ON THE PITCH

Soccer weekly recap: Italy bows out of FIFA World Cup

The Dynamo returned to the pitch to prepare for the Western Conference finals. Victor Araiza

International soccer was the focal point of the weekend with the World Cup picture becoming complete. Only three spots remain to be filled and those teams will be known within the next 24 hours.

FIFA World Cup Qualifying

Senegal, Morocco and Tunisia have secured the final three spots left from the African confederation by virtue of winning their respective groups. Morocco returns for the first time since 1998, Senegal since 2002 and Tunisia since the 2006 World Cup. The results also eliminates a regular like Ivory Coast, who was looking to make a fourth consecutive World Cup.

In Europe, Switzerland, Croatia and Sweden have gone on to secure their spot via a playoff series. Switzerland carried over a 1-0 score from the first leg to eliminate Northern Ireland and Croatia also advanced via their first leg win, 4-1 over Greece. The big shock in Europe - at least in terms of historical powers - was the elimination of four-time champion Italy, who will miss their first FIFA World Cup since 1958. The Azzurri could not overturn the 1-0 defeat at Sweden in the first leg and join the list of countries that will miss out next summer, including the Netherlands and the United States.

Both of the interconfederation playoffs ended in nil-nil draws in the first leg and will have everything to play for on Wednesday. Houston Dynamo players Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto and Boniek Garcia will look to qualify Honduras to their third-consecutive World Cup with a win or a draw with goals in Australia while the Socceroos need a win to advance. New Zealand held Peru to zero goals at home and will need a win or a draw with goals to advance to their first World Cup since 2010. Peru will look to ride their home crowd to a win and a return to the World Cup for the first time since the 1982 edition.

Friendlies

The Mexican national team traveled to Europe to face two fellow national teams that have booked their ticket to Russia. El Tri managed a thrilling 3-3 draw against Belgium on Friday, behind a double from 22-year-old Hirving Lozano, and followed it up with a 1-0 draw at Poland on Monday.

Argentina managed a 1-0 draw at World Cup hosts Russia thanks to Sergio Agüero goal. The Albiceleste will be without Lionel Messi as they stay in Russia for a friendly against Nigeria on Tuesday.

Neymar, Marcelo and Gabriel Jesus all scored in Brazil’s 3-1 win against Japan and continue to look every bit the contender. On Tuesday, they face off against an England side that played Germany to a scoreless draw on Friday. Germany faces off against France on Tuesday. Spain, meanwhile, dominated Costa Rica to a 5-nil win and faces Russia to close out their international fixtures.

Major League Soccer

Teams continue to train during the international break ahead of the conference finals next week. The Houston Dynamo returned to their normal schedule on Thursday after a four day break following their 2-1 win in Portland. The break comes at a great time as injured players like DaMarcus Beasley and Leonardo could feature in next Tuesday’s Western Conference final opener against Seattle.

NASL/USL

Both of U.S. Soccer’s second division leagues came to a close over the weekend. The San Francisco Deltas won the North American Soccer League championship 2-0 over the New York Cosmos to cap off their debut season. Tommy Heinemann and Devon Sandoval scored for San Francisco. The official attendance was 9,691.

In the United Soccer League playoffs, 14,456 were on hand at Slugger Field to see Louisville City FC win their first USL Cup over Swope Park Rangers. The game’s only goal came from Cameron Lancaster in the 88th minute of the match.

Liga MX

Monterrey and Santos played to a 1-1 draw on Thursday night in the league’s only official match while other team’s toured the U.S. with friendlies. The 2017 Apertura season concludes this weekend with the final playoff spots to be determined. This weekend also features the Monterrey derby between Monterrey and Tigres, a match with the top seed in the table up for grabs.

MVP of the Week - Gianluigi Buffon

Italian legend Gianluigi Buffon is this week’s MVP after a valiant effort to not allow any goals in Italy’s scoreless draw with Sweden. Despite his performance, his side’s failure to convert means they will watch next year’s World Cup from home. The 2006 FIFA World Cup champion goalkeeper immediately apologized after the match for his country’s failure to qualify and officially called it an end to his international career. Many will remember him for his class, the same he showed in defeat as he did as a winner as he goes down as one of the greatest goalkeepers the game has produced.

Upcoming matches (All Times CT):

Tuesday, Nov. 14:

10:30 a.m.- Friendly: Argentina vs. Nigeria (beIN SPORTS)

12:45 p.m.- Friendly: Russia vs. Spain (ESPN3)

1:45 p.m.- Leg 2: Ireland vs. Denmark (FS2)

1:45 p.m.- Leg 2: Ireland vs. Denmark (FS2)

2:45 p.m.- Friendly: Portugal vs. USA (FS1/UniMas/Univision Deportes)

Wednesday, Nov. 15:

3 a.m.- Leg 2: Australia vs. Honduras (beIN SPORTS)

8:15 p.m. - Leg 2: Peru vs. New Zealand (beIN SPORTS)

Friday, Nov. 17:

1:30 p.m.- Stuttgart vs. Dortmund (FS2)

Saturday, Nov. 18:

6:30 a.m.- Arsenal vs. Tottenham (NBC Sports)

8:30 a.m.- Bayern Munich vs. Augsburg (FS1)

9 a.m.- Leicester City vs. Manchester City (NBC Sports)

9 a.m.- Liverpool vs. Southampton (NBC Sports)

9 a.m.- West Brom vs. Chelsea (NBC Sports)

9:15 a.m.- Leganes vs. FC Barcelona (beIN SPORTS)

10 a.m.- PSG vs. Nantes (beIN SPORTS)

11:30 a.m.- Manchester United vs. Newcastle (NBC Sports)

11 a.m.- Roma vs. Lazio (beIN SPORTS)

1:45 p.m.- Atletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid (beIN SPORTS)

1:45 p.m.- Napoli vs. AC Milan (beIN SPORTS)

7 p.m. - Monterrey vs. Tigres (Univision)

Sunday, Nov. 19:

8 a.m. - Sampdoria vs. Juventus (beIN SPORTS)

12 p.m. - Toluca vs. Tijuana (Univision)

1:45 p.m.- Inter Milan vs. Atalanta (beIN SPORTS)