2014 World Cup team preview: Argentina

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Getting to know… Argentina: Heading into this tournament Argentina are one of the favorites as the South American side aim to win their third World Cup. With Lionel Messi leading the way and the tournament being played in Brazil, their fierce rivals, Argentina will be hoping to upset the host nation. Argentina have two previous World Cups to their name as they won on home soil in 1978, then were inspired by Diego Maradona at the height of his power to win the 1986 tournament in Mexico. When you look at the incredible attacking talents they possess, Argentina will be a real threat this summer. However the last two tournaments they were also one of the favorites but fell at the quarterfinal stage on both occasions. They must do better this time around.

Record in qualifying: The South American powerhouse breezed through qualification from CONMEBOL as they finished top of the standings. Nine wins from 16 games and only two defeats saw La Albiceleste brush off Colombia and Chile to take the top seed. Messi banged in 10 goals, Gonzalo Higuain scored nine and the likes of Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero also chipped in with plenty of important strikes as Argentina finished with 35 goals to finish as top scorers. With old foes Brazil qualifying automatically at hosts, qualifying was a lot easier than it usually is for Argentina.

Which group are they in? The Argentine’s find themselves in Group F alongside dark horses Bosnia, outsiders Iran and African champions Nigeria. Simply put, they are huge favorites to win their group. If they do not, ,massive questions will be asked of manager Alejandro Sabella as to why he is not getting the best from his talented squad.

Game schedule:

15 June, 18:00, Rio de Janeiro – Argentina vs. Bosnia

21 June, 12:00, Belo Horizonte – Argentina vs. Iran

25 June, 12:00, Porto Alegre – Nigeria vs. Argentina.

Star player: Lionel Messi

The skipper is ready to break out at a World Cup and after an unsuccessful season with FC Barcelona in Spain, expect Messi to be fired up and ready to go. This is the tournament where he will be in his prime and Messi’s powers should rip apart all of Argentina’s group stage opponents. In the past many have criticized Messi’s performances for the national team but he has scored 37 goals in 83 appearances for Argentina. That is nowhere near his incredible numbers at club level and reflects his slight struggles internationally and the expectation of a nation on his shoulders. Messi has won everything else in the game, all he needs now is a World Cup.

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Can Aguero and Messi fire Argentina to victory in Brazil?

Manager: Alejandro Sabella

A former assistant coach of Argentina under Daniel Passarella, Sabella has excelled since taking charge in the summer of 2011. The former Argentine national team player has a win percentage of just under 60 percent and has only lost four of his 32 games in charge of La Albiceleste. Sabella coached Estudiantes to Copa Libertadores success in 2009 and with Messi, Higuain, Di Maria and Aguero up top, he has been able to get the best out of Argentina’s attackers.

Secret weapon: Being behind enemy lines

Argentina will hop over the border to compete for the World Cup in Brazil. They will face a hostile atmosphere and plenty of adversity during the tournament from the home fans. Dealing with that adversity is key and can often get the best out of teams. If Argentina can succeed in channeling the negative energy shown towards them into a positive, then that will forge a fantastic team spirit.

Prediction: With their supreme attacking talents Argentina should blow teams away in Brazil however the one area you have to say is pretty weak is in defense. Martin Demichelis was in and out during his first season at Manchester City but the veteran will be at the heart of Argentina’s defense. If they can stay tight at the back like they did in qualifying, they have every chance of contesting the final against their old foes Brazil. What a final that would be.

New York Red Bulls ink goalkeeper Luis Robles to new deal

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The “Iron Man” will keep up his amazing journey with the New York Red Bulls, after signing a new deal with the club on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Wesley Sneijder on verge of joining Los Angeles FC ]

Goalkeeper Luis Robles has extended his contract with the reigning Eastern Conference champions, as the American continues to raise his consecutive starts streak, which stands at 157.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed in the club’s release.

Robles joined the Red Bulls back in 2012 after playing in Germany, and the shot-stopper hasn’t missed a start ever since.

Report: Minnesota United adds Hearts midfielder Sam Nicholson

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Minnesota United has had its shares of ups and down in its debut MLS season, but the Loons are on the verge making an exciting young signing.

[ MORE: Wesley Sneijder closing in on Los Angeles FC move ]

ESPN FC is reporting that Minnesota will sign Hearts winger Sam Nicholson from the Scottish Premier League on a deal that makes him a Loon until 2019.

The young attacker is expected to join the MLS side when the summer transfer window opens on July 10.

Nicholson, 22, has played with the Edinburgh side since his youth days, and made his senior debut with the club in 2013. During his time at Hearts, Nicholson scored 16 goals in all competitions for the team.

Last season, Nicholson missed 16 matches due to a significant knee injury.

According to the report, Scottish sides Rangers and Aberdeen were also among those interested in acquiring Nicholson, while English Championship clubs Bristol City and Barnsley also reached out about the attacker.

Premier League vet Scott Parker calls quits on playing career

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Scott Parker has announced his retirement from soccer after a stellar 20-plus year career in England.

[ MORE: Chile bests Portugal on PKs to reach Confed Cup final ]

The 36-year-old spent almost the entirety of his career in the Premier League, and played with seven teams during his time on the pitch.

“I believe now is the right time to move on to the next chapter in my life and career,” Parker said in a statement.

“I feel incredibly honoured and proud to have enjoyed the career that I have and I’ve loved every moment of it.”

Parker began playing with Charlton after coming up through the team’s youth academy, before completing a move to Chelsea in 2004.

Throughout his career, Parker also spent time at Newcastle, West Ham and Tottenham, before finishing up at Fulham this past season.

Three storylines when Mexico meets Germany in Confed Cup semis

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With a place in the final on the line tomorrow afternoon, it’s all or nothing for Mexico and Germany as they meet in the second semifinal at this summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup.

The two nations have had very similar paths in reaching the final four, after both accumulated seven points during the group stage and showed signs of improvement with every match.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s FIFA Confederations Cup action ]

Here are some of the key battles to watch on Thursday when Mexico and Germany square off for a place in the final.

How does Germany’s youth hold up vs. Mexico’s experience?

Even when Jurgen Low released his roster heading into the Confederations Cup, much was expected of the Germans. After a strong run of play during the group stage, Low’s men have lived up to the billing with an exciting young attack and an improving backline to match.

When Germany meets Mexico though, the defending World Cup champions will be taking on an El Tri side that has loads of international experience, and similar to that of Chile, the Europeans will surely receive all that they can handle.

At the tender age of 23, Julian Draxler captains the Germans and has been challenged with leading his nation throughout the tournament. The PSG attacker has been quality thus far, but he and his side will take on a whole different task on Thursday against a quick, feisty Mexican group.

Will Hirving Lozano be the difference in the attack?

Injuries and a key suspension will certain hinder Mexico in the semifinal round, but the bigger question is: how will Juan Carlos Osorio’s side cope with the losses?

El Tri know it will be without winger Andres Guardado due to yellow card accumulation, while striker Javier Hernandez is in question ahead of the Germany clash after reportedly training by himself on Monday.

Although Hernandez likely just needed rest after a busy season of matches in the Bundesliga, Mexico is still seeking a quality playmaker to replace Guardado on Thursday, one that they’re hoping with be Hirving Lozano.

The newly-signed PSV man has quickly become one of the top young faces in global soccer, and with three international goals for El Tri dating back to 2016, Lozano is the spark that Mexico needs.

El Tri must start fast

In all three of Mexico’s group stage matches Osorio’s side fell behind during the first half. While El Tri managed to come away unscathed to remain perfect in group play, it’s difficult to imagine that they will be able to pull off the same feat against a quality German side.

On the other hand, Mexico’s resilience has been impressive. In their opener against Portugal, El Tri pulled off a late winner against the reigning European champions, a result that likely set the tone for the team’s ensuing comebacks versus New Zealand and Russia, respectively.