World Cup Qualifying

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Jamaica’s Bailey says Bayer Leverkusen aiming high

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Bayer Leverkusen got its young speedster back at the right time.

Leon Bailey’s cut through Bayern Munich on Saturday, scoring twice in 63 minutes for a picture perfect return from a two-match red card suspension.

Both goals showed his knack for using the right angles to execute runs with his blazing speed, as the 22-year-old Jamaican scored his 20th and 21st career Bundesliga goals to lift Bayer to within six points of first place Borussia Monchengladbach via a 2-1 win at the Allianz Arena.

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It looks like an open league. And Bailey wants to see his team finish higher than its fourth place standing of the 2018/19 season.

“I see our team being at the highest level,” Bailey tells ProSoccerTalk three days after his big performance in Munich. “We have, of all the teams right now, the best chance to be in the Top Three this year.

“The Bundesliga level is high right now and the points are very close, and even the teams that are behind are doing their best to beat teams ahead of them which makes it more complicated but it’s a very intense league and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Bayer hasn’t had Bailey for much of the season, the Bayern match his sixth league appearance in 13 opportunities thanks to the aforementioned red card suspension and a muscle injury.

He’s also managed just two 45-minute appearances in Bayer’s UEFA Champions League run, which is still alive against the odds.

Bayer lost its first three matches of the group stage and had most leaving it for dead, but beat Atletico Madrid and Lokomotiv Moscow to set up a final match day visit from Juventus.

And Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. aren’t scaring Bailey’s teammates, who need to beat already-qualified Juve and see Atleti drop points at home to Lokomotiv.

“We enter with the same approach toward every game, go into it with 100 percent focus and hopefully we can beat them here at home,” Bailey said.

It’s been a wild ride for Bailey, who started his career with Genk in Belgium, amassing 15 goals and 21 assists in 77 matches.

He’s continued to deliver following a move to Germany, posting 21 and 12 in 92 appearances. That’s seen him linked with a lot of big clubs, including Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

And at long last he’s debuted for Jamaica, earning six caps since the start of the Gold Cup in June.

Bailey assisted against the USMNT in the Reggae Boyz’s 3-1 semifinal loss, and got his first goal in a September win over Antigua and Barbuda in the CONCACAF Nations League.

“It made me learn a lot and I’m grateful that I can actually help my country, be there for them right now, and hopefully we can make it to a World Cup,” he said.

Jamaica’s the fourth ranked team in CONCACAF and will be contesting the Hex in a bid to land its first World Cup bid since 1998, its only appearance in the tournament.

“It would mean everything to me, of course for the country,” Bailey said. “Right now we have a good team, Since I joined the team a lot of English players came and I think we have a good possibility to make it.”

That, most likely, would mean getting the best of Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT.

Bailey says he sees some comparisons between what Bayer did against Bayern and what the Reggae Boyz will need to do to the Yanks.

“They have a lot of quality players and they have a system that reminds me a little bit of how Bayern Munich plays, but we can defeat them if we put our minds to it like we did against Bayern Munich.”

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Spurs’ Son happy South Korea “unscathed” in North Korea qualifier

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As expected, North Korea did not broadcast its World Cup second round qualifier against South Korea this week, making for an old school “wait and see” for fans back home in South Korea.

The match ended 0-0 in front of no fans in Pyongyang, with just police in the stands as Heung-Min Son and South Korea kept their group lead over the North Koreans on goal differential.

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Son, the Tottenham Hotspur star, says it was an odd experience. From The Korea Herald:

“The opponents were pretty physical, and we exchanged some terse words,” Son told reporters at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul. “It might have been their strategy. They played it rough, and they took exception to our own physical play. …. Rather than focusing on the match, we started worrying about trying not to get hurt. It means a lot to have come out unscathed from a match like this.”

The few videos released by journalists show an eerie scene, and South Korea’s status as AFC powers probably played in North Korea’s lack of desire to broadcast a potential home loss. But you have to think that also lived in the home players heads a bit, too.

Desperate Canada provides away challenge for USMNT

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Canada faces one of its most important matches in some time when it faces the United States men’s national team at BMO Field in Toronto on Tuesday.

The Canucks beat Cuba twice last month to start life in the CONCACAF Nations League, and can take both a physical and a spiritual step in its progression with a defeat of the U.S.

The U.S. is unbeaten against Canada in 16 matches dating back to 1985, and it’s been all wins in meaningful competitions for the Yanks.

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So that’s one hurdle for John Herdmann’s men, but the more meaningful, empirical stuff comes with the knowledge that a win would not only put Canada on the precipice of a berth in the CNL semifinals but also provide a significant boost in the race for the sixth spot in World Cup qualifying’s Hexagonal.

It’s one of the reasons Canada is spending its entire international break gearing up for the USMNT, playing just this match and not a proximal friendly.

ICYMI: CONCACAF will now determine its World Cup contestants a bit differently. Three of six sides from the Hex will head to the World Cup, while the fourth side will meet a seventh side, the champions of a second “lower” tournament, in a playoff.

Canada enters this month five points behind sixth place El Salvador, who beat Montserrat and next faces St. Lucia in what’s sure to be another win. But fifth place Honduras is also in play, as are Curacao and Panama. Haiti is on the outskirts but alive.

CONCACAF men’s world rankings via FIFA

12. Mexico (1603 points)
21. United States (1545)
43. Costa Rica (1442)
47. Jamaica (1435)
67. Honduras (1359)
72. El Salvador (1327)
——Hex cut-off———-
75. Canada (1322)
76. Curacao (1320)
77. Panama (1316)
86. Haiti (1277)
100. Trinidad and Tobago (1226)

Make no mistake: This Canada game looms large for both sides, as Gregg Berhalter’s resting of Zack Steffen, DeAndre Yedlin, Michael Bradley, and even Aaron Long was probably meant to preserve them for Tuesday (The Cuba match was only Long’s second outside the XI in the Yanks’ last 10).

All four will play a big part in dealing with Canada’s massive attacking threat. While it’s natural for American fans to expect goals from their men in Toronto, it’s pretty likely that Canada is going to produce a lot of threats through whoever Herdman chooses for his front three (or four, or whatever).

Herdman has played a variation of a 4-3-3 in five of his last seven matches in charge of Canada, only going away from the formation against the two best sides he’s played: Mexico (5-4-1) and Haiti (4-5-1).

At home against the U.S., what will he choose?

The 4-3-3 does hold allure. We know Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich) and Jonathan David (Gent) are going to start this match, but center forward Cyle Larin is not in the side despite red-hot form for Zulte Waregem in Belgium (on loan from Besitkas).

Puebla’s Lucas Cavallini would be the likely CF in such a 4-3-3, leaving Junior Hoilett to come off the bench. There’s an argument to be made that Canada’s out-and-out attackers are as dangerous as the U.S.

That’s why the play at the back is the difference between these sides. Herdman’s men have been sound against lesser CONCACAF sides but allowed three goals in the Mexico and Haiti tilts. Only one player, Steven Vitoria of Moreirense, plays at a higher level than MLS, while four players are regular contributors to their Major League Soccer clubs.

Samuel Piette (Montreal) and Scott Arfield (Rangers) are Canada’s big hopes in the midfield and will need to contend with not just the U.S. attack but Invigorated midfielders like Weston McKennie.

Berhalter’s Yanks are well-suited to deal with Canada, even 90-minutes north of the border, but the challenge will come from the desperate hosts and their electric attackers. How much of Berhalter’s plan is to build out from the back, and how ready is he to change tactics if the high press of Davies and David cause problems for Steffen and his backs?

The CNL may be a headache and a lesser competition, but the Yanks would love to hold Canada’s hopes to the sword with a decisive away win that puts the onus on the Canadians to attack next month in the United States. The second tiebreaker in classification is goal difference in group play, and the Americans’ plus-7 is level with Canada’s 6-0 and 1-0 defeats of Cuba.

Hex Watch: Canada closes ground; USMNT up to 21 in FIFA Rankings

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The USMNT moved up another spot in the FIFA Rankings, climbing to the precipice of the Top 20.

Gregg Berhalter’s Yanks are 21st, the second-highest team in CONCACAF to Mexico’s 12th.

According to the FIFA site, 21st is the average ranking for the U.S. since the ranking system was created.

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Another CONCACAF side, Jamaica, was the biggest riser in the Top 50 (47). Barring a dramatic collapse between now and June, the Reggae Boyz look set to join El Tri, the USMNT, and 43rd ranked Costa Rica in the Hex, as four of the top six sides from CONCACAF.

The final two slots are going to hinge largely on the CONCACAF Nations League, and expect a big charge from Canada when they meet the USMNT over the next two months (Oct. 15 in Toronto and Nov. 15 in a TBD location).

Our neighbors to the north are currently ranked seventh in CONCACAF, which means they’d have to win an entire qualifying tournament just to face the fourth-place finisher in the Hex.

Honduras has a nice cushion on the field, ranked 67th with 1359 points. Guatemala and Grenada were the biggest risers in the Top 200 besides the Cayman Islands, but are still far from the Hex.

CONCACAF men’s world rankings via FIFA

12. Mexico (1603 points)
21. United States (1545)
43. Costa Rica (1442)
47. Jamaica (1435)
67. Honduras (1359)
72. El Salvador (1327)
——Hex cut-off———-
75. Canada (1322)
76. Curacao (1320)
77. Panama (1316)
86. Haiti (1277)
100. Trinidad and Tobago (1226)

As for EloRatings, a site trusted a bit more than FIFA but meaning nothing to the Hex, the U.S. is 38th to Mexico’s 15th and Canada moves into fifth in the confederation.

Outside of CONCACAF….

Belgium remains the world’s No. 1 side, while France passed Brazil and moved into second.

The Netherlands moved up three spots to 13th and Chile dropped three to 17th.

Iceland (41) and Hungary (50) both sank five spots. Only Greece (six places to 60) and Lebanon (seven spot to 94th) sunk further down the chart.

2 Koreas move toward meeting in World Cup qualifying

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) Before a meeting of the Korean neighbors in the second stage of 2022 World Cup qualifying, North Korea must navigate a potentially tricky opening fixture against Lebanon in Pyongyang on Thursday.

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Forty teams are still active on the road to Qatar but only the eight group winners and four best-placed teams progress to the next stage where Asia’s four automatic places in the World Cup are up for grabs.

South Korea, the favorite in Group H, is scheduled to visit Pyongyang on Oct. 15 in a meeting between two countries technically at war.

“We know that North Korea will be tough at home and have World Cup history but we want to get a good start,” Lebanon coach Liviu Ciobotariu said. “In a group that also has South Korea, every game is vital.”

South Korea, looking for a tenth successive World Cup appearance, sits out the first round of games this week, as do all eight top-ranked teams in Asia, and kicks off against Turkmenistan on Tuesday.

Also Thursday, Turkmenistan takes on Sri Lanka, the world’s 200th ranked team. Unlike South Korea, the South Asians are unlikely to progress to the next stage but there is still much at stake.

After the Easter Sunday suicide bombing in Colombo that killed more than 250 people, first round opponent Macau refused to travel to the island for the return leg of their first-round qualifier in June and forfeited the match. Sri Lanka is keen to show that life has returned to normal.

“Terrorists have attacked many developed countries in the past and this does not affect carrying out the affairs of any sport,” the country’s football federation declared in a statement. “Sri Lanka shall enjoy its right to host the home game in Sri Lanka and every county shall respect each other’s right to host similar games.”

Southeast Asia also has plenty to play for. The biggest crowd this week will likely be in Jakarta as Indonesia takes on rival Malaysia in front of what is expected to be 80,000 fans.

Feelings between the two neighbors can run high. According to reports in Malaysia, Football Association of Malaysia president Hamidin Mohd Amin has requested that an armored personnel carrier be on standby.

“We are not worried about the situation at the stadium itself as there are a lot of security personnel from both Malaysia and Indonesia guarding the perimeter,” Hamidin told local media. “But there is a risk of provocation and chaos en route.”

Thailand hosts Vietnam in the same group while Mongolia plays its first ever game in the second round of World Cup qualifying and faces Myanmar.

Elsewhere, 2022 World Cup host Qatar is placed in Group E and kicks off against Afghanistan. Regardless of how the Asian champion performs, it will not progress to the next stage of World Cup qualification. Qatar is involved as the path to the 2022 World Cup has been combined with qualification for the 2023 Asian Cup which will take place in China.

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