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State of play in CONCACAF Nations League

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Well, well, well…

Canada’s controlling 2-0 defeat of the USMNT on Tuesday adding some intrigue to the final two match days of the CONCACAF Nations League next month

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Mexico nearly provided another shock at Azteca thanks to a relative inability to break down Panama, but young stunner Jose Juan Macias scored for the fourth time in three caps to lead El Tri to a 3-1 win on the night.

Roberto Alvarado saw his 28th minute goal canceled out by pre-halftime own goal, and Mexico had better than 75 percent possession when Macias bagged his winner. Rodolfo Pizarro rounded out the scoring in stoppage time.

Here’s where we sit in the battle for four semifinal spots. The semifinals and finals will be staged in June.

Group A

Canada’s defeat of the USMNT means the Yanks need to make the most of the Canucks visit to the Orlando next month and smash Cuba in the Cayman Islands. Overall goal difference is the second tie breaker, and the Yanks are four behind Canada. A two-goal win in Florida would mean the Yanks would simply need a victory over Cuba to advance to the semifinals. Canada advances with a draw against the U.S., while Cuba has already be relegated to League B.

Group B

Mexico now has six points to Panama’s three and Bermuda’s three. El Tri will visit Panama next and can clinch a spot in the semifinals with a draw or better. Even if Panama beats Mexico, Tata Martino’s men would need to get nothing from Bermuda at Azteca to fail to make the semifinals. Bermuda needs Panama to beat Mexico before getting a blowout win at Azteca. Not looking good.

Group C

Honduras is onto the semifinals. Whether Martinique or Trinidad and Tobago, both on two points, can avoid relegation by getting a superior result against Honduras in November. Honduras heads to Martinique before hosting T&T.

Group D

Curacao had five points compared to its rivals two each and can advance to the semifinals with a home defeat of Costa Rica. If Los Ticos claims the three points, then it will have at least a two-goal advantage on Haiti heading into a home finale.

Italy qualifies for EURO 2020 with win over Greece

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After failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Italy returned to one of international soccer’s grand stages on Saturday, qualifying for the 2020 European Championship with a 2-0 victory over Greece at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

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Roberto Mancini’s side joined Belgium as the second nation to qualify for next summer’s tournament which will be played across 12 different countries. The Azzurri did so having not yet dropped a single point in Group J play, putting together a 7W-0D-0L record with a +21 goal differential thus far. With three games still to play in qualifying, this marks the earliest Italy has ever achieved qualification.

Chelsea midfielder Jorginho scored what turned out to be the winner from the penalty spot in the 63rd minute before Juventus forward Federico Bernardeschi added some insurance in the 78th.

Mancini recently stated that Italy’s 23-man squad for EURO 2020 is “more or less decided” already.

Italy’s Francesco Acerbi refuses to leave children’s hospital

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The Italian national team took a visit to Bambino Gesù clinic, a children’s hospital in Rome on Thursday, and it was revealed that Francesco Acerbi took the time to visit with each and every sick child he could, above and beyond the scheduled event.

According to Italian national team press officer Alessandro Iapino, Acerbi stayed behind after the departure of the rest of the squad because he felt the need to make contact with every child in the facility. When told the team bus was leaving, he replied, “I don’t care, they can go. I’ll get a taxi, but I won’t leave until I’ve seen everyone.”

Acerbi has close ties to the children at the hospital, having himself battled testicular cancer in the past. The 31-year-old defender missed time during the 2013/14 season after a tumor was removed and Acerbi underwent chemotherapy.

During the team’s visit, the players and staff brought tickets to the Euro 2020 qualification match against Greece today as well as presents and memorabilia. Roberto Mancini and some of the players played games with the children as well. The players in turn received two bibs decorated by the children that will be worn during the qualification match. The trip is a follow-up from a trip some of the children took in June to visit the team’s Coverciano training ground.

Italy currently sits top of Group J with a perfect six wins in six matches. A win against Greece could potentially secure qualification to the Euro 2020 finals.

2 years since Couva, has the USMNT learned from its biggest failure?

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Two years ago yesterday, the United States men were eliminated from World Cup contention with a devastating loss to Trinidad & Tobago, missing out on the big dance for the first time in eight cycles.

It was a disaster of epic proportions, a miss so colossal it promised to bring with it sweeping changes and overhauls in order to prevent it from ever happening again.

And yet, two years on, has anything significant really changed?

The feeling of uncertainty, pessimism, and confusion still reigns strong with the USMNT setup, and despite the cataclysmic event in Couva two years ago, little has actually changed for the program. The talent pool is subject to endless experimentation with little established consistency in the starting lineup, the youth setup is struggling to recruit talented dual nationals, and results are still below the expected level of competition and growth.

Gregg Berhalter, as far as we know, has not fundamentally changed much with his hire. Billed as a new era of the USMNT, the same players are still called in, the same mistakes plague the team on the field, and there is little improvement to give fans hope for the future.

Inspecting the other high-profile teams that missed the 2018 World Cup – the Netherlands and Italy – both have made sweeping changes and ushered in a youth movement that has brought marketable changes to the squad. The Netherlands immediately progressed to the Nations League final behind a youth backbone that took Ajax to the Champions League semifinals, while Italy is perfect through six matches of Euro 2020 qualification under Roberto Mancini after making sweeping changes to the youth setup.

In fact, the USMNT is poised to potentially lose a key dual national to the Netherlands in Sergino Dest, who is still deciding on his future despite having played for the United States youth setup.

Meanwhile, the United States’ youth movement has sputtered. Weston McKennie’s development has stalled amid his inability to reign in his wild and erratic tendencies. Tyler Adams, John Brooks, and Timothy Weah have contracted the injury bug, while Christian Pulisic is stuck on the bench while he integrates into the Chelsea squad. Jonathan Gonzalez was wooed by Mexico and now they could lose Dest too as some accuse U.S. Soccer of failing to remain in constant contact with potential prospects. Just last week Berhalter naively said, “it’s not U.S. Soccer’s job to develop players.”

Despite a promise to turn over a new leaf, the U.S. is still light years behind where it should be expected to be. They were beaten by Mexico in the Gold Cup final by Tata Martino, who wasn’t even contacted about the U.S. vacancy and subsequently hired by their arch rivals. They were thumped 3-0 by the same squad weeks later in a friendly on home soil. An unconvincing draw against a Uruguay B side didn’t do much to alleviate the pessimism days later.

While the U.S. still sorts through its numerous litany of struggles, fans are wondering when the promised changes will come. Questions remain for Berhalter as he continues the rebuild, with an over-reliance on players from his old stomping grounds Major League Soccer often casting doubt onto his ability to select a squad.

CONCACAF Nations League play looms tonight, with a matchup against Cuba before a game against Canada on Tuesday. This is a chance for the U.S. men to slowly rebuild trust within the fan base. It will take a significant finish in the competition to sway those with doubts, but it is possible to start somewhere. Still, the signs point to continued frustration and uncertainty in the future, and there is much work ahead to undo that.

Ultimately, two years from D Day, would one be surprised if another Couva repeat took place again? Is this squad past the devastating loss to a point where it’s avoidable? If fans waffle on answering those questions affirmatively, has the group really moved on? There is still a long way to go, and World Cup qualifying begins in less than a year’s time.

Mancini says Italy’s EURO 2020 squad is ‘more or less decided’

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Italy’s squad for next year’s European Championship will look much the same as the one used in qualifying, coach Roberto Mancini said Monday, denting the hopes of players such as Mario Balotelli.

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Italy is on the brink of securing qualification for Euro 2020 after winning all six of its matches so far. Two more victories would confirm Italy as Group J winner, and it could even seal its place at Euro 2020 on Saturday if it beats Greece in Rome and Armenia fails to win against Liechtenstein.

And as far as Mancini is concerned, there’s no reason to make any major changes to his team before the championship starts.

“The group is more or less decided, two or three players might come in or out, maybe,” Mancini said at a news conference on Monday. “Then if someone is suddenly unavailable then we’ll see what happens, but the players who will go to the Euros are all here.”

Balotelli was one of the notable absentees from the group of 27 players called up for the qualifiers against Greece and Liechtenstein.

The striker, who was included in Mancini’s first two squads as coach, has long said his goal is to rejoin Italy’s team for next year’s European Championship.

After returning from a ban, the 29-year-old forward scored for Brescia in his second match for his hometown team, a 2-1 defeat to Napoli.

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“He’s only just come back after months out and he’s not quite there physically yet. He did well against Napoli but he needs to play more games,” Mancini said.

Mancini has got Italy back on track, nearly two years after the Azzurri’s embarrassing failure to qualify for the World Cup.

Their six wins out of six is a record for the Azzurri in European Championship qualifying but there has been some criticism that the group has been too easy.

“It would be fantastic to qualify early, this wasn’t a foregone conclusion given where we came from,” Mancini said. “Everyone can express their opinion. We believe we’ve put together a good side.”

He then added with a smile: “We asked for a group with Germany, France, the Netherlands and Spain, but they didn’t give it to us.”