Gareth Southgate said England's foremost focus will be getting out of their World Cup group after two of their three opponents were confirmed in Friday's draw.

England, who have reached one major semi-final and one final under Southgate, will open their campaign with a first-ever meeting against Iran on the tournament's opening day on November 21.

They will then face the United States in a repeat of their opening game at the 2010 World Cup, while their final group match could see them face a home nations rival in Wales or Scotland, who will compete with Ukraine for Europe's final qualification place in a play-off that has been delayed due to Ukraine's ongoing conflict with Russia.

On paper, Group B looks set to present a smooth passage to the knockout stages for England but Southgate, who led the Three Lions to a first World Cup semi-final since 1990 four years ago, is not looking any further ahead than the group stages.

"The first two teams we've not played for quite a while," Southgate told BBC Sport. "The third is a total unknown but throws up a possible British derby. We know what they're all about, we've had plenty of them!

"For us, we're in on day one so it's quite clear now what our program looks like, with the end of the Premier League season and getting out here as quickly as possible."

Asked if that knowledge gave England more time to prepare for possible knockout games, Southgate responded: "It does, but we've got to get out of the group.

"What we've done well is approach these tournaments by looking at the group. 

"The first objective is to get out of the group, regardless of the opposition, and then you build from there.

"When you're seeded, you get the advantage of missing out on those big six or seven teams. For most of the first seeds, they'll be pleased with the group they get.

"There's obviously some really high ranked teams in Pot Two, and the US in particular, I know Gregg Berhalter quite well, we've met a couple of times and had long chats about things. 

"They've got some very good players and we know what they could be capable of as a nation. That one, in particular, is an intriguing one."

Furthermore, being drawn into a World Cup group with the United States for a third occasion represents the first time that England have been in the same group as one particular nation at three separate editions of the tournament.

England captain Harry Kane, meanwhile, was glad to see that the Three Lions will open their campaign on the first day of the tournament.

"Always exciting to see who we get in the group!" Kane tweeted. "Playing on the opening day will be incredible as well."

The decision to host the World Cup in Qatar has faced strong opposition from many quarters.

Southgate, who made his opposition to any boycott of the tournament clear during the recent international break, expressed his desire for the World Cup to drive substantive change in the Gulf state.

"We'll continue to speak to people here," he added. "We've got to build relationships here to be able to highlight any change that we'd like to make. 

"It's important to do that in the right way. Today my focus is just on the draw and working out what that all means really."

Spain will face Germany in the group stage of the 2022 World Cup, while Qatar were given a tough draw as the hosts will come up against the Netherlands and Senegal.

Luis Enrique's Spain and their fellow European heavyweights Germany will do battle in Group E along with Japan, while the winner of a play-off between Costa Rica or New Zealand will be their other opponents.

Qatar will take on Ecuador in the opening game of the tournament at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor on November 21 before coming up against African champions Senegal and the Oranje in Group A.

The ceremony in Doha on Friday saw holders France drawn to lock horns with Denmark, Tunisia and either Peru, Australia or the United Arab Emirates in Group D.

 

Five-time champions Brazil, the top-ranked side in the world, will fight it out with Switzerland, Serbia and Cameroon in Group G.

England, semi-finalists in Russia four years ago, could face neighbours and fierce rivals Wales or Scotland in Group B, although Ukraine are also in contention to qualify via the play-offs. 

Gareth Southgate's side will definitely take on the United States and Iran in Group B.

 

Copa America champions Argentina, captained by the mercurial Lionel Messi, will be expected to advance from a Group C that will see them face Mexico, Poland and Saudi Arabia.

The 2018 runners-up Croatia and Belgium were drawn in Group F along with Morocco and Canada, who qualified for a World Cup for the first time since 1986.

Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, Uruguay, South Korea and Ghana will be in Group H.

 

Spain will face Germany in the group stage of the 2022 World Cup, while Qatar were given a tough draw as the hosts will come up against Netherlands and Senegal.

After failing to qualify in 2018, the United States secured automatic qualification to the 2022 World Cup on Wednesday, despite a 2-0 loss away to Costa Rica.

Following their 5-1 win over Panama, the USA had a healthy enough goal difference to avert the inter-confederation playoff, with a three-point and 10-goal gap between them and Costa Rica coming into the final qualifier. 

In what was an intense start, Keylor Navas was on hand to deny the US in the eighth minute with a fantastic double save. Initially denying Miles Robinson with a reflex save from close range, the Paris Saint-Germain keeper then managed to stop the ball from trickling in following a USA corner.

The match tightened up significantly after that and the dead ball was the likeliest avenue to goal for both teams. The home side eventually broke the deadlock in the 51st minute through Juan Pablo Vargas, and doubled the margin eight minutes later from another set piece via Anthony Contreras.

Both sides finish the third round of CONCACAF qualifying on 25 points, but goal difference separates with the United States on +11 and Costa Rica on +5.

As a result, Los Ticos will face New Zealand in the inter-confederation playoff in June.

After failing to qualify for 2018, the United States secured automatic qualification to the 2022 World Cup on Wednesday, despite a 2-0 loss away to Costa Rica.

Following their 5-1 win over Panama, the USA had a healthy enough goal difference to avert the inter-confederation playoff, with a three-point and 10-goal gap between them and Costa Rica coming into the final qualifier. 

In what was an intense start, Keylor Navas was on hand to deny the US in the eighth minute with a fantastic double effort. Initially denying Miles Robinson with a reflex save from close range, the Paris Saint-Germain keeper then managed to stop the ball from trickling in following a US corner.

The match tightened up significantly and the dead ball was the likeliest avenue to goal for both teams. The home side eventually broke the deadlock in the 51st minute through Juan Pablo Vargas, and doubled the margin eight minutes later from another set piece via Anthony Contreras.

Both sides finish the third round of CONCACAF qualifying on 25 points, but goal difference separates with the United States on +11 and Costa Rica on +5.

As a result, Los Ticos will face New Zealand in the inter-confederation playoff in June.

Mexico and the United States shared the points in a tense 0-0 draw in Thursday's CONCACAF World Cup qualifier in Mexico City.

A victory for either side would have put them on the brink of qualification, but both will need to wait, with the result leaving United States and Mexico in second and third positions respectively with two matches remaining.

Costa Rica moved into fourth spot after their 1-0 win over CONCACAF leaders Canada - who missed out on sealing their spot for Qatar - with the Ticos now three points behind US and Mexico who are locked on 22 points.

In a game where Mexico had a lion's share of possession, it was the Americans creating the best of the chances, with Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa looking spry at 36 years young.

Ochoa was called upon in the 14th minute to deny Yunus Musah, and again in the 36th minute to thwart Christian Pulisic to keep things deadlocked heading into half-time.

Pulisic had another chance just minutes into the second half, but his sharp chance was kept out by Ochoa as he finished the match with four saves. Hirving Lozano had a pair of chances for Mexico in the second half, but sent one over in the 57th minute, and one into the crossbar in the 80th minute.

US's final game away to Costa Rica on Wednesday is shaping up to have plenty on the line. The top three CONCACAF qualifiers will move on to the World Cup, while fourth-placed side will need to go through a play-off.

Mexico and the United States shared the points in a tense 0-0 draw in Thursday's CONCACAF World Cup qualifier in Mexico City.

A victory for either side would have put them on the brink of qualification, but both will need to wait, with the result leaving United States and Mexico in second and third positions respectively with two matches remaining.

Costa Rica moved into fourth spot after their 1-0 win over CONCACAF leaders Canada - who missed out on sealing their spot for Qatar - with the Ticos now three points behind US and Mexico who are locked on 22 points.

In a game where Mexico had a lion's share of possession, it was the Americans creating the best of the chances, with Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa looking spry at 36 years young.

Ochoa was called upon in the 14th minute to deny Yunus Musah, and again in the 36th minute to thwart Christian Pulisic to keep things deadlocked heading into half-time.

Pulisic had another chance just minutes into the second half, but his sharp chance was kept out by Ochoa as he finished the match with four saves. Hirving Lozano had a pair of chances for Mexico in the second half, but sent one over in the 57th minute, and one into the crossbar in the 80th minute.

US's final game away to Costa Rica on Wednesday is shaping up to have plenty on the line. The top three CONCACAF qualifiers will move on to the World Cup, while fourth-placed side will need to go through a play-off.

Will it be Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane? Italy or Portugal – or indeed neither? Can Canada end their long wait, and are the United States and Australia at risk of missing out?

Those questions and plenty more are set to be answered over the next week or so as World Cup qualifying concludes for many nations.

Just 15 of the 32 participants have so far been confirmed for Qatar 2022, leaving 48 teams battling for the 17 remaining spots.

Fourteen more countries will be assured of a finals berth come the end of next week in what is very much crunch time for those still in contention.

Stats Perform looks at the key talking points.

Egypt seeking revenge in AFCON final repeat

Less than two months on from meeting in the Africa Cup of Nations final, Egypt and Senegal face off over two legs for a place in Qatar.

Senegal prevailed in a penalty shoot-out to claim their first AFCON crown and, buoyed by that triumph, will consider themselves as favourites here.

While both teams boast an array of top-class talent, this fixture is being billed as a showdown between Liverpool team-mates Salah and Mane.

The two biggest stars in African football, only one of the pair will be part of the World Cup later this year – and neither will fancy watching it all unfold from home.

This is not the only grudge match taking place in the CAF section over the next week and a half, as fierce rivals Ghana and Nigeria will also face off in a two-legged play-off.

Cameroon are up against Algeria, Mali take on Tunisia and DR Congo meet Morocco in the other three ties, each of which will be concluded on March 29.

European heavyweights on collision course

Since the play-off draw in the UEFA section took place in November, all talk has centered around a potential meeting between Italy and Portugal for a place in the finals.

The winners of the past two European Championships, either the Azzurri or the Selecao will miss out on the biggest tournament of them all.

It should never have been this way, of course, as both teams were strong favourites to finish top of their groups and qualify automatically.

Italy finished second to Switzerland and Portugal were runners-up to Serbia, meaning the sides must now come through two qualifying ties.

First up for the reigning European champions is a meeting with North Macedonia in Palermo, while Portugal face Turkey in Porto, with the winners of both ties advancing.

Should, as expected, Italy and Portugal come through those semi-finals, the latter will have the advantage of staging the final on home soil five days later.

For Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo, it presents what will surely be his last chance to play at a record-equalling fifth World Cup.

 

Pathways impacted by political events

Path C of UEFA qualifying is undoubtedly the most eye-catching, but there are also some tasty fixtures in the other two sections – not least a possible Home Nations derby.

Scotland and Wales were kept apart in the Path B semi-finals but could meet in the final should they overcome Ukraine and Austria respectively.

However, due to ongoing events in Ukraine, their game against Scotland has been pushed back – likely until June – as has the final involving either Wales or Austria.

In Path C, Russia had been due to face Poland, but the invasion of Ukraine forced FIFA and UEFA's hand and they have been banned from competing.

Poland have therefore been handed a bye to the qualifying play-off final, where either Sweden or the Czech Republic await. That match will be contested next week as planned.

Canada on verge of ending long wait, USA with work to do

The United States qualified for every World Cup between 1990 and 2014, but they missed out on a place at Russia 2018 after an embarrassing loss to Trinidad and Tobago.

Gregg Berhalter's side are by no means assured of one of the three automatic qualification spots in the CONCACAF section this time around, either.

USA sit second with three games to go, but they still have to travel to third-placed Mexico, as well as facing Panama and Costa Rica, who occupy fourth and fifth respectively.

Level on points with Mexico and four ahead of Costa Rica, it could be a tense finale to qualifying for the Stars and Stripes.

That should not be the case for Canada, who are eight points clear of fourth and are all but assured of ending their 36-year wait to make a second World Cup finals appearance.

Brazil and Argentina through, but who will join them?

The drawn-out South American qualifiers are nearing their conclusion and only four of the 10 sides know their fate at this juncture.

It has been plain sailing for Brazil and Argentina, who are assured of an automatic qualifying spot with three games to go, including a rescheduled meeting between the pair.

Behind those perennial World Cup representatives are Ecuador, who have been the surprise package in qualifying and can finish no lower than fifth.

Ecuador will not be content with anything other than a top-four finish, though, and they can make certain of that with victory over Paraguay.

Assuming Ecuador get over the line, that will leave Uruguay, Peru, Chile, Colombia and Bolivia battling it out for progression, which sets up some intriguing fixtures.

Uruguay occupy fourth place, meaning their qualifying aspirations are in their own hands, but they have Peru and Chile – the two sides behind them – still to face.

Socceroos sweating on finals spot

Only four teams advance automatically from the CONMEBOL section, with the team in fifth entering a play-off against the winner of the AFC fourth round in a one-off tie in June.

That may well turn out to be Australia as the Socceroos are five and four points behind top two Saudi Arabia and Japan in Group B with two games to go.

However, those remaining two fixtures are against those nations occupying automatic qualification places, so Australia may yet sneak through.

Iran and South Korea have already made certain of progression in Group A, meanwhile, leaving the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Iraq to compete for third place.

The two third-placed finishers – which, as it stands, are Australia and the UAE – will meet in a one-legged match ahead of that aforementioned play-off with a CONMEBOL side.

Barcelona defender Sergino Dest has been ruled out of Sunday's El Clasico with Real Madrid and the United States' final batch of World Cup qualifiers.

The 21-year-old injured his left hamstring during the early stages of the second half in Barca's 2-1 Europa League last-16 second-leg win over Galatasaray on Thursday.

Dest has undergone a scan and Barca confirmed on Friday that he will not return to action until after the international break.

As a result, Dest has been replaced by Arminia Bielefeld left-back George Bello in USA's squad for their qualifiers against Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica.

Dani Alves is expected to slot in for Dest in a straight swap for the LaLiga trip to Madrid, but the veteran full-back is not registered for the Europa League.

Barca will face Eintracht Frankfurt in the quarter-finals of that competition, with the first leg scheduled for April 7.
 
Ajax academy product Dest has featured 20 times for Barca this term – the 10th most of any player – and has been capped 17 times by USA.

Former Kingston College standouts Wayne Pinnock and Carey McLeod, now both competing for the University of Tennessee, finished first and second in the Men’s Long Jump on Day One of the NCAA Division One Indoor Track and Field Championships in Birmingham, Alabama, on Friday.

Pinnock and McLeod jumped 7.92 and 7.91, respectively, to finish as the top two ahead of Georgia’s Matthew Boling who jumped 7.86 for third.

St. Lucian Texas Junior and former St. Catherine High sprinter Julien Alfred turned heads in the Women’s 60m preliminaries with a personal best, collegiate and national record 7.04 to be the fastest qualifier to the final.

Jamaicans Charokee Young and Stacey-Ann Williams were the two fastest qualifiers in the Women’s 400m. Young, formerly of Hydel High and now competing for Texas A&M, advanced fastest with 51.70 while Williams, formerly of STETHS and now competing for The University of Texas, ran 51.89 to qualify second fastest.

 

Weston McKennie will not return to action for Juventus until next season, head coach Massimiliano Allegri has confirmed.

The United States international fractured the second and third metatarsals in his left foot during last week's 1-1 draw with Villarreal in the Champions League.

Juve announced the following day that McKennie would likely sit out the next eight weeks, meaning he would be back in time for the closing stages of the campaign.

However, speaking after Juve's 1-0 win over Spezia on Sunday, Allegri said he does not expect the 23-year-old to return to action again this term.

"The season is over for Weston because of his injury. He'll be back next season," Allegri told DAZN.

McKennie has featured in 28 of the Bianconeri's 39 matches this season in all competitions, his 1,954 minutes on the field the eighth most of any Juve outfield player.

The 23-year-old, who has four goals to his name, will also miss the USA's upcoming triple-header of World Cup qualifying fixtures.

Juve won in McKennie's absence against Spezia on Sunday thanks to Alvaro Morata's 21st-minute strike at the Allianz Stadium.

 

Morata slotted home the only goal of the game after being played in by Manuel Locatelli – the Spain striker's first Serie A goal since netting against Bologna on December 18.

The victory extends Juve's unbeaten run to 14 Serie A matches – their best such streak since March 2019 when going 31 without defeat – and tightens their hold on fourth place.

"It's always important for the forwards. I'm happy with the goal and the performance," Allegri said at his post-match news conference when asked about Morata's goal. 

"Today, after so many matches with the same players, all you have to do is congratulate the boys. It wasn't easy to win. We dropped in the second half. 

"For the first time we are mathematically fourth in the rankings. In the first half we had to finish the game, in the second it was normal that we would suffer a little."

Juventus have now won four Serie A matches by a 1-0 scoreline this season, a tally only sixth-placed Roma can better with five.

And the manner of this latest slender victory was particularly pleasing for Allegri.

"If you want to reach your objectives, you have to play these games with suffering and it was important to bring home the three points," he said. 

"I have never seen a team win every game easily. You get to the Champions League and all your targets through performances like this, winning 1-0 with suffering.

"People forget quickly in football, but in my five years we had a lot of 1-0 results spent sitting in our own half for the final 20 minutes. 

"The important thing is not to let anything go in those moments."

The Jamaican duo of Britany Anderson, Christopher Taylor were crowned winners as many of track and field’s elites from all over the globe converged, at the Armory New Balance Track and Field Centre in New York, to take part in the 114th edition of the Millrose Games.

In fact, it was a Caribbean 1-2 in the Women’s 60m Hurdles with Anderson running a personal best 7.91 to win ahead of Devynne Charlton of the Bahamas who ran 7.95 for second.  Tonea Marshall of the USA was third in 7.99.

Former Calabar standout and Olympic 400m finalist Taylor ran 46.38 to win the Men’s 400m ahead of the USA’s Vernon Norwood in 46.45 and American 800m record holder Donovan Brazier in 46.55.

2020 Olympic 110m Hurdles bronze medallist Devon Allen won the Men’s 60m Hurdles, adding to his wins in the 2018 and 2019 Millrose Games, in a world-leading 7.53 ahead of Daniel Roberts who ran 7.56 for second while Shane Brathwaite from Barbados was third in 7.67.

Aleia Hobbs of the USA won the Women’s 60m with 7.11 ahead of teammate Mikiah Briscoe who ran 7.15. 16-year-old American Shawnti Jackson ran a US high-school record 7.18 for third while Jamaica’s Briana Williams was fourth in 7.22.

2019 100m World Champion Christian Coleman made a winning return to the track, after a 2-year suspension, with a time of 6.49 to win the Men’s 60m.

Trayvon Bromell finished second in 6.50 while Ronnie Baker was third in 6.54.

Jamaica’s former Olympic and World champion in the 110m Hurdles, Omar McLeod, was sixth in 6.70.

Jamaica’s Tovea Jenkins and Roniesha McGregor were third and fourth in the Women’s 400m in 54.14 and 54.24, respectively.

The event was won by Wadeline Jonathas of the USA in 52.51.

Jamaica’s Olympic 800m finalist Natoya Goule was second in the Women’s 800m 2:02.14 behind the USA’s Ajee Wilson who ran 2:01.38 for victory.

 

 

 

 

Antonee Robinson's second-half strike earned the United States an unconvincing 1-0 victory over El Salvador to move a step closer to 2022 World Cup qualification on Thursday in cold conditions in Columbus.

Fulham defender Robinson lashed home in the 52nd minute after Timothy Weah's good lead-up work in the decisive moment, as USA moved up to 18 points from nine games.

USA temporarily moved into top spot in the CONCACAF qualifying standings, with Canada due to take on Honduras later.

Jesus Ferreira, starting in a World Cup qualifier for the first time, burnt two first-half chances, before Robinson broke the deadlock early in the second half as USA stamped their superiority.

The hosts pressed for a second goal, with El Salvador goalkeeper Mario Gonzalez acrobatically denying Valencia midfielder Yunus Musah's poke.

El Salvador's best chance came in the 85th minute as Joaquin Rivas glanced Bryan Tamacas' cross wide, while USA fluffed opportunities with Weston McKennie and Gyasi Zardes headers.

Jamaican central defender Damion Lowe and Egyptian club Al-Ittihad Alexandria have officially parted ways after both parties agreed to terminate his contract.

The 28-year-old Lowe joined the club on a free transfer on a two-year deal in November 2020 after a short stint with Phoenix Rising in the United Soccer League (USL) came to an end.

Since joining the club, Lowe has made 32 appearances over one-and-a-half seasons, scoring two goals while helping the team to nine clean sheets.

Lowe started his professional career with Reading United in USL League Two in 2013 before getting drafted by MLS outfit Seattle Sounders a year later.

During his time with the Sounders, he was loaned out to Seattle Sounders FC 2 and Minnesota United before moving on to Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2017.

He then got his first taste of European club football with Norwegian club IK Start from 2017-2020.

After terminating his contract with Start, he returned to Phoenix Rising in September 2020 then moved to Al-Ittihad of Alexandria in November that same year.

MLS team Inter Miami CF is likely Lowe’s next destination based on reports that he has undergone a medical with them.

 

 

 General Secretary of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), Dalton Wint, has welcomed the implementation of Video Assistant Replay (VAR), which will be used for the final six games of the Concacaf World Cup qualifiers.

Prior to this, Concacaf was one of only three nations not making use of the technology, alongside AFCON (Africa) and Oceania, and were hampered in their efforts to do so by not only technological restrictions but also due to a lack of certified officials.  With both issues rectified since the start of the year, the way is now clear for the replay system to be implemented.

In its absence, the competition has been plagued by what some believe to be high-profile refereeing errors.  Against the United States with the game tied at 1-1, Jamaica defender Damion Lowe’s header, which flew into the net 7 minutes from time, was controversially ruled out for what appeared to be very little contact with US defender Walker Zimmerman.  The game ended in a 1-1 draw.

With the country well behind on points in their pursuit of three and a half qualification spots, three points instead of one could have made a huge difference.  Wint hopes that in the future such costly errors can be avoided.

“I think it (decisions like that) is one of the major reasons CONCACAF decided to implement it.  It is really important to get the major decisions right,” Wint said of the upcoming technology upgrade.

There have of course also been times when the technology may have gone against the country notably when Lowe was himself yellow carded for a last-ditch challenge on USA player Brenden Aaronson, although the call might have been marginal at best.

“I’m all for it.  If you have the technology, then why not use it.  You can’t have it both ways, at times it may slow the game down, but it is important to try and arrive at the correct decision.”

The Reggae Boyz, who are currently in 6th place in the eight-team standings and 7 points behind the final qualifying spot, will resume their qualification campaign against Mexico on January 27th.  

 

 

 

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