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Pique continues to test Barcelona's official line


Wednesday afternoon saw Barcelona vice-president Jordi Cardoner make a statement backing Gerard Pique's controversial line against Real Madrid, although the message was reluctant to say the least.
The defender's dismay at certain non-biased officials supposedly having their neutrality struck by appearing in the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu directors' box caused a stir during the week, with the Spanish FA in particular.
However there are plenty of people within Barcelona who felt unhappy with Pique's comments, and yet the fact that Cardoner publicly supported the long-serving centre-back indicates that he is simply free to say and do as he pleases.
Another example of this comes in the criticism of referees, where Pique has long been an outspoken and reactionary force despite the official line from the Blaugrana being one of keeping schtum.
So far only the occasional hint from Luis Enrique has gone against his player's gestations, which continue to pop up every few weeks.
Indeed the discrepancy between the board and Pique was demonstrated in the squad's refusal to attend FIFA's The Best award ceremony, an uppercut of a blow to the governing body that Barcelona have been trying to fix ever since.
And yet, their attentions have been towards FIFA and dealing with them, as opposed to Pique's errant actions, making it clear that little authority exists over the 30-year-old at the Camp Nou.

U.S. keep World Cup hopes alive, Mexico take control


The United States remain in contention for a spot at next year's World Cup after Bruce Arena's side battled to a scrappy 1-1 away draw against Panama in CONCACAF qualifying on Tuesday.
A loss would have left the U.S. anchored equal bottom in the six-team group known as the Hexagonal, but the draw sends them home relieved and still in contention for one of the three automatic spots to Russia 2018.
Mexico extended their lead to three points atop the group with a 1-0 away win over Trinidad and Tobago, a second-half goal by Diego Reyes in Port of Spain lifting El Tri to 10 points from four games.
Costa Rica are second on seven points after a 1-1 away draw at Honduras, followed by Panama on five points, the U.S. and the Hondurans on four, while Trinidad have three points.In Panama City, teenager Christian Pulisic set up striker Clint Dempsey for his 56th international goal as the U.S. took the lead in the 39th minute.
But Panama were on equal terms four minutes later when the American defence failed to deal with a long throw-in, the ball bobbling to Gabriel Gomez, who fired home from close range.After the match, U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard considered the result as one point gained rather than two points lost."We didn't tie the game, we won a dogfight," he said in a pitch-side interview. 
"It's tough away from home in qualifying. We had to get a point." As for the physical nature of the contest, Howard did not mince his words.
"If you watch the game you would shake your head. It's what we've come to expect away from home with all the elements. We're always swimming upstream away from home.
"They're a physical team. This is probably the most athletic team in CONCACAF so it's hard to match them but I thought we did a good job."
Arena, who took over after the Americans lost the first two games of their qualifying campaign under Jurgen Klinsmann, was happy with the result, if not the officiating."The referee didn't blow his whistle too much," he said wryly, while conceding Mexico were now likely to win the group. 
Mexico rode their luck against Trinidad, who felt aggrieved after a slick first half effort by Joevin Jones was disallowed for offside, though replays appeared to show he had timed his run to perfection. 
The visitors had the better of the second half, with Hector Herrera hitting the post with a curling 20-yard shot, before defender Reyes powered home a header from a corner in the 58th minute.
"We knew it would be difficult... but in the second half we found the spaces and I think we deserved the victory in the end," defender Hector Moreno said.
In San Pedro Sula, Honduras bounced back from a 6-0 drubbing against the U.S. last week by sharing the spoils with Costa Rica.
Anthony Lozano bundled the ball home to give Honduras a first-half lead, before Costa Rica equalised in the second half with a Kendall Watson header.

Australia bank on home comforts for run to Russia


Australia's campaign to reach a fourth straight World Cup finals received a fillip with their first win in five qualifiers on Tuesday but there is plenty yet to be done to secure a ticket to Russia.
The 2-0 victory over the United Arab Emirates in Sydney briefly put the Asian champions joint top of Group B before Japan thrashed Thailand 4-0 and Saudi Arabia edged Iraq 1-0 in later matches to re-establish their shared three point edge.
The good news for Australia in their quest to secure one of the top two spots that guarantees a place at next year's finals, and avoids the playoff route offered by a third place finish, is that two of their remaining three matches are at home.
"We always know at home we're a dominant team," coach Ange Postecoglou said after the UAE win.
"We worked awfully hard, we pressed the way we wanted to and created opportunities. And we deserved the victory."
Australia's next qualifier, the very definition of a six-pointer, is against the Saudis in Adelaide on June 8 and they follow that with a trip to Japan in August before rounding out their campaign at home to lowly Thailand in September.
Between the Saudi and Japan fixtures, Postecoglou will get a chance to gauge progress on his mission to build a side that can not only qualify for World Cup finals, but also win matches on football's biggest stage when they get there.
The June 17-July 2 Confederations Cup in Russia is likely to offer the biggest test yet of the Postecoglou Project, with world champions Germany, South American champions Chile and African champions Cameroon all in their group.
With half an eye on that tournament, Postecoglou has abandoned a back four defence and lined his side up with wingbacks in a 3-4-3 formation for their last two qualifiers.
It worked in parts against the UAE on Tuesday, even if the wide players did not always do the best with the final delivery, the back three looked susceptible to long balls and both goals came from set pieces.
Despite a welter of media criticism, Postecoglou did not look like a man about to abandon his experiment when he spoke to reporters afterwards."If someone has got a system out there that stops oppositions from doing anything, it's 11 against nothing," he said.
"It's a game of football. We've got to try and score goals which we did (but) the opposition are going to create opportunities."If people want the perfect system it's probably their hot water system at home, but it ain't a football system."

Garcia: Manchester City focused for tough Arsenal and Chelsea tests


The international break has allowed Manchester City players to recuperate and refocus ahead of their Premier League trips to Arsenal and Chelsea, midfielder Aleix Garcia has said.
Garcia said City, who are third in the league, needed time to recover after a spell of four games in 11 days across tournaments before the two-week break from club football.City's last match was a 1-1 draw at home against fourth-placed Liverpool and the Spaniard said their next league fixtures will define their season.
"Some players can rest and others can just take their minds off to come back as strong as possible to keep fighting for our goals until the end of the season," the 19-year-old, who made his City debut last September, told the club website.
"We face lots of games - lots of very important games in a few days that will define our season."I expect games like the one against Liverpool - tough games."
With City knocked out of the Champions League earlier this month and trailing league leaders Chelsea by 12 points, Garcia believes the FA Cup has taken increased importance in manager Pep Guardiola's first season at the club.
"Winning the Premier League is difficult and we are out of the Champions League, so the FA Cup is probably the best chance we have this season," Garcia added."The team is ready to win it and this is what we want. We will fight to win it."
Following Sunday's trip to the Emirates, Man City visit Chelsea, who have lost just once at Stamford Bridge this season, three days later.City will also face Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on April 23.


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