These are the kind of weeks soccer aficionados live for! On Monday we saw the thrilling conclusion to the 2013 UEFA U-21 Euro in which Spain retained its crown after a 4-2 spectacular win over Italy. On Tuesday we watched Jozy Altidore fire the United States to the top of the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying table with a 1-0 victory over Honduras. On Wednesday and Thursday we focused our attention to all of the excitement of the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup down in Brazil. All in all, this week has been a fantastic, football-filled wonder, and this weekend is shaping up to be just as stimulating!
Must Watch Games:
*Italy vs. Brazil
**Saturday, June 22nd at 2:00 pm CST on ESPN News (Coverage starts at 1:30 pm CST)
***Two of the most exciting teams in the tournament, Italy and Brazil have had spectacular group stage play so far. Brazil has produced football reminiscent to the Brazilian Samba futebol of old, with a 3-0 win in the opener against Japan and a 2-0 win over Mexico on Wednesday. Whether you love him or hate him, Neymar has had one heck of a coming out party in this Confederations Cup, scoring two brilliant volleys, one with each foot, and setting up Jo’s goal at the end of the Mexico match with another insane run that has been added to the repertoire of YouTube highlights for the 21-year-old Barcelona-bound Brazilian. Italy has also reverted back to the steady and dominant Azzurri of old this tournament, led by the ever calm, cool, and deadly Andrea Pirlo in the midfield and the volatile and vicious Mario Balotelli up top. Italy coolly dispatched Mexico in their opener 2-1, but were responsible for one of the craziest games in the tournament so far when they fought tooth and nail to come back from a 2 goal deficit to battle Japan in an outrageous 4-3 victory on Wednesday night. Both teams are going into the match on Saturday already assured of their passage into the knockout stage, but the outcome in this match will determine who finishes at the top of the group.
*Nigeria vs. Spain
**Sunday, June 23rd at 2:00 pm CST on ESPN (Coverage starts at 1:30 pm CST)
***Spain showed their dominance by steamrolling tiny Tahiti 10-0 on Thursday, securing their passage into the knockout stage of the tournament. Their opponents, Nigeria, are looking to bounce back after losing 2-1 to Uruguay and they must get an upset result versus the giants of European football in order to advance into the next round of the tournament.
*Japan vs. Mexico
**Saturday, June 22nd at 2:00 pm CST on ESPN (Coverage starts at 1:30 pm CST)
***While their time in Brazil has come to an end, expect both Japan and Mexico to attempt to go out with a bang. Japan fought bravely but couldn’t contain the lethal Azzurri attack on Wednesday. However, they did put in an awe-inspiring performance and were able to put 3 past Gianluigi Buffon in goal. On the other hand, the woes of Mexico continue as El Tri suffered their second defeat in 2013 after being overpowered and outplayed by Brazil. There was some hope for them as you could see some of the old fire and spirit that used to be a staple of the Mexican national team in the past, but there was not enough to contain the brilliance of Brazil in the end.
*Uruguay vs. Tahiti
**Sunday, June 23rd at 2:00 pm CST on ESPN2 (Coverage starts at 1:30 pm CST)
***After getting a very important 2-1 win over Nigeria on Thursday, Uruguay is in the driving seat to secure the second place position in Group B qualification by a win over the honorable but overwhelmed Tahiti team. Currently tied with Nigeria at three points apiece, Uruguay looks most likely of the two to advance as Nigeria must attempt to steal points away from World Champions Spain in order to make it to the knockout round. As Tahiti has been torched for 16 goals in 2 games so far this tournament, expect Uruguay’s devastating offensive force of Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, and Diego Forlan to have a field day up top.
*FC Dallas vs. Sporting Kansas City
**Saturday, June 22nd at 7:30 pm CST on FirstRowSports.eu
***Taking a break from Confederations Cup action, lets bring it back state-side to the MLS Game to Watch this week and, much to the disgruntlement of Dynamo fans, it’s Houston’s two biggest rivals FC Dallas and Sporting Kansas City. Dallas met their match last weekend, falling to the Portland Timbers on the road 1-0 but still lead the Western Conference over the Timbers by a point. Kansas City sits in third in the Eastern Conference and have struggled over the last few weeks without several key players like Graham Zusi who are out on international duty. Kansas are looking to get their first win of the month after losing 2-1 to an impressive Montreal side and then getting knocked out of the running to defend their title in the US Open Cup by USL side Orlando City SC in an embarrassing 1-0 defeat. Though it will take a lot for Sporting to get a result in Frisco, remember this is the team that went into BBVA Compass Stadium and destroyed the Dynamo’s intimidating 36 home game unbeaten streak on the stadium’s one year anniversary so this team knows how to win in hostile territory.
*USA U-20 vs. Spain U-20
**Friday, June 21st at 1:00 pm CST on ESPN2 (Coverage starts at 12:45 pm CST)
***This weekend, the FIFA U-20 World Cup kicks off from Turkey and the USA is set to take on mighty Spain in their Group A opener. Group A has already been labeled the “group of death” in this tournament, including the U.S., Spain, France, and Ghana and the reason is because of the massive amount of talent littered throughout these teams. This U-20 tournament has launched the careers of players such as Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi and this year’s tournament features a crop of incredibly talented youngsters. For the U.S. and Spain, their U-20 squads resemble their senior squads remarkably. The U.S. is similarly facing some big question marks at the back, with coach Tab Ramos having to convert Shane O’Neill and Caleb Stanko into center backs during the World Cup Qualifying campaign. Now, O’Neill must sit out the Spain game due to a red card received during the 3-1 loss to Mexico. However, the offensive future is bright for the U.S. with players such as Jose Villarreal, Benji Joya, Daniel Cuevas and Luis Gil who are all getting significant time with their senior club teams. On the other hand, Spain has literally become a factory for producing some of the greatest future talent in world football. On Monday, the U-21 squad put a cherry on top of a brilliant UEFA Euro campaign by demolishing Italy 4-2 to retain their title and now the U-20 squad is looking to further the success of the Spanish youth national program with a World Cup title. Just looking at the squad sheet is enough to make you drool. Óliver Torres of Atlético Madrid is billed as a mini-Xavi, and Real Madrid’s Jesé Rodríguez, Liverpool’s Suso, and Barcelona’s Gerard Deulofeu are absolutely deadly up top. Whether or not this young U.S. squad can repeat the upset the senior squad pulled over Spain in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, this is one match up to keep your eyes on!
*Mexico U-20 vs. Greece U-20
**Saturday, June 22nd at 10:00 am CST on ESPN (Coverage starts at 9:45 am CST)
***Yet another team with bright young talent, Mexico are tipped to make a long run in this World Cup and will start by taking on a overmatched Greek team in their Group D opener. The CONCACAF Champions are solid in all areas of the field but, like their senior squad, are missing that big time creative attacking midfielder who can take over the tempo of the game. Look for Mexico to get out to a quick start right out of the gate.
*San Lorenzo vs. Lanús
**Sunday, June 23rd at 4:00 pm CST on FirstRowSports.eu
***The Primera Division in Argentina has been giving us plenty of exciting games these past few weeks, but none have been as exciting as this fixture. Fourth placed San Lorenzo hosts second placed Lanús, and with just a point separating the two squads, they have a lot to play for. Lanús is having a tumultuous June, defeating mighty River Plate 5-1 at home and then losing embarrassingly to a weak Estudiantes team just three days later. San Lorenzo is on a nine game unbeaten streak stretching back to April, with their squad as a picture of discipline and consistency. Once again, will it be the steady, reliable squad of San Lorenzo who triumphs, or will the volatile Lanús pull it together again and produce another brilliant display?
*Houston Dynamo vs. Toronto FC
**Saturday, June 22nd at 8:00 pm CST on KPRC (Coverage starts at 7:30 with Dynamo Pre-Game with Glenn Davis and Eddie Robinson)
***After getting off to a roaring start to the season, the Houston Dynamo are looking to shake off this slump in form they have been in over the last month. The Dynamo have not won in 5 league matches and are coming off back to back defeats to Montreal Impact 2-0 in MLS play and the FC Dallas 3-0 eliminating them from the US Open Cup tournament. The Dynamo will play their first league match at home in over a month since losing to New England on May 18th and are looking to begin a new home unbeaten streak with a win over a struggling Toronto FC.
*Philadelphia Union vs. New York Red Bulls
**Sunday, June 23rd at 4:00 pm CST on ESPN
***Getting back into action after a three week break from MLS play, the Red Bulls are on the road at the Philadelphia Union in hopes to take recover from their disappointing 2-1 loss to Vancouver at the beginning of the month. With just three points separating the Red Bulls from the Union in the Eastern Conference standings, look for the game to be tense, especially with New York’s veteran striker Thierry Henry facing off against the Union’s 21-year-old star Jack McInerney who will be looking to add to his league-leading tally of 10 goals on Sunday.
*France U-20 vs. USA U-20
**Monday, June 24th at 10:00 am CST on ESPN3 (Coverage starts at 9:45 am CST)
***Another enticing match up pits the US against a talented young French squad featuring the like of Lyon’s Samuel Umtiti at the back and Juventus’ fiery young forward Paul Pogba up top. Check it out as your Monday morning brunch break!
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Written by Cari Gelal