Zola: Missing World Cup could help Italy

Gianfranco Zola

Former Italy international Gianfranco Zola says it may not be the worst thing in the world if Italy fails to qualify for next year’s World Cup.

The Azzurri were drawn against Sweden for the two-legged playoffs to reach the tournament in Russia, but the former Chelsea attacker thinks his country needs a slap in the face.

"I remember when Germany were eliminated from Euro 2000," Zola told La Repubblica. "That disappointment acted as the catalyst for real change. German football is back at the top.

"[Italy] teams have been focusing on the result and not the performance for too long. There’s also a lack of quality: in my time, there were seven or eight alternatives in my position.

"Now Italy are struggling to produce creative players. Spain, on the other hand, have so many ‘fantasisti’ and they all get to play."

Italy will face Sweden home and away between the 9th and 14th of November.

Bruce Arena steps down as United States coach

Bruce Arena

In news that will surprise no one, United States coach Bruce Arena has departed his role after his side’s disastrous World Cup failure.

For the first time since 1986, the US team failed to qualify for the World Cup finals after a 2-1 defeat in Trinidad and Tobago, leaving fans outraged.

Former US defender Alexi Lalas described it as a “sad and dark moment” for US soccer.

Arena said: “We didn’t get the job done, and I accept responsibility.

The 66-year-old left Major League Soccer side LA Galaxy to succeed Jurgen Klinsmann, who was sacked just two games into the World Cup qualifying campaign after successive defeats.

“This certainly is a major setback for the senior men’s national team program and questions rightly should be asked about how we can improve,” said Arena afterwards.

“No doubt this process already has started and will continue so that US Soccer can progress.”

Arena has enjoyed previous success as a football manager, winning five MLS Cups with LA Galaxy and DC United.

Toure warns Russian World Cup over racism threat

Yaya Toure has delivered a stern warning ahead of next summer’s World Cup in Russia after declaring that racism will turn the tournament into a “big mess”.

Russian clubs have an infamous recent history when it comes to racist chanting and discrimination, despite repeated complaints from both players and clubs.

Toure himself was subject to racist chanting when Manchester City travelled to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League back in 2013.

The 34-year-old has taken part in a short film in a bid to raise the issue and spark both FIFA and Russia to ensure there are no issues at next summer’s tournament.

Toure said: “We have to see change because people have been talking but nothing has really been taken care of.

“If racist situations are going to be involved then it is going to be a big mess.

“Everyone is talking about Russia maybe being a little bit difficult. But I hope that Russia surprises everybody by trying to make something very nice.

“I want to say to Fifa and to the government in Russia as well that if you need me I can help.

“I don’t want to be involved in only talking.

“I want to see action and people be real. These things are very important for the future of football.”

Neymar happy to see ‘friend’ Messi at 2018 World Cup

Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil superstar Neymar says he is delighted that former Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi will be at the 2018 World Cup with Argentina.

La Pulga Atomica fired his country to the global showpiece in Russia next year with a stunning hat-trick during a crucial 3-1 victory over Ecuador in the CONMEBOL section of qualifying.

The result saw La Albiceleste jump from third to sixth in the standings, and they qualified automatically alongside Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia.

Both players spent four seasons of success together at Barca where they formed arguably the world’s most dangerous attack along with Luis Suarez. Nonetheless, after departing for PSG ahead of the 2017/18 season, the 25-year-old showed he still held Messi in high regard.

He told the Ligue 1 website, “I’m happy for him. I’m happy to see a friend participate in such an important competition.”

Meanwhile, the Sao Paulo-born also expressed commiserations for Chile who failed to qualify after a 3-0 defeat to Canarinho meant they failed to even land a berth in the inter-confederation play-offs.

Neymar concluded, “I also have friends in the Chile team but we’re men. We have to play to win every game.”

Peru, Colombia deny World Cup qualifying ‘pact’

Peru player Renato Tapia has admitted discussing World Cup qualification with Colombia captain Radamel Falcao during their final qualifying match on Tuesday night, but has denied the two sides made a pact.

Monaco forward Falcao was seen talking to Peru players while holding his hand across his mouth during the final few minutes of their 1-1 draw in Lima.

A defeat for Peru in the match would have seen them miss out on the playoff spot, with Chile taking fifth spot, while a win for Peru would have put Colombia at risk.

Several South American media organisations have published images of what they have christened the ‘Lima Pact’.

“In the last five minutes, the Colombians approached us. They knew what the situation was in the other games,” Tapia told local TV.

“So we managed the game as we needed to… I spoke with Radamel, who told me we were both qualified (as things stood), but it’s football and we play to win.”

Falcao has also denied making a pact.

However, when asked after the match what had been said, Falcao replied: “We knew what was happening in the other matches, we were playing with (the knowledge of) the other results and in that moment (I tried) to transmit that (to Peru).”

Former Newcastle United forward Nolberto Solano, now a member of Peru’s coaching staff, also rejected suggestions that a deal had taken place.

“We needed to win, them too. What pact? That’s speculation,” he told local radio.

“Obviously, at the end, we knew what the other results were and you tell yourself: ‘calm it down a bit, we mustn’t take any risks’.”

Despite the denials, it was apparent that both sides were playing for a draw near the end of the game as they kept the ball and showed no urgency to attack.

The accusations come 40 years after Peru threw a game in the 1978 World Cup that helped eventual winners Argentina progress at the expense of Brazil.

Needing to score at least four goals to progress to the final ahead of Brazil, Argentina managed to beat Peru 6-0.

A former Peruvian politician admitted years later that the two countries had made a deal ahead of the match.

World Cup 2018: Top talent who missed out on Russia

Football fans around the globe breathed a sigh of relief on Tuesday after Lionel Messi’s stunning hat-trick ensured one of the world’s biggest stars would be appearing at next summer’s World Cup in Russia.

But for every Messi there was another superstar who didn’t make it.

FOX Sports Asia takes a look at some of the top players who won’t be in Russia come June.

Jan Oblak (Slovenia)
The Atletico Madrid stopper, voted La Liga’s best goalkeeper for the past two years, was denied a first World Cup appearance as Slovenia finished fourth in their qualifying group behind England, Slovakia and Scotland.

Antonio Valencia (Ecuador)
The 32-year old winger has been a revelation at Old Trafford since converting to wing-back last season, but his silky skills and attacking prowess will be missing in Russia after Ecuador enjoyed a disappointing qualification campaign, finishing eighth overall in CONMEBOL.

Virgil van Dijk (Netherlands)
Van Dijk missed out after the Netherlands could only finish third in UEFA qualifying Group A. The talented defender will now have all summer to finally secure a move away from the St. Mary’s after being denied the chance last year.

David Alaba (Austria)
Alaba has enjoyed great success at Bayern Munich, winning six Bundesliga titles and the Champions League, but he will miss out on a World Cup debut as Austria finished fourth in Group D behind Serbia.

Naby Keita (Guinea)
The Leipzig midfielder is the major star in the Guinea team, but unfortunately for him the rest of the squad cannot live up to the same standard. Keita’s side have won just one of their qualifying Group A games meaning he will have plenty of time to adjust following his upcoming summer move to Anfield.

Arturo Vidal (Chile)
A star of Chile’s last two World Cup campaigns, Bayern Munich lynchpin Vidal was suspended for Chile’s final match against Brazil as his team were beaten 3-0 and their elimination was confirmed.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Armenia)
Another player who is the stand out for his nation, the Manchester United midfielder’s efforts were not enough to inspire his teammates to greater heights as Armenia finished fifth out of six teams in UEFA qualifying Group E.

Gareth Bale (Wales)
Bale will miss out on the chance to repeat his Euro 2016 heroics after a final match defeat at home to the Republic of Ireland saw Chris Coleman’s side eliminated. Injury and Wales’ repeated failure to qualify may mean Bale will never have the chance to showcase his skills on the World stage.

Alexis Sanchez (Chile)
Another big miss for fans in Russia, Sanchez will miss the chance to torment the world’s defenders following Chile’s last-gasp elimination. The Arsenal star, however, may have other things on his mind as he tries to seal a rumoured switch away from the Emirates.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon)
One of the top strikers playing in Europe, the Bundesliga goal-machine consistently finds the net at the domestic level. It’s just a shame that playing for Gabon means he will likely never get an opportunity to do so against the world’s best.

Christian Pulisic (United States)
A revelation for Dortmund, Pulisic did his best to inspire the USMNT, scoring a superb goal in the loss to Trinidad and Tobago that sealed the fate of Bruce Arena’s team. Pulisic, though, at least has time on his side and will surely get the chance one day to make his mark on the world stage.

Robben: Future still bright for Netherlands

Netherlands international Arjen Robben has high hopes for the future of the national team despite their failure to qualify for next year’s World Cup.

The 33-year-old has quit international football after his two goals in Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Sweden were still not enough for the Oranje to qualify.

"If you're at school, children who play football, you give everything to win…If you don't succeed, that's a huge disappointment. Then it's okay to be sad, but better times are coming," Robben said.

"I've played here (at the Amsterdam Arena) for 14 years. I've witnessed so many wonderful things. If it's so well appreciated by the Dutch fans, then I can only be grateful."

The Dutch will not be able to rely on the former PSV Eindhoven star anymore, but defender Daryl Janmaat insisted on a ‘positive’ outlook for the future.

"Everyone is being really negative, that's easy," the Watford full-back added. "We have enough good players. We are in a difficult period now. That's clear and also very painful.

"But you see we're better than most of the countries, like Sweden. We were better two times. That is why it's extra painful we don't go to the World Cup."

‘No excuses’ for Arena as US fail to qualify

The United States have missed out on next year’s World Cup, with head coach Bruce Arena accepting responsibility.

The US were beaten 2-1 by Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday, a result which sees them surrender their place at Russia 2018 to Honduras.

"Clearly we are very disappointed. We had everything there for us today. No excuses for us not getting a second goal and coming away with at least a point.

"It's a blemish for us. We should not be staying at home for this World Cup and I take responsibility.

"It never mattered to us the scores of the other games. We failed on the day. No excuses. We failed today. We should have walked off this field with at least a point.

"It's clearly good for CONCACAF that it was such a competitive go at it this time around. Certainly, Mexico have been the dominant team in the Hexagonal. Costa Rica proved to be of quality. And the teams that finished third [Panama], fourth [Honduras] and fifth [USA] were pretty inconsistent throughout the campaign."

Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama will be representing the CONCACAF region at next year’s finals, while Honduras will had into an intercontinental play-off with the hopes of a joining them.

Tabarez leads Uruguay to World Cup

Uruguay head coach Oscar Tabarez was delighted with his team’s showing as they sealed World Cup qualification with a 4-2 win Bolivia.

All six goals of the match in Montevideo were scored by Uruguayans, as a brace from Luis Suarez helped cancel out the own-goals to see Uruguay finish second in South American qualifying.

"We are very satisfied," Tabarez said. "Today we came to play for us, for the people and to try to get what we wanted to win.

"I think because of how well our young players in Europe have adapted, we have a promising outlook.

"It has been demonstrated, beyond the ups and downs, there is a way of doing things that allows us to be competitive.

"[South American qualifying is] the toughest competition I've ever had and no one is giving us a title, or a medal. It's only qualification, but we value it the same way we did with the World Cup in 2010 or 2014."

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