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SPORTS: March 2016

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Record breakers and international icons

Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrates the second goal of his team
© Getty Images
The most famous footballing sons of Mostoles, Rosario and Sydney feature in’slatest stats review, alongside a man who was delivering post a few years ago and one European behemoth ending a long drought against another.
166Spain appearances is what Iker Casillas reached on Sunday to surpass Latvia’s Vitalijs Astafjevs and become the most-capped European in history. Only Egyptian pair Ahmed Hassan (184) and Hossam Hassan (178), Mexico’s Claudio Suarez (177), Saudi Arabian Mohamed Al-Deayea (172) and Ivan Hurtado of Ecuador outrank the 34-year-old Porto goalkeeper. Casillas commemorated the occasion by saving Spain in a 0-0 draw in Romania – a result which left them with back-to-back stalemates for the first time in 12 years. South Africa 2010’s adidas Golden Glove recipient has now kept clean sheets in eight consecutive internationals dating back to a 2-1 loss to Slovakia in October 2014.
77years after last scoring more than thrice against Italy – and 21 years after last beating them – Germany ended these sequences with a 4-1 success in Munich. Only Stephan El Shaarawy’s late goal prevented Die Mannschaft eclipsing their record reverse of Gli Azzurri – a 5-2 win in 1939. The Germans’ last win in the fixture had been 2-0 in 1995. They had since gone seven matches without victory, during which the Italians had dumped them out of the UEFA European Championship of 1996 and 2012, as well as the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ semi-finals in an extra-time thriller.
75per cent (27 goals in 36 appearances) is Tim Cahill’s scoring ratio in qualifiers for or matches at the FIFA World Cup™ after his double in a 5-1 win over Jordan powered Australia into the final round of the Asian preliminaries. The 36-year-old has, by contrast, netted only 20 goals in 53 other games for his country. The Jordanians' 11th-hour consolation in Sydney was the first goal the Socceroos had conceded at home in over 580 minutes of World Cup qualifying action.
50Argentina goals is the tally that Lionel Messi became just the second man to reach, this in his 107th international against Bolivia on Tuesday. Ironically, the 28-year-old did it at the same venue, the Estadio Mario Alberto Kempes in Cordoba, in which Gabriel Batistuta joined the half-century club in just his 69th international. Messi’s first-half penalty left him just one goal shy of 500 career goals, while the 2-0 victory left Argentina having scored 15 goals without reply since Bolivia last netted against them. Furthermore, Tata Martino’s team registered the highest possession (80 per cent) and passing accuracy (90 per cent) of any team thus far in South American qualifying for the 21st World Cup.
10games unbeaten is the run that Northern Ireland have strung together for the first time. Conor Washington, a 23-year-old who was working as a postman and playing non-league football until fairly recently, scored the only goal past Slovenia’s Jan Oblak - one of the most expensive goalkeepers in history - to extend this sequence on Monday. It saw the Northern Irish surpass the nine matches without defeat Pat Jennings, Sammy McIlroy, Norman Whiteside and Co managed before a 2-1 loss to Spain at the 1986 FIFA World Cup™.
Quick hits 
100 caps is the milestone Shinji Okazaki became only the fifth Japanese player to reach against Syria.

79 international appearances is the tally on to which Fernando Muslera climbed against Peru to outrank Rodolfo Rodriguez as Uruguay’s most-capped keeper.

13 home World Cup qualifiers without defeat is the record run Uruguay moved on to with a 1-0 victory over Peru.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Week in Quotes

Josep Guardiola, head coach of FC Bayern Muenchen looks on during a press conference
© Getty Images
"Forget about the titles, I won more titles than him. Our gratitude is infinite and his legacy is also. And this legacy is not measured in trophies. It is rather the fact that he has enforced changes…there is nothing that can compare to what Cruyff has done for football. The football of the last 25 years at Barcelona belongs to him and that is something indestructible…I knew nothing about football and Johan gave me everything.”
Pep Guardiola reflecting on the life, legacy and impact of Johan Cruyff 
“I’m the butt of the joke in my family, just because the ten minutes I had in international football was ruined by one man.”
Ryan Shawcross blaming Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his 2013 Puskás Award winning bicycle kick for his limited time in England’s Three Lions set-up
 “Well then, let’s hope Elvis is found alive.”
Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel after hearing the odds of the Foxes winning the English Premier League title at the beginning of the season were the same as someone seeing The King of Rock and Roll alive and well
“I have a bet with Neymar. The winner gets a burger. He is a great team-mate and we always make jokes at Barcelona. But whoever will win this game will be enjoying himself and he who loses will be hearing it from the other. Above all, we are team-mates and friends.”
Luis Suarez, who is set to make his return for Uruguay in a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier against Brazil and Barcelona team-mate Neymar
"It puts me in the shop window. I'll be playing week in and week out, and Jurgen will be able to see that. As long as I'm playing well, I'm very confident in my ability. Brad and I are both tremendous goalkeepers. Every time we are on the pitch for the team, the team responds well and gives us both opportunities to perform. I have no worries about that."
USA goalkeeper Tim Howard on his move to MLS side Colorado Rapids
“If I’m dead, I can’t go to the game. So, I have to look after myself a little bit.”
Leicester City super fan Lee Jobber explaining why he wears a shirt in colder temperatures while supporting his club after a close scrape with hypothermia a few years ago
“Although Messi and Neymar are team-mates, it was Ronaldo who took (Neymar) around and showed him where he needed to go and made sure everything was translated for him. He was just very kind and very caring toward Neymar, they way he looked out for him and made sure he knew what he was doing. And I think that’s maybe a side of (Ronaldo) that you don’t expect.”
Kate Abdo discusses the off-camera relationship between the Brazilian and Portuguese superstars at the 2015 FIFA Ballon d’Or rehearsal
"When I went back to Italy recently, everyone was talking about Leicester. Now all the world knows where the city of Leicester is. I was watching something on CNN and it was asking where Leicester was. Then they showed a little map and pointed it out saying, 'Here it is.' If CNN are speaking about this football club and in places like Australia and everywhere else it is a talking point then it is fantastic."
Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri
"I also wanted to bring my daughters here, so they could see the beauty and the vibrancy of this city. They've already met one famous Argentinean – His Holiness Pope Francis. Now they want to meet [Lionel] Messi, but I could not arrange that."
USA President Barack Obama on failing to get the Argentina No10 to meet Malia and Sasha
"For me it would be a source of great pride to be able to meet him and his daughters, but obviously I know it would be complicated. I don't know whether it is possible.”
Lionel Messi responding to President Obama wishes after beating Chile 2-1 in Thursday’s World Cup qualifier

Friday, March 25, 2016

Argentina and Colombia tighten the screw

Argentina's Angel Di Maria celebrates after scoring
THE DAY REPLAYED. Argentina and Colombia were victorious on their respective visits to Chile and Bolivia, in the process bunching together the standings in the South American qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ with all but one fixture from Matchday 5 having been played.
They say that the table does not lie and that is certainly true here: we now find six teams separated by just two points below Ecuador, who remain the pace-setters despite surrendering their 100 per cent record, having snatched a last-gasp equaliser against Paraguay in Quito. One team who failed to join the chasing pack are Peru, who nevertheless did at least avoid a first home qualifiers defeat by Venezuela with the last attack of the match. With the heavyweight showdown between Brazil and Uruguay still to come later today, Friday 25, the matchday has so far featured three stoppage-time goals and not a single home win. rounds up all the action.
Match of the day
Chile 1-2 Argentina
Felipe Gutierrez 10; Angel Di Maria 19, Gabriel Mercado 24
Comprehensive payback it was not, but Argentina went a small way towards settling the score on their return to Chile's Estadio Nacional for the first time since being beaten in the Copa America final, prevailing 2-1 to move into the automatic qualification berths. After going behind, La Albiceleste turned the game around with two goals in the space of five minutes, Di Maria curling home exquisitely with his right foot before Mercado opened his international account.
The visitors' second straight away victory served to end their opponents' six-match unbeaten home run in qualifying. La Roja, whose new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi kicked off his reign by losing not just the game but also two starters to injury in the first half, had not succumbed in a qualifier in front of their own fans since none other than Argentina came away with a 2-1 win in October 2012.
"We got off to a bad start against Ecuador, but we have been able to bounce back with the three points in Colombia and here. We're right back on track," said Lionel Messi after his side's triumph.
Ecuador dropped their first points on the road to Russia, being held 2-2 by Paraguay in Quito. However, Angel Mena's strike in added time preserved their undefeated start and secured outright top spot for at least another matchday. Despite Enner Valencia notching during the hosts' best spell of the game, two goals from Dario Lezcano – one in each half – had left La Albirroja staring an upset in the face. Christian Noboa created the late equaliser to cap a livewire performance in which he hit the woodwork three times.
Two pieces of interplay between James Rodriguez and Carlos Bacca in the first period looked to have set Colombia on course for a comfortable victory in La Paz. Bolivia came roaring back after the interval, however, getting back on terms through Juan Arce's penalty and an Alejandro Chumacero screamer before forcing visiting goalkeeper David Ospina to the fore to keep it all square. That set the stage for a grandstand finish in which Cafeteros coach Jose Pekerman's substitutions paid off, with Marlos Moreno setting up fellow substitute Edwin Cardona to make it 3-2 in injury time. The Colombians have now triumphed on their last two trips to Bolivia in qualifying.
Venezuela were on the verge of pulling off a shock in Lima, only for another late goal, this one courtesy of Raul Ruidiaz, to seal a 2-2 draw that does neither country's hopes any real favours. Romulo Otero and Mikel Villanueva had struck in either half, the former from the spot, to fire La Vinotinto into a commanding position, but they were unable to finish the job to claim their first victory in the Peruvian capital in eight attempts – instead having to settle for a first point there since 2004. Paolo Guerrero got the comeback under way for the hosts to become the joint-top scorer in Peru's history with 26 goals, having drawn level with the legendary Teofilo Cubillas.
Player of the day
Dario Lezcano (Paraguay)

The 25-year-old Ingolstadt forward is fast establishing himself as Paraguay's designated goal-getter under Ramon Diaz, who handed him his international debut against Argentina earlier in this qualifying campaign. Having netted against Bolivia last time out, Lezcano showcased his credentials again in Quito with two predatory finishes. He is currently La Albirroja's leading marksman in these qualifiers with three goals.
Did you know?
Chile goalkeeper and captain Claudio Bravo won his 100th cap for La Roja against Argentina, becoming the first player from the country to reach this milestone.
Another man who racked up a century was Colombia's James Rodriguez, in his case plundering the 100th goal of his career when he opened the scoring for his side in La Paz. Fourteen of these strikes have come in senior international action, including an adidas Golden Boot-winning haul at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
What they said
"Right, I'm off to bed a happy man after my country's win. Goal hugs from the 92nd-minute to you all"
Colombia striker and icon Radamel Falcao tweeted this exultant goodnight message in the wake of his team's World Cup qualifying victory over Bolivia.
Matchday 5 results24 March
Bolivia 2-3 Colombia
Ecuador 2-2 Paraguay
Chile 1-2 Argentina
Peru 2-2 Venezuela
25 March
Brazil - Uruguay

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Francescoli: Suarez is the best No9 in the world

Former Uruguayan national team player Enzo Francescoli
© Getty Images
Enzo Francescoli is currently serving as River Plate's sporting director, but to only describe him in these terms would be to do this footballing genius a grave injustice. The 54-year-old, nicknamed El Príncipe (The Prince), is one of the biggest legends in the history of the Buenos Aires club and the Uruguayan national team.
"The only things that strike a chord with me in football these days are La Celeste and River," he told in his office at the Estadio Antonio Vespucio Liberti – better known as El Monumental – in the lead-up to his country's game away to Brazil in 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying. This is one of the classic fixtures of the South American game, with the first meeting dating back to 1916, and it is one in which Francescoli made a big mark over the years. You tend to watch important matches alone or just with your kids, with no friends about. How anxious are you about this Brazil-Uruguay game?
Enzo Francescoli: 
I'm relaxed about it because I have a lot of faith in the team. This Uruguay side can match anyone because, not only do they have the famous grit that is part of the Charrúa DNA but, just like all the great Uruguayan teams that won things, they have great players. And the best No9 in the world, who is back in the fold.
What makes Luis Suarez the best?
He's kept developing constantly. Today he's a much-improved player compared to when he started out at Liverpool, at Nacional, in the Netherlands and even at Barcelona. He was on fire at Liverpool, but today he's a much more complete player. True, playing alongside two colossuses [Leo Messi and Neymar] helps, but even so. Leaving aside how many goals he scores, these days he's a guy who goes out there and makes the difference, who is the first name on the scoresheet. He's the complete package.
Considering the shape Brazil are in, do you feel Uruguay have a better chance than ever even though they're away from home?
Brazil are coming off a pretty critical period. They're suffering a hangover from the issue of hosting a World Cup and not winning it, for a second time. They're having a tough time finding their way again, but they have some quality players. Games at this level are always evenly matched. It's like a derby – a lot depends on your state of mind, on how you get up in the morning.
I told him to his face that he's the best Uruguayan No9 I've ever seen. I have no problem saying that, even though I played as a No9 for Uruguay.
Francescoli on Luis Suarez
You enjoyed some very memorable moments against Brazil during your playing days. What were your experiences of that rivalry as a child, though?
In Uruguay you grow up knowing that Brazil and Argentina are your rivals. I remember sitting in front of the television in the dining room at home, with my dad and my older brother, to watch the 1970 World Cup semi-final that we lost to Brazil. It was a 'technical rivalry'. We were seen as a battling, pumped-up team which, as I said before, was mistaken because every time Uruguay have won things, like in 1950, it's been because they had really great players, not just grit.
It was and remains a very different rivalry to the one with Argentina...Yes, that rivalry is all about the banter that flies around with the lot from Buenos Aires. It's like beating your older brother; it's much more of a battle between neighbours. The rivalry with Brazil was always one of style, of saying: 'I'm here and you can play beautiful football all you want, but you're not going to beat me.' In fact, historically Uruguay have done much better than Brazil in the crunch meetings.
Does the rivalry with Brazil stretch to mutual hatred in sporting terms?
No, it's always been based on respect and admiration. And exploits, because we won the 1983 Copa America by overcoming the great Brazil team from the '82 World Cup. We produced a great performance to run out 2-0 winners in Uruguay and then drew 1-1 in Bahia, in front of a crowd of 95,000. It was a massive achievement in my first campaign with the senior national team. I was also fortunate enough that the last time I won the tournament, in '95, was also against Brazil, albeit at the [Estadio] Centenario, against the '94 world champions. As a team we had grit and character, but also some very good players.
Have you ever heard a louder celebratory roar than the one that greeted your free-kick goal at the Centenario in the first leg of the '83 final?
That's one of the loudest reactions I've ever heard to a goal but, truth be told, the loudest was for one Brazil scored against us, when they beat us 1-0 in the '89 Copa America final at the Maracana, in front of 150,000 people. We could barely hear the referee's whistle. It was utter bedlam, as if we were inside a television set. The batucada drums were beating throughout, there wasn't a minute of silence. It was awe-inspiring. When they scored their goal, it was like an explosion. I'd never experienced anything like it.
You retired 16 years ago. In his book Fever Pitch¸ Nick Hornby relates how, as a fan, he would find himself thinking back to Arsenal matches from several years earlier while, for instance, lying in bed with a woman. Has anything like that happened to you as a former player?
It happens to me when I go to a big match or watch one on television, especially if it's at a place where I played. If River or Uruguay play in Seattle, that doesn't impact me as much as if they play at the Centenario, the Monumental, the Maracana or in Bahia. Those are places that I have a strong connection with from my career.
Do these things stir your emotions or do you suppress them?
I don't have a sad sense of nostalgia any more; that went away after a couple of years. Nowadays I still wish I were young again so I could keep playing, but I don't feel sadness. I have fond memories of having been there and enjoyed it.
Every time Uruguay play in Brazil, the Maracanazo [when Uruguay shocked Brazil on home turf to claim the FIFA World Cup title in 1950] gets brought up. Is that just press and fan talk?
No, when you go to the Maracana or any other stadium [as a player] you know that you're wearing a shirt with important history. The Maracanazo should be a badge of pride. It never weighed on me, although it has on some people.
In 2010 you said that Diego Forlan would surpass you and in 2011 you said that Suarez would be the country's standard-bearer. Has Luis eclipsed you both or does he still have something to prove for Uruguay?
Being crowned a champion or scoring more goals than someone else doesn't define a player. There are different moments and circumstances. Uruguay had [Pedro] Rocha and many others before, then I came along, then Forlan and now it's Suarez. Suarez is the standard-bearer for the national team and Uruguayan football because he plays for a side who are watched all over the world. In Japan [at the FIFA Club World Cup] I told him to his face that he's the best Uruguayan No9 I've ever seen. I have no problem saying that, even though I played as a No9 for Uruguay. Now he's back to face Brazil. It won't be easy, but Uruguay have what it takes to support him and he has plenty to draw on.

Johan Cruyff - Farewell to football's thriller incomparable

Johan Cruyff - Servaas Wilkes
© Getty Images
“If you look at the greatest players in history, most of them couldn’t coach. If you look at the greatest coaches in history, most of them were not great players. Johan Cruyff did both – and in such an exhilarating style.”
Johan Neeskens – his buddy in white and red, Blaugrana and Oranje – couldn’t have said it better, and how football loved Johan Cruyff for it. The feeling was reciprocated.
Even in the depth of his battle against lung cancer, Cruyff said: “Thinking and talking about football gives me a lot of joy and takes my mind of worrying about the illness.” Today, on Thursday 24 March 2016, Cruyff sadly lost that battle.

One of the most thrilling dribblers in history, Cruyff inspired Ajax to eight Eredivisie title and three European Cups, before becoming the darling of Camp Nou and propelling Barcelona to La Liga glory. The Amsterdam native scored 33 goals in 48 games for the Netherlands, wowing as they reached the 1974 FIFA World Cup™ Final, which they lost to hosts West Germany.
Johan Cruyff was a magnificent player, one of the greatest players the world has ever known. A symbol of elegant play. An inspiration. A source of admiration for fans. He has marked football history for ever. I'm very saddened by his death. He w‎ill be terribly missed. Both personally and on behalf of FIFA and the world football community, I would like to extend my sincerest condolences to his family and friends.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
Cruyff then masterminded Barcelona’s capture of four consecutive Spanish crowns and the European Cup. Fundamentally, he was the brains behind La Masia – the academy which polished Messrs Xavi, Iniesta and Messi in precious pearls – and the tika-taka football which the Catalan colossuses and Spain used to such grand effect.

Johan Cruyff will not only be remember eternally, but affectionately.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

JAMAICA Schaefer: Jamaica more than muscle

Winfried Schafer, Rudolph Austin #17 and goalkeeper Ryan Thompson #23 of Jamaica
© Getty Images
Jamaica coach Winfried Schaefer talks about football with a capital F. He presses all the romantic buttons – heart and technique and spirit. Raised in the rigours of the German game, he’s made a career trekking to the far corners of the world and smoothing fine football from raw, sometimes crude, clay.
“No! We’re not a hard team,” he told, discussing his Jamaica side, enjoying a splendid renaissance. “With us, in Jamaica, it’s not about strength. We have a technique that many in the region don’t understand. We’re more than speed and muscle.”
Schaefer’s eyes burn with intensity when he’s angry, and he’s often angry on the touchline. The 65-year-old is cut by any slight to his team. You get a sense this man, with a wizard-white shock of long hair, is on a mission. When talk turns to his Reggae Boyz, he uses pronouns like We and Us. He feels a part of what’s happening, and the people of the colourful Caribbean island have taken him to their hearts.
More than meets the eye Schaefer, who won a UEFA Cup and a Bundesliga title with Borussia Monchengladbach in a 20-year playing career, dismisses the notion that there’s little more to his men than brawn and pace. “You don’t beat the United States on their home soil with brute force,” he said, harking back to the CONCACAF Gold Cup semi-final last summer where his side were the better team in a 2-1 win against the Stars and Stripes in Atlanta. “Football doesn’t work this way. I know because I’ve been in the game a long time and I’ve seen it all over the world.”
His celebrations were wild after the historic win over the Americans booked Jamaica’s first-ever spot in the final of CONCACAF’s cup of nations. His procession of hashtags and exclamations on Twitter were evidence of a youthful zeal, undiminished after all these years. “We shone a light on Jamaica with that win,” he said, still proud, still inspired. He’s full of belief in his side, who meet Costa Rica home and away later this month in qualifying for Russia 2018.
Schaefer’s coaching career has taken him to four continents. He led Thailand in a steamy outpost of southeast Asian football. He’s held the reins on the high-pressure stages of Europe, with Karlsruher and Stuttgart. He coached Cameroon to a CAF African Cup of Nations’ title and took the Indomitable Lions to a FIFA World Cup™. Between playing and coaching, Schaefer’s been in the game for nearly 45 years.
“It would be a mistake for any team to look at us and see a simple problem,” he said of the upcoming Russia 2018 qualifiers, and also his opponents in the upcoming Copa America: Mexico, Uruguay and Venezuela. “We are not Mexico or USA, we are Jamaica. This is reality. We have a strong spirit. You can’t beat my guys for spirit.”
Schaefer often boasts about building this Jamaica side in one year. It’s a stretch, born of a colourful personality, but not much of one. When he arrived on the island in 2013, the team was stagnating. He gave debut caps to over a dozen players and brought in talent from England and USA’s top leagues.
Jamaica’s new captain epitomizes the team’s confidence and professionalism. “We’re all proud of what Wes Morgan is doing in England,” Schaefer said, talking about the big man who commands Jamaica’s defence with quiet, formidable force. Morgan also captains Leicester City – surprise toppers of England’s Premier League – and he’s added grit and experience to a Jamaica team that lost its way since last qualifying for the World Cup in 1998.
Leicester City inspiration
“He’s an inspiration to the young guys coming up on the island,” Schaefer said of his skipper. “He’s a part of the biggest story in football right now and you can’t overestimate what it means for a player like that to pull on a Jamaica jersey.”
Schaefer is quick to lavish praise, also, on Alvas Powell, who won MLS title last term with Portland Timbers. Former England youth sensation Giles Barnes, Crystal Palace’s Adrian Mariappa, Jobi McAnuff and Darren Mattocks are also leading lights in a side that Schaefer insists are no longer “living in the past.”
The last Jamaica team that went to a World Cup was a blend of foreign-born, foreign-based, and homegrown – with a strong hand at the helm. It’s a balance that’s proved elusive for the last 25 years. Schaefer, a true believer in the redemptive powers of the game, is sewing together a team. He’s making an Us and a We. “I’ve been around a long time,” he said, poking a finger. “It’s not the best player that wins anything. No, no.” He turns his palm up and smiles warmly. “It’s the best team that does big things. We have a balance now. We are building each other up.”

Mexico, Costa Rica keen to stay perfect

Mexico´s Javier Hernandez gestures during their Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup CONCACAF Qualifiers football match against El Salvador
Matchday 3 of Round Four on CONCACAF’s long road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ sees pitch-perfect Mexico travel to Canada hoping to keep up their 100 per cent record. USA head out on the road for a tough test in Guatemala while Jamaica take on Costa Rica, with two wins from two games so far, in Kingston in a Group B barn-burner. FIFA.comlooks ahead to all the action in what promises to be a hot Friday night in the New World.
The big game
Jamaica-Costa RicaThe Reggae Boyz had a summer to remember, beating regional giants USA to reach their first final of a CONCACAF Gold Cup. But their start to qualifying for Russia 2018 hasn’t been quite the same spectacle. They needed last-minute heroics against Nicaragua in the prior round to avoid an early exit. And they started their Group B campaign with a loss at home to Panama. Now they face an even tougher test when section-toppers Costa Rica come to Kingston. The Ticos caused a sensation at Brazil 2014 by reaching the quarter-finals and they’ve yet to stumble in group play, topping the section with six points. A win for Jamaica would tangle them at the top and get the Boyz back on the right rhythm. Winfried Schaefer has called in heavyweights like Wes Morgan, Giles Barnes, Adrian Mariappa and Jobi McAnuff. The football-mad island nation will be hoping it’s enough to contend with Costa Rica’s star line-up which includes Arsenal striker Joel Campbell, Real Madrid keeper Keylor Navas, schemer Bryan Ruiz and Celso Borges, recently back from injury.
The Group A game to watch sees second-place Canada welcome regional giants and high-flying section leaders Mexico. A huge crowd is expected in Vancouver as Canada, under Benito Floro, rely on a balanced squad of old veterans like Atiba Hutchinson and Julian de Guzman, and a handful of young guns. The other game in the group pits third-place El Salvador at home against Honduras, who have yet to earn a single point under former Costa Rica boss Jorge Luis Pinto.
Aside from the Jamaica-Costa Rica contest, Group B boasts a clash between bottom side Haiti – who qualified for this year’s Copa America Centenario and made a huge jump in the world ranking, and Panama, tied with Jamaica in second spot.
Over in Group C, Guatemala host a USA side who lead the section with four points from two games. Trinidad and Tobago, even with the Americans on points, head to whipping boys St. Vincent and the Grenadines gunning for nothing less than three points.  

Player to WatchWes Morgan (Jamaica)A man who’s spent most of his career in England’s second tier, the Jamaica captain and is suddenly smack-dab in the middle of world football’s biggest story. As skipper of Leicester City, currently the team to beat in the race for the English Premier League title, the big man with an uncommonly soft voice will bring that international buzz with him to Kingston. A committed defender, always willing to throw himself into a tackle or in front of a hard-hit shot, Morgan is Jamaica’s spiritual leader. “You can’t overestimate what it means to have a player like this pull on a Jamaica jersey,” coach Schaefer said. “It means so much to the team, to the country, to the people.”
Did you know?Two of Canada’s attackers, Tesho Akindele and Cyle Larin, won back-to-back Rookie of the Year honours in Major League Soccer (MLS). Akindele, who could have played for Canada, USA or Nigeria, scooped the prize two years ago with FC Dallas. Larin, currently learning the finer points of the beautiful game alongside Kaka at Orlando City, won out last term. “It says Canada in moving in the right direction,” Akindele remarked about the country’s seemingly bright future. 
What they said“If you don’t keep the ball there, then that means you’re going to be chasing it. That’s a day that can get real long real fast in a place as hot as Vietnam.” USA international Lee Nguyen talks about what he learned playing in the Vietnamese top flight. The New England Revolution playmaker, who had a stretch of seven years out of the national team, was called in for the two games against Guatemala by Jurgen Klinsmann.
Fixtures(Round Four, Matchday 3)
25 March

Group A
El Salvador-Honduras

Group B
Jamaica-Costa Rica

Group C
St. Vincent and the Grenadines-Trinidad and Tobago