Friday, 22 March 2013

A last-gasp equaliser from Fábio Coentrão has saved Portugal from an embarrassing defeat in Israel, though qualification is still far from certain.
With the spoils shared in a 3-3 draw, these sides stay level on eight points, four behind a Russia side who have a game in hand against Northern Ireland. Israel sit second, with Portugal -- who were expected to record a comfortable victory here -- a place behind.
The draw comes despite Portugal getting off to a great start, with defender Bruno Alves heading them into the lead from a corner after just a couple of minutes. They looked in comfortable control, and a routine victory -- if not a rout -- looked like it would be in the offing.
However, they failed to capitalise on their possession and chances in the following moments, with Fábio Coentrão forcing Dudu Aouate into a save before Tal Ben Haim made an important intervention on a Silvestre Varela cross. Then, out of pretty much nothing, Israel levelled the scores.
Having struggled to make the ball stick in attack, the ball came to Mallorca striker Tomer Hemed in the box, who hit the ball on the turn into the bottom corner. The hosts looked immediately more confident, no longer being pinned back by their Iberian opponents.
But, it was still Portugal who would have the next great chance of the game, when Hélder Postiga rounded the Israeli goalkeeper before slipping, eventually scuffing his shot wide of goal. Paulo Bento's side were denied a penalty after Cristiano Ronaldo was pushed in the box, and the pressure was cranked up even further on the Portuguese when Israel took the lead.
With five minutes to go to half time, another quick counter-attack saw Eden Ben Basat tear through on goal before rifling the ball unstoppably beyond Rui Patricio. After Ben Haim made a crucial last-man tackle on Postiga on the stroke of the whistle, Portugal trudged off in arrears, and in a mess.
The second half started as much of the first had played out -- with Portugal in control but looking vulnerable defensively. When the ball fell to Ben Basat on the edge of the box ten minutes after the restart , Israel really ought to have doubled their advantage, though his shot went wide.
Israel weren't the most sound at the back either, continuing to rely on some good old fashioned last-ditch defending. Eytan Tibi nicked the ball from a poised Postiga just in time, before Miguel Veloso's long range piledriver narrowly cleared the bar from the ensuing corner kick.
Portugal's constant barrage of balls into the box were causing problems, and substitute striker Carlos Martins -- brought on in place of holding midfielder Veloso -- almost took advantage soon after coming on, though he volleyed wide from inside the area, minutes before his low shot from distance found the arms of Aouate.
Then -- and you probably know the script by now -- Israel shocked again. With 20 minutes left a corner was headed in by Rami Gershon for 3-1. This time, though, Portugal ensured their response was immediate. Ronaldo ran right through the porous defence before sliding the ball through for Postiga who duly converted. Having squandered countless chances throughout the game, this opportunity was one he couldn't miss.
Aouate was called into action to keep out Postiga from inside the box a couple of minutes later, as the Portuguese barrage continued. Eventually, they had the equaliser. After Hugo Almeida headed against the crossbar Coentrão followed in to bundle the ball over the line, sparing their blushes in stoppage time.

Spain need to focus on Finland and avoid looking ahead to a massive match against France.
Logic dictates that the biggest challenge that Vincente Del Bosque and Spain will face against Finland is remembering that they actually have to play the game first before meeting France. That's not meant to be a shot at Finland but but lets be honest, they shouldn't trouble Spain and the only thing that could bring down La Furia Roja is themselves.
Del Bosque himself has made this clear in various interviews calling on his team to focus and secure three points against Finland on Friday.
Spain should have nearly a full squad available for selection with Xavi Hernandez the only player expected to be out as a precaution to save his hamstring for the France match. Word out of camp is that Cesc Fabregas will play in a false nine role with Pedro and David Silva in the attack.David villa is too expected to be in squad for boosting attack for silva or fabregas
Finland will be without key midfielder Alexei Eremenko who is serving a red card suspension after getting sent off in Finland's 1-1 draw against Georgia.

Match Date/Time: 8:45 p.m. local, 3:45 p.m. ET
Venue: Estadio El Molinón, Gijón, Spain
TV: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes (U.S.), ESPN UK (U.K.), Sportsnet (Canada)
Online: ESPN3 (U.S.)

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Lionel Messi will take center stage once more this week as Argentina take on South American rivals Venezuela in their 2014 World Cup qualifier.
La Selección currently sit on top of the CONMEBOL standings after their nine matches so far, with Venezuela back in fourth spot on 12 points. And with Colombia and Ecuador not far ahead of the away side here, expect La Vinotinto to put up a serious fight here as they try to close that gap.
Argentina will know that a win puts them in a very strong spot to pick up a qualification spot for Brazil, and they know that a loss could see them lose their lead in the group. They'll be desperate to avoid that happening here, especially in front of their home fans, so expect them to come out strong.
It should be a classic match between two South American superpowers at their best. Read on to find out all the need-to-know information as well as a full preview.

Date: Friday, March 22, 2013
Start time: 8 p.m. ET
Venue: El Monumental; Buenos Aires, Argentina

Hi-res-150309262_crop_exact Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

TV Info

According to Live Soccer TV, coverage of this World Cup qualifier will be shown throughout the United States via beIN Sport en Español and beIN SPORT.
Premier Sports will show coverage throughout the United Kingdom whilst LiveSport.TV will also show the match—regardless of where you are in the world.

CONMEBOL Qualifying So Far

Argentina have lost just one qualifying match so far, and it came back in 2011 at the hands of their upcoming opponent, who beat them 1-0 at home.
Since then, La Selección have scored big wins away from home against Colombia and Chile, plus wins at home over Uruguay and Ecuador.
They'll be looking to build on that form that's seen them go undefeated in their seven CONMEBOL qualifying games with another strong result in this one.
However, given the strong form that Venezuela have shown in the tournament so far, they'll certainly be a tough side to break down here and won't be easy for Argentina. Especially not if they can recapture their form from 18 months ago when they beat La Selección.
La Vinotinto have picked up strong results away from home through the CONMEBOL qualifying so far, with draws against both Uruguay and Colombia. That form has been mixed with poor results against lower teams in Peru and Paraguay, so it will be interesting to see how they fare here.

CONMEBOL Standings

(Image captured via


Key Storyline to Watch: Venezuela's Away Form

Playing at such a daunting venue such as El Monumental, against one of their biggest rivals, Venezuela's away form will be key to their chances here.
If they are not overcome by the crowd and the dominance of their opponents early, then later on in the game, they should see plenty of chances come their way.
Argentina have allowed goals in all but one of their qualifying games so far and could be found wanting against a swift counterattack. Which, given they'll be doing most of the attacking, could work in the favor of La Vinotinto as they try to find a way through Argentina's defense.
Venezuela have only won once away from home in the qualifiers so far, but they have been very strong in their two respective draws. Look for their away form here—in a very daunting stadium—to be very key in the final score and result.

Hi-res-160847794_crop_exact Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

It's hard to see the home side losing this one, given all that's at stake for their spot in the group and their subsequent qualification for the 2014 World Cup.
Argentina have been very strong so far in the competition, and whilst Venezuela have a number of strong players and will set up well in defense, they'll struggle to answer the attacking threats that the home side throw at them in this one—starting with Lionel Messi.
Expect the little genius to again be at his best here and drive La Selección forward, where they'll no doubt find goals against the Venezuelan defense.
Argentina's defense will again come under questioning, with a soft goal conceded to the away side, but in the end, it will have little affect on the final score. Argentina will cruise to victory and maintain their lead on top of the group as a result.
Final score: Argentina 4, Venezuela 1

What do you think will happen in this 2014 World Cup qualifier?


Brazil and Italy played out a scintillating 2-2 draw in Geneva on Thursday night in a match that defied the reputation of friendlies being dull, lifeless affairs.
The Selecao led by two goals at half-time, thanks to some excellent counter-attacking and wonderful finishes from both Fred and Oscar. Italy were not done yet, though.
After the interval, the Azzurri fought back and, had it not been for the miraculous goalkeeping of Julio Cesar, could easily have left with a positive result. In the end, though, goals from Daniele De Rossi and Mario Balotelli could only earn the European side a draw.
Without further ado, let's take a look at the lessons learned from the clash in Switzerland.

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Neymar Can Perform vs. Top European Sides

The whole argument against Neymar was clearly not true, even if his recent showings against European sides had been poor. Anyone who has watched him week after week would tell you that.
However, following recent criticism of his performances, the young Santos star had a point to prove against Italy and did just that.
He was a major threat throughout, and forced Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon into a tough save within the opening minutes of the encounter.
His defining contribution, though, would come in an assist for Chelsea
 midfielder Oscar. Picking the ball up on the right, Neymar hared infield and skipped around the attempted challenge of Pirlo before picking out a divine reverse pass to his colleague.
Arguably, he could have had further assists to his name had it not been for sloppy finishing by Hulk. The closest he would come to a goal, though, was a well-directed free-kick that was comfortably saved by Buffon.
A good night's work in Geneva.

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Alessio Cerci Has an International Future

Alessio Cerci's rise to international level has been a slow and bumpy one, but he did enough in the 45 minutes he was afforded on Thursday evening to suggest he should be there to stay.
Positioned on the right flank, Cerci was involved from the moment he came on and caused major problems for full-back Filipe Luis.
The Torino forward was desperately unlucky not to finish the match with an assist to his name. A lovely whipped cross into the area found Balotelli, but the forward could not keep his header on target.
There is plenty of competition for places within the Azzurri ranks, but Cerci should have shown enough to manager Prandelli to suggest he should be afforded more time against Malta next Tuesday.

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Hernanes Has to Be Part of Brazil's 2014 Plans

Lazio central midfielder Hernanes has been in and out of the Brazil setup for sometime, playing the odd game before spending months on the sidelines once more. That cycle must stop.
Playing in a deeper midfield role alongside debutant Fernando, he was an assured presence throughout as he sought to construct Brazil's playing patterns.
His distribution was impressive and has been something Brazil have lacked with a midfield of Ramires and Paulinho. Both are incredible players, but neither can boast Hernanes' range of passing.
Scolari must have been pleased with what he saw on this occasion and, barring any fitness issues, will surely give his possible deep-lying playmaker another run out against Russia.
Ball retention is a key factor in the modern game at elite levels and Brazil have very few who can claim to be at Hernanes' level in that respect.

Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Balotelli Is Best off Away from Manchester City

Mario Balotelli will never fulfil his potential. Or, so they said.
Since leaving Manchester City for his beloved AC Milan in January, the Italian striker has scored eight goals in eight appearances. His all-round play, for both club and country, has also been outstanding.
It would appear that he is benefiting immensely from parting company with Roberto Mancini, with the pair seemingly harming each other toward the end of his spell at Eastlands.
When at his best, he is a force of nature: tall, strong, fast and technically gifted.
Julio Cesar did his best to keep the renowned bad boy of Italian football at bay, but despite three brilliant saves, he could not prevent Balotelli curling home his side's wonderful equaliser.

Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Hulk Is Still Not Justifying His Selection

It was not a good evening for Hulk against Italy, as the Zenit St. Petersburg forward squandered attacking opportunity after attacking opportunity from his position on the flank.
Having started the game on the right side, Hulk was soon switched to the left as Oscar offered more protection to the under-siege Daniel Alves.
It was the beginning of a bad night for the ex-Porto man.
As Brazil countered with pace and incision, several attacks worked their way to Hulk in space on the left wing, only for his shots to never threaten goalkeeper Buffon.
Having never played for one of Brazil's biggest sides, he is often the target of heavy criticism in his homeland after poor displays. Unfortunately, Friday newspapers are sure to keep with this trend.
One man who will be rubbing his hands with glee, though, is PSG's Lucas Moura, who stands a good chance of inclusion once fully recovered from injury.

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Both Sides Will Be Formidable Contenders in 2014

With 15 months remaining until the World Cup, both sides should feel like they are in a reasonable position to contend at the competition.
Brazil's recent record may not be good, but there were enough signs in the encounter to suggest that, with a few adjustments and returning players, they could be a force to be reckoned with.
For Italy, the situation is similar. While Spain and Germany may be ahead in the eyes of most observers, neither side are untouchable. The Azzurri will be confident of going deep in the competition as their younger stars gain experience.
It was a pulsating encounter, played at breakneck speed while still retaining a wonderfully high technical level. If they can play similarly against other opponents, neither side will hang their heads.
Both projects have much work to do and areas to improve in. They will, though, be incredibly hard to beat come the 2014 World Cup if they can keep working along these lines.


Jose Mourinho picks Didier Drogba as the best player he's managed

Jose Mourinho has named Chelsea legend Didier Drogba as the best player he has ever managed.
Mourinho snapped up Drogba from Marseille upon his arrival at Chelsea in 2004 for £24 million, and together the pair helped the Blues claim their first league title in 50 years during their first season at the club.
The "Special One' went on to win claim the Premier League title for a second successive year in 205 with the help of Drogba, whose own Chelsea career came to an end last summer after he had helped the Blues win the Champions League against Bayern Munich.
The Portuguese boss went on to guide Inter Milan to Champions League glory in 2010 after leaving Chelsea while he currently manages a galaxy of stars at Real Madrid.
Mourinho will come up against his former charge when Real Madrid take on Galatasaray in the Champions League quarter-finals next month, and was present to watch the Turkish side in action against Kayserispor over the weekend.
Despite the fact he's managed some of the greatest players of the planet including Cristiano Ronaldo, Mourinho highlighted Drogba as the best he's ever seen.
He told Real Madrid TV: "You have given me the chance to say that these types of things you see in the press don’t bother me, because Drogba knows who I am and what I feel in my heart for him, but maybe people could think they were true.
"Picture this: I go to Turkey, I’m working, I watch the match, I head off before the end and then there are statements from me saying bad things about Drogba.
"I’m not going to say that he is my favourite player because I have had a lot of truly special players, but if I had to choose one I might go for Didier."
"As a player he is out of this world. I would like to have him by my side, so just imagine.
"It’s impossible that I would talk bad about Drogba. There is no problem because he knows that the last thing I would do is to say anything negative about my relationship with him."