Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP, File

Canada coach Herdman aims for 2022 World Cup

1 Comment

We haven’t talked about 2022 World Cup qualifying in some time, as the focus was on the USMNT finding its coach, then Gregg Berhalter implementing his style, and soon winning the 2019 Gold Cup to ensure a spot in the 2021 Confederations Cup.

[ MORE: Montreal adds Serie A striker ]

There should be a ton of focus on the U.S. bounce back for any number of reasons, especially considering that qualifying for the next World Cup may be the last time the U.S. has to truly worry about its berth (unless Gianni Infantino gets his way and miraculously implements an expanded field for 2022. Then Berhalter and Co. are set already).

So with three-and-a-half spots available, it’s of-note any time a manager admits his national team side should earn one of those berths in Qatar.

Today, we’re talking about the biggest underachievers in CONCACAF for the better part of the last 20 years, and that’s Canada. The Canucks are led by John Herdman, and he’s bringing a mentality of expectation that’s been lacking from the unit in some time (although there were strides under Benito Floro) From Sportsnet.ca:

“We don’t have excuses. I don’t want to be that guy making them. At the end of the day if we don’t qualify for [2022], it’ll be a disappointment. To put that level of expectations on the team is critical. The team wants that, they’re ready for it. They know it’s now or never for many of them,” Herdman said.

“So, when you say, ‘how do you know it’s going to happen?’, we have to make it happen. But more importantly, we have to believe, and I think that belief is there from the men who are going to be leading the charge.”

He also, albeit not in so many words, admitted that the Canadians have underperformed in recent cycles.

First of all, no one is catching Mexico this cycle. El Tri are in something akin to a golden generation, and have the following stars in their prime: Wolves’ Raul Jimenez, Diego Reyes, and Hector Herrera, with Hirving Lozano getting there and several veteran leaders on the end of their elite window but still easy CONCACAF stars (Memo Ochoa, Hector Moreno, Andres Guardado).

So that’s 2.5 half spots.

Canada is ranked 78th in the world by FIFA and is 68th in the Elo Ratings. That puts them 8th and 7th amongst CONCACAF sides, as El Salvador is much lower in Elo than FIFA (and Elo is superior as an analytical tool. We’ve placed the chart at bottom).

Considering that the USMNT historically underperformed in 2018 qualification and Panama lucked into the tournament via a goal that did not cross the line, and it’s easy to predict a reverse in fortunes for the those two, but can Canada get in the Top Three (or the playoff spot) by moving ahead of 2-3 of the U.S., Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Jamaica (Considering Canada a contender requires they pass El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago).

If anything, the time is now for this group of Canadians, considering they’ll host the 2026 tournament with the U.S. and Canada. Les Rouges have vastly under-performed at two of the last three U-20 World Cups since giving the Americans a scare in the 2013 Round of 16. But they had a quality 2017 Gold Cup, and missed the 2018 World Cup qualifying Hex because Mexico had nothing to play for in the final game and drew Honduras.

Canada is still very low on overall depth and has a generation of player-first entitlement to overcome, but has CONCACAF star power in Alphonso Davies, Junior Hoilett, Scott Arfield, Cyle Larin, and Jonathan Osorio, a UEFA Champions League goalkeeper in Milan Borjan, a rising Liverpool teen in Liam Millar and the wild card of Barcelona property and former Montreal forward Ballou Tabla. Not to mention, the new and promising Canadian Premier League will make it easier for Herdman to scout potential next level stars.

Canada is currently en route for a Pot 3 ranking for the fourth round of World Cup qualifying (the last stop before the Hex). It would be drawn into a group where the main combatants will be one of Mexico, the USMNT, and Costa Rica, and one of Jamaica, Honduras, or El Salvador.

It’s not crazy at all to think Canada would edge Honduras and El Salvador for a top spot, and a group with Costa Rica where points will be live in those two fixtures. And the Canucks have a tactical boss with a chance to outwit another manager.

Hot take: Los Ticos are still long on experience but a bigger question in terms of depth and youth, missing three of four U-20 World Cups. That tournament shouldn’t be the lone arbiter of future goodness, but it’s something.

Even given the 2018 qualifying embarrassment, I fully expect the Yanks to qualify for 2022 in Qatar. Honestly, I think Jamaica might be the third-best group in terms of talent, with Costa Rica and Honduras interesting for different reasons. To borrow from the other football, Panama out-kicked its coverage and should be considered no certainty for the Hex. T&T is tricky at home. If Canada can be, there’s a really good chance they make the Hex.

PSG wins French league after 2nd-place Lille fails to win

AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain clinched the French league title without kicking a ball as second-place Lille could only draw 0-0 at Toulouse on Sunday.

Lille had to win to have any chance of catching PSG, but PSG is now 16 points ahead of its only rival with five matches left after this weekend.

After failing to clinch the title in the past three matches, drawing one and losing two, PSG can celebrate the eighth title in its history ahead of its home game against Monaco later Sunday.

It is PSG’s sixth title in the last seven seasons, with only Monaco in 2017 breaking PSG’s dominance.

Although the title was long expected from a side scoring 92 goals in 32 games so far, it took longer than it should have.

PSG could have won it three games ago, but drew 2-2 at home to Strasbourg when a win would have clinched it.

Then PSG needed a draw at Lille last Sunday, only to lose 5-1 in the club’s heaviest defeat since Qatari investors QSI took charge of the club in June 2011.

A win away to Nantes would have sufficed, too, on Wednesday night only for PSG to lose 3-2 .

The 10 goals conceded in those three games made for PSG’s worst defensive record during a three-game spell since 1985.

Also Sunday, striker Kalifa Coulibaly scored twice as 13th-place Nantes beat 17th-place Amiens 3-2.

Later, Saint-Etienne needed a draw at Reims to move above Marseille and into fourth place.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Klopp hails Liverpool mettle in face of “proper banana skin”

Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jurgen Klopp knows that more than a few clubs would’ve slipped up Sunday at Cardiff City, given the hosts’ desperation and the visitors’ midweek triumph, but his Reds stood up to the test.

[ RECAP: Cardiff 0-2 Liverpool ]

Liverpool beat Cardiff City 2-0, scoring a pair of second half goals to go back atop the Premier League before Manchester City plays its final match-in-hand of the season in a midweek Manchester Derby.

“It was prepared to be a proper banana skin and we knew that, the boys were unbelievable,” Klopp said after his team kept a second consecutive clean sheet.

He insists that he’s not feeling pressure as Liverpool may need to win every one of its matches and get help to capture its first Premier League crown.

“I only know about me and I didn’t feel it (the pressure) we have to do it like we do it. We cannot change it. The boys try really with all they have, we only speak about the things we have to do. Their attitude is outstanding and it’s a tough season but a very positive one as well.”

Liverpool has two banana skins left, a visit from Huddersfield and trip to Newcastle, closing out the league slate with Wolves at Anfield.

Benteke leads Palace surprise at Arsenal (video)

Leave a comment
  • Benteke scores first goal since April 28, 2018
  • Zaha nabs ninth of season
  • Ozil goal forges brief deadlock

Christian Benteke scored a goal and added an assist as Crystal Palace handed much-changed Arsenal a 3-2 set back at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

Wilfried Zaha and James McArthur also scored for the Eagles, while Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang posted Arsenal’s goals.

The win boosts Palace into 12th with 42 points, while Arsenal remains fourth with 66.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Roy Hodgson‘s men took a surprising early lead through a strangely surprising source, given that Benteke was once a prolific and danger scorer.

With room to operate, the Belgian turned a header past Bernd Leno to put the Eagles on top.

Palace was fortunate not to concede a penalty through an Aaron Wan-Bissaka handball in the box, and Cheikhou Kouyate saw two bids to beat Leno saved by the keeper.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Arsenal needed less than two second half minutes to equalize, with Iwobi finding Lacazette with a deft outside-of-the-boot pass. The Frenchman slid Ozil through on goal, and Ozil blasted it near side for a 1-1 score line.

Palace restored its lead thanks to a Benteke flick toward Zaha, with the Ivorian going around Shkrodan Mustafi before beating Leno.

And then it was 3-1, a 69th minute corner kick from Luka Milivojevic finding the back of the goal when James McArthur redirected a header into the goal.

Aubameyang needed a fortunate bounce to line up his shot, but deserved every bit of his 77th minute goal.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Liverpool handles its business in Wales (video)

David Davies/PA via AP
1 Comment
  • Wiljnaldum scores opener off corner
  • Milner converts Salah-won penalty
  • Cardiff cannot finish chances

Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner scored to put Liverpool back atop the Premier League following a 2-0 defeat of Cardiff City on Sunday.

Neil Warnock‘s Bluebirds had their chances but simply lacked quality in finish. They remain three points back of Brighton and Hove Albion in the race to avoid relegation.

Liverpool is a point ahead of Man City before Wednesday’s Manchester Derby at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino broke the Cardiff back line, but Neil Etheridge closed down to help force the Brazilian to fire over the goal.

It was mostly Liverpool’s game, but Oumar Niasse need nearly luck into an in-tight finish after Victor Camarasa flubbed a shot into his path. Alisson Becker tipped it over the bar.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Wijnaldum put the Reds on top about 12 minutes into the second half when he wrapped his right foot around a bounding set piece to send it flying past Etheridge.

Henderson’s would-be goal was blazed over the goal in the 61st minute. It wasn’t quite a sitter, but there was certainly some beckoning goal.

Cardiff’s Sean Morrison missed his second significant chance of the match off a 64th minute corner kick.

Roger East awarded a penalty kick to Liverpool when Morrison manhandled Mohamed Salah in the box. Milner rarely misses from the spot.

Etheridge made a tremendous save on Salah in the 90th.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]