL runners-up find themselves third in the group with just one point. However, Mauricio Pochettino‘s side is set for a back-to-back home-and-away with (presumed) doormat Red Star Belgrade, beginning Tuesday when the Serbian side visits the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Spurs will continue to be without goalkeeper Hugo Lloris following his dislocated elbow, while midfielders Christian Eriksen and Giovani Lo Celso are back in full training and expected to be available for selection. Tanguay Ndombele was only involved as a second-half sub during Spurs’ draw with last-place Watford over the weekend, so he is likely to return to the starting lineup.

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Man City, meanwhile, are coming off a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace and feeling a renewed sense of PL title contention after Liverpool dropped their first points of the season. While a domestic three-peat is undoubtedly high on the list of priorities for Pep Guardiola‘s side, it’s probably safe to assume that breaking though in the UCL is the main objective for 2019-20. Since Guardiola took over at the Etihad Stadium, City have reached the quarterfinals twice and the round of 16 once. Under the direction of Manuel Pellegrini, City reached the semifinals the season before Guardiola’s arrival.

Outside of long-term knees injuries to Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane, City have a clean bill of health.

Tuesday’s full UEFA Champions League schedule

Atletico Madrid v. Bayer Leverkusen — 12:55 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Dinamo Zagreb — 12:55 p.m. ET

Tottenham Hotspur v. Red Star Belgrade — 3 p.m. ET
Manchester City v. Atalanta — 3 p.m. ET
Galatasaray v. Real Madrid — 3 p.m. ET
Juventus v. Lokomotive Moscow — 3 p.m. ET
Brugge v. Paris Saint-Germain — 3 p.m. ET
Olympiacos v. Bayern Munich

The 2 Robbies podcast: Man United 1-1 Liverpool; Struggles in North London

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe review the key results from Matchweek 9 in the Premier League focusing on Manchester United and Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Old Trafford (0:50). The chaps also discuss Manchester City’s win at Crystal Palace (16:50), Arsenal’s defeat at Sheffield United (23:25), Tottenham’s draw at home to Watford (35:25) and debate who currently is the 3rd best team in the Premier League (42:05). Finally, the guys name their under-appreciated performances of the weekend (50:50).

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

FA Cup qualifier to be replayed after team walks off for racist abuse

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LONDON (AP) The FA Cup qualifying match between Haringey Borough and Yeovil Town that was abandoned following racist abuse will be replayed next week.

[ MORE: Sheffield United beat Arsenal with stellar defensive display (video) ]

The Football Association said Monday that the match will be replayed from the start on Oct. 29 at Haringey’s home ground.

Saturday’s game saw the players walk off in the 64th minute, shortly after Yeovil had gone 1-0 up via a penalty. Haringey officials said after the game that its Cameroonian goalkeeper Valery Pajetat and defender Coby Rowe had both been targeted by racial abuse by visiting fans.

London police said they had arrested two men, age 23 and 26, on Monday on suspicion of racially aggravated common assault in connection with the incident.

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The FA said: “Following the incident in the original tie and the two arrests already made, the FA’s investigation is ongoing. We are continuing to work with the relevant authorities on our investigation into the matter.”

The winner of the game will advance to the first round of the FA Cup.