After the qualifiers: If the 2018 World Cup started today

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Here’s a peek at where we stand with 20 months to go before the World Cup in Russia, as well as a fun and borderline crazy predictive exercise done solely in the name of entertainment.

What if the World Cup started today? Who would be qualify?

The only side guaranteed a spot right now is Russia, who will be drawn in Group A. Then the following seven qualifiers with the highest FIFA ranking would also earn Pot 1 status.

[ MORE: All World Cup qualifying news ]

You know what? Let’s get nuts and play out the entire tournament to see who wins World Cup 2018.


QUALIFICATION

We’ll use actual qualification, as flawed and early as it is in some confederations, to be predict our combatants

Asia (4 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Iran, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Australia
PLAYOFF: Japan vs. South Korea

Projection: This is a tough one, as Japan and South Korea have a storied history. South Korea has won 40 of the 77 all-time meetings, but hasn’t claimed a win since May 2010 (five meetings, with two draws). So we’ll use Japan for the fifth bid, and a playoff bid against the fourth place team in CONCACAF.

Africa (1 of 6 qualifiers played)
IN: DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Egypt

CONCACAF (No Hex games played, based on last round)
IN: Mexico, Costa Rica, United States
PLAYOFF: Trinidad and Tobago

South America (10 of 18 qualifiers played)
IN: Brazil, Uruguay, Ecuador, Colombia
PLAYOFF: Argentina

Oceania (0 third round qualifiers played, based on last round)
PLAYOFF: New Zealand

Europe (3 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: France, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Montenegro, England, Spain, Belgium, Croatia
UEFA PLAYOFFS: Italy, Iceland, Greece, Sweden, Poland, Ireland, Azerbaijan, Portugal

PROJECTION: We’re using a random draw (honestly, we used Random.org)
Greece vs. Sweden — Greece wins
Italy vs. Ireland — Italy wins
Azerbaijan vs. Iceland — Iceland wins
Portugal vs. Poland — Portugal wins

Intercontinental playoffs:

Japan vs. Trinidad and Tobago — Japan wins
Argentina vs. New Zealand — Argentina wins


FIELD (FIFA Rankings)

  1. Russia (host, 38)
  2. Argentina (1)
  3. Belgium (2)
  4. Germany (3)
  5. Colombia (T-4)
  6. Brazil (T-4)
  7. Portugal (7)
  8. France (8)
  9. Uruguay (9)
  10. Spain (11)
  11. England (12)
  12. Italy (13)
  13. Croatia (14)
  14. Mexico (15)
  15. Switzerland (16)
  16. Costa Rica (18)
  17. Ecuador (19)
  18. USA (22)
  19. Iceland (27)
  20. Ivory Coast (34)
  21. Iran (37)
  22. Senegal (39)
  23. Australia (45)
  24. Greece (48)
  25. Uzbekistan (49)
  26. Serbia (50)
  27. DR Congo (51)
  28. Saudi Arabia (52)
  29. Egypt (53)
  30. Japan (56)
  31. Nigeria (64)
  32. Montenegro (105)

THE POTS

Like last cycle, the nine European qualifiers mean one will have to join Pot 2. Our random selection was… England. Wow.

Pot 1 (seeds): Russia, Argentina, Belgium, Germany, Colombia, Brazil, Portugal, France
Pot 2 (CAF & SA): England, DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Egypt, Uruguay, Ecuador
Pot 3 (AFC & CONCACAF): Japan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Australia, USA, Mexico, Cosa Rica
Pot 4 (Europe): Italy, Greece, Iceland, Switzerland, Serbia, Montenegro, England, Spain, Croatia


THE DRAW

Group A: Russia, Italy, Ivory Coast, Australia
Group B: Brazil, Greece, Ecuador, Uzbekistan
Group C: Colombia, Spain, Serbia, Saudi Arabia
Group D: Argentina, Croatia, Senegal, Japan
Group E: France, Switzerland, DR Congo, Mexico
Group F: Belgium, Montenegro, Uruguay, Iran
Group G: Germany, England, USA, Egypt
Group H: Portugal, Iceland, Nigeria, Costa Rica

Holy smoke! That is a next level group of death for the USMNT!

Should we go on? Okay. We’ll try to throw in some upsets and not just go with the chalk. We’re also going to do this once, favor the Yanks, and not look back.

Great news! The U.S. escapes thanks to Harry Redknapp demanding to use 81-times capped Croatian midfielder Niko Kranjcar for England despite FIFA telling him he would forfeit the tournament. Egypt gets a case of the measles a la the Panthers in “The Mighty Ducks”, since we’re playing out a cinematic string here for our home country. USA advances!

Round of 16
Spain def. Japan
Italy def. Greece
Brazil def. Russia
Argentina def. Colombia
France def. Uruguay
Germany def. Nigeria
Mexico def. Belgium
USA def. Portugal*

Quarterfinals
Italy def. Spain
Brazil def. Argentina
Germany def. France
USA def. Mexico*

Semifinals
Brazil def. Italy
Germany def. USA

Final
Germany def. Brazil

*Allow us this daydream. Thanks.

Man City vs Man United: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Manchester City vs Manchester United: Erling Haaland is set for his Manchester derby debut when the two-time defending champions host the rapidly improving Red Devils at Etihad Stadium on Sunday (watch live, 9 am ET on Peacock Premium). 

STREAM LIVE MAN CITY vs MAN UNITED

Haaland has taken the Premier League by storm with an absurd 11 goals scored in his first seven games after (ostensibly) choosing Man City over Man United before leaving Borussia Dortmund this summer.

Six weeks ago, Manchester United had not a single point from their first two games, including a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of tiny Brentford, but Erik ten Hag has since switched tactical course en route to four straight wins, including a 3-1 victory over PL leaders Arsenal last time out, to set up this hugely intriguing showdown on Sunday.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Man City vs Man United

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


How to watch Manchester City vs Manchester United live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 9 am ET, Sunday
Online: Stream via Peacock Premium


Key storylines & star players

Despite a pair of disappointing draws (Newcastle and Aston Villa), it’s been an unbeaten start to the 2022-23 season for Man City, who still lead the PL in possession (66.4 percent per game) while also becoming an unstoppable offensive force from last season (14 goals in their first seven games) to this season (23). That’s not to say it’s been easy as Manchester City go through a tactical shift of their own to better appeal to the big Norwegian’s poaching abilities. Though they have been forced to grind out results a few times already this season, it’s highlighted a newfound spontaneity for a side that’s been as regimented as any in the world. Will that freedom be what ultimately lands Pep Guardiola his first Champions League trophy since 2011, and perhaps a third straight PL title (and a fifth in six years) to boot?

As for Manchester United, the Ten Hag era has been a wild roller-coaster ride already, short as it’s been. The back-to-back defeats were one thing, but the abject performances were the real cause for discontent. While picking up the four straight victories, the Dutchman has also settled on a midfield setup with Scott McTominay and Christian Eriksen operating in (effectively) a double pivot with Bruno Fernandes the most advanced of the three. It has brought defensive stability, of course, but more importantly the change has revealed a deadly counter-attacking side. Each of Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Fernandes have scored twice during the winning run, with new boy Antony also getting in on the fun on his debut. With space in behind (and the proper service from deep), Ten Hag might just have his first winning formula (albeit quite unlike him).


Manchester City team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Kalvin Phillips (shoulder), John Stones (hamstring), Benjamin Mendy (suspension – MORE) | QUESTIONABLE: Aymeric Laporte (knee)

Manchester United team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Harry Maguire (hamstring), Marcus Rashford (thigh), Brandon Williams (undisclosed), Mason Greenwood (suspension – MORE) | QUESTIONABLE, Donny van de Beek (knock), Martin Dubravka (knock)

Follow @AndyEdMLS

WATCH: Lionel Messi spins gorgeous free kick goal past Nice’s Schmeichel

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Lionel Messi got the better of Kasper Schmeichel with an outstanding free kick as Paris Saint-Germain outlasted Nice 2-1 on Saturday at the Parc des Princes.

The world’s greatest scorer was fouled to set up a free kick just inside the arc. Nice, of course, got into a wall and former Leicester City keeper Kasper Schmeichel arranged it to his liking.

As he does so many times, however, Messi spun a free kick just over the wall. The ball, which came so close to taking a slight turn off a leaping wall member (actually, did it?), tumbled down and right into the side netting to give PSG a 1-0 lead before the match was a half-hour old.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Ricardo Pepi scores relentless Groningen goal ]

Gaetan Laborde tied the match before halftime, and Nice’s revamped roster looked set to hold tight for a point (The club’s signed familiar Premier League names Schmeichel, Ross Barkley, Aaron Ramsey, and Mario Lemina).

Even that wouldn’t be enough, though, as Kylian Mbappe came off the bench to replace young Hugo Ekitike to finish a Nordi Mukiele assist for a 2-1 win.

PSG has eight wins and a draw this season, good for a two-point lead on second-place Marseille. Messi has five goals and a joint-league-best seven assists, tied with Neymar. Mbappe and Neymar are tied for the league goals lead with eight.

Lionel Messi free kick goal video

USMNT’s Ricardo Pepi defies xG with relentless goal (video)

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USMNT forward Ricardo Pepi’s goal while trying to will Groningen back into an eventual 4-1 loss to AZ Alkmaar on Saturday will not be one of the expected variety.

The 19-year-old striker, on loan from Augsburg, ran onto an audacious long pass from 20-year-old defender Neraysho Kasanwirjo but had plenty of work to do with AZ leading 2-0.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez scores audacious overhead goal ]

Pepi sees one defender fall in a race to the ball, then bodies up AZ’s Sam Beukema a little outside the six-yard box.

Hand-to-hand combat sees both players hit the turf, and Pepi probably could won a penalty.

But the World Cup hopeful spins while on the pitch and snaps a shot past charging AZ goalkeeper Hobie Verhulst to make it 2-1.

Video after the jump.

Ricardo Pepi
fotmob.com

Ricardo Pepi goal video: Fantastic start to Groningen loan

Pepi now has a goal or an assist in his first three Eredivisie outings, not unlike his fantastic start to life in a USMNT shirt.

His goal contributions have taken a dive since his first two USMNT matches — World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Jamaica — and he only has one assist from the following 10 outings in a U.S. shirt.

Still, Pepi is clearly one of Gregg Berhalter’s favorite options for the upcoming World Cup, and his performances will be measured against Union Berlin’s Jordan Pefok, FC Dallas’ Jesus Ferreira, and others.

In a tournament where every moment matters, his work for this scrappy finish will be well-noted by the USMNT staff.

Josef Martinez scores vicious overhead kick in Atlanta United loss (video)

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If this is the last goal of Josef Martinez’s (likely) final season with Atlanta United, it will be very appropriate.

So for Martinez, even in a losing effort, to go airborne for an overhead kick that is a simply sensational feat of athleticism and power, well, it just feels right.

The 29-year-old Venezuelan forward joined the Five Stripes in 2017 in what seemed a massive capture for the club at the time and now seems downright gargantuan, but he’s fallen out with current manager Gonzalo Pineda and was even suspended for a match last month.

[ MORE: West Ham beats Wolves | Klopp reacts to latest setback ]

Martinez has nine goals and four assists in an injury-abbreviated 25-game season, giving him 111 goals in 156 appearances for ATL UTD. The former Torino and Young Boys striker is still being capped for Venezuela and would leave with an MLS Cup, Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and Campeones Cup as well as a boatload of individual honors.

Atlanta lost 2-1 to New England on Saturday and returns home for their season finale next weekend versus New York City FC. The Five Stripes won’t make the playoffs unless at least two teams decide not to field teams, so if the NYCFC game doesn’t go well, let’s pretend this one was his final appearance for the club.