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Canada midfield immense in historic World Cup qualifying win vs. Mexico

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What a night for Canadian soccer.

On a night of milestones, from defeating Mexico 2-1 — its first win over El Tri in Concacaf World Cup Qualifying since 1976 — to players matching or breaking records, Tuesday will be fondly remembered as a landmark evening.

That includes the “Iceteca” proving to be a fortress in this November window for the Canadian men’s national team.

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Here are three takeaways from a historic night for Canada.

Midfield pivot shines

The hero might be Cyle Larin for his goals. It could potentially be goalkeeper Milan Borjan for a jaw-dropping goal-line save at the death.

Whoever receives the plaudits, take nothing away from Atiba Hutchinson and Stephen Eustaquio.

It was a bold strategy from coach John Herdman to go with two players in midfield, especially considering this was only their third match starting together. Luckily, Mexico also opted for a duo in midfield with Orbelin Pineda occasionally dropping into the centre for support off the ball. That meant the majority of the tactical issues of a double pivot could’ve presented were nullified.

“We got wind that Mexico were going to change their structure with a three centre-back structure,” Herdman explained. “We had never seen them do that since [playing] Iceland a couple of years ago, so we had to adapt pretty quickly, change some roles and responsibilities. But right at the call was always Eustaquio and Atiba, whether we were playing with that 3-4-3 defensively or the 4-4-2 defensively. Those two players are really the heartbeat.”

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Hutchinson, who set the national team’s all-time appearances record with his 90th cap, was brilliant. The captain completed 26 of 34 passes. He had two interceptions, nine recoveries and finished the game in the process.

Take a moment to remember he is 38 years old, and the surface was essentially an ice sheet.

Hutchinson’s partner was equally important, though. Eustaquio was orchestrating the game as he often does, getting stuck in defensively and providing the assist for Larin’s winning goal. In total, he had 33 completed passes on 42 attempts, five tackles and five recoveries. His distribution wasn’t as crisp, which can be chalked down to the pitch’s conditions.

Highlighting Eustaquio’s performances is becoming repetitive because this is the norm for him in a Canadian shirt. This was only his 18th cap for the team, but at 24 years old, it’s easy to picture him accumulating dozens more appearances.

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It’s Miller Time

Lost in the hoopla was another steady display from centre-back Kamal Miller.

The CF Montreal defender was mopping up every Mexico attack that came his way on Tuesday. Raul Jimenez and Hirving Lozano couldn’t wriggle free from the 24-year-old’s grasp all night. Miller racked up nine recoveries and two interceptions as a result of his brilliant reading of the game. However, he remained disciplined with his passing to release full-back Sam Adekugbe into space down the left flank, as well as break lines with his progressive carries into the final third.

Considering the plethora of attacking talent up front, it’s worth remembering how much the Canadian defence has been bolstered over the last few months. Miller is one of three sturdy left-sided centre-backs along with Derek Cornelius and Scott Kennedy, who missed this window due to injury.

In fact, the defence deserves its fair share of the credit for Canada’s rise in 2021. Mexico’s marker was just the 11th goal the team has conceded in 19 games during the calendar year. It goes beyond the back four, as this Canadian side now defends as a team off the ball.

For example, this was Canada’s average positioning (via SofaScore) before and after its substitutions. Note the compact shape to ensure there’s little space for Mexico to maneuver through.

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This was always the question mark surrounding Herdman’s side. If it can stay tight defensively, then the attacking talent can see the team through. That is precisely what’s happening this year.

Laryea fulfils new role

An interesting wrinkle to Canada’s tactics saw Richie Laryea operating as an inverted full-back (or wingback, in this case).

When Canada was on the ball, Laryea drifted inside to form a midfield trio at times. This provided cover in the right half-space to defend against counters as well as Mexico’s forwards who were cutting inside. It also freed up Tajon Buchanan to provide the width on the right flank.

That is a tweak that could be seen in future matches, especially in games where Canada wants to keep its best attacking players on the pitch without sacrificing the midfield structure.



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Aaron Rodgers to the Jets? Giants' free agency options & Mike McCarthy's future with Cowboys | Ask Jay Glazer

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Jay Glazer discussed whether Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will head to the New York Jets, the New York Giants’ free agency options, and breaks down Mike McCarthy’s future with the Dallas Cowboys.



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Super Bowl LVII: Chiefs and Eagles will meet for title in Arizona

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Patrick Mahomes finally got the best of Joe Burrow. 

All he needed was a little shove.

Harrison Butker made a 45-yard field goal with 3 seconds left — after Cincinnati’s Joseph Ossai was flagged for a 15-yard penalty for shoving Mahomes after he was out of bounds — and the Chiefs beat the Bengals 23-20 in the AFC championship game to make it back to the Super Bowl.

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Kansas City will face the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona. 

The Eagles opened as a 1 1/2-point favourite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

There are no shortage of storylines: Kansas City coach Andy Reid goes against his old team — which he led to Super Bowl 39 — in a game that’s also the first matchup of Black starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl with Mahomes and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts. 

On top of that, there’s a brother-against-brother showdown between Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Philadelphia center Jason Kelce.

“Officially done being a Chiefs fan this season!! ” Jason Kelce tweeted immediately after the Chiefs won.

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The Chiefs have been making deep postseason runs on a regular basis ever since Mahomes came to town as the franchise quarterback. 

This was their fifth straight trip to the AFC title game and will be their third Super Bowl appearance in that span. They beat the 49ers for the NFL title in the 2019 season, but lost to the Bucs the following season.

The Eagles clobbered the Niners 31-7 in the NFC title game earlier Sunday. They’ve looked dominant in the playoffs so far, also beating the New York Giants 38-7 in the divisional round.

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Philadelphia is back in the Super Bowl five years after beating the New England Patriots 41-33 on Feb. 4, 2018. 

Now a mostly new generation of Eagles — led by coach Nick Sirianni and Hurts — will come to Arizona to try and win another title.

The Chiefs-Bengals game looked as if it was going to overtime before Ossai’s ill-advised play. Mahomes — who was playing on a badly sprained ankle — was running to get a first down in the final seconds as Ossai desperately tried to track him down. 

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Mahomes was out of bounds when Ossai gave him a shove, sending both players tumbling to the turf. The ensuing 15-yard penalty was enough to push Butker into field-goal range and the kick split the uprights.

A distraught Ossai sat on the bench with his head in his hands, well after the game was over.

The Bengals and Chiefs were playing for the fourth time in less than 400 days and Cincinnati had won the previous three meetings — all by three points. This one was decided by a field goal, too, and all Burrow could do was watch.

The Bengals lost to the Rams in last year’s Super Bowl and they just missed another chance at returning to the title game.

NO DRAMA IN NFC

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Oddsmakers thought fans were in for some close conference championship games. 

They’ll have to settle for a 50% success rate.

The NFC title game was a blowout. Niners rookie quarterback Brock Purdy was injured in the first quarter when Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick drilled his right arm on a play that was ruled a fumble. The Eagles recovered that fumble and the injury proved to be a game-changer.

With Purdy hurt, San Francisco turned to 36-year-old journeyman Josh Johnson, who couldn’t do much before eventually leaving with a concussion. Purdy came back into the game, but could barely throw, and the Eagles cruised to the win.

The 49ers dealt with quarterback injuries all season, losing Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo before turning to Purdy, a seventh-round draft pick out of Iowa State. Purdy stepped into a starter’s role in December and won his first seven games before Sunday’s injury. 

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Here’s a few things to know about the upcoming Super Bowl:

WHAT’S THE UPCOMING SCHEDULE?

FEB. 5

Pro Bowl flag-football game, 3 p.m. EST, ABC/ESPN

FEB. 12

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Super Bowl LVII, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 6:30 p.m. EST, Fox

RIHANNA AT HALFTIME

Rihanna will take center stage as the headline act for this year’s Super Bowl halftime show.

With sales of more than 250 million records worldwide, Rihanna ranks as one of the best-selling female artists ever. Her most recent album was 2016′s “Anti.” Rihanna last performed publicly at the Grammy Awards in 2018.

The singer said she turned down a similar opportunity for the 2019 Super Bowl that was ultimately headlined by Maroon 5. At the time, many artists voiced support for Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who protested police brutality against Black people and minorities by kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.

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Country music star Chris Stapleton will sing the national anthem, while R&B legend Babyface will perform “America the Beautiful.” 

PRO BOWL MAKEOVER

The Pro Bowl is getting a major makeover this year after the NFL eliminated its full-contact all-star game and replaced it with weeklong skills competitions and a flag football game.

The flag football contest is Feb. 5 in Las Vegas at Allegiant Stadium, one week before the Super Bowl.

The Pro Bowl debuted in January 1951 in Los Angeles and stayed there for 21 seasons before the game moved to different cities from 1972-80. Hawaii hosted from 1980-2009, and the game has had several homes in the years since, including Miami, Phoenix, Orlando and Las Vegas.

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“The game was kind of silly, I guess,” Saints two-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk said back in September when the news was announced. “Guys weren’t out there playing true football. Hopefully, there’ll be a lot of interactions with the fans and guys will get their opportunity to go out there and show some skills. I could see that being a good change.”

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Ohio State hires James Laurinaitis & Tennessee extends Huepel's contract | Joel Klatt Show

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Joel Klatt discussed Ohio State Buckeyes hiring former linebacker James Laurinaitis as a defensive GA. Joel believes that Laurinaitis can help transform the defense into a powerhouse like the offense is for wide receivers. He then discussed the Tennessee Volunteers giving Josh Huepel a contract extension after their 11-win season.



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